EXECUTIVE EDITOR Alisha Karabinus MANAGING EDITOR Elaina Smith MANAGING EDITOR, POETRY Staci R. Schoenfeld CREATIVE NONFICTION EDITOR Jami Nakamura Lin ASSISTANT FICTION EDITORS Karen Britten Sarah Kamlet Katie Oldaker ASSISTANT POETRY EDITORS Fati Z. Ahmed Jonathan Dubow Karissa Morton Susannah Nevison GUEST CREATIVE NONFICTION EDITOR Silas Hansen COVER ART AJ Frena
There are a few magazines out there who are rather cavalier about their publishing schedules. When it happens, it happens, they say. When we have the work, we’ll bring it into the world, they say. No rushing perfection, they say. And in the before-time—before I was bringing content into the world myself—I’d think, wow, that seems so off the wall. Maybe even a little unprofessional. How dare those folks not establish a schedule and stick to it! The nerve. Turns out production schedules are a little like those child leashes that are so easy to judge before one is parent to a toddler one must occasionally take into crowded public spaces. When you’re on the outside, it all seems so obvious. Of course you should make a schedule and stick to it. Of course you shouldn’t leash your child. But sometimes it’s just not that easy. Ever since the birth of my second child earlier this year, schedules have become a distant memory. Things happen when they happen. I’ve had to learn to relinquish some control and let a few of the proverbial chips fall where they may. It hasn’t been easy for me, but if the choices are between a late magazine and no magazine, I’ll choose a late magazine. Here, in the middle of our third year, when everything in my life is so busy, when our staff is fluctuating, it seems a good time to affirm that. Revoluton House is here to stay. We might not always be on time, our staff may grow and shrink, but we will be here, somewhere, sometime. With this issue we welcome back one of our original creative nonfiction editors, Jami Nakamura Lin, and we owe a debt to friend-of-the-House Silas Hansen for stepping in to serve as a guest editor, and we prepare for a special project, our Resurrection Issue, a feature dedicated to preserving work originally published in magazines lost now to the Internet’s past. If we’re going to promise to be here no matter what, we might as well do something productive with that promise. That special issue will follow on the heels of this one. See you soon, Alisha Karabinus Executive Editor
Autumn 2013 Burying the Apron 1 Breach Year 2 Mary Biddinger Unfamiliar Stars 3 Jacqueline May Who Would Ever Hug the Trash Man Cindy Rinne
Excision 14 Erin Corriveau More Rhetorical Devices 19 Katharine Diehl Still Life 20 Lauren Westerfield The Interview 24 Christopher X. Shade
When I Was a Girl Jennifer Jackson Berry
In Times of Man-Made Disaster Nathan Kemp
Table for One 29 Rachel Richardson Three Poems For Grandpaâ€™s Temper Joshua Bennett
The Meaning of Letting it Happen Jennifer Moffett
And He Will Never Know His Daughter Grew Up To Be a Sports Reporter Angela Maria Williams
Contributor Bios 40
Burying the Apron Mary Biddinger We didn’t have a miniature lighthouse or a hammer, but thankfully the things we did have outweighed the things we didn’t such as airplane tickets and apricot jam (none, and very little) or proper footwear, wet patches in the yard good for growing weeds, not people, but that’s not to say we were stunted. Every year my birthday gift was a trip to the Christmas theme park that contained a strange number of fires and other threats to Santa, or the dark house where they’d put a towel over your mother’s face and pretend to slit her corduroys with an oversized tree saw. And then, all that ice, everywhere… Less than a mile from the park there was always a girl in her front yard, hair so transparent it was more like water haloing her head. Some kind of radio signal gone solid. Maybe in a distant dimension we were sisters. She didn’t seem to have a mother, but if they buried her apron close enough to the house, maybe she could return once in a while, leave spare teeth in a jar of honey marmalade.
Breach Year The world does not need any more music or teenagers. My life was not hard so I made it hard the only way I knew how. Someone was selling color televisions on the street corner. I used my calligraphy skills to trace square boxes in razor on glossy magazine pages. I was nineteen and had a permanent coin locker at the bus station. Sometimes benches smelled of bleach, like the Chinese laundry behind our old apartment. For a few weeks my crumpled sweaters were charming. If you wait for a city bus long enough it will begin to rain. I was neither the best nor the worst, somewhere between haunted caterpillar and sexy beginner witch in the costume section. I was skipping all of my classes but was not signed up. They had given my desk to an ugly foundling who never turned back into a grouse as predicted. I packed beer cans into a pillow case, traded them for cab fare. In some neighborhoods, I was a census taker, not statistic. I once owned a gloomy old saddle horse. I once had much more black tea than I could ever drink. Biddinger
Unfamiliar Stars Jacqueline May Over the frayed fringe of her cutoffs, knees gold in after-dinner sun, Jennalee watches the Mississippi and slides her wedding ring up around her knuckle, bends her finger to feel the bite of the metal. On the bottom deck of the houseboat Bruce and his siblings are playing euchre; the faint riffle-slap of the cards drifts up, with the slap-gurgle of the river, to the top deck, to Jennalee dangling her skinny, downy legs through the railing. From below, Bruce’s voice says, “Turn down a bower, lose for an hour!” Someone chuckles. Jennalee never even heard of euchre before yesterday, the beginning of her first ever Adler Family Boat Weekend, but she’s beginning to feel like she’s spent her whole life wandering a maze of bowers. She doesn’t know what a bower is or how to spell it. Is it like someone who bows, or like Mark Bauer who got pulled over for DUI so they never made it to the homecoming dance, or some spelling no one would ever guess, like the name of the game itself? She doesn’t know how she knows how to spell “euchre.” She does know plenty of card games that more than four people can play: hearts, bullshit, poker, spoons. Still, when the first mosquito of the evening pierces the back of Jennalee’s arm, she climbs down the ladder. She has always known how to make men’s eyes follow her long pale hair with its halfhearted waves, the arcs her hips sketch in the air as she moves. When her feet hit the gritty coolness of the deck, Bruce’s eyes lock onto her, even after two months of marriage. By now, she could draw the pattern of hairs in his eyebrows from memory. The white plastic table is strewn with cards. Four beer bottles stand at the points of the compass. The symmetry is perfect: Bruce across from his sister Valerie, their brother Gary across from Valerie’s husband, Don. The men have swim trunks, bald spots, and t-shirts from work events. Valerie is the female equivalent, her short hair scrunched so it puffs at the top of her head, her black one-piece revealing the thinnest slice of freckled chest. Bruce smiles. “Hey, Jen.” “Hey, sweetness,” she says, just to feel the collective internal eye-roll from the rest of the table. She arcs her way to the table, kisses him on top of the head, and digs her butt bones into his thigh. “Ow!” “Sorry, baby.” Jennalee shifts her weight, enough to make the chair creak but not enough so that she stops denting Bruce’s leg. His arms go around her, one hand warm over her bare navel. She settles back against his chest. He’s holding two black jacks and the ace of spades. “Bruce, it’s your turn,” Valerie says, fixing Jennalee with her most teachery look, as if she is about to send her home to put on a longer shirt Bruce flips the ace of spades at the table. It slides over the edge, straight through the deck railing, and down. Gary laughs. “Nice one, Boof. Burial at sea.” He salutes the river, humming “Taps.” Bruce joins in. Valerie and Don exchange tolerant glances. Jennalee reaches for Bruce’s beer. Don, always the cop, takes it out of her hand. “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” Gary says with a swoop of his hand, “we are gathered here today to mourn our dear friend, the ever beloved, eternally trick-taking ace of spades, who so tragically was taken from us by the raging waters of the mighty Mississippi.” Jennalee doesn’t smile but kind of wants to. 3
Valerie does smile. “Remember the first year we did this?” Bruce makes a small noise. Don chimes in. “And your mom, with the cooler –” “All the condiments floating away, and Shawna just leaps over the railing –” Valerie’s expression freezes and she glances at Bruce. Jennalee snatches up Bruce’s beer and chugs the rest of it. It’s flat.. Gary says, “If you’re volunteering to rescue the ace of spades, the river awaits.” Don can’t leave the story unfinished: “We had to go buy new mustard!” Stupid Don and Valerie got what they deserved, marrying their opposite-sex clones. They must wonder how Bruce and Gary got their younger, hotter spouses. At the moment, Jennalee isn’t sure either. She glowers at Don, at all of them. Like she cares about the mustard, or the ace, or how fucking Shawna leapt over the railing like some kind of mermaid hero. “Bruce, honey, can I get you another drink?” She loops an arm around his neck and rubs her cheek against his forehead. “‘Honey,’” Valerie mutters. Bruce shifts in his chair. “No thanks, hon—” He trails off and hastily rearranges two of his cards. “Gorp, where’d you put the rest of the deck? We need a substitute ace.” Gary pushes one of his card stacks across the table. “The game resumes!” he announces. Jennalee wiggles off Bruce’s lap, stalks inside, and lets the screen door bang behind her. With the sun almost down the houseboat’s cabin is dim and damp, smelling like burgers and mildew and baby powder. It’s like a crappy apartment, paneling and all, that happens to rock back and forth. Don and Valerie’s suitcase lies on top of the folded-out sofa bed, halfburied in t-shirts. Between the screen door and the kitchenette Jennalee steps on a stuffed rabbit and kicks a book. The little light above the sink comes on weak and buttery, the way she imagines an oil lamp. It illuminates the supper dishes and the row of baby bottles next to the sink, but everything else hunches into deeper shadows. She takes a beer from the fridge set into the wall. When she shuts the door there’s a rustle-thump inside. She makes a mental note not to be the next to open the fridge. Jennalee twists off the beer cap, enjoying the bite of the ridges against her palm. When she got together with Bruce, her hands were all calluses from screwing cartoon-character tops onto bottles of bubble bath. She used to leave the factory with her pockets full of melted Batman and Jetsons heads. Her new job at the Texaco station is easier. Lean on the counter, ring up the gas, drag the grime into drifts with the mop. She perches on the edge of the sink and drinks from the bottle. The fizz prickles in a friendly way. She hasn’t been good and drunk since the wedding. She hasn’t fucked anyone but Bruce in six months. Marriage is a shoebox with holes poked in the lid. When Jennalee thinks back to high school, it seems like everything was sharper then, louder, tart on the tongue. Lockers, metal on metal and the thunk of the right combination. The jostling of bodies, all the wanting drifting toward her to cling like smoke. Elbows jabbing and jackets rustling, the clack of lunch trays, the intercom cranked to a roar. Parties distilled the world to a living room, the bass rumbling in her breastbone and the soles of her shoes. It felt real to duck giggly into whoever’s bedroom, scrabbling at fastenings, zipper teeth scraping the hand, some boy all protrusions from tongue and elbows down. The next day or Monday, people would know, but that was the trade you made. And why should it matter if Mark Bauer and all the rest were only looking for sex? She was looking too. Jennalee thuds her heels against the cupboard. She’s not really sorry she dropped out of high school before the end of junior year. She’d been crashing with friends for months to get away from her mother. The friends with nice home lives seemed to feel they had to get into as much trouble as possible to prove themselves worthy of having Jennalee in their house; the friends with crappy home lives continued getting into the trouble they would be in anyway. May 4
High school lasted twenty-four hours a day and her only private space was a locker. Now she doesn’t have a degree, but no one pukes on her at 4:30 on a Tuesday morning, or tells her she’s not working up to potential and her attitude isn’t helping one bit, or calls her a slut, or tries to involve her in cheers about the Spartans S-P-A-R-T-A-N-S. She goes to work and she works, and when she comes home to the little split-level house, Bruce is there. She can play his old Counting Crows CDs and lie on the carpet; she can compete with him to pick out the murderer on Law and Order. She can cook dinner in a clean-ish kitchen. It’s pleasant to cook on Bruce’s electric stovetop, slower than gas but glossy white like a marker board. Comforting to have a husband in the next room. Husband. It is a heavy and square-cornered word. A husband was the last thing she imagined getting out of the factory job. Jennalee – exhausted, hung over, finding little merit in cosines -- had finally blown up at her math teacher. Then at the principal. Then at the troll in charge of detention. A week of suspension should have sounded like vacation, but it just highlighted the stupidity of the whole system. Banning her from a privilege she didn’t want. She applied at the factory, and she asked the friend with the nicest mom if she could stay in their basement for a while. She was annoyed to be taken off the line, away from Jake with the good pot and the Jet-Ski, when the old bald floor manager asked her to reorganize his filing system. He kept pestering her with the standard adult questions: Where had she gone to school? A smart girl like her, didn’t she want to go to college someday? What had made her drop out? But then, during the long dry hours of folders and forms and alphabetization, she began telling him about the cacophony of the past few years, and then he was describing how his wife moved out of the house so gradually he didn’t realize it until all her things were gone. Bruce never looked at her, except for brief eye contact. She could tell he had to work at it, that he didn’t want to be the dirtbag boss checking out the underage peon. For a while she tried – the skinny jeans, that particular cocking of the hip -- to get him to look or touch. Just to see if she could. In the meantime they invented their own origami with misprinted parts order forms. Bruce’s specialties were a really good T-Bird and Picasso Man, who had a theme song: “Picasso Man! He’s full of angles! Picasso Man! He’s kind of a cube!” Jennalee’s proudest moment was when she sculpted a perfect dick and balls that made Bruce giggle like a kid. What happened, to make him finally look, was that on a grouchy Monday Jennalee said snottily, “You can look at me, you know,” and Bruce looked at her and then dropped his head like the sight of his knees was the only thing keeping him upright, and in confusion Jennalee rubbed his shoulders for almost fifteen minutes. His face stayed lost. She slipped her hands over his shoulders, stroking down the pale insides of his arms, letting her breasts bump the back of his neck. When she swiveled his chair away from the desk and knelt on the hard rug and flipped up the zipper tab of his fly, he murmured, “Jen, don’t,” but he didn’t say anything else as she unzipped his pants and worked his dick out through his boxers, and when she kissed the tip he groaned. After the blow job, which took forever, he pretended not to have tears in his eyes. They sat on the floor with their backs against the cool metal of the filing cabinets and talked about everything in the world until quitting time. Later she found out his divorce had become final the Friday before. Jennalee slides off the counter of the houseboat kitchen and wanders into the dark hall. From the furthest bedroom nook comes a steady murmur and a small squeal. Her toe catches in a mass of plastic triangles and knocks it against the wall. “Sorry!” Jennalee peeks around the wall into the nook. On the bottom bunk, Gary’s boyfriend, Michael, sits cross-legged, cuddling their baby against his shoulder and humming a song. He looks up and smiles. “Halt. Euchre-free zone.” 5
“Thank God.” Jennalee picks her way between suitcases to sit next to Michael. She sets her beer on the floor. “So how’s it going out there?” “The ace of spades fell into the river.” Jennalee pets the baby’s head. Leila’s nearly hairless scalp is soft and faintly sticky, like the outside of a Tootsie Roll. “Oh no! Tragedy on the Mississippi! Did they have a proper funeral for it, and then maybe some arguing, and then go on with the endless game?” Michael’s voice is amused and warm. Jennalee’s is not. “You forgot the part where they told stories about other things falling into the river.” “The cooler story. Of course. With the milfoil getting into the mustard.” Jennalee studies Michael. He’s not part of the symmetry. He’s at least ten years younger than Gary, and his hair – thick, dark, neither shaggy nor preppie – isn’t going anywhere. But he can smile when he talks about the Adler family, even when he’s stuck downstairs with the baby while they play cards. She hunches forward to pick at the fringe of her cutoffs. A long thread starts and she follows it around her thigh. “I think I have family overload.” The thread comes free and she pulls carefully at another one, but it breaks. “Like, it’s weird enough having a husband, how did I get all these things-in-law?” “It kind of comes with getting married.” “So not worth it!” “You’ll get used to it.” Michael rubs his nose with the side of his hand. “They’ll get used to you. It’ll get easier.” “When?” “Well. When they stop being so surprised you’re even here, so soon after Shawna.” “God,” she snaps. “That bitch.” Leila stirs, her eyes squinting open, her face puckering. “Shhh.” Michael jiggles the baby, who squawks once and settles back to sleep. “She was nice, until she left. She and Val were pretty close.” Jennalee yanks at threads. At this rate her shorts will be pockets and a waistband by bedtime. “I don’t care about Shawna.” “Right.” Michael bends his head to nuzzle Leila’s pudgy cheek. She grunts like a tiny pig. “Look,” he says briskly, “you’re not what they expected. That’s all. Believe me, I remember what that’s like.” “You were supposed to be a girl?” “Bingo. They got over it. They’ll get over you.” Jennalee doesn’t believe him, but she does feel a little better. She glances sideways at Michael, tracing the curve of his very nice bicep against Leila’s head, wondering, not for the first time, whether he’d only ever liked boys. She ducks to pick up her beer and drinks the rest of it, shaking her hair back extravagantly. “Delicious booze will save me.” “I’m a fan.” “Alas, it’s gone.” She gets up off the bed and wanders into the dark hallway. The light above the sink is the only light in the cabin now. Low voices, the scrape and clunk of plastic furniture, come through the screen door. The door bangs open and Gary comes in, holding a fistful of beer bottles by their necks like an ugly upside-down bouquet. “Hey, kid. You succeeded in boozing it up, I see.” Jennalee fits her empty bottle into a slot in the case of empties. “Not as much as you,” she says, eyeing his handful. Gary lets his eyes slide out of focus and his bottom lip droop. He fake-hiccups and stumbles sideways. “I shwear, Ossifer, I’m totally shober!” May
It’s dumb, but Jennalee laughs. She tries, as he staggers across the room and pretends to have trouble sorting bottles into the case, to picture him in trouble with the family for bringing home Michael. Gary’s so firmly one of them, and so obviously not into women. He doesn’t flap his hands or call people “girlfriend” or anything like on Will and Grace, but women don’t seem to register with him. He never flirts with Jennalee or checks her out. It’s like she gets caught in his filter. The screen door opens again and Valerie comes in, fluffing up the top of her hair with her hand. Jennalee always wonders: why that hair? Why not grow it, try a nice ponytail or something, try to look younger instead of just tall in the head? “Hi,” Valerie says. “What have you been up to?” “Drinking.” Jennalee boosts herself onto the counter and crosses her legs primly. Valerie sits on the corner of the foldout bed and twists sideways to organize t-shirts. “Geez, how many shirts does one man need?” Gary opens the fridge, and several packages of lunch meat tumble onto his feet. Jennalee giggles. Valerie turns to look and laughs too. “Nice. Excellent fridge-loading skills, whoever that was.” “Good thing we keep the anvils in the crisper where they belong,” Gary says. Don comes in and plops down on the bed. “Don’t fold those. I have a system.” Valerie keeps folding. “A system.” “So I can find them again.” Valerie’s hands pause mid-shirt. “We’re on a boat. Where are they going to go?” Don sighs in a great gust. “I just want my shirts to stay where I put them.” He sweeps an exasperated stare around the cabin, as if recruiting backup. “Is that so hard?” “I’m so sorry to inconvenience you. It must be terrible to have someone pick up after you.” Gary rolls his eyes at Jennalee in a conspiratorial way. She gives him about a third of a smile. He tries to pile the bologna into the fridge, but it keeps slipping out so he squats, knees clicking, and begins taking food out and arranging it on the floor. Leftover brats, mustard, sliced carrots in Tupperware, jar of strained pears, half of Michael’s cheesecake. Jennalee slides off the counter to help him. She is glad of something to do. On the other side of the room Don and Valerie’s voices are getting angry, not loud but too tense to tune out. Jennalee’s stomach starts to scrunch up inside like a ball of tinfoil and she is eight again, or nine or twelve, and her mom is screaming at her stepdad so loud the neighbors are about to start pounding on the wall. She’s calling him a stupid fuck; he’s hunched with his elbows on the table, trying to look small, pleading, “Gloria, baby, calm down, what’d I do?” In the background, Jennalee is slinking out, hugging the wall. Hands grab her shoulders from behind and her entire body seizes. “Hey, baby.” Bruce’s voice buzzes low in her ear, warm breath on her neck. Jennalee jerks away. “You scared me!” Pickle relish in hand, she flattens against the counter, glaring. “Whoa.” Chuckling, Bruce rubs his palms down the outsides of her bare arms. “Calm down, there.” When she only softens a little, he kisses her sweetly on the forehead: “Sorry.” Jennalee relents and leans against him, burrowing her face into his neck. His hand slips into her hair. The roundness of his belly conforms to her shape. “Fine!” Valerie says. “Go ahead and swim home.” Jennalee lifts her head, expecting to see Don storm out the door, but he’s standing next to Valerie. He slings an arm around his wife. “Hey. I’ll fold the shirts.” “Aw,” Gary says from behind Jennalee. 7
Jennalee disengages from Bruce. She eyes Don and Valerie. Their voices have calmed but she doesn’t trust them; they have these spats all the time, as if the anger and the disdain are always waiting for a chance to jump in. Sometimes she wants so badly to ask Bruce about Shawna. Did they yell, did they snipe? Did they like each other sometimes? Ever? In the little split-level house, Shawna is everywhere: darker rectangles on the walls, the carpet stamped with circles the vacuum can’t suck away. What made her jump ship from the Adlers? “You all right?” Bruce brushes her cheek with a fingertip. “You’re far away.” “I’m right here,” Jennalee says, annoyed again for no reason. “I’m just sick of people fighting.” “It’s OK, sweetie.” Gary begins returning the food to the fridge, rectangular things in back. “They’re fine.” Don wanders through the apartment into the bathroom. The marine shower starts its thump-thump-squeal-hiss. “For now,” Jennalee says in a meant-to-be-overheard tone. “Jen, hey,” Bruce chides. It pisses her off that he doesn’t even give her a whole sentence. “They obviously can’t stand each other. Why don’t they just get divorced?” Bruce winces, and Jennalee realizes what she has said. From across the room Valerie regards Jennalee coolly. “There’s been enough of that lately.” Gary turns from the fridge. “OK, everyone, let us relax.” Jennalee wants to hit something, possibly herself. Now every person in the room is thinking about Shawna, gauging the size and shape of the hole she left. Jennalee remembers this pent-up anger from her last day of high school – frustrated and spiky, power without satisfaction, like punching a chain-link fence over and over. If she starts arguing she won’t be able to stop. “Fucking marriage!” she hears herself say. Everyone looks at her. “Please elaborate,” says Gary. “It doesn’t do anyone any good. Everyone just fights all the time and gets boring and never has any fun anymore.” “Thanks,” Valerie says. Bruce moves his hand toward her, but drops it. “Jen –” She wonders whether he ever had any words to follow that. No one has anything to say. No one wants to defend themselves. Valerie plops down on the bed and begins refolding Don’s shirts with sharp, abrupt motions. Gary lines up condiments by height. Michael appears in the hallway. “Success! She’s sleeping somewhere besides my arms!” “Jen,” Bruce starts again. She listens expectantly. In a low voice, all serious and managerial, he tells her, “That was totally uncalled for.” Like punching a fence. “You’re not my fucking boss anymore.” Gary, who has stood up and tucked his arm around Michael, clears his throat. “All right, family, the time has come to lay down our tomahawks and do a vacation-style activity.” Jennalee glances at Gary and Michael and they hold her eye, the way they stand together and each body accommodates the other so they’re parallel but connected. The curve of Michael’s mouth is thinking of sweetness. Gary’s hand curls around Michael’s shoulder. Warmth lingers around them. Then Bruce says, “OK, fine,” in an aggrieved tone and Jennalee shifts her attention to him and nothing there keeps her from pushing past him and climbing the ladder to the top deck. The sky is blue-black, smooth as a bedsheet. So many stars, even with the lights of the town on the opposite bank. Jennalee dangles her legs through the railing and tries to find Orion, then remembers it’s July and hunts for the Big Dipper instead. From field trips to the May
planetarium she can only remember the two easy ones. She’s made up her own – the Venus Flytrap, Zigzag Dog, the Coffee Pot – but she can only find them sometimes. Sometimes she thinks she’s found one, and halfway down it falls apart into a jumble of unfamiliar stars. Sometimes she can’t even figure out where to begin looking. The other houseboat anchored in the little cove is blasting classic rock. Jennalee recognizes the Eagles from her stepdad’s tape collection. It’s lame, but it’s comfort music for her. She squints at the shapes on the deck of the other boat. Guys her age would probably be playing rap, but maybe they’re older, or rednecks. She considers going for a visit. It’s been so long since she did anything interesting. No one is fighting on the other boat, or if they are, they’re doing it quietly. A faint hint of weed in the breeze. A mosquito pierces her thigh and she slaps it. It has always seemed to Jennalee that the sound of mosquitoes exactly matches their feel. They’re satisfying that way. She looks down to gauge the distance to the other boat and whether she’ll need shoes. She’s been up here fifteen minutes, maybe. No one will come looking for her for a while. The shuffle of cards floats up the ladder. “Stick the dealer, step in time,” Bruce’s voice sings. Fucking euchre. Still, that means the fighting is done for now, and the evening is getting chilly.. The family is squished around the foldup card table in the cabin. Michael is actually playing – maybe Don drowned in the shower -- but he looks confused. “Help,” he says plaintively to Gary. “I don’t know what jack is what.” “Spades is the right, clubs is the left.” Michael looks even more confused. “So the jack of spades is the most powerful card in the deck, and the jack of clubs is the second most,” Bruce says. “Do you have one of them?” Gary jumps in: “Don’t answer that.” “Thanks. You mean I shouldn’t tell my opponent what cards I have?” Michael lays the jack of clubs on the table and Bruce slaps the jack of spades on top of it. Gary groans, covering his eyes. Bruce pushes the cards across the table to Valerie, glancing ruefully at Michael. “I didn’t mean to trick you.” Jennalee wanders into the kitchen and grabs the last cold bottle of Woodchuck. “Sorry,” Michael tells Gary in a small voice. Gary exhales. “Mikey. You have to think about what’s still out there.” Michael doesn’t seem enlightened. He glances around the table as if hoping to see into the other players’ hands. Jennalee stations herself behind Bruce’s chair and leans her chin on his head. “Ow,” he says. “Bony.” He’s holding all four nines and the queen of diamonds. Valerie looks up from her cards and her gaze snags on Jennalee’s drink. “More alcohol? That’s great, sweetie.” Bruce plays his nine of clubs. Jennalee presses the damp glass bottle against Bruce’s sunburned neck. He jerks away. “Ahh, cold!” “Uh-huh.” Jennalee drinks deep, ignoring Valerie’s expression. Then she digs her chin into Bruce’s skull again. “What the hell do I play now?” Michael demands. “Think hard,” Gary says. Michael slaps down a card without looking at it. It’s the queen of hearts. Gary groans. “Do we need to go over the concept of ‘trump’ again?” He and Valerie each play a card, and Valerie happily gathers them in. Michael glances from Valerie to Gary to Bruce. He lays his cards face down on the table. “I am really sick of this game.” 9
Gary looks puzzled. “You’ve been playing for what, ten minutes?” “Yeah, and hearing about it and watching it for years without ever getting to play. Turns out I was missing nothing.” “So don’t play,” Gary says coolly. “Just don’t be such a child about it.” “We’ve already got one of those.” Valerie twinkles at Michael like she’s making everything all better, like it’s him she’s teasing. He ignores her. Jennalee wants to yell at Valerie, but a coldness is spreading across the floor of her stomach as she watches Michael and Gary. Something ugly has happened to them, they bristle with angles, their warmth has evaporated. “God!” Michael shouts, startling Jennalee. “You always patronize me!” Gary leans back and spreads his hands as if offering the clearest of ideas to the simplest of people. “Then be sensible.” “Jacks are not bigger than aces! What’s the point of that?” “It’s really not that difficult a concept to grasp.” “Guys, come on now,” Bruce says weakly. Jennalee straightens up and clonks Bruce in the back of the head with the bottle, hard. He yelps. “You’re such a pussy.” “Jennalee!” “Hey!” Valerie and Bruce bark at the same time. Michael takes a deep breath. “Your game is ridiculous, and you’re an asshole.” He sounds almost calm. He jerks down the bill of his cap and stalks into the hallway. Gary’s angry condescension disappears. He calls, “Mikey?” With a hurt look, Bruce rubs the back of his head. “What was that for?” “Never mind.” Jennalee bangs her drink down on the table and leaves. Michael lies on his back in the darkness of the bottom bunk. He turns his head when she steps around the dividing wall. “Fuck them all.” Michael doesn’t seem to want to agree or disagree. “Well…” He rubs at his beard stubble with a rasping sound. “If I wanted all this bullshit drama I would have stayed in high school. Someday, I swear, I’m going to live somewhere where nobody yells ever.” She leans over and scratches her knee, where a new bite bulges like a soap bubble. Michael sits up and swings his legs over the edge of the bed. “Me too,” he says wistfully. Jennalee plunks down next to him. “This family. What the fuck.” She digs her nails into the bug bite. It feels so good. “You said it.” He sighs, leaning back to brace himself on his arms. Jennalee yanks a long thread from her shorts. “Gary is the best one,” she says, looking down. “But he’s still an ass.” “I feel like I ought to argue.” Michael stretches his brown-sugar-tan legs out ahead of him and flexes his feet. “Hear me argue. I am arguing so hard.” From the baby carrier on the floor comes an unmistakable snore. Jennalee giggles in spite of herself. Michael’s face drifts into a grin. He leans over to put his arm around Jennalee. His hand, cupping her bare shoulder, is warm and good. “He’s an ass sometimes. Me too. And we both hate losing.” His voice buzzes through his chest and into Jennalee. “Anyway, Bruce is the best one, right? You picked him.” Jennalee slumps sideways and pushes her cheek against his shoulder. “He was there,” she says, muffled, irritated to feel tears in her throat. “I was like, ‘Here’s somebody nice, I’ll take it.’” “Oh, honey.” Michael rubs her arm and hugs her closer. “You’ll get it all worked out. It’s just a rough weekend.” May
Jennalee is buried in his T-shirt, its warm cotton and Michael smell, baby powder and detergent and grill and river water. She can feel the grapefruit curve of the bicep against her shoulder. Absently she reaches a hand over and rubs it slow and deliberate across his stomach. Michael loosens his grip on her. “Jen,” he murmurs like he’s about to say more. Jennalee moves the hand down to his thigh and uses it to push herself upright. “Michael,” she whispers so low that maybe he only hears the click of the ch. She touches his stubbly cheek with her cold fingertips. Nothing is like the moment before a kiss, the mouth anticipating its feel, face drifting closer, the delicate skin-heat and the hint of breath. She kisses him. Michael pulls back. “Jen, no.” He doesn’t seem totally furious. She leans in again and slides her hand purposefully over his thigh. “Come on.” She kisses him again, soft and light. “Fuck them anyway.” Michael grabs both her wrists, gently but she can’t get away: “Stop.” Jennalee lets her arms fall limp. He releases her wrists and she drops them slowly. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I think you’re great, but that is the worst idea ever.” Jennalee wants to cry again. She can’t quite look at Michael’s earnest brown eyes and his stupid gym-rat biceps as she gets up and leaves. She starts to shiver halfway up the ladder to the deck. She doesn’t care enough to get her jacket. The people on the other boat have turned off the Eagles and gone inside. The only sounds are nature sounds: the scrape of crickets, the technological hum of cicadas, the faint shushing of the river below. Away from Adlers, the night is peaceful. “Jen?” Bruce is lying on his back wrapped in a blanket in the corner of the deck. “God, there’s nowhere to go on this stupid boat.” She expects him to offer to go back down. He sits up, clutching the blanket around him, and tucks his legs to one side. Flecks of starlight gleam pale on his scalp. “I wanted to look at the stars. There are so many more than at home.” “Uh-huh.” She leans over the railing. As the dark river hunches and tumbles against itself, the reflections of the stars stretch, blur into luminous squiggles, disappear and return. She could watch this for hours. The fist in her stomach begins to unclench. She can imagine that the river goes down forever, every fathom darker, realer, with the pounding of held breath, the roar of the current. There are curious creatures with barbed tentacles and electric stingers, luminescent markings, wicked teeth. “Do you really think I’m a pussy?” Jennalee turns to look at him. His face is anxious, vulnerable. She wants to say yes, catalogue every one of the zillion examples, bitch about Valerie, maybe drop a hint about Michael, but she can’t. “No. I didn’t mean that.” “I never know. I can never tell what I should be doing.” Jennalee thinks of her first day working at the factory, of Bruce in his short-sleeved dress shirt, helping her fill out her first ever tax forms. He was kind to her, even when she messed up the form for the third time. At break, sweaty line workers crammed into Bruce’s cement office with problems and he dealt with them one at a time, calmly, and they listened to him. “It’s OK.” Jennalee tells the changing patterns of light on the water. “You do just fine.” “About my family --” “It’s OK,” she says softly. She wants to ask about Shawna. Did she like euchre, did she even get to play? Did Bruce take her side? Did he need to? 11
Jennalee looks at her blanket-wrapped husband, a sad burrito on the boat deck, and she doesn’t ask. “You’re shivering. Come share my blanket.” He opens it wide. The cold gives the air sharpness. Her skin is alive with it. She shakes her head and turns back to the rail, to the blur of the water. In the distance something huge is coming down the river. Behind her, footsteps. The blanket settles around her shoulders. “Come here.” Bruce hugs her and the blanket to his side. “My girl,” he says, “my girl.” In his voice there is longing and, somehow, wonder. Next to her, the softness of his body is familiar, friendly. That lost, hurt expression is just under the surface of his face, ready to return. Something in her retracts its claws and slinks away. She kisses him, gently but extensively, hoping she doesn’t taste like Michael. Hoping she can do this. When they disengage, Bruce is radiating happiness. Jennalee says, “Look, it’s a barge.” Together they lean on the rail to watch it come, the slow hulk of it, like a whole neighborhood of a grim industrial city. Its searchlight sweeps white across the tangled trees on the bank. Jennalee can just barely see, way up at the top of the barge, a little cabin with a little speck of light and a dark shape. The boat operator is bored and lonely, driving down the river all night. He’s thinking about his house on Lake Itasca and how he misses his dog. He’s wondering what to do when he gets to New Orleans. He doesn’t know anyone in New Orleans. He’s searching the riverbank with the light in hopes of finding something interesting, maybe pirates to thwart, a hapless sailor to rescue. He would be glad of company. She could swim to him, and they would understand each other. The barge is almost even with their boat. The light beam sweeps closer, the hugeness, the brightness incomprehensible, too big, growing -- it slams them, a wall of white, a pure deluge, blinding, deafening. They wave wildly. The beam passes and they’re dropped. “Wow.” Bruce blinks hard. They turn to each other. Jennalee opens her mouth to speak. And the light smashes them again. It sweeps away, floods back. Jennalee starts laughing, delight swelling in her and pushing everything else away. The beam draws huge circles around them. They pose, they fling their arms out, shouting, stumbling into each other, the barge light serrating their movements like a ten-million-watt strobe. Against the dark trees, in the atomic whiteness of the beam’s circle, two black silhouettes stretch sharp as wire, twisting and flailing, still laughing in dazzled blind drownings of light, falling into each other, merging parting merging, until the beam leaves them there with the stars and the bowers and goes on to New Orleans.
Who Would Ever Hug the Trash Man Cindy Rinne The dog barks from 11-midnight trying to figure out why people gather to burn the sky in pops & crackles. (I need to sleep.) Andy kidnaps his son when he is five in a rusted truck. City lost to farms, dwindles to an abandoned shack. Wolves live here. Wolf was the first creature to experience death. Like crusts of bread, his son eats opiates as they drop on the floor. Ants of illusion. Ants spread out the earth for people to live upon. This is not collectable quality. Volume 12, Number Five, August 1993. Tom & Mable travel to Africa where they did not photograph anything at first, overwhelmed by a new land. Turning their garage into a studio. Are you setting up a dark room? A digital darkroom. My daughter still uses film â€“ I never thought Kodak would be obsolete. You have at least ten trash bags stuffed with recyclables (you begin to fill another) tied to one grocery cart. Good morning, you smile. The woman says my art has inspired her. She wants to make a book of pastel meditations. I used to lead a womenâ€™s circle. Last week I saw them & know I cannot rejoin them. Why do I long, mourn for past ashes? On July 20, three years later, something significant happens. Cops return the boy to his mom. Andy dies without dignity & his son believes in God. (Forgiveness tastes sour.) Behind the stopped garbage truck, voices chatter. I see a young girl run down the driveway. She gives a gift of two bottled-waters & receives a big hug from the trash man (mask over face). Her family looks on laughing. She forgets the smell. Sweat drips down my cheek.
Excision Erin Corriveau Lobular When you think of the lump, you think of a peanut “M&M.” The ultrasound techs call it lobular. You don’t know exactly what lobular means, but you assume oval, and that is when you decide the foreign body inside of you is the identical twin to the yellow “M&M” in the commercials. You wonder if the lump has white eyes and white legs, too. But what if lobular doesn’t mean oval? What if the lump isn’t shaped like a peanut “M&M,” but instead it is disc-shaped, like a Milk Dud. You like the way Milk Duds feel as you chew them and the caramel slaps and sticks to your teeth and the chocolate soaks up your saliva. Or maybe it’s curved, like a lima bean. You never liked lima beans; or most beans for that matter. Or maybe lobular means perfectly round in all directions, like a jawbreaker, or a gumball. Or maybe lobular means none of those things; maybe lobular just suggests circular. Maybe lobular is like a chewed up piece of gum flattened under your shoe, taking the shape of whatever presses against it. Slurp The lady checking you in at Registration slurps her coffee from a small hole on the plastic lid. “Mmmm,” she says, “That’s good, but it’s too hot.” You think she is talking to you until a woman appears behind her slurping a Starbucks iced coffee up her own straw. “That’s why I always get mine iced,” the new woman says. All you can think as you watch them is Slurp, slurp, slurp. It’s as if they’re mocking you. The lady helping you shakes her Pandora bracelet so that it falls to where her wrist meets her hand just as you do when it creeps up your arm. When you’re nervous, you roll your beads between your fingers, remembering the times Ryan gave you the charms. You finger your left wrist, but it doesn’t make the bracelet appear. If your bracelet were on right now, you’d probably have the Together Forever charm or maybe the Best Friends charm or maybe the hearts rolling back and forth between your thumb and your finger. But you aren’t wearing your bracelet. Cubbyhole An elderly volunteer with a perfect pale-brown and gray French twist walks you to Prep-Op and points to the end of the hall. “You’ll be in room 15,” she says, “and Susan, who’s standing right there, will be your nurse.” Room 15 is not a room; it is more like a preschool cubbyhole, where the children stash their blankets for naptime. The “walls” are made from pulled curtains— although you did luck out since you’re the last cubbyhole in the row. You have one solid wall of your own in Room 15. Susan, your nurse, makes a list of everything you’re wearing and the items you brought with you: Black pants, gray shirt, purple sweatshirt, pink socks, black sneakers, multicolored messenger bag, two credit cards, a driver’s license, a notebook, two books, a cell phone, hair elastic, two bobby pins, a pen. You ask her if she needs to know the color of your bra and 14
underwear since she marked the color of the rest of your clothing and she says, “Oh, no. No one ever complains about lost undergarments,” and then writes down “undergarments” on the form before passing it to you for a signature. Why does a pen or bobby pins get jotted down, but not your white bra and green undies? She tells you to pack up your clothes and everything else in the two hospital-issued, plastic bags on the bed. She leaves so you can change into your gown, not the type you wear at a ball, but the kind that opens in the back and just about everywhere else as well. She returns with a Pepcid for your stomach. You take the pill with the smallest sip of water, even though your stomach feels just fine, as you don’t want to get the urge to pee before surgery. Uncooked Spaghetti Susan gets the IV ready to put in your hand. Why can’t she put it in your veins in the crook of your arm? You prefer the IV in your left hand, so you can write in the meantime, but she’d rather not do that because your surgery is on your left side. You expected the tip of the IV to be the same size as a normal needle, but it’s not. It’s much bigger. You have good veins, or so medical professionals have told you, so she shouldn’t have to dig around in your hand for an entry spot. You don’t want to watch the IV go in, so you look away, only to look back right as it punctures your skin. That is too big, you think, it’s like she’s stuffing uncooked spaghetti into your veins. “What’s in this IV,” you ask Susan as she begins taping the needle and cord onto your hand. She loops the cord between your thumb and forefinger and tapes it tighter. Now that it’s not wobbling around, it is more comfortable than you expected. “Oh, just some antibiotics for the surgery,” she says and you begin to see a few drops move through the IV line and then it clears and is filled with liquid. It’s been almost a minute since the spaghetti-sized needle entered your hand at the bottom of your thumb and you feel a slow cool rush through your arm as the antibiotics enter your body. You hope the antibiotics don’t give you a yeast infection and make a mental note to take some acidophilus and eat more yogurt. Turns out, writing with an IV in your hand is not an easy feat. You decide that you’re going to try writing with your left hand—another hard feat. You write in your notebook “willing myself to write with my left hand,” as if the power of intention will suddenly turn you ambidextrous. Your stepson’s kindergarten handwriting is much better than what you just scratched along the paper. The sentence takes up about three lines on the page. Grouch Sandwich A man in blue scrubs walks into your room, doesn’t make any eye contact with you, and announces himself as Something Kearsavage. You assume, and hope, he said Doctor Kearsavage as he begins to talk to you—still looking at the floor—about what type of anesthesia he plans on giving you. He asks you when was the last time you ate something. “Around 8 or 9 last night,” you reply. “What was it that you ate at 8 or 9 p.m.,” he asks and sits in the chair on the side of your cot, staring with intent at the blank lines on your chart. Does he really need to know what you ate last night? Your evening snack was quite a smorgasbord and every time you brought a new treat into the living room and noticed Ryan eyeing your selections, you proclaimed, “What? It might be the last snack I ever eat. I’ve got to have it all.” There’s been a slight pause since he asked the question, so you finally answer, “some Sour Patch Kids, a Rice Krispies treat, and a popsicle.” For the first time since he’s entered your cubbyhole, he looks up at you blank-faced, blinks two times and then looks back at your chart to write those answers down. “What is ‘THS Syndrome,’” he asks you. “I don’t know.” 15
“What do you mean you don’t know,” he asks, looks up at you for a second and then back down to the paper. “You have it. It’s written right here.” You first urge is to take out your cell phone and Google THS Syndrome, but your cell phone is in your messenger bag, and your messenger bag is in the hospital plastic bag tucked underneath your cot. This information worries you. It is written in handwriting on a mostly printed chart, and you wonder if the results from the pre-admissions blood test indicated some new, horrible disease you may have. “I have no clue what that is,” you reply, “but I’d really like someone to check on that before I go into surgery.” He nods, stands up and walks out of your cubbyhole. A few minutes later, he returns to tell you that it was TMJ Syndrome—temporomandibular joint disorder— which you do have, and you make a mental note to Google THS Syndrome when you get home. You feel very uncomfortable with the fact that your anesthesiologist’s last name has the word savage in there. You aren’t sure you want a savage putting you in a dreamland. You’ve written in your scraggily, loose, right-handed handwriting, “he probably ate a Grouch Sandwich for breakfast.” You’re not sure what a Grouch Sandwich is, and why he’d eat it for breakfast and not lunch, but apparently that is what you’ve decided he devoured this morning. Imaging You’re worried about the “imaging” you need today. During all your phone calls yesterday, the receptionists and medical assistants and nurses you spoke to kept saying the word “mammogram.” You do not want a mammogram; your poor breast has suffered enough. Your nurse Susan wheels your cot around the hospital to Radiology, which seems quite strange seeing as you can walk there yourself, although everyone would see your backside. Susan parks your cart along the wall in Radiology and you hope she dropped you off at the right place because no one comes for you for two or three minutes. A young ultrasound technician comes to get you and you realize it’s the same girl—is her name Brandy? —who was in the room during your biopsy. You’re worried less now; somehow this makes a difference. There is another female technician in the room, and they explain the procedure to you. You get an ultrasound. No mammogram! Unfortunately though, they plan on inserting a wire into your breast to mark the site of the lump for surgery. You didn’t plan on getting any new hardware today, but you prefer they take out the correct specimen, so wire it is. The doctor comes in who will be inserting the wire and he is relatively handsome. You don’t show your boob to that many people, and you feel strange having a slightly-handsome guy touching it—no less inserting a piece of metal into it—when you’re in a relationship, but apparently this is normal here because no one seems the least bit perturbed. Plus, he isn’t that handsome. It’s more just a mild handsome. Everyone else who’s touched your boob in the history of these lump appointments has either been an old male surgeon with minimal personality or women who seem the least bit phased over your mammary glands. Probably because they have their own boobs to manage. After Minorly Handsome Doctor inserts a wire horizontally into your left breast he announces that he would like a plastic cup. Brandy, your new favorite ultrasound tech of all time, asks him to repeat himself, because she too seems confused about why he needs this. You look down. There is about three inches of wire just dangling out of your chest, bouncing a bit in the air. “You’ll see,” he says. She leaves the room and reappears a few minutes later with a plastic cup. He takes it, places it over the wire protruding from your breast and asks for tape. Both girls are looking at him blankly, and then the tech whose name you don’t remember— although you think was Amanda—passes him the tape. He pulls out long strips and tapes the
cup to your chest. “Tada!” he says. “Just in case you move your arm and knock it out of place.” You feel like an alien version of Madonna. Alone As Usual You miss Ryan; you feel uncomfortable in the silence of your cubbyhole where you can watch all these people. A woman walks by with her husband, or maybe it’s her brother. She is holding the back of his hospital gown closed as he walks in front of her. She looks into your cubbyhole, notices you are alone, and smiles with that sympathetic, pity kind of smile. You did this to yourself. Ryan would have been here waiting with you if you weren’t so adamant he stay at work. “It’s just a small procedure,” you said to him. “There’s no need to take the whole day off when you’re probably going to only be allowed in the pre-op area for a half hour or so.” You always need to be the strong one; you always end up alone. Contestant It must be all the Jeopardy you watched with your grandmother as a child. When someone asks a question, you pull the relevant words out and feel the urge to answer as quickly as possible. It’s as if you’re listening closely, with a buzzer in your hand waiting to respond with your answer—just not in the form of a question. Your doctor walks into your cubbyhole in Pre-Op with your chart in his hand. “How are ya doing,” he says with about as much enthusiasm as you’ve ever seen him muster. He must be excited to cut. You’ve heard it’s like a drug—cutting that is—that some surgeons get high off the rush. “So, you still in a lot of pain?” he asks, and your contestant-like brain kicks into gear as you nod your head and answer, “Yep,” at the exact same time that he says, “back there,” and points toward his rear end. Hold up. Back Where? Did you just acknowledge that your ass was in pain? Does this man even know what surgery he’s doing? You don’t say anything, partially because you just don’t know what to say at a time like this, and partially because you don’t want to embarrass your doctor. If he mentions your ass again, you’ll remind him your surgery is on your breasts, not your derriere. Notes to Self You’ve watched every season of Grey’s Anatomy except the current one. You know all the things that happen in hospitals. Your anesthesiologist could be drunk. A gunman could go on a killing spree while you’re in dreamland. Doctors could perform the wrong surgery on the wrong patient. You watch a lot of movies. You read the news. People go under anesthesia all the time and wake up with a case of amnesia. With your luck, this is bound to be you in a few hours. You’ve learned that writing with your left hand is no longer an option, but you can maneuver the pen around the page if you grip it very loosely with your right hand. You write in your notebook: “If you (and you write “Erin” on top of the word you, just in case you don’t remember your own name) wake up from surgery and don’t remember anything like in the movies—I just want you to know that you love Ryan with all your heart and Madden and your parents, brothers, and best friends. Just incase. J” You neglect to mention your sisters-in-law and nieces and nephew. And even more importantly, your own dog, Fenway.
V-Drug When it is time, a woman whose shoes and hair is covered with blue surgery caps comes into your cubbyhole. She has kind eyes and while pulling your IV line out from behind your back, informs you that she is the nurse anesthesiologist and that she was going to give you a sedative and bring you into surgery. She says the name of the drug, something that started with a V and was similar to Valium, but you forgot about as quickly as she told you. The only think you remember her telling you was that some patients say they feel a mild burning sensation once the V-Drug gets into their system. Then she begins to wheel you away. High Here are the thoughts you remember thinking from the time you leave your cubbyhole until you fully go under from the anesthesia: Where is the burning feeling? Didn’t she say I’d feel a burning sensation? These people must be so strong to wheel around the patients all on their own. I feel the same as I did ten seconds ago. This is the operating room? Where is everybody? Ohhh, I feel a warm sensation. It’s definitely not burning, but I do feel all warm in my veins. What are they putting on my lower legs? Is that massaging my legs? Is someone massaging my legs? I kindaaaaaa get the whole addiction thing now. This doesn’t feel so bad. You feel a big bit high, and a tiny bit nervous. The nervousness is catching up real quickly with the high, and you realize that in a few moments you will be in a dreamland. The same dreamland you’re afraid you won’t wake up from, and that is what scares you. Look around, you think, feeling a sudden urge to take everything in. The items in this room might be the last things you ever see. Everything in this room is disappointing. Sterile. You’re on your back, buzzed off the anesthesia high, staring at the ceiling fan—or was it just the lights on the ceiling—when you notice the initials on what you appear to think is a fan: ALM. ALM. You twist those letters around in your mouth even though you don’t open it to speak. ALM feels familiar. You floating deeper in your buzz and the fan—or light—starts to get blurred and fuzzy. Aaaaaa Llllllll Mmmmmm, you think. ALM stands for Amy Louise Melo, your best friend since kindergarten. This is how you know you’ll be okay.
More Rhetorical Devices Katharine Diehl In conclusion, many aquarium fish eat their young but that is a metaphor that could apply to a lot of problems. Or, in conclusion, you could flush the dead fish down the toilet and poke your finger into the pale mass in the toilet bowl which is not blood red, which was the whole beginning of your problem. In conclusion, you are a reasonable college-educated first-world young adult woman who should not be pouring parsley on everything or mainlining coffee as a precaution. Or, in conclusion, you do realize you never had a weight problem but now you have a being alive while possibly also being pregnant problem and if you were really brave and liberated youâ€™d dismantle the problem and stop being so squeamish around bio-mass.
Still Life Lauren Westerfield When the memories come, they come in a flash, like the bright snap of a camera. Out of nowhere, I see myself small -- three years old, maybe four. The same image arises over and over again. It is an old image, taken from our first house, the brown stucco duplex in the suburbs northeast of San Francisco. I see myself lying on the shabby Persian rug in our living room, the rug that always seemed to me like an ocean, at once vast and bordered on all sides by carpet beaches. It was an inverse island, all my own and yet mere steps away from the kitchen, my favorite room in the house. A white Polaroid frame holds the image still, gives my memory a border, a shape. It bathes recollection in sepia, turning my pale skin rosy, my brown hair golden. When I see this image I return to the living room, to the rug. I remember how it felt to roll my body across the soft red fibers, to lie in a pool of afternoon sunlight. I remember how it felt to hold a crayon against the white wall when no one was watching, to press down and see if the color would stick. Growing up I was a chubby kid, sporting a bulging belly and scant hair well past toddler-hood. I used to swim in the swirling paisley sea of the rug, to dive in from the edge of the living room and immerse myself in that colorful, threadbare oasis. My mother loved classical composers, especially Satie and Stravinsky. We had a CD player, but she preferred to play her records on the second-hand turntable in the corner of the living room. She would put a record on and pour herself a glass of wine in the late afternoons, and I would writhe and flop and wiggle around in time to the music. Coming out of the kitchen to join me, she would sit on the couch and listen as I recounted my exploits among pirates or mermaids. Some days, she’d even get down on the rug with me and play along. “Where are the pirates, captain?” she might say, in all seriousness. “What is your plan of escape?” “Not pirates,” I’d gasp as I floundered, fighting amongst the crashing waves. “Not pirates but fish men, they are coming for the princess and I must protect her.” “Would the captain like some juice after her adventure?” my mother would ask, after awhile. “Yes, please. And also, a peanut butter sandwich.” My mother had been an artist once, back when she lived in Los Angeles and made money waiting tables and temping at the Solid Gold production studio. Back then, she had worn her wavy dark hair down past her shoulders, dated filmmakers and foreigners, dressed in vintage clothes she altered herself. While I was growing up, her artwork took up two of the four walls in our cramped living room. There was a sweeping, nameless, blue-green spacescape of a painting that I came to call “The Dream,” and a still life in charcoal, all starkness and shading, graphite and gray, that we nicknamed, “Bottles and Jars.” From my vantage point on the rug, “The Dream” was like a canopy, opening into a world of unknowns. Strips of steely silver slit the waves of sea foam green, with swaths of ethereal blues like windows. Sprawled at my mother’s 20
feet, I would gaze at the painting and imagine myself into any place, any time that I liked. The still life would stare down at us from above the piano, its precise lines and cavernous shadows hidden in the waning yellow light of coming dusk. I’m twenty-five and getting ready to move out of my parents’ house – the new house, the one that I can’t stop calling “new” even though we have lived here since I was nine. I’m taking “The Dream” down, rolling it up, and the canvas is coughing up dust and spewing it around the room. I’ve had the painting hanging over my bed ever since I came back the previous autumn. The deep blues are soothing, the grey slashes energetic, like slaps of cold seawater. For years, Mom kept both “The Dream” and the Persian rug rolled up and tucked away in the garage. Only “Bottles and Jars” kept its frame; and even that was relegated to the downstairs bathroom, the one we tended to neglect unless company was coming over and usually reserved for dirty shoes, dead hangars and cleaning supplies. When I finally dug “The Dream” out of the garage, out from behind the deflated basketballs and tangled Christmas lights, I felt a gentle rush of satisfaction; a sense of finding some lost piece of myself, as if suddenly recalling the entirety of a fragmented idea. Mom doesn’t want me to move, but she’s helping me pack all the same. I can feel her resistance and sadness filling the room when she enters with some cardboard boxes from the garage. Her mood is like the refinery smell that sometimes drifts across the San Francisco Bay and in through our windows in summer: noxious and heavy, dampening the crisp anticipation of the morning air, of new beginnings. “Mom?” I ask as she enters, dropping the boxes in the middle of the floor, their dust mingling with that rising from the canvas in musty waves. “Would you be willing to let me take this painting with me?” My voice rises, expectant, supplicating. “I’d like to have something of yours to hang up in the new place.” Mom looks at the canvas, inexpertly rolled and sitting limp on the carpet, blank side out, with only the slightest hint of blue peeping from behind the ragged edges. “You want that one?” she says. Something in her voice tells me that she is unimpressed, and I squirm. “You can take it if you want,” she continues. “But it isn’t any good.” I protest. “I think it’s great. The colors are wonderful.” She wrinkles the thin line of her lips. “That painting is just artsy crap,” she snaps, dismissing my praise with a toss of the wrist. “Didn’t I ever tell you? It’s based on a garbage can.” I find myself unable to speak, as if the wind has been knocked out of me. “I was never good with abstract subjects,” she mumbles, with bitter breath. I feel my belly sink, my throat tighten. I want to tell her that I like the painting, that I don’t think its crap. I want her to care what I think, to be the artist of my imagination, the one who saw the universe of dreams in a few slashes of sea green and silver. At this point, though, she isn’t even looking at me. She’s staring off into space. “You know the still life? The one in charcoal?” she says. “That one is good.” She looks back at me now, gauging my response. I look for the image of the still life in my mind, for the mass of all those sinister shapes crowding against one another. I’ve seen it so many times; but somehow, when summoned, it loses its precision and clarity. It is a hazy mass, a city skyline in the fog with just a single peak here or cornice there still sharp enough to recognize. I feel foolish. “Of course I remember that one,” I say. Her eyes darken. “You can’t have it.” The words fly sharp from her lips like shrapnel, and her tone is at once childish and hard with the edge that emerges after she has had too much wine, or else not enough. I open my mouth to protest, but she is looking away again. “Your father doesn’t give a shit about any of this, you know,” she says. “He never has.” 21
I bristle. “What does he have to do with it? Why do you always have to make things about him?” She glares at me, then looks at the pile of canvas on the floor with disdain. “He doesn’t know me at all,” she says. “And neither do you.” With a sniff, she turns to leave the room. I watch her disappear down the hallway, then look back at the painting, crumpled, desolate. I can feel the angry tears rising up through my jaw, making it ache. It’s winter in San Diego, and the sky is alternately slate gray or obscenely bright, mocking the instincts of the season, belying the chill in the wind. I am living in my new apartment. The days scoot forward slowly, and the waves are dull and flat, relentless in their failure to pound and roil in tempo with my moods. Mom calls daily, crying, floundering. Dad moved out two weeks after I left, and now, after two months of indignant disbelief, it is beginning to dawn on her that he isn’t coming back. Her voice is in my head every day, every night, as I lie awake under shafts of moonlight sliced through palm shadows. I think about the things she said – about the still life, about “The Dream,” and I wonder how much of it is true. I think about the way her stories and tantrums shift and change with time, like the lines on her face, and I wonder what she might be thinking as she sits alone in that big house, wine glass in hand, the still life on the wall and the “The Dream” buried someplace deep in the darks spots of her mind. I hang the painting in my apartment, hoping the piece of myself that I found in its depths will bless this new house, will infuse my new life with some joy, some lost meaning. Then I get it up on the wall and realize that the colors aren’t as crisp and rich as they used to be. The whole piece looks tired, rung out. I troll the thrift shops for a rug to complete the image, but none seem to fit. They are all too worn, or too bright, too synthetic. Nothing can recapture the sensation of that paisley sea. On a December night I sit on the living room floor and listen to Satie and Stravinsky on iTunes. The sound is tinny and flat in real life, in the space outside my memory. I look up at the painting with an aching sense of loss. The portal is closed. The universe outside – the clouded night sky, the wind thrashing the palm trees, the ocean at last alive and wild on this winter night – is louder than memory. It calls me back to the present, back to reality, back to the broken frame around my family and what feels like utter powerlessness against its knife edges. The months stretch on. Mom calls daily, sometimes twice, usually in tears or else on the verge. I begin to fear the ring of my cell phone, to make up excuses, to cut talks short. Her words fill my head like a virus, spreading, multiplying, taking over. Sometimes, to get away from the pain, I picture us, Mom and I, sitting together in the old house, in the living room, on the rug. When I try to draw her into it the image seems faded, a pale bubble of light in the darkness. I wonder if Mom ever sees it, if it is as real to her as it is to me. The image grows more difficult to conjure. I begin to fight it, to blink hard in the face of the camera flash and force the figure of myself to appear, unfettered and joyful on that rug like a child of the sea. And though I know it won’t change anything, I keep struggling to take her back inside the memory with me: to revive the woman who got down on the rug once, who played pirates, listened to records and laughed in the face of the sunset. When I was four years old, I drew a blue line in crayon on the white stucco wall of the downstairs hallway. The image is crisp inside me. I can still feel the sensation of the slim Crayola in my hand, the moment of impact; still see the lettering on the crayon denoting its color, “Cornflower Blue.” It was afternoon, and sunny. The bright wall between the living room and the kitchen was Westerfield
totally blank, almost plaintive in its emptiness. I stood alone for awhile, chubby kneed and bare legged, my droopy shorts hanging low beneath my rounded belly. I wrapped my fingers around the stem of the crayon in my hand. Beneath “The Dream,” there on the rug, I felt adventurous, invincible. Slowly, with fear-tempered glee, I touched the crayon to virgin stucco. I drew a dusky blue squiggle, a timid wave on a sea of white. Years later, I asked my mom if she remembered this. We were driving home from school, my mom behind the wheel of our buttercup yellow ‘84 Volvo, me in the passenger seat. It was late afternoon in early fall, and the light was soaking in through the driver’s side window, bathing Mom’s hair, turning it auburn. I was probably about fourteen. “Remember that time when I was a kid, when I drew on the wall?” I began, turning to face her as we made our way up a gentle hill. “I was like four, and I scribbled on the stucco with crayon?” Mom yanked the gear shift and wrinkled her lips. “You never drew on the wall honey,” she said. Her tone was calm, and a little confused. “Like, you don’t remember it? Because I’m pretty sure that I did,” I pressed on, still looking at her profile in the hot yellow light. Mom turned the corner and passed under a tree. For a moment, we were covered in shade. Without looking at me, my mom shook her head. The shadows flickered through her hair like ghosts. “No. I just know it didn’t happen.” This time her voice was firm. “You never would have done something like that.” We turned again, and my face fell into the dark. Together, we drove on in silence, each chasing the sun until it, too, sank in deference to the shadows, shrinking into pale clouds on the horizon.
The Interview Christopher X. Shade Haley was hardly breathing at all anymore as she picked her way through Blersch’s weedy and cluttered front yard (a half-tumbled stack of bricks, a shopping cart of chipped flower pots), and her knuckles were white as she knocked on his door— Her mom’s Plymouth parked shyly behind a rusted behemoth of a pick-up truck. —and when Blersch opened the door, a stooped old man who seemed so small in what seemed a very high doorframe, squinting at her as she stood with a tight grip on her purse straps— Under the Plymouth’s front seat, her notebooks, her research on Blersch. —she burst into a breathy laugh, saying hello, I’m sorry, it’s me. Her mom sometimes made a cookie that had a pecan-stuffed date inside it, with frosting on top. His eyes looked like that. He grunted something like “so I see” or “so it is” and went directly across the room to an easel and a table with paints, an Eight O’Clock Coffee can of brushes— In her purse she had, besides the necessary things, a tape recorder. —and rags and such, and he set about mixing colors. Haley stood by the door pinching her nose but maybe it was only the linseed oil. Mr. Blersch said, “You’ve done a sitting before.” “Well,” she said with a bashful smile, “there’s a story behind that.” He continued to mix paint, and then he said, “Why don’t you tell it to me.” “I will.” She felt herself blushing, as she perched on the stool. He asked her to put down the purse, move this way and that, hold her head this way and that, and fold her hands, and so on while she began to wonder if he had any intention of ever painting her at all. At last he began in broad strokes, and she asked, “Can we talk about your Crystal Night paintings?” His hand stopped moving the brush. “Where did you see them?” She told him the library. “I searched for something about here in Montgomery in the big newspapers and that’s where I found your paintings.” He was painting again. “Please don’t move,” he said. “You moved your hands.” “I was wondering, well, Mr. Blersch, if you wouldn’t mind I’d like to write something about you and try to get it in the newspaper. I’m a journalist.” He shook his head, but it wasn’t much of a shake. “After this sitting, of course,” she said, putting a smile on her face. “I would really appreciate it. God, you have no idea how hard it is to get something in the paper. Did you hear what I said? I’m a journalist. I got a degree from over at AUM—that’s Auburn, Mr. Blersch.” He was staring at the painting now. She said, “They were beautiful paintings, the Crystal Night ones, like, like—” Paintings of broken glass in Berlin streets, in November 1938 when Nazis destroyed shops owned by Jews and set fire to synagogues. “—like Monet’s water lilies, but darker blue and city-like. And that was the first thing I wanted to write about, how you had that show in New York City and there were those beautiful paintings and now,” she said breathily with a big smile: “here you are!” He stepped back from his easel. “Dear girl, there was nothing beautiful about 24
Kristallnacht.” Haley batted her eyes. “What was Crystal Night? I don’t know a thing about it.” His eyes popped open: suddenly big and round with a spot of brown, like he was a giant sock puppet, each eye a brown dot on a white circle. Abruptly, he put down the brush. He pointed at the door. She gave him the saddest eyes she had: “Wait, I have to do this story! Dad says I’ve got to get a job if I can’t get paid to write something. He wants me to apply at Whataburger restaurant. I have a degree in journalism, Mr. Blesch. I can write a good story if I can just find one.” Blersch shooed her out and closed the door. She stared hatefully at his door, a hand on her hip, the purse still swinging and in fact bumping her knees, nudging her to be on her way. In her purse, the tape recorder rolled. She looked up at the sky as tears filled her eyes. “I ain’t gonna,” she said, “ain’t gonna cry.” She got in her car. She drove to Whataburger and, over fries and a Coke, concluded that there was hardly any way for her to get anywhere other than where she’d come from, same as her mom and dad. And where she was now was at Whataburger with the job application on the table. She replayed the tape: Blersch was saying, “…nothing beautiful...” Haley chewed her lip. Out the window was the parking lot and on the table in front of her was the piece of paper and the fries and Coke they’d given her complimentary, and up at the counter was the freckled girl in an orange shirt and billed cap with the W insignia on it that looked like a tic on some kind of brain wave machine. Haley was on the way to being that girl, and she didn’t see any way out. Haley owed the library $5.75 for microfiche printing, the university police $20 for parking too close to the dumpster, and her mom a tank of gas. She said, simply, “Shoot,” and then tears were rising in her eyes again. At the recorder, her voice was saying: “…I don’t know a thing about it.” An image of Blersch rose up on the other side of the window—a ghost, a haunting—Haley jumped in her seat. It really was Blersch, hurrying inside, shaking his right hand at her: “I thought I might find you here.” Taking the other chair, he snatched a fry, waved it around like a magic trick was about to happen, and then crammed it in his mouth. Haley said, “You took a fry off my plate.” “There’s no plate.” He hardly chewed before he swallowed. “Accuracy is key. You must remember this.” “Why, you’re a terrible old man,” she said with a frown, and then she wrinkled her nose at the smell of him. She wouldn’t be eating any more fries. He opened his eyes wide at the recorder, where her voice was saying, “…ain’t gonna cry.” She flipped it off. “What is it you want now?” “What do I want?” He shifted in the chair. “What a question. You’ve inserted yourself into my life, and now—no, never mind. I’m just, well, I’m worried you’ve got a wrong idea about me, and I want to—” “Mr. Blersch, did you kill Jew people?” He grunted. She didn’t know what this meant. He said, “Young girl, why would you even think that? Do you imagine that my paintings are a celebration of that night?” “Well, I never said I was an art critic.” The girl at the counter had no customers but still kept her head down enough for the cap’s bill to hide her left eye’s nervous tic. Even like this she watched the young woman and the old man at the table by the window. 25
“Monet. You said my paintings were like Monet. Go see Monet’s work at Musée de l’Orangerie and then come back to me and we’ll talk about the work of memory.” “Where’s that?” “In Paris.” She sighed. Paris, France? Really? It was so impossible that she had nothing to say about it. Her mom’s Plymouth had been running on fumes all day and she hoped it would start again after this. Blersch pushed another fry in his mouth. “I think I get what sort of story you’re after. A feature. A profile piece. About someone with an interesting past—” “War crim—” “—maybe not a war criminal, but someone who has had uncommon experiences that have led him to do the work he does, wherever it is that he has ended up. I’m talking about a man I know who lives in a small town. An allergy to bees killed his little girl Anniston, and now he has a toy and hobby shop on the town square. He’s involved in youth programs. He does meaningful work. Wouldn’t this be a good feature? Seems to me a paper would be interested. It’s a place to start. I can call him and set it up for you. You help me, and I’ll help you.” “What’ve I got to do?” “Do you have a sister?” “I do have a sister,” Haley said. “Why?” “Because now I need a sitter for this painting I’m working on.” Haley’s sister had married a good electric man and now lived in Eufala. The girl at the counter supposed that he was this woman’s granddaddy, but something wasn’t right about them two, because the woman sure didn’t like him when he showed up. Haley squirmed in her chair. She chomped down on the straw of her Coke, and without looking at him said there was no need to find somebody else. She’d do it herself. Even though it didn’t pay much she’d do it for him. She didn’t need the money but could see he was in a pinch. Blersch smiled, the first time, and it wasn’t so bad. He said, “See you tomorrow, then,” and walked out. One day, hell or high water, she’d get at his Crystal Night story. She would stay close to him, though first thing tomorrow she would ask if something could be done about the smell. She scratched her name off the job application with such vigor that the pen tore through the paper. She crumpled it to baseball size and tossed it in the hole for trash.
When I Was a Girl Jennifer Jackson Berry all day i dream about sex i dream about all day sex all day i day dream about sex all day i dream sex about all all about day i dream sex all day i dream about sex all day i dream about sex all day all day i dream all about sex all about sex all day i dream dream day i all about sex
In Times of Man-Made Disaster Nathan Kemp Today I am laying about the horse, practicing my saddle-stitch. I imagine a sound & I hear it because I can hear it. These sound waves are tearing through my horse and my house has been gone since last summer. I feel superhuman. Is a centaur a superhuman? Just a horse? In times of man-made disaster, all the people from the suburbs flock to my stall—my horse stands 20 hands tall. I don’t remember if he’s trained not to bite.
Table for One Rachel Richardson My zipper is missing a tooth. A toggle is gone, the leather loops busted and retied in clumsy knots. This coat—the weave nappy, the cuffs snot-stained—is my only home. I am twenty-one years old and standing outside the Oslo Central Station in Norway. This is my final stop after two weeks of nation-hopping during a semester abroad in Austria. I’ve dodged bikes in Amsterdam, counted swans in Copenhagen, gone clubbing in Prague and gotten lost in Stockholm. It’s March, 2008. I am twenty-one years old in Oslo and completely alone. My train for Bergen, a fjord-strewn town on the coast, leaves soon. The ride is six hours and I have only my hastily scrawled directions for how to get to the hostel I reserved: it seems to involve a hill, a funicular, and a passcode. The snow is diagonal and swift and something about the pace of it—relentless, indifferent—makes my heart quail. Exhaustion overlaps disbelief: I’m in Norway, I’m in Norway, I’m in Norway. The end result is panic. I can’t speak the language here—the hatched o’s, the a’s sporting halos. I have no map. I know no one. I am twenty-one years old in Oslo and alone. This is not an adventure; this is a mistake. My coat with its snaggled zipper smells like sweat and tobacco, the trapped air of trains. I light a cigarette and just as soon put it out: one drag and my vision swerves. I go back into the train station and cancel my ticket to Bergen. My wallet is thin with currency from the last slice of Scandinavia, kindling. I am so far from anywhere. Rob leaves a lot of things when he leaves our apartment: blue dishes, yellow towels, white sheets. He wheels his bike off the back patio to his suburban while our dog whines in the kitchen. I waddle his coffee table onto our sidewalk after cramming it with everything that bears a whiff of him: the pilling afghan he lived in after getting fired last month, the LEGO helicopter I bought him as halfhearted consolation, the DVDs he watched instead. Jobless, he became an invalid. I’d come home, carrying the pizza box from tonight’s in-class dinner, and he’d be snoring while the credits played. The dialogue of our breakup could be magnetic poetry, culled from the So You Just Got Dumped edition: you don’t have to do this, please don’t do this, we can give this another try, I’ll be better. Then, the true words: Fuck you. You are selfish and horrible. You are making a huge mistake. Fuck you. Then, the truest sound of all: a silence as fierce as the one we’d been living in since we moved in together in August. It’s March, 2010, and Rob has driven away with his belongings, leaving me the necessities he’d brought from his parents’ attic—the towels, the dishes, the sheets—all the everyday props of domestic stability, as if we could furnish our way to happiness. I lay on the couch—mine—and watch TV—his—marathons of Clean House and Say Yes to the Dress! while the dog chews a stick on the floor. It’s my turn to make the couch my life raft. I am alone in North Carolina, twenty-three, drunk, and considering ways to die. I text Rob these things because he ought to know what he’s left here, a puddle of a person glued to a couch, too tired to cry, who shuffles from the patio for a cigarette back to the sofa to the kitchen 29
for another beer, and with each passing bottle the bleach looks less like poison. The dog—mine now—chews a few more sticks, and a few more brides find their dream dresses. I run out of beer, then cigarettes, then excuses. I delete my now ex-boyfriend’s number because no one with any self-respect sends a suicide text. Time moves in spurts and slides. It rains, then stops as March becomes April, May, and so on. Suddenly the puppy is a dog, gangly as a deer. He sleeps on Rob’s side of the bed, gnaws a bedpost, and I let him. Rob will be back in August, after our lease expires, to collect the rest of his things; in the meantime, I pilfer through them, the dumpee’s repo revenge. The Coca-Cola pillow is tossed to the floor, shredded by the dog. I exile the bedspread—hideous—and cover the mattress we shared in my grandmother’s quilt. I drain the mouthwash that never made his breath better, rip down the picture of Mulder and Scully empty his shelves and drawers and take whatever I want: A mix CD. A crank-powered flashlight. A tape dispenser. Seventeen dollars in quarters. The Stories of John Cheever. Letters to a Young Poet. The Long Goodbye. “Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs…I didn’t care. I finished the drink and went to bed.” The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler, New York, Knopf, 1954. “In Oslo, of all places—the next few hours were miserable, really, consoling only in knowing this is something I never have to do again…call it low blood sugar or my eternally upset mind, but I was terrified—ate a cheeseburger and now it’s all right.” My journal, March 28, 2008. Our romance is months away: Rob is currently in Italy with his brother, visiting from New Jersey, the same brother who will silently walk through our North Carolina apartment and help carry away Rob’s things exactly two years later. In twenty-four months, the following happens: Rob kisses me beneath a streetlamp in Vienna, then more on my back in the park across the street, missing a Skype date with his girlfriend all the while. It’s the first time any of this has ever happened to me. We return to America on separate flights and correspond—so maturely—on facebook. I slip in where Megan used to go. Rob and I boomerang between campuses—mine in central New York, his in central Pennsylvania. I go to New Jersey for Thanksgiving, he comes to Oklahoma for New Year’s. We graduate. We discuss baby names, cities we could settle in, always cautiously, sideways, but really, it’s only our youth that makes us hesitant. We decide in November over fettuccini. I was beelining for graduate school in North Carolina; he wasn’t. I came up with a Five Year Plan—I’d do my graduate work, then follow him for his. The thing about Five Year Plans, as any good Stalinist will tell you, is that they work, but a lot of people die along the way. We move south in August. We struggle to adjust. We cannot find jobs, but I have my classes, my literary friends with their totebags and notebooks. We quit smoking, start again, Richardson
adopt a dog, find jobs, he loses his, quit smoking and start again. Winter begets a wet spring. He complains daily about allergies, the patchy cell phone service. We crate the puppy, get burgers one night and take our ice cream to the beach. The moon is wide and white over the ocean. He says he’s cold, so we go back home, watch a movie, go to sleep. We don’t touch. We haven’t touched in weeks. In the morning he tells me he’s leaving, and twenty minutes later, he does. I don’t ask: for now? For the afternoon? because I know the answer is for good and my weeping and threatening and eventual screaming can do nothing about it. Survival tactics for the recently abandoned: Keep days crammed to minimize silence. Wake, work. Wear nicer things than necessary as you sit at your desk at the Census Bureau and count. Count. Sort. Smoke cigarettes on the loading dock. Count. At lunch, drive home fast. Walk dog, glorious dog, who has already forgotten he once had two owners, not just you. Cry sometimes, but less than before. Know that no one’s actually died from getting dumped and you won’t be the first. Let the dog sleep upstairs. Spoon. Hungry, put a book—Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep—in your bag. Sit on a stool at the bar and read about dames and guns and long dark drives in the California hills; smile nice to the boys who drop off your cheeseburger, your pile of fries. Hope and don’t hope they see how very alone you are. When they ask if there’s anything you need, hold your tongue and hold out your empty cup. “On the right the great fat solid Pacific trudging into shore like a scrub-woman going home. No moon, no fuss, hardly a sound of the surf. No smell. None of the harsh wild smell of the sea. A California ocean. California, the department-store state. The most of everything and the best of nothing. Here we go again. You’re not human tonight, Marlowe.” The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler, New York, Knopf, 1949. I take myself on a date after a day of counting for Census 2010. I’ve spent the past hot months slowly working through Raymond Chandler’s canon, turning the Bible-thin pages of The Library of America’s two-volume edition since Rob only left paperback copies of The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep. I’m smitten with everything about the books: Chandler’s sentences, sharp as pins. The cast of miscreants and ne’er-do-wells, equally absurd and authentic. The plots as convoluted as Celtic knots, so much so that by midway through each novel I have to flip back to remember who shot who and who’s being blackmailed and whose daughter is addicted to laudanum—but it doesn’t detract at all. I find a strange variety of solace wading in all this pulp. I want to ride shotgun with Philip Marlowe in his humpbacked Dodge, drink brandy out of the dashboard and smoke Camels from a long, thin holder. I want a trench coat that belts and leather pumps, nylons. I’d happily adhere to any of the sexist stereotypes—the bored rich floozy drinking away Daddy’s dime, the secret nymphomaniac hiding behind cat-eye spectacles and a sensible tweed skirt, the lady betrayed, seeking vengeance, carrying her own pearl-handled pistol. Philip Marlowe exists in a world where the dialogue is always snappy, the lighting constant chiaroscuro. It’s acceptable to faint into an obliging man’s arms; it’s acceptable to have a nightcap at eleven in the morning. The cars are large. Everyone wears hats. Once a week, I pull up a stool at P.T.’s Old Fashioned Grille, an anonymous burger joint with neon beer signs and TVs broadcasting college basketball. I seat myself, grateful I don’t have to say, “Just one.” Six fifty buys you a cheeseburger with the bun grilled, fries doused in Old Bay seasoning, and all the soda you can stomach. 31
Philip Marlowe exists in a world delineated by missions: find the bad guy. Woo the woman. Solve the mystery. Save the day. From book to book, Marlowe doesn’t change. Alone, but never lonely. Regarding his character’s perpetual solitude, Chandler wrote: “I see him always in a lonely street, in lonely rooms, puzzled but never quite defeated.” He is a bruised romantic, a functioning alcoholic, a morally ambiguous anti-hero—smart, smug, cynical. Never quite defeated. Phillip Marlowe is content with his catch-as-catch-can lifestyle. He is unshaken by sudden events, even when guns are involved. He is stable and unwavering and sees the universe as a messed-up but could-be-worse kind of place. He is okay with eating alone. “Solely to occupy myself while eating alone in Oslo for the second time (tomorrow I am just eating cheese) in as many days: …the recurrent fantasy of arms and I’m looking forward to simply being around others, and the daydreams of planes, moving, change…wondering what I’ll do with this bounty of time which in the future will seem impossible.” My journal, March 27 2008. In Oslo, I oscillate between bouts of enormous existential fright—familiar by now, as I spend much of my time in Europe sitting in cafes, smoking Lucky Strikes, and scribbling incoherent fragments in my journal—and unfettered, glorious freedom. I have absolute dominion over my days. I can spend the afternoon in the hostel lounge looking out the window, or I can tromp to the Munch Museum and watch the subtitled in-house documentary twice through. I can stop for French onion soup in a bistro though it’s nowhere near mealtime. I can walk in the cold for as long as I can stand it, and I do. None of my guidebooks warn me that the Munch Museum’s copy of The Scream is still missing, and I complete half a dozen laps before admitting it’s not there. In the bathroom downstairs, I rub my hands over my chilly thighs, urging the blood back into them. I consult my map—I want the Nasjonalmuseet, which has another version. I sling my bag back over my shoulder and plan my route. Under the curved glass of the display case in the museum’s café, dozens of cupcakes wear Munch’s iconic shriek—the dementia of a tormented life reduced to icing. Nearby, a coin machine to exchange bills for the rental lockers boasts a sign I write down in my notebook: ACCEPTS CHANGE. Survival tactics for the recently abandoned: Identify what is missed and what is not. Not: the noisy eating. The constant drumming, complaining, gum-popping. The giggle. “Not tonight; I’m tired.” Recognize that all that is missed is replicable: the warmth of a body in a bed. Companionship. A movie-watching partner. Someone to sit at the other side of the table. It starts snowing as I look for Henrik Ibsen’s grave in the Cemetery of Our Savior, Oslo. The hunt takes hours, and when I find it, I don’t kneel or offer a flower or kiss the headstone—I think about the C I made on the paper I wrote on A Doll’s House, and how I had to drop the course after being dismissed as “troubled” by my professor, and how it is just one of some trillion incidents that was not how I imagined it would be. I think about how my life, thus far, Richardson
has been a series of mistakes and accidents. How I am always skirting catastrophe, and no matter what choice I make, it will be somehow wrong. I think about Rob, basking in the Roman sunshine, while I am frozen to the bone in a Norwegian graveyard. Before going to the Nasjonalmuseet, I stop by the museum of contemporary art. Inside, the walls seem too thick, the lighting too dim. I keep my coat on as I pass a crucifix of disemboweled stuffed animals, a room of televisions blaring static, a twenty-foot hollow tube vomiting fiber optic cords. I am the only one in here. In an upstairs corridor, I find a plaque beside a door: In this room lives a man who never threw anything away. I know it’s a bad translation, that there’s nothing inside but objects, some neohoarder installation piece, but I can’t bring myself to push the knob, fearing there is someone in there, waiting. “When will I stop imagining there are bears in my house, someone in the shower?” My journal, March 30, 2010 We were in love for approximately one week, a frenzied set of days that even now I don’t regret. But our hearts were split in so many directions. Our homes were mere days away. One long plane ride over the ocean and we’d be back. The pending relief was palpable, painful. But, still, we were leaving. There would be no more afternoons lost in wine gardens or train trips to historic zoos—but there would also be no more lectures on incomprehensible Austrian history, no more scrounging for loose Euros while the waiter laughed at our poor German. We didn’t know where we wanted to be. We didn’t know it then, but Rob and I landed where we felt best, and that was simply with each other. I take myself on a date: pizza and the Oslo philharmonic. A blind woman sits in front of me, and I spend the bulk of the performance looking at her, wondering what she’s seeing as the conductor dances on his podium and flings his baton, the violinists churning. I wonder if she sees how the light in Norway is different, brighter and clearer, and whether that makes the dark different too. I wonder if she senses the hundreds of people in this one room. I lean to see if she’s holding anyone’s hand. Another afternoon in Oslo, I ride the passenger ferry out to the peninsula of museums and spend the day ogling Viking ships, laying my hands on stave churches, eating waffles with dark cheese. A bearded young man with a serious face and a cable-knit sweater watches the ferry’s wake; the seat next to him is empty. We pass each other beside the pointed hull of a thousand-year-old ship. We stand on the pier waiting for the return boat. He busies himself with his camera. I watch the seagulls. I bargain in my head: if I see him one more time, I’ll suggest we get dinner. Just a meal. Just someone to split the check. The boat docks and he disappears. “When I think back on our time in Vienna, I see now that our love was crazy, intense, and wonderful. I do not regret meeting you, or our time in Europe, or that one movie-like week in Vienna…I’ve come to see what I may have felt at the time without being able to conceptualize it: we are not good for each other.” Rob in a letter to me, July 2010
“In Europe, though, you spoke about writing with as much vigor and determination as I did. In Vienna, you were always an ear to talk to and always had something to say. In Vienna, you broke into a building just to take my clothes off. None of this came back with you. …I can’t forgive you for what you did, and I am certain I never will.” Me in a letter to Rob, unsent, August 2010. “I’m all done with hating you. It’s all washed out of me. I hate people hard, but I don’t hate them very long.” Philip Marlowe, private detective. The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler, New York, Knopf, 1943. Acquaintances from graduate school learn of my new solitude and invite me over. I’ve progressed from agony to rage to quiet disbelief, and while they chatter in their pajama pants, passing a bowl of M&Ms, embodying every romantic comedy cliché of a Girls’ Night, I sit in silence and drink the beer I brought. This is weird to me, this yammering about vibrators and bar bathroom makeouts while the peepers screech in the neighbor’s algae-ridden pool—weird, but not unappreciated. It’s a North Carolina summer night, and I spend more time slapping mosquitoes than actually speaking. Wine glasses empty and popcorn is popped and I collect bottlecaps in my jeans pocket and the booze talks for me: “This is a good thing, right? I’m gonna go on dates. This is a good thing. I’m only twenty-three. The world’s not over. This is a good thing.” (Of course, it is, though I am still in the process of believing it). They giggle and interrupt one another and offer advice culled from women’s magazines; get a pedicure! Take sexy baths! Buy some new underwear! Girl, you can do this! (I can’t tell them I do treat myself, not to panties but to cheeseburgers.) But in the fray, wisdom emerges. “He was your first?” “Everything,” I say. They flutter their eyelashes and pour more wine. “Thank God; you’ll never have to go through all that again.” “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything.” The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler, 1944. The Vigeland Sculpture Park in the Frogner district of Oslo contains over six hundred human figures, sculpted in granite as gray as the sky the day I visit. The statues vary: a woman holds her hand over her mouth, shields a young boy. An old man cradles a sleeping woman. A mother on her knees carries her children on her back, a man bends, forehead touching a woman’s, hands framing her face. Couples dance and wrestle and embrace. There are grins and grimaces, scowls, screams. The poses range from the fantastic—sea serpents coil around a woman’s legs, a man flails, babies attached to every limb—to the intimate. I stand in front of two boys with arms outstretched and fingers splayed, their jubilee obvious even in stone. Beside them, a mother lifts her child overhead, beaming. A man stands behind a woman, their hands joined over her breasts; heads bent, their whispers are nearly audible. At the center of these stands a sixty-foot monolith of twisting bodies—boys sculpted into
women and infants, old men curved into young. Hands reach, necks crane, legs curl. Though they wear nothing, there is only a trace of the erotic; they are a sleeping, dreaming mass, caressing and stretching towards heaven. I cannot see the top as I stand with my hands balled in my navy coatâ€™s pockets, my breath whitening before me. I cannot see if there are two people up there, hands interlocked, smiling into one anotherâ€™s stone eyesâ€”or if there is only one, a girl alone, her face lifted to the bright blue emptiness of the sky.
Three Poems for Grandpa’s Temper Joshua Bennett inspired by Rachel McKibbens I. fix the pilot light fix the boiler fix the dog. Can’t afford another body stretching out this house. fix breakfast. Add milk to the eggs to make em stretch. fix your fists at your side, boy. fix your face before I fix it for you. fix the windows. Draft kept me up the past four nights. fix this family? How? Ain’t enough gold in heaven to buy back what we lost. fix your tone. fix you good if you don’t. Etta, why you don’t ever fix yourself up? Walking round here looking like Judgement Day. How you expect a man to fix his eyes on all that ugly and not go blind? I’m only here ‘cause of your brother. Promised to fix me up on a date, showed up with you at the lunch counter all doe-eyed and stupid. Can’t fix what never ran right to begin with. I’ve been singing the same prayer for 30 years. Lord, fix this heart. Make it mighty as a rolling wave. II. Your grandfather’s eyes were green and good and all anyone talks about. They are all you know of him. The rest is trace. For example, everyone on your father’s side equates beauty with illegibility. The harder one is to place the better. In this epistemological frame, certain features become trophies. Hair so smooth you don’t even have to brush it is the bounty of Providence and your family is blessed. Post-racial since 1937. So fugitive in your skin it makes the neighbors uncomfortable. All of your aunts and uncles remember their place in the order. The rankings, though readily obvious, are still a point of pride.
III. extension cord fist six-inch heel switch leather belt wire hanger open hand house slipper wooden ruler razor strap metal broom
The Meaning of Letting it Happen Jennifer Moffett You kissed me the night I heard he’d died. I stood there and let it happen right there against the brown paneling in the back room of the house I grew up in. It was awkward at first, and then not so much awkward as pleasant, until it became all-consuming. You left before the tornado came through. But I sensed it coming: the bruised sky tinged with purple and green, the stillness before the screaming force. I huddled in the closet and waited for it to pass. And I thought of the kiss when the helicopters flew over the house—the clipped roar radiating low, just behind the tornado—to annihilate the cul-de-sac behind my street. And all of this before church, where I trudged up the steps to the back entrance. There were no available seats, just familiar faces from home—backward glances and quick smiles amidst a cacophony of voices singing “Just As I Am,” each verse louder and sadder than the one before it, until the final collective plea: O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Back at home, I looked up kissing and found exactly this: “On a subconscious level, we are seeking to develop a quality belonging to that other person in ourselves.” I walked barefoot through the dew-soaked yard, placed the dream book under a fat brick of Black Cat firecrackers, and I hovered over the wick as it hissed its way down to the end.
And He Will Never Know His Daughter Grew Up To Be a Sports Reporter Angela Maria Williams It is only now that I see the madness that held me in thrall was a sudden fever composed of rose petals dried to dusky husks strewn over the winter-bitten grass of the outfield. See, here, I did the back walkover and there, she fed the machine until I no longer flinched and there, I dropped so suddenly while stretched up toward that white ball spinning, spinning to my patient glove. This is my favorite castle. I can never go back. In Pittsburgh, there exists a parking lot that was once Roberto Clemente’s mansion. So little dignity in numbered concrete spaces, the echoes of bat cracks stifled beneath such awkward, hulking metal beasts. My older brother wears the name Roberto like a chain, orders us to release the links until he is Rob. I need it in our mother’s language, Row-bare-toe, and wasn’t it the perfect marriage of steel and Puerto Rico. It could be spring forever if only someone remembered the real pirates, Henry Morgan sacked Panama City, left it a rock-stubbled plot or that even Clemente fell too deep from the weight of borrowed wings. If only I had even known enough then to read the portents, the ‘94 strike, flames licking through the black binder of plastic-coated cards, the untethering, one last game of catch, each March gale hurled over the Sandia Mountains and the place I once slid into safely a sunflower-seed bag crumpled, trapped beneath the bleachers.
Contributor Bios Joshua Bennett hails from Yonkers, NY. He has recited his original work at events such as The Sundance Film Festival, The NAACP Image Awards and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House. His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Disability Studies Quarterly, Poetry Northeast and Clarion. Joshua is also a second-year doctoral candidate in the English department at Princeton University, where he concentrates primarily in the fields of black studies, disability studies and eco-criticism. Jennifer Jackson Berry lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Harpur Palate, Stone Highway Review, 5AM, and Amethyst Arsenic, among others. She is the author of the chapbooks When I Was a Girl (forthcoming from Sundress Publications) and Nothing But Candy (Liquid Paper Press, 2003). Mary Biddinger is the author of the poetry collections Prairie Fever (Steel Toe Books, 2007), Saint Monica (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, 2013), and A Sunny Place with Adequate Water (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2014). She is also co-editor of The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics (U Akron Press, 2011). Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Bat City Review, Crazyhorse, Crab Orchard Review, Forklift, Ohio, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Quarterly West, Redivider, and Sou’wester, among others. She teaches literature and poetry writing at The University of Akron, where she edits Barn Owl Review, the Akron Series in Poetry, and the Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics. Erin A. Corriveau is an emotional archeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in Shoreline Literary Arts Magazine, Red Fez, The Fall River Spirit and she has work forthcoming in (em): A Review of Text and Image and Paper Tape. She is the co-founder and editor of Spry Literary Journal. Erin has served as the nonfiction editor of Mason’s Road Literary Journal, where she interviewed Kim Dana Kupperman on characterization in creative nonfiction. Her blog, Reinventing Erin, is her outlet for ruminating on the minutiae of everyday life. She is very excited to be selected as a panelist for AWP 2014. Katharine Diehl has been published in online and print journals including Squalorly, Fickle Muses, Penduline, and The Gap-Toothed Madness. In 2012 she attended the New York State Summer Writers Institute. She writes about things she likes at frozenseawriting.tumblr.com. AJ Frena is a Texas-born artist who studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Inspired by literature such as the works by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and other magical realists, AJ’s work focuses on surreal and illustrative imagery with a concentration on wildlife. More of AJ’s illustrations can be seen at www.aj-frena.com.
Nathan Kemp lives in Akron, Ohio where he is a poetry student at the Northeast Ohio MFA. His work appears or is forthcoming in ILK Journal, NAP, Weave Magazine, and Puerto del Sol. He is an associate editor for Whiskey Island and a poetry editor for Barn Owl Review. Jacqueline May lives in Lafayette, Indiana, and finds author bios almost as awkward to write as cover letters. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared most recently in Storm Cellar and on The Toast. She might finish a novel someday. Jennifer Moffett completed her master’s degree in Creative Writing at The University of Mississippi and has been a freelance writer for more than 10 years. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in various print publications, including Jackson Free Press and Southern Breeze. She has published short fiction in the New Orleans Review, The Citron Review and Marco Polo Arts Mag. Her novel-in-progress was a short-listed finalist in the Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and a poem is forthcoming in Sundress Publication’s book Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place. She lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where she teaches creative writing and literature at a community college. Rachel Richardson hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma and currently lives in Wilmington, North Carolina in a small house with a big dog. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Passages North, Brink Magazine, The Minnesota Review, and The Rumpus. She has worked in public radio, the mall, a liquor store, the U.S. Census, the Macaroni Grill, and an animal hospital. You can follow her on twitter @pintojamesbean. Cindy Rinne creates art and writes in San Bernardino, CA. She is a founding member of PoetrIE, an Inland Empire based literary community. Her work appeared or is forthcoming in Soundings Review, East Jasmine Review, Linden Ave. Literary Journal, The Gap Toothed Madness, A Narrow Fellow, shuf poetry, Poetry Quarterly, The Prose-Poem Project, Tin Cannon, The Wild Lemon Project Literary Journal. She has a poetry manuscript, The Feather Ladder and has written a chapbook called, Rootlessness. www.fiberverse.com. About twenty of Christopher X. Shade’s stories have appeared in national and small press publications; recently Cleaver Magazine, Poydras Review, Arcadia, and Prime Number Magazine. He was raised in the South and now lives in NYC’s East Village with his wife, and is a graduate of The New School University’s creative writing program. Christopher has a novel in circulation in which an NYC reporter travels through Europe to come to terms with a close friend’s suicide. Lauren Westerfield is a writer and editor in Los Angeles, California. Her essays have appeared in The Rumpus, The How-To Issue and Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis. She is a former editor with Hypothetical: A Review of Everything Imaginable and is currently working on an anatomical memoir. Angela Maria Williams has been an indie bookseller and journalist for more than a decade. She is the editor of Fickle Muses, a journal engaged with myth and legend, and holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has most recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in Tar River Poetry, Crack the Spine, Poydras Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly and Rose Red Review.
Acknowledgments As ever, we are iminently grateful to those who offer support to the journal. Without you, we might not exist. Chris Greenhough Maiya Hayes