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Re:AL Regarding Arts & Letters

volume 40 issue number1

Fall & Winter 2016


re:al

regarding arts & letters {vol. 40, no. 1} Fall/Winter 2016

Editor in Chief Michael Sheehan Managing Editor Audrey Granger Perry Consulting Editors John A. McDermott Andrew Brininstool Readers Ashton Allen Josh Hines Lauren Reagan Sarah Johnson Views expressed in RE:AL do not neccessarily reflect those of the administration or the Board of Regents of Stephen F. Austin.

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Contents Poetry John Sibley Williams This Lowest Register of Sky 18 Because Nothing Stays 19 Back When You Were a Country 20 Juan Parra At the Center of the Universe 21 Twixt I Look at the Unverise Starry-Wide 32 Eric Janken To My Wife, Vickie 33 Stillborn 34 St. Augustine’s Abbey 36 Alison Carb Sussman 26th Anniversary 56 Kimberly Tabor The Pathologist 58 Steven Walker Receiving the News 70 Still Life 71 Stuart Silverman A Redacted Poem 72 Simon Perchik Five Poems 90 Robert Farrell from Meditations on the Body: Pines 118 Curious Punishments of Bygone Ages 119 Fiction Robert Kostuck Woman in the Dunes 74 Brian Kamsoke Critical Mass 38 David Langlinais Neighborhood 60 Roger McKnight September Mist 96 Peter Barlow It’s Complicated with Ryan Diaz 112 Grant Segall The Twelfth Rose 128 Sharon Mauldin Reynolds Carleen 132

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Alex Stone D.E. Goodoad

Essays Giving the Cat a Bath Event Horizon

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Comic John Bent Phones 120 Art John Bent Shack cover Lot 3 Stand-in 95 Slow Dance 111 Disconnected 153

Contributors’ Bios

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Giving the Cat a Bath

Alex H. Stone

“Are you sure this is okay?” “Yeah, Dan and his parents are out of town but he said I could hangout down here.” “Ugh, just hurry up, then.” Patricia pushed on the window but it wouldn’t budge. “They must’ve locked it. Fuck! I didn’t even know it could lock.” “Whatever, let’s just get back to the car before we get arrested.” The cold air bled deep into our clothes; it was dark beyond all reason, the kind of dark that you forget about when you move to the city. The kind of dark that inspires some kind of primal fear; makes you feel like someone is watching you. And yet, it wasn’t dark enough for me to feel comfortable breaking into a middle class white family’s basement to have to sex. All we left behind were footprints. Dan’s parents

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would probably know they were ours. Whatever, we were just a bunch of kids. *** None of this is going to be in order, by the way. Sorry. *** Johnny drove us back to his house in my car. I had just turned eighteen. It was about two in the morning and we were leaving a club in downtown Minneapolis. I was on acid and the city felt like it was trying to keep us in. Everything looked the same and every turn seemed to bring us back to where we started. Johnny was lost. I tried to navigate with my phone but the device just didn’t make sense in my hands. I lit a cigarette and tried to relax. I knew I would have to drive my car home from Johnny’s house once we got there. I tried not to think about it. And it just kept getting darker. Outside of downtown, it was darker. We kept going. Out of the big suburbs—the streetlights got further and further apart—into the small wide-open town—no streetlights—where Johnny lived. We kept going down one straight, dark line. *** Mephedrone. Tron. Meow. Plant Food. Crystals. White powder. White like snow. Fluffy. Sparkles in the light. Doesn’t clump; stays gritty in thick piles. But it smells like death. Bitter, chemical death. You can smell it on people. It sticks to everything. Wallets, Credit Cards, Bills, Pants, Jars, Bags. Good luck getting the smell off of your clothes. Buy a new wallet. *** We: Patricia, me, and Aiden, went to Dan’s basement after school most days. It was a good place to hangout in the winter. We

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Stone could smoke down there and there was TV and room for all of us. There weren’t a lot of places like that for us back then. There was an unfinished wall that we all drew on. Everyone we knew had written on that wall. There was tons of drug stuff and Alice in Wonderland stuff and bands and it was all really colorful. I wrote my name somewhere and next to it I did my tag, which was a wiggly looking face with “BE.” written on the forehead. Every night around seven or eight, Aiden would impose a mandatory no-smoking hour. His parents didn’t know he smoked. I told him he should just tell them; he was eighteen after all. Besides, I’d say, they must already know. My parents knew like a month after I started and I was super careful back then. He never listened, though. He’d get pissed when we’d smoke anyway. Sometimes, him and Dan would go up to Dan’s room and he’d borrow some of Dan’s clothes to wear home. That always struck me as odd because Dan, like all of us, smoked, so all his clothes smelled like smoke. Not to mention Aiden had way better clothes than Dan. He had better clothes than any of us. But whatever, he wasn’t hurting anyone with it, really. Except that time he threw a dictionary at Dan for smoking. But those things happen. When I first started smoking cigarettes, I really wondered, if no one had told me they were an “addiction”, would I crave them in the same way? *** In the school computer lab: “I mean, he’s obviously gay. He spends all his time with Dan. Plus he goes tanning. Straight guys don’t go tanning.” Sarah said. “You aren’t even friends with him. When’s the last time you actually saw him, anyway?” I asked.

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Giving the Cat a Bath “I don’t know… But he just is. Right? I mean, he just acts…” Sarah was talking about Aiden. A lot of people said things like that about him. I didn’t really get it, though. If he said he was straight, why would he be anything else? Talia chimed in, “He is. I mean, just look at the way he talks. And I heard he dated a guy in seventh grade.” “I didn’t know gay guys talked a certain way.” I said, before tuning out the conversation. It pissed me off to hear them talk like that. Our school, which was an art school, was supposed to be super tolerant. I’d come from a public school. Back there, a lot of people thought I was gay. It never exactly bothered me. Like, if people wanted to call me gay, that was fine. But it sort of belittles homosexuality; saying that being a gay man means something other than being attracted to other men. All of that was beside the point. These people didn’t know Aiden. I did. *** Me and Aiden snorted a few lines of mephedrone in the bathroom of a Perkins on the way to the concert. We packed the rest into gel caps to take at the show. The drug didn’t make it hard to drive but it made dealing with the parking lot attendant awkward cause I couldn’t stop grinding my teeth. Inside the concert, Aiden was dancing with a girl he didn’t know. I told him he should make a move, while he still had a chance. Patricia and I watched them make out. We all went out for a cigarette, Aiden and I in just our tank tops. The subzero chill felt like summer; the drugs made it hard to cool down. I ended up losing the ticket for the parking lot and the attendant didn’t speak English. It almost got ugly but then Patricia found it on the floor. We laughed about it once we got on the freeway. Always a battle to escape this city at night.

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Stone The snow started coming down onto the windshield. Slowly at first. It was two in the morning; the flakes came at a quick clip. The night was white and airy. No liquid. White flakes and powder: everywhere. Bright blue light from the sky. Isolation all around. But white, though; mostly just white. *** One day after school, Dan got something in the mail. It was a DVD from the local Catholic Church. We decided to watch the DVD, as religious people had always been funny to us. But as I watched the ‘holy man’ on the screen talk about the evils of homosexuality, I didn’t feel much like laughing. I was mad that someone would send this to my friend’s house. I wondered if the church knew he was gay. I wondered if it would’ve made a difference. *** Aiden and Dan and I stood outside of some guy’s apartment. The guy was Dan’s new boyfriend and he was older than us. Nighttime. Warm now; summer. Black, maybe blue sky. A city we didn’t know very well. I just wanted to smoke; I was blind drunk. I wanted to stay outside since Dan’s boyfriend kept trying to grab at me and touch me and I didn’t want Dan to know. There was a violence in the air; it was all going wrong but I didn’t know why. That’s why I brought us outside. Just me and these friends I thought I understood. Sanctuary. While we smoked, I asked them to tell me stories. About the people they’d slept with. Dan didn’t want to talk about any of the boys he’d been with or his new boyfriend. He said for Aiden to go. Aiden said about a girl and him hooking up in a garage and their friends came back in and caught him. I didn’t see why that would be a big deal. I was kind of upset with him, really. If I looked like he did, if I were single, I’d have

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Giving the Cat a Bath better stories. *** There was no magic left in the room. Just that stupid fucking black light. Must’ve been around three or four in the morning. Patricia was asleep on the couch next to me. Kyle had gone to bed with his girlfriend. It was just me and two kids I didn’t know. The boy’s name was Cody or something. He seemed nice. I’d told him he probably shouldn’t drink, since we’d all taken so much Tron and who knows what was in those rolls. He said he wanted to risk it. So he was in the bathroom, puking I think. Across from me was a girl I didn’t know. She had snarly brown hair and an egg shaped figure. She hadn’t said much to anyone throughout the night. I didn’t know who she was friends with or why she was there. She had a few lines of Tron left and she was doing them, by herself. I watched her, my body aching with the nasty comedown. The blue glow of the black light felt like nothing more than a hangover at this point. Sleep, like everything and everyone else, felt a million miles away. *** Aiden and I clashed a lot, though. We were both the kinds of people that needed to be the center of attention. I always envied him. His parents left him alone more. He had a better room than me, better clothes, better hair, a better face, a better body. More friends. I would have never guessed that maybe he envied me, too. Because I never had to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I never had to hide. And one night, we were all dead drunk in the backseat of a car, watching the sun come up, nowhere to go… We’d been kicked out of the house we were supposed to sleep at. It was his fault. I told him it was his fault. He told me to shut up. I told him I’d break the fucking window and his neck. I told him to just fucking watch. ***

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Stone Maybe Johnny asked if I’d be okay. Maybe he didn’t. It didn’t matter. I had to get home. There was no avoiding it. The mood got heavy when Johnny got out of my car and I got in the driver seat. All the lights, in all the houses, were out. It was just me. Too dark for blue. Just suffocating black with two eyeholes for headlights. Late autumn, before everything. Snow was still a ways away, but never too far. In the car: I got moving pretty quick. I didn’t want to psyche myself out. It was a short drive and I’d made it a million and a half times anyway. But once I got on the road, I couldn’t shake this awful feeling… I knew it was just the acid but it felt so real: I was convinced there was someone in the backseat. I wanted so badly to look back there and make sure there wasn’t but I had to keep my eyes on the road. One false move and I could veer off of the road. Maybe hit a deer. Probably die. No one drove on those barren suburban roads in the twilight hour. I knew who it was in the backseat, though. It was the woods murderer, of course. I knew all about the woods murderer. “Fucking… Woods Murderer! You want to fuck with me!? Well, come on! Do it then! I’m waiting!” An unlit cigarette dropped from my mouth. Two After I graduated high school, things were weird for a minute. Patricia had to go to court ordered in-patient rehab for something we got caught doing the year before. I had done a better job with the arrest and got off with no consequences other than a very awkward ride home from the

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Giving the Cat a Bath police station with my parents one Christmas night. Aiden and I had stopped talking. Once Patricia left, Dan stopped calling me, too. It almost felt like nothing had happened that year. The friends I’d made. The things we’d done. Just weird flashes from a trip gone bad. I got a job working for my dad. I filed invoices and organized old filing cabinets. It was a good job. There were free snacks in the kitchen and I could listen to music while I worked. Kyle and met at the park once to smoke weed. I told him I was kind of sober, just from the hard stuff. He asked why. “Well, and this really isn’t a big deal, we took this stuff. It was called Blue Lotus extract but that wasn’t actually what was in it. We got it from Down In The Valley and we each took like five of them. And we also got some Night Lights (bath salt) and K2 and shit. “The details are kind of hazy. I remember drinking whiskey with Patricia’s dad at one point. And then somehow, Patricia, Aiden, and I ended up at my house. And I went upstairs to get a pipe to smoke the K2 out of but I dropped it in the kitchen and didn’t bother to clean it up. The drugs made me forget that I dropped it. “Anyway, I blacked out the rest of that night so I’m not sure if it was even fun. My mom says they found a can of Pepsi in the toilet like someone tried to flush it down so we must’ve been really sloppy. “I just remember waking up and my parents were screaming at us and we just kind of ran. Like, we got in my car and just took off. And I looked down to get a cigarette and I smashed into a rock. “After that it’s just a blur. Not just, like, that day. But that day and then the next two weeks. My memory comes back around graduation. I broke my arm at some point

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Stone during those two weeks, too. I don’t know. So I just decided it was kind of time for a break.” “Shit dude. Yeah, you guys were like gypsies for a while. Every time I saw you, you guys had some new weird drug to share with us. But yeah, that Bath Salt shit is weird. I had some of it in my grinder and my dad found it and, like, I guess he smoked it all. It was like almost a whole container.” “Shit. What happened?” “Nothing. He just thought it was weed.” “Huh.” So I went to Florida for a week to clear my head. Johnny had moved back there with his dad and he let me sleep on his couch. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. We got drunk on Jack Daniels every night and played videogames. We ate at Burger King on the first night. Went through the drive through and ate it in the car. After we finished, I got out to smoke. I lit a cigarette and sat on the hood of his car. A drug dealer type came up to us and asked if we wanted to buy drugs. I asked what he had. He said he could get anything. “Anything?” “You name it.” “Dimethyltryptamine. DMT.” “The fuck is that?” I bought some weed from him and we left. I was hung over the day Johnny drove me to the airport. It was the first day of the trip that I’d been hung over. But I bought a vitamin B shot at the newsstand and felt better by the time I got off the plane. Patricia was out by then. I gave her the dress that I bought her in Florida. A purple thing that I paid too much for. It was tough to find her size in anything in Florida. Not a lot of girls as small as her in the South. She liked the dress,

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Giving the Cat a Bath though. I found out about Aiden from Patricia, cause she still talked to Dan. Apparently Aiden actually was gay and he’d been keeping it from us. All the stories Aiden had told us about him and girls—were about him and guys. Him and Dan had been getting together behind our backs for a while—the trips upstairs to change clothes—but that was over now. Aiden had now met some older guy named Brice who had a kid and sold crystal meth and GHB. Brice wanted to have a threesome with Aiden and Dan but Dan thought it was weird. Aiden was a first generation American. His family was Russian. When he finally came out to his parents, his dad said, “This is the saddest day of my life.” Patricia and I moved into an apartment together. We all started college. One night, Patricia insisted I invite Dan over and so I did. We got stupid drunk together, fought, and woke up with no memory of the fight. After that we decided that we were friends again. So Dan started coming to our new place on the weekends to drink. After winter break, Dan told us Aiden had failed out of his art school in New York and came back to Minnesota. Dan said that he’d been using meth. We all kind of knew Aiden did meth, low key, a little bit, before he left, but we figured he’d have dropped it once he moved to New York. Aiden came to our apartment one day, a semester or two later. Patricia brought him over. Even after everything that’d happened, I still really wanted to see him. He looked pretty much like Aiden. He was wearing a fashionable ensemble revolving around camo prints. But when he ran a hand through his hair and discovered that his hair was coming out. He said he’d bleached it a while ago and

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Stone then dyed it black again. I wondered if that was really it. And then he left. Patricia said the next time she saw him, he’d shaved his head. I sent him a message once and said we should get together for drinks. We talked about it a little bit but it never happened. We were just too different by then. *** It ends in a club. Before some of that other stuff. The summer after graduation. Back when I was just an eighteen-year-old kid waiting to start college and trying to keep my nose clean. Looking for something to do after my friends had deserted me, I went to a concert by myself. I watched the band. They were pretty good. But I was tired. People had offered me drugs and I’d said no. Now, it was after midnight and I just wanted to go home. So I turned to leave. As I wandered through the crowd, I smelled it for the last time. Mephedrone. Unmistakable. There didn’t seem to be anyone around. It was just a ghost. Maybe it was always just a ghost. The smell that tickled my nose. It was like a laugh; telling me that there were some things that never got fixed. Telling me that things went on, with or without me. All around me, in the dark empty crevices of the city, probably, kids were still snorting good old Tron without me. And I was, strangely, okay with that. Down the elevator. Past the bouncer. I tensed up walking toward the alley I’d have to walk through. It was late. And dark. But to my surprise, the alley was alive with red and blue lights. I walked between two cop cars. A bald man, red

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Giving the Cat a Bath bandana peaking out of his pocket, was mean-mugging me with his hands on the hood of one of the cop cars. There was another in the backseat. I walked carefully through the scene, through the parking garage, and into my car. To escape the city’s clutches once again. But why did I get to leave?

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This Lowest Register of Sky

John Sibley Williams

However brief its fire, the sputtering bulb glimmers and shadows enough to see the nesting doll of her eyes shed layer after hard layer and, reduced to the last in a fleeing herd of deer, collapse irretrievably into themselves. Then the image goes gauzy. Stardrops of blood flurry across her cornea. Her words roll together into a strange new language; her body adding itself to this world of forms. Halved and halved again, winter seen through the winter window with wolf silhouettes on the ridge exactly where you’d expect. Tracks dusted over. Chains of ice across the glass. Snow so high everything is unfenced, everything is white light faltering—phases of a moon crackling in and out of focus. And fire. Fire! This is my case for beauty.

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Because Nothing Stays

John Sibley Williams

And because winter falls hard, rushes in, closing the distance between us and a world going white around the edges, I am ready to give up every moment of the past thirty years to imagine you: again a child standing on an overturned rowboat —greening in a meadow miles from any ocean— you: waving oars at locusts, holding a pitcher of sun overhead, laughing or maybe crying, praying, inching the moment toward eternity, sensing salt so briefly in the dry chaff air.

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Back When You Were a Country

John Sibley Williams

held together by wild oceans, grassed over rail tracks, whiskey and brief churches, your interior untamed ~ as a dawn come too soon, flooding every room of our house with bright dream~ killing light; for no reason ~ other than childhood mimicry, I shaved away the smoothest bits of myself and learned to relish husk and hard hands. I learned there’s no difference ~ between being gold and sun glinting off the bottom of a tin pan. Between arms and the mountains without end I took them for. Conquering and being seen to have conquered. Country and an acre of rough terrain. Between such shows of strength and staying long enough to prove them.

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At the Center of the Universe

Juan Parra

They’re done drying the morning tears, on the Pope’s navel. The commandant is busy murdering the lice in his beard. Raul shakes his ass to reggaeton and so does Michelle. “They stole the secrets that thrived in the cornucopia of my ears,” Cried my father. “I’ll teach rats the art of dancing on one leg.” Said the stripper who swore loved me. In the square the men throw roses at the white doves. O to cry naked on the sofa before the comedy act. Or to make love while reading a porn magazine. I’ve crowned my black cat with the rose thorns you left me, Dark meadow.

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Event Horizon

D.E. GooDRoAD

—The Schwarzchild Metric A black hole is defi ned to be a region of space-time where escape to the outside universe is impossible. The outer boundary of this region is called the event horizon…. Within the black hole is a singularity, an anomalous place where matter is compressed to the degree that the known laws of physics no longer apply to it. —Wikipedia

The nervousness builds every time I attempt to consider necessities. The simple act of making a list of what to pack, what to store, what to remember causes my heart to labor. I consider swallowing one of the muscle relaxers left from the hospital visit, and washing it down with a Vicodin and a glass of dry chardonnay, and going to sleep . . . but since I haven’t really gotten out of bed at all today, it seems rather pointless. It will all still be there tomorrow, whether I sleep tonight or not. It’s quiet in the house—silent, really, except for the rush of wind in the trees outside. The TV isn’t playing Rocky & Bullwinkle or Scooby Doo. The boys are at their father’s, where they haven’t been for longer than a day or two since the breakup last year. There is no shouting, no wrestling, no sudden disagreements; their room is dark, a jumble of strewn toys and rumpled blankets, the kind of havoc only three boys

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between the ages of two and six can wreak . . . a tableau of giggles halted mid-course. There is no man to cook for, either, no one for a distracting cuddle in bed; no music or movies playing, favorite together pastimes. Scoundrel’s absence is also fresh and painful: only two weeks have passed since he went to jail. His clothes have gone in suitcases, but whenever I try to face the room he built and the computer desk with its tangle of cords, wires, stereo equipment, disks and remotes—the happy chaos of a quick, clever man in love with gadgetry—I quail. Scoundrel, Lancelot, even the boys’ father Sundance (who left memories here, too: the metal filing cabinet he dented in a temper last year, right before I threw him out, still lies outside), are gone. I am alone with myself, and it has been six years since I could say that—over twelve since alone was a habit. So long that tonight, I feel fragile. Everywhere I turn, there’s something that was once a piece of me, that has fallen off and now lies there like some indecipherable alien object. I am caught in the event horizon of a black hole. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory describe a black hole’s event horizon as the place “where the force of gravity becomes so strong that even light is pulled in . . . it is not a tangible object. If you were to fall in to a black hole, it would be impossible for you to know when you hit the event horizon.” I have no idea when it happened, when my calm and ordered life suddenly felt the inexplicable entropy of its decaying orbit . . . but my descent is now assured.

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Goodroad It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. —Albert Einstein In the 1980s, mathematician, scientist, and science fiction author Vernor Vinge coined the term “The Singularity” to describe the point at which artificial intelligence surpasses its human creators and begins to program itself. Mathematically, a singularity is the centerpoint of a black hole. It is the point into which everything disappears. But “The Singularity” has in recent years taken on another dimension, a version promoted by inventor, computer scientist, and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil. In Kurzweil’s terms, the Singularity is not, like the center of a black hole, “a mathematical singularity, but . . . a metaphor for an event with an event horizon beyond which it is difficult to penetrate.” In other words, when you are caught in the momentum of the event, it is impossible, according to the laws of physics, to see where you are going. “Some 20 to 140 years from now,” says John Smart, in an article discussing Kurzweil’s theory, “the rate of selfcatalyzing, self-organizing technological change in our local environment will undergo a ‘singularity,’ becoming effectively instantaneous from the perspective of current biological humanity. It has been proposed that events after this point must also be ‘future-incomprehensible’ to existing humanity.” Think Blade Runner, with its vision of cyborgs so human they cannot be anything else, or The Matrix, where even reality is not real. The actual Singularity, whether it comes as a moment when technological advancement takes its own direction or simply as a metaphor for increasingly technology-dependent humanity, will create a future that by its very nature is impossible to predict. Kurzweil has compiled a logarithmic graph of the exponential rate at which human knowledge and

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Event Horizon technological capacity is expanding. The books he has authored on the subject posit artificial intelligence as the future toward which human technology is advancing. He promotes a model of the Singularity which includes technology that augments human intelligence by means of genetic engineering, nanotechnology, or cybernetic interface. Other scientists, including Vinge, dismiss this model in favor of one where artificial intelligence reaches a stage so advanced that it will no longer have need of its human creators at all. As a species, it is generally agreed that we seem to be evolving towards a transhumanist future in which man and machine become (depending on one’s leanings) interdependent or even indistinguishable. The environmental impact—indeed, the wisdom—of rushing towards this unforeseeable future is, as yet, debatable. Are we inside the event horizon of this Singularity already? Are we past the point at which we may still escape when and if we decide we wish to do so? Singularity[:] a point in space or time at which one’s existing models of reality are no longer valid. One place we observe this is within a black hole, where the equations of relativity no longer hold, generating only infinities. —John Smart, “What Is The Singularity?” It is warm outside, windy, a beautiful August night in the woods. As a child, I would sneak outside in weather like this, after my parents and my sister had gone to sleep, and play under the trees. Making up stories, having adventures. Now I can’t bear to go outside. There are trees down, giant Douglas Firs dropped by Lancelot, once intended to be milled into lumber for the house we dreamed and planned over. Big enough for our “Brady Bunch,” my three boys, his boy and two girls. Big enough to encompass our ten-year

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Goodroad friendship and the new and difficult sexual entanglement that sprouted from it and ultimately destroyed it. The fallen trees are now so full of termites that Scoundrel was leery to even make firewood out of it—casualties to the war of vision Lancelot and I waged here. When I finally get dressed, somewhere around five in the evening, and wander out to check the mail, I walk by the dead Chevy Blazer that cost $800 of my student loan money (less than half of what Lancelot “borrowed” from me) to buy and try to repair. It blew up right before Lancelot left, and he left it for me to clean up—although he took the much more portable chainsaw. In not so very long now, I leave, alone, to return to the college I left last year, three hundred miles away. Six months to finish my degree, six months to discover who I am . . . minus eight years of marriage to a man whose verbal and emotional abuse slowly escalated; minus my children (temporarily, I reassure myself, just until I get a psychiatrist and a divorce lawyer); minus Lancelot, who dreamed so huge with me that failure nearly destroyed both of us; minus Scoundrel, the sweet green-eyed man who tried to pick up the pieces, got bitten by the wounded animal he tried to heal, and lashed out so violently it brought my entire reality tumbling down around me. The past year has stripped me to the core. When I came home in 2005, it was to try to salvage the house from collapse and the land from neglect. My father had retired in July, and was medically incapable of keeping up the property. He and my mother moved into town, and when they told me they were considering selling the house I grew up in and the surrounding five acres of forest, I dropped my education three hundred miles away and ran home. By the autumn of 2006, when my third relationship in a row self-destructed, nothing remained but a house leaking rainwater in every room, and the tatters of

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Event Horizon what little self-respect the violence had left me. Not so long now. But for tonight I am a ghost, haunting the rubble of my life. Wandering aimlessly through the debris, picking up a dirty dish here, a toy horse there, setting them down again to glare menacingly at the piles of laundry that somehow never go away. Wondering what to keep when I start over, what to hang onto, and what is too heavy for me to carry until my strength and balance have returned. It is the end of something—or possibly the beginning. At this point in my trajectory, as I spiral with increasing speed into my own singularity, I cannot tell. Could it be that [the Singularity reflects] the human way of allocating memory space to past events? . . . Presumably only a few “important” memories will survive the necessary compression. Maybe that’s why there has never been a shortage of prophets predicting that the end is near. —Jurgen Schmidhuber History is the only available yardstick by which to measure our evolution as a species. Research scientist Jurgen Schmidhuber has proposed that theories about the convergence of human technology around the year 2040 are a function of how humans allot decreasing amounts of memory space to historical events the farther from an event we travel: in other words, the way we remember events causes a bias in our equations. He is led to believe that throughout history, one could pick a boom of technological invention and use it to predict a technological Singularity. David Brin gives a nod to this idea in his article Singularities and Nightmares when he finds it “worth pondering how this ‘singularity’ notion compares to the long tradition of contemplations about human transcendence, [which] makes up one of the most consistent themes in

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Goodroad cultural history, as though arising from our basic natures.” He considers this because Kurzweil predicts “paradigm shifts will become increasingly common, leading to ‘technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.’” He speaks not only of the evolution of technology, something that cannot be avoided, but of an impending future that may just be humanity’s next evolutionary step. I am of a different persuasion. I tend to agree with Einstein’s statement that “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.” I think I would find myself more in favor of the old-fashioned kind of transcendence, a return to a world where nature was not subject to the intervention of humanity’s technological whims. All I ever asked for was a small piece of property in the woods, where I could light a fire to keep warm, and carry water from the creek when the electricity that runs the well’s pump went out. Lancelot and I often used to discuss the possibility of solar panels to reduce our reliance on the energy grid, and if I had let him, he would have spent every last penny of my income on technological experiments in an attempt to free us from our reliance on technology. Like Schmidhuber, and perhaps less enthusiastically than Brin, I find myself wondering how much of the singularity hype is merely mental gymnastics, an attempt to mystify our relationship to our machines. On the other side of history, what will we remember? What is the radius of the event horizon of a black hole? . . . First, substitute the speed of light, which is the maximum escape velocity allowed by the laws of physics, for the velocity. Next, solve the escape velocity equation for the radius . . . the closest distance you can get to the center of mass of a black hole before you will not be able to escape . . . even if you travel at the maximum speed allowed by physics. —Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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Event Horizon The velocity of escape is, in my mathematical equation, equal to the amount of suffering it takes to shatter the radius of the event horizon, multiplied by the mass of everything I once owned and divided by the rate of speed at which a car may travel on the interstate. I am reminded of a quote from Einstein, whose philosophical views were as elegant as his equations. He said that “Each [person] makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way peace and security which he can not find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.” As I drive north, I begin to feel something: not excitement, not happiness exactly, but simply the absence of tension. Reckless, I smoke cigarettes and take pictures of the Seattle skyline with my camera phone as I negotiate traffic, sending the snapshots to my friends at the job I have left: Look, reads the accompanying text, I made it this far. Cool, is one coworker’s reply. She is a woman of few words, but she understands: she has seen the bruises. I finished out my obligatory two weeks’ notice, high on painkillers and lost in a fog of something so all-encompassing it could not even be called terror, waiting for the court date to finalize the restraining order against Scoundrel, who nearly broke my collarbone in an argument, forcibly dispossessed me of my car keys and cell phone when I tried to leave, and took off in my truck, crashing it into a tree before walking back—to discover the police had arrived in the meantime. I do not remember if I slept during those two weeks, but I remember being unable to breathe. Nice pic, another coworker sends, but you should be at work. I laugh, although the weight of what I am escaping still drags at me. Lost innocence; a love that disappeared into its own singularity; shattered safety. Resolutely I shake free of it all, making faces at drivers in a bigger hurry than me. I am following the gravitational pull of my own laws of physics for now.

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Goodroad The Schwartzchild Metric, a mathematical solution to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, solves the problem of the density of a black hole, but since we cannot see past the event horizon, we can only know the mass it contains, not the configuration of it. It is this unknowability which leads to the concept of a singularity. As I leave behind the radius of the event horizon, I contemplate the feeling of weightlessness that began to grow in me the moment I left the bowl of mountains that has encircled me all my life. Kurzweil states that “We used to think that in the brain—the physical part of us most closely associated with our identity—cells change very slowly, but it turns out that the components of the neurons . . . turn over in only days. I’m a completely different set of particles from what I was a week ago.” Once I drive past the hills and the city and the countryside spreads out around me, I feel the pull of the black hole ease. Pain falls away like ashes from the tip of a cigarette as drive, and I send a text message to my best friend: The mountains are behind me and in front of me. I am crying, because I am free. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. —Freeman Dyson It would take approximately another week before my particles completely turned over. By then, I had decided that nothing ultimately mattered, other than the basic need to survive. I could have retreated into insanity, a state in which the input of the world around me wavered into randomness: when context is lost, meaning becomes indecipherable. But somehow, the lack of boundaries spurred me into frenetic motion. I spent the first several days in a women’s shelter, reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer, a story in which humanity and artificial intelligence collide in the “consensual

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Event Horizon hallucination� of cyberspace, where one neurologically altered human leaves a piece of himself behind. Then I went out and found an apartment, and waited for the final round of classes to begin. Cory L. Doctorow, a science fiction author, bemoans the difficulty of writing a story set after the Singularity: “What is means to be human will be so different that what it means to be in danger, or happy, or sad, or any of the other elements that make up the squeeze-and-release tension in a good yarn will be unrecognizable . . .� As I emerged from my own singularity and began reassembling the pieces of what it meant to be myself, I found that what I had left behind held so little meaning for me that it was like looking back on a story I had read long ago, when I lived on a different planet. The technological Singularity, it is believed, will increase the growth of human knowledge to the point where we will no longer be able to relate to the world as it used to be. Whether or not this is true, or even wise, it seems unavoidable that technological change is on a curve that correlates to the human capacity to renew and transcend. We have been doing it culturally, socially, and personally throughout recorded history. Caught in our own momentum, we hurtle down a path made unavoidable by the exponential rate of our own evolution. Even when we are on a collision course with the center of a black hole, our own resilience is what lies at the center of it. Our future, shrouded in dark matter, will continue to draw us relentlessly forward. Wherever we find ourselves, it will not look anything like where we were.

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I look at the universe starrywide

Twixt

I look at the universe starry-wide and around the sun see the pinky ring of cloud and cloudy congregationing, I hear how winds eat the river’s surface and move it off for another purpose, and every once in a while I do too.

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To My Wife, Vickie, After Our Cat Killed Her Young

eric Janken

I scooped warm afterbirth with a rag, fluid bled through thin cotton. She had bit the cord, perhaps swinging her neck to tear arteries and cleave the slumped hairless balls slick with amnion. Three kits, throats clawed, eyes unopened, fit in my hand like rosary beads. In a few hours, an unoiled trash compactor will crush the siblings, shrouded in napkins. Garbagemen will wake Vickie and I’ll lie, “They were stillborn, strangled in the womb.” Nuzzled against my leg, Cora smelled faintly of urine and hydrangea. I scrubbed her of umbilical blood on the cracked driveway, thankful no porchlights ignited after the dumpster lid slammed.

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Stillborn

Eric Janken I have become like dust and ashes I cry to you and you do not answer me. – Job 30:19-20

I can no longer conjure my mother kneeling in black mud, pulling up thin carrots, airy linens anchored by brackish soil. She knew, even in that sixth month, what dug deeper into her body, drawing blood into hard shapes, would not survive. When my sister, crumpled, ash-blue, could not whimper, even while prodded with splintered birch, I wrapped her in deloused sackcloth that stank of leeks. Soft ground, weak with water, gashed by my shovel, opened like a stomach. Earth-bile and half-rotted leaves flew through the air. The first time my father had to bury a child, my brother, he plunged a knife between the ribs of a screaming sow. Standing in the muck, he flicked the blade across his thigh until drying blood mingled with his own. What do you want, boy? We have to eat.

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Sticky marsh steam hovered, blending with my sweat. I tasted salt and sulfur. My father spat, not noticing me watch him look towards the hut where a limp doll-like creature lay next to its exhausted, sleeping mother.

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St. Augustine’s Abbey

Eric Janken

…the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine – Song of Songs For HB Marya and I lie with our feet inches from Kentish stone. Our speech, foreign and crude, trespasses on this land. My hands, full of dead grass, are alien to this abbey, kin to monks buried a few yards away. Franks, Romans, robes as rough as her accent. In April, they stripped unflowered thornapple, pounded boiled bark until sap set into ink. In June, they washed battered vellum in bran-thickened milk, scraping gold-leafed goddesses with pumice. She traces her name on a nave fragment. An index finger scalps the brick’s scrim of dirt, a thousand years gone in the M alone.

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I can hear Augustine in rough mortar. This land is curdled by pagan wits. Will you lance Christ out of your heart like a boil? Only bees droning in the buckthorn will make me look up. Not sullen vesper bells or fingered cumulus sweeping over your freckled shoulders in this summer dusk. Nothing could tire me of crumbled Saxon clay or the Norman wall, where your cotton dress first became laced with soil.

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Critical Mass

Brian kamsoke

He opened the yellow plastic tackle box and three drawers of divided compartments lifted up revealing chrome syringes and small vials and pillboxes with long, unrecognizable names. James leaned forward for a closer look as he watched Nate prepare a syringe by filling it with clear liquid from one vial. Beside them, the Chenango River slid by brown and flat, running shallow and slow beneath the withered summer leaves that overhung the water. A gentle breeze created a kaleidoscope of speckled sunlight on the dry, packed mud where James stood. In the distance, beyond the cornfield across the river, James heard the diesel engine of a school bus. They still had plenty of time to climb the river bank, cross the football field where they’d practice later that day, hit the weight room for an hour, and be in first period Chemistry by eight o’clock. “I’ll go first,” Nate said, dropping his pants, “and show you how it’s done.” Feeling it perverse to stare at his

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teammate’s white, fleshy ass James glanced away, yet he returned his attention, knowing he’d have to watch to learn. “Put your weight on your front foot. See where the skin hangs loose?” Nate pinched his butt cheek with his thumb and forefinger, and in one easy motion slid the needle under the skin, pressed the plunger with his thumb to empty the clear liquid and then jerked it out. “Wah-la. Stone Cold Steve Austin.” Steve Austin. That was Nate’s favorite professional wrestler on television, a man whose pectorals and shoulders seemed sculpted from marble. But Nate’s body was just as impressive, and that’s what led James to finally approach him and begin asking questions. Nate buckled his pants. “Okay, your turn.” “What was that?” “Winstrol. Part of a stack. But we’re gonna start you with some double Ds.” “Double Ds?” “This stuff.” Nate squatted in front of the tackle box and held up a bottle. “Deca-Durabolin?” “Top-grade shit. I’ve already started with this stack.” He lifted a syringe from one of the lower compartments. “Wait. What’s that? What’s a stack?” “It’s a cycle. Stack. It’s all the same. It’s when you start adding combos. But like I said, we’re gonna start you with the double Ds.” James stared at the river wondering for a moment how fish could possibly survive in such brown, murky water. Then he looked back at Nate. “I’m not sure just yet.” “Dude. What the hell you doing here then?” Nate grimaced, the kind of menacing glare James saw on the sidelines after Nate had just returned from leveling an opposing player. “Who else is doing this?”

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Kamsoke “Man, I don’t tell nobody’s business. But if you want to figure it out for yourself, look at the starting string.” James knew all his teammates, even all the starters, couldn’t be using. But there was no denying the discrepancy in size between some of them, especially Nate, who seemed to blossom over the summer, adding fifty pounds of sheer muscle. Now in their senior year, college recruiters attended games, and the talk was Nate was a shoe-in for a scholarship to one of the Big East teams. “Where do you get this stuff ?” “Look.” Nate thrust the syringe at James. “What’s the diff ?” James took a step back. “So what’s it cost?” “I was gonna give you the first dose free. Are we packing or not? Tell me now, because I want to hit the weight room.” James stared at Nate squatting before him. Nate didn’t look like he belonged in high school anymore. He looked like a full-grown man: thick, wavy blond hair, a heavy brow, blond razor stubble that glistened in the morning sunlight. The only attribute that seemed to fit the image of a high school kid was the Metallica tee shirt stretched tight across his chest. James wanted a chest like that: pectorals that hung like a solid shelf above a set of six-pack abs. But the thought of injecting himself with a needle, or even having someone else do it, made him queasy. “I guess I’ll wait,” he finally said. “I just wanted to see how it was done.” Nate set the syringe back into the tackle box and closed the lid. “Suit yourself. Let’s go lift.” *** James lay on his back straining to lift the bar off his chest as Nate towered overhead spotting him. A burn raged through his pectorals. His forearms quivered. A knot tightened somewhere deep inside his chest to the point he couldn’t breathe. Unable to lift it off, the bar and all its weight began pressing down on his breastplate. James felt himself

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Critical Mass losing his grip, the barbell twisting his wrists and rolling backward toward his neck. “Come on, punk! Lift that off! Lift that off!” Nate’s face hovered over James, a face for a moment James didn’t even recognize: a vein pumped wildly on Nate’s forehead like a worm struggling to break the surface. James felt the weight on the bar crushing him. He wanted to call out for help but could only manage a squeaky gasp. Nate leaned closer. “What’s that? Say again.” James kicked his legs like a fish flopping on land. Just when he thought the barbell might crush his trachea, Nate reached down and lifted the bar with ease, slamming it back into the cradle. “Thought you had it there, bud.” James sprang to a seated position, rubbing his neck, glaring at Nate. He wanted to tell him to go fuck himself. Instead, he submissively stepped out of Nate’s way and watched him calmly add another 120 pounds to the bar. Once James recovered his breath, he questioned in a more cynical tone, “How do you know about all that stuff ?” “Don’t you pay attention in Chemistry?” “We don’t talk about that stuff in Chemistry class. What’s the other stuff you said you were taking?” “Winstrol. There’s others. Once you learn your own body you’ll start adding to your stacks. Clomid and HCG. You’ll want to take breaks between cycles, too.” Nate sat on the bench and slithered under the bar. Slithered – that’s how he moved. “You don’t want to end up with bitch tits.” James laughed, even though he wasn’t sure what he found so funny about the comment. “What’s bitch tits?” “It can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. But I’ll take care of you, don’t worry.” As Nate grabbed the bar and took a couple deep breaths, James moved to stand behind him. “I’ll spot you,” he said. Nate snorted. “Yeah, right.” He lifted the bar from its

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Kamsoke cradle, lowered it to his chest, and jerked upward on the bar with such force the weights clanked together. He continued with one rep after another, each rep appearing easier than the one before; he wasn’t so much lifting the weights as tossing them into the air. Two hundred and forty pounds – Nate made it look as easy as rowing a boat. James watched him with a mix of envy and spite until something grabbed his attention. That worm – that worm had reemerged on Nate’s forehead, twisting and turning just below the skin. James saw it, yes, saw it, beginning to break through to crawl its way out. *** James sat in first period Chemistry class behind Claire who sat behind Nate, who hadn’t arrived yet but would soon to sit in the front row, not so much because he was a good student, or even attentive, James reasoned, but because he enjoyed showing off his immense physical stature to the students behind him. While waiting for class to begin and students to filter in, James thought this might be the opportunity to ask Claire if she had a date for the homecoming dance in three weeks. James had a crush on Claire – he had ever since junior high. They’d talk and he assumed they’d call each other friends. Although they never really hung out together, they’d run into each other at parties and share comments about teachers and classes outside their lockers. But that was the extent of it, until now, because James was preparing to pop the question. If he played this right, he might even get a date for the prom. Claire spun around to face him, a mane of long, red hair trailing behind. Like a wildfire, he thought. Now was his chance. He was suddenly so nervous his stomach hiccupped. “Uhg, I dread this class. I hate Chemistry. I don’t know why we have to take it,” she groaned. Unsure how to respond, James wanted to say something that would comfort her. But he couldn’t think of

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Critical Mass anything that wouldn’t sound corny. So he just agreed. She asked if he’d read chapter three and whether he knew the date for the first quiz. James told her he’d read the chapter and showed her on the class schedule the date for the quiz. He was about to broach the subject of the homecoming dance when Tommy and Tyler crashed through the door laughing and hitting each other before gathering around James and Claire. He’d lost his opportunity – the fact of which both frustrated and, strangely, gave him a sense of relief. Known as TNT on the football team, Tommy and Tyler were friends of James. Unlike James, though, who had a shot at the starting string, TNT were second string, possibly even third. More interested in partying, they weren’t serious about football. They asked if James and Claire were going to the quarry that night, to which they both replied, yes, they were going. The quarry was an abandoned mine pit in the hills overlooking town where high school seniors gathered for beer parties. The teacher stood in front of the classroom, waiting it seemed, for Nate, who suddenly loomed in the doorway. So wide now were his shoulders that he had to turn his body to fit through the door, ducking his head as he entered. The teacher did not appear annoyed by Nate’s tardiness; instead, he seemed to shrink back and greet him meekly. Nate took his seat in front of the class, the chair legs groaning under his enormous weight. TNT sat in the very back, and whenever the teacher turned to write on the whiteboard, they whispered together like crickets. James tried to follow the lesson and take notes. He copied what the teacher wrote on the whiteboard: this chain reaction depends on the release of more neutrons than were used during the nuclear reaction. Following the teacher’s lecture, he scribbled into his notebook: the minimum amount of fissionable material needed to ensure a chain reaction is

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Kamsoke called the critical mass. None of this made much sense to James. Distracted, his eyes settled on the nape of Claire’s neck and the smell of her perfume. And then he noticed – was she? – was she staring at Nate? He fixed his gaze on him, and something was happening to Nate. Yes, he was sure of it, Nate was growing larger – his shoulders slowly inflating as though being pumped full of air, the fabric of his shirt being stretched to the point it looked about to rip. James glanced around the room. Nobody else, it seemed, noticed that Nate was getting larger before their very eyes. *** Tyler took a hit, passed the pipe to Tommy, and said, “So, what you’re saying is, like, these neutrons, like, they merge, and there’s this big explosion, like a fireball, like the sun, except it doesn’t stop, it just keeps burning and that’s called critical mass.” They sat on the tailgate of Tommy’s father’s pickup truck on the outer fringe of firelight from a bonfire that raged in the center of the quarry. James stood to the side waiting again for his turn to accept the pipe. He zipped up his sweat jacket. Damp and cool, the possibility of a frost lingered in the air. Closer to the fire, partiers from the senior class, and even some of last year’s graduates, those who didn’t go to college, stood in groups drinking beer from clear plastic cups. The heavy, ferocious riff of a Metallica song blared from the speakers of Nate’s Camaro. Tommy took a hit, held the smoke in his lungs, and passed the pipe to James, who took a couple hits finishing off the bowl while Tommy suffered a spastic coughing fit, belching puffs of white smoke. When he recovered, he asked, “Where’d you get this shit?” “My brother brought it back from Potsdam. It’s Hawaiian. Got red hairs in it.” Tyler began, “Mmm, mmm, red hair. Red hair.” He

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Critical Mass rocked back on the tailgate thrusting his groin forward. “I think I’m reaching critical mass right now. Oh, baby, yes. Full blown critical mass.” James looked to where Claire was approaching with two girlfriends. Tommy said, “Hey, ladies, wanna catch a buzz.” Claire wore a red turtleneck sweater and stood next to James. She was the same height as him, the fact of which somehow made James feel small. She smiled, holding her gaze on him, and a sudden wave of paranoia hit James. Had she said something that he’d missed? Should he say something? God, she was beautiful. He was about to say just that when she turned to Tommy and said, “We could smell it from way over there.” “This is good shit,” Tyler said, and from a clear plastic bag began packing the bowl. “It’s got red hairs in it from Potsdam.” “That’s Hawaii, bonehead,” Tommy said to Tyler, and then to Claire, “Not as pretty as your red hair, Claire.” She laughed. “Oh, that’s so sweet, Tommy. I’m happy my hair is prettier than your pot.” One of Claire’s girlfriends started talking about some pot she smoked last weekend. James couldn’t follow her story because he was distracted. He replayed Tommy’s compliment to Claire in his mind and thought it clever. He wished he’d said it, or something similar. Instead, he stood with his hands in his jean pockets fingering a note he’d written to Claire. He wrote it after football practice. He wrote how much he liked her. He thought of using the word love, but decided that was too much. He wrote that she was beautiful, though, and that he loved spending time with her, their talks. Love, he used it in that context. He closed the note by asking her to the homecoming dance. The pipe was being passed around and came to James, who took a hit and passed it to Claire who took two

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Kamsoke quick puffs and passed it to her girlfriend. He wished he hadn’t gotten high, and he wished Claire hadn’t joined them. His thoughts were more jumbled than ever now. He had trouble following the conversation and couldn’t think of anything to say. Until, he was about to say it, just blurt it out, Claire, would you go to the homecoming dance with me, when Nate joined the group, wedging himself between Claire and her girlfriend. It didn’t seem possible, but he had grown even larger. He draped a beefy arm around each girl. A plastic cup of beer dangled precariously over Claire’s right breast. James noted that Claire didn’t seem to mind Nate’s presence. “Hey, deadheads, ready for tomorrow’s game?” “It’s just a scrimmage,” Tyler said. “Wanna catch a buzz?” Tommy asked. “That shit will mess you up. I don’t get high.” Tommy shrugged. “First time for everything.” Nate looked at James. “There sure is.” James felt his heart beating outside his chest, but he wasn’t sure if it was because he was high or because Claire stood so close. “Wooo,” Tyler yelled. “Van Hagar!” Someone had changed the music to Van Halen, the one featuring Sammy Hagar on vocals, who had replaced the band’s previous lead singer, David Lee Roth. Nate unhooked his arms from around Claire and her girlfriend and stared back menacingly toward his Camaro. He yelled, “Who’s fuckin’ with the music?” and stomped off across the party toward his car. “They’re gonna change the name to Van Hagar,” Tyler said. “Since when. They broke up years ago,” Tommy said. “They’ll get back together. Sure as shit they will.” Claire grabbed hold of James’ upper arm and his heart thumped so heavy he could hardly hear. “Thanks for the buzz, guys,” she said, and giving James’ arm a tug before

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Critical Mass letting go, added, “Good luck in tomorrow’s game.” “It’s just a scrimmage,” Tyler said. James watched Claire move through the party toward the bonfire. Move, more like glided, he thought. “Man, she is so freakin’ hot,” Tommy said. Tyler thrust his groin forward. “There is a full blown critical mass in my pants right now. I have reached critical mass in my pants.” The music returned again to a Metallica riff as James watched Nate join Claire and her girlfriends by the bonfire. Nate stumbled and then kicked something into the glowing red coals. He gulped his beer and threw the cup into the fire. Then, abruptly, he picked up Claire in his arms and began tossing her into the air. Her girlfriends laughed and clapped. Completely airborne, Claire shrieked. James moved closer, making his way through the party and nearer to the bonfire, his eyes fixed on Nate and Claire. He watched as Nate tossed Claire into the air and then stumbled toward the fire. He caught her and stumbled again and threw her into the air once more. James now stood next to them and he found himself yelling in crescendo, “Nate! Nate! Nate!” Nate turned with a drunken expression while holding Claire in his arms. Her arms hugged Nate’s thick neck as she giggled and smiled down. “What’s up?” Nate grunted. His mouth was dry and James wasn’t sure what had led him from the truck’s tailgate to standing here yelling at Nate. “The fire,” he finally said, adding calmly, “You’re too close to the fire.” Nate set Claire down, leaving one arm around her waist. She rested her hand on Nate’s bulging shoulder. “Dude,” he said. “Chill.” “It’s okay, Jamie,” Claire said. Nate slapped James on the shoulder with such force he thought his knees would buckle. “Don’t have a

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Kamsoke hemorrhoid-age.” Claire returned to her girlfriends and Nate left for the opposite side of the fire, disappearing into the darkness. Jamie – he hated that Claire called him by that name. It made him feel small and insignificant. Everybody around the bonfire had watched what just transpired. Many stood staring at James with curiosity. Tommy and Tyler came up behind. Tommy said, “Man, what was that all about?” James stared into the fire. “Nothing,” he said. He removed the note from his pocket and tossed it onto the hot coals, watching it catch fire and burn. Nate emerged then from out of the darkness on the opposite side of the bonfire carrying two truck tires. He flung one then the other onto the fire and disappeared again into the darkness. Great plumes of black smoke swirled from the tires. A thick, oily smell choked the air. Nate appeared again carrying a four by eight sheet of plywood over his head. He dropped the plywood over the tires. A hot breath of air like that of a dragon fanned out through the party followed by an eruption of sparks twisting into the night sky. Then Nate took a couple steps back, ran, and leaped on top of the plywood, balancing himself there, riding the sheet of wood like a fiery surfboard. Flames shot out below. Nate howled like an animal at the moon. He tore the tee shirt from his chest and threw the shreds into the fire. He flexed his muscles, his pectorals jumping wildly with a life of their own. He raised his fists into the air, the muscle mass in his arms the size of hams. As he rode the flames, shadows caught the deep ridges in his abdomen. He did not appear human but instead a grotesque caricature of something more beastly. He howled again, the firelight catching in his mouth – his tongue and teeth like a swollen, open sore. *** James arrived at the weight room early the next morning before the scrimmage. He wanted to be alone in the

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Critical Mass room to work on his legs, performing squats in front of the mirror. He lowered himself into a seated position and lifted the weight with his legs. His thighs burned and twitched, but he forced himself to do one more extra set to the point he thought his legs would give out. Then he cradled the bar, leaned against it, and stared at himself in the mirror. He thought his body lacked any definition. He wasn’t skinny, but he wasn’t big, either. He was … undefined. He felt there was nothing really special about him. He was just kind of … there, taking up space. A senior in high school, a virgin, no girlfriend, no prospects for a girlfriend, no hope of a football scholarship, a father and stepmother insisting he go to college, but he unsure where he’d go or what he’d do once he got there – it seemed, yes, his life was as undefined as his body. The door to the weight room banged open and Nate walked in wearing dark sunglasses. “Caught you posing.” “I’m not posing.” Nate – what had happened to him? What was happening to him? He was transforming into some hideous bestial form with a corrugated forehead and a snout like that of a gorilla set above a scaly jaw. Even his hair appeared different; although thinner, the individual hairs looked thicker and stuck out like porcupine quills. He grunted. “I brought you something.” Nate flicked a pill bottle at James, who caught it and read the label. “Deca-Durabolin.” “It’s the same double Ds just in pill form. A little weaker than injecting. But it’ll get you started, especially if you’re squeamish about needles.” James rolled the bottle in his hand and gave it shake. The pills rattled inside the plastic container with an almost magical quality. Nate sat on the bench and started doing creature curls. A thick vein stretched over his bicep. James had left the party soon after Nate’s antics on

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Kamsoke the fire. He didn’t know what, if anything, had happened between Claire and Nate. Part of him wanted to know, but another part was afraid to find out. For whatever reason, James felt sure that Nate and Claire had hooked up the night before. In fact, now, he was certain of it. He could tell by the way she’d looked at Nate, the way she giggled and smiled in his arms. James was nothing to her. He was Jamie to her – something small and insignificant. He removed the lid from the pill bottle and tapped out two small, white pills into the palm of his hand. He looked at Nate who admired himself in the mirror. He wondered what one pill, just one pill, would do for him. Would it define him just a little bit more? Would it make him into something just a little bit better? Then he dumped the pills back into the container, sealed the lid, and set the bottle on the bench next to Nate. “No, thanks,” he said. Nate looked up at him, the dumbbell hanging from his arm. “Serious?” James shrugged. If he was going to be alone all his life, what difference did it make if he was as big as Nate? And in some perverse sadistic way he felt pleasure in turning Nate down. Nate grabbed the pill bottle and stood towering over James. “Man, you are one weird ass, dude.” *** The scrimmage lasted three hours, and James played most of the game at wide receiver, where he had a chance of starting the first game of the season next week. He cruised into the secondary, effortlessly catching one ball after another. He felt sharp, everything in focus. He could even see the laces on the ball, hear it slice the air as it spun toward him. His hands were soft, and after he caught the ball, he was able to make hard cuts to elude tackles. He felt good – really, really good. The coach had specified no contact, so fortunately

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Critical Mass James didn’t have to worry about Nate blindsiding him, which he sometimes did even in practice. That all changed, though, when a play called for a short post pattern that would put James directly in Nate’s middle linebacker territory. He ran the play and caught the ball and when he turned, Nate’s helmet and face filled his vision – facemask-to-facemask, so close he saw beads of sweat on Nate’s cheeks, heard him grunt on impact, smelled his sour breath. Lifted into the air, seemingly weightless and floating for a instant, James suddenly fell hard backwards into the ground with such force, and with Nate’s full weight landing on top of him, that he spit out his mouthpiece. At first, everything went dark and for a moment completely quiet. Then he heard leaves rustled by the wind, heard tweets of birds, and smelled freshly cutgrass. But all this was drown out next by a terrible guttural roar that filled his ears, so close the fiery, viscous breath clung to him; hot spittle fell on his face. He opened his eyes to find a large, dark presence blotting out the sun, and James saw staring back at him – glowing lizard eyes from behind a facemask – it. It roared again, and James hugged the football to his chest, comforted by the coarse leather, knowing that he’d held the ball to complete the pass. Letting the ball roll from his hand and turning on his side, a stabbing pain tore through his ribs. “Nate!” James heard the coach yell. “What the hell was that?” James got to his feet. Whatever it was, he wanted to get away from it. On his return to the huddle, the coach intercepted James, asking if he was okay. He said he was, even though he wasn’t. The pain in his ribs burned through his side. Perhaps the coach noted James pained expression because he told him to go to the sidelines. Sitting on the bench holding his ribs, James watched the coach approach Nate, and as he drew closer, with each step, Nate – for lack of a better term – was puffing out,

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Kamsoke pulsating like a gaseous sun preparing to go nova. The coach stood with his head tossed back looking up at Nate, telling him something in what appeared a quiet, subdued tone. Then the coach put his hands on Nate’s shoulders and then, in an almost loving embrace, on the sides of Nate’s helmet, and Nate began to slowly, slowly deflate. They finished practice with wind sprints, and despite the pain in his side, James completed them with his teammates and then walked toward the lockers with Tommy and Tyler. Nate marched ahead. He’d grown so large he couldn’t fit into his uniform and so had removed his shirt. His back glistened with sweat, his muscles like smooth, round boulders. But James noticed something else: great festering whorls of acne had broken out on Nate’s neck; and something else, too, at that moment, the inflamed, pus-filled boils were continuing to emerge, popping up, breaking the skin at the base of Nate’s skull, forming what appeared an exterior spine. “He’s a physical freak,” Tommy said. “He’s compensating,” Tyler added. “He’s got a prick the size of a toothpick.” “How do you know?” “Check him out.” “What the fuck you talking about? Checking out another man’s junk in the shower?” “I’m just saying you got to size up the competition.” Tommy scoffed. “You wouldn’t know what to do with a woman if she was naked, willing, and desperate. Now look there. She’s damn hot. I mean, smokin’.” In the bleachers, Claire sat with two girlfriends. He knew Tommy referred to Claire. He couldn’t tell from this distance, but it appeared the three gestured toward Nate. As if Nate somehow sensed this, he turned toward them and struck a pose, flexing his biceps, which bulged like two perfectly round cantaloupes.

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Critical Mass In the shower, James peeked at Nate. A bruise had formed on Nate’s right butt cheek where he had injected himself. Flaky gray skin surrounded a bright red bruise. He couldn’t believe he would do this, but he did. James peeked at Nate’s groin and saw an enormous nest of pubic hair, so much hair he couldn’t tell if Nate had testicles or not. *** The word was out. College scouts would be in attendance at the first game of the season, and one of them, a scout from Syracuse University, was prepared to offer Nate a full scholarship, so said the gossip. The tiny high school was no longer big enough for Nate. So ridiculously huge now, he had to slouch forward to keep his head from hitting the ceiling. Students parted like the Red Sea as he lumbered through the hallways. Teachers stepped meekly aside to hold doors open for him to pass, in fear possibly, for at times, Nate would rage for no apparent reason, punching and tearing off locker doors. It seemed Nate could not speak anymore, either, least not the language of humans, for it seemed his emotional and intellectual abilities had failed to advance as quickly as his physical attributes; in fact, those skills had regressed to an earlier, more primordial stage. Nate now spoke in a series of grunts and groans, the language he commonly spoke in the weight room. By that first game, if there had been any doubt before, none existed now. Nate’s transformation became complete under the lights in front of hundreds of cheering spectators. Nobody could deny it. Nate had turned into a monster. Even one parent sitting in the bleachers behind the team’s bench made the confession, which James overheard: “That kid’s a monster.” Nate stalked the field as a Komodo dragon lizard might patrol his kingdom on the Galapagos Islands. He tore limbs from opposing players, clawed and dragged the carcasses of others halfway down the field. He had grown

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Kamsoke so large his helmet split in two, wearing it now like a cracked eggshell; his feet had busted the seams of his cleats, the soles snapping like lunging rattlers as he pursued his prey. “That kid’s a monster.” During the second half, James noticed Claire standing alone behind the wire fence at ground level. Knowing that the coach frowned on players carousing with fans during the game but noticing Claire was watching him and smiling, he decided to walk over and talk with her. “How come you’re not playing?” she asked. He pointed to his side. “Your ribs still?” “The coach said maybe next game after they heal.” “Where does it hurt?” “Here.” He lifted the corner of his shirt, showing her the purple bruise. She gasped, and reaching over the fence, she touched him there with the tips of her fingers. “Does it hurt much?” The warmth of her touch radiated through him. Every molecule in his body was suddenly set spinning. “Claire,” he said, “would you go to the homecoming dance with me?” The words startled him. She withdrew her hand over the fence, and by the expression on her face he knew he should’ve kept his mouth shut. “Never mind,” he said. She stuttered. “No. I mean that’s not it.” “I should have figured you already had a date. With Nate or somebody.” “Nate? Oh, my gosh, no. I mean he’s nice and all, but he’s such a goof.” James felt his confidence grow. Then she added, “I appreciate what you did the other night.” “What’d I do?” “The concern you showed for me by fire.” “Oh, that. I was just worried you might fall into the fire.” “That’s very sweet. Sure, of course, I’d love to go to the dance with you.”

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Critical Mass “Really?” and noticing what appeared a tinge of embarrassment in her expression, asked, “What?” “It’s just I was beginning to think you didn’t like me.” “Ha! That’s funny,” he said. At that instant, a great cheer erupted in the stands. Nate had intercepted a pass and was running toward the goal line. He was alone and nobody was even near him. And James could see. With every step. Nate was getting larger and larger. Until. Suddenly. Miraculously. Nate exploded. The crowd gasped in unison. Pieces of Nate rained down on the field between the 20-and 30-yard lines. Claire shrieked and reached over the fence to throw her arms around James’ neck. Pulling him closer, she looked into his eyes and he into hers. “I hope he’s going to be okay,” she said. As an ambulance crew rushed onto the field to begin picking up pieces of Nate, James couldn’t be sure. But at the moment, honestly, he didn’t care too much about that, for he felt something more important had begun between he and Claire, a chain reaction, of sorts, building to critical mass with the release of more neutrons than were used during a nuclear reaction.

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26th Anniversary

Alison Carb Sussman

Touch me, don’t touch me. Tentative, my icy hand brushes your hot length. You turn away, blankets over you, an impregnable mass. Moonlight crawls through the bedroom window, the cat’s eyes blaze. Talk to me, don’t talk to me. You breathe through the mask, dive, sliding through warm pillows. In the living room you read P.D. James, or play piano, blind fingered, Tyner’s free-wheeling jazz tunes tickling the hairs in my ears. Come to me, don’t come to me. My wifely duty. Wok in the kitchen. Chicken in Teriyaki sauce with broccoli and wild rice. You on Facebook, appear at the table after it cools. Each of us, staring glazed eyed at the TV: Arctic penguins collide with salesgirls in a 19th century shop. Bumping into furniture in the dark. I open my arms to receive you, you are ash. I wait. I wait. Nothing of you drifts down. The tree near our building cut off at the roots. My arms ache from not enfolding you. Black slits your eyes. My hands reach for the fuzz of your hair Once your kisses spun me into the Ethernet. We are. We are. We are not. Getting off the bus you go through the motions of helping me

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down. But you don’t touch. Is it because I am a fragile instrument? Not more fragile than your piano, moonlight streaming over its keys. Uncertainly, you look at me. My hand slips off your arm. Slower you walk, allow me to keep pace with you. Kiss me, oh don’t kiss me, I say. And gently, you do.

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The Pathologist

kimberly tabor

She lived two doors down, from worlds both foreign and familiar. On weekdays she was a single mom like me. A flabby label —we are all single moms, I’m one mom, so was yours — that I’ve summoned nonetheless when pity can shade my shortcomings. Her husband had stayed behind, came on weekends, while she took up residence among the flesh and fluids here. A pathologist, she looked for errant cells that could be pounded into submission by the pristine wit of modern medicine. She was also an immigrant, more legitimately so than I. Because she’s from India and I’m just from the South. Or my family is. But if anyone were to examine my own flesh or fluids, they’d surely find the red dirt of Georgia suspended in a mash otherwise inchoate, even though I wasn’t born there, didn’t live there till I’d already reached the threshold in life where I’d started wanting to go back in time. She teetered on madness, too, and I knew it, less as a bloodhound and more as anion to anion. Our kids played together, riotously unaware. Her husband with his falling-forward aristocrat’s bearing would ask if mine already did this, did that. Oh, look how tall she is. And my instinct was to dodge and downplay because I knew that he would somehow turn back any of my daughter’s successes on his wife in the form of recriminations. I wanted him to think his children were better, faster, smarter than mine. But then the wife refused to call my daughter’s father my ex-husband.

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He was always “your husband.” I’d rush good-naturedly to correct her, but she never corrected herself, would continue apace the conversation as if I hadn’t said anything. Until one day she told me that we should get back together my ex and me, my X and me for my daughter’s sake. She had found the mutant cell. The next time I saw her husband, he asked me if my daughter could swim already. I said yes.

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Neighborhood

david langlinais

Bill washed his truck a second time just to be sure. It didn’t appear to be pollen, but instead a fine, almost imperceptible dusting of white paint that covered the hood of his black pickup. How could it be anything else, he thought, as he returned his eyes to the large armoire that had been sitting all morning at the top of the driveway next door. Layered in a fresh coat of white paint, it now sat drying in the growing heat of another summer day. Not even noon yet, it was already nearing 100-degrees. Next to the armoire were several cans of spray paint—some standing, some knocked over onto their sides by the wind that had picked up earlier that morning; now blowing hot and wet from the south at a steady 15 mph, when not gusting at twice that speed. He couldn’t believe someone would choose to spraypaint something in that kind of wind. The armoire appeared heavy-looking, like a professional-grade refrigerator, standing there in the driveway on sheets of newspaper. On the way to

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the neighbor’s front door, Bill pressed his forefinger to the surface of the armoire. His fingertip came away white. Bill wiped the paint from his finger on the inside of his pants pocket. He dried his face on his shirtfront before ringing the doorbell. He was wet, as much from the hose and washing the truck as sweating in the heat. After a moment, a woman opened the door, wiping her hands on the front of an apron. There appeared to be flour on the tip of her nose. “I’m sorry, we’re not interested,” she said before Bill could say anything. “Yeah, hi, I’m your neighbor,” Bill said, thinking he might have to put his foot in the door so she couldn’t close it. He realized she didn’t recognize him. “From next door?” he added. “Oh, that’s why you look so familiar,” she said, laughing, perhaps embarrassed. “I’m sorry. We get people selling stuff all the time.” “I know, we get them too,” Bill said, gesturing toward his own front door. “I guess you do,” the woman said, and she laughed again. “Anyway,” Bill said, getting back on track. “I noticed someone was painting.” Bill stepped aside so she could see the armoire baking in the sun, shimmering in the heat, like it might melt. “Yeah,” she said, nodding. “Josh put the second coat on it about an hour ago.” “Well, as you can see, it’s pretty windy,” Bill said, again moving out of the way, this time so she could see the little oak tree out front, the way it bent in the stiff, unrelenting gusts of wind. As if, at any moment, it might lose its grip on the earth and blow away. “Josh said it was hard getting the paint on evenly because of the wind,” she said. “Josh is your husband?”

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Langlinais “No, he’s our son.” “Oh, okay.” “He would pick a windy Saturday to paint that old thing,” she said. “But then, when is it ever not windy out here, right?” “I know. It’s maddening, isn’t it?” Bill said. Until a few years ago the area had been farmland. The landscape was flat and, aside from the saplings developers had planted everywhere, was without any natural windbreak. Sometimes it seemed the wind would never stop blowing. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter. He must have made a face because the woman laughed again. Bill couldn’t help liking her. She seemed nice, like their kind of people. Not what he’d expected from anyone when moving out to the suburbs. He thought that maybe he and his wife, Allison, should’ve made more of an effort after all. Maybe it was their fault they didn’t know their neighbors, even after four years. “Sometimes I don’t even want to go outside because of the wind,” she said. “It’s enough to drive you crazy.” “I know what you mean,” Bill said, happy to have something in common with her. Even something as common as the wind. “Anyway, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I know your son didn’t mean to do it or anything, but, see, I think the wind might’ve blown some of the paint onto my truck.” “Oh, no,” she said, rising on her toes and looking over Bill’s shoulder at his truck. All the houses on the cul-desac were built on a sloping ridge, so the cul-de-sac itself was like a wide-rimmed bowl. His truck was parked in its usual spot at the bottom of his walkway, so below both houses. “That’s your truck there?” she said, like she’d never seen it before. Like he didn’t park it there every day. Bill chose not to park in his half of the two-car garage in back off the alley, which he’d converted into a studio. His was the

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Neighborhood only vehicle ever parked in the cul-de-sac. “Yeah. As you can see I tried washing it, but I don’t think it did any good. I’m still waiting for it to dry, then I’ll know for sure.” “Oh, no,” she said again. Bill was glad the woman didn’t dispute his claim. He was glad it was the woman’s son and not her husband or even she who’d painted the armoire. Kids make mistakes, it’s a given, and parents can accept it more easily than if they themselves are at fault. It didn’t seem like there would be any problems and Bill was relieved. “I can show you where I think the paint hit the truck if you’d like,” Bill said. He wanted to be sure. He wanted the woman to see it, too. “I mean you can’t really see anything from up here.” She looked back into the house like she didn’t want to step outside, like she wasn’t going to. “C’mon,” Bill urged. “It’ll only take a second.” “Okay,” she said. The woman followed Bill down the curving walkway to the truck. “Right there,” Bill said, gesturing toward the wet truck, having a hard time seeing anything in the glare. “If you look closely I think you can see it.” The woman looked at the truck and didn’t say anything. “See?” Bill said. “I believe you,” she said. Again, Bill was glad the woman didn’t dispute his claim. He felt emboldened as he followed her back up the walk and to her door. Now they were back where they’d been standing before. Bill could feel the air conditioning pouring from the house and it felt good. A moment passed and when the woman didn’t say anything Bill felt he had to say something.

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Langlinais “I guess what I’m trying to say is that the hood of my truck may have to be repainted.” “Right,” she said, her smile constant. “It’s just that I leave that kind of stuff to my husband.” “Oh. Is he here, then?” Bill said, not wanting to have to go through the whole scenario again. “No, he’s out right now,” she said. “But you can wait inside if you want. He shouldn’t be much longer. He’s out running an errand.” “Oh, I don’t know,” Bill said. “I’m all wet.” “Don’t be silly,” she said. “Besides, I really think you should get out of the heat.” “Well…” “C’mon, I just took a pie out the oven. You can be my Guinea Pig.” “Well, if it’s really okay,” Bill said, thinking the woman was nice. Again, he wondered why he and his wife had never done anything with them before. He was certain his wife would like her, too. Inside the house, the woman sat Bill in the living room. NASCAR was on the TV. A moment later, she served him a small wedge of pie, the thick and still steaming gelatinous cherries slowly oozing out the sides and onto the plate. She went back to the kitchen and returned with a small demitasse of coffee on a saucer. He’d finished the pie in four bites, then the coffee in two gulps, sending it all down hot, syrupy and sweet. He couldn’t help feeling amazed. After four years he knocks on the neighbor’s door and, just like that, he’s inside eating homemade pie and watching NASCAR on TV. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before? Maybe all he’d ever needed was an excuse. He thought that if he’d only come over the week they’d moved in—maybe to borrow a cup of sugar, no matter how cliché—then they might have been friends all along. “So what’s the verdict?” the woman said, coming

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Neighborhood back into the living room. She wiped her hands on the apron. Bill noticed the spot of flour was no longer on her nose. “Probably the best cherry pie I’ve ever had,” he lied. It wasn’t the best, but it was pretty damned good. Hot out the oven, how could it not be? Under the whining engines of the cars racing around the track on TV, he heard what sounded like the garage door, the way his garage door sounded inside his own house next door when opening and closing. He heard a car door slam shut, then somebody came in the back door. The woman had gone back to the kitchen and was talking to someone, a brief conversation in whispers that Bill assumed covered the incident of the paint and his truck. Then a man Bill recognized from the one or two times he’d seen him came into the living room carrying a plastic bag from The Home Depot. Bill recalled the man having more hair, but couldn’t be sure. After dropping the bag onto the dining room table, the man made his way into the living room and Bill stood up to greet him. “Enjoy the pie?” the man said, gesturing at the plate on the coffee table, a red smear and a scattering of crumbs the only indication of the pie Bill had eaten. “Yeah, your wife bakes a mean pie,” Bill said. “Actually, I was just telling her it’s the best cherry pie I’ve ever had.” “That right?” the man said, now sorting through some mail. He paused to read an envelope before dropping the whole stack onto an end table. Then he looked at Bill. “So, my wife was telling me you have a problem with my son painting in the front yard?” It came out of nowhere. Before Bill could reply, he heard the man’s wife speaking from the kitchen. “That’s not what I said, Sam, and you know it.” “Well, then, Stacey, how ‘bout coming out here and explaining it,” the man said. Bill realized he hadn’t known

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Langlinais the woman’s name that whole time. The man smiled a strange smile at Bill, like he’d just made a joke and they were the only ones privy to it. The man sat in the chair opposite the sofa where Bill had been sitting. Bill was still standing and the man said, “Please, sit down—” “Bill,” Bill said. “Right,” the man said, standing back up and extending a hand toward Bill. “You know, we’ve never officially met. I’m Sam, Sam Bowman.” Bill shook Sam Bowman’s hand. “Bill McFadden,” he said. “Good to finally meet you, Sam, after, what, four years?” “Has it been four years already?” the man said, sitting back down. Bill sat back down on the sofa. “Well, better late than never, right?” Bill said, thinking it was true. Nobody said they couldn’t start a friendship now. Sure, it’d taken four years to find an excuse, but now he was sitting inside their home eating pie and watching NASCAR. And that’s all that mattered in the end. The man watched the TV. He uttered someone’s name and Bill realized it was one of the drivers’ names. Then he looked at Bill again. “Hey, you want a beer?” he said. “Yeah, sure, that’d be great,” Bill said, and again he was amazed. First cherry pie and coffee, now a beer. “Hey, Stace, honey,” the man called toward the kitchen. “As long as you’re coming out here, could you please bring Bill and me a couple a beers?” His wife didn’t reply. “Anyway,” the man said, turning back to Bill. “We’ll see if we can’t get to the bottom of this.” The woman came into the room with two cans of beer. She handed one to Bill, and then the other to her husband. “All I said, Sam,” she said, “is that Josh was painting

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Neighborhood the armoire and Bill said the wind blew some onto his truck. You can’t see it, but he says it’s there if you look real close.” “Well that’s not exactly what I said,” Bill said. The man started yelling at the ceiling. “Josh. Get down here. Now.” Bill stopped talking and the man smiled at him again, the same inside-joke kind of smile. Bill heard movement upstairs. Then a door opened and closed and someone came running down the carpeted stairs. A teenager entered the room, wearing baggy shorts, a T-shirt and socks. He stiffened at the sight of Bill sitting there. “Yeah, dad?” the boy said, not taking his eyes off Bill. Bill began to rise, but the man held out a hand for him to stay seated. “Josh,” the man said. “What do you think happens when you paint—when you spray paint, I might add—on a windy day?” The boy looked confused, like it was a trick question, and he didn’t want to give the wrong answer. “Think about it, son.” “I am,” the boy said. Bill felt uncomfortable for the boy. He seemed like a good kid. “Look—” Bill said. “It’s okay, Bill,” the man said, holding up his hand again. “He needs to reason it out.” The boy stood there, appearing to think about it. Still, he didn’t seem to know what his father wanted him to say. He continued standing there, as if on a stage in a spot light, having forgotten his lines. The man sat there, legs crossed, patient. Like he would sit there all day if that’s what it took. After a while, Bill wanted to say something to end the silence. Then the boy launched into an answer: “Some of it will get on the armoire, though,” he said. “Enough to paint the whole thing if you hold the can close enough.”

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Langlinais The man smiled at Bill. “Kid’s a genius, isn’t he?” he said. Then he addressed the boy again. “Okay, let’s put it another way. Let’s say there’s a truck parked downwind. Mightn’t the paint also get on the truck? See what I’m getting at, Josh?” The man looked at Bill, again the same smile. “Look,” Bill said, “I didn’t come over here to give your son a hard time.” “Excuse me, Bill, but there’s a lesson to be learned here,” the man said. “Don’t you think?” “It’s just that…” Bill started. “Well, Josh, we’re waiting,” the man said to his son, now in a louder, more stern voice. “Dad, I don’t know,” the boy said. He sounded like he might cry. They sat quietly, waiting for the boy to say something and Bill felt awful. “I didn’t mean for anyone to get in trouble,” he said. The man looked at Bill a long time. Then he looked at his son again. “We’re waiting, Josh,” he said. “We’re not leaving here ‘til you own up to it.” Bill’s head began to spin. “I mean to tell you the truth,” he said, “there’s a chance the paint may have never reached my truck. I just wanted to ask you to be mindful of it parked there. You know, with it being so windy.” Sam Bowman looked hard at Bill McFadden. “Did any paint get on your truck or not?” he said. “That’s just it. I guess I’m not exactly 100% sure.” The man sighed. “Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s go out and take a look-see. Assess the damage, if there is any. What do you think, Josh?” “Okay,” Josh said, dread in his voice. “By all means,” Bill said, rising. He was glad to see the man no longer yelling at the boy. They walked out of the house and into the heat and

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Neighborhood blinding light. It took a moment for Bill’s eyes to adjust, like walking out of a movie theater during the daytime. When they got to the truck, the man and his son stood there, waiting for Bill to point out the damage. But now that the truck had dried, it was difficult seeing anything. Bill looked for the paint and, not seeing it, was overcome with panic. He felt he’d been given this one chance and he was blowing it. “So where exactly did the paint hit your truck?” the man said. He wiped at his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt, already sweating. The impatience had returned to his voice. “I could’ve sworn there was paint all over the hood,” Bill said. The man didn’t say anything. He sighed heavily and it came out as a huff. The boy looked at his father, no longer showing dread, but hope. He didn’t seem like he would cry anymore. “Look, Josh, I’m sorry,” the man said. Bill could tell it wasn’t easy for him to say it. “I guess I was a little quick to jump all over you like that and I apologize. Okay?” “Maybe if I wet it again,” Bill said, and he moved quickly up the walkway of his yard and toward the faucet. After switching on the water he turned to see Sam Bowman already walking back up the hill toward his own house. His son followed closely behind, looking at Bill with a blank and uncertain stare. “It’ll only take a second,” Bill said, quickly moving down the hill toward the end of the hose. “It’s hot, Bill,” the man said. “Too hot to be standing around out here. We’ll just see you later, okay.” He said it as if humoring Bill, like he didn’t really mean it, and Bill realized that’s what he’d feared most. As the man and his son entered their house and closed the door, Bill didn’t doubt he would see them again. He just couldn’t be sure when it would be.

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Receiving the News

Steven Walker

This news network, which loops the day’s prepared stories over and over until evening, has been reporting that the lucky winner of last month’s lottery jackpot has only one more day to come forward and claim the prize before the entire win is voided. With thirteen hours to go, I am curious about tonight – the last hour and the last minutes, when some careless man or woman will cross that line of time becoming unlucky in such a quiet way like a sailor crossing a line of longitude into hostile waters, not sensing the great shift of fate and consequences around him. Tomorrow, he will rise from sleep and prepare for work as usual, ready to make his own luck – as the bold would say – certainly not buying a new home, planning a trip to Rome, or busily dropping names from a list of friends online.

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Still Life

Steven walker

It seems implied by the name and not only the name, in this painting dating back to 1920, that life is about as simple in concept as a teapot, an oil lamp and a handful of fruit. That’s it: one item of silver and one of gold, two lemons, two pears and one orange with its stem and leaf attached. Except when you look closer, there is something exceptional about how the wall in the background takes on two greens – olive and emerald – to match the green on the orange tree’s leaves. And there is something sly about the light brown signature of H. Rousseau placed directly over the dark brown side of the table, as if the old guy had been imagining that small pleasure we all have known: placing a fingernail against old dark wood and carving away the waxes and oils to reveal a clean layer underneath.

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A Redacted Poem

Stuart silverman

I’m becoming paranoid, or more paranoid. At -------------- airport, just outside of ------- -----------, I was asked to step to the side. The agent said I looked like J----- A-----and was I? So, I said no. And I’m not. So he tapped his pencil a few times, nervously, it seemed to me but maybe just frustration. Every job has its frustrations, as I know having worked for XXXX Inc. since graduating from ---------- Polytechnic Inst. just before it became --- ---- U. in 19--. Maybe it was my swarthy skin, not normally swarthy, in fact, I remember in high school in the Midwest (and I’d rather not give the name, if that’s okay) a girl asking me whether I’m Swedish-or-something because I was pale, a sort of sicko pink, she said, sunlight at a premium in ----- City, especially in late ---uary, at that latitude. This jowly smiley guy just wanted to ask a few questions, which took about ---- hours, and I got thirsty and asked for some water, which he said I could have, “sure,” he said, “just a few more questions…,” and I could have all the water I wanted. It seemed funny to have to wait given the vending machine stocked with bottles

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right outside the door, but he was asking me whether my friend’s cousin, ----- -. ----------, who had spent a few weeks in ----------- last summer ever mentioned somebody who worked at XXX XXXX & Co. and I said “no” and he said “are you sure?” and I said “sure.” In the meantime, the loudspeaker, which was only a whisper in the booth, announced my flight’s imminent departure. I mentioned this, and his face went red. He said, “Planes aren’t like taxis. There’s always another,” and he wanted to know how I felt about what happened at the embassy in B-------, which was in the news, then, and, so I said, “It was horrible,” having figured out what he wanted, and asked to use the rest room, and he said, “Sure, sure—you a little nervous—no bladder control, or something?” Then, he smiled and let me go so they put me on a later plane going to --------where I made a connection to ---- ------ from which I was able to get a train home. As I said, I’m becoming paranoid. Well, actually I’ve become …I am paranoid. You should be, too.

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Woman in the Dunes

Robert kostuck

“I anticipate tints of Aegean-blue speckled with brown and gray seagulls,” I say. “Pristine and completely devoid of life.” As images coalesce, a dense blue haze crossed with thousand-mile long white clouds fills the viewfinder. We’ve been travelling for decades now. The imagined suspendedanimation thing of the 1950s never happened. We’ve been awake the entire time. “Everyone expects something blue,” says Koneko. “Those thousand-mile long cirrus clouds in the stratosphere are deceiving.” She’s a walking encyclopedia science officer. “Four more weeks,” says First Mate Diva. “I’ll set the cubicle on autopilot.” She’s clacking finger castanets, wearing a black matador hat edged with red pom-poms. Koneko checks Diva’s figures, points out the mistakes on her tablet. “You’ve misplaced a decimal point—we arrive in four hours, not four weeks.”

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“Thanks for averting a crash,” I say. “Ship’s biologist Kelvin,” Diva says to me, “you’re a hired hand, pay scale five point nine. At your age I resent you poking your nose—” “—and I simply resent you,” I say. She retreats to the single lavatory, vomits one half of an apple. Captain Marcus Aurelius says nothing, adopts a reclusive, taciturn hero pose. I’ve learned to refrain from commenting; instead I literally scribble in a faux leatherbound journal—it looks like I’m writing things down. I’m not. Neptune’s endless atmosphere is the popular image from telescopes and solar system probes. Christopher Morley called this Where the Blue Begins. Our shared failure to see past the outer layers to a peculiar form of reality beneath the blue. Admittedly, blue is all we see for the final descent. First class science vessel Increase Mather: an aborted ironclad discard from the tail end of the Marriage Blueprint war. The ‘world’ as we know it is a thin mist made visually impenetrable by tangible yet immeasurable emotional distance. Long clouds vanish behind us. Middle gaseous layers briefly turn green, an anomaly caused by faint and fading sunlight. Koneko monitors density, temperature, magnetic fields, air pressure, and wind speeds. They mean so little to my quest. I am the original biologist by profession; a faltering conscience by necessity. “Imagine the screenplay for this major motion picture,” says the Captain. “Imagine the tie-ins and plush toy animals.” In the quaint light his pale, pink skin turns gray and his yellow hair fluoresces Kelly green. He is squat and toad-like; now wordy as we near our destination. A thin red scar—brown in this light—disfigures his face, from right ear to chin. A cut from a dueling epee? Toddler bicycle accident? The public has a right to know. First Mate Diva appears attentive but her blow-dried

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Kostuck and carefully disarrayed hair says otherwise. She pulls at her left eyebrow, a nervous byproduct of anorexia. She is also pink-skinned and yellow-haired; tall: a former fashion model. She wears an expensive perfume called Blue. They are photogenic specimens, identifiable as progenitors vis-àvis popular images culled from telescopes and solar system probes—the media of our culture; but really, they are both self-indulgent alcoholics prone to verbal abuse and selfflagellation. They posture on the bridge of the ship and dribble laudanum onto their pre-rolled cigarettes. Their leadership is false and contumely. Koneko and I coil cables, top off oxygen tanks, swab the weather deck, grumble like good sailors. “The gap between the haves and the have-nots—” I say. “There is no Communism in outer space,” says Koneko. “He’s cautious, not stupid. And those biceps; his A-type personality. Not a bad specimen overall. He is a captain.” Koneko and I have bad attitudes and dark hair; a prophecy of ‘things to come.’ She rearranges the viscous galley hardware; I trade the poetry journal for a yellow accounts ledger, make cryptic notations which I never reread—I leave such explications to the self-critic within, whoever he, or she, or he/she/it may be. I retreat to the observation bubble to attend to Fetish, our singular stowaway. Since the fixed prefix Roman numeral is important, I recite a bit of Romantic fluff by the fragile light. “And was Jerusalem builded here, / among these dark Satanic mills.” I am not a Christian like Mr. Blake; however, like Mr. Shaw I am an anti-social socialist. I balance this high-handed metaphor with an ort of Mr. Donne’s metaphysics, secular and more to the point.

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Woman in the Dunes “No man is an island entire of itself / every man is a piece of the continent / a part of the main.” “I haven’t eaten in hours,” says Fetish. One stowaway and only I know of its existence. “Ketchup packets and mashed potatoes,” I say. “Part of my own lunch. I hope you’re happy.” “Those French fries last week were delicious. They’re cooked in lard, right?” “Pre-packaged chemical-laden space food implies the existence of taste buds.” Fetish is the name and designation of a floating object the size of a child’s plush talking-doll, clay-like yet pliable, featureless yet humanoid: arms, legs, a head; a life form, unlike lichens scraped from a rock. It twirls in the air, bobs, darts, flies, bounces. Polarized and magnetic because the more I attempt to touch or hold it the more it repels. Silent as a black-and-white Harold Lloyd two-reeler, yet I understand the elaborate bee-dances as clearly as if it were speaking English, my home language. Pretend to mistake the meaning and it would be obvious you were pretending. “We’ll land in a couple hours,” I say. “Are you ready to tell me why you stayed with us this long?” “Do you remember when I came aboard?” it says. “Seems like you’ve always been with me.” “Dashiell Hammet would be proud of you.” “You’re quicker than me,” I say. “I don’t get most of your popular culture references.” “Wait until we land. You’ll be in over your head.” *** Spindly legs extend from the ship and level the deck relative to the surface of the planet. Our gravity and air are artificial. Porthole views expose a brown cacophony of igneous ragged rocks, no life. The near sky is Crayola cornflower blue sliced through with periwinkle, aquamarine, azure, cerulean, phthalocynine, navy: my algorithm childhood

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Kostuck memories. I toss paint sample chips in the air, tweak the finer points of my kingdom’s light. The sun is dim, a petulant green dot in the mist. I can’t change that. Marcus and Diva pace the bridge, smoke cigarettes and drink inky red wine in plastic cups. They co-write pornographic sonnets with stained tongues. It is firmly requested that the biologist descend to the dustless gray and brown surface for a look-see. It’s not an order, but the chain of command is hard-wired into our relationships and lifestyles. “Need help, Kelvin?” Koneko always helps; it’s part of her job description: kitchen, parlour, dried herbs, rockingchair on the front porch with a mason jar of iced tea. Leave out the bedroom, opt for the wafer-thin space-suit. Like I can’t dress myself. “Lucky you, getting to go first. Try to find some evidence of life; make our existence worthwhile. Make some quest notes, make good choices.” She packs slapstick banana peels in superhero lunch boxes. “I am fine,” I say. “I am an academically trained biologist with years of experience and a penchant for litigious forms of poetry. I anticipate the discovery of an enormouseyed, thin-necked alien singing High Hopes in a karaoke bar known to the locals as Eddie’s Place.” “Anyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant.” “He’s got high hopes,” I say. She ignores me. The airlock is designed to look like a modern relationship. It smells of seaweed and rice. Koneko pushes me in and slams the door. She is five foot two and does not wear makeup. The gravity is stronger than Earth—a great excuse for dragging my feet. The ground is almost dustless. I see where someone recently swept, those scratchy lines left by a straw broom. I see the broom, dust pan, gray waste receptacle with pedal-activated lid; plastic trashcan liners.

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Woman in the Dunes Look closer. Gum wrappers and filter-cigarette butts in the shadows. A cursory sweeping job. What does that say about respect, greeting, and establishing contact? I discover a road and walk along it. A long cloud forms on the horizon. “Am I facing west? The right way? The wrong way?” No answer. My two-way radio is intentionally turned off and the compass spins. I glue moss to the north side of a tree and decide I’m facing the correct direction. The setting sun brings the dark cloud into ugly relief. It takes form: a tall, elegant, Santa Fe-style professional building, empty parking lot and decorative sand-blasted glass doors. Xeriscape landscaping: low walls, stunted palms, drip irrigation. Sunset is a brief moment; I make out the days to be five or six hours in length. Anticipating rain and the fulfillment of day-to-day fantasies, I shovel coal from a locomotive heart tender, stoke the fire of discontent. Before returning to the ship I scrape crusty lichens from a rock, proof of life on another planet; something to make everyone happy. If there’s more I can’t see it. *** “A building,” says Captain Aurelius. “Yes, sir, a building.” Of course it’s a building. He’s an idiot. “Explanation, ah—?” He checks the crib notes on his sleeve. “—Kelvin?” “Either a questionable medical distribution center, a satellite call center, or a book repository—what you might refer to as the Library of Alexandria.” “We will investigate as a team.” First Mate Diva salutes. “Aye-aye, Captain.” She wears her cap at a jaunty angle and has a Barbie-Doll waist. She is not an idiot. Koneko has a sixth sense about these things. She makes more sandwiches, fills thermoses with hot coffee,

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Kostuck rinses carrot and celery sticks, shakes a bag of hard holiday pixie dust candy; unplugs the toaster oven. Reminds everyone to pee before leaving the ship. Last one out, the Captain forgets to lock the door. “Sir,” I say. “Pretty sure we’re alone,” he says. We pair off, keep to the sidewalk. A teal liquid trickles in the gutter. “Liquid hydrogen,” says Koneko, “with traces of ethane.” She knows quite a lot. “Looks like after a real rain,” says First Mate Diva. “Like on Earth. Real water, rain, perception or whatever it’s called.” “Alright already,” I say. I wave the forked dousing rod. “It’s rainwater.” I miss the train and blame non-existent time tables. So much for wish fulfillment. We remove our space-suit helmets. Marcus and Diva may enjoy a smoke, something to chew: anything to keep their mouths moving without sound—I make sure of that. I wondered about those cigarette butts and gum wrappers. Koneko has a jailer’s key ring. High-ceiling first floor, tinted plate glass: obviously a community college library, transposed to this ion-bombarded gas giant. Terra cotta pots of red geraniums on either side of the main entrance give off that fishy smell and taint the entire building with prehistoric scrapbooks and seventy-eight RPM acetate crooners. It’s a beautiful song with a Brazilian beat. We peel off those silly science-fiction space suits and take deep, fish-scented breaths. Marcus and Diva are in proper uniform, level garters, shiny buttons, knife-sharp creases. Koneko wears a nondescript standard-issue all-purpose jumpsuit with pockets on the sleeves and legs; I dress as I did at age twenty-one: jeans, sneakers, and a ratty blue wool sweater. The picnic basket overflows with liverwurst and egg salad sandwiches. Pickles and potato chips. I did not imagine that.

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Woman in the Dunes “We will explore the perimeter and upper floors. You two—” and Marcus waves at Koneko and yours truly—“will remain here and attempt to access the main computer. Mate?” Captain and First Mate amble and sashay; wriggle away from our constricting foursome. “Main computer?” I’m reduced to obnoxious noises. “It’s an old-fashioned card catalogue. Some mystery.” “Somewhere in this building are the answers to your questions,” says Koneko. We split up. One entire wall is floor to ceiling glass windows facing the much anticipated Neptunian sea. I make it clear drinking water reflecting sky, instead of under pressure liquid yellow methane. Card catalogues drawers filled with slivers of tag board; writing unknown and difficult to pin down: a cross between cuneiform, ideographs, and smiley-face stickers. Koneko figured out the ancient Earth abacus right away: one clunky computer with a low resolution seven-inch screen, loose eight-inch floppy disks, a suitcase-sized modem; stone age technology. I press delete and nothing changes. The catalogue cards are actually punch cards from my Earthly past, orange paper with lines of miniscule rectangular holes that say something binary: one one zero one zero zero one. On Off. Yes No. Captain Mate. Koneko Kelvin. I hate it when I’m right. *** There’s more to life than lichens; or, now I must address the self-critic within. Obviously there’s a basement. Seven steps to the first landing where the stairs turn twice. Fetish is immediately before me, bouncing in the air, remarkably close, intimidating, punctuating; blocking my comfort zone and world view. “What’s down there that you don’t want me to see?” I say. “Nosy Parker,” says Fetish. “You don’t want to

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Kostuck know.” “I can get around you. If I want.” “Mr. Tough Guy.” “Look. I need to descend into an underworld. Part of the hero’s Quest. It’s a traditional thing. It’s why I’m here.” “Trust me,” it says, “you don’t want to know.” I leave it at that and return to the main floor. I cannot imagine arguing with an alien entity incapable of singing High Hopes. Fetish follows me in circles around the main floor of The Library, eventually discarding me and developing a symbiotic relationship with Koneko, kindred spirits with a scientific bent. I immediately perform a database search for jealousy: zero responses and one bemused self. I find a cardboard box of books marked YARD SALE 50¢ EACH. Many of my favorite authors are represented. What shall I read while Marcus and Diva fornicate; while Koneko translates the binary code? Yasunari Kawabata? Machiko Hasegawa? Masuji Ibuse? Jun'ichirō Tanizaki? Kōbō Abe feels appropriate for I still have vivid dreams of Kyōko Kishida as The Woman in the film version of The Woman in the Dunes; interwoven with vivid dreams of Koneko and shifting sand; myself dropping beetles into chloroform and making a big deal about it. I sit in a plush reading chair facing the glass wall and the blue beyond. A disquieting lack of perspective. Mid-afternoon, sandwiches, and a cup of decaffeinated coffee. Outside where there was nothing: now handfuls of brown and gray seagulls squawk and drop like rocks into the intercoastal waterway. I open the book to page one and promptly fall asleep. I wake refreshed from three hours of sleep. Fetish floats beside me. “What are you reading?” it says. “As if you didn’t know.”

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Woman in the Dunes “Your girlfriend is extremely smart.” “Don’t say girlfriend. The concept is surreal and mismatched. She’s the brains of the outfit. I’m the ship’s biologist. I collect plants and animals. Insects and seashells are my specialties. You’re not an insect, though.” Fetish hovers stoically. I look around The Library. I’m alone. “She’s out on the dunes,” says Fetish. “Your doing, of course. Japanese existentialism, lord love a duck!” “Of course.” I see Koneko in the distance walking a shoreline of robin’s-egg-blue sand, barefoot, the cuffs of her jumpsuit rolled to her knees. She’s also alone. “The others?” “Drunk, naked, and passed out between the Oxford English Dictionary and Murasaki Shikibu’s diaries. Cigarette burns in the carpeting; do you know what it will cost to have that rug replaced? Why did you bring them along? They don’t do much.” “It’s a media thing,” I say. “The public must have their gorgeous heroes and heroines.” “The public? Are there more of you?” “Billions. We’re the wave of the future. See you later, thing.” I peek behind the OED on the way out. Only First Mate Diva is visible: goose bumps and equilateral bruises on the inside of her legs where Captain’s hip bones bang against her thighs. “Are you cold?” I say. I speak quietly. She lingers in a dream over which I have no control. *** I go to her, Suna no Onna. Dry sand beneath my feet says swish swash. Wet sand beneath Koneko’s feet says squish squelch. Her toes are blue from indigo dye leeched out of the cheerfully plain shore. I forgot to add the mordant that would fix the colors. My feet strain against the obvious. “I have a great affection for you,” she says. “After all

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Kostuck we’ve been through. I will never forget you or what you’ve done for me. Forever and ever. World without end, amen.” “But you don’t love me, never did, never will, did you?” I say. “I mean, do you? It looks like you’ve been crushing grapes.” “You are endlessly distracted,” says Koneko. “This planet precludes the existence of grapes. Lichens, a tree with moss growing on one side, palm trees, whatever. Your twirling, levitating homunculus stowaway confuses me. The geraniums? Excellent choice.” “That’s hardly a syllogism.” “See for yourself.” She waves her arm at curlicue Ukiyo-e waves. “There’s nothing there. Not a speck of life; not a single bit of blue-green algae. A trilobite would’ve been nice. Maybe some of those segmented Precambrian jelly-blobs. Some clown fish or dolphins. A cute pink lobster with long, blond hair and cystic fibrosis. It’s why she throws up, you know; everything is simply too salty for her stomach lining. Instead, an empty ocean, and an empty ocean—” she peels off the jumpsuit and Kyōko Kishida emerges, an erotic, captivating, Japanese movie star Venus—“is like an empty subconscious. Unfathomable.” She steps into the waves. “Infinite.” The water reaches her hips. “Needing only.” Reaches her chin. “Exploration.” “You can breathe under water,” I shout. “I offer a binding guarantee.” “I’ve got high hopes,” says Koneko. “Domo arigato gozaimashita!” She leaves a blue swirl on the surface, a watery mortal coil. Bland seagulls drop like stones and peck at Stanislaw Lem’s minimalist foam. “No,” I say, effortlessly contrite, “that’s wrong. First Mate Diva is bulimic. Bulimic and anorexic. They go hand in hand.” I think of Diva’s hands and fingers causing an eruption of undigested food from between her bleached teeth; more sad than wrong. I resolve to treat her with

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Woman in the Dunes kindness. I think of everything that I thought would happen and did not happen, there on the dunes. Especially when Koneko/Kyōko removed the jumpsuit. I was wrong about everything. I did not imagine that. I walk on and find Marcus’s clothes strewn on the beach. His fake iron-on scar tattoo washes up and down in the surf. Up Down. Yes No. On Off. Remembering Koneko’s words, an elaborate play-onword riddle. The resourceful Captain; the foolish biologist. I don’t have to look hard or far to rediscover the binary code. *** Fetish is gone, asleep or AWOL. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. I can attest, meow meow. O robot guide dog of the Elizabethan liver, repository of love: where art thou now? Back in The Library the bathroom door is ajar and Diva throws up repeatedly. There is no apple. There is vodka and egg salad sandwiches. Blood is mixed in. She is naked, but it is not a pretty sight. Unhindered, I walk down the stairs. I’m expecting a huge underground storage facility crossed with power cables and air ducts, banks of humming machines, computers; linoleum floors and stacks of pleated paper sucked through dot-matrix printers. Instead I create a utility base of sagging metal shelves packed with buckets of laundry detergent, aerosol squirt bottles, brooms, dustpans, a mop. Extra clothing, towels, fitted sheets, blankets; pots, pans, kitchen utensils, a toaster oven. Words begin to fail me; the scribbling is real. I shunt the Quest fascination to the side. I bring back a robe, towel, and washcloth. She’s done puking and sitting on the tile floor of the ladies room. Long fashion-model legs stretched in a V-shape. Her rear end squished out on either side. Even with the throw-up/ fish smell there is magic-show magic in the air; sawn in half

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Kostuck sequined assistants and forty-five degree angle mirrors in now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t puzzle boxes. I pretend to avert my eyes. “Thanks,” she says. “Don’t go just yet.” I’m half in and half out. The robe fits. She washes off yesterday’s makeup at the sink. “I look like shit.” “You look great,” I say. “Beautiful, sexy—just terrific.” “Uh-huh. They’re gone, aren’t they? Like two wriggly fish in the deep blue sea. Spawning.” She opens the medicine cabinet. Brushes her teeth. Flosses away the stinky stuff. “You’re surprised, aren’t you? Biology know-it-all and like most men you think too much.” “Oh,” I say, “I knew it was only a matter of time—” “Uh-huh. Didn’t have a clue. You’ve never seen this before, have you?” She pulls open the robe and her sternum separates cleanly and bloodlessly to expose a red heart turned indigo in a wash of blue light, pulsating like a segmented Precambrian jelly-blob. “It’s not perfect—if the paparazzi could see this! All the little scars and broken parts. But it’s all I’ve got. You’ve always overlooked the most important thing, Kelvin. Fixated on external stimuli.” “Some vocabulary,” I say. “You imagined a dumb blond and you got what you expected.” “What do I deserve?” She pulls everything shut. “What did you expect to see beyond that first blue haze when we began our descent? This is part of your hero Quest, after all.” “This whole thing—” She turns away into a three-quarter after-burner pose and flips her hair. A burst blood vessel stains one of her eyes, she grates a cigarette between chapped lips. She pushes past me, ignores my stare.

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Woman in the Dunes “I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. You and me? No way. Not in my foreseeable future. You’re so easily distracted. Some Quest.” “You can’t read my mind,” I say. “You’re the one who’s wrong.” “There’s a mirror in the bathroom,” she says. “You should look in it, even though you won’t like what you see. It’s not a pretty sight.” *** “Soap operas, telenovelas, reality shows,” says Fetish. “I’ve monitored your Earth transmissions since before you were born. Broken hearts, broken promises, missed opportunities, long-lost twins, and amnesia.” “Leave out the twins and the amnesia,” I say, “and broken heart is a poetic metaphor for love sadness.” “I am not familiar with that term.” “I just made it up.” “Like William Shakespeare, creating words to suit your needs.” “Thanks,” I say, “but I’m no Shakespeare. You know about William and Anne?” “How the mind wanders,” says Fetish. “She’s leaving. The one you call First Mate Diva.” “I’ll follow her for a while—she’s not interested and in spite of the fancy vocabulary she’s still a diva—you can’t repair a broken heart. Where’s that picnic basket—where are those sandwiches?” “She showed you her heart and all you can think about is sandwiches? Even I know better than that. Black hair and brown skin; yellow hair and white skin: you can’t see past appearances. Life is not a cinematic solo flight over an ocean of possibilities.” “I will not argue with you,” I say. The last word is beyond me. I spend the next half hour skimming a generic data-base entry about the planet:

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Kostuck three major continents, all brown and gray rocks (with bits of moss and lichens, naturally); innumerable islands, reefs, lagoons, bights, and bays. Exactly one half of the planet is oceans and seas, all connected; not counting Capt Marcus Aurelius, Koneko, and those pressure-washed color-coded gulls: devoid of life. There are, of course, billions and billions of memories, thoughts, dreams, and desires. My life’s experiences washing ashore and attempting to alter the present and the future. The water and the sky remain deep and blue. That’s about it—everything bland and blue. The important things happen out of sight, with natural expedience. I did not imagine that. Diva dresses and packs. Her wheeled suitcase bumps against the front door. The Library parking lot is now part of the beach; continental drift, polar ice melt—at this point I’m not sure what I’m doing. She makes directly for the water. Fetish stays in the doorway, observing and recording. “Aren’t you going to undress first?” I say. “Check out that mirror,” she says. The water sloshes against her clothing. She pulls the suitcase into the ocean. “Any last words?” Nope. She’s gone. Fetish darts out of the shadows and hovers beside me, behind me. Inside of me. “What are you going to do?” it says. “Right now? Is that so important? You keep telling me to decide, to fix on, to act.” “You can’t just stand here. They will never return as you remember them.” “It doesn’t matter anymore,” I say. “Now everything belongs to me. I’ve been waiting years and years for this moment.” The one-half watery surface of the planet changes rapidly, bubbles and swirls like yeast and rivers, completely fills with life, varied and changing, the work of a moment. “You are always in the moment,” it says.

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Woman in the Dunes “My domain,” I say. “Everything here, everything in the blue belongs to me.” *** The landscape is brown and gray and the air smells of salt and seaweed. The tang of the sea is soporific; there’s no getting away from it. Now the seagulls have a purpose in their diving. There’s wind but no leaves to rustle, no wheat to bend and spring back, no children’s pinwheels, no loose newspapers blowing down my original road. The sea whispers, entire worlds of foam and flotsam spell out dire predictions. Alone, I spend entire days posing on rocky shores with my crown and trident. I hold out my arms and pretend to control the waves.

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Five Poems

Simon Perchik

* Could be this mop, shimmering the way bottom stones are soothed by streams smelling from volcanoes and wood though the floor is burning your feet with moonlight –could just as easily be this pail circling for hidden leaks and seashells scented with water and the room that has nothing more to lose is looking for a place to dry that is not your mouth or the air you dead need to put out the fires by pressing down on your lips where there’s no trace or a corner that will close by itself, become dirt embrace the long, wooden handle all night side by side as if you still hear the falling back into silence and your arms.

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* You no longer dig for shadows as if this hillside depends on you for water –what you hear is trapped between two suns one circling the other till nothing’s left but the afternoon and beneath letting its pieces fall off –you dead are always listening for the gesture the lowering that sweeps in those pebbles mourners leave as words, overflowing, certain now is the time –it’s not the time this dirt is afraid to open become a rain again, be a sky let it speak by throwing the Earth and over your shoulder, eyes closed though there is no grass and your arms a Weber, Miller, Marie.

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Perchik * Even as silence you dead favor knots, brought here the way each grave is tightened counts on constant gathering and the arm over arm that hold the skies together as if some nesting bird would fly out from this hillside and leave behind its wings spread-eagle, letting go those small rocks mourners bring for your shoulders –you want rope not for its name but the weight still taking shape inside, kept empty and all around you the lowering.

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Five Poems * Wobbling on rocks and salt scented with little goodbyes –you’re drowning in wood –don’t fool yourself, this door can’t save you now, it’s filled with corners still into the turn already seawater and on the way down a warm face though talk won’t come is hiding in back your mouth naked, afraid your lips will move as the silence the dead adore without leaving the room.

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Perchik * It was a brook, had names though these bottom stones are still draining, passing you by before letting go the silence that stays after each hand opens –you dead are always reaching out –end over end unfolding your arms the way each star ends it life alone in the darkness it needs to move closer become the light in every stone as the morning that never turns back keeps falling without any mourners.

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September Mist

Roger Mcknight

Lucas Morey had never seen Eve, who he called the atheist, fully clothed before. So he was startled to glimpse her wearing a yellow dress and pressing the Walk button at Oak Avenue and Sixteenth. He did a quick uie on his ten-speed and stopped. “Where you been forever?” she said as her impatient frown eased into a look of recognition. “Not here, I assume.” She motioned at the stucco homes around them, as if to say this is where she was and had never left. “Pure serendipity, again,” Lucas answered. He had met Eve in that neighborhood once before. Ten years earlier. Lucas and his wife Janice lived off Oak Avenue then, near the university. One Sunday in July they were coming back from a Science Museum lecture on entropy and joking about it. “It’s easier to create complete chaos than maintain entropy,” Lucas quoted the speaker. “So, the present feels like orderly decline to you?” Janice had asked. “Compared to what?”

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“The future maybe? It’s spread out and speeding madly away.” “And here’s the present. What do you make of this?” Janice interrupted and pointed to a VW van perched on the curb. A disheveled blonde woman was leaning against it. When Lucas pulled over, she ran their way. “Can you call an ambulance? I’m having…” “A seizure?” Janice asked. “I’ve got narcolepsy. Now epilepsy, too. Lost control.” Lucas had hurried to knock at the nearest house. A black teenager came out with a towel wrapped around him. He yelled back indoors, “Hey, mother, can you call 911?” The Fire Squadron arrived just as Lucas saw Janice move over to the driver’s seat of their car. While the officers calmed the stricken blonde, the youngster’s mother came out and sat on the front steps. Lucas noticed her disarrayed hair and high cheekbones. She was wearing cut-off jeans and a partly unbuttoned blouse, which she folded her arms across the front of. Her flip-flops were caked with dirt. He gazed at her thin legs, trying to win precious seconds with this ebony goddess, who wiggled her toes while peering at the Fire crew’s rescue efforts. “Eve,” she said. “Luke,” he replied and went back to the car. Contessa, he had thought any time he passed the neighborhood after that, until one day he screwed up his courage and knocked at her door. “My mom? At work. Garden store down the street,” her son told him. Eve was tugging at weeds in a raspberry patch when he found her. Her frown disappeared when she saw Lucas. “I always liked a man with nerve,” she joked. She weeded and struggled to keep a strand of hair from falling over her face. “No barettes?” he had asked. “My hair’s kinda curly,” she answered with a sly smile. “Or haven’t

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McKnight you noticed?” Lucas had talked languidly about himself, his studies in Civil Engineering, and Janice’s library job. They had had big dreams, he explained. Janice trained as a concert pianist and he wanted to be a painter, but now they would surely end up as faceless bureaucrats. “That was her, Janice, that Sunday, behind the wheel? Pretty.” Lucas nodded in agreement. “I work Sundays,” Eve had explained. “That’s why I was such a dirt ball then. Like now, I guess.” “Ignoring the Sabbath?” “We’re not believers. My husband’s a bureaucrat,” she had said with a smile. “In Oregon. He couldn’t take the Midwest. Left me and our son to tough it out.” “Deserted you?” “Moved.” “So you’re an atheist?” She had smiled as if his question amused her and was irrelevant besides. “My son’s Ben.” Eve had wiped her forehead. While doing so, she bent over so her blouse puffed out. Seeing how ample her breasts were and admiring her kissable lips, Lucas felt a visceral desire. His gaze caused Eve no embarrassment, but she quit weeding. “Walk me?” she had asked. And so into late summer a decade ago Lucas had whiled away his afternoons with Eve at the Community Gardens and then walked her home. They had chatted--about the hot garden work she loved and how he had passed a thousand miles on his bike odometer. Eve said she grew up in Seattle but came to Minnesota by default. “Leon’s from here, wanted to move back after the Army,” she explained. Eve had always wanted to be an organic gardener. Lucas had asked about the blonde lady and all “her -lepsies.” Eve said she saw the woman now and then and wondered about her.

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September Mist Lucas had told how he went to college for Art, only to meet Janice in a Chemistry lab. “Civil engineering. So you’ll be nurturing the environment, like me?” Eve had asked. One day they stopped and looked long and inquiringly at each other. Lucas brushed her cheek with one hand. “The first black woman you ever touched?” she asked with a smile. He had said ‘so long’ and headed off to meet Janice. That fall his wife became pregnant, and Lucas finished his Masters at mid-year. After he caught on with a downtown firm, they moved to the suburbs. Eventually Lucas found himself the father of twin girls, Jennifer and Jessica, and a son, Michael. The only vestige of that summer ten years ago was his ten-speed. To keep his waistline in check, he had recently resolved to pedal seventy miles a week. Usually he headed into the countryside, but today, on a lark, he made for the city. The odometer had just ticked off fifteen miles when he spied the yellow dress. As Lucas spun his Trek and replayed his long-ago meetings with Eve in his mind, he studied her as she now was. In her forties, he thought, against my thirty-five. *** Lucas and Eve lingered at the crossover as the light changed from red to green and back again. She told of leaving Community Gardens and learning land surveying. She was on her way to work at the Department of Transportation downtown. “The gardens were great till after Leon left. Then I needed income wintertime, too.” “Leon? Still gone?” “He shows up now and then. I said I wouldn’t sue for divorce. I’m committed to my vows.” Lucas thought of his own marriage. He and Janice had lasted a decade, even if their early hopes had turned to routine. Lucas had wearied of office work. His managers’

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McKnight stultifying talk sapped him of desire to advance through the ranks. Advancement, he thought, a doorway to higher-paid palaver. At times he longed to pull a Gaugin and escape to the South Seas and paint native wahines. Janice, in turn, had changed from an eager concertgoer to a stolid music cataloger. Where she once taught Lucas to worship Stravinsky’s shifts from introspection to shock vibes, she now talked about the great master’s OCLC catalog numbers. In college they had sat in 3.2 bars and laughed over their schooners or smooched in public, but having Jenn and Jess ended those carefree ways. Janice got quieter, like her fellow catalogers at City Library. After Lucas failed to convince her to look for more exciting work, he devoted his time to the kids. Lucas had flirtations. Women he met biking, ladies from a reading circle, or an occasional co-worker. Each lady had the right mix of moxie and pleasing manners. Yet when he observed them in social circles he realized how affairs, like matrimony, could settle into daily flatbread. In time he came to believe women, whom he romanticized from a distance, could be as dull as the male desk jockeys in his firm or the aging athletes he played slow-pitch softball with every summer. “It wasn’t just the weather,” Eve said, bringing Lucas back to their conversation at the crosswalk. “Leon drank, he never let on before we got married. He beat me once.” “And you respect the vows? Still?” She nodded yes and pushed Walk again. “My card,” Eve said reaching out to him. Lucas watched her hurry off before he glanced at the inscription. E. V. Cross. Land Surveying. Gardening. Organizing. He stayed at the intersection. Her simple business card and the morning traffic vibrating on all sides gave him intimations that a tantalizing aura, different and unwonted, had reentered his life.

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September Mist *** They never met again by accident. A month later Lucas found Eve in her backyard, planting. She brushed back the same lock of hair, first with one hand and then the other. The stubborn lock clouded her view, but a muffled bark gave away Lucas’s approach. A golden retriever lifted his butt in play. “Spike, my new rescue, he doesn’t bite,” Eve explained. She washed up and snapped a leash on Spike. They went for a walk, down the same sidewalks as a decade earlier. Eve left her flip-flops and wore shoes against the early spring chill. Spike sniffed at trees and left his card. Lucas told her about an elkhound he had seen jogging with his owner that morning. As Lucas talked, Eve laughed, but he noticed a crease on her neck, which deepened, he remembered from the past, when she got nervous. “I garden as a hobby now,” she explained with a toss of her head. Lucas detected uncertainty in that gesture and asked what it meant. “Leon called,” she answered. They had turned back toward her house before she spoke again. “He’s sick and is coming home. Always ailing.” “Ailing from Iraq?” “He never fought. Such a flunkey. Imagines l’ll support him. Don’t know why I got married.” As Eve put Spike in the house, she looked at each passing car as if expecting the worst. Lucas got on his bike and pedaled home. Other times Eve talked at ease. Ben had a construction job. After Eve sold the Community Gardens, she stayed put in the neighborhood without knowing why. Probably, she mused, it was the racially mixed smattering of college students or the small cafés where she sat and sifted through memories of growing up black in a white neighborhood. “Tough?”

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McKnight “No, nothing blatant, just a feeling of being invisible. White folks knew we were there, but we didn’t exist in their mental world.” “Better here?” He felt awkward asking. He had heard about Ferguson and other atrocities, but growing up in an allwhite town he had never identified race as an everyday issue. She smiled benignly, as she had the time Lucas asked if she was an atheist. He wondered where her patience came from and why she had stayed in this neighborhood of transient workers and young people. “I should’ve divorced Leon long before he left,” she continued in a wistful voice, which left Lucas wondering if she was indifferent to her present status or had come to terms with it. Lucas told Eve of recently taking his family to a pizza parlor, where Janice blew her top at Jenn and Jess for throwing pepperoni and hiding from their brother. Lucas had sat quietly wondering if his wife nearly burst a blood vessel at the girls from frustration over his waning attention to her. Eve glanced sideways as he talked, so her curly black hair fell over part of her face. At such a moment she looked sixteen to him, but when she resumed talking she twitched with concern. “I needed for Leon to leave,” she said. “But I shouldn’t call him a flunkey, it only reflects on me.” Spike lurched after a squirrel. Eve dropped the leash, stooped to pick it up, and laughed at the pooch’s playfulness. As she turned Lucas’s way, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her, long and passionately. After that moment, Lucas struggled for days to focus. Eve’s lack of pretension distracted him the way he guessed Tahitian women’s unstudied sensuality drew Gaugin. Her frowns and smiles suggested a world apart from his staid Anglo culture. Eve drew him back to her, even after guiltridden sleepless nights made him resolve to honor his own marriage vows.

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September Mist One April day, he biked to Eve’s place. An Alberta clipper stranded him in town, so Eve drove them to the zoo’s Botanical Gardens. Escaping the blustery winds, they entered a stillness weighted in leaden humidity. “I come here and imagine the Ivory Coast, where my ancestors came from,” she said. “As slaves.” “In chains.” “And mine were the slavers?” “No, other Africans did that. Your people sailed the ships.” Eve put her hand in his. In the tropical pavilion, Lucas paused before a flowering yellow and purple orchid. Its perfume and the sultry air made him lightheaded. As Eve pointed to a delicate white orchid called September Mist, he put his arm around her shoulder for support. She wiped the sweat from his face and sat him down beside her. They were silent until she asked, “Wanna see what my house is like, inside?” As she drove back to Oak Avenue, Lucas noticed how her fingers rested lightly on the steering wheel. He studied, too, the way her sudden smile lit up her features. She eased into her driveway and looked at him intently, as if waiting for a ”No, I can’t go in” from him. When he didn’t say it, she pressed the garage opener. It was past dinnertime when he stood outside her door again and unlocked his bike. The wind had died down. While pedaling home, Lucas marveled at how Eve buoyed him. His and Janice’s upbringing had taught them to value achievement and social position, but now he was falling for a workingwoman who had put down her roots among people who lived paycheck-to-paycheck. True, he and Janice had once lived in that neighborhood, too, but they used it as a steppingstone. Maybe he and Eve were similar in that both had found jobs marking the boundaries of society, be it in theory or with a surveyor’s rod.

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McKnight Life progressed strangely, Lucas thought. Eve was helping him revive the vitality of youth. On the surface, she had aged little since their first meeting ten years ago, and he pretended now they were both in their twenties, as he had been that day when the blonde woman caused him first to see Eve. But as he washed up before dinner at home, he was shocked to spy his first gray hairs. “Do you remember entropy?” he asked Janice at dinner. She nodded, as he stroked his temples. “I never forgot. So you think a beginning racetrack’s the sign of orderly decline?” “I would have,” he replied. “Once.” “My dear, men have always lost hair.” *** Leon had come back, so Lucas felt his desire for Eve wreaking havoc. He had trouble concentrating at work and felt sundered at home. A few evenings Lucas and Eve got away and strolled by the city lakes with Spike. Once they went a month without meeting. They broke that hiatus one weekday at the Botanical Gardens. When a thunderstorm broke out, they retreated inside the pavilion. Eve told about the troubled relationship Ben had with Leon, who insisted the boy follow his rules, though they had scarcely lived together since Ben was a child. Eve listened when Lucas described Jenn and Jess’s rec swimming lessons. Though they were identical twins, Jenn swam with abandon while Jess clung to the side of the pool. One June day Lucas and Eve lazed on a slope above a quiet stream. Afterwards they went to a restaurant. As the receptionist showed them a table, an older white man looked intently at Lucas. They were sharing a bottle of wine, when Eve said reassuringly, “It’s easier for me.” “That guy’s glance?” “Some places black folks don’t go very often, not that we can’t, we just don’t.”

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September Mist Lucas thought her expression seemed an unlikely mixture of internalized rage at the white privilege she inferred in the man’s glance and the mellow comfort she took in drinking fine Bordeaux with Lucas. They sipped their drinks, until Lucas spat out, “I couldn’t care less about that jerk.” “Us black people’ve encountered these situations all our lives,” she interrupted. “He’s only indicating things about himself.” Lucas had trouble assimilating her comment. “What do you want out of this?” she responded to his puzzlement. “Out of us?” “There’ll always be those looks. Most indifferent, some kindly.” “The others, then?” He tried to remember if anyone had ever questioned the company he kept. Before Eve, he had never been close enough to a black woman to discuss anything serious with her. “I should feel guilty,” she told him. “Black women get on their men for dating white girls. Here I am doing it the other way around. Taking you out of your world.” “I’m sick of my world.” “Maybe I imagined me younger than I am. Then Leon came back.” “You want him?” “No, but I promised.” “For better or worse?” “Yes, so did you. You need to be with Janice.” Lucas watched as Eve cut a slice of ham and chewed it, so it seemed the morsels melted in her mouth. He ran his fork through a mixed salad and picked out the apple slices in it before spearing them on his fork. He tried to imitate her delicacy, but felt a klutz. Still bothered by Eve’s comments about race, he chuckled anyway at the tiny ironies she made

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McKnight him aware of. She, a vegetable gardener who ate meat and wore flip-flops but dined with the natural grace of royalty; he, Lucas Morey, a Midwestern white guy falling for a black woman raised on Left Coast non-conformity. He longed to sweep her away and transcend their differences. Knowing he could dream such a dream made him realize life’s tables had turned. He never again would be as he had been. “We’re both married,” she said. “To people we’re not in love with.” “I can’t see you any more,” she declared as they left the restaurant. “It’s too complicated.” Lucas abided by Eve’s dictum, as long as his will power allowed. In time he started passing by her house again. Once he glimpsed her on a city bus. A second time he saw her on a downtown street as he drove his son to school. She had disappeared by the time he doubled back her way. After sending her countless texts, he finally got a reply: Don’t transfer your emotional life to me. Lucas spent more time with his family. For the Fourth he rented a lake cabin and whiled away the summer days taking the kids sailing. He and Janice spent their evenings on the cabin porch. They talked about boats or how fast the girls were growing. Other times they savored the import beer Janice found at a liquor store. “So light,” he said one evening as he raised his glass. “Yes,” she agreed. “Your favorite brand.” Lucas answered with a smile but avoided saying he meant the setting sun. He watched it slide down behind a row of trees and wished like a child to reach out and stop the descent before it slipped away. It’s impossible to stop even a slow decline, he thought. “Except to savor it.” “Except?” Janice asked. Back in the city, he found Eve at a surveying site on the State Capitol grounds. After her afternoon shift, they

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September Mist kissed behind a mighty oak. During August her crew called off work one afternoon, and they made love in a steamy hotel room. Regardless of their eagerness for each other, he understood how Leon’s presence made Eve uneasy. And so Lucas clung to the warmth of home and hearth, as it cooled beneath him, and longed to experience Eve’s passion, while she slowly withdrew her spontaneity. *** Over the Labor Day Weekend he and Janice took the kids back to the lake, but the summer fun had gone. Jenn and Jess argued in the unseasonal heat and Michael developed a rash from noxious algae. Seeking medical help, Lucas drove him to the city. Later he sent Michael to friends and called Janice to say he was staying in town. On Sunday evening he met Eve. His thoughts raced faster than he could steer them. “Leon’s leaving,” she told him. “A job offer in Portland.” “He’s taking it?” “I’m staying.” “I’ve never seen him.” “Tomorrow’s your chance. Lake Julian.” On Labor Day Lucas biked around the lakes. He needed to check on Michael and promised he’d call Janice, but did neither. His thoughts wandered back to the blonde with the VW van. It struck him that episode happened a third of his life ago; his meetings with Eve had started then; it was the one time Janice, Eve, and he converged on the same spot. He swerved off the bike trail and dismounted at Julian Park, tearing up a divot as he hit the turf. He leaned against a lamppost and looked out over the lawn to the lake. He left his bike and walked toward the bandstand. A Finnish folk music concert was underway. Lucas listened to the lead player, who explained his ten-stringed instrument in a staccato voice. “This in Finnish is called the kantele, but you know it as a zither or lap harp,” he said

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McKnight as two other musicians, both blond and bearded, joined him. They explained their origins in Karelia, a distant land of forests, lakes, “and epic songs,” as the leader added. He strummed the triangular kantele while his fellows accompanied him on a recorder and a key harp. Lucas felt regret for leaving Janice in the lurch, so he listened distractedly. Among the sea of pale listeners, Eve arrived with Leon. They took seats just as an aged woman in a folk dress appeared on stage. She said something undecipherable to the leader, who introduced her in English as Hanna and said she played an ancient, five-stringed kantele. “Nuka, Nuka,” Hanna said and seated herself with the instrument on her lap. She plucked contentedly at it. Lucas quickly understood she was playing a simple lullaby, which she had just given the title of in her native Karelian. She sang along so her gentle vibes settled him. He forgot his mad ride along the bike path and the holes he had torn in the park lawn. The kantele’s unadorned diatonic key blotted out the turmoil in Lucas’s soul. He luxuriated in the serene feeling until the lullaby ended and Hanna began a mournful wedding lament, which slowly glided into intermission. As Leon headed for the concession, Lucas stole up behind Eve and said, “Hello.” “No, you can’t!” she said in a startled voice. She glanced quickly around. Lucas took her gently under the arm and led her behind a boathouse. “You’re mad,” she said but did nothing to resist. She returned his kisses in a way he knew there was no turning back from. At last she pushed him away. “Have you no shame?” “Leon’s leaving,” he protested. “We’re both mad. Go!” “You’re saying you don’t love me,” Lucas said, his tone sounding half question and half statement. She lowered her eyes and whispered, “Come see me.”

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September Mist *** Dappled leaves were swirling playfully in a September breeze when Lucas approached her house again. She sat on her step in the yellow dress, which was older now but still set off her dark features. Spike wagged in greeting. Eve didn’t smile but wiggled her toes in loose-fitting sandals. “Indian summer,” she said. “Empty garden.” “Empty house.” Lucas sat down on the step, with the dog between them. He touched her arm and they intertwined hands. When Spike ran off, Eve stood up. Lucas approached her and she leaned on his shoulder, as though four weeks since the Finnish concert had been years. “You not here,” she said. As she spoke, he knew both were wondering why each had to be married to somebody else and carry on so. “In secret places,” he whispered. “I’ll be old and haggard when you’re still in your best years,” she interrupted. “So?” “What man tolerates old age in a woman?” Even if their ages didn’t bother him, Lucas had often wondered, when he grew depressed, how their lives might be in a society only half believing in post-racialism. Or he doubted they could continue seeing each other if the ties to his family gave him less space. As he pondered those doubts, the breeze blew up stronger and brushed his cheek. He saw the leaves settling in scattered clumps, as though seeking out their best friends to rest beside. Spike came back and snuggled between them so the three formed a wall against the stiffening wind. Lucas and Eve shifted expressions from worry to smiling frenzy as they talked about the future, how they’d escape meeting in shabby rooms and kissing furtively behind boat sheds. “A way must

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McKnight exist to act respectable and avoid deception,” Eve said. “Yes, and when we’re old,” Lucas said gently after they had talked themselves into exhaustion, “we’ll plant your garden together.” When Eve un-furrowed her brow, Lucas knew more than ever they were heading into a new and splendid life, but as he later saw the worry line around her neck gradually deepen and darken he realized that to avoid complete chaos they had a long, long trek ahead of them and the most snarled and sinuous part of it was just beginning.

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It’s Complicated with Ryan Diaz

peter barlow

Does Mr. Diaz get angry with the power company when the power goes out in the middle of his set? When the dance floor is filled to capacity at a two-to-one woman-toman ratio? When they’re all in mid-arm motion spelling out the title of the song left over from decades ago in that way that dance anthems tend to be? Does Mr. Diaz blame anyone in management at the venue? Does he think they’ve not paid the power bill again? How long does he think, before the power’s on again, before the dancing can start? Has Mr. Diaz pondered this scenario? Has he pondered it often? What plans has he made? How does he intend to keep the flow going? Is it his responsibility? Is it the responsibility of the host? Of the hostess? Is it none of theirs? Whose, then? ASCAP, YMCA, GHB—do any of these concern Mr. Diaz? When he was hired by the host, did Mr. Diaz fully understand his responsibilities? Did he haggle enough over

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the price? On the whole, does Mr. Diaz earn a respectable wage? How much higher would it have been had he finished college? Had he pursued a sporting career? A cooking career? Can he improve his equipment on his wages? What is the best computer he can buy? The best turntable? Can he afford a lighting display? A smoke machine? Is his gasoline paid for? Does Mr. Diaz gauge his success by the number of people who hire him every week? Something—someone—brushes Mr. Diaz’s arm in the dark, and then a moment later his face; how does he feel about this? Does he know the person who has brushed against his arm and face? Does he want to know them? The body part—a hand, probably—that has just touched his face smells of lotion; how does this affect what he will say next? Is he thinking of the consequences? Does Mr. Diaz often wake up with hangovers? When he does, what is his cure? Aspirin? Darkness? Silence? Does he know what he drank the night before that might have caused the hangover? Does he know the quantities of each contributing liquor? Does he remember anything? If he does, how long does that take? Seconds? Minutes? Days? Does this delay irritate him? Did Mr. Diaz and the host and hostess know each other before the meeting to discuss the event? At that meeting to discuss this event, should Mr. Diaz have perhaps ordered the same drink as the host in a vague attempt to curry favor? Should Mr. Diaz have perhaps picked up the check? Would the host have understood the significance of those things? Does Mr. Diaz, at this point, feel warm? Does Mr. Diaz, at this point, know what the person who brushed up against him had been up to in the minutes before the power outage? Someone lights a lighter a foot in front of Mr. Diaz’s platform; how does he feel about this? Does he wonder

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Barlow what would happen if his table skirt catches fire? Does he remember his insurance person’s phone number? Does he remember who his insurance is through? If the person with the lighter moves away from his table skirt, will Mr. Diaz breathe easier? Is Mr. Diaz aware that somewhere in the city extra attention was paid to the cleaning of one bedroom earlier that day, and that it was not his own? ASCAP, YMCA, GHB—do any of these concern Mr. Diaz? The person that has brushed up against him offers an apology; does Mr. Diaz accept too quickly? Should he maybe have been a bit more circumspect? Should he have been a bit more gruff ? Should he have acknowledged it at all? Once he sees that it is one of the hostess’s attendants, does he think he chose the right words? Does he notice the twinkle in her eye that the lighter amplifies? How often does Mr. Diaz think about his live-in girlfriend? In what terms? Does he think of her as a life partner or just as someone to sleep next to? Have they had discussions about the formalizing of their relationship? Does Mr. Diaz enjoy those conversations? Is he fully engaged in them? Have children been discussed? Have income tax filings been discussed? When they dine out, who pays? When they engage in carnal activities, who initiates? How often does Mr. Diaz entertain ideas of engaging in relations with women who are not his live-in girlfriend? The attendant that has brushed against him is a relation of the hostess; is Mr. Diaz aware of this? Had he known this, would he still have accepted the drink she offers him? Does he taste anything incorrect in the drink? When the power comes back on and after his equipment resets itself, Mr. Diaz resumes his duties, the attendant still at his side; how does Mr. Diaz feel about this? Is he worried about square footage? Is he worried that

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It’s Complicated with Ryan Diaz between the two of them and the equipment there isn’t enough room to move on the stage? Would he have asked her to leave had she not whispered something about carnal desires in his ear? Has he heard her correctly? Should he ask her to repeat herself ? Across the room, a minute earlier, before the power went out, the attendant was at the bar, having the bartender pour two glasses of three fingers each of whiskey, to one of which the attendant added a powder; is Mr. Diaz aware of this? When he awakes every morning, what is Mr. Diaz’s first thought? What was it the morning he turned five? The morning after the first date with his live-in girlfriend? This morning? In general, what is the nature of these first thoughts? Is it confusion? Carnal? Consumptive? If he is jolted awake for any reason, how long is it before he has what can be termed a cohesive thought? How long will Mr. Diaz continue to work within his field? Is there an informal retirement age? A formal retirement age? An age at which connecting with the target audience is no longer a reasonable possibility? Do any of those ages coincide? If he reaches that age, will he remain in his field? Should he, perhaps, begin training for a different occupation? Which one? A profession in the sporting field? In the cooking field? The host comes over after another song and asks for the microphone, casting an eye at the attendant that indicates quite clearly that the host is having carnal thoughts about the attendant; is Mr. Diaz aware of the latter? Does the host know that Mr. Diaz had a strong set of songs lined up that will now have to be delayed because of his speech? Does the host understand the implications? Is the host aware that this delay will have the effect of keeping two previously unacquainted people from making each other’s acquaintance? Is the host aware that he will not now be attending their wedding three years later? That Mr. Diaz would have provided the entertainment at that wedding? Does the host care?

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Barlow The music Mr. Diaz was about to play—did he obtain it legally? Did he borrow music from a friend and make an illicit copy? From a friend of a friend? Is ASCAP aware of this? Do they care? What monies did Mr. Diaz purchase the equipment with? The attendant stays close to Mr. Diaz during the host’s speech; can he smell her perfume? Can he smell her hair product? Is anyone paying attention to the positioning of the attendant? Is the hostess? Is anyone in the hostess’s family? Is anyone paying attention to the host’s speech? When the host finishes, how heartfelt will the applause be? What does Mr. Diaz’s live-in girlfriend know about his work this evening? Does she know what function he is performing? The type of event? His rate of pay? The hour at which he can reasonably be expected to return? Does she know that, from time to time, other women approach Mr. Diaz during the course of his duties and express carnal thoughts? Has she witnessed it herself ? What was her reaction? After accepting the drink from the bartender but before adding the powder, the attendant is accosted by the hostess; is Mr. Diaz aware of this? When the conversation is over, will the relationship between the attendant and the hostess be intact? Mr. Diaz presses play on the next song; does he bring the fader up too quickly? Does he bring the fader up too slowly? Is he sure the host has finished speaking? Does he notice the hostess smile as she stands, comes on the dance floor, and takes the host’s hand? Is anyone else feeling how warm it has suddenly gotten? Has Mr. Diaz given any thought to what happened at the last function like this that he worked at? Does he recall any of the particulars? Does he still have a copy of the playlist? Has he looked at it in preparation? The attendant has a hand on his shoulder now and is saying something in his

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It’s Complicated with Ryan Diaz ear; can he hear it? How many of her words can he hear? Every second word? Every third word? Does he recognize the word “want” when she says it? Does he recognize “back”? Does he recognize “place”? Mr. Diaz loosens his tie; is he the only one? Has anyone else noticed him doing this? What sort of tie is it? Is he jealous of the host’s tie, which cost twice that of his own? If he had bought a new tie for this event, would he have billed it back to the host as an expense? Would the host have paid it? Would Mr. Diaz have been angry if the host had not reimbursed him for it? The host and hostess dance, spinning, twirling, swaying; why is this the last thing about the event that Mr. Diaz can recall? Where is the rest of the evening’s memories? Why is everything else a blank? Why is there a jump cut from the host and hostess dancing to a white ceiling? When Mr. Diaz puts his arm down on the other side of the bed and is greeted by flesh, and he finds that that flesh is on the bare back of the attendant who is sleeping next to him in the bed, and that neither he nor the attendant is wearing any clothing—when he finds all of this out, what will Mr. Diaz think?

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Meditation on the Body - Pines

Robert Farrell

The pine is pine to its roots pine to its branches pine through its cones in its needles pine its sap pine its resin pine its pollen pine it blackens beside the flames that jump the break then pales the loblolly pine the longleaf pine burned it’s still pine the stumps pine the wood coal pine the pitch pine there in the Big Thicket in the Sabine in the Pineywoods near Sam Rayburn Lake all is pine the post oak pine the sweetgum pine the tupelo pine the elm the ash the magnolia pine where petrified pine fills the creeks where all becomes pine the newsprint pine great rolls of pine from the Lufkin mill that closed in 2004 that burned in 2010 the fire towers pine the far tars as the voice of pine would say the pine voices of men in liquor stores who pay for gas or bait of men whose fingers speak of mills it is an ancient practice to stand and watch to stand above pine and watch for fires that inevitably come they still come the people pine my own family pine have become pine though the towers no longer serve their function are not even climbed by bored kids anymore in the woods have fallen into disrepair in the dark woods standing and waiting for the conflagration waiting for petrification in those woods into which they’ve retreated ancient as despair in Nederland as hatred in Jasper as death in Huntsville as pine in places whose names still signify pine in Nacogdoches and Cut’n Shoot there is a people there are many peoples where gerrymandering has reinforced divisions where citizenship is trumped by race by group affiliation by bonds made strong in struggle with the pines where in the absence of common cause of hope such virtues become vices one can smell the pines the paper mills the the bark that crumbles in the hand can feel the pines can watch the yellow dust return each spring can watch it cover all in time but still there is beauty in a pine 118

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Meditation on the Body - Curious Punishments of Bygone Ages

Robert Farrell

have nothing on those afflictions brought down upon the heads of those who know no limit nor on the body’s revenge against itself and for proof just look at Master P who’s done fell so far off his life’s no longer real or take my grandmother once unpleasant now just dead since it is to her my thoughts now turn and not infrequently for it’s fear that often drives the thoughts (at least mine) to consider the possibility of one’s dotage not as Sharon Osbourne has whose scientific fear is founded but as a painter might a too full palette whose oils blend into a useless grey or worse that she will be deprived of color altogether her pigments fugitive her canvas sunbleached washed out by time or tiredness or tangled neurons that go unnoticed when looking in a mirror except one sees oneself as someone who once looked so familiar someone who if only she could recollect thinks it best to keep the silver coins wrapped in facial tissue and hidden in odd corners of the house who will not give up her keys nor have her truck impounded (a perverse pride I still admire) but would rather take herself befogged and in the dead of night to where there are no trees neither the Laurell meed of Poets sage nor the builder Oake no not even the Firre that weepeth still withal to the jetty grey against grey water bare of anything between truck and bay the bay in which said truck will sink after she falls down from out its cab not having put it into park her leg rolled over by the devil before it bayward slips yes so familiar this someone who in the end escapes unharmed proving perhaps that fools are truly the chosen ones of god or holy a thought that reassures me as we walk across the Macombs Dam Bridge hand in hand not knowing if we know or don’t what limits are and memory

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The Twelfth Rose

Grant segall

Dodging a petitioner and a panhandler, I slipped into Szarnak’s Blooms. The door chimed as always, and the ancient clock was still hanging behind the counter, with tulips for hands. 6:50. Ten minutes to closing. My promotion had meant longer hours and a house further out, but I still hoped tonight to bring home the roses from our old neighborhood, grill the ribeyes, toast our anniversary, put down the boys at bedtime for once, and get a little time alone with Sue. Luckily, there were no other customers inside, just a willowy new florist, hidden by orange hair, shrugging over a smartphone on the counter. “Excuse,” I said. “Oh, sorry.” She looked up, and the hair fell back, revealing pink cheeks, green eyes, and a few freckles. She was a long-stemmed beauty in the bud. “Hi.” Today of all days, I found myself drawing in my gut. “Roses, please.”

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“Sure.” The girl, or so she seemed to my 40-ish eyes, turned to the case, the reflection of her vivid face kindly blocking my salt-and-pepper one. “A dozen?” “Eleven, actually.” She really looked at me this time. “Eleven?” Sue liked to keep our personal life personal, but I couldn’t leave this girl hanging. “See, it’s our eleventh anniversary. I always get the matching number, and here, at our first flower shop.” “Oh, that’s so sweet!” She glanced at her phone. “I wish guys my age were gallant like that.” “Well, I couldn’t have afforded roses at your age.” “I bet you’d have thought of them, at least.” She opened the case, riffled through the roses with lissome fingers, and took little sniffs. “Mmmm. Sweeter than ever.” She set the most promising ones on the counter: vivid, full, just starting to open. In the muggy air, I unbuttoned my charcoal blazer. By now, the tulips said 5:57, but I didn’t have the heart to rush her. So I killed time as if I were young again, only more easily now, with nothing at stake. Pointing across the street, I said, “Back then, I’d snatch daffs for girlfriends from the park.” “Oh, the community garden?” “Well, now, sure, but a park in my day. We’d hang out there for hours, naming the pigeons, carving our initials...” “Hey, you really are sweet!” Then she spun back to work, but not quite in time to hide a little blush, of all things — the first one in years over my charms, as opposed to the boys’ blushes over my gaffes. After a minute, she said, “You know, you’re getting to where a dozen would be cheaper.” “Hmmm...” Sue considered thrift romantic, because it feathered our nest. “Could you charge me for twelve, maybe, and just give me eleven?” “I wish. But it’d mess up poor Mr. Szarnak’s

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Segall inventory.” She pulled out a rose a bit too full to sell. “Here, take this one and, oh, I don’t know...” She breathed it in, its hue deepening hers. “Give it to your daughter or your sister or whoever...” “Thanks, but I’ve got no other female relatives in town.” “Really?” She glanced over the petals. “It’d be a shame, just pitching it...” Could she possibly be hinting? For a rose from a married guy more than twice her age? Would those differences make it seem innocent to her? To me? To my inner Sue? Could I indulge the girl — OK, indulge us both — today of all days? Then she clapped her hands, somehow missing the thorns. “I know! Leave it somewhere. At the garden, maybe. For whoever comes along.” “You’re sweet yourself,” I blurted. She blushed again and didn’t bother hiding it this time. “Just imagine.” She pressed the rose between her slender breasts. “A gift from out of the blue!” She began to sway a little, almost dancing with it. “Who’ll find it, do you think? Girl or boy? Single or taken?” “Young or old?” I couldn’t help wondering. “And what’ll they do with it? Put it on their mantel?” Before I could think of an even sweeter alternative, the tulips began to sound the hour. “Whoa!” she cried. She whisked the eleven roses into a bundle, wrapped them tightly, rang them up, wrapped the twelfth separately, and set them all in my arms. Then she glanced at the phone, leaned across the counter and, of all things, pecked my cheek, her hair brushing my shirt. “I just hope they’re appreciated, all of them.” “Me too.” I made myself turn away, hiding my own blush and another youthful response. “And I’m sure you’ll get lots of roses before long.” “Well, you’ll just have to come back and ask me next

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The Twelfth Rose year.” “Deal.” Not that I’d count on someone so young and soulful staying put for so long. Outside, the evening shadows were spreading, and the breeze cooled me down. I hustled to my Caravan and set down the eleven roses in the gray interior. Then, late as it was, I whisked the twelfth across the street. Luckily, the park — the garden, I mean — was empty, except for fresh shoots and a phoebe calling overhead. I found an oak with my initials, higher and wider now, next to a D.K. whose smile I remembered but not whose name. Szarnak’s window was already dark. Could the florist be watching, those freckles pressed to the glass? I laid the rose on a new bench. I found a leaflet in the grass. I scribbled “Free to a good home” on the back. I stuck the note on the stem. My inner florist called me sweet again and kissed my lips this time. I scurried to the car, snaked to the highway, and sped toward home, Sue’s roses fluttering beside me. I checked the mirror and wiped the lipstick from my stubble. It hit me that whoever found the twelfth rose would wonder about me, as we’d wondered about them. Maybe they’d think I was a spurned lover. A spurning one. Or, of all things, a 40-ish husband and father on a harmless little fling, hoping that our gray little lives set off our roses all the more.

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Carleen

Sharon mauldin Reynolds

This was Carleen’s last trip to the prison. She’d been driving down twice a month for more than a year to the South Mississippi Correctional Facility in Leakesville to see her brother, Lowell, who was locked up for having sex with an underage girl. All the while she’d worked full-time and been the sole caretaker for their ailing mother. Now that was about to change. Lowell was getting out in just three weeks and Carleen was taking off for New York. But first she had to make this last visit for a Thanksgiving dinner the prison veterans’ club was having for family and friends. She never imagined celebrating Thanksgiving in a prison. When Lowell had been sentenced, she thought prisons were full of scary men who’d rape or knife you in a heartbeat. As it turned out, most of the inmates looked surprisingly ordinary in their prison-issue khaki shirts and slacks. They lived in dorms, with their own cubicles rather than cells and could walk around outside in a big open space

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called the yard, work out in the weight pile, cook their own meals in dorm kitchens, sometimes sleep in if they wanted. Though she was careful not to wear tight jeans or high heels, she still felt like she stood out in the visitors’ center with her height and prematurely gray hair, which she wore in a French twist. But nobody gawked or whistled as she walked past the small plastic tables where they sat with their families or girlfriends. Lowell was always upbeat and glad to see her – his big sis who came faithfully once a month to sit at a child-sized table that struck them right at the knees so they couldn’t exchange contraband underneath it; who brought exactly fifteen dollars in change for the vending machines and one car key, visible in a Ziploc bag; who wore no jewelry or provocative clothing. Now, after going through security, she arrived at the chow hall for Thanksgiving dinner, where an inmate handed female visitors a single rose as they entered. In front of the dining tables, other inmates stood like a stag line at a high school dance, wearing freshly laundered khakis. The long tables were covered with white paper tablecloths and decorated with cardboard turkeys and Christmas trees. Late for Thanksgiving, or early for Christmas, Carleen wondered. The room had low ceilings and exposed pipes, the yellowishbeige walls adorned with inmates’ paintings, including disturbing murals of airplanes crashing and the space shuttle Columbia exploding. One mural was the larger-than-life head of a black lab whose huge brown eyes gazed out from behind cattails and tall grass, like some crazy Stephen King dog. “Hey, Sis. Thanks for coming,” Lowell said, stepping out of the stag line to hug her. He looked a little thinner, but the muscles in his arms and shoulders were hard. Working out was one of the ways he passed the time. “Just 14 days and a wake-up and I’m out of this hell-hole.” “I know. You look good,” Carleen said. It was

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Reynolds impossible not to return Lowell’s grin, but the appealing look on his round, boyish face could morph all too easily into a glower if he was impatient or angry. He guided her to the buffet line and they picked up Styrofoam plates. There seemed to be a Fourth of July motif added to the occasion, with fried chicken, ham and macaroni and cheese in large plastic containers, and, for dessert, a sheet cake trimmed in red, white and blue with an American flag. Boxes of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice cream stood open beside the cake, growing mushy. “So, what’re you up to these days?” Lowell asked as they sat down. A snaggle-toothed man with a gray beard was across the table, flanked by two young women silently forking food into their mouths. Further down, a black inmate sat with his white wife, or girlfriend, and an older black woman, who was staring straight ahead, hands in her lap. “Same old thing. Working at the paper and coming home to take care of Mother. We have your old room all ready.” Carleen had moved back to her hometown of Mount Vista a year earlier after being laid off her job as reporter at a newspaper up in Tennessee. She was living with their invalid mother, and taking obits at the Mount Vista Echo. She liked to say that job might be boring but dead people didn’t demand a whole lot, unlike her mother. “How’s the old lady doing? She’s not going to die on me while you’re gone, is she?” “Not unless you kill her, which I feel like doing several times a day. But she always spoiled you, so maybe it won’t be so hard. Besides, you had all training in the service. I can’t even do CPR.” Carleen was planning a trip to New York with a couple of friends from her Sunday school class. Finding a sitter had been a challenge since her mother’s crabbiness had run off more than one aide. Lowell’s release came just in

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Carleen time for him to take that job. Carleen was hoping it would work out to be permanent. Moving in with her mother was supposed to have been temporary, just until she found a real newspaper job, not a stopgap like taking obits. Being middle-aged and competing with new j-school grads made it tough, but she wasn’t ready to give up. As for Lowell, where else did he have to go? Nobody wanted to hire a sex offender, plus he couldn’t live anywhere near parks or schools or wherever kids might gather, which pretty much ruled out anywhere in town besides their mother’s house in the country, never mind that he wasn’t a child molester. He’d been charged with statutory rape after the parents of a 15-year-old girl found out he’d had sex with her and reported him. Maybe he would’ve realized she was lying about her age if he hadn’t been so high on tequila and pills. But drunk or sober, Lowell wasn’t known for his good judgment. As if reading her thoughts, he said, “Look, Carly, you deserve to have a life. I’m locked up, but so are you, in a way. I promise I won’t let you down. I’m a changed man. Once I get out, I’m never going back in.” Carleen smiled, taking a sip of iced tea. He always said what he knew you wanted to hear, plus he was using his pet name for her. Just then, a tall, skinny inmate with a mullet crept up behind their chairs, startling her. He held a small digital camera. “Want your pitcher taken?” he asked. “Hey, Burris,” Lowell said, grinning and slapping the man on the arm. “Yeah, sure.” The money the Veteran’s Club made from the pictures and from selling donuts to other prisoners went to pay for the dinner, Lowell told her. They took their place in front of the black lab mural and Burris pressed a button. He showed them the picture on the camera screen. One huge brown lab eye peered over Carleen’s shoulder. Dinner was over in just under two hours. Lowell and Carleen hugged goodbye, and she walked with the other visitors across the dark yard to the parking lot. Glancing back at the

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Reynolds windows of one of the dorms, she could see inmates milling about among the rows of bunk beds. Several came to stand at the windows, hands cupped around their faces so they could get a look at the group of civilians. She stood still for a moment, watching them watch her, as the chill of the late autumn night penetrated her thin jacket. Growing up in their little northeast Mississippi town, she and Lowell used to walk to school every day past the two-story concrete block building that was the county jail. Inmates would call out to them through the bars on the second floor. She never saw faces, just arms reaching out, mostly black or brown. Sometimes Lowell would throw rocks at the bars. Stop that, Carleen told him. How would you like it if you were in jail and people threw rocks at you? I’d throw them back, he said without hesitation. It usually fell to Carleen to try to keep her little brother out of trouble. Their mother was divorced and worked as a cook on a tugboat, 75 miles away in Memphis, going up and down the Mississippi River for twentyone weeks, back home for three. They all lived with their grandmother, who spent most of the day in her housecoat, watching television. Carleen packed Lowell’s lunches and made sure he did his homework. In a way, she was proud of how well she looked after her brother, better than their mother, whose idea of child care during her three weeks off was to put notes on the refrigerator for them after school, leaving a phone number for wherever she would be playing cards with her girlfriends, along with instructions to put a frozen dinner in the microwave. When Carleen was thirteen and Lowell was ten, she moved them out into the country and brought along her boyfriend, Roy. He was considerably younger, just in his twenties, and worked on the same tugboat. Carleen thought he smelled like he’d never bathed the entire twenty-one

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Carleen weeks. It embarrassed her to no end the way he walked around the house without a shirt, showing off his tan. When he took to barging into her room unannounced, she started sleeping fully clothed and made sure the door was locked every time she used the bathroom. “Soon as I graduate high school, I’m out of here,” she told her brother. “I’m leaving, too,” Lowell said. “I ain’t staying as long as Rambo is around.” As it turned out, a couple of years later, Roy was the one to leave – in handcuffs. He claimed that he hadn’t intentionally penned Carleen down on her bed. He said he was hanging curtains in her room, trying to do her a favor, when he fell off the ladder and landed right on top of her. Only Carleen never was on the bed. She was walking out of the room, she said, and he grabbed her. Lowell heard her yelling and came at Roy with his souvenir Louisville Slugger, the first thing he laid his hands on. He managed to get in one lick before Roy hit him upside the head with the hammer he’d supposedly been using for the curtain rods, putting him in the hospital for three weeks. When he finally came home, Lowell wasn’t ever the same. He started running around with a rough crowd that was into everything from smoking pot to petty theft. His current stint behind bars wasn’t his first. Her mother was in the den, bandaged feet propped up on an ottoman, watching the Weather Channel and smoking when Carleen got home that evening, carrying two plastic bags of groceries. “I sure hope you got real margarine this time,” she said, not taking her eyes off the screen where the weatherman was pointing to a huge map. “I hate that old store brand you last time.” Carleen set the bags down on the counter that separated the den from the kitchen and began pulling out frozen dinners,

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Reynolds cans of peaches and Campbell’s soup. “They were having a special, Mother. But don’t worry. I’ll never bring it into your house again, even if they’re giving it away. Did you take your pills this morning?” “I think so.” Carleen sighed and opened a cabinet stocked with medicine bottles, taking down the blue plastic pill organizer. She opened the compartments labeled “Thurs. morning” and “Thurs. noon.” “You haven’t taken any.” She handed her the pills and a glass of water. “You expect me to take all these at once?” Her mother frowned at the multicolored pills in her palm. “Just pretend they’re jelly beans.” That should be easy enough for a diabetic, Carleen thought, sitting down on the ottoman. “At least take your aspirin and the water pills.” “You don’t have to watch me like a hawk. I’m taking them.” Carleen twirled a lock of silver hair that had slipped from her French twist around her finger and turned to look at the TV where the streaks of blue indicating heavy snow on the weather map were moving up to the East Coast. “See what you got waiting for you up in New York City?” her mother said. “They’re calling it snowmageddon.” “I feel sure it’ll be cleared up by the time we leave in a couple of weeks. You missed a real nice dinner, by the way. Lowell looks good. He’s all ready to come home.” Her mother had refused to visit after her first and only trip to the prison, when she’d gone deathly pale at the sight of the rolls of glittering razor wire running the length of the fence like an evil Slinky. She hardly said two words during their entire visit. “I don’t see how he can be up to doing stuff around here. He needs a rest himself, after everything he’s been

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Carleen through.” “We’ve had this conversation before, Mother. Lowell’s not a kid. He’s going to be forty-five next month. He’s perfectly capable of taking charge. Besides, I won’t be gone to New York but a few days.” Carleen had never been to New York, and the trip was on her bucket list. She was determined to make it. “You hadn’t ever been any farther north than Nashville. You don’t have any idea how to act in the big city.” “I’m going to bed now. It’s been a long day.” When she went to bring Lowell home two weeks later, he just stood by her car in the parking lot with his head down. She realized he was crying and put her arms around him. “I know, I know,” she said softly. “It’s okay. Let’s go home now.” They drove in silence for the first few miles along the two-lane blacktop, Lowell staring out the window, seeing open fields for the first time in two years. “Thanks, Carleen,” he said finally. “Thanks for the ride home. I really appreciate everything you’ve done. I won’t let you down again, I promise.” Carleen just smiled, thinking, wouldn’t that be nice. “Well, you may not thank me after you see all you have to do with Mother.” “No diapers involved, are they?” “It hasn’t come to that yet, but when she has to go, sometimes she doesn’t make it all the way to the toilet.” “You’re kidding, right?” “Yes. No. Well, it did happen once. Just No. 1.” “Oh, hell, long as it’s not something more serious. Won’t be the first time I stepped in somebody else’s piss. Guys in prison aren’t always careful where they aim.” After a couple of hours, Carleen pulled off the road to a Wendy’s drive-thru at Lowell’s request. She ordered two double cheeseburgers, fries and a Coke for him and a Diet Coke for herself. “You not eating?” he asked, biting into a cheeseburger. “I’m not really hungry now.” She didn’t mention that

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Reynolds her stomach was queasy from a little too much wine the night before. Her excuse had been she needed to get rid of the bottle of chardonnay before her alcoholic brother came home. Lowell finished the second burger and stuffed the wrappers in the paper sack. “Man, nothing beats Wendy’s. Only thing better is my own cooking.” He’d learned to cook in the navy, which helped him get a job in the prison kitchen. Their mother liked to brag that he’d inherited her talent. “Yeah, Mother’s going to be happy to have you around. I’m sure you’ll hear all about the slop Carleen’s been feeding her. Translation: healthy food.” “What? No pork rinds?” “Also no sweet tea, French fries or lard.” “Sounds like prison.” “You’ll get used to it.” As they continued to drive, Lowell waved occasionally at oncoming cars. “What’re you doing?” Carleen asked. “I don’t know. It’s just nice, being able to wave to people.” She thought of the inmates gathering at the dorm windows to watch her and the other departing visitors after the holiday dinner. Lowell was on the outside now. She hoped he could stay there. It was dusk by the time they reached Mount Vista. The streets were nearly deserted, a bank of gray clouds threatening freezing rain. Lowell slept as Carleen drove down Main Street, past the Garden Club welcome sign that had been up since the 1960s. Piggly Wiggly and Pizza Hut sat off to the right, next to a Mexican restaurant that Carleen remembered as the Big Star Cafe where she used to hang out in high school. She turned down a road that ran beside the new Mount Vista Educational Complex and out into the country where white frame houses were spread out along

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Carleen soybean and corn fields. Her mother’s house sat on a hill, a weather-beaten old horse-drawn wagon underneath a large oak tree out front. “Wake up, sleepyhead. We’re home.” She jostled Lowell’s shoulder and he sat up, rubbing his eyes, looking around. The TV was on but for once their mother wasn’t in front of it in her recliner. Carleen could hear her clattering around back in the kitchen. A moist, salty smell wafted into the living room. “I’m not believing this. Tugboat Annie’s cooked supper for you.” Their mother emerged from the kitchen in a flowered duster, her thin gray hair sticking out like a ragdoll’s, lips pressed tight in the round, doughy face, head tilted to the side. Carleen watched as she opened her arms. “Hey, Mama,” Lowell said, gingerly patting her head as he held her against his chest. “Oh, Lowell,” she said. “Oh, Lowell.” Carleen had only a few days to get her brother ready for his caretaking duties before leaving for New York. He followed her from room to room as she went over the routine. He was so quiet and obedient it was almost creepy. At other times, he couldn’t sit still. He kept offering to do things. “Do you need me to move anything for you or mow the lawn?” he’d ask. When she reminded him that it was December and the grass wasn’t growing, he went out in the yard and looked for bits of trash to pick up. She wondered how long this new Lowell would last. The weather had cleared, and their flights were on time as Carleen and her friends drove to the Memphis airport for the first leg of their trip. Sitting in the car, then waiting in Atlanta for the connecting flight to LaGuardia, she couldn’t help checking her phone repeatedly, expecting a text from Lowell, saying she had to get home right away. Her companions, Euhlyn Stamp and Janie Heavener, reminded her she was supposed to

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Reynolds be taking a break. “Carleen, I’m fixing to throw that phone off the Brooklyn Bridge if you don’t quit,” Janie said. “Sorry. Old habits, you know.” Carleen shoved the phone into the recesses of her purse. It was dark by the time they reached the city. From the window of the plane, Carleen drank in the view of the lights that spilled across the dark palette as far as she could see. Driving over the RFK Bridge into Manhattan, the women oohed and aahed, pointing to the brilliant skyline. “It’s just like a postcard, just like a postcard,” Janie kept saying. After the cab driver dropped them off at their hotel, they stood on the sidewalk, still streaked with slush from the snowstorm, looking around for a doorman to help with their luggage. All they saw was a middle-aged man in jeans and a baseball jacket, talking to a younger man with several piercings in his face. “If that’s the doorman, I’ll carry my own suitcase,” Euhlyn said, heading for the stairs to the lobby. Together they dragged their suitcases up the steps. Carleen stopped to read aloud an inscription on the riser of the top step: everything is going to be alright. Good to know, she thought. “They misspelled all right,” observed Euhlyn, who taught middle school language arts. “I thought that was acceptable either way,” Carleen ventured as they entered the lobby. “Depends on what you mean by acceptable,” Euhlyn replied. A band in the bar was playing some unrecognizable tune so loud the women could barely understand the clerk as they tried to register. Carleen noticed an exit over to the side with a sign beneath it that read, An exit is just an entrance to someplace else. She didn’t know whether “someplace” was

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Carleen one word or two. “Did I understand her correctly? Did she say bunk beds?” Janie asked as they waited for the elevator. She was still huffing and puffing from climbing the stairs to the lobby. “Yes, I believe that’s what she said,” Carleen murmured. Euhlyn jabbed the elevator button again. “Good grief, is this thing even working?” Carleen felt a growing sense of dread as they opened the door to the first room. She had been in charge of making the reservations and specifically asked for two rooms with two double beds in each. The room they entered was dark and small, more like a cabin on a boat than a hotel room. Bunk beds were built into an alcove, and the only other furniture was a desk, a chair and one lamp. And, of course, a mini-bar. “I’m sorry,” Carleen said. “But they messed things up. I really did ask for two double beds in two rooms. They are giving us a discount, though.” “Brrr,” Janie exclaimed. “It’s freezing in here. Where’s the thermostat?” Sometime after midnight, Carleen was awakened by the vibration of her phone beneath the pillow. She looked at the caller ID and considered turning the phone off. “This better be important, Lowell,” she said with a sigh. “Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you up. I just wanted to make sure you got there all right.” She could tell by the slurring that he’d already been to the beer store. “’Course, guess I’d of seen it on the TV if the plane crashed. Ha ha.” “Everything’s fine. I’m just really tired. Is Mother okay?’ “Sleeping like a baby. I gave her a couple of Tylenol 3 ‘cause she said her legs were hurting. They must of knocked her out.” “Are you trying to kill her? She’s not supposed to have that stuff. Just give her some plain old Tylenol. Or rub her legs with rubbing alcohol,” she said, emphasizing rubbing. “Hmm. Don’t know if she’d like for me to do that.”

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Reynolds “It’s fine, Lowell. I do it all the time.” “You said no diapers.” “This isn’t diapers, Lowell. Now go check on her, make sure she’s still breathing and let me get some sleep.” Carleen turned the phone off and slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Janie in the top bunk. Opening the mini bar, she rummaged through the tiny bottles and found some Absolut. So what if an ounce cost ten bucks, she thought, I need it. The next morning, she turned on the tap in the shower only to find there was no hot water. She was about to call the front desk when Euhlyn burst in from the adjoining room, wrapped in an oversized white bathrobe. “Can you believe there’s no hot water, and it’s going to be off till seven o’clock tonight,” she cried. “They’re putting in some new boiler or whatever. You’d think they could’ve warned us last night.” Fortunately, the breakfast buffet wasn’t depleted by the time they came downstairs. After eating, the women bundled up and headed for a hop-on-hop-off bus. Euhlyn had purchased their tickets online along with passes to Ellis Island and a ferry ride. On Saturday they were going to see “Wicked.” Carleen had voted for “Chicago” but was overruled. Despite the cold, they sat on the top deck of the bus, huddling together. Driving through the tunnel of skyscrapers, looking down on the convoy of yellow cabs, the throngs on the sidewalk, Carleen felt a sense of familiarity. “You know, I’ve seen these places so often on movies and TV, I feel like I’ve already been here,” she said. “Déjà vue all over again,” Euhlyn said. “All I can think of is, all those people and I don’t know a single one of them,” Janie said. Carleen told them she’d heard if you stood on a street corner all day in New York, you’d see everybody you’d ever known in your life pass by. The women just looked at her and frowned. “Not the actual person,” she explained, “just

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Carleen somebody who looks like them.” Over the next few hours, they went to the top of the Empire State Building and walked around the Rockefeller Center, then headed back on the bus for a stop at the 9/11 memorial. Carleen stood at the fountain built in the footprint of tower No. 1, watching the water flowing down all four sides into a void in the center, thinking how morbid that seemed. Janie and Euhlyn ran their fingers over the names of the victims engraved along the edge, reminiscing about where they were when the towers fell. Carleen felt her phone vibrating in her trousers pocket. She walked a few feet away and sat on a bench. There was a text from Lowell. Mother’s had a little accident. I found her this afternoon laying on the floor in her bedroom. She’s at the hospital now. “Oh, crap,” Carleen whispered, dialing his number. “What happened?” she asked when he picked up. “Was it her blood sugar?” “I don’t know for sure, Carleen. She wasn’t unconscious or anything, just mad as an old wet hen. She said she’d been hollering for me for hours. They’re running a bunch of tests on her now to see if anything’s broken.” “What do you mean, hollering for hours? Why didn’t you hear her?” “I don’t know. I guess I was sleeping.” “Sleeping or passed out?” “I wasn’t drinking, Carleen, okay? We’d been out to eat at the Waffle House. I never should of let her eat all those pancakes and syrup, but you know how she gets. She’d of pitched a fit right there if I’d tried to stop her.” “Oh, good Lord. She knows better.” There was a pause, and then Lowell said, “I think she might’ve done it on purpose.” “Really?” But Carleen had a feeling he could be right. “Yeah, she’s been ragging on me since you left. I mean it’s only been, what, a couple of days. I wanted to go out once

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Reynolds to see an old Navy buddy, and she gets upset. ‘You’re fixing to leave me, just like your sister,’ she says.” “So she’s trying to punish us.” Or make me come back, Carleen thought. “I know it sounds crazy, but I wouldn’t put it past her.” Carleen didn’t want to alarm Janie and Euhlyn, so she decided not to mention her mother’s accident for now. Later, during dinner at a Jean-Georges restaurant that Euhlyn had chosen near Central Park West, her phone vibrated again, and she excused herself to go to the restroom. The news wasn’t good. Apparently, her mother’s hip was fractured and she needed surgery, Lowell said, but with her poor health, the procedure could be risky. I should be there, Carleen thought. As a Christian, I should be taking care of my mother, never mind she hardly took care of me. “And there’s something else,” Lowell said. “They say she’ll have to have somebody with her 24/7 or else go into a nursing home after she gets out of rehab. She’ll be laid up in the bed and can’t take care of herself for a while.” Carleen didn’t want to think about what that implied. She went back to the table and tried to downplay the news to her friends. “I’m sure she’ll be fine. She’s a tough old bird,” she added, not wanting to see the concern on their faces. “I don’t know how you do it, Carleen. You’re such a good daughter,” Janie said. “My husband’s sister lives out in Arizona and expected us to take care of my mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. I said to him, ‘honey, there’s no way. We both have full-time jobs. I can’t take on another one.’ We had to put her in a nursing home.” “You’ve got to live your life,” Euhlyn said. Lowell called the next day while the women were taking a ferry ride around the island to report that their mother had come through the surgery and was doing well. As the ferry cruised slowly by the Statue of Liberty, Carleen

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Carleen marveled at the size of the monument up close. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. She pictured herself among those huddled masses they’d seen at Ellis Island in stark, black and white photographs, bedroll on her back, battered suitcase at her side. Having left everyone and everything she’d ever known behind, not knowing what lay ahead. Everything is going to turn out alright. The day their flight home was due to leave, Euhlyn insisted they spend a few hours at Macy’s. “Even if you don’t buy anything, I hear there’s nothing like Macy’s at Christmas,” she exclaimed. “Everything’s on sale, and they have one whole floor with nothing but shoes.” Carleen was thankful the dressing rooms were as spacious as their hotel lobby. After an hour or so of wandering through the maze of merchandise, she had finally succumbed to the shoe floor and bought a pair of high-heel, black leather boots that Janie pronounced “awesome.” Pleading fatigue, she plopped down on a sofa, wearing the boots, while her friends tried on what must’ve been an entire winter wardrobe. She wasn’t envious of their financial situations. She couldn’t afford to buy anything else, but on the other hand, she didn’t have to go home to a demanding husband. Just a demanding mother. And a brother who was an addict and a convicted sex offender. Her phone rang as she was watching a segment about the mega millions lottery on New York 1 TV. She didn’t answer it. Clasping her hands together, she looked down at her feet clad in shiny black leather. Leave me alone. Just leave me alone. With no particular destination in mind, she walked out of the dressing room and took the first down escalator she saw, then the next and the next. She thought of an old TV show, “Twilight Zone,” where a man – or was it a woman? – gets on an escalator that goes down into infinity. She didn’t think she would mind that now. An exit is just and entrance to someplace else. Out on the sidewalk, she zipped up her coat – a black, knee-length puffer like so many other women were wearing –

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Reynolds and walked fast, not making eye contact. That was a tip she’d heard once on “Prairie Home Companion.” Garrison Keillor was broadcasting from New York City. He said if you wanted to be taken for a New Yorker, “wear black, walk fast and don’t make eye contact.” Although it was December, the day was clear and the temperature above freezing. A few people sat at the benches and small tables at Herald Square Park, some with Macy’s bags at their feet. Most were staring at their phones. Carleen sat down on one of the empty benches, shoving her hands deep into her pockets, wrapping one hand around her phone. She searched the faces of the people who walked by, testing the theory of seeing someone from your past. Everybody seemed to be walking fast and not making eye contact, but they weren’t all wearing black. Then, from out of the crowd, who should be walking toward her but Cleo Wilbanks, her first boyfriend, looking almost the same as he had thirty years ago. She tried to make eye contact, but the stocky, darkhaired young man was engrossed in a conversation on his phone. He was wearing a black leather jacket, just like Cleo, and jeans. Hell, she thought, he’s probably an Elvis impersonator or gay, dressed like that in 2012. She hadn’t thought about Cleo in years. She wondered if he’d ever been in prison. He drove a Harley, and the rumor was he sold pot. They were both nineteen when they met at the community college. Cleo wanted them to get jobs at Disney World and live together on the beach, so one weekend, on a whim, they set out for Florida. Carleen had never felt so free, riding on his motorcycle, nestled against his back. But when they pulled into a service station just over the Alabama state line, things began to change. At first, she thought the heavy sadness that descended on her was just fatigue. As she stood inside the service station, sipping a Coke and watching Cleo

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Carleen pump gas, a fist of loneliness began pushing up into her chest. She’d known him barely a month, and she certainly didn’t know anybody in Florida. The tears choking her throat surprised her. She’d wanted nothing more than to get away from her hometown. But not like this. “Go ahead, honey, cry,” Cleo had said, pulling her into his arms. “Women have the right to cry.” It sounded like something he’d heard on a soap opera. He didn’t even ask why she was crying or why she’d changed her mind about going with him. “I’m sorry,” she said, and went back into the service station where she sat on a stack of Coke cartons, listening to the roar of his motorcycle fading down the highway and waiting for a girlfriend she’d called to come pick her up. Now, as she watched Cleo’s lookalike disappear into the crowd, she wondered how her life might’ve been different if she’d gone to Florida with him. Where would that other life have taken her? She saw herself getting to her feet, following the man in the black leather jacket. Her high heel boots clicked smartly on the sidewalk, and she smiled, pleased at the sound. Surrounded by strangers, she felt safe, invisible, like a jungle animal blending into its habitat. Reaching into her pocket, she grasped her phone and, without breaking stride, dropped it into the void of the first trash bin she passed. She was still sitting on the park bench, staring into the crowd, when she heard her name called. It seemed so far away. A hand was on her shoulder. “Are you okay?” Looking up, she saw two women peering down at her. Euhlyn and Janie Ruth. “We were about to call the police when you didn’t answer your phone,” Janie Ruth scolded. “Don’t go off like that without telling us.” Carleen looked down the sidewalk, at the people on the crosswalk, but there was no sign of the man in the black jacket.

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Contributors

Peter Barlow’s work has appeared in Rosebud, The MacGuffin, The Homestead Review, The Louisiana Review, Underground Voices, and Per Contra. He received his MFA Creative Writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is an adjunct professor of English at University of Detroit-Mercy. Robert Farrell lives and works in the Bronx, New York. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Underwater New York, Unlost, The Brooklyn Review, NOON: journal of the short poem and The Santa Fe Literary Review. Originally from Houston Texas, he’s a librarian at Lehman College, CUNY. D. E. Goodroad grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and now lives in rural northeastern Ohio, where she teaches writing. She received her M.A. in English from Kent State University in 2012, and she has been fascinated by black holes for as long as she can remember. Eric Janken’s work has also been featured in Southern Cultures, Aethlon: Journal of Sport Literature, Carolina Quarterly and Shenandoah. He is a graduate of Appalachian State University. David Langlinais’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in South Dakota Review, Los Angeles Review, Saint Ann’s Review, Dos Passos Review, Big Muddy, The MacGuffin and others. His short story collection, “Duck Thief and Other Stories” (ULLafayette Press) was 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award’s honorable mention. He lives in Dallas with his wife and daughter where he works as a freelance copywriter

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Robert Kostuck is an M.Ed. graduate from Northern Arizona University. Recently published fiction, essays, and reviews appear in many American and Canadian print journals and anthologies. He is currently working on short stories, essays, and novels; his short story and essay collections seek a publisher. Roger McKnight is a native of downstate Illinois, who has also lived and worked as a teacher in Chicago, Sweden, and Puerto Rico. He has traveled widely in Europe and Latin America. He is a fan of English, Scandinavian, and Russian literature. He has published one novel, a book of creative non-fiction, and short fiction in literary journals. He now lives in Minnesota, where climate change has made the seasons whacky, but September is still the best month there. Juan Parra, born 1985 in Cuba, has a B.A. from Florida International University. Juan Parra’s poetry has appeared in the Indiana Review, Basalt, Pear Drop, 4ink7, and Flapperhouse. Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The B Poems published by Poets Wear Prada, 2016. For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com. Sharon Mauldin Reynolds has worked as a newspaper reporter, teacher, and freelance writer. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, and her debut short story collection, Walking Air, was published by Pen-L Publishing. She recently received Kentucky’s highest literary reward -- the Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship. A native of Mississippi, Sharon lives and writes in Lexington, KY.

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Grant Segall has spent 32 years as a reporter and columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He has won three national journalism prizes and many statewide ones. He has published previous short stories in five college journals and two independent zines, earning honorable mention in Whiskey Island’s yearly contest at Cleveland State. He has freelanced for Time, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the Public Broadcasting System and other outlets. He wrote John D. Rockefeller: Anointed with Oil (Oxford University Press, 2001), published in the U.S., Korea and China. He is a Harvard graduate and the father of three sons. An east coast expatriate, Brooklyn, New York, to be precise, Stuart Jay Silverman taught at Auburn University, The University of Illinois (Urbana campus and Chicago Circle Campus), and The City Colleges of Chicago. Retired from teaching, he divides his domestic life between homes in Chicago and Hot Springs, Arkansas. More than 500 of his poems appear in 100+ journals and anthologies here and abroad. Hawk Publishing Group (Tulsa, OK) published his The Complete Lost Poems: A Selection. Alex H Stone is a Minneapolis based writer, musician, and educator. He has a B.A in music composition and two cats. Alison Carb Sussman’s poems “Acting Like a Woman” and “Reuniting With Mother at the Zoo” won the Abroad Writers’ Conference/Finishing Line Press Authors Poetry Contest. She was awarded a conference registration and stay at the Butlers Townhouse in Dublin from December 12th to 19th, 2015. Her poem “Anhedonia” placed as a finalist in the 49th Parallel Award for Poetry in Bellingham Review’s 2016 Literary Contests. Her chapbook, “On the Edge,” a semifinalist in Finishing Line’s New Women’s Voices Chapbook Competition 2012, was published by Finishing Line in May 2013. Six of her poems were quarter-finalists (among the top 152

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50 manuscripts) in the 2016 Nimrod Literary Awards. Her poems have appeared most recently in Atlanta Review, Gargoyle, Levure litteraire, Emory University’s Lullwater Review, The New York Times, Rattle, and Southword. Alison was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015. She studied at the Writers Studio, under the direction of Philip Schultz. Alison lives and writes in New York City. TWIXT is the mononym-onym of poet Peter Specker; he has had poetry published in Margie, The Indiana Review, Amelia, California State Quarterly, Emry’s Journal, RE:AL, Pegasus, First Class, Pot-pourri, Art Times, The Iconoclast, Epicenter, Subtropics, Quest, Confrontation, Writers’ Journal, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, The Prairie Journal(Can), Stand (UK), Tulane Review and so many others. He lives in Ithaca, New York. John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A seventime Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Arts & Letters, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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barlow john bent robert farrell d.E. goodroad eric janken brian kamsoke robert kostuck David langlinais c roger m Knight juan parra simon perchik sharon reynolds grant Segall stuart Silverman alex stone alison carb sussman kimberly tabor twixt steven Walker john sibley Williams peter

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{vol. 40, no. 1} F&W 2016

Real 40 1  
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