REVOLUTION HOUSE STAFF
EXECUTIVE EDITOR Alisha Karabinus MANAGING EDITORS Fati Z. Ahmed Elaina Smith CREATIVE NONFICTION EDITORS Jaime Herndon Jami Nakamura Lin FICTION EDITORS Karen Britten Todd Gray Carol H. Hood Sarah Kamlet Koty Neelis Katie Oldaker POETRY EDITORS Jonathan Dubow Henry W. Leung Karissa Morton Susannah Nevison Staci R. Schoenfeld
Cover art by Francis Raven
“Back, safe, home again.” We read this line often, my son and I, in a Richard Scarry book that was once one of my favorites and is now one of his. We follow the journey of the Pig family through snow and sun and spilled watermelons, and when we come to the end, we say it together: “back, safe, home again.” Since we saw you last, the roomies of the Revolution House have scattered. Many of us are starting, or have started, MFA programs; nearly all of us moved across states, even oceans, and even those who didn’t have found new jobs, new residences, new life paths. But we always have this homeaway where we return to sit together, talking over stories, trading poems back and forth, pointing out our favorite words and moments, selecting the best and sending encouragement to those we like but who still haven’t made it into the cozy rooms of the virtual home we share. It feels good to be here among friends, to sit back and listen to the endless rumbling of stories. We’ve come back, we’re safe, we’re home again, and home is a lovely place to be. In these pages, you’ll find other journeys. Find your own motherland, or visit the playground of a public school where the students are so accustomed to the wails of sirens that they no longer even bother to look up at the flashing lights. Sometimes the journeys are small; we travel here into the depths of one man’s heart and we sift through the debris of a broken marriage. We take on a new telephone number, and with it, someone else’s past, someone else’s memories. We go to camp, to the bedroom, to the closet, to a minefield, but at the end, we are back, safe, home again, tucked comfortably with a favorite beverage, turning pages. We are always turning pages. And now, as I have shared my favorite books with my son, we turn to sharing our favorite stories and poems with you. Read the words along with us. Roll them around in your mouths; taste the sounds and the feelings, and perhaps they’ll become your favorites, too. See you in December. Alisha Karabinus
Passing Through Caroline Swicegood
Your Mouth is Holy Like a Vow of Silence but with Prettier Robes Michael Mlekoday
Playground at P.S #40 James Valvis
Open Letter to Kayla Wood Alicia Catt
Mon Coeur William Henderson
Moon on Fire Matt Burnside
Renegade Arborists Chad Redden
Mothballs in the Closet Chad Redden
There We Sat, Chad Redden
Turkâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Head Claire Shefchik
from Addenda Sarah Schweig Questions with Mary Shelley Caroline Crew
Fatherhood Kea Marie
Unbearable Lightbulbs Sarah Crossland
Self-Portrait as Ganymede Tory Adkisson One Hundred Breaths Chanel Earl
Passing Through Caroline Swicegood
Almost two thousand miles from where you started, you’re riding in your friend’s car through Emblem, Wyoming and you discover the secret to life. It comes to you suddenly and you shift through your purse for a pen and something to write on. You don’t have a pen but you find one in the glove compartment and press the tip to the back of a Starbucks receipt. Your friend asks what you’re writing. “Nothing important,” you say. The secret to life is tri-fold, but you manage to condense it down to one concise, poignant, and grammatically correct sentence. You stare at it. It seems so obvious and simple. You continue through Bighorn, down Route 14 and into Yellowstone. You pay your fees and get assigned a camping area. On the way to your site, it starts looking like it might storm. The sky was endlessly blue and clear on the ride in but now bruised clouds roll in and the wind picks up. A bald eagle is trying to fly against it and is halted mid-air, hovering above the car. You both agree that it’s probably a sign of some sort—a national symbol in a national park being thrown about by the elements—but you disagree about whether it’s a good omen or a bad one, whether it’s a sign of struggle and defeat or of perseverance in the face of adversity. This conversation lasts until nightfall. It doesn’t rain and you spend the evening grilling tofu dogs and letting the smoke from the campfire seep into your clothing. You breathe it in when you zip yourself into your sleeping bag. Sometime during the night you hear drops, gentle at first and then a hard staccato, falling on the nylon dome of your tent. You turn over on your stomach and fall back asleep. It’s still going the next morning. You bypass Old Faithful—you saw it once on a family trip when you were eight and were unimpressed—and explore near the paint pots instead, the hems of your jeans rolled up to avoid dragging in the mud and neon green poncho zipped to the throat. Water sluices from the edges of the plastic hood and onto your face, getting in your eyes and pasting your hair to your cheeks. Drops splash into the kaleidoscopic thermal springs. Bright blues and greens ripple. Steam rises from the pools and the smell of sulfur is in your nose. You’re pretty sure it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. Your friend squats down with her camera to take a picture. DC seems so far away, and so does Seattle. You go back to the site and pack up. Neither of you want to drive six hours in wet clothes, so she gets in the front seat of the car and you get in the back and you wiggle furtively out of your jeans, hoping no passing campers will notice anything through the fogged windows. You pull another pair on and lay the wet ones across the back seat to dry. You set off for Montana.
A week later, in Idaho, you take those jeans out of your backpack and feel a lump in the pocket. You pull out the Starbucks receipt, now a gray ball of pulp that’s been soaked and then dried, its fibers pilled and edges stiff as you open it and smooth it out, the blue ink smeared and washed so faint it’s illegible. You can’t remember for the life of you what you wrote.
The Motherland Michael Mlekoday
can be any country you want it to be. Russia, Ethiopia, Sweet Tea Infused Vodka. It doesn’t even need to be a country. Maybe it sounds anathema to call your significant other The Motherland, but after a ten-hour workday, you might be ready to fight a war against oncoming traffic just to kiss familiar topsoil. The Motherland is never the city bus until you move to a small town that doesn’t have one. Name it one of the veins in your wrist. Notice how you can find it no matter where you are. Cut your other hand open and, in a way, that’s The Motherland spilling. If you drink hard enough, you might forget the names of acquaintances and start calling them The Motherland. If they are flattered, buy them a drink. If they are not amused, vomit on the ground directly adjacent to their driver’s side door. Photograph everything you give this name. The imposters will become ghosts. The shoebox of pictures in your closet will sometimes sound like a river you can’t quite recognize. That’s what national anthems sound like after you leave. But you’ll still carry them anyway, looking for reminders on every street. There goes Zachary. That’s Ryane and Christy. Here’s the tire swing from the backyard, the bartender from the old speakeasy. Everything you see from the corner of your eye is a flag about to be set on fire. Look at your feet instead. They might be bigger, now, but they remember everything better than you do. The Motherland is your favorite barstool, the smell of rain the morning you left; nobody can take this from you. Not even the mapmakers. Not even your grandchildren. Play your favorite songs for everyone who will listen, and the way the old records bend like dementia, that’s The Motherland. The Motherland swells like the front door in summer, overtakes everything. It is the Bishop’s weed in the otherwise textbook garden. It is the thrush of Gossypium in the air, a ruin, and it becomes every swallow.
Your Mouth is Holy Like aVow of Silence But With Prettier Robes Michael Mlekoday
I’ve renounced volume, I’ve given up being blunt. The serrated knife to the avocado means the kind of longing you have for things you’ve only yet talked about doing. The accidental paper cut is a prayer for clarity. Everywhere I go is a place that could open me if I weren’t careful. I carve pictures of airplanes into the sides of oak trees and then wave goodbye to them like love letters. Some nights, when I run out of ways to say I miss you, I chop wood. I start fires. I slice far too much onion. My ring and index fingers repeatedly press Ctrl-X as if technology could cut away abstractions like distance or time zones. When all the blades are dull, and all the onions are gone, and all the trees are etched or burnt or both, I draw a picture of the first snowfall. You’re wearing a beautiful new scarf. It is nighttime. We are silent.
Playground at P.S. #40 James Valvis
There were no trees, grass, monkey bars, or slides, just a concrete slab and some steel basketball nets walled in by a twelve foot high fence. Mornings, teachers lined the kids up, fed them into the ancient building, into classrooms with chipped desks, into lessons that taught them how to fail, before letting them run outside again for lunch. The girls spent lunch jumping rope, Double Dutch, two ropes twirling, one rope high, the other low, while the boys eyed the girls, backs pressed against the fence. Ah, the fence. The strongest boys always grabbed the best places, then guarded the spots against the new kids moving in, old kids hoping to score a new position. The best places were where they could watch the girls, watch legs skip ropes like fire walking across coals, watch breasts bounce and bounce. Sometimes two kids fought over a spot, the combatants dancing, bouncing like the breasts in the ropes, until the ambulance lights turned the school windows strange colors. Shawn watched because his position was the worst, because his spot was across the street from the chicken slaughter house. He watched as the girls jumped rope and didn’t notice he was alive, didn’t notice anyone, really, unless it was Milo, standing with his back pressed against the best the fence had to offer. Shawn didn’t know the girls could notice and not let on, didn’t know the jumping was a game, the bouncing breasts bounced for more than rope. The slaughter house stunk of blood so bad he couldn’t stomach lunch. He grew skinnier, weaker, less likely to ever score a girl. Hours after lunch, Shawn tasted chicken blood on his lips. One day he walked to the slaughter house and looked inside the open door, saw the chickens in wire cages, packed inside fifty to a pen, one crushed to death against wire. Then the school bell rang, and they trudged back into the lines. The kids ordered themselves alphabetically, boys on one side, girls the other, as if by not mixing the girls might avoid getting pregnant before sixteen. In class Shawn stared out the window to the playground, empty now, and the chicken slaughter house, wondering if he’d ever find a place away from the smell of blood. He remembered that chicken crushed again the steel wire, its beak twisted, its feathers matted, the other chicken pecking at it, maybe eating it. Later that afternoon, he knifed Milo three times. When the police came to the playground he couldn’t tell them about the blood-smell, or the chicken crushed to death, its eye a slab of concrete, staring. 10
The girls finally, briefly noticed Shawn when he was handcuffed and put in the patrol car. Then they returned to their ropes, kicking their feet while the ropes gyrated, down, up, down, up, one rope a smile, the other a frown.
Open Letter To Kayla Wood, Who Perhaps Changed Her Number Alicia Catt
The men who call here are ruthless. No greeting, no pretense, no soft slide into proposition. Pants around their ankles before you can concede or breathe a rebuttal. I don’t tell them I’m not you. I heave my chest, play along until they stop short of coming and say, come over, like they could recognize your vulva but never your voice, so forgettable. This set of ten numbers is secondhand to me. Your artifacts formed my inheritance. I’ve been tracking the calls, stacking them in tidy piles by area code and exchange, like I could recognize your life but never your face, so forgettable. Where did you go, Kayla Mae Wood of Wabasha Street? --who subscribed to St. Paul’s telephone weather alerts. --who won a Jamaican cruise contest, some-conditions-apply. --whose debt belongs to Macy’s creditors and jewelry counters and maternity stores and emergency rooms. The phone sex slut, the uninsured, gone; the hopeful, the careful winter driver, gone; the romantic, the mother-to-be in Prada and pearls, gone somewhere I couldn’t say. Beyond voicemail and ringtones, beyond keypads slick with finger grease. Somewhere fiberoptic cables could never reach.
Mon Coeur William Henderson
My wife, Holly, who will soon be my ex-wife, sends me inspirational quotes. She doesn’t want me to call her from the Tobin Bridge again. She says she’s not angry. She’s sad, she says. She’s sad for us. But she’s also relieved. We don’t have to pretend anymore. We don’t have to try to save our marriage. Aren’t you relieved?, she asks me one night. We are at her home, the loft we own together, and we have just eaten dinner. We are sitting in her bedroom on the bed she and I once shared. Yes, I say. Yes, I am relieved. I just feel really lost. Not unsafe; just lost. You may for a while, but not forever. I don’t like it. I know, but this is part of the journey. It is the journey. I just don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to think that I really fucked up, I say. I don’t want to think that I’ll think about it and him forever. I don’t want to think this is all my fault. Nothing is your fault. You had an affair. You made decisions. You’ve finally come out. There have been consequences. You are in the birthing process of a new and better life. I need an epidural, I say, and Holly laughs. I have to heal, I tell Holly. I have to figure out how to be healthy so I can be in a healthy relationship, so I can court a healthy relationship. I hate my broken heart, mostly because it keeps beating, regardless of how badly I want to take it out since it has grown defective. It isn’t defective, Will, Holly says. We stop talking about my heart, and talk instead about who will take Avery to daycare in the morning. Despite everything else, we are still in the business of raising a child. I think my heart is defective because I start to cry at unexpected moments. A song on the radio. A movie that you and I never watched. A sign listing the number of miles left before reaching Manhattan (one sign in particular, because, at this sign, you would always complain about your ears popping). I cry the first time my son, Avery, and I watch Toy Story 3. When Andy drives away from his toys, from his best friends, and Woody sits up and watches Andy’s car disappear in the distance and says, So long, partner, I cry. Avery notices that I am crying. He pats my back and tells me it’s going to be OK, and I still cry and I pick him up and he laughs and I want to laugh with him, but I can’t laugh. He kisses my nose and then he rubs his cheek against my beard and he says scratchy daddy. And I tell him that I love him, and he tells me that he loves me. 13
Another time he and I are in bed and he is watching a cartoon and I am reading. And there is nothing particularly sad about the book I’m reading or the cartoon he is watching, but I start to cry, and I try to hide it, but he notices. He is starting to notice everything. Do you need mommy?, he asks me. And I say, no, baby. And he says, I need you, daddy. And I start to cry harder. He looks at me, and in all seriousness, says, I pooped. And I want to laugh because his saying this at this moment is funny, but I am still crying. Let’s change you, I say. He runs into his bedroom, takes off his pants and diaper, and lays on the floor. I change him, and when I am done, he says, Do you need mommy now?, and I laugh and I say, yes, baby. I will always need your mommy. I do not say that I just wanted to be happy, and that I wanted to be happy with you. I do not need to say this. I think Avery knows, even if he doesn’t know that he knows. To remind myself that there are worse things in life than losing you, I read and re-read an 11-page PDF abstract of a 200-page document called The Long-Term Worldwide Effects of Multiple Nuclear Weapons Detonations. Sometimes when it is late and quiet and the night is dead still, I know that everything is going to be OK. But I am waterlogged from crying. I have no emotional immune system. Holly and I take turns making dinner for each other. She brings Avery to my apartment on the nights I cook, and I come to her on the nights she cooks. One night, while she washes dishes, I play with Avery. He is wearing a shirt you bought him. He pulls a chair over to the sink and he stands on the chair and he washes a spoon he had used with dinner. She smiles at him, and then at me. This is my family. They are my people. They still love me, even if you don’t. Domesticity. The aftershocks of my affair with you have stilled. Holly has forgiven me, though she still feels betrayed. We are still a family, because families do not break; they simply untangle and rearrange. We are about eight weeks or so away from meeting our daughter, Aurora. Holly says feel, here, something hard, and I feel her stomach and I feel what can only be a heel or an elbow. I push into Holly and Aurora kicks or punches back. She starts turning in circles inside Holly. Holly laughs and I laugh and I push into Holly’s stomach and Avery sees what I’m doing and he pushes my hand away and he kisses Holly’s stomach and says my baby. I look at Avery. Do you know your sister is in here, I ask. Avery says yes. I ask him if he knows he was in there. He says yes. I ask him if he remembers being in there. He shakes his head yes. What was it like I ask. Was 14
it dark? Avery doesn’t say anything. Was it cozy?, Holly asks. And Avery says yes. Finally, this pregnancy is happening to me. Aurora is the second-largest city in the state of Illinois. Part of the Chicago metropolitan area, its estimated population in 2009 was 172,950. Aurora is about 140 miles from Peoria, Illinois, from the home where your mother lives. The city of Aurora officially adopted the nickname “The City of Lights” in 1908 because, in 1881, it became one of the first cities in the United States to implement an all-electric street-lighting system. I had told you in August that I wanted you in the hospital when Aurora was born. I wanted you to be the first adult after me and Holly and the doctors and nurses to hold her and whisper a secret to her that only you and she would know. Aurora will begin to recognize voices and smells immediately. She begins to bond. We are the people meant to protect her and care for her. She is ours; we are hers. Aurora is the name of the Roman goddess of the dawn. Holly and I have already decided with Avery that when we have the “where do babies come from” conversation, we will tell him how most people make children, but we will also tell him how we made him. The story makes how much we wanted him very clear. We’ll tell Aurora the truth, too. We’ll tell her how we conceived her in a laboratory, and on the day she was implanted in her mommy, daddy was somewhere else. Where were you, daddy, I imagine she’ll ask. I’ll say I was with my boyfriend in New York. Maybe she’ll ask, did you love him? And I’ll have to say, yes, very much. I can no longer think that far ahead. I neither contingency plan nor rehearse difficult conversations. Impossible, I say to Holly, to have changed so much so quickly. Not impossible, she says. You are still changing. I no longer get angry, and I can’t remember the last time something frustrated me or caused me to lose my temper. It’s the medication, I say, and Holly says maybe, but that it’s also me. She likes this new me I’m becoming. I like him too. I think he was always inside; I just couldn’t see him. An aurora (plural: auroras or aurorae) is a natural light display in the sky, particularly in the polar regions, caused by the collision of charged particles directed by the Earth’s magnetic field. I am about to meet my daughter. She is symbolic. She is part of this new world order. How amazing that she is growing inside of Holly. How amazing that I get to take part. And the kids, with their initials: ASH. From ashes, a phoenix is reborn. Anything can become a metaphor or mythologized if you want it to.
You have moved on and are already dating someone. I am convinced of this. You always said if we broke up, you’d have no problem moving on. I understand that you have to do what you have to do, and I am sleeping with two or three different men each week, so I don’t have any reason to feel lonely or complain about whether or not you’ve moved on, but if you move on, then it might work, and you’ll love him more than you ever loved me, and we’ll never get a second chance to get it right. Maybe he has moved on, Holly says. So what? So instead of working on himself, he’s throwing himself into another relationship. What will that do for him? So he isn’t nurturing the parts of him that need nurturing. So he’s ignoring his pain. Maybe he’s escaping even further into drugs. Did you want that? Do you want that? No, I say. But, when I’m alone, and when I’m stuck thinking about you, convinced you are getting fucked or are falling in love, or that you have forgotten me and Avery, I wonder how long until I get interested again in dating. I tell my therapist, Judi, I don’t know how to stop thinking about you and the life you’re living, and how much happier you must be without me. You’re doing everything right, Will, Judi says. You’re healing. You’re growing. You’re learning about yourself. You’re giving yourself the time you need to be ready for the type of relationship you want. He and I never had a chance, I say. Judi nods. No, Will, she says, you never had a chance with him. You both messed up. We tried, I say. But neither of you were really in a place to say, OK, let’s do this. We couldn’t do that. And look how much better off you are, Judi says. I wonder, as I did at St. Elizabeth’s a few hours after I had checked myself in, why grief does not follow a specific timetable. I feel like I should be wholly over you. I feel like my heart should be sending me signals: OK. Get out there. He’s waiting. But my heart is strangely silent, until one day it is not silent. And of course it is no longer silent when I am trying to sleep. You were affected by him, Will, it tells me. How long he grieved, how long he waited before beginning a new relationship, how long he waited before saying I love you, none of that matters. I tell my heart that I know none of that matters. No, Will. You loved him, and in that love, in losing that love, you were affected. And how could you not have been affected? He was never a 16
random hookup. He was someone you could have spent the next 57 years with. I had thought I was emotionally invincible. My heart laughs. A heart’s laugh sounds a lot like a waterfall. Everything can hurt you, Will, my heart says; why do you think you erected walls around yourself and let few people in? I let him in, I say. I loved him, I tell my heart. I love him. And not just a greeting-card aisle kind of love. I mean a spend-every-day-with-him kind of love, a for-worse-or-for-better kind of love, a – and my heart interrupts me. I know, Will, my heart says. I feel what you feel, you know. He helped you know yourself. You built those walls around yourself, not to keep others out, but to trap yourself inside. Those walls he wanted to tear down, he couldn’t tear them down. You had to climb up and out. And you did. You are out. And you didn’t die. Holly doesn’t hate you. You didn’t lose Avery. You won’t lose Aurora. But I lost him, I say. Maybe, says my heart. I love him, I say. Still love, not loved. I know, Will, my heart says. My heart knows what I haven’t told Holly. Want to go to Paris?, I ask my heart. We’ll drink espresso and covet cigarettes. We’ll take naps under the Eiffel Tower. We’ll walk the length of the Seine. We’ll spend an entire day at the Louvre. We’ll pray and light candles at Notre Dame. We’ll hunt gargoyles and the headstones of famous people. What did Carrie (my psychiatrist) tell you about making plans to take spur-of-the-moment, expensive trips?, my heart asks. We don’t need Paris, Will, my heart says. Spend time with your family and with yourself. Letting me heal here will have the same result as letting me heal in Paris. Besides, I don’t speak French. Maybe we should learn, I say. Oui, my heart says. Oui is about all the French my heart and I know. I am not broken, my heart says. We are not broken. How do you know? I am only hibernating, my heart says. Soon, it will be spring. And I trust my heart because it is my heart and how can I not trust it?
Moon on Fire Matthew Burnside
We have not lost the battle, but the battle has lost us. It is the last go-round, and we both know it, but one isn’t supposed to give up so easily―it is a sin not to fight to the very last, isn’t it? So here we are, flanked by night and tree on all sides, battling ourselves and each other beside the campfire trying to keep ourselves warm, watching that strange smoldering moon. “You want some cider?” she says, and I nod. Smile uneasily. It is a small sad thing to see her trying still, with such blinding conviction for the reclamation of a feeling. She pours the thermos and puts the cup in my hand and we sip in silence; the cider is warm down the throat but without taste. Without its familiar sweetness. “Is it good?” she asks, and I nod. More silence. Crickets and crackling firewood. “More?” she tips the thermos toward me. “I’m good.” Then I can see she is staring into the heart of the fire, thinking about it all. Past. Futures. Her eyes glazed orange in the pale reflection of heat. “I should get more. It’ll go out in the night.” “Let it,” I say. She stands up and goes about it anyways. I watch her stooping in the darkness, scooping tinder. She might be crying, it’s hard to tell. I look at our tent, the color of flesh; inside, our separate sleeping bags sprawled, our six-year-old pillows worn and threadbare, fraying at the seams. Stitches tearing themselves apart. “This should do,” she says returning, pouring an armful in to feed the flame. She falls inertly into her lawn chair, and I reach for her hand but awkwardly miss as she pulls away, reaching for something in the dirt. She sees that I did, and offers it up to me now, apologizing like a child does. I hold the hand, but it might as well be my own; there is nothing there, it’s a dead man’s hand. Chilling numbness of a stranger’s skin. She tries for a smile and it quickly cracks into a painfully blank face. Her hand wriggles out of mine and she laughs nervously, cynically. “I’m going swimming, ok?” She trots off to the truck to get her bathing suit, disappearing over the hill. I can hear her splashing in the water where we swam together in our younger years. Where I have watched her many times before dripping in the moonlight from the bank, soft and silvery and perfect. We once made love on that bank, watching the pensive moon wavering on top of the water, pitching stones to watch it shimmy across the surface, then snap back into focus. Moontwitch: we called the effect, for the moon was fragile and it broke easily on the water, but it was elastic in its fragility. It would always return to its original shape. When we married, that’s how we wanted to be. That’s how we promised we would be. It’s amazing how facilely love flees, remarkable in its subtlety. The first two years are a dream, and the third year is a different kind of dream 18
entirely, a train wreck of arguments without causation, nothing but pretense, a dozen stabbing realizations. The fourth year is supposed to be a time of reconciliation; you see a counselor, but you never see each other, throwing yourselves into your work, finding excuses to not come home too early. The fifth year you decide having a baby will save everything, but you can’t. You blame each other; you blame the doctors; blame God and the Devil, too. You even blame the unborn baby. The sixth year is spent in denial. So you decide you made a mistake. Finally, someone works up the guts to say it. Spit it out and admit it. It was nobody’s fault but our own. Still. You believe in marriage. That if only you tried harder, you could still be like the moon on water. “I thought you might join me,” she says, coming back, wringing out her towel. She places the towel by the fire, puts her shirt back on. “I thought so too,” I say, and then she laughs hysterically at me. Until the laugh becomes something else: an incredulous yowl, a cross between hate and defeat. At that, she turns in, says goodnight and enters the tent. I sit up late watching the fire consume itself, lamenting the mistakes we never know are until it’s too late. And would we make them again if we could? “Ready?” she asks the next morning as the last bag is packed. The embers all but cool. The moon just a ghostly imprint in the sobering sky. “Wish we could stay longer,” I say, realizing it is the truth but not understanding why. We gaze together at the remains of the fire for a long time, a fire that had once burned easily, effortlessly, but has died placidly sometime in the first morning hours as we lay still dreaming. “I’m glad we came,” she says, offering that kindness, wiping her face before kissing my cheek. We pitch our bags into the back of the old truck, bracing ourselves for the long drive home. Glad we came. She skips a stone and it cuts like a knife through the water, almost making it to the other side. Almost.
Renegade Arborists Chad Redden
Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll model ourselves after renegade arborists. Graft limbs like branches. You an apple tree. Me a pear. Our trunks twined. Fingers bearing unlike fruits inches apart. Our bodies lashed into ladders ascending a sheltering canopy of ourselves.
Moth Balls in the Closet Chad Redden
ruined the coats along with my appetite. I had corduroy hunger. Now, even polyester wool blend churns my stomach. Naked coat hangers on the bed undressed of cardigans, skirts and pleather trench coats. Dents in the carpet of the closet where nubs of luggage feet stood.
There We Sat, Chad Redden
the moose and me. Enjoying steaming water, together looking at the fire I summoned. The enormous sunset did all the things one does when setting. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m just trying to say Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve lived the hours in me.
Turk’s Head Claire Shefchik
I only ever had two fears at camp: bears and going home. As for the first fear, I knew I would someday be eaten, and I accepted it. However, during our two weeks off in August and one in December, I did prove that it was possible to never go home. The camp held three sessions—summer, winter and spring. Out of all the counselors, I was the only one who worked them all. Nobody believed me when I told them I was from Michigan, because I never went back. I had a line. It didn’t work, but so far it was the best I’d come up with. My mother’s there, I’d tell them. But my mother is not a home. The hiking boot I’d lobbed grazed the nose of the boy asleep. It thudded on the thick canvas behind him, before dropping to the wooden floor of the tent I had expected to find empty. “Fuck.” I launched the other boot. I hadn’t packed them when I’d left camp; I’d just left them sitting in the tent, still caked with last spring’s mud. Apparently the caretaker hadn’t doubted I’d be back for them. This boot hit him in the gut; he curled over and swore at me again. For a minute, I was afraid I was losing it. Maybe I’d made a mistake, was in the wrong tent. Maybe the camp director had assigned it to someone else, demoted me, canned me even. But the intruder rolled to his stomach, then to his elbows, and looked at me. There was a lot of dark curly hair, and a mole on the back of his neck peeking through it. He’d been sleeping in a faded blue t-shirt, snug to his torso. Some vintage logo printed on the front. He wasn’t a mistake. “Call off your fucking shoes, Sheila. I get it.” I was looking at the eighteen-year-old model of Jude O’Rourke, one of my campers from years ago. “This is my tent,” I said. It seemed like a better response than, I thought you might be a bear. But it didn’t carry the weight of knowing that, the summer he had been a camper here, it had also been his. “I know,” Jude said. “It still smells like you.” He sat up on his knees. I looked at him; he had grown older, taller, broader — everything boys will get, I suppose, if you leave them be. “What are you doing,” I said, “here?” I choked on the word here. For some reason it was embarrassing. “A research project. I’m getting course credit in child psychology.” I remembered now that Carol, in her Hubert Lodge office, checking me in this morning, had warned me that a student would shadow me for 23
the winter session. At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about being used as a research tool. Awkward, I suppose, and sort of flattered. I wish I’d known then that it would be Jude. I could have refused. “Same tent?” I asked. He grinned. “We’re all adults here.” One summer I’d been hired as a waitress on an Alaskan cruise. I recall spending most of one December break in the Seattle bus station in my pajamas, reading National Geographic and eating miniature pecan pies from the 24-hour bodega next door. Before that, there was blurry couchsurfing in Spokane and San Diego where I couldn’t sleep, and tried to lull myself by rubbing the bellies of Cairn terriers whose names I’d never been told. Hostels, a YWCA or two, probably. No hitchhiking; I refused. The point, anyway, was that I’d made it, and though what I feared most upon returning was that I’d have to explain, few people seemed to really care. But: “Where do you live?” was the first thing Jude ever said to me, after surprising me in the empty kitchen after dinner, his first night of camp. I’d gone in to pick up an industrial-sized bag of marshmallows labeled “Tsali” from under the stainless-steel cabinet. “You’re here, you carry,” I said, heaving it into his arms. “Let’s go.” Earlier, in the dining hall, it had been his turn to play waiter, ferrying milk jugs and metal bowls full of iceberg lettuce back and forth from the kitchen; then, in turn, scraping offal from beige melamine plates into the slop bucket. In his one brief stretch of downtime, after the turkey dogs and before the bomb pops, I’d seen him twist a paper napkin to form a white rose, placing it on the empty plate of Amiel, a skinny-legged camper who, like him, was thirteen. I glanced at her chest to reassure myself that she was a late bloomer, then I checked to see whether there was a girl on his other side. There was. “So where?” he said, as we started down the path back to the tents. He’d hefted the marshmallows onto his head, one hand poised there to steady them. “I feel like I need to know this.” I admired his preposterously large pile of curls, to which he affixed a neon-toned silk scarf, like a French voyageur on acid. Already, I was mentally presenting him the “Best Hair” certificate at our EverybodyGets-An-Award Awards at the end of the summer. Then I noticed that underneath his curls he was pale, like maybe he was accustomed more to basements than canoes. I flicked my chin toward the tent, sitting sun-filled and plainly 24
lonely, in the hollow of the Grove. He turned toward it, and kept his gaze there for a time, turning the one stick around in his hand. “Oh,” he said. There was a whine to his oh, a certain lilt that said: I’m sorry. As if Tsali weren’t a tent, but a highway overpass, or an orphanage. “Jude!” called Amiel’s voice from behind the trees, near the fire pit. But he didn’t even turn his head. He moved a little toward me, like he wanted to hug me or something. His hugs were becoming popular. Girls coveted them, trading them like a commodity; like cigarettes. He was someone they competed to be close to, for reasons I doubt even they knew. There were taller boys at camp, after all, and faster runners; those with facial hair, even, who could peel off their Lacoste shirts to reveal even tans. But Jude was Jude. “Go,” I said, with a gesture of dismissal. Flicking him away. I dropped down to the forest floor, fingering my grimy ankle bracelet, pretending to look for wood. At camp, wherever you went, you could always pretend to be looking for wood. By the fire, I noted immediately that he couldn’t sing a note to save him. To hide it, he sang softly. I made it up with harmonies, on his behalf. Other counselors played guitars and mandolins, the ash on their hands wearing at the fretboards. At our campfires, singing quickly devolved to shouting, as kids, even the most morose, the most homesick, began knocking into each other, buoyed by sugar and naked heat, by the musk of foreign cohorts bound to become familiars. Jude and I soon found ourselves among a pack of girls, pulling hair and shouting lyrics into each others’ faces. This dissolved into hiccups and, around eight songs later, heavy lids. “What’s this?” I asked, taking up the half-finished shape that hung on strands of marline around Jude’s neck: another gift. “A Jesus fish,” he said, but added, “No religious endorsement implied.” “Who’s it for?” “You, I think,” he said through a yawn. A minute later, his head had collapsed on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard him right. “When He calls me I will be able To meet my family at God’s table No more an orphan child.”
I watched kids pass out one by one. Jude’s black forest of hair gave way as I ran my hand through it. I thought of him with Amiel and the girls; their snowy pawings. Of course, I thought. No wonder. His parents had never loved each other, he told me later, with a certain grandiosity. Neither had mine, I told him, if only because it sounded like something that could be true. But by July he admitted that his father had just been sentenced to 27 months for selling home-grown pot out of their house in Clifton Bay, a Sunshine Coast resort village. His mother had sent him up north, telling him he needed breathable air. I told him that my mother had been a zinfandel-swilling flight attendant who was never home—two-thirds of which, at least, was true. I told myself it didn’t matter what was true. We were here, I thought, to forget. I watched his skin get tan that summer, maybe for the first time. It fascinated him that mine already was. That my red hair had streaks of permanent gold. That I was taller than him. That these were the things that we gave to each other in the shade, and later at night, out of the public realm—out of the sting of the campfire and the roar of the dining hall, nine kids between us. In these places, others could see our gifts and admire them, too. But they were only on loan to them. On the afterdeck of the ketch Mizzen-Star, our sea-air cloaked us, while he clambered over me with the exuberance of a seal pup. I batted and caught him, petted and scolded. Just an extension of playground touch— duck to goose, knight to cavalier, red to rover. Catch as catch can. After, I held his shaking shoulders until he calmed, and could place the marline fish, finally complete, over my head, where it hung down between my naked breasts. Jude’s mother used the summer Jude was away to meet and become engaged to Jude’s stepfather, who owned a Vancouver Island charter seaplane company. I wondered what she’d say if she knew that around the fire, her son and I had shared a cocoa mug. Or that one late afternoon, after exhuming a bottle of Canadian Club I’d been saving for over a year in a dirt hole underneath Tsali, we hacked our way with a rusty axe to an empty beach on the north side of camp and fell asleep there, arms draped over each other’s twig-raked stomachs, my fingers in the few wiry hairs that curled above the waistband of his bathing suit. I laughed when, at the end of the summer, he asked me to come back with him to Clifton Bay. Undaunted, he wrote me long e-mails, 26
structureless and rhapsodic— —by the way I hope you don’t mind I’m writing “Sheila” into one of my detective stories as this femme fatale who rides hondas and wears leather jackets with nothing underneath of course yeah and with a boyfriend, a real sketchy metalhead type who I would punch in the teeth and win you. Not that you are that, in my opinion you’re the kind of girl who would climb out of the ocean seaweed in your hair with ruby clamshell castanets and two baby dolphins under your arms, reminding me of that time behind the boathouse before canoeing and you grabbed my thigh, such an American thing to do my school friends would say, and joe panier from CB secondary was standing right there, I think it was around that time he started calling you “Cuckoo Lips” — —but I was slow in returning them. I suggested he return to camp next summer, but only silence met me on the first day—when, to tamp my grief, I flipped a spoonful of pudding in someone’s face, proving I was one of them. For the rest of the day, Jude was scarce, but when I started down to the kitchen to help with dinner, I found him on the steps of the boathouse, filling a notebook with his rounded, feminine handwriting. The evening had begun to take on that icy cast of cold, and he looked dwarfed in a bleached blue hoodie pulled up over his dark curls, its rivets, grass stains and frayed drawstring so familiar I was fairly certain it was the same one he’d had during our summer. He filled it out better than he had then, when he’d borrowed a pair of jeans from another boy and looped a knot-tying rope around his waist to keep them on. I was struck by how pale his left hand was under the threadbare sleeve, as if he hadn’t been out of the house all summer. “Campfire on the beach tonight,” I said, with a snap of my fingers. “Come help me in the kitchen.” He looked up, but didn’t move. “Only naked one of the season. Kids come tomorrow.” A second later, I had been shoved backward, back pinned against the boathouse’s unvarnished siding with a force I at first believed must have come from outside, someone other than Jude. But he held me there, his body eclipsing mine, squeezing my arms with the hands of a man. His mouth sealed mine over, his tongue tunneling, starving. “Jude, stop it,” I gasped, trying to wrench out of his grip. I dropped low and squirmed off to the side, twisting my wrist, staggering to stay off Shefchik
my knees. “What are you doing?” “That,” he said, “is something I’ve been waiting to be able to do, for so long.” His taut shoulders rose and fell. “You don’t even know.” “But you didn’t come back,” I said. “The next summer.” “No shit,” he said. “I fucking mowed lawns.” “So why didn’t you come?” “Wasn’t it obvious?” he said, turning around. “I didn’t want camp. I just wanted you.” I saw, then, what I had not tried to see when he’d asked me to come with him: a summer in another place, the Sunshine Coast, in yellow bakeries and head shops. The ocean. Hand on hand, I saw both of us there. I felt it. “You should have come to Clifton Bay. My stepdad would have let us smoke weed and sleep in the poolhouse. Fuck you, Sheila. We could have made it real.” He headed around the back of the boathouse. I found myself running, though he wasn’t moving quickly. “I would have liked to come.” But I only felt it now, that want. I hadn’t felt it then. He stopped. “Yeah. Instead, my mom put me in therapy.” I started to ask him something, but he cut me off. “She didn’t know. She knew something, but she didn’t know.” “Are you two okay?” called a voice from the doorway. Jude left. Iain Blake had been last winter’s new cook, and, until just before the season ended, I had often drifted into the kitchen when he prepared dinner. He always pulled me in with enthusiasm, so long as I agreed to wield the vegetable peeler, or stir soup. Little else had gone on, but I had hoped, perhaps, that it would. Iain was a breed apart from our crusty, tennis-shoed summer lunch ladies. He’d grown up on a lake resort in Calgary, where on weekends, his parents, both ex-pastors, taught him how to bake soufflé, hang glide and recite Psalms, and he taught himself how to hook his ankles onto the roof shingles and peek into the women’s steam room. At some point he’d moved to Vancouver and managed to open a fair-trade coffee bar called Java the Hut, where he baked cupcakes and mushroom quiches, fresh. His Pendleton plaids, freckles and chinlength skate-rat haircut still suggested a kind of teenage eternity, as did his guitar, even though most of his repertoire seemed drawn from a Sunday school picnic songbook— Oh the Lord is good to me 28
And so I thank the Lord For giving me the birds and bees The sun and rain and the apple trees. Johnny Appleseed, amen.
“Nelly told me you look like a kit fox,” he said, sing-song, ushering me into the kitchen. He’d never been afraid to put his hands on me. Nelly was the reason he got away with things. His daughter was four, shared his freckles, and slept in the bunk across from his own in Wala, the platform tent above mine. He hardly ever mentioned her mother, except that she lived in Vancouver, and wasn’t his wife. And even though it seemed important that I respect Iain’s lack of focus on pasts, I’d tested him a few times last season by dropping choice fruit from my own. It hadn’t worked. Even though I knew he’d joined the staff to look for a mother for Nelly, I was content, even relieved, to withdraw my candidacy. The cafeteria’s heavy oak door banged shut behind us, and the kitchen doors opened. Siri Rudinsky, one of last year’s new counselors, stood in the doorway of the dim kitchen, hands at her sides. Last year, she’d been an annoyance—flimsy, shrill, a leech on Iain. But standing there, she terrified me. “She thinks Siri resembles a wolverine,” said Iain to me. Siri glanced from one to the other of us, smiling without showing her teeth, her sharp dark ponytail matching her sharp chin, her long forehead. Her lacy mauve tank top, too wide, pooled at her waist and matched her expensive velvet flats, already stained with grass and clay. She didn’t seem to mind. “Four hours in the car, and everyone was an animal,” said Siri. “Nelly’d be happier as a feral girl, I think,” she said, looking at Iain. “You drove up together?” I asked. “Just the four of us,” Iain said, grabbing Siri’s finger, where a pearshaped diamond nestled. A sensation in my stomach indicated that I cared. “Walk me to my tent?” Siri said, putting her other hand on the back of Iain’s head like a claw. Iain asked me if I’d mind wiping down the counters while he was gone. “I call it ‘driving the Zamboni,’” he said, flinging a rag at me. “I tried to bake,” said Siri, nodding at the chocolate mess behind her. She didn’t look at all apologetic. “This is what Nelly has to put up with?” I asked, eyeing the rag. “No, I’ve already got her mopping the floors,” he said. Shefchik
At least once he returned, I could be guaranteed of privacy. Siri lacked my interest in cooking, and complained about the heat. The kitchen was the only place in the camp that was permanently warm, and, despite it all, I had thin skin. A few minutes later, Iain hung up his peacoat on the door and stood in front of the oven, where I could watch his sun-lightened hair swing down over his eyes every time he bent over. I perched on a stool at the counter, snapping stems off string beans. “So what’s the deal with Jude?” he asked. I barely heard him over the crash of metal bowls. “Oh, he’s my son,” I said. “My kid’s totally cooler than yours,” said Iain, smoothing his hair back from his forehead, turning to glance at me. I thought about the Vancouver coffee bar in the radio days, when Iain still had his wife, sitting on a stool with his guitar, making faces at her between David Crosby covers. The golden espresso machine, fifteen kinds of herbal tea, of which Nelly’s mother, winking in a dainty vintage apron, only drank jasmine. I asked him if he’d ever go back there. “Sure,” he said, opening the oven to pull out a sheet of garlic bread. He must have been stunned to hear me mention the city, though it didn’t show. “If I can get the store back from those card sharks. You want to go with me?” He looked back to where I sat at the counter, waiting for a response. “The city would probably turn me into my mother,” I said and paused, waiting for him to ask me what the hell that meant. He didn’t reply. My insides now swimming, I bowed my head, my reflection a featureless streak in the stainless steel. I had no idea whether he was serious, but it embarrassed me. It embarrassed me to even think about myself there. I got up to leave. “By the way, naked campfire on the beach tonight,” he called after me. “Don’t forget.” I yanked open the back door. Trash cans greeted me. It wasn’t the first time I’d sat in the lap of a man playing a guitar. The curves of Iain’s Gibson fit against me like a hobby horse. I wasn’t sure why he had grabbed me, but the expression I got from Siri and the others made me feel privileged to be there, and warm. Every time I turned away, I was conscious of the mustering cold outside the fire’s radius, and the sting of the walk back to the tent. It occurred to me that open flame might be the only thing I had ever really liked. If anyone had ever actually stripped at a naked campfire, I wasn’t 30
privileged enough to know. They were firmly adults-only. Iain had bought a pound of chestnuts from a roadside stand on the drive up to camp with Nelly, and we all held sticks in front of us, skewered with five or six, not exactly sure what it was we were supposed to be doing. Jude helped Nelly with hers, then sat drawing in the dust across from us, in the only part of the ring untouched by smoke. Iain passed around a thermos full of coffee and a bottle of Canadian Club to pour over it. Somebody else opened up a cooler full of LaBatt. I noticed Jude turn down everything but the coffee. “Who here has seen The Last Waltz?” Iain asked, tuning his E string. I was the only one who raised my hand. His smile, when he turned it on me, was surprisingly pleased, and he pressed me against him, whispering “I’ve got some more LaBatt at the tent.” I knew Jude was eyeing us, and I shook my head vigorously in hopes he’d take it for a refusal. “What is that kid’s deal?” Iain asked me, noticing Jude’s glare. “I told you I knew him years ago, when he was thirteen.” I was gripping the Gibson’s neck. “I was eighteen. He can’t let go of me, I guess.” “You f—” “We did everything.” His fingers dove below the waistband of my shorts. “Lucky kid.” When I entered our tent after dousing the fire, Jude already lay propped on his bunk, his flashlight on a graphic novel. He asked me if I minded if he read for awhile. I said no. I ripped down the mosquito netting from my own bunk and climbed in. In the winter I never bothered undressing, just dove into my sleeping bag fully clothed, cheating the cold I couldn’t bear. I buried my face in my pillow and spread out my hair, the easier to pretend to be asleep. I lay there, my face heating up, waiting for the light to go off, each of his turns of the page an event. I wondered how long Iain would wait for me to come to Wala. I heard Jude put the book down. The light stayed on. “Just go to Iain’s,” he said, collapsing on his pillow. “Boy, you didn’t waste much time.” He turned the light off before he noticed that into my own pillow, I was weeping. Much later, I let Iain undress me up on a birch stump, hold me there and lift my sweater and tank top up over my head as if I were a doll on a stand, a wedding cake figurine. We were hardly near the fire at all, Shefchik
but farther down a slope, away from the tent where Nelly slept, a hollow where thick, weeping trees curtained over nearly all of the light, and let their dead leaves to the ground on top of those from the fall before. He turned me, dug into me with pain not sharp—a whole, blunt scooping. I was used to crickets, but there were none. At the hardest moment I let out a gasp, choking on the trail of smoke of the chestnuts we’d roasted, then left raining bitter on sticks over the fire. Iain often talked of Vancouver, in the kitchen while I stirred boiling cocoa and apple cider, and in the tail ends and corners of nights, while I built up courage to tunnel out from beneath a Pendleton blanket to put on my coat. In lower temperatures, he and I arrayed sleeping bags in the fluorescent gold vanity of the Hubert Lodge living room, where I froze my eyes, for the extent of it, on “The Best We Can Do Is the Least We Can Do,” until the words crawled. But what mattered for me is that at last, in between kisses, he hung on my words. Did we ever do it in the sailboat? He would ask, placing my hand where he wanted it. The woodpile? The tent? Did we ever get caught? Or, more importantly, were we ever afraid we might? Yes, I said. Yes. With each response, I felt his joints fuse like an alloy beneath my touch. O, the Lord is good to me. These were questions about my past that I could answer, that I wanted to answer, because they were not about me. They were about our shared past, mine and Jude’s. Also they made Iain want me. I knew he did not ask such things of Siri. She couldn’t have had anything to tell. She’d gone nowhere. If anything, in her late calls to Wala, her dull tending of Nelly (she performed, now, all the hair-combing and mouthwiping, and the girl sat glassy-eyed and complacent through it), she had painted herself into its background, become the bark on the spruce trees, the veins. I reclined with Iain in the foreground, “O” for Oenone, the openmouthed. My questions for Iain were about the city. He answered, and I trained to let myself see it, without embarrassment, as if from above —the white totem-masts of the harbor at the clouds. Below, the city’s runnels, so long my void, working their way upward like shipping lanes, marked with velvet theatres, girls dressed in black, the pizza Iain said he liked to make, with white sauce instead of red. I saw myself, maybe dressed in black, too, walking, small and upright up the deep middle of it all, probably alone, though I tended to think it wouldn’t matter if Iain could give me one place to go, and live. Not skate through with a backpack, on the way to some 32
mountain. “Tell me dirty secrets,” Iain said, every night. On Hawthorne Island in November, where, as head of sailing, I’d skippered the ketch Mizzen-Star, the kids, Jude and I beached, barefoot in our sweaters and jeans and tasseled toques. “You must have been born here,” said Alejo, a boy with a long black ponytail and a smile that he gave to me, a gift like a candle. We sat half in a pile of wood and ash, wastes of old fires and skippers, from a Camp Lake Hubert that only the Mizzen-Star remembered, a camp before me. “Over there,” I said, pointing to a dark space through the forest fence, a bower where boulders fell together with broken stumps and vines. “The bears raised me.” Alejo shook as he laughed. “Hold still,” I said. The game now finished, I bent over his outstretched ankle with massed marline, braiding him a sailor’s anklet, custom-fitted. Two other boys reclined in front of me, waiting their turn. Even with my knots, I couldn’t make a Turk’s head; its six-strand engineering all but required a third hand. “You need help with that,” said Jude to me, after his eyes fell on Alejo’s anklet’s progress. “I’ll make you a real Turk’s head,” he told the boy. “I’m almost finished,” I said. I sank down on one knee again. “You can do the next ones.” “Make me a bracelet,” said one of the boys who’d been waiting for me. “Know anything else, Jude?” “I can start a fire on a lake,” he said. “No matches required.” “Show us,” said Alejo. He touched his sandy ankle, near where my own hands were. “All right,” said Jude. “I’m going to need two flat rocks and a stick.” A search party broke out instantly. “Pathetic,” he said, shaking his head at what they turned up. “I need flat rocks, people. Flat. You know. The opposite of round?” He held his hands horizontally. I finished Alejo’s anklet, flicked his ponytail, and left down and over the beach rise. Behind me, the ring they had formed around him, complete without me, lay grounds for a thesis. Just before Jude went home to write up his notes, the week before the party, I asked him if he regretted coming back. He didn’t say yes. Iain and I sat together on the sofa in Carol’s living room, watching the Shefchik
fire’s umbra move over the gray stone. We drank mulled wine with orange peel bobbing in the cups, but I had no appetite and mine had grown cold. Disgusted, I started across the front hall and into the kitchen. Halfway there, a blast of ice and jingle bells blew Siri in, bouncing the storm door twice behind her. Beyond that, December sent down snow onto the town of Lake Hubert, where Carol had invited us to drink and bid each other goodbye before the holiday. Siri swept me into skinny arms, tight in the sleeves of her white jacket. I’d never seen her more enthusiastic, and she pinned me to her cold body now, whispered into my ear. White flakes melted into her dark hair. “Well, Sheila,” she said, “to this wretched fire trap, goodbye.” I shook my head. “Iain made a deal to buy back the cafe,” she said. “He and Nelly and I are going back to Vancouver this Christmas, to stay. He even set a date, thanks be to God.” On the tip of my tongue, I had that she was wrong. That Iain hadn’t said anything. But she jerked me back into the living room, and some of my mulled wine splashed onto Carol’s wood. Siri dropped my hand to bounce into the arms of Iain, who had stood up. Nelly, a half-eaten cracker in her hand, stood staring at me, her crumb-covered mouth parted. Siri knelt to swipe at it with the sleeve of her coat. “I was thinking,” I said, “about moving to the city. Iain and I—” “Of course you’ll visit,” Siri interrupted softly, taking my shoulders and pinching my warm cheek with her cold fingers. “We’ll miss Iain’s nature girl.” She gave a wink that could have passed for a tic, then turned and smiled at Iain. I couldn’t look at him. I tried to laugh; it must have sounded ridiculous. I moved backward toward the stairs, up past the landing. I found Carol’s spare room by accident; its secondhand furnishings, hockey trophies and plastic shopping bags full of sewing supplies could have belonged to my grandmother, or what I remembered of her house in the Detroit suburbs. This was where I had lived after my mother became lost to the city, while wondering every night if anyone had ever been lost to the woods. The window was a black square. I reached up, threw back the locks and shoved it up the frame. They couldn’t have heard it downstairs, where the lights were still on and Iain picked his acoustic guitar over requests for pop. Siri’s voice yipped along, projecting. Outside, no flame touched the vacuum, nor winked from across the water to ensure me that anyone lived there, or ever had. It was the lake, 34
in fact, that rose up the largest, a tremendous blue hole in the land, glucking and slapping at its sides, exhaling ice. I lowered myself onto the bed and slid under the quilt, hardening against that winter. I was grateful to be indoors, if only for one night.
from Addenda Sarah Schweig
1. I learned to live and write in the heart of Virginia, the only state without a song. My last name, given me paternally, means silent in German. Germany is a place overseas I’ve never seen. What do people do at night sitting in their cars parked alone in dark lots while half-extinguished headlights shine like jaundiced eyes? They keep their windows up, recline their seats, close their own tired eyes. Here, there are ghosts everywhere, but I don’t believe. I’ve only ever really loved one of my lovers. I’ve only ever written one poem. My surname means silent in a language I can’t speak. My lips are sealed.
10. If I stand on the edge of the water, I remember. That’s what my father said. If you fall, I won’t come in after you. Startled by thinness, I started the way some are startled by the sheer falling number of leaves in fall. The tree’s cancer takes the shape, among shorn limbs, of a carved reclining figure. I want to be more tender than I’ve been. A ball is caught and thrown and caught again. A word repeated exchanges its meaning for its sound. You were contained in everything. You knew I was like this before. I’ve tried to shed ways of thinking. This is the dirge of the sycamore. Will it be dark? It will be dark in the dark water. Who am I to be encircled by these arms?
13. The floodlight from the lot behind our house throws across your room tonight blue shapes. I am not. You are. Sleeping. This is happening now. You tell me that overseas, in a language no one speaks, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;mountainâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; is what my name means. Now, rain like static on an old TV. Now, quiet and clear and windows, water-streaked. You sleep heavily. I watch you sleep. Examples of things people tell each other instead of saying what they really mean: Anecdotes of aftermath, facts they happen to know, what they did that day. Addenda.
Questions with Mary Shelley Caroline Crew
What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? You cannot expect to find your mother there. Her maternal colour cannot exist subzero. She is red and always red.
Fatherhood Kea Marie
You leave her in March. In September, three years later, you wake up in the morning and find a baby asleep in your bathtub. You freeze in the doorway: a whole hand stuffed into the bottom of a cereal box, a new line carved deep between your eyebrows. Of course, you think the baby’s dead at first—I mean, live babies don’t just show up like this, do they?—but then you hear the soft whistling in its pinprick nostrils. It’s wearing a clip-on bow-tie and tiny spectator shoes with metal-tipped laces. It has an impossible number of eyelashes, and each one of them trembles when it breathes. You’ve just thumbed the second-to-last button in 9-1-1 when the kid opens its eyes and looks straight into yours. The baby doesn’t cry: not when you pick it up by its armpits, not when the rain starts and muffled thunder sounds through the walls. You give it your keys to play with and put it down in the middle of the kitchen floor away from all the sharp corners. You sit on the counter with your knees under your chin, still shirtless in your boxers, heart still jackhammering away at your ribs. The kid drops your keys against the tile over and over, making a sound like coins spilling over a sewer grate. You have to be at work at Best Buy in an hour. There is no note tied around the child’s wrist, nothing pinned to its little suspenders. No doors were unlocked. You live on the second floor—no fire escape. No grappling hook scars teethed into the window ledge. You did check. You don’t realize how long you’ve been staring at the baby until it starts whimpering—a low, preemptive cry, certain that it is hurt or hungry and you know something that it doesn’t. When you lift it—him—he clings to your side like a small marsupial. His body weighs less than a sack of groceries and he fits into the exact length from your waist to your shoulder. You tell the woman at the daycare down the street that your regular au pair called in sick. You should have said babysitter, you know it immediately—how Maria von Trapp is that, au fucking pair?—but she nods and narrows her eyes with sympathy behind her trimmed bangs, rubbing the child’s back in small circles. When you finally get the baby home that night, he’s covered in Spiderman face paint and his tiny bow-tie is rolled up inside of a Ziploc bag in your pocket, covered in spit-up. He slept on your shoulder the whole walk home, but when you lay his small head down on the couch, it wakes up for an instant and gives you a blue-eyed look that is full of questions. 40
You back out of the room slowly, watching the baby’s small, open mouth instead of its eyes. Just sleep, you whisper. Uh, um, twinkle, twinkle, little star, you sing as you round the corner, ease open the door to hall closet. When you tiptoe back into the living room, you have a 50 pack of diapers under one arm and a quart of milk under the other. The child is asleep with its back to you, his tiny shape heaving with breath. In the morning he’s gone. The smeared outline of a spider web and some red grease paint is spread over one of the couch cushions, but otherwise, there’s no evidence. You check under the furniture, but you only find cereal crumbs and change. Outside, the parking lot is empty except for an old green bicycle thrown on its side near the yield sign, like someone jumped off it suddenly and sprinted away. That night, your friends come over to get drunk and watch Jeopardy!. You think about hiding the drugstore baby wipes and the cheap, shrink-wrapped alphabet blocks, but you decide you’ll just say they belong to a niece you don’t actually have. You get the gin out of the crisper drawer, pull your weed out of the cigar box in your nightstand. As the Jeep pulls up and Bill and Andy and everyone else tumble out of the doors, you stomp out your Camel and yell down from the balcony: Get up here, assholes, it’s the Tournament of Champions tonight. Gary’s just yelled Who is Bill Walton, you dumb motherfucker, when you feel the first couple pangs just south of your intestines. You grimace; shift in your seat. It feels like a ribbon of heat is being tightened around your gut, then loosened, which is somehow worse. Mike tips the mason jar back from his mouth and asks if you’re gonna boot. Jeff says Chill out, he’s probably just having his period. In the bathroom, you bend at the waist over the toilet, your palms on the knees of your jeans. You stand there so long waiting for the pain to go away that you start thinking about which way the toilet flushes on this side of the equator, and if you were some sort of a drug lord how many bricks of cocaine you could fit inside the tank if the feds came right now. The pain simmers, then ebbs. You count the penny-tiles once more for good measure. You think you’re ready to stand up again when a fist inside of you clamps around your coccyx and yanks. Are you fucking cleaning house in there or what, dude? Jim yells. You know you’re stoned, sure, but you should be able to answer him. The words even shape themselves in your mind: shut up, dipshit, just pee Marie
in the yard. But when the pain jolted up along your spine you fell, and when you fell, you landed on your right hipbone and slammed your temple into the edge of the counter, and now it’s like a column of solid concrete has risen between your stomach and your mouth that speech just can’t fit through. God, how do you even explain the feeling? You want to stand up and scream and take a shit all at the same time. The toilet paper roll lying loose on the floor is the closest thing that you can grip onto, and you reach out and crush the cardboard tube in your hand. Jim knocks again and again, says your name in a monotone with the syllables stretched out to a five seconds apiece. “Fuck off,” you manage. When they all leave, you drag yourself to bed and throw the blanket onto the floor, sweating and listening to your insides curdling. You think about how much it will cost to go to the emergency room, and why the fuck did you opt out of the sixty bucks a month it would have cost you to get health benefits, and why, why did you think it was a good idea to put on the flannel sheets this early in the year? After an hour, you pound six Percocet and drink as much merlot as you can swallow. You stuff a pillow over your mouth and then scream and then take another pill and then finally pass out. You have a dream about her, where you’re both trapped inside of a small metal pyramid that’s been pushed into the sea. You can feel the waves folding against the sides of the pyramid, and the two of you keep getting tossed against one another, over and over, so you’re never sure who’s on top or on bottom. Her wrists are thrown around your neck; your skull slams into the underside of her chin. In the dark, it’s like you both have twice the usual number of knuckles and knees, and you can’t see if you’re bleeding, or if it’s so hot and you’re so close together that the air is just damp from your sweat. You haven’t talked to her since you the last time you slept together— seven months ago after Becky’s wedding, when the ice sculpture melted all over her bomber jacket and you offered her a ride to save her a walk in the cold. And you won’t call her now, even though when you wake up, the pain is gone and the power lines outside the window are humming louder than you’ve ever remembered them humming. There’s another storm the next night: thunder and screaming wind, the hair on the backs of your hands standing vertical like a thousand tiny lightning rods. You eat dinner with a blanket burritoed around your shoulders and 42
watch the rain splatter-paint the closed windows. And then a teenage boy walks into the apartment and slams the door behind him. “Well?” he says, exhaling in a vaguely bovine way. It’s all you can do to blink and stop chewing. The boy has a bruise under his left eye, and when he looks at you, his brow-bone is tilted specifically to emphasize it. After a while, he sits down in the chair so hard that it leaves four black rubber smears on the floor that you won’t be able to clean off for months. You can hear the music on the headphones that he’s left slung around his neck—all loud, frantic guitars and vaguely atonal barking. You don’t talk for a full minute. He puts his tongue in his cheek and nods his head to one side, knowingly. “Wow. Okay. Cool. Good talking to you, pops.” Then he’s all the way across the room in less than 2 strides, pulling a coat from the closet that you’ve never seen before and certainly didn’t leave there yourself— grommeted leather and orange fabric paint spelling out the words ANAL CUNT and what looks like the chalk outline of the cartoon guy on the mensroom signs after he’s been murdered. He’s already rounded the corner into the entryway before you remember how to talk. “Wait.” The kid ambles back into the room reluctantly, staring at the ceiling and gripping his keys between his knuckles. His pant legs are tucked into his boots and the boots are laced all the way up: black shitkickers with the toes are worn through, his initials carved crudely into the heels with a knife. When he looks at you again, you can feel your tongue shrink a bit down the back of your throat. And then all of sudden, he’s screaming: “You know I don’t want to be anything like you,” he says. “You’re just a sad old man who’s just been rotting in this kitchen for the last 40 years, and if you’re gonna sit there like an asshole, you’re only proving my point.” You sit there like an asshole. The lights in the kitchen brown out because of the storm, and in the next room, Alex Trebek’s voice gets briefly quiet in the middle of the word “Co-rrect.” “Fuck it, I don’t even care,” the kid says. “Say whatever you want. Go on. You dragged me all the way back here, and I’d just fucking hate to interrupt Jeopardy! night for nothing.” You find yourself getting angry, which you know was the kid’s big idea. But it’s the quality of the anger that surprises you, makes you grip the edges of your seat until your knuckles pop. Usually when you get pissed, you just want to kick the guy in the head or call him a dick—now, though, Marie
staring at the boy’s split lip and smelling the Elmer’s glue in his hair, you have the overwhelming sensation of wanting to take things from him, to sit him down in the chair and tell him exactly why he exists and what he doesn’t understand. But then you notice the sound of a loud motor idling outside, and a girl’s voice shrieking a name you’ve never heard before. You look down at the table, at the pool of liquid cheese bleeding out from the intestinal mass of your macaroni. “You know what, whatever,” he says. “My friends are waiting. Just tell Mom I’ll call her when I’m back from tour.” You look at the door knob for a long time after he leaves. The dim marks that a long succession of fingers have left in the brass make it look like a pulsing thing when the light hits it wrong. You put a steak knife between the pages of a magazine put it on the nightstand before you go to sleep. You don’t know if you’re dreaming. A woman is lying on top of you, her fingers knotted around the bedpost so she can kiss you without you feeling the full weight of her on your chest. You can sense your blood pulsing hard, somehow, between your eyes, and you want to cry, but it’s not the time. It’s the middle of the night. The light through the window is green-yellow and seeps through the curtains like a liquid. She kisses you behind your ear, all her movements sloppy and exhausted, her hair falling in both of your faces. You take her on her back, then; you might as well. When she doesn’t come, you drop to your knees on the floor and grip her hips in both hands. The ceiling pushes the air across your back in slow waves; you can hear the small sounds of her body shifting on the sheets, but she doesn’t say a word. After a while, she loops an ankle behind the back of your neck in the way that you know means that she’s close but you are not to look at her, because she thinks it makes her ugly. You do anyway. You see the small white hill of her tilted chin, then the thin basket of her ribs as she arches her spine. You try to imagine what her face looks like, all the way up there. Afterwards, she turns towards the wall and lets you hold her with your chest pressed against her back. Her shoulder blades press into your skin like another smaller, bonier creature is inside her and shoving you away with both its fists; you bar her in with a forearm over her sternum and her bellybutton each. “Sarah,” you say, “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.” She whispers it back: “You know my name.” 44
For a week, you wake up alone to the sound of children screaming. The first time, you charge into the living room in your socks and nothing else, somehow missing the banner strung over the doorway and the overwhelming smell of sheet cake and wax. The magician drops a bagged goldfish when he sees you and it explodes, sinkwater leaking into the carpet and the fish backflipping into the darkness under the TV. You’ve never seen the kid as a toddler before, but you recognize him instantly: front row center, thick glasses on a blue elastic band and a t-shirt that proclaims “I’m FOUR” in an explosion of cartoon stars. He wails and wets his pants immediately. The next day there are ten candles on the cake. Then eight the day after. Then two. On Friday, you walk in on nine thirteen-year olds in sleeping bags that scramble to turn off a softcore porn on your 18-inch when they see your shadow in the doorway. On Saturday, though, he’s in elementary school again: you can hear the kids pumping super soakers in the yard and a mound of new Legos lays abandoned in the middle of your kitchen table, gleaming sweatily under the overhead light. The cake is chocolate. The parents drinking domestics in the living room act like they’ve known you for years. There is always a present for him in the closet, wrapped and signed in cursive: Dad. There is always a pencil mark on the kitchen door frame: Age 7, Age 2, Age 12, the height rising and falling like a tide marker. You always nod like you get it when some kid’s father in a threadbare flannel asks you about a family trip you’re apparently planning to your mother’s house, or Disneyland, or freaking Kiawah Island. But you never really talk much. You watch the edges of the party, waiting to see her pouring lemonade into a Dixie cup, or up on a ladder adjusting a stretch of orange crepe paper in an elm. You listen for the phone; maybe she’s stuck in traffic with an Xbox in a plastic bag. Maybe it’s not her weekend for visitation rights. Anything. The boy presses his forehead against the end of a baseball bat and spins around and around and around. He gets blonder and taller and quieter and shorter and, one day, he spends his whole party staring at an eleven-year-old girl with braces and impossibly shiny hair, a look of poorly concealed and hopeless desire on his face. You look for signs of tragedy, or at least extreme duress: bags under the eyes, visible ribs. He stands on a stool and pushes a toothbrush sloppily around in his mouth, revealing the Marie
line of his teeth. You watch from the doorway. He turns to you with a huge and frothy grin. On Sunday, you lose it. You’re chain smoking on the way home from work, the windows shut against the driving rain and something loud and growling on the radio. You’re thinking of the garbage bags of wrapping paper in the hallway and the fourteen leftover tubs of Breyers stacked in the freezer when suddenly you scream out loud, swing the wheel hard to the left and cut your wheels deep into the mud sliding downhill on the median. You smack the volume knob with the flat of your palm and listen to the frantic sound of the windshield wipers clawing at the glass. The fabric ceiling of the car is like a vast panel of minute hieroglyphs. You tilt your head back on the headrest and stare so long your neck gets sore. In the motel, every button on the remote control is enormous and perfectly white. You sit on the bed with the blinds closed and chew a room service BLT, the bathwater running in the next room and your dick a limp comma on the bedspread. The cellphone rings three times before you answer it: Gary, Tim, your mother, then an out of state number that could be her new area code. You mute the TV. “Sir,” the voice says. “This is the Cleveland Heights County Sheriff’s Office, and we have your son here on the charges of drunk and disorderly conduct. Do you accept charges?” You hang up. The bathwater goes cold. You sleep with all the lights on and the wet towel coiled on the pillow beside you like a sad, drowned thing. You decide to apologize to him after you find him crying in your bedroom in a small green jersey with the number 52 peeling off the back. You didn’t know he’d lost his tee-ball game, but he didn’t seem to think you’d missed it, so you unlace his cleats for him and take him out for ice cream. In the back seat, he sings along quietly to the Beatles song on the radio and stares out the window, his nose still running and his eyes rimmed in pink. You wait for him to dissolve like clearing smoke in the rearview as you start the car, drive out of the parking lot, steer toward the Dairy Island on North Bainbridge. But he doesn’t. He orders something with huge pieces of raw dough and a name that’s a pun on some Little Richard song. You drive him home and put him to bed and the next day, it all starts again. He gets you a Father’s Day present. 46
You mail a check for his tuition, schedule an orthodontist visit, order senior photos. It helps that he stays small most of the time, yeah, but even when a regrettably tattooed thirty-something knocks on your door with his wife beside him and a Baby Bjorn strapped to his pearl-buttoned shirt, you invite him in, too. Four beers, a seamless conversation about some disastrous fifth grade science project that you make up on the spot. When you get up to get a family album that shouldn’t exist out of the closet, it is in the first place you look for it. Ghost, you say in your head, cowboy, astronaut, goddamn Jackie Chan, and every time you turn the page, there it is: Halloween costume after Halloween costume, year after year. He laughs. He covers his mouth in embarrassment. He remembers. In March, he is gone. The French toast was waiting on the stove when you woke up, and you’ve already cut it up into square centimeters before you realize how quiet it is. The unlatched baby gate swings into the living room and then pauses at a 45 degree angle and stays. You look at emergency numbers magneted to the fridge for the babysitter. Then you look at the floor. What else can you do? You leave him a 20 dollar bill on the table in case he comes back and needs money for lunch, and then you go to work. That night, you sit at the far end of the booth during the pub quiz and grip the phone under the table, waiting for it to vibrate in your fist. Later, you lie in bed and watch as the numbers on the digital clock fold into twelve, and then you get up and stare at the shadows on the couch. A car speeds through the parking lot and its headlights glare through the blinds, illuminating everything. The cord on the ceiling fan twirls in the breeze and draws an ellipse around nothing. But in June, you start to notice a swell under your belt buckle. In July, you realize that you can smell everything: your neighbors burning waffles on the other side of your ceiling, the new millimeter of grass that grew overnight. You get sick, sure, and some days you can feel your muscles bend like welded steel over your new weight, but mostly you’re calm. Every day, now, you get up early and make breakfast and walk carefully down each of your building’s twenty-three stairs. Every day, you look in the mirror and study yourself. In November, you pull on a sweatshirt and sit at the kitchen table and dial the phone. It’s raining again, quietly, and you can hear a click between rings, faint and rhythmic, like a baseball card snapping between the spokes Marie
of a bicycle wheel. You listen to the receiver lifting off the cradle, and to the murmur of silence before the first notes of her voice. You are so patient now.
Unbearable Light Bulbs Sarah Crossland
1. I have kept them as if a garden: translucent tomatoes, green glass peppers, the long ones white and cloudy, blanched cucumbers. Or perhaps as if a graveyard. Here is where is buried an old living room, I will say to you. Here a third porch light. And, pointing with plumcolored nail: Here is the bulb that hung naked, speechless, behind the basement stairs. 2. What would it take to mail them to you, a single bulb a day, one by one or as if the small drizzle of sleet from the sky were just the start of the end of the world I could send them two by two. Six hundred corrugated boxes, translucent tape well curled creased so I could find the edge easily packing peanuts in the muted tones of melted ice cream, legible handwriting, postage, a paper cut (for that is our lot: how something so flat can dissect us slowly, peel back through several layers, can introduce the brightest colors to our palette).
3. But first: to fill them with goldfish, or a pinch of dirt and the spriggest twig, to urge the orange nozzle of a candleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s flame against the glass. To glue them at the place where a heel would go on a silver evening shoe. There is only so much a light bulb can take for the sake of art. You would position yourself so the cowlick of your hair would eclipse the light of my ceiling fan faint gloriole cusping your head, tucked behind your ears. And then lowering yourself, slowly, putting forth your lips as if opening a small pink umbrella. The shock of where Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d been staring would dizzy me, would stay, and stay and stay.
Self-Portrait as Ganymede Tory Adkisson
Lust anchors me at the bellyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; so real & febrile I sink my teeth into its sinew & salt (the spike on my tongue like a baptism.) You have me in your talons, a violent toy, reddening the crest that caps your beak where the trill spills from your throat. I pray you release my spine & let me fall again, fall to the flats of a promontory I once loved (that you rended me from, just to prove you could do it.) You have me, a casualty of your sharp impractical rage, your seditious war of attraction to those of us with bodies that flicker & fade. You have me & all my bareness to scribble your tempers on, so breathe, shine, & bend me: the half-hitch knot on the rusted hook of your heart.
One Hundred Breaths Chanel Earl
What Justin knew as a park, used to be a minefield. Men spent three weeks combing the field. They looked for every last mine with instruments and bodies, both highly sensitive to the explosives. They found nine mines, only one of which exploded after Lance Corporal Ronny Grimes stepped lightly on just the wrong weedy patch of dirt. The explosion was softer than the workers expected. Most of them didn’t even hear it. Only those closest to Ronny turned their heads in time to see the ground shoot up and out around him as the dirt attacked involuntarily. He didn’t have time to scream. After that, the five Grimes children, who lived only a few blocks away, were not allowed to play in the park. Mrs. Grimes, who seemed far too young to be mother to so many, didn’t trust it. She said that what had happened to their father could happen to them, and that any mother who allowed her children to play there was a murderer. “Someday,” she said every time she walked down the road adjacent to the park, “and probably soon— Death.” Justin Grimes, a fearless seven-year-old with two missing teeth, played in the park anyway whenever his mother wasn’t watching. His two older sisters were more obedient and stayed away. Justin’s younger siblings, twins, were not yet walking. They didn’t understand that their daddy died, or that they were not allowed to play in the park, and they spent most of their time crying and sleeping. Sometimes when Justin played with his friends, they played war. They pretended the field was still full of mines, the empty ditch a foxhole, and that the one large tree still standing, a black walnut, was their fort. The walnuts were grenades. The playground sand was quicksand. Sticks became poisonous snakes, behind every bush was a dangerous enemy, and every plane, or cloud, or bird, dropped bombs on them from above. The game never ended because each child had an infinite number of lives. Justin died at least three times a day, usually because a mine exploded underneath him. Every time he died he lay on his back with his eyes closed and breathed in and out one hundred times. One spring day after Justin fell to the ground dead, he took four thousand, three hundred and ninety-two breaths. That was the longest he had ever been dead and the largest number he had ever counted to. He wouldn’t have stopped counting if he hadn’t heard the distant call of his mother from the front porch—a call back to life. “Aren’t you scared that what got your pop will get you?” Justin’s best friend once asked him. “Don’t you ever wonder if there’re any mines left?” Justin rarely spoke. Instead he communicated through movement. To answer this question he ran around the park once, twice, then three times. 52
Again and again he spiraled through the fields and playgrounds, stepping on all of the spots where nobody ever stepped. He searched for new places to step, and then, after he had jumped on the last patch of grass, he died for one hundred breaths. “I’m not scared either,” his friend said, catching up to him. Justin opened his eyes and smiled. When he left the park that day he wondered, for the first time, if there might be any mines left. He wasn’t a worrier, just a curious boy who couldn’t ignore the possibilities—any possibilities. Also when he left the park, his mother saw him. She had always suspected his disobedience, but had ignored her own feelings. Prohibition alone is not enough, she thought, I have to think of something else. . . for his own good. That evening after dinner the Grimes family sat in the front room together. Justin and his mother were reading on opposite ends of the room. His sisters sat on the floor between them, doing their homework, and the twins, who also sat on the floor, were busy looking for things to put in their mouths. “Justin,” Mrs. Grimes said as she looked up from her book. She had dimmed the lights, lit several candles, and tried to make their small and comfortable living room look as eerie as possible. “I heard something today you might find interesting,” she began as all of her children turned to listen. “Today at work I was talking to a friend who lives next to the old minefield,” she never called it a park, it was always a minefield to her, “and he told me that he was thinking of moving away.” “Why?” Justin’s sisters asked. He asked too, but silently, with a raise of his eyebrows. “Well,” their mother continued, pausing for dramatic effect, “A lot of people died in that field, more people than just your father. It was a war zone for decades, and even though nobody knows how many people died, they expect it was close to five thousand.” She made that number up, but didn’t think the kids would catch her. Justin raised his eyebrows higher and one of his sisters translated, “Why is he thinking of moving away?” “He wants to move to get away from the ghosts.” She paused again, this time to let the idea sink into the minds of her imaginative children. “He says that they are always causing trouble for him. Some of them blame him for their deaths, because he was a soldier in the war and fought against them. They come out at night and get into his house.” The children sat spellbound. Her daughters were even leaning toward Earl
her, waiting for more. “But,” she continued, “my friend says the worst ones are those who were killed by the mines. They have deep cuts on their bodies. They have shocked looks on their faces. They are disgusting and bloody and they wander around confused about what happened to them. “I’m so glad that you kids stay away from there. I would hate to see anything happen to you, and I don’t want you running into any ghosts. Who knows what they would do?” At that, she went back to reading a big heavy book she had picked out for the occasion. The book looked old, like it could be—and she hoped her children would think it was—full of ghost stories. It was actually full of census records. The twins began to rattle some old heavy keys Mrs. Grimes had given them. They clanked like rusty chains, and as she listened, she smiled victoriously. I am a theatrical genius, she thought. This is going to work. None of my children will dare set foot in the minefield after this. Justin’s usual silence was now pervasive. His chatterbox sisters sat and scribbled at their homework without so much as a gasp, while his mother pretended to read without so much as a sneeze. Justin sat ponderously for a good ten minutes without returning to his book. He waited for more stories, for his mother to tell him about what the ghosts said and did, and who they were, and whether or not his own father was among them. He waited for a more detailed description of what they looked like, an accounting of how many there were, and a reason not to seek them. He waited, and waited, and imagined the mangled bodies of men, women, and even children who had died in the park and had never stopped counting, never stood back up. He waited in vain. Mrs. Grimes, although very inventive, had nothing on Justin. In his mind the story grew to span lives and decades. He created ghost after ghost and each of them had a face, a name, a history. They didn’t scare him—they fascinated him—and though he would rather not have to ask about them, he had to know more: “Mother, do they come out every night?” Mrs. Grimes was surprised to hear her son’s voice, but not noticeably so. Always a fast thinker, she came up with a quick answer and gave it with authority, “Yes, every night and sometimes during the day, although they are difficult to see during the day because the sun shines right through them.” Justin had more questions but decided to take the rest of them directly to the source. He excused himself to his room with a nod of his head. “Good night,” his mother said to him as he walked away, “Sleep well.” 54
Justin had no intention of sleeping; he was going to the park. He had never been in the park at night, had never considered it, but his mother’s story had captured his imagination and he was set. He was going tonight. He was going to meet a ghost—multiple ghosts—ghosts who had been in the war—who had been killed by mines—maybe even his father. His mind raced. As he lay in bed waiting for the house to quiet, he wondered and imagined, and then, after the last light dimmed, Justin crept out the front door without notice. It was a foggy night, following a day of spring rain and mist. Justin ran down the wet streets until he reached the park, where he slowed to a walk. The ground sank beneath his feet, which silently carried him toward the playground. The only sound was the soft thrum of water settling around him: a drip from the slide, an echo from beneath the gutters. Justin walked more slowly, scanning for ghosts. He saw a figure, a lone man sitting on one of the swings. The figure was dressed in a shabby army uniform. He wore fingerless gloves and leather boots. His hair was short and his fingers were dirty. He wasn’t swinging on the swing, just sitting on it, motionless, staring at Justin, who approached him slowly. Justin had never met a ghost before, and wasn’t sure what the protocol was. He smiled at the figure. “At least yours will grow back in,” the man said. Justin pointed to himself and looked confused. “Your teeth,” the man answered, “I’m missing a few as well, but they’ll never grow back; I just have to do without. Of course it’s not that bad mostly, unless I want to eat something, then there’s trouble.” Justin took a good look at the man’s face, which was pale and covered with scars. His left eye was mostly closed and, as far as Justin could tell, his remaining teeth were stained dark. He pointed to the man’s face, shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head to one side. The man understood, “A mine,” he said, “took my face off. Probably would have been better if it had killed me.” He doesn’t know he’s dead, Justin thought as he moved in for a closer look. He was close enough to touch the man, but he knew that if you tried to touch a ghost your hand would go right through it, and he thought it would be rude, so he held back. Instead he stared up at the figure with wide eyes and cupped his hands behind his ears. “What? You think I’m just going to tell you all about it? What are you even doing out here? It’s the middle of the night. Go home to your Earl
mother.” Justin turned and ran away startled. He didn’t stop running until he was home in bed with his door locked behind him. That night he slept with his shoes on. He woke up several times to search his room for ghostly intruders. He dreamed that the playground was a graveyard. In his dream he was searching through tombstones, looking for his father’s grave. He woke up without finding it. His dreams haunted him more than the figure in the park, and Justin had questions only the scarred soldier could answer; he had to return. It was a week before he managed to stay awake longer than anyone else in the house and again slip out the door. As chance would have it, he chose a warm night with a clear sky and a nearly full moon. “You again?” the figure asked as Justin approached the second time, “What do you want, boy?” Justin wasn’t planning on answering any questions—instead he stared into the soldier’s eyes. Justin had practiced his stare. He had practiced it enough that he was confident he could out-stare anyone. He out-stared his mother daily, his sisters often, his teacher, and every kid he knew. He was good. Tonight he fixed his eyes on the man and waited. The soldier stared back. His one good eye didn’t blink or shift, but stayed fixed on Justin. In the end, Justin blinked. He looked away ashamed. “I have had a lot more practice than you have, son, and I have the advantage.” The man laughed and pointed to his bad eye, forever closed. “But you’re good,” he continued, “keep practicing.” Justin looked up into his eye and began to laugh along with him. The sober figure had come to life. He smiled and rocked in the swing, his legs sliding silently over the dirt. He looked at Justin fondly, “You’re a brave one, coming out here all alone like this.” He opened his eye wide, “Does your mother know you are here?” Justin shook his head no, put his hands together and rested his head on them as if he were sleeping. Then he pointed at the soldier, who understood immediately. “I don’t sleep anymore, too many nightmares, and no, there isn’t anybody at home to miss me. That’s part of the reason I can’t sleep. Too quiet.” The soldier seemed to understand Justin’s peculiar way of communicating better than anyone alive. And when they spoke, Justin felt as if he were conversing not with a veteran ghost, but a favorite uncle.
Justin got little sleep that night, or the next. On the third night he would have visited again but he fell asleep during dinner and didn’t wake when his mother slipped him into bed before the sun had even set. A pattern emerged. Justin would visit his friend two nights in a row, then spend the third night catching up on his sleep. His mother worried; his sisters giggled at dinner whenever he couldn’t keep his eyes open, and in spite of everything, he continued to make his midnight trips to visit his lonely friend in the park. Justin still didn’t speak, but the man never mentioned it, and it never stopped them from conversing. Even if Justin had spoken, it wouldn’t have made much difference; the soldier did most of the talking. Usually Justin would “sign” him a question, and then he would launch into a lengthy story or explanation that filled up the rest of the night. He told Justin stories about his time in the Army, and about his children, whom he hadn’t seen in almost a year. He talked about everything except his present life, which Justin understood to be no life at all. The man was sad and resigned; the boy was sad and angry, and as they shared their losses and their secrets, Justin began to feel as if he had met this man in the world of the living. The man didn’t look familiar, and as hard as he tried, Justin couldn’t connect him with anyone he had ever met, but Justin had seen so many soldiers going out and coming home that they began to merge together into one man, into one ghostly specter. How many men have you killed? Justin asked his friend one night through a brief pantomime that ended with him falling to the ground as if he were dead. “I don’t know,” he answered. Justin didn’t know what he had expected. But he knew the man’s answer wasn’t enough. He shook his head and counted on his fingers. He pointed at the man frantically, even accusingly. “I really don’t know,” the man insisted. “After the first one, I stopped keeping track.” Justin tried asking again. But instead of answering his question, the man responded with a question of his own. “Why do you always come here anyway?” The question was spoken sideways, as if it were falling out of the soldier’s mouth. Justin knew why, but he wasn’t ready to say so. He was still waiting on his answer. He had his own questions, and couldn’t be bothered with the half-asked questions of a playground ghost. He tried asking the soldier again: how many? “I don’t know,” the man said again. “Why do you keep coming Earl
“Tomorrow,” Justin said quietly, “you answer first, then me.” He crossed his heart. “I can wait until tomorrow for my answer,” the man said, “but I still won’t want to give you yours.” Justin started staring. He had learned from his new friend—he had practiced—and he wasn’t going to lose again. He stared at the man for minutes and then kept going. Finally, when the soldier felt he could go no longer, Justin lifted his hand again and crossed his heart. The man blinked, but he didn’t laugh. “All right,” he said as he crossed his heart, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.” The two parted early that night, but Justin didn’t get any extra sleep. He lay awake in bed imagining and counting and planning what he was going to do when he saw his friend again. The next day Justin stayed home from school. His cough sounded shallow and he had no fever, but he had never faked sick before, and Mrs. Grimes had no reason to suspect that he would start. She arranged to stay home with him, but after pulling the twins out of day care and starting her list of chores, Justin—to his relief—was left to his own devices. He spent most of the day hunting through a box full of old newspapers for an article his mother had saved. When he found it he slipped the article into his jacket pocket. He ate dinner that evening and then waited patiently for his mother to turn out her light and go to sleep. “You first,” the soldier said as Justin approached. “What is so important about visiting an old veteran, that it would get you up nearly every night?” Justin held up the newspaper article. It was about his father’s death. Next to the article was a picture of Ronny Grimes before he was blown into pieces a few feet away from where Justin now stood. He looked handsome in his soldier’s uniform. He did not smile or frown, but stared at the camera boldly. Under his picture was a picture of the entire Grimes family. Justin pointed at himself in the picture. He wore his father’s bold stare, a stare that, by now, his friend knew well. The soldier took some time to read the article and consider the pictures. He didn’t seem to breath, only to sigh again and again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You are too young to be without a father, just like I am too young to be without my family. Nobody is ready for war, or death. But it comes anyway.” Justin wasn’t looking for pity, he was looking for his father, “Do you 58
know where he is?” Justin asked quietly. The man was troubled by the question, and didn’t speak for a long time. Justin waited in silence. “One,” the soldier finally said, “I only ever killed one man, but I relive that nightmare over and over again, every night and every day. “And I don’t know where that man is now, just like I don’t know where your father is. I don’t know where any of them went, or where my family is. Or why.” Justin continued his silent vigil, believing that the soldier would speak again, believing—as he always had—that there were answers to his deepest and most sincere questions, and that this man knew them. But the soldier remained quiet, and as Justin looked at his threadbare clothes he began to notice that his friend, too, was threadbare. The soldier had no answers. He had already told Justin everything he knew. Justin turned and headed home. He didn’t run, he didn’t say goodbye, but walked quickly back to his house where, to his surprise, the lights were on. As he approached the front steps, he was met by his mother. Her eyes were wet and concerned, and she looked relieved. She didn’t scold Justin, even though that would happen later; she simply grabbed onto him and held him in her arms for a few minutes. As they sat together on the front porch, she continued to cry, but gradually her tears stopped and she began to breathe regularly. Then she asked, “Where have you been?” Justin first put his hand over his eyes as if he were a sailor looking for land. Next he held up the newspaper article and pointed to his father. Mrs. Grimes knew her son well, so she had no trouble understanding his rather unorthodox way of communicating. She thought back on her ghost story and realized her mistake. She knew where Justin had been. “Did you find him?” she asked. Justin shook his head, and rested it on his mother’s shoulder. “I think,” she said, “that we will see him again. But not here, and certainly not in the same way we saw him before.” She looked into her son’s eyes to be sure he was listening. “He isn’t gone forever,” she said, and when she said it, Justin believed her. He knew she had to be right. Justin stopped playing war with his friends, and only went back to the park once, at night, to tell his friend about how nobody was lost forever. But the soldier was gone. Justin never saw him again—at least, not there, and not in the same way he had seen him before.
CONTRIBUTOR BIOS Tory Adkisson was born in West Covina, California, but currently resides in Columbus, Ohio, where he is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at The Ohio State University. He is also the poetry editor of The Journal. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, CutBank, Painted Bride Quarterly, West Branch, Wired, and the Ploughshares blog, among others. Matthew Burnside is an editor for Mixed Fruit, an online literary magazine (http://mixedfruitmag.com/). He dedicates this piece to the children of America and MFA Draft ‘11 & ‘12: a petri dish of vibrant, colorful people and future literary all-stars. Alicia Catt’s many incarnations have included stints as barmaid, housewife, subway musician, street preacher, graphic designer, and Dairy Queen employee. Some were more successful than others (making ice cream is harder than it sounds). Her creative nonfiction and poetry can be found in Haute Dish, Inkling, and The Truth About The Fact. She is an MFA candidate at Minnesota State University. Caroline Crew was born in England, learnt in Scotland, fell for Atlanta. She wrote poems in all those places. By the time you read this she might live somewhere else. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, >kill author and Sixth Finch. She blogs about poetry and things at FLOTSAM [carolinemarycrew.wordpress.com]. Sarah Crossland graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in Storytelling. This past March, she was one of three poets invited to read at the Library of Congress for the Poetry at Noon event “Reversals of Fortune.” She plans to begin work on her MFA in Poetry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the fall. Chanel Earl grew up in Utah and currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana. Her primary occupation is taking care of her two beautiful daughters. She also loves writing stories that explore relationships between generations, especially if they are set outdoors. Find out more about Chanel’s writing—and check out her short story collection What to Say to Somebody Who’s Dying—at chanelstory.blogspot.com. “Mon Coeur” is an excerpt from William Henderson’s in-progress memoir, House of Cards. Other excerpts have appeared in Dr. Hurley’s 60
CONTRIBUTOR BIOS Snake-Oil Cure; Eunoia Review; Hippocampus Magazine; Annalemma Magazine; Curbside Quotidian; How I met …, an online collection of essays detailing intersections, crashes, and other ways we meet people; Sea Giraffe (from which he was awarded the Martius Prize in Nonfiction); the Smoking Poet, Zouch Magazine, Whistling Fire, 50 to 1, Specter Literary Magazine, Ham Lit, The Writing Disorder, Xenith, and Writing in Public. He writes a weekly column, Dog-Eared, for Specter Literary Magazine, and he will be included in the forthcoming anthology, Stripped. He can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @Avesdad, and through his blog, HendersonHouseofCards.wordpress.com. Kea Marie is an MFA candidate at Washington University in St. Louis and a viciously proud native of Cleveland, Ohio. She was a 2006 recipient of a Gold Award from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and her work has appeared previously in Diagram, Epoch, and others. For more information, visit her blog at keamarie.wordpress.com. Michael Mlekoday is an MFA candidate at Indiana University. He has lived in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Manhattan—Manhattan, Kansas. In 2009, he won the National Poetry Slam as a member of Team St. Paul, and returned the following year to coach the team to its second championship. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, MUZZLE Magazine, and Monkeybicycle. He is the Poetry Editor of Orange Quarterly. Francis Raven’s books include Architectonic Conjectures (Silenced Press, 2010), Provisions (Interbirth, 2009), 5-Haifun: Of Being Divisible (Blue Lion Books, 2008), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007), Taste: Gastronomic Poems (Blazevox 2005) and the novel, Inverted Curvatures (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). Francis lives in Washington DC; you can check out more of his work at his website: http://www.ravensaesthetica.com/. Chad Redden was found in a shoebox and rehydrated. He is the author of the forthcoming chapbook The Lesson of Furniture (the red ceilings press). Chad also edits NAP (naplitmag.com). Tweets at @CwickRedden. Sarah V. Schweig’s poems have appeared in BOMB Magazine, Boston Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Western Humanities Review, and Verse Daily. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Columbia 61
University, where her MFA manuscript was the recipient of the David Craig Austin Memorial Award. Her chapbook, S, is available through Dancing Girl Press. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. A native of Minnesota, Claire Shefchik has an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She received an honorable mention in the 2010 University of New Orleans Contest for Study Abroad. Her fiction has appeared in the online anthology Underwater New York, and her freelance writing in PopMatters, Spinner, The Faster Times, USA Today, and Beyond Race Magazine. She received a grant to study speculative fiction writing with Margaret Atwood at the 2012 Key West Literary Seminar. Caroline Swicegood is a recent graduate of North Carolina State Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s MFA program. Originally from Virginia, she lives in Durham, NC, where she is revising a short story collection and working on a novel. James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His writing can be found in Arts & Letters, Atlanta Review, Confrontation, Elimae, GHLL, LA Review, Rattle, River Styx, and is forthcoming in Anderbo, Crab Creek Review, Daily Science Fiction, Hanging Loose, Midwest Quarterly, New York Quarterly, South Carolina Review, and others. His poetry has been featured at Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry blog. His fiction has twice been a storySouth Million Writers Notable Story. He lives near Seattle with his wife and daughter.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This issue would not be possible without the generous support of our benefactor: MAIYA HAYES We would also like to thank everyone who took a chance on us. Thank you for sending us your work. Thank you for your faith and kindness.