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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

Issue 9, November 2012 Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Cover Design Paul Brand

Published by Sweatshoppe Publications 1


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

TheRustyNail CONTENTS The Night Before by Autumn Rinaldi, Page 5 Skyline Fractured by Jordan Blum, Page 7 Mother and Son Divided by Jordan Blum, Page 7 The Guest Cottage by Marsha A. Temlock, Page 8 The Storm by Ashwin Arun, Page 10 City of Twins by Timothy James Brearton, Page 11 Seek and Ye Shall Find by Jim Murdoch, Page 14 Abandoned Aches by Lindsey Appleton, Page 15

Last Night in Las Vegas by JY Saville, Page 53 A Father Leaves in the Morning by Jack Foster, Page 54

The World Outside by Jack Foster, Page 54 The Fire by Vaijayanti Banerjee, Page 54 The Butterfly Collector by Kevin Scott, Page 55 Flamethrower by Lori Lopez, Page 57 Still Life Reflected by Janna Vought, Page 58 Little Girl by Janna Vought, Page 58

Finding My Voice At Poetry Camp by Merilyn Jackson, Page 16 The Virtues of Sleep Deprivation by John Dow, Page 59

A Normal Life by Carla Sarett, 18 Living Constance by Christine Tsen, Page 20 Butts-Up by Tom Mahony, Page 21 A Caution by Tim Jewell, Page 21 Not The Farmer, Not Me by Brandon T. Roach, Page 22 The Impossibles by Brandon T. Roach, Page 22 Admiring, Simply Admiring by Brandon T. Roach, Page 23 Deconstructing Jimmy by Jim Murdoch, Page 23 No Escape by Lindsey Appleton, Page 23 Dying to regain my color by Haris Adhikari, Page 23 A 1977 Affair by Jordan Blum, Page 24 Marking Time by Ryan Miller, Page 25 Woman on a Beach by Wayne Orr, Page 26 Trailer Trash by Ryan Swofford, Page 27 Among the Detritus by Peggy Aylsworth, Page 28 The Rusty Hinge by Peggy Aylsworth, Page 28 Dreams by Rod E. Kok, Page 28 Without You by Rod E. Kok, Page 29 Easel by Megan Finkelson, Page 29 Subplots by D. Robert Grixti, Page 29 Distilled by Megan Finkelson, Page 32 Flashbacks by Tina Anton, Page 32 Social Anxiety by Tina Anton, Page 32 Nightmares by Tina Anton, Page 32 Cutting by Tina Anton, Page 32 If You Are a Poet, Don't Read This by Gennady Shaikhet, Page 33

An Eventful Day by Wayne Orr, Page 33 City of the Damned by Janna Vought, Page 36

Certain to Lose by Randy Simons, Page 59 Plastered by Crawdad Nelson, Page 60 The Girl in the White Bikini by Douglas Polk, Page 61 Icarus in Recession by Jessi Lee Gaylord, Page 61

The Rusty Nail Staff Editor-in-Chief Craig A. Hart Associate Editor Dr. Kimberly Nylen Hart Graphic Design Editor Paul Brand Contributing Editor Jacob Nordby www.rustynailmag.com rustynailmag@gmail.com @rustynailmag

The Story of Christopher Diamond by M V Whalan, Page 37

Being Monica Bellucci by Robert Graham, Page 39 The First Time by Holly Day, 42 The Wife by Holly Day, Page 42 Joe by Holly Day, Page 42 Collapse by Donald Ishikawa Always On My Mind by John Tustin, Page 43 Buk by John Tustin, Page 43

The Rusty Nail magazine is based in Pocatello, ID.

Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip, Page 44

Angst by Adam InTae Gerard, Page 47 All Nails And Boards by Christopher Bowen, Page 47 Helen of Troy by Adam InTae Gerard, Page 47 Treading Water by Allison Ivans Coulson, Page 48 A Diet for Worms by William Ogden Haynes, Page 49

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The Night Before by Autumn Rinaldi

T

he one next to it; she knew where that one came from. But the big one, right on her inner thigh; that was the mystery mark. As she walked down the narrow hallway from her small office, she felt the skin chaff between two layers of nylon under the skirt she got on sale for seventy-percent off the original price. She’d been lucky to find a pair that morning, even if she had to dig in her hamper as her head pounded. Never mind the run; no one could see it. Not today at work, anyway, but who knew what would happen afterwards, when there was always drinks and music as they shed the days’ fatigue and confusion. Coming back from a small town, this was a new thing, and the music around here was new, also. Even though she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten into her apartment, she didn’t worry; she couldn’t remember how she found her keys or collapsed onto her couch piled with laundry. Her mother had kept her kids last night, and they didn’t need to be picked up again until six in the evening. She was happy they hadn’t been around to stumble into the bathroom that morning to see her examining the bruise, wondering how their mother had gotten it. Of course, she could ask her friend Jen. Jen had been there at the club and had driven her home, found her keys in her messy purse and deposited her onto the couch. Jen and her prissy wine cooler; she knew what had happened last night, and her friend could give her some information about the mystery bruise. I fell somewhere, she thought. I fell somewhere coming from the club to the car. Or I got in the car and sat down on something hard. I sat on the toilet seat while I was in the club and fell on the floor. These made sense. Jen’s explanation would make even more sense, and the two of them would sit and laugh at her clumsiness. And they’d keep laughing all week, too; this was a good one, a great joke they’d refer to for the next ten years. “You were drunk,” Jen would say, smiling and shaking her head. “And I had no choice but to stick you in the back of my van, because you kept hanging out the window trying to touch the cars. I don’t know what you did once you got back there, but that’s how you got the bruise, probably. Silly girl.” She was satisfied. Her headache was almost gone, too. But how does one get a bruise there? If it had been on any other place on her body, she could chalk it up to her famous clumsiness. She was used to getting them. Her kids were always teasing her, too. “How’d you get that one, Mom?” Melissa would say. And the response would be, “I tripped over the garden fence and landed on my bottom!” She and Melissa would roar with laughter. And another time, Matt asked, “How’d you get that one, Mom?” with a big smile on his face; her stories were always outrageous. That particular time, though, she hadn’t told Matt the truth; she’d made

up something to make him and his sister laugh so hard they choked on their orange juice and it ran out of their nostrils. But this time she didn’t know the story, whether this was something she would have to lie about later, or if she could share the hilarious explanation to make her kids laugh; they didn’t laugh nearly as much as she wanted them too, and it was important to make up for all the crying they had to do before. She passed the copy room. She’d have to replace the paper soon; it was tax time and people were using the hell out of the machine for their personal business, against office policy, of course, but tacked-up lectures of ‘This copy machine is for business only!!’ would wait; the deadlines hanging over the shoulders of everyone who passed her going down the hall were noticeable with eye bags and frown-lines, and she wasn’t one to use company supplies herself, anyway. Mr. Miller’s office was next; his door was closed, which meant he was on the phone with his much younger wife, or he was informing an employee that he or she had to find work elsewhere. He never closed the door for another reason. She strained to see through the frosted glass to determine which one it was. Not being able to tell, she stepped back and moved on. “You were trying to touch the cars, so I put you in the back. I hope you didn’t sit on the project Betty is making for her science class.” A new flier on the bulletin board; they were always trying to get them to recycle and clean the air. Next Tuesday evening: a lecture about greening up their lives. She’d pass on that one, if she had the option. Mr. Miller’s conversation behind the frosted glass at that moment would actually determine this: if he was talking to his pretty wife, that might mean the insatiable woman was thinking of an early weekend up in the mountains and Mr. Miller would come back Monday morning satisfied and in no mood to become a more environmentally-conscious citizen. If he was letting someone go, well, that meant something else. Longer hours, and the man was a brute after a firing. That green lecture might be mandatory, just because the bosseroo was feeling especially malevolent and lacking in the bedroom district. “I don’t know who you were talking to at the bar, but he didn’t look bad. I would’ve stopped you if he looked like a sleaze.” Another flier: the coffee machine in the back was broken, so please use the old one in the lounge. Please clean up your mess when you’re done and rinse out the pot if you’ve taken the last cup. And please wipe up the grounds because they fall into the carpet and get mashed into the fibers. Standing still had made her forget about the bruise for a moment, but then her thighs touched again when she leaned back on her hip and turned away from the 5


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else was doing it first; she was so shy like that. Laugh whenever you feel like it, she wanted to tell her daughter. It’s okay to laugh, and now I want you to do it all the time. She heard Greg hang up his phone and thought about going into the ladies’ room to assess the damage. The bruise was probably the size of a basketball now, punishing her for going out on the town the night before, when she should’ve kept the kids at home with her without burdening her mother again. So many years of not participating in nights like they had here, and suddenly she was in the middle of it all with the new fashion and new music, and her kids had other little people around them instead of cows and farmers. People actually went out and lived around here, and their bruises came from many places, but at least in the past she knew where she got them. Now she didn’t. As long as you don’t sit on Betty’s school project. She’s making a solar system. I hope you’re not sitting on it. Jen was running later than usual. The square of glass on her door was dark. There was always paper to be replaced in the copy room, of course, and Elaine the Insane’s disorder to clean up; those itty-bitty grounds being ground into the carpet fibers. Mondays were hell, as she was happy to say along with everyone else in the office, and this felt good. They didn’t know what hell really was. I saw you getting another drink, and talking to that one man. I didn’t want to interrupt you two. Did he buy you one? She flipped the light on in the ladies’ room; no one had used it yet that morning, for the room was dark and cold. The light flickered twice and cast its greenish hue over the beige tiles. He wanted you to stay, but I dragged you out. The people in the front bumped into you, so I thought they’d tried to take your wallet. Don’t worry, I checked. You need to get street-smart if you want to survive around here. She wondered why stall doors always opened inwards; it was annoying as hell to close it once you got inside. He followed us, and I steered you in front of me. Always walk down the middle of the street, so people can see you and you don’t get mugged. Or worse. Hiking up her skirt so it didn’t dip into the toilet, she hooked her thumbs into her stockings and pulled down. You didn’t want to get in the back, and I didn’t want you to sit in the front, just in case a cop passed us. You looked like you’d try to jump out the window, or touch the cars. She ran her fingertips over the black shape, not unlike the shape of a country and her skin was an atlas. Not any smaller but not as big as she’d feared. Her pounding heart slowed a little. So crazy! Falling on her bottom right on the sidewalk, or on the street! The people back at the club probably laughed like crazy, because people in this new world laughed all the timeAnd I thought you’d sit on Betty’s project, so I leaned in to move it to the side so you could lie down. You were really toasted. You shouldn’t drink so much,

bulletin board. She’d check the lounge to make sure everything was cleaned up, but what would it matter? Elaine the Insane would come in after her standard morning conference call and the lounge would look like the aftermath of a hurricane’s brunch. The woman would then poke her head into random cubicles and dispense her usual passive verbal abuse, all the while tapping her four-inch fingernails on the metal doorframes that made a sound that made you think of a racehorse galloping inside the belly of an overturned silo. Because of this, everyone always knew where in the vicinity Elaine the Insane was. Jen was always late on Mondays, so she took her time down the hallway. Greg’s door was cracked. That meant he was bored and didn’t want to catch up on the weekend load waiting in his inbox. Glancing in, she saw that he was on the phone but not paying attention to the conversation. Playing Minesweeper, she thought. That was what the place was, after all. The whole building; one, big game of trying not to blow yourself up. Really, not just this building. Everything. The bruise was probably bigger, now that she was chaffing it just from walking. Her kids would definitely notice it, or Melissa would, who always had to go to the bathroom the second a nice bubble bath with hot oil was drawn. The child didn’t understand the idea of privacy yet. And why should she? Melissa was only seven, and this wasn’t too bothersome. She liked that the kids clung to her, didn’t let her dress by herself, and that she didn’t have a single moment to herself when work was over and she had to pick them up at her mom’s, or at school. She didn’t need her own moments; it was about them and making a new life for them, for they didn’t laugh nearly as much as kids should, of course. And bruises they were used to; in addition to her clumsiness, she’d gotten very good at making up stories about them, back when laughter was harder to come by. She remembered the moment in their old life, when she thought she might have to come up with other stories to tell the people who were not her kids. Not about her bruises, but theirs. She’d burst into tears and prayed to God that her own bruises would get bloody and huge just to keep the kids from getting them. And God had been listening; she never had to make up stories about anyone but herself. Now that everything was over and their new life was picking up speed, she didn’t have to lie at all. The garden hose that caught her ankles and the boxes in the basement she hadn’t seen in the dark; it felt wonderful to be hurt simply from her own doing! And how it made the kids roar! “So crazy!” Matt liked to exclaim; he thought most of everyone around him was “so crazy,” but she felt like he meant it more when he said it to her, especially when she slipped and fell on the wet grass. The contest of who would laugh first; they’d look at each other and try not to crack up, until one of them couldn’t stand it anymore. It was usually Matt, who couldn’t help his giggles and bubbles of spit around his mouth because he couldn’t contain himself and shouts of “so crazy!” And next it would be herself, and always Melissa last. She sometimes wanted Melissa to laugh first, just to hear the little girl’s laugh without any other sound; it was usually drowned out by Matt’s. The child was careful not to laugh unless anyone 6


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because you may not have someone like me around to take care of you, someone who cares about youThe shape disappeared again behind the sheen of slightly dirty stockings she’d worn three times without washing. But then when I turned around to help you into the back on the van, you were gone. I thought you went back to the club, so I went back, too, and looked around, butThe shape was mottled under the skin-toned stocking, and this disappeared as she let go of her skirt that cascaded back down her legs. Squeezing through the inward-opening door, she went to the mirror to check her face. Last night’s makeup she’d fixed a little on the metro in her little compact. Not too bad; she dusted a little more powder over her cheekbones. -but they didn’t see you. I asked the people out in front if they’d seen you come in again. They said no. The powder was dusted. Using her shirt to open the door, she stepped out into the fresh air of the hallway. A phone rang down the corridor. Maybe Greg’s, interrupting his game of Minesweeper. You have to keep those bombs from catching you and you’ll be okay. They like to hide. I was scared when I saw you in his car, and I didn’t know what had happened or what he’d done, but I didn’t want to ask him. Oh God, and I didn’t know if he was going to follow us, but I just wanted to go home. I put you in the back and I saw his headlights behind us. He was following. Elaine the Insane’s morning mess was worse than ever; she swept the grounds into her pale hand and let them loose into the trash can, making a sprinkling sound. I didn’t know he followed us until I unlocked your door. He wanted to go inside with you, and you couldn’t talk coherently. You just kept laughing and trying to push me away. Back in her own office, a stuffed inbox was waiting for her, but, like Greg, she waited. She didn’t have Minesweeper, but she’d find something else to do while waiting for Jen. After I put you on the couch I waited. It was still dark, remember? Your parking lot needs more lights. The city is dangerous, not like where you lived before. I made sure to twist the lock on your front door when I left. I didn’t see him anywhere. A few more sounds of ringing. The Monday was starting to pick up, trying to get up enough momentum for the long week ahead. She’d never remembered her friend being so late before. Probably the nine A.M. traffic. An accident. I THOUGHT he’d left, anyway. I went out to my car and started to leave so you could sleep it off. Your parking lot really needs more lights. From down the hall, she heard Greg grumble as he lost another game.

Skyline Fractured by Jordan Blum The sky fell twice & twisted its limbs on the mourning you were born. It wept and bled and shook and raged for the souls you’d come to scorn. It carried its weight against the waves and blinded its children in darkness. Partially torn upon creation so light could manifest in cracks and mock us. You looked so well in white, before the devils possessed your cunning. You rested upon the fields that burned while I cowered and kept on running. And every day I dare to dream that we’ll find eternity within our embrace. The sky rose violently in the aftermath, Leaving the devastation of summer in its place.

Mother and Son Divided by Jordan Blum Time will heal no wounds caused by you the liar, the fool, the cheat. Your eyes of two house no truth; only a reckless use of deceit. A tragedy does not exist greater than a mother and son divided. The bond broken will not be missed and the pain can never be subsided. I of course loved you before as does everything for its creator. Now on my soul is the sore of the hurtful years that came later. So let any of us three end you and we’ll proclaim it a suicide. All but the body is already dead So also do away with the outside. Or shall I end it all myself and accuse you of a murder? My faith in life was on the shelf destroyed by your disorder. • • • Jordan Blum has an MFA in creative writing and he currently teaches at various colleges. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Bookends Review, an online literary/multimedia journal. Jordan is also a progressive rock musician and journalist. His work has been or will be featured at several places, including The Lit Pub, Flashfiction.net, Bong Is Bard, Eunoia Review, Emerge Literary Journal, and FictionBrigade

• • • Autumn Rinaldi is a writer in St. Louis. Some of her publications include ‘Left,’ which was featured in Bareback Literary Magazine.

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My mother stops me short. “Now listen, Marco. I know how you feel about your father but he knows you lost your job. Besides, he only needs you for a couple of weeks.” My father is a professional house painter who owns his own company. He’s much better at painting houses than he is as a father. All my life I resented the fact that I had to teach myself to fix things, to play sports, to drive. When he lived with us, he and my mother would always argue. He was never interested in me. The last thing I wanted to do was (a) spend time with my father and (b) paint houses. Maybe it’s psychological but anything having to with paint makes me sick. It suddenly strikes me that my father seems to know a hell of a lot about me. “You’ve been seeing him. What, are the two of you getting back together?” “I’m not seeing him, Marco. I happened to run into your father at the hospital. He was visiting his worker and we bumped into each other in the cafeteria. Naturally we got to talking and, naturally, he asked how you were doing. When I told him you were laid off and going to college in the fall…” “I don’t know if I’m going to college.” I cross my arms over my chest. This college thing is a sore point because I kind of screwed up in high school so my mother isn’t willing to pay my tuition until I prove myself. That means unless I pull A’s and B’s. “Can we not argue about this, Marco?” My mother tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She is a very attractive woman for her age. She’s forty-five, and got a damn good figure for someone her age. “I’ll see you downstairs.” With that she turns and leaves me to finish getting dressed. I have no choice. I go downstairs and what do I find but my father sitting in the living room smoking a cigarette. Now if anyone is one hundred per cent against smoking, it’s Mom. Not only didn’t she make him put it out, she’d given him an ashtray! My father gets up when I walk into the room. “Hey there, Marco.” I am so pissed I do not return his greeting and ignore his outstretched hand. “Tony,” Mom says, trying to make peace. “I told Marco about your offer. He’s not sure what he should do.” “Oh, I’m sure, all right. The answer is no.” Mom frowns. “Besides which, I’m considering another offer.” My mother’s eyes widen. “You didn’t tell me.” “Well, it’s still in the works,” I stammer. “This kid I know, his father is opening a restaurant and he’s looking for a … short order cook.” “Cook, hmm.” My father stubs out his cigarette. I walk over to the window and made a big show of opening it as wide as it will go. I stare out at the tree tops. I wish I were anywhere but in this room. “When is the restaurant supposed to open?/” Mom asks, following me with her eyes. “Any day now.” “How much will it pay?” I glower at my father. “Ten bucks an hour.” “I see. I could see my way paying you fifteen and guarantee you forty hours.” My father turns to my mother. He tells her he’s been working for this hot-shot guy Bainbridge who bought an estate. “You should see this place. It overlooks the Long Island Sound. I finished

The Guest Cottage by Marsha A. Temlock was on my way to becoming something of myself. I had a part time job at Seven Eleven and was thinking about going to college. But then the unthinkable happened. The Seven Eleven cut my hours to zilch and my father walked back into my life. Sure, I could paint you a pretty picture of how my dad and I got together after all those years he basically had nothing to do with me from the time I was four. But that’s not what happened. See, school’s over. It’s June. Monday morning. Mom just got off her shift at the hospital. She’s a pediatric nurse. Usually my mother’s so beat she goes right to bed. But this time she comes into my room and starts shaking me, gently, then a little rougher because the night before I was out partying. I’d graduated high school and there was a nice long summer to look forward to. Maybe too long since I was out of work, out of money and my car insurance was due, meaning I was going to be without a car. And, yeah, I’d maxed out on my credit card. Mom is standing over me. She’s got on a blouse and a skirt and wearing lipstick. I knew something was up. “Marco, Marco, wake up,” she says. “Hell,” I groan and pull the covers over my face. “What the…” Mom opens the blinds and picks up the clothes I’d dropped on the floor. “Get dressed,” she says. I shield my eyes from the sun streaming through the windows. I look at the alarm clock. It’s seven thirty. “What’s going on?” Mom pulls back the blankets and thrusts my clothes in my face. “Your father’s downstairs.” “What the fuck.” I let this sink in. “He’s waiting, Marco.” I storm, “Talk to that bastard. Not on your life.” Mom gets one of those I’m not asking, I’m telling you looks on her face. My mother is a lot tougher than she looks. You have to be tough taking care of sick kids, knowing some won’t make it, and having to deal with their parents. We have our moments, but I’m real proud of Joan Brown. She worked her butt off to get her nursing degree, and unlike my friend Jed’s mother, she never groused my father or tried to get more money after the divorce. My grandmother is real down on my father. When she wanted her to take him to court, my mother said, “Ma, you can’t take blood from a stone.” I grit my teeth, pull my jeans over the boxers because my mother is watching me. “What does he want?” I ask. “He wants to make you a proposition.” “A what?” “…a proposition. His helper was in a car accident and is laid up with a broken hip.” “So what does what does have to do with me?” “Marco, your father is in the middle of this big painting job in Long Island and he could use your help.” I blink. “You’ve got to be kidding. You expect me to work for that…”

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“Jesus.” I walk around. The guest cottage is bigger than a lot of regular houses I’ve been in. “What’s under the tarps?” I ask. “A player piano, jute box, ping pong table.” “In case the guests get bored,” I snicker. “Come on. We better get started.” My stomach is growling. I have not had breakfast. My father does not offer any of the food he has in his cooler. There are two twelve-foot ladders leaning against the dark paneled wall. “Give me a hand with these. Let’s set up the scaffolding. And put those on.” He points to coveralls next to the pile of paint rags, brushes, and rollers. I feel like a clown. Thank God none of the kids are here to see me. Dad hands me an electric sander and shows me how to sand the old paint off the window sills. “Be careful,” he warns. “You don’t want to sand one spot too long. Do the corners by hand so you can get into the crevices.” “Seems like a waste of time,” I balk. “Why don’t you just paint over the old stuff?” “If I just painted over it would look like crap, that’s why.” My father is a perfectionist. I turn on the power switch and run the pad back and forth. I can’t help thinking about the owner. Boy, what I could do with all his money. Just for writing books. Some of them were turned into movies. I’m trying to remember what the movies were about and which movies I saw when I hear, “For Christ’s sake, Marco.” The sander whirls in the air. Dad grabs it, switches off the power button. “Bloody, hell.” There’s a deep groove in the window sill. I gulp. “I…” “What did I tell you? I’m going to have to plane this entire area.” My father is really, really pissed. “What the hell is wrong with you, Marco?” “I know what’s wrong,” I scream, unable to control what’s been bugging me from the time my father walked back into my life. “What’s wrong is I got stuck with a father who never cared a shit about me or his wife up until now.” Dad flinches. “That’s not true.” “You never cared about us.” “I did care. Only I made a stupid mistake and when you make a mistake, sometimes you have to pay for it.” He puts down the sander. “Let’s go outside. I have something I want to tell you.” Reluctantly I follow my father outside. There’s a slight breeze. I inhale the fresh air. The smell of paint has already made my head ache. My father lights a cigarette. He begins my saying, “I know I can’t change what I did, but maybe it would clear things up is you understood the reason I left your mom. I’m not making excuses. I just hope you’ll understand that I was very young.” He pauses and takes a drag. “I had all these dreams. I never wanted to be a house painter, but when you came along right after your mom and I were married I had to find work. I had responsibility. My dream was to be an artist. I even signed up for this workshop at the Art Students League

painting the main house and was about to get started on the guest cottage when Harry got into that accident. I can’t put it off any longer.” Mother taps her forehead. “I know that name. By any chance is the owner Justin Bainbridge, the writer?’ “Yes. That’s him.” “Marco read one of his books for English. Wow, Marco, you might get a chance to meet him.” “I don’t care who owns the f’ing house. Why don’t you just leave me and Mom alone?” “Marco!” “It’s okay,” my father soothes. “I understand how he feels. I was only trying to help.” He turns to Mom. ”It’s late and I’m keeping you up. I know you just came off your shift, Joanie.” My mother scowls. “Marco, you have no right to talk to your father like that.” “This is Bainbridge’s address just in case you change your mind.” He puts a piece of paper on the cocktail table. “Seven thirty we start. Finish around four.” I stare at the two coffee mugs imagining my parents together and have this flashback. My father has come home from work. He’s drinking a beer. My mother stands behind him and massages his neck. I remember Dad always complained about his neck being stiff. Occupational hazard, I guess. I look at him. My father has aged. He’s pale, drawn, weather-beaten. Before he leaves, Dad says, “Take care of yourself, Joanie.” Mom looks wistful, “You, too, Tony.”

“I did care. Only I made a stupid mistake and when you make a mistake, sometimes you have to pay for it.”

Okay. I mean what choice did I have? I’m so broke I have to borrow money from my mother to fill the gas tank. I drive up to this humongous estate on Long Island. I go up the long driveway and get to the gate. My father is leaning against the side of his truck. It’s eight o’clock. He grinds his cigarette butt in the gravel, picks it up and puts it in his pocket. “We better get one thing straight, Marco. I’ll assume you’re a half hour late because you got lost.” “It was bumper to bumper on the Expressway. I don’t jump over cars, okay?” He puts in the code and I follow him through the gate. We park at the end of the property, near a fieldstone building. There’s a swimming pool off to the right. “Grab those drop cloths,” Dad orders. I reach into the cab of his truck and haul three tarps over to the guest cottage. The Bainbridge estate is a relic of the nineteen twenties. Dad points out some of the architectural features. “The place was built by one of the robber barons.” Together we take in the view. The house sits on top of a ledge that overlooks the Sound. In the distance clouds are webbing a brilliant blue sky that meets the blurry outline of the water. We stand still and listen to the heartbeat of the surf. Dad carries two gallons of paint. He wipes his face with a clean rag stuck in his back pocket. 9


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I get another job cashiering at Stop and Shop. I do not hear from my father until after I start school when Mom gets a call that my father is seriously ill. “He has lung cancer.” We visit him in the hospital. Dad is hooked up to tubes. I cannot bear to go up to him. My mother presses me forward. My father holds out his hand. We entwine fingers. “I never got to paint the studio,” he murmurs. “I would have called you back.” “Yes, but together we painted the guest cottage.” Dad closes his eyes. It’s time to say good-bye.

and that’s where I met this woman. Her name was Lily Delio.” My stomach tightens. “There are thousands of artists who think they’re special. Lily was special in a lot of ways.” It’s as if Dad is talking to himself. It’s like I’m not there. He sighs. “Your mom knew what was going on. I think maybe she would have taken me back if I admitted I’d made a fool of myself, but your grandmother told her I wasn’t ready to break it off with Lily.” “I really don’t want to hear this,” I say. “Your grandmother was right. The thing is, Marco, I hadn’t figured it all out yet. All I wanted was a shot. Lily and I had an exhibition of our work. She was good. Lily made it.” “And you didn’t.” “Lily said the critics didn’t understand what I was trying to do. But they understood all right. By the time I accepted the reality that I was second-rate, your mother and I had split for good.” “And this woman you left Mom for…” “She’s moved on. She needed someone else.” “And we needed you,” I said dully. “Your grandmother came to live with you.” “You have no right to tell me any of this. You make it sound like we were responsible for holding you back.” “That’s not what I mean at all. I was wrong to leave you but in the end your mother was better off without me.” He lights another cigarette and stares out at the blurred vista. “We better get back to work,” I say. “Forget about the window sill. It’s no big deal. That I can fix.” For the rest of the day my father has me painting the moldings and woodwork with a small slanted brush. It’s tedious work. He points out the places I miss. By four o’clock I can hardly move. I’ve been on my hands and knees chasing woodwork or craning my head to paint the moldings. My neck pinches; I have pins and needles in my legs. I have some sympathy for my father. By the end of the week I am ready to quit, but I need the money. I watch my father grow increasingly tired. I notice he takes a lot of breaks. It occurs to me that I can’t quit. He depends on me. He can’t finish this job alone. So I stay and I work beside him. One day Mr. Bainbridge stops by. “Looks terrific, Tony,” he says admiringly. “What a difference. That your boy?” “This is Marco. He’s helping me before he goes off to college.” “Nice to meet you, Marco. Your father is lucky to have you on the job.” Dad winks at me. “You bet.” I blush. Is it right that I no longer hate my father? That I no longer resent all those years he abandoned me? The day we finished painting the guest cottage, my father hands me a check. It’s bigger than I expected, there’s more than enough to cover my car insurance, even enough to pay down my credit card debt. Dad looks apologetic. “I’m afraid this is it. Mr. Bainbridge wants us to hold off painting his studio because he’s finishing up a book.” I admit I’m both disappointed and relieved. “No prob,” I shrug my shoulders. “By the time he needs you your regular helper should be back on the job.”

• • • Marsha A. Temlock is the author of a self-help book, “Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect…What You Can Do,” a guide to help parents navigate the rough waters of their adult child’s divorce. (Impact Publishers). She writes a blog for the Huffington Post about family relationships and now, to her amazement, she has been inspired to write poetry. Publications include: the Weston Publishing Group, the Chicago Suburban Women, the New Canaan News Review, Westport News and a number of online websites. Marsha lives in Connecticut. She looks forward to once again stirring the imagination of her students at Norwalk Community College where she teaches freshman composition and literature.

The Storm by Ashwin Arun

It was a cold wicked heartless night, I walked the dark desolate streets, Kicking empty soda cans all the way, There it was a deafening sound, A thousand drums struck as one, I saw a tree afar go aflame! A flood of rain burst from the skies; I ran into the nearest shelter, A dank, creepy forsaken place And lit the old fireplace alight, The scent of rotten wood filled the air. It wasn't paradise, but it must do. Three long hours I waited, Not a soul in living sights. A streetlamp short-circuited, Crackled, burned and fell; The winds howled like fallen ghouls; Else wise there was little other, Until the doors below creaked open, A shadowy figure entr'd the room. Its eyes were red like the fires of hell. Its claws still bloody from its last kill. As it neared my cover, Felt a chill rushing thro' my veins Freezing the blood in my very heart!

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

by Timothy James Brearton

City of Twins A

days, she rued the life in the sky. Other days, she was glad if she never touched the ground. She glanced down at the spongy copse of mushrooms she was standing in, and found new footing just nearby, standing herself on a slab of asphalt which was mostly intact. For just a second, she thought she saw something that looked like a pair of fingers poking out between two slates of the busted road. The blond man, Heath, seemed to follow her movement and her thoughts. To a point. “Neat, isn’t it?” Of course he would be enthusiastic, Adrian thought. Men like Heath Pembroke, colonists, settlers, urban homesteaders, whatever you wanted to call them, they were always cheekily optimistic, weren’t they? Suddenly, Heath Pembroke’s eyes were wide. His gaze had cast over Adrian’s shoulder, and before she had a chance to turn and look to see what held his attention, there was a single report of gunfire. In the next moment, Pembroke was lunging for her, encircling his arm around Adrian’s neck and shoulders and pulling her down. The shot was then followed by more. They were singular discharges from a semi-automatic, but in speedy succession. It sounded like whoever was firing was wielding a rifle. “Who is that?” she demanded. Pembroke pushed them up against the side of the gyrocopter. The aircraft wasn’t going to provide much coverage. It was light and small, a copter designed with simple construction with minimum overload. The cockpit was basic and the shield was modest – the whole thing weighed less than a compact car. Still, no rounds had found their way into flesh yet. “Are they even firing at us?” Pembroke seemed frantic. His eyes were still wide and he was out of breath. “Oh sure they are” he said. Those big blue orbs found her. “You’ve got your payload, right?” Sure she had her payload. Seven pounds of gold. Since several states in the union had finally begun to issue silver and gold in the last decade, it was all she ever carried. For the first few years, the original prohibition of convertible currency instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 prevented the real traction. But once non-convertible currency became a thing of the past, the whole thing took off. And Adrian had been flying gold weight ever since. Not everyone agreed with the policy of converting dollars into precious metals, though. “It isn’t the same thing as paper money,” those in support would say. “Gold is about paying debts. Printing backless money is the reason why we collapsed in the first place.” The argument went round and round, of course, but Adrian avoided the politics. Though sometimes, the politics found her. From her vantage point crouched beside the copter, Adrian could see the roof garden where the three people had been working when she’d come in for a landing. They were gone now, perhaps scattered for cover, or just hiding beyond the roof’s edge where she couldn’t see. It relieved her that the

drian had to be alert. Seven pounds of gold was not a load to bear lightly, and she had never been to East Detroit before. Flying over the Great Lakes had been nerve-wracking, to say the least, because each mile crossed drew her closer to a great unknown. For quite a long time, East Detroit had the unfortunate sobriquet “Dead City.” The water supply had such acidosis that it was said it could eat through metal, and the crime had been rampant for decades. That was all supposed to have changed, but Adrian remained skeptical. The first thing she noticed about East Detroit was the mushrooms. Mycelium had been introduced in ’55 as a way of eating up many of the toxic chemicals in the water and in the very abandoned residences of the city. Asbestos, lead, phosphorus; the place was filled with corrosive and poisonous chemicals. Then the fungi had become its primary resident and the city a giant science experiment. That had been almost twenty years ago. Now there was green, too. The living roofs were flourishing. She piloted the gyrocopter towards a neighborhood of three and four story buildings. Half of them remained in decay and disrepair, while others seemed to bloom with solar-power systems; black tubes crisscrossing through plumages of green and yellow ochre. A trio of people hoeing and raking one roof system looked up and shielded their eyes in the sun as they watched Adrian bring the gyrocopter down. She landed in a street with cracked briquettes of asphalt. The fungi poked up from nearly every fissure and crevice. When she stepped out of the copter, her boots squished into a carpet of morels. Right away, a blond man was trotting over to her. The blades of the gyrocopter were winding down, and Adrian ducked away from the aircraft and headed to meet the blond. He smiled and held out his hand. His eyebrows lifted in question. “Adrian Roche?” “That’s me,” said Adrian. She returned the smile but it felt manufactured. Even with the copter on the ground, the seven pounds of gold felt like a weight on her. She slipped the ignition key to the copter into a small pack she liked to carry, and then slid her shoulders into the straps. They shook hands. “Heath Pembroke,” he said. “Welcome to East Detroit.” He was tall and lean. His handshake was firm, but not overzealous. He seemed to embody the kind of new, clean energy that was supposedly revivifying the Dead City. It was like he could have been created in a laboratory. Adrian suddenly found herself foolishly self-conscious of the few extra pounds she felt she carried. Forty was a tough age, no matter the advances in diet and health that had been made. Her hair was a bit matted and frizzed out at the ends from the helmet she’d been wearing in the copter. She reached a hand up and pawed at it. She figured the jumpsuit beneath her windbreaker jacket was wrinkled and a bit dirty. Some 11


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

could hear her (for a city, it was ominously quiet, anyway), she shouted over, “Drop the rifle!” The other man did, tossing it so abruptly that it clattered against a slate of roadchunk, making Adrian feel bad for the weapon. Both of his hands were high up in the air now. She kept coming, walking straight but keeping her body turned slightly to the side, her left facing the man. It was an old habit – trying to make a smaller target – and at forty years old, that was something else you noticed – habits were like pounds, and equally challenging to shed. “Okay,” she called, closing in on the other blond man. “Now…” she stopped talking, not because she didn’t know where she was taking this, but because something suddenly didn’t feel quite right. Bright light flashed against the side of her face as the sun cleaved between two buildings and dusted the crumbled street. Once she had passed through this great beam of it, and had closed in even further on the shooter, she felt something turn cold in her stomach. The man had his hands up, and wore a worried expression. His blond hair, his face, the nervousness, it was all quite similar. As she neared even closer – but slower now, ever slower – she realized that the rifleman was the spitting image of Heath Pembroke. Same blue eyes she could see sparkling, same towhead, same athletic build and leading-man height. And as she realized this, she watched his expression change. He went from startled, scared rabbit to grinning leper in just a few seconds. She thrust the gun out at him. “Stay right there,” she said. “Oh, I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “And neither are you.” But as soon as they had this little chilling exchange, she realized that this new man, this rifleman who was the picture of the man she’d already just met, that the real issue was yards behind her. Despite the prudence which dictated she keep an eye on the man who’d just been firing at her, Adrian spun around. She turned and faced back toward the other end of the street, where the red gyrocopter was, and where Heath Pembroke – and her seven pounds of gold – used to be. “Goddammit,” she breathed. Indeed, Pembroke was gone. She’d been baited. And when she heard the crumbling of loose asphalt and the footfalls behind her, she realized that the bait was hightailing it, too. Adrian swung back around in time to see the second blond man – the twin of the first – dashing back around behind the pile of dead trees in the middle of the street. He’d left the rifle, she saw – it was still tossed aside near the three empty building lots on the opposite side of the road – but he was gone. Just the flash of the back of his blond head, and then nothing. The street fell silent again. In one of the few scraggly maples that were around, towering over the saplings, she heard some birds chirping. Adrian kept the gun pointed at the trees for a moment longer. She had half a mind to just start squeezing off rounds in there, hoping to sink one into the rifleman’s soft skull. But, after a moment, she lowered the gun. She had walked as far as

rooftop gardeners were out of sight; she didn’t want anyone getting hurt. “Here,” she said, and pulled the SIG pistol out from her Docker’s clutch holster hidden beneath her blue windbreaker. She handed it to a slack-jawed Pembroke and then went hunting in her jacket for the clip. She found it, grabbed the gun back from the blond man, and slammed the clip home. Pembroke looked flabbergasted. It had been perhaps ten seconds since the last rifle shot had been fired. Whoever they were, they weren’t very good shots; the gyrocopter hadn’t been hit, and the ground around them hadn’t been impacted, either. Again, she thought she saw something fleshy beneath the mushrooms, sandwiched in between chunks of the fricasseed road. “What are you going to do?” Heath Pembroke’s mouth was now perpetually hanging open, his eyes alarmist-wide. “What do you think?” Adrian slid out from under Pembroke’s arm, still hanging over her shoulders like dead weight. Then she turned and pressed herself up along the side of the copter. She could see through the shield, down towards the end of the street. The street was lined with saplings. The buildings here were Brownstones, but they weren’t packed-in together like they were in Brooklyn or Boston. Here the street was wider, too. The afternoon sun cut through the buildings at a hard side angle, shafts of light spilling out onto the broken street, striping the bruised platelets of macadam. There was a pile of dead Ash trees – likely victims of the emerald ash bore – at the far end of the street. If Adrian was right, the shooting had come from behind that pile of timber. She took aim with the SIG and squeezed off a shot. Beside her, she noticed Heath Pembroke plug his ears, though the pistol wasn’t very loud, to Adrian’s thinking. Then again, she was a helicopter pilot, and said What?! a lot. She pressed against the red plastic of the copter and waited. She expected return-fire right away, but then something else happened. After only one shot, from around the pile of stacked Ash trees a man stepped out with a rifle held off to the side and his other hand in the air. She could see from here that he was blond, too. “Stay here with the payload,” she said to Pembroke. She glanced down at him and saw that his fingers were stuck deep into his ears, his eyes squinted shut. She whacked him on one of his elbows, and he started and looked up at her. “Here,” she said, “stay here.” He nodded vigorously. Then, with the SIG gripped tightly in both of her hands and aimed down the road, she stepped out and started walking toward the man with the rifle. The road was crumbly and uneven beneath her. She climbed over the busted humps of pavement more than walked down its length. The mycelium connected everything in a kind of shrink-wrapped fish net. She wondered distantly how the fungus-life had grown so copiously; what it fed on. Carbon in the asphalt coating? Mineral deposits in naturally-forming brea? When she was close enough so that she was sure he

Bright light flashed against the side of her face as the sun cleaved between two buildings and dusted the crumbled street.

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things the Breeding Control Department would do to lure someone into trusting them. Adrian brought the gun back up as the woman with the short hair stepped over a ragged chunk of street, so close that the tip of the pistol nearly connected with the woman’s nose. “Keep it right there,” said Adrian. “Don’t move.” All three of them stopped. “Just because I saw up you there gardening the roof doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “You’re just as likely BCD as you are anyone else. You don’t just get to-” And Adrian heard a noise. A door opened and closed. Two buildings away, a group of four people were coming out the front of another Brownstone. Her eyes now getting used to it, Adrian could see right away that they were two sets of twins. “Hold it!” Adrian swung the SIG away and fired a round. She shot purposely wide, and the cornice above the entrance way blew out in a cloud of mortar dust. The quartet of newcomers dropped to the stairs they were descending, covering their heads, shouting. “Please,” said the short-haired woman, her own hands up again, as much to protect her face as to show submission. “We’re not what you think,” she said. “We want to help you.” Adrian kept the firearm directed at the four newcomers, who were staying low on the stoop. She spoke to the short haired woman out of the side of her mouth. “How do I know who you are? How do I know what any of this is? My carry just got swiped by some guy and his fucking twin.” “But think of all the good you can still do,” said the short-haired woman. It was a cryptic response, and she then fell mute. She didn’t need to say anything else, anyway. From around the ash trees, where the blond twin had disappeared, a fresh group of people emerged. As they came around the pile of dead trees, Adrian counted two, four, six…there were a dozen of them, maybe more. She heard something coming from behind her – more footsteps and the slip of rubble as bits of asphalt shifted under the feet of yet another group heading this way from the opposite end of the street. At the same time, movement caught her eye, and she looked up. Heads poked up from a roof a few doors down. Her eyes were good – she was a pilot after all – and though she’d misjudged the first few twins, there was no mistaking the similarity among pairs of the pale oval faces peering down at her from above the brick cymatium. What she was too far away to see in detail her mind filled in. More twins. Sprinkled in among each group was a singular face or two, but for the most part, they were all identical pairs. Until they weren’t. As Adrian started creeping backwards towards the gyrocopter, her eyes scanned all the faces she could see. As her sneakers smooshed through the blanket of mushrooms over the decimated street, she realized that many of the faces her eyes fell on and registered as identical pairs actually were triplicates. And as she looked from one to the next, she found that there were quadruples, as well. This group coming at her from all sides was a beast of few faces, repeated again and again, each expression now sloughing the mock fear and concern and nimbly transforming into mockery and malice. A few more steps and she would be at the copter. They started coming a little faster now, this odd crop of repeat people – only the trio which had first come out of the building

where the second blond had tossed the rifle, so she unslung her pack and dropped it to the ground. She bent and slid the rifle into the pack so that the barrel stuck out around the zipper she closed as best she could. She felt that heaviness again, and it was an irony; she knew she would find that the gold was gone once she reached the aircraft. Of that there was no doubt. But, would they leave it at that? Did they just expect her to get back in and fly away? She insured everyone she carried for, fully, plus five percent. Most people would figure this, and know that if she was robbed, she was apt to do anything to get back her carry. What else was she going to do? What else did anyone have? So when the three people burst out of the building nearest her (the one with the roof garden), Adrian turned with the gun and pointed it at them, and demanded they show their hands. It was two women and one man. “Are you alright?” One of the women called, lifting her hands up into the air. “We saw the whole thing,” another one said. She put down the white pail she was holding and then followed suit, raising her hands above her head. Adrian kept the gun leveled at them. “Are you with BCD?” They exchanged looks with one another. At first Adrian didn’t understand the quizzical nature of their expression. They seemed to be saying by their shared glances, You think she’s crazy? Maybe it was the stress of the moment, maybe it was having just been ripped off and her mind already trying to concoct a plan to either get back her gold or to repay her client, or maybe it was something else. Maybe it was the fact that the mind, when confronted with too much of a particular stimuli, learned to dial down the noise. Whatever it was, the mechanism at work had prevented Adrian from seeing what she now saw. She started to slowly lower the SIG. As she did, one of the women, her hair teased into a short bob, started walking towards Adrian once again. The other woman, with longer locks, followed behind the first. Despite the difference in their hairstyles, it was now obviously apparent: the two women looked identical to one another. A second set of twins. “No,” said the short haired one, coming closer, “We’re not BCD.” “Far from it,” said the second. The man lagged behind for a moment, but then started walking out into the road, mushrooms tufting from its fissures. The six of their feet broke through some of the spongy morels and tore at the interweaving, vein-like branches of mycelium, the mycelium that was like a net that was cast everywhere, clinging tightly to the asphalt like lichen, snug against bricks and stones which made up the rubble of the Dead City. Growing on…what? The oils in the macadam? Contrasting was the green, here and there sprouting from roof crops, and staving the street scene with those saplings. There was new life here in East Detroit. “I’ve got to get my carry back,” said Adrian. She took her eyes off the twin women approaching and looked at her copter. That son of a bitch, she thought, picturing Pembroke’s wide, blue eyes, recalling his ersatz expression of vulnerability and fright. Fucking guy could have been an actor, Adrian thought. She looked back at the tumble of dead Ash trees, where his doppelganger had been firing the rifle. What was she doing about to trust this new trio? Just because two of them were twins, and represented fertility, that was precisely the kind of

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Goddamn fertility drugs, Adrian thought. She reached into her pocket for the ignition key to the copter. Goddamn BCD should have gotten involved a lot sooner, she thought. Obviously, breeding was out of control these days. So were a lot of things – like using dead humans to regrow a green city. She fished deeper in her parka, her fingers hunting for the keys. It was only then that she remembered she’d stuck them in her bag. With a face that felt like it was draining blood, Adrian looked up over the hood of the gyrocopter, and back down the street. Her pack was there, twenty yards away, right where she’d left it, the keys inside, the tip of the rifle poking up out of the zipped end. “Oh God,” she said inside the closed cockpit. Around her, the single face of the beast pounded on the aircraft, its many eyes rolling to look at the woman trapped within. Like a packaged dinner.

across from where she’d stood kept still and in their last position. Only the short-haired woman was smiling now, her eyes gone over to some narrow, hawkish glare. Then Adrian caught sight of another set of eyes. These, though, were grayed-over with cataracts, and stared lifelessly out at her from beneath a section of ragged platelets of asphalt and sidewalk. Bodies, Adrian thought, her mind starting to blur, the mushrooms are eating the fucking dead. Adrian fired a shot in the air. Various people closing the distance froze, but only for a moment. With her next shot, Adrian would shoot one of them. She started to walk backwards faster, and her heel slipped in gooey mesh of fungi (and possibly something else that made a sticking, tacky sound as the sole of her shoe pulled away from it). Adrian toppled over backwards, losing her grip on the pistol. She hit the ground on her buttocks, and her palms slid through more of the mushroom muck, her fingers stabbing into something which felt warmer and mushier than fungi should. Not wanting to, but unable to help herself, her head swiveled to the side, as if her neck was a spit. She saw where her hand had slipped into what was just as morass of pinkish goop, but was still unmistakable as human innards. Adrian cried out and yanked her hand away. She immediately started looking for the gun. The problem was, the road was cracked and busted everywhere, and it had disappeared into one of the many crevasses, down in deep with where the dead things lay. She scrambled back to her feet and started running for the copter. At the same time, the advancing twins and triplets and quadruplets started moving faster, too. Adrian slammed into the side of the red copter and put her foot in the hold. She banged on the handle which popped open the shield. It couldn’t come up fast enough. She reached a hand under the lip of the Plexiglas and shoved, trying to urge it faster. Her fingertips left gooey, red streaks on the glass. She launched herself up and went ass-over-tea-kettle in the cockpit, coming down with her face on the seat and her jaw crashing into the hard yolk. For a moment, bright panic filled her, the kind of idiot fear that a beetle must’ve felt when it inadvertently got flipped over on a sunbaked day. Her arms flailing about at her sides, her fingers scrabbling at the toggles and buttons on the console, Adrian fought to find some grip. She got her fingers around the top edge of the console and she leveraged herself over, twisting inside the cockpit like a baby struggling in the womb, and finally got herself sitting upright, albeit with her legs still sticking over the edge of the copter. She felt something grab at her foot. She kicked at it and cried out and quickly drew in both of her legs. Just after she got her feet in, she found the button to relock the shield and slammed it with the heel of her palm. The rounded glass began to slowly come down around her, again, too slow for comfort. She reached up and grabbed the interior handles – the “oh shit bars,” she called them – and yanked. It sped the dropping shield up just a little. To hell with the gold, to hell with my client, she thought, as the shield shut around her and formed its airlock seal. I won’t become plant food. Faces appeared a moment later, grimacing and leering and distorted by the convex glass, but nevertheless obvious facsimile faces, one like the other and like the next after it.

• • • Timothy James Brearton has published short fiction with The Rusty Nail Magazine, Orange Quarterly, the Third Rail (a now defunct newspaper in NYC), and currently publishes arts-related nonfiction with the Lake Champlain Weekly and The Free George Magazine. He is the author of The Millionaire Rig Veda, and has several forthcoming novels. He can be found at tjbrearton.com.

Seek and Ye Shall Find by Jim Murdoch She went through my pockets looking for the real me as if she thought him small enough to hide in one but they were all empty, which is worse – she had to imagine what she might have found there. • • • Jim Murdoch is a Scottish writer. His poetry has appeared in small press journals and online since the 1970s. A full collection of his poems entitled This Is Not About What You Think was published in 2010. He is also the author of three novels and is currently working on a collection of short stories which should appear early in 2013. He’s rarely not writing and when not producing fiction is working on articles for his longrunning blog The Truth About Lies: http://jimmurdoch.blogspot.co.uk/ 14


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

en prescription has yet to be refilled, is where I find myself through my acoustic savior. I yearn for the aches of carpal tunnel caused from the twisting of my wrist towards the front of my Takamine’s neck. I long for the weathered look to come back in my hands: nails chewed to the stub, calluses white and flaky. These hands, smooth, spongy and polished pink, are not the hands needed for the caress of the guitar. These are not the hands the little ten-year-old girl imagined as she iced her fingers until they were so swollen, cherry and insensitive she could play until they ripped and bled. These are not the hands my father recognizes. The man who every Christmas would buy me a new stack of CDs from the used book store; who would regularly pump Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan through our circa 1980’s stereo as we washed dishes together. My father, who’s emotional energy had no escape of its own without music; like me, only fully aware of ourselves when a guitar rests in our hands. Those hands-the fingers that never properly curled due to the twitch of the carpals, the calluses that made a solid drumming noise as they hit furniture-are the ones my neglected Takamine is familiar with. My once revered guitar with its mother of pearl and ivory detail, the identifiable crack on its base where I dropped it before a show, the worn leather strap my Dad used for his Fender in the 60’s fastened to the guitar’s body only by my best friend’s shoe string and a red ribbon off of a long forgotten Christmas present. My battered and beaten four hundred dollar guitar I so proudly trekked through Chinatown and to the airport back to Big Island with so many years ago when I bought it. This guitar knows me better than I know myself. It clarifies and justifies my emotions in a powerful way that only a long lost friend can do. If I owe that guitar anything—after all the shows, lessons and late nights it carried me through—I owe it its voice: its resonant hum, the clear pitch of the treble and the buzz of the base. The stinging strings offer no leniency for my soft, girlish fingertips. I owe it to my guitar to regain those unattractive corns through weeks of endless playing with iced, crimson fingers. When those calluses begin to form I will know my Takamine will no longer cause me any more pain, but the tenderness will develop into gratification. Gratification for an aching left hand as it is the only indication I have something of my own to stand for: my music, my soul.

Abandoned Aches by Lindsey Appleton

P

ress down with a pin as hard as you want to prick me. I would not be able to feel it through my densely calloused fingertips. The necessity of which is used as a cushion against the thin strings digging into and denting the crusted edges, making a depression that takes minutes to expand back into the natural curve of the finger. Dehydrated, dead, decrepit fingers were proof of my dedication, the time spent, the passion fulfilled through over ten years of guitar playing. Nostalgia reminds me of a time when I once had to ice my fingertips merely to play on soft, nylon strings fumbling from one chord to another. A staccato pulse of G-C-D my right hand strummed in an attempt to keep up with my instructor. I glared at my left hand willing it to transition smoothly. My red, raw, throbbing fingers screaming for a rest. I recall dad encouraging me: the more you practice the less pain you will feel. However, my will to master this instrument trumped the pain my tiny fingers suffered. Pushing through the tenderness required no hesitation. Like a dancer who practices until her ankles buckle, I would play until my fingers bled, until my skin stuck to the gauge eleven strings and even until I acquired carpal tunnel in my left wrist. Doctors shook their head and warned me that if I persisted and didn’t wear my cast for twenty-four hours a day for a month I would risk needing surgery. I stubbornly continued and played even more after my wrists’ diagnosis. I recorded, performed, and wrote songs as though my very breath depended on it. Press down with a pin as hard as you want to prick me. You will draw a droplet of crimson type B blood and a shriek of pain from me. My calluses have dissolved into mushy pink skin protected by long, polished nails I never knew could grow. My guitar hates them. The strings buzz as the nails clumsily graze them. The skin offers no resistance as though the last ten years have disappeared. My carpal tunnel hasn’t flared in months; I miss the regular aching. I haven’t performed in months; I miss the surge of anxiety I get right before I go on stage, the dampness of my palms as they sweat. Current friends of mine see it as my hobby, not as my duty as an artist. They see the guitar leaning in the corner of my small apartment: collecting dust, old picks I strummed so violently they snapped into bits and fell into the acoustic abyss of my black and ivory Takamine’s body. I recently found CDs of mine I once so proudly passed out, fees unwarranted, stacked like rubbish in my closet. Over two years I’ve lived in frenzied independence generously sprinkled with feverish social games on this island. Living an overly sexed and intoxicated lifestyle, you think, would lead to plenty of inspiration for music. However, what I have discovered is that in my most silent, monotonous, isolated moments is when I find my muse. In the airport on the way home to my small farm on Big Island, at three AM on a Tuesday when my Ambi-

• • • Lindsey Appleton is an aspiring editor who enjoys writing non-fiction and fairy tale retellings. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Wanderlust, and Atlantic City Weekly.

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This year I applied to three writing workshops and was accepted to all. I chose Colgate and Sarah Lawrence since both gave me some scholarship, and am just back from them. I worked with poets Peter Balakian at Colgate and Tom Lux at Sarah Lawrence. Why didn't I do this 30 years ago? Colgate’s campus is art-gallery print beautiful -- the kind you’d see in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill. The college sits on a hill that seems a 90 degree angle when climbing it in 90 degree heat. The town of Hamilton is a flat-out 15-minute walk from the foot of its slope. And that’s about it if you’re without wheels. If you’re there for only a week there’s enough to explore on foot. But there is little time for sightseeing when you are at a writing workshop. Matt Leone, who’s run the summer writing program there for ten years, wedges in more talks, readings, and social (read drinks) gatherings than a day can hold. Yet anyone who wants can steal an hour or two for writing. Most of the faculty are published authors -- Balakian, J. Robert Lennon, Dana Spiotta and Bruce Smith -who grew up in Philly and got my Philly Girl ‘Tude like we were cousins. Participants chatted with them after their readings and talks. Among the pithiest readers were Lennon whose book of flash fiction, Pieces for the Left Hand, I gobbled at the beach in one afternoon last week and Smith, whose Devotions are still wending homeward via the mail. And they made a generous audience for the student readings each afternoon and again late into the evenings, when drinks made us bold. These readings ranged from drab to dazzling, ho-hum to outrageous. Most of all, I had my first opportunity to read my work to an audience. Some of my fellow workshoppers weren’t sure my poems read well on the page. But when I got up and said, “I don’t need no stinkin’ podium” and plowed into the crowd, performing my poems, they got it. I had never read to an audience before, but the minute the floor didn’t open up and swallow me, I knew I owned it. I had a voice, a pretty good one, I just had to find better ways to translate it’s tonalities from the stage to the page. The workshops with Balakian had a warm and fuzzy quality, tentative and blanketed in political correctness and politesse. Balakian has a delicious sidekick, the Greek-born and part-time Manhattanite author and translator of more than 50 books in Greek, Ioanna Karatzaferi. Over time, we learned she was a kind of international observer who took pains to make her remarks on our poems last, brief and pithy. I had the pleasure of riding the six hour bus to New York with her on my way down to Sarah Lawrence. I learned as much in that six hours as I did in the previous six days. Ioanna and I had our earlier activism in common: She for Greek democracy, me for a free Poland. Each of us understood that meant we were working for people to be free to fuck up or succeed – their choice. I came to the conclusion, and felt I had her support, that I should follow my heart as well as my intellect in my poetic choices. Let the poems find their audiences instead of changing them to please less passionate, less nuanced readers. Sarah Lawrence is more like jumping out of the print into a live, micro-version of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill.

Finding My Voice At Poetry Camp* by Merilyn Jackson

Some Like Poetry Some thus not all. Not even the majority of all but the minority. Not counting schools, where one has to, and the poets themselves, there might be two people per thousand. Like but one also likes chicken soup with noodles, one likes compliments and the color blue, one likes an old scarf, one likes having the upper hand, one likes stroking a dog. Poetry but what is poetry. Many shaky answers have been given to this question. But I don't know and don't know and hold on to it like to a sustaining railing. (Translated by Regina Grol)

I

’ve been writing poetry since I was a kid. Not much of it very good, but I always read poetry and wrote it as best I could. In the 70s, I took poetry classes and went to readings with my professor. At the original Painted Bride on South Street one June night, I met AJ Sabatini reading his poetry. I broke my husband’s and my professor’s hearts by moving in with Sabatini six weeks later. We read poetry by Plath, Stevens, Williams and stuff like passages from Finnegans Wake in varying cadences to each other as foreplay. We didn’t have TV. Almost everyone we knew wrote, composed or choreographed – all language forms that demand attention, interpretation, parsing and translation. There was Jack, Maralyn, Patience, Jett, Annson, Karen and Joseph. Steve Berg had just started American Poetry Review and left his shoeprints on our wall one night during an impromptu party we threw after an APR-sponsored reading by Robert Bly. Bly left a more impersonal ring on our end table from his icy glass. Unlike the wall, the table, with its cloudy nimbus moon in full eclipse, has traveled with us throughout the years. It remains. Some time ago, I became a little bored with writing criticism and began "raiding" old poems for good lines that fit my dance writing. It refreshed my dance criticism and soon I was writing more and more poetry -- mostly what you’d call arch romantic stuff filled with lightly veiled eroticism. I am a tease. 16


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

Very tony. The much less sprawling campus put our living quarters within a two-minute walk to the dining hall and to most of our workshops and events. Here, poet Tom Lux, who designed and founded the workshop 19 years ago, sat in wait for us at the 4 O’clock mark on a large round table. We jumped right in with no introduction on Sunday afternoon and as I sat at the 5 O’clock position, I was first in line for the Wrecking Ball, as I came to think of Lux. Fiercely devoted to the cause, the sound, and the meaning of poetry, he plowed over each of our lines questioning our choices and then after demolishing them, assured us that as poets we are the final arbiters. And since we were a fairly well matched group of 11, we had to take the advice of the other ten into account. We were left to pick up the pieces and rebuild our work then, as best we could. You could sign up for as many one-on-one conferences with other instructors as you could squeeze in. Each of Lux’s workshop participants got almost a couple of hours of his time – that made for about 20 hours out of a week that immersed us all 12 hours daily in wrenching, hard-driving poetry-talk. During my freewheeling one-on-one with him, I pulled an old poem out of the pile at random. A short one, I figured, and one that had already been published. Lux immediately liked the title, “It makes you want to find out,” he said.

To you, it is the steppes of Georgia. You, Cossack, gouge furrows along my ribs, spur your seed deep. The bruised land yields up unending riches: The groans of Eve, a loamy perfume -Bread so dark and hard to chew, your eye must soften it. and Polish poet Anna Swir have always been favorites of mine. Szymborska wonders in the above poem who reads poetry. She wonders about the term “like”-- one I do not like to use in my critical writing. Many poets tackle the subject. Here’s my attempt: The Efficacy of Poetry What the fuck’s it for -poetry – anyway? It doesn’t give back what was yours. It doesn’t pick you up from all fours.

So the original read:

When we need it most: Funerals, the end of love affairs, the birth of a child, the cresting of delphiniums the blistering of desert heat -does it deaden pain, mollify our fear of the unspeakable breathing of cheeses? (Not to speak of drying your tears.)

How You Warriors Came to Farm Hearth embers singe the soles of my feet. My hair, ashen, tangles in the treetops. I turn my back to you. To you, it is the steppes of Georgia. You, Cossack, gouge furrows Spew seed.

Or these tears, cracking laughter, ringaringaroses, triangles of reference, The Finger of God, chitchat on that porch, and that halleluwhat?

The bruised land yields up unending riches: The groans of Eve, a loamy perfume -Bread so dark and hard to chew, your eye must soften it with salty tears.

What is poetry for? Does it give us closure? What a conceit! Who came up with that? I’d like to stick his hand down my garbage disposal before he writes his next.

Lux did not get that this poem is about a certain kind of sex (pretty much all of my poems at least briefly visit sex) and both he and another reader who I highly respect, thought I should drop the last line, so I’m trying this version:

The only closure is death. And everything between birth and death

How You Warriors Came to Farm

-- poetry.

Hearth embers singe the soles of my feet. My hair, ashen, tangles in the treetops. I turn my back to you. Alluring.

• • • *This piece originally appeared in Broad Street Review.

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Soon enough, Sara started in on her family who, as she saw it, were all that stood between her and the normal life. "I’d have a great life, a great marriage, it's not fair. Well, you know about crazy families." She saw me wince. "I didn't mean anything." I caught the gloomy waiter’s eye and ordered myself a glass of wine, figuring it might take two. When Sara said family, she meant her younger sister. I did not mind moody Emily, but then again, she was not my sister. Emily was the sensitive sister and had passed through the usual phases of Marxism, radical feminism, Buddhism and so forth, and had ended up as a fiber artist. Emily’s fiber art had gained a reputation—it was room-sized work that lamented our fast disappearing planet and the general awfulness of modern life. But, she never sold a piece. Sara’s parents had no money and were dazzled by Emily. So, according to the logic of the family, Sara was stuck with the bills. "Emily again, I guess." I said. "What about the husband?" "Right, God forbid he should earn a living—no, he gives away bicycles to inner city kids," Sara said with a defeated smile. "Turns out the kids don't want to ride bikes-- they like watching MTV and hanging out with their friends. So, he has to nag the kids to take the bikes and they just sell them so they can go the movies or McDonald's." That did not sound promising. "What happens to all of the bikes?" "Naturally, he buys them back." Sara shrugged. Despite being broke, Emily went ahead and had a child, a baby girl, who, like all baby girls, was perfect in all ways. "You know how it is, after she had the baby, what could I do?" "What indeed." Life is only life forever more, I thought but did not quote. Of course, Sara fell under the spell of the perfect baby girl, with her pink face and her brown eyes. Efficient Sara took charge of her little niece, Joanna. What else could she do? She had no life of her own what with taking Joanna to the zoo and the doctor and so forth. Plus, there were those adorable dresses to buy, in organic cotton, as Emily insisted. Sara even shuttled Emily to doctor's appointments. Emily and her husband bicycled everywhere even where there were no bike lanes, and Sara was terrified. "Those bike people can be super-scary. I almost hit one the other day." I lowered my voice in case the gloomy waiter was himself a bike guy. "I have no life," Sara sighed as she pushed salmon around her plate. "That's why I'm in therapy." Sara had been in therapy forever. "It sounds like a life. No one's forcing you to take care of Joanna." "I don't have a choice, I love her. If only Emily would move to some commune and leave Joanna to me." "Emily’s not moving to a commune, trust me," I said as I paid the check. On our way back, we bumped into the animal people. In no time, they were after us, pointing and screeching, "Those two, they want to destroy animals!" We ran quickly from the enraged animal people. On the street, people stared at us, frightened. I felt awk-

A Normal Life by Carla Sarett y guess is that normal people never think about being normal. Why should they? They are just living lives with barbecues and mortgages and kids, maybe even support groups or rehab. But then, there's the other type-- the person for whom being normal is a kind of religion. That was Sara Berkowitz. You might say Sara was fanatical about being normal. Take the books she read. She picked them from the New York Times bestseller lists. If most people liked it, a book was worth her time. If not, then not. So went her choices from wines to vacations. Not much about me or my family fit Sara's goal. For one thing, we practiced atheism, if you call atheism a practice. My father often ranted about his hatred of religion. Morons, he called all believers, morons. It was his hobby, fighting irrational faith. Unfortunately, his atheism did little to brighten his moods. As for mother, she lived in cold terror that her girls might end up loving Disney, McDonald's, TV, or worse, the mall. Now, even Jews are at the mall, my mother despaired—but since she refused to learn to drive, my sister and I never saw the mall, much less the inside of a synagogue. I was far, then, from Sara’s normal—but despite this, we remained fast friends after college. It was one afternoon years ago that we met, at a large bright Hyatt in D.C. It was a warm November day, perfect for walking -perfect that is, if we had not been blocked by a circle of college kids, chanting and holding signs with the slogan, Never Again! Two giant girls, earrings in noses, shuffled over with a petition. "Never again what?" I asked, thinking Rwanda, Cambodia and Auschwitz. A girl of about six feet replied, "Kill an animal for a fur coat. We need to prevent genocide." Sara and I wore cloth so the animal-lovers figured we were kindred spirits. "No," I told them, "trust me, if my husband bought me a fur, I'd definitely wear it." Sara giggled. "As if," she said, thinking of my vegetarian spouse. I dismissed them. "There's a lot of human genocide. Find yourselves a better cause, really, malaria, hunger, kids dying in war zones, think about it." I could have been sweeter, I guess, since I have no love for fur. We ducked into a little bistro where a scraggly waiter led us to our table. Sara considered herself something of a foodie-- and she asked the waiter about item after item. Most men were charmed by Sara but not our gloomy waiter. He whispered, as if we were in a danger zone. "I wouldn't know. I’m strictly vegan. I absolutely cannot eat any restaurant food. Even when they tell you it is vegetarian, it's really not. They lie!" "Better safe than sorry," I advised, adding to Sara, "Broiled salmon?" In those happy days, we knew nothing of the evils of farmed fish.

M

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The kind rabbi tried to address the two as sisters, but it was a lost cause. He looked spent when it was over. To be honest, I pitied him. He seemed like an older, educated person and might have once have possessed spiritual leanings—worn away by years spent with irate family members in this crumbling funeral home. Perhaps joyous weddings provided balance-- I hoped so, for his sake. What a relief to leave that funeral. It seemed impossible that the bitter woman at the funeral had once been a happy-go-lucky girl, sweet and carefree. "Maybe the younger sister is just crazy," Sara argued, as though crazy explained the funeral. "No, I don't think it's that kind of crazy. Anyway, lots of sisters are enemies, it's pretty normal I think." "I don't know about normal, but maybe you’re right," Sara said. "You were right about Joanna, she is Emily's daughter. I should have listened. She's dropped out of college, it's a mess." "Man hands on misery to man," I quoted. "She's joined some weird recycling commune. They're kind of in love with garbage, they eat stuff other people throw out. They go to restaurants and take what's left in the garbage or whatever. And then she's all ranting and raving about dying whales. She writes e-mails at all hours of the night about how I don't care about the whales." "I suppose if it's garbage, it doesn't have to be organic, does it." Sara gave me a sharp look. "So, guess what, it's my fault. It’s all about people like me, consumerism, global warming, it's all about people like me who live in big houses and drive cars and eat meat." What a joke. Sara had given up vacations, jewelry, and yes, fur coats, so that Joanna could have the perfect life. And now, Joanna lived off garbage. I knew that Sara and I shared the same thought, how Sara had wanted Emily to join a commune. Of course, those had only been words-- but still. “And there's some older guy who's got her doing who knows what, who knows where that is going, these guys are going to need money." Yes, I saw where that was going—a few wrong turns, it doesn’t take much. "Wherever it's going, you don't want Joanna there." "I don't know what to do. Her father's hiking, who knows where, and Emily's in Paris leading workshops-she tells artists how to connect their art or whatever to meaningful social action." "Too bad dad didn't attend the workshop. He'd have learned how to give away all those bikes," I observed. That got a laugh. "No, really, these workshops are a big deal. She has her own blog, about mobilizing the community through art. Ridiculous, she can't even take care of herself and she is some sort of icon." After all of her therapy, Sara still did not get it. When you came down to it, Emily knew how to take care of herself. Her art, her career, Joanna’s schools-- she left it to Sara. There had been no plan, of course, no malice or scheme. Leaning came naturally to Emily, just as supporting came naturally to Sara. But Emily and Sara would never be on opposite sides in a funeral home. They might look different from one

ward, as if I were a cat-killer. The Hyatt lobby provided an escape. Before Sara and I parted, I warned, "Whatever Emily is, she is Joanna's mother and Joanna will never see you as her mother, she is her mother's daughter." A few years later, Emily's art was featured in a new show at a small gallery in Philadelphia. I was eager to see what Emily was up to so I wandered downtown. To my untrained eyes, Emily's piece seemed to consist of large brown ropes tied together with rough edges exposed. The gallery notes explained the piece was the result of three years of workshops and conferences. Credits were given to several leading foundations, along with thanks to a long list of artists, poets, and environmental scientists. All of these workshops and conferences and discussions had produced this one fiber workapparently, it was to be the first in a series. In three years, I thought, Frank Lloyd Wright had built Fallingwater, the house that stretches over the waterfalls, so mysterious and beautiful. But, of course, times change. I was glad, though, to see Emily-- all grown up, still tiny and thin as a rail, but now chic and artsy. She was at home in the world of the little gallery, greeting people as if they were her dear friends, with kisses on both cheeks and Ciao and Ola and Bon Jour. Emily, if not the same kind of pretty as Sara, was more stylish. "That’s an amazing piece of jewelry, don't you look gorgeous?" I said, avoiding the ropes altogether. Emily told me that Whitney-- the bicycle husband-had left to form a bicycle collective in the Pacific Northwest-- and had not returned. I hugged her as if I were the big sister. "Thank God, Sara was around to take care of Joanna, I had a complete meltdown," Emily said, in a way that made me feel her meltdown was my problem, too. I pictured the pink and white room that Sara had decorated for little Joanna. "I'm sure it was Sara's pleasure." Emily handed me a photo of Joanna who had Emily's curls, wearing a school uniform. "It's a good thing-Sara's paying for Joanna's school-- schools in D.C. are so awful, it's a scandal." I struggled to see Sara over the years, but she was always swamped by family obligations of one sort or another. After a while, I gave up. So, as it happened, we met next at a funeral in a dreary section of Northeast Philadelphia. The funeral home itself was faded and run-down, as if it had seen better days. It was a friend’s mother who had died. Like Sara and me, our friend had a younger sister—a sister who, as we heard about her in college, was a happy-go-lucky girl, a darling sister whom anyone would adore. Now, the two sisters despised one another with a bitterness reserved only for family. They had craftily managed to seat their friends on opposite sides of the funeral room, like enemy camps. Oddly, the sisters carried the same handbags and wore identical black pantsuits-- and from the looks of it, used the same hair stylist. The sisters delivered separate eulogies—each with its mother story. In one version, the mother appeared kind and witty, in the other, a complete lunatic.

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another but they would sit together and they would walk out together. "It doesn't matter. Emily's your sister--you don't get to vote on that." "But it's different for you--your sister’s easy to love. She's not like Emily." "Again--no election, no vote. Anyway, there's love and there's love," I said sounding like my mother who was not easy to love at all. I thought of my mother’s large family--eleven aunts and uncles vanished in Warsaw or Auschwitz or maybe Stalingrad. One sister’s child survived the camps -- with his tiny daughter. My mother often told me the story of how my grandmother found them in Europe and helped them settle in America, how she supported them for years, and even, out of her tiny savings, bought the girl a piano. To my mother, that piano had seemed a great fortune. It was only after my mother died that I heard the real ending to the story. When the girl grew up, she refused all contact with my grandmother or my mother. She did not invite them to her wedding—and the hurt had been more than my mother could bear. Who knows why such things happen? It is easy to lose faith. But the point is, I think, that there was a piano and there was a wedding. Surely, that is the point. I told Sara, "I'm sorry, if you want to help Joanna, you’re stuck with Emily. Without Emily, you lose Joanna. That’s the way it has to work." "I guess you’re right, I'm stuck forever," Sara said, looking not that unhappy. "In a normal life, you are stuck," I said, thinking but not quoting, together wing to wing and oar to oar.

Living Constance by Christine Tsen Uncountable men miss the luscious Concept of a fledged woman – They prefer vacancy The scattering before flight. Not Lady Chatterly’s creator – He knows desire for the well-seasoned woman With her mature union of self Her collective voltage Rupturing every fiber of her former being Into an endless upsurge – He understands If left unmet Her cry will create a terrible Restive noise As pinned wings open And she awakes, body and soul. Often, just as I awake I am indeed Constance In my wide brimmed hat, elegant garments And my eyes search Finding Oliver My old self at once extinct and gladly so –

• • • Carla Sarett's stories have recently appeared in The Linnet's Wing, Subtle Fiction, Red Fez, Scissors and Spackle, The Greensilk Journal, Ear Hustler, Absinthe Revival, The River Poet's Journal, Loch Raven Review, and Danse Macabre among others. Carla is a Ph.D. whose careers include academia, TV, film and market research-- and she is currently at work on a romantic comedy.

As I give myself up across the garden Eyes unwavering I burrow deep As I lay Carnal In soft amber-light silk sheets. An older woman discovering yes As I float A speck of joy into eternity. • • • Christine Tsen is a cellist and chamber musician performing throughout New England. She attended Eastman School and the New England Conservatory of Music. She is a published musician and poet. In her experience so much of poetry feels like music, and music like poetry ~ and to her one lights up the other! More: www.ChristineThomasTsen.com

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Butts-Up

A Caution

by Tom Mahony

by Tim Jewell

T

he friendly game of butts-up took a dangerous turn when the case of Pabst Blue Ribbon arrived. The game involved throwing a tennis ball against a wall and catching it on the rebound. If you dropped it, and didn’t touch the wall fast enough, you had to stick your ass in the air while other players nailed you with the ball. As Smitty, Joey, and I drank the beers, our agility suffered. Oafish Smitty was the first to flounder. Joey and I pelted him without mercy. The beers lowered our accuracy but increased our velocity and curious thirst for vengeance. The resulting carnage was disturbingly addictive. “Does this game seem weird to you?” Joey said after a throw. “Yeah,” I said. “A little.” But it wasn’t time for introspection. It was time for pain and humiliation and avoidance thereof. As I prepared to pummel Smitty yet again, my wife approached. “Dinner’s ready.” She paused and glanced around. “What are you guys doing?” “Nothing,” I said. She nodded toward Smitty, still on the ground with his ass in the air. “What’s he doing down there?” I lowered the ball and grudgingly explained the game. “That’s so pathetic,” she said. Joey and I shrugged. Smitty mumbled something but, hunched over, it looked like he was talking out of his butt-crack. She just shook her head and walked away. Joey muttered an apology and headed for the house. My adrenaline evaporated and I suddenly felt stupid. We were pushing forty, guzzling lukewarm PBR, and hurling tennis balls at the upturned ass of a grown man rather than talking art, finance, and politics with the real adults back at the dinner party. Pathetic, indeed. I started toward the house, but something pulled at me. Some primal force acquired on the childhood playground and never fully abandoned, unlike the immortality that faded long ago. I turned and hurled the ball and as I heard the flat dull thud of impact and Smitty’s howls of pain I couldn’t help but smile. Nailed him.

A cautionary tale is Only as good as the Person who originally Fucked up bad enough And yet lived to tell His kids and grandkids How much shit he had To go through to have Them sit on his lap and Listen to the weary tones Of his gravelly voice, Shaded by an aging mustache, And recount failures. He can’t expect them to Ever understand what the Words “pain,” “death,” and “Forlorn” mean despite The appearance of age and Knowing in his pupils, but Those weakening vacuums Of fatherly affection will One day close to the Reassurance that they will Fall, face death, fear failure, And confront doom, and yet Come to viscerally acknowledge That their parents were right And now they must extract From aging platitudes a Cautionary tale with new origins Out of generations of loss Transformed into family. • • • Tim Jewell is a bookseller and English tutor from the Los Angeles area with diverse interests in literature, languages, science, film, philosophy, theology, and any other subject that can culminate in a poem worth reading. The poems in this collection are mainly raw and stream-of-consciousness musings.

• • • Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an MS from Humboldt State University. He is the author of the novels Imperfect Solitude and Flooding Granite. His third novel, Pacific Offering, is forthcoming on November 1, 2012. Visit his website at tommahony.net.

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I met her on the front porch She was already talking by the time she had come within earshot about someone in the lab making mistakes that she was to fix without missing a step she had transitioned quite smoothly to telling me about apartments we were going to look at in a week

Not The Farmer, Not Me by Brandon T. Roach She phoned often while she sat on the couch to ask things like "How's work?" It somehow surprised me nearly every time and I would tell her

She leaned in for a kiss and asked if I had been drinking already "Coffee," I said "Oh"

"It's boring as hell."

"Hey, I saw a big snake today."

and she would sigh under her breath as if I would have more to say

Automatically, my mind ran through a dozen responses making inane reference to my dick only to settle with, "Is that right? Where at?"

"Oh, I'm sorry it's so boring."

"By the railroad tracks. It got ran over three times and still slithered away."

I would reassure her and explain that no one expects their work to be exciting Not the mechanic Not the mailman Not the matador Not even the mouse or cat

I wondered if she meant three cars or three different wheels. Had she ran it over in her hurry to come home for lunch? Instead I said, "Honorable. Very resilient creatures." She smiled again, "And they say cockroaches are the impossibles!"

"Is that all you called for?"

I opened the screen door while she considered her memory of an immortal snake; as the door shut I began thinking of my own

The Impossibles by Brandon T. Roach

• • • Brandon T. Roach of Kansas has never served in an army but he knows how to light a cigarette and tie a full windsor. Most don't but they could. His main writing interests are free form poetry, prose poetry and flash fiction. Unlike Thoreau, Mr. Roach has written nearly a million words, unpublished. He is 29 years old and enjoys records, beer, and supports NPR.

I was sitting at the typing machine sipping my coffee and staring blankly at the great white page beginning to wonder if my live-in girlfriend would be coming home for lunch break or having a nooner with the chemical lab janitor She pulled her tiny, white Cobalt into the yard next to a garden hose I had left out after spraying away all the neighborhood's ferrel cats How the mind wanders in such a short time, dragged naked across the razor's edge of depravity She was only fifteen minutes late I walked to the screen door shirtless and barefoot, coffee cup in hand, and unlatched it 22


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Admiring, Simply Admiring

No Escape

by Brandon T. Roach

Poem inspired by Relation of My Imprisonment

by Lindsey Appleton

The boy working the counter at the corner store admired my mustache and told me so every time I went in for cigarettes and beer

It can’t be explained The guilty, the guilty Are lured, enticed To stay in their prison It saves men’s souls Under arrest, attempt to make standard. Tension And release. But, perchance I think It’s not so bad To be chained, to be alone. Curious, this attraction This seduction I can’t have, but I crave, they set their trap. Tension And release. Like animals they lap To quench their thirst. I take pleasure in the dryness. House of composure Do you see the absurdity? That the might of your posture depends on me. Tension And release. Heroes and heroines I see your passion It won’t be affirmed Stay ignorant, stay innocent. They have me convinced That the facts are shams, hunger is insatiable. Tension And release.

I once lay a 6 pack of talls down and he told me in a gentle voice he had tried to grow a beard since the last time I was in (3 days) His clean shaven cheeks moved up and down as the words fell out he just couldn't get past the itchy stage He rang me up I pulled out a $20 and explained the women have no problem growing them on their legs why should it be any different

Deconstructing Jimmy by Jim Murdoch

No. No it can’t be explained.

I missed out on a lot growing up: stilts, a pogo-stick, skates – ice and roller – underage sex.

Dying to regain my color by Haris Adhikari

There were things I had: a family, an education but it was the wrong family and

Into the valley of dirt and all of a sudden this miserable me, trying to make my way through the stinking hell of heights – dying to regain my color in this muddled, gravy plight – inching below the cold, murky sky. Who says I wanted all this that I have become?

they skipped all the useful stuff at school. Whenever I have needed something it was never there: the capital of Peru or the TV remote, the exact bus fare or just reasons why. "You can't miss what you've never had, son."

• • •

Is that so? I think you've missed the point.

Haris Adhikari is from Nepal. He edits Misty Mountain Review, an online journal of short poetry. His poems have appeared in Red Fez Journal, Buddhist Poetry Review, Locust Magazine, and many others. 23


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

“Still smells like the two of you. And in our car, too. Doesn’t Mr. Rushinski have an office or SUV you could’ve used?” She sucks her lips inward and nods, knowing she can’t win this one. Not tonight. “You might as well start bringing that stuff back in,” I say. “We both know where this isn’t going.” Outside, Dan Rothenberg is jogging again. He sees his son only on the third weekend of every month now. With supervision. “Miranda brainwashed him. She lied during the whole battle,” he told me months ago. A few days later was his first attempted. I still feel a shiver when I hear sirens. Ever since he was released from the hospital, he wears turtlenecks and long sleeved collared shirts exclusively. And sunglasses. He says running helps. We barely see him anymore. I’m afraid to ask why. Our family portrait from last Christmas rests on top of a suitcase. Julie notices Dan and then approaches me with her arms out, her expression identical to how it was before we kissed at our wedding. For a moment, I feel like I’m suffocating. My knees go soft. I back away and smack her. She cowers to the floor. Sam snarls at me. “I’m sorry, Adam. Really, I—” “I’m calling my lawyer first thing tomorrow and making sure you don’t get one goddamned cent from me.” I finish my beer and smash it on the table. “Let Mr. Rushinski take care of you.” I climb over her and up the steps. She follows for a bit before falling into herself. I slam the bedroom door so loudly that she screams. For a moment, I stand behind it and listen for her next move. Truth be told, my eyes are usually more bloodshot than hers these days. So far, I’ve flipped out at and subsequently lost six clients. My boss says I’m starting to become a threat to the business. I tell him that that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Above our bed, I study the painting she made for our first anniversary. It was based on a sketch she did of me before we’d even met, back when we were just secret admirers suffering through class a few rows apart. I must’ve written a dozen songs about her back then. I never worked up the courage to sing them. I pull the door open so hard that it dents the wall. “Sweetie?” “Yes, Adam?” I can hear hope in her voice. “Be a doll and turn out the hallway light. It’s shining through the keyhole and cheating me of sleep.”

A 1977 Affair by Jordan Blum

J

ulie is throwing The Bee Gees’ Horizontal onto the lawn as I park and finish disinfecting the car for the night. It lands on a pile of clothes, jewelry, and pictures. Incidentally, it was always my least favorite album of theirs; ironically, it was the first one she ever gave me. As I walk to the house, she glances up at me like a rat being caught in adultery. In the living room, she is bent over another box of records, rummaging for more shit. Her plants are tied together in a box beside the empty suitcases, and I want to smash a vase against her. She takes another record out of the box and walks toward the window. “Whoa. What the hell is that?” She holds up the copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends that I bought her the day after our second date, on a hot summer night like tonight. We were walking off the effects of wine and chicken and passed a record store that had it in the window. She gasped and squeezed my arm. I surprised her with it at her parents’ house the next day. She was wearing the same purple dress she wore at our senior prom. I shake my head. She sniffles and turns back around to toss the fucker out of the window. I put a TV dinner in the microwave and then sit on the sofa, taking off my shoes and cracking open a beer. “When did you start tonight?” I say. She covers her face and breathes heavily. “About an hour ago.” “You’re ridiculous.” “I’m leaving this time. For real. It’s too much,” she says, handing me her wedding ring. I keep my palm closed and let it drop and dent the floor. Its echo interrupts us. “Well why aren’t you packed then?” “I’m sorting through it.” She picks up a teddy bear and becomes a statue. “Where is he?” I yawn. The microwave beeps and I ignore it. “At a sleepover. The Todds.” Across the room, a stack of literature is spread out on the floor. Sam is discretely pissing on her copy of Othello, and I chuckle. “You know a lot about those, don’t you, Jules?” Outside, fireworks go off, and I remember what day it is. “Maybe I’ll go join them and celebrate, too. What do you think?” Now she’s throwing VHS tapes and bed linens through the window. “Do you still have it?” She says. “Have what, dear?” “You know what, Adam.” I take out the red Trojan wrapper that I’ve contemplated all week. I imitate gagging as I put it against my nose and inhale. Julie scoffs. Sam eats one of the discarded tissues by her feet.

• • • Jordan Blum has an MFA in creative writing and he currently teaches at various colleges. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Bookends Review, an online literary/multimedia journal. Jordan is also a progressive rock musician and journalist. His work has been or will be featured at several places, including The Lit Pub, Flashfiction.net, Bong Is Bard, Eunoia Review, Connotation Press, Used Furniture Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Delusions of Adequacy, Examiner, Sea of Tranquility, Popmatters, and FictionBrigade.

24


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

“He’s not coming back,” the gravity of my words lost in the tainted air. She looks up at me. Through me. Her sobs preclude her spitting grief at me. Her eyes glisten incongruously, sucking a little more life out of the new world. “No-one’s come back,” I take a knee beside her. “Seven like you. But no-one who was there.” “But he might –“ she can’t even finish. Does not have to. I help her up. Walk her towards the car, faltering steps of the convicted. Life without life. She stops. Eyes fixed on the marked tires. “Why are you marking the cars?” “I don’t know.” My turn to look away. “Do you work here?” A concoction of anger and confusion coat her words. “I did.” “Why are you still here? Why do you mark the tires?” I don’t answer. Take another step towards the Toyota. Hoping she’ll follow. She follows. “Why do you mark the tires?” her curiosity deflecting her grief. Delaying the need to deal with it. For now. “Someone has to,” I tell her. Her silence implores me to continue. “At some point, these cars will be taken away, life will start again. Whoever does this should know how long the cars have been here. To help with records. To help.” Her glare softens to a gaze. Despite herself, she looks almost sorry for me. “Do you have a key?” I ask. We’re standing behind the Toyota. She doesn’t answer. Her breaths become shallow as she fishes in her pocket for the key. She finds it. Removes it from her pocket. Offers it to me. I look at her. Want to cry for her. Want to cry with her. I don’t take the key. I look away. Survey the sight of the parking lot’s inhabitants, dormant but for the seven red lines on each tire. Like convicts counting down the days to their release. “I can’t–” she says, forcing the key into my hand and my eyes back to hers. “Please.” I click the button to unlock. Nothing. Nothing works anymore. I look at the redundant key. I look back. I don’t see a person. I see sinews – threads of hope, despair, life and death – masquerading as a woman. “I can smash the window?” An almost imperceptible nod. I pick up a chunk of rubble. Shards of glass dance briefly in the air before the enveloping dust claims them on the ground. I hand her back the key and retreat. No words shared. None needed. None matter. She climbs into the car and across to the driver’s seat. Turns the key. The engine’s bronchial riposte shatters the oppressive silence of the parking lot and the flurry of the wiper blades creates a brief phalanx of ash silhouettes around the car. I perch on the bonnet of an old Caddy. The open window of the Toyota betrays the intensifying grief from

Marking Time by Ryan Miller

D

ay seven; God’s not resting. God doesn’t live here anymore. If ever He did. I will not rest. I cannot rest. For now, asleep is no better than awake, when at least the horrors are not imag-

ined. Another spray-painted tally mark, the red line shocking against the granitic pall of the new world. I move to the next car, methodically spray a line next to the six adorning the tire already. All my own; their uniformity a droplet of order in an ocean of chaos. I back off. Remove my surgical mask and replace it with a fresh one from an inside pocket in my jacket that contains several more. Finding a cleanish piece of sleeve to wipe my brow, I try to remember what the air felt like before the ash and the fear and despair and the hurt and the loss. I can’t. The stench that suppresses my nose and my throat and my pores seems to mute every shard of recollection. I count the cars. 81. Same as yesterday. Same as the day before that. Seven empty bays. Cars claimed in the chaos of the first two days – not by survivors – but by ash-clad specters searching for something to cling to, something to hope for. Something. The carpet of ash muffles the footsteps behind me. “Can you help me?” hopefully. I curse and apologise. “Can you help me?” hopelessly. I turn to look at her, scarf fashioned across her nose and mouth to keep the world at bay. The absurdity almost makes me laugh. Eyes pleading. “Please help me.” “I’ll try,” and I do. I ask her which car; she says it’s black. They’re grey, I tell her. She’s not listening. Can’t listen. “What kind of car is it?” I ask her. “My husband’s,” her voice disintegrating. “I’m sorry,” I say. “Why?” I don’t answer. I can’t answer. But my eyes answer. “Why are you saying sorry to me?” her voice grows, her fear grows. “Don’t say sorry to me. He might be alright; he might come back. Don’t say sorry to me!” “I’m sorry,” I offer. “What kind of car is it?” “It’s a Toyota,” her eyes scan the lot, praying not to find what she is looking for. But she does. She crumbles. Clutches at the ash for something to hold on to. I try to help her up, soothe her. She resists. “He might come back. The roads…closed. Networks are down. Hospital…” already it’s a lament. “He might come back.”

The stench that suppresses my nose and my throat and my pores seems to mute every shard of recollection.

25


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

So I cried out as shouting to a friend. I cupped my hands around my mouth and called, “Hello, Hello, George. Hello there, my friend.” I saw the woman start and look my way. And then, as though awakening from a trance, she got up from her canvas-bottomed chair and folded it and started walking back toward some houses half a mile away. Then I walked slowly keeping her in sight until she got to where the houses stood and disappeared from sight behind some trees. I’ve always kept that vision in my heart. I’ve always held that vision in my soul. And then my travels happened to take me to sunny Florida on a warm spring day, not cold and dreary like the northern beach where I had stood so very long ago, where I had gazed out at Lake Michigan. I saw the woman who was on that beach. I saw her on a sunny Florida street. Her skin was golden tan. Her hair was black. Her eyes were large and brown and full of hope. I don’t know how I knew that it was she. I don’t know how I knew, but know I did. And when she turned her face toward me and smiled, a weight that had been present in my heart, a burden in my heart for many years, floated away and left my mind at ease.

inside the car as it crawls from its bay. The woman turns on the lights in a forlorn bid to guide her through the gloom. A column of thick dust mocks the pale beams with a harrowing dance. I watch the car and its trail leave the lot. I try desperately to hold the image of the woman’s face in my mind but already it is fading. The fleeting exchange of shared silence, of hope, of despair, of implicit understanding will become part of the old world. They already have. I stare at the empty bay. 80 cars. Eight empty bays. I try to stop myself but I can’t. My eyes fill. Knowing. I turn my head and see my car. Our car. Silent tears welcomed by the ground. I wish the bay were empty. Wish I wasn’t here. Wish she were. I gather myself. Pick up my spray can and walk outside. Nobody comes back. Not now. I’ll come back tomorrow. • • •

Woman on a Beach by Wayne Orr

• • • One day, ah, it was many years ago, I don’t remember quite precisely when. It wouldn’t matter even if I did, ‘cause time is never constant or precise. It creeps or rushes at its chosen pace. I do remember it was early spring, but still the north winds held a wintry chill. With sad heart, I was walking on a beach. Lake Michigan with waters gray and bleak, not really gray but more a bluish-gray. The sky was blue-gray too, but bleaker still. I saw a woman on that gloomy beach sitting on a canvas-bottomed chair and gazing at the same sad dreary scene. She wasn’t close enough for me to see her features, and I couldn’t see her form. But clearly I could sense that she was sad, beautiful and sad, on that cold beach. She didn’t see me. I am sure of that. Her eyes saw nothing but the sea and sky, and maybe they did not see even that. Perhaps they just looked inward to her soul. My heart told me to go to where she sat. My heart told me to go and comfort her. My reason told me just to walk away. I was a tattered, bearded, unkempt man. The sight of me would fill her heart with fear. And so I walked on by and prayed that she would soon get up and go back to her home. But when I got so far away from her that I could only barely see her form I could no further go. I had to stop. I couldn’t leave her sitting on that beach.

Wayne Orr was born in Amarillo, Texas many years ago. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas in Austin. While he was a student there, he met and married Esther Mata which he says was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to him. They have three girls and two boys and several grandkids and great grandkids. Wayne spent his career writing policy and procedural manuals for the Department of Defense. He is retired now and lives in Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington D.C. and spends much of his time writing and traveling.

26


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

As we pulled into driveway, I saw him for the first time. He was wearing a cut-off T-shirt with cargo shorts. His brown muscles were sweating. His dad was on the other side of the couch, saying, “One, two, three, lift” so fast you could tell Jeremy didn’t have time to get a grip, and as soon as his dad lifted that thing up, Jeremy’s side fell—he let out a yelp and grabbed his toe and cursed. And to tell you the truth—this isn’t me bragging, promise—I think he was embarrassed because I saw him lose his grip. (It gets more metaphorical. Don’t worry.) Once we’d put away the groceries and all, I practically ran back outside. I was excited because I had finally come across someone who was sexy, but not perfect. Finally, here was a boy who had muscles, but also had arm-pit hair. I had grown sick and tired of seeing the girls at school with their Hollister bags plastered with pictures of sexy grown men without a single hair on their bodies— do women like women these days? Are men obsolete? Now we have silicone and Jersey Shore marathons. I strolled right up to his sweaty brown body and said, “Hi.” Typical school-girl style. You people and your clichés. He looked at me and pointed. At first, I was a little creeped out, but then he said, “Can I have that?” It took a moment, but I soon realized he wanted my cigarette. I took it from my ear and gave it to him. At this point, I felt like I had just a moment ago—with the sun blaring down on me, with nowhere to escape. I wanted to lean on something or keep my hands busy somehow or something, but all I could do was look at him face-to-face as the silence resounded. The sun swirled up the gritty dust, which then fell around us like wedding rice—on our glistening arms, his creek-brown, mine paper-white. Something needed to be said, so I spoke. “So where you from?” This shattered the silence like a rock through a window. I wanted him to share the cigarette so I could taste his lips without him kissing me (although I wouldn’t have minded that much if he did). He just shook his head and laughed. He said, “Every story starts that way. Give me something original.” He took a drag. What a boy. So I said, “You don’t shave your arm-pits.” And he said, “Neither do you.” And that was it. People who’ve been married for years will tell you that, yes: it really is that simple. People who’ve lost a loved one will tell you that, yes: the doctors will tell you that it didn’t hurt them one bit, but you know they’re just trying to console you. You know they hurt. You know they’re still waiting for someone to quote Jack Kerouac.

Trailer Trash by Ryan Swofford

I

t was a few summers ago when I met Jeremy. God—every story starts like that. Everything is just a memory to you people. Everything you say is in the past-tense. There’s no predicting the future, and that’s the way you like it. Everything is one great-big story to you—well fine. I don’t care. I’m just gonna tell you what happened like everyone else. We start telling these stories when we’re six years old and we fall off our bicycles and scrape the hell out of our knees. We look up to our mamas and enthuse, firedup and foaming at the mouth about how we were going so fast, we didn’t see Mr. Wilson’s pick-up truck parked there, and we smacked right into it—we’re subconsciously begging mama to kiss our puss-green owies and clean us up and tuck us in. All we want is for people to make everything better. So. It was a few summers ago when I met Jeremy. I remember Mama and me were coming home from grocery shopping at Safeway. I reeked like beer because we’d spent maybe an hour and a half sticking empty cans of Bud into a machine which then chewed them up and swallowed them, satisfied but still hungry for more (you people love your stupid metaphors). The split leather was clawing at my back, and my elbow was hanging out the window. There was no breeze whatsoever. We were going 60 miles an hour, but it felt like we were standing still. We were baking and there was no way out; like a shirtless fisherman blistering beneath a stinging red sun, so were we as our rickety white Ford foraged through the smoking gravel. On the horizon was the trailer park. I was Jesse James, reincarnated as a white trash teenager with a cigarette in her ear. I was sixteen going on seventeen, except nobody cared. My birthday was in three days, and nobody had asked what I wanted. I was bummed. But I know that if they’d have asked, I’d have told them, “I want Jeremy Blair.” I’d have told them, “I was Jeremy Blair to take every part of me and do what he wants. I want him to devour me.” I’d have told them, “I want someone to love me, dammit. Real, straight love, for life is holy and every moment is precious” (Jack Kerouac). Quoting Jack Kerouac is a specialty of mine. It’s why Jeremy liked me...maybe, come to think of it, maybe it was the only reason he liked me. Quoting someone famous and all-knowing like Kerouac made me look like a bona fide scholar, and if he thought that was hot, then heck yes I’m gonna reread On the Road and Big Sur and Mexico City Blues and Dr. Sax. Plus, I felt rebellious because trailer-trash girls aren’t supposed to even know who Saint Kerouac is (notice how I didn’t say was). Okay, I’ll quit. Now I’m just bragging. Bottom line: Jeremy thought me quoting Kerouac was hot, so I did it often.

• • • Ryan Swofford is a young writer of 17 from the Pacific Northwest. He has been published in numerous publications (list at ryanswofford.blogspot.com/links), and edits one of his own, a growing e-zine called The Weekenders. 27


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

Among the Detritus

Dreams

by Peggy Aylsworth

by Rod E. Kok I sometimes lay awake Wondering If you understand The feeling that I feel

Three sentinels. Each with an eye toward what is to come. Perhaps some sad-sacks from a Beckett badinage. “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” he said. Watch them, peeking, poking out of garbage cans in their despair. This chess game we all play toward the inevitable as we repeat the waste, the roundabout without an exit. Will these glossy cans remind us of more than our absurdity?

Every now and then I lay awake Dreaming About what can never be An unrequited love I can't help but ponder The effect you have on me You permeate my very being To the fiber of my soul The sight of your hair Glistening in the sun Your skin and your shape Beauty is defined by you I sometimes lay in bed Sleeping, dreaming Hearing your voice Like a whisper in my ears

The Rusty Hinge by Peggy Aylsworth

In my dreams I taste you A wine filled kiss Our breath mingling Like lovers

Once there was a hardware store. Since conversion is the soul of all religions, why not hocuspocus – now a restaurant?

In my dreams I cover you Watching you smile Following the droplets of sweat Running between your breasts

Nuts and bolts are on the menu -little crepes and tiny sausage. Here’s a saw to cut the steak. Cuisine that hammers home

Alas dreams are broken By morning sunlight Behold! Each new day Brings fantasy anew

the holy tool of bread and wine, but doesn’t screw the patrons as the check arrives. The door is open, though the hinge needs some repair.

• • • Rod E. Kok has been honing his writing skills for a relatively short period of time. Starting with a personal blog, he then ventured into short stories but really found his love in poetry. He is the husband of one wife (16 years so far) and the father of two children. He has no pets, a few hobbies and many thoughts to turn into poems.

Among the diners surely there’s a carpenter, back from his sermon on the mount, worthy of his salt. He sees the door to heaven needs a fix. • • • Peggy Aylsworth is a semi-retired psychotherapist, living in Santa Monica, CA with her poet/blogger husband, Norm Levine. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals throughout the U.S. and abroad, including Beloit Poetry Journal, The MacGuffin, Poetry Salzburg Review. Her work was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize.

28


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

Without You

Subplots

by Rod E. Kok

by D. Robert Grixti

F

Sitting under the big sun The heat makes me sleepy In a lethargic state of mind My thoughts are on fire My feelings sweat out of me Sunbeams dance on my brow A smile plays across my lips My heart beats in time Majors and minors Music surrounds me I'm trapped between worlds Of reality and fantasy The clouds whisper to me Their message is conveyed In their soft visage All roads lead to you Every fork that is presented Is always the right path Right and wrong Hold no sway Even as the sun settles Down the western sky Everything is about you All questions ask the same thing What would I be without you?

luorescent lights disturb Jacob Salvador’s thoughts. He looks around. The lecture theatre is full. A clique of students congregates in the centre of the room, trading tales of the mundane in hushed but excited whispers, not quite as subdued by the grey brick and the lull of the early morning as usual. Jacob sits alone at the back of the room. From here, he watches the clique with interest. One of them, a blonde haired gossip, notices him. She immediately turns red and looks away. A friend leans over and whispers in her ear. She looks back at the empty seat beside Jacob, curious. Jennifer isn’t here today. They’ll probably think she broke up with him. Though it probably doesn’t matter. They don’t know what really happened. Jacob inwardly smiles. Today, he will sit alone. Relishing the thought, he leans back and watches as the professor arrives. The low hum of the clique abruptly stops as the professor flicks a switch. A blank projector screen slides down out of a void. They all look on dutifully. The professor clears his throat, apologises for his lateness, and professes. ‘Literary fiction is all about planning,’ he says. ‘As writers, you should know this by now. Everything you write has to be deliberate. It all has to have meaning. It all has to build to something. It all has to be thoughtful and well-researched.’ Jacob can’t focus. He scrawls meaningless doodles in his notebook, distracted, as the fragments of a narrative form in his mind. Luckily, he already knows about planning. He wouldn’t be where he is today without it.

Easel by Megan Finkelson A barely audible breeze lifts fallen leaves in its grasp twisting and twirling, like an entangled ventriloquist.

Jacob eats a lunch of fruit drowned in viscous nectar on the shore of Purity Lake. Basking in the shadow of an ancient oak, he watches as flakes of gold and copper fall from overhanging branches and land on the opaque water. They create tiny ripples that disturb the quiet stillness. Autumn is a time of change. Green silk that once danced on the wind becomes rusted metal that sails and sinks like a junked boat. What was alive a short time ago is dead, and disintegrates in the dirt. Everything changes. Jacob likes the autumn. He changes, too. Some clique members pass by, chatting loudly as they make their way to their next class. They stop and glance at him as they pass and one of them chuckles. ‘Where’s your girlfriend, Salvador?’ Jacob opens his mouth to say something, but then he decides not to. He returns to his lunch. The clique members look away and keep walking. He probably means nothing to them without Jennifer. He’s nothing but a quiet loner, single and friendless like a loner should be.

Burnt orange and jade fuse, as the mixture fills the horizon working to portray Van Gogh’s mark across the painted sky. A portrait of dynamics pure to nature’s notorious antics lay the embellished mark of a perfected trade, without revise. • • • Megan Finkelson is a young aspiring poet with a few more words to say. Megan wants to recreate moments for people to visualize and understand what it metaphorically means to step in someone else’s shoes for a brief period of time. She studied Creative Writing at Brookdale Community College and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. She is also on her way to a new journey with the United States Navy. 29


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

‘They’ll keep taking everything out of you until you’ve got nothing left. You have to make sure you put them straight. Teach ‘em it’s your way or the highway.’ ‘I know. Don’t worry about it.’

He watches them as they disappear into a building of grey sandstone at the end of the path. He can imagine their conversation: ‘He’s so pathetic,’ laughs the one with the dreadlocks, as he passes around his smartphone to show off the latest photographs of the party on the weekend. ‘Can you remember his face at the party? It’s like he didn’t expect it at all.’ ‘He thought she was serious about him?’ ‘He didn’t even know?’ Jacob shakes his head and puts the clique out of his mind. They don’t know what really happened. Only he knows. He finishes eating his lunch, but he decides to stay at the lakeshore a little longer. To him, Purity Lake is special. It’s the only place on campus where he can feel calm.

Jacob sits at the desk in his bedroom, staring at an empty page and wondering what to write. There’s nothing he can think of that he really wants to say. He lays his pen carefully down at the top of the page and starts to flip through a black notebook. He contemplates the contents carefully but briefly; pages and pages of scribbled words and bullet points; tables and schedules; a timeline; a map of the university campus with Purity Lake circled. A detailed plan for a well-researched story. He reaches the last page, and crosses out a name on a list of characters. Smiling, he closes the book and returns it to his shelf. He picks up his pen and leans over the paper. This story will be easier to write, he thinks. He already knows what happens, and he’s run through it in his mind over and over. His protagonist is fully formed and he already knows everything there is to know about her. He’s done all the research. He knows where she will be at any point in the story, and when, and most importantly, what will happen to her when she gets there. It’s the story he’s most proud of, the finest he’s ever written. The part he likes the best is his ending. He hopes the readers won’t see it coming. He hopes it will shock them. He hopes they talk about it for years and try their hardest to decipher it. Everything is deliberate. Only he knows what really happens. Jacob begins writing.

Night. The only sound is the whispering of a developing storm. The only colour is a deep blue.

His father accosts him from the lounge room as he comes through the front door, knocking over a line of scuffed work boots with the edge of his bag. ‘You’re home an hour late.’ ‘I decided to stay after class at the lake.’ ‘What about Jennifer? You talk to her today?’ ‘We’ve decided to spend some time apart.’ His father grunts and shrugs his shoulders. He collapses into a worn armchair and turns on the television. Melodramatic music from a daytime mystery movie floats in the air. A moustachioed detective shoves a pale boy into a brick wall and accuses him of murder. Jacob’s father snorts and wrenches a can of beer from a half depleted six pack. He pats the sofa beside him violently with his hand. ‘Come and sit down.’ ‘I’ve got an assignment I need to write.’ ‘You’ve got time to watch telly.’ Jacob sits. As he sinks into the battered upholstery, he carefully eyes the iron poker hung above the empty fireplace. A half-forgotten memory drifts lazily into his consciousness. They’ve had gas central heating ever since he was a child. He’s never seen the fireplace lit. The poker has only been used once. His right arm flinches nervously as he thinks about it. His father burps loudly and drains the beer can. ‘Why you all quiet all of a sudden? What’s wrong with you?’ ‘Nothing.’ His father sets the empty can on the ground beside his feet and opens another. On the television screen, a team of police haul a rotting corpse out of a river. ‘Listen son,’ his father slurs. ‘Don’t let that bitch get you down. Always be on guard.’ ‘I am.’ ‘Women are manipulative. Your mother was. If you let them start to think they can control you, they’ll do whatever they can to screw with your mind.’ ‘I’m being careful.’

Night. The only sound is the whispering of a developing storm. The only colour is a deep blue. Jacob dreams fitfully. He’s walking along the shoreline of Purity Lake. A heavy mist reduces everything to abstract shapes and shadows. Above, a full moon watches, its pale light dowsing everything in an ominous, sickly green. The lake is no longer a lake. There is no water. Instead, it’s a great cavity in the Earth, filled with unrelenting blackness, a portal to some other, terrifying plane of existence. A gust of wind whispers through the oak trees. Jacob shivers, and draws his black leather coat tighter around him. It closes up like a tube, hiding his body from the outside world. With his face concealed in the hood, he is nothing but a shadow. He hopes he won’t have to wait long. He wants to get this over with and get home to bed where it’s warm. He has class in the morning. He’s holding a cheap cell-phone to his ear. On the other end, the low purr of a dial tone. Hurry up, he silently urges. Answer! He wants to get out of the freezing wind. Suddenly, a click. 30


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

He wrote it down in his notebook months ago, but the memory of it hasn’t yet faded. How could it? It’s the beginning of his most important story and, unpleasant as it is, the thing that ultimately leads to his perfect ending. He remembers his catalyst.

‘Hello?’ – a groggy voice. ‘Jennifer, it’s me.’ ‘What? Are you crazy? It’s eleven o’ clock at night.’ ‘I need to talk. Come and meet me.’ ‘About what?’ ‘About that party.’ ‘What’s to talk about, Jacob? You told me you never wanted to see me ever again.’ ‘I didn’t mean that. I want to talk. Come to me. I just want to know why.’ ‘Okay, look’ – a tired sigh – ‘You won’t let this go, will you? Where are you?’ Jacob looks warily around. ‘Hello? I said: where are you?’ There’s nobody else around. ‘I’m at Purity Lake,’ he whispers into the phone. Silence for a few moments, then‘Okay. I’m coming. See you soon.’ Jacob ends the call. He sits down on a park bench and watches fragments of moonlight glimmer on the surface of the water. Calmed, he slowly fingers the iron poker propped against the bench. It will all be fine now.

Jacob is at a party, standing on the doorstep of a rundown suburban house. He raps on the wire door once. Twice. Three times. It swings open with a metallic creak. ‘Hey, welcome!’ The guy with the dreadlocks greets him and claps him on the back as he invites him inside. He steps over the threshold and immediately dodges a group of clique members who ambush the dreadlocked guy and spray him with a bottle of budget champagne. He walks down the narrow hallway and carefully steps over a girl in a shawl passed out across the bathroom door. A cacophony of shouting and pop music beckons to him from the lounge room so he enters. He brushes aside the red banner – Happy Birthday Jennifer – that has become detached and dangles from the top of the doorframe, and takes a seat at a brown sofa at the far wall that is littered with empty cans and chip packets. ‘Hey, it’s Jennifer’s guy,’ says a roving clique member as he makes his way to an esky beside the sofa. He takes a can for himself, then unearths one more and tosses it into Jacob’s lap. ‘Join the fun!’ Jacob doesn’t like parties. He likes to think, and this music is too loud. It beats into his eardrums like a farmer’s mallet, knocking a fencepost into the earth. Not enough lyrics. Too much bass. There’s no substance.

Jacob is sitting alone again. Between him and the clique, four rows of empty purple plastic. At the front of the room, they gather and talk in hushed, excited tones. Where is Jennifer? As he taps his finger on the fold-out desk in front of him, he notices the one with the dreadlocks flash him a glance over his shoulder. ‘He was angry, that’s for sure,’ he catches, a fleeting whisper. ‘Do you remember the way he looked at her?’ ‘You would, too, if that happened to you. Your only friend.’ ‘Hey, she texted me on Sunday night saying she was going to meet him at the lake.’ ‘At the lake? Maybe they-?’ ‘Fucked and made up?’ ‘Well, something’s made her too embarrassed to show up for class.’ The professor arrives and flicks the switch beside the lectern. The blank projector drops down against the stone wall. They all fall quiet again. ‘Literary fiction focuses on the internal conflict of the protagonist,’ he begins, pointing to a diagram displayed on the projector screen behind him. ‘It’s all about the protagonist dealing with something, trying to cope in a crisis of faith, and eventually coming out of it changed. But what is it that must happen in the story for this change to start to occur?’ Jacob raises his hand. ‘There’s a catalyst.’ ‘That’s right, Salvador. There’s a catalyst. Something profound that forever changes the character. A single event or entity that causes them to just… snap. Now, what do you think is the catalyst in your story?’ Jacob’s mind flutters to the black notebook on his desk. The opening scene of the narrative runs in his head. He doesn’t have to call it. It comes without his beckoning, a bitter tasting memory that will linger in his brain like a hangover after one drink too many.

‘Where’s Jennifer?’ he asks. The clique member shrugs, and takes a sip from his can. ‘I dunno. Probably out back.’ Jacob stands up. The can in his lap rolls to the floor. He goes to find her. ‘Hey man,’ calls the clique member from behind. ‘She might be busy.’ Jacob ignores him. He walks down the hallway to Jennifer’s bedroom. He hears a soft giggling from behind the door. Jacob wrenches the door open. There are two bodies fused together in the bed, protruding between the sheets like a cancerous lump. ‘Jacob!’ Jennifer screams, sitting up. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Jacob snaps. Jacob Salvador is finished for the day. He packs up his books, bids goodbye to the professor, and starts to head to the bus stop on the edge of the campus. He passes the clique members as they rush past him, almost knocking him out of the way. ‘Do you think it’s-?’ he hears one of them say. They probably think it’s just another routine occurrence; another free lunch from the student association, or maybe a fundraiser and barbecue on the edge of the lake. It probably doesn’t matter. He smiles. 31


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As he walks past Purity Lake, he glances over his shoulder and watches the members of the clique line up along the path. The area is roped off with police tape. A crying girl in a wet swimsuit sits forlorn on a park bench, being consoled by a man in a yellow vest. Police officers stand in a circle by the shoreline, discussing something over a soaking lump wrapped in black plastic that they’ve fished out of the putrid water. ‘Go away, go away,’ shouts the college dean, attempting to usher away the clique with his hands. They don’t move. ‘There’s nothing to see here. Go home!’ Jacob turns away, disinterested, and continues walking to the bus stop. ‘Oh, God!’ he hears the guy with the dreadlocks exclaim. ‘Is that - in that plastic bag – is it -Fuck! Fuck!’ He smiles as he takes a seat and waits for the bus to arrive. The clique is having a good time at Purity Lake. It’s a perfect ending.

Flashbacks by Tina Anton Cold hands curl around my bare skin Pulling tight, goosebumps flare. Caught. Throat constricting against the scream Trying to claw past my clenched teeth. No one is there. I am alone. Phantom of the past, again.

• • •

Social Anxiety

D. Robert Grixti is a speculative and horror fiction author and indie video game developer from Melbourne, Australia. His influences include Stephen King, H.P Lovecraft and John Wyndham. In his writing, he tries to blend elements of literary and genre fiction together, because he believes a good story should both entertain and provoke thought.

by Tina Anton Tingles run across my skin Jumping through the bones Electric pulses warning me Of dangers all around.

Distilled

Nightmares

by Megan Finkelson

by Tina Anton Monsters fight in the shadows I hear them when I sleep They close in all around me And whisper into my dreams.

I rest on the forked path of the bare pine trees, coated in the pure untouched snow from a midwinter’s morning breathe. As the rays graze, along the glorified masses of the flakes unity,

Cutting

the melted droplets slide, holding on to each tip of the icicles end before retiring themselves out on the blanketed hill.

by Tina Anton Razor sharp, it cuts through you The edges catching as they do Blood is seeping from the wound And you feel nothing.

Where my soft exhale, is nothing but a whisper, fogging the open air. And you are nothing, but a cast shadow, from the lone wooden bench. 32


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

If You Are a Poet, Don't Read This

An Eventful Day

by Gennady Shaikhet

by Wayne Orr He is more of a poet, than of a grocery associate. Smoking on a motel's tiny balcony, I watch a food store across the street making it through the morning. Her breasts uncovered, with Hershey Kiss nipples spying on me from the sweaty sheets, sticking out. In a moment we'll meet officially, but now I'm following a short fat guy in his forties fighting artichokes on a counter, tender - hearted Neruda warriors. It's cold in Montreal… Somewhere, in Florida or Georgia, it's hot. Which reminds me of a talented and popular internet goddess of "allpoetry", with rare humility scoring souls and stealing audiences... Still, what do I understand in Bukowski? A nearby cafe is awake, as a mountain of garbage is being erected. I lost my conscience there yesterday. It's somewhere in those black bags. Take it to a local morgue. "Ma'am, can you help us identify your husband's late conscience..?" I see my grocery poet suffering a bitter defeat by a cavalry of green fresh galloping militants. It's getting involved… I'm back to the warmth of my mistress! Unashamedly, getting busy. Before the farewells there is time for one more Sin.

T

he doorbell started ringing just as George Wilkins sat down. He didn’t feel like talking to any salesmen. If he needed anything, he would go to the store and buy it. Maybe it was a Jehovah’s Witness trying to save his soul and sell him a Watchtower magazine while he was at it. Well, he had news for whoever it was. He wasn’t interested in buying anything, and he wasn’t interested in getting his soul saved. All George was interested in was sitting down in his recliner and reading the Sunday paper. It was already Monday. But that was no big deal. George hardly ever read all the paper on Sunday. Lots of times he had other things to do that day. This Sunday had been no different. He and Nancy had driven over to Betty’s house at around 10:00 o’clock. Betty was Nancy’s sister. She lived about 15 or 20 miles across town. They had taken her to lunch at a Golden Corral restaurant and then spent most of the afternoon visiting. It was after 6:00 before they got home. George wasn’t in any mood to read the paper by then. He just watched a little TV until it was almost time to go to bed. George got up slowly; he always moved slowly. At 75 he couldn’t move very fast no matter how hard he tried, and furthermore, he didn’t have a lot of motivation to break any speed records. Nancy was yelling toward the door, “Hold on, we’re coming,” and then to George, “Honey, there’s somebody at the door.” The bell stopped ringing, and someone started pounding on the door with the heel of his hand. “God damn it,” George said. “I told you I’m coming.” He finally got to the door and opened it. A big, ugly fellow was standing there staring at him. George said, “You don’t need to break down my door. That won’t get me here one second faster.” The man stared at George and said, “Get Rabbit out here. I need to explain something to him.” “I don’t know anybody named Rabbit. If you’re talking about Charley, he doesn’t live here anymore.” Charley was George and Nancy’s grandson. He had come to live with them for a few weeks after being kicked out of Sally and Ronnie’s house. Sally was their daughter, and Ronnie was her husband. George didn’t have any details about why Sally and Ronnie had run Charley off, but he figured it was probably because he was too darned lazy to do anything but sleep until noon and play computer games. After Ronnie booted him, Charley had come to stay with George and Nancy. He wasn’t there very long before it became clear that he had to go. He got up at noon or later every day and staggered around like he was in a trance. George had sat down with him a couple of times and explained that his behavior was not acceptable. The final straw had come when Nancy’s gold bracelet disappeared. It was the most expensive piece of jewelry she owned or had ever owned, not counting her engagement and wedding rings, of course. They had paid six hundred and thirty-nine dollars for it a little over four 33


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

“I know that, honey. You’re probably right, and that’s probably what we’ll do. But I just want to think it through for a few minutes before I do anything.” George picked up the telephone and called Ronnie and Sally’s number. Charley wasn’t there. They had no idea where he was. George hung up the phone. There was only one thing for him to do, now. He had to call the police. But still he hesitated. He was afraid of what his morning visitor might do if he did that. He was beginning to feel hungry and decided to take Nancy out somewhere for lunch. That would give him excuse for postponing his decision for a little bit longer. “Nancy,” he said. “I’m hungry. I feel like going out somewhere to eat.” He really didn’t, but it would give him more time to put off making his decision. “We have plenty of food here,” she told him. “I know that. And it’s a lot better than anything we can eat out. But I am still a bit shaken up, and I think my mind will work a little better if we get away for a while and decide exactly what we need to do.” “There’s no deciding, George. We call the police. Then we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I’m sure the police will know exactly what they need to do. That’s their job. That’s what they get paid for.” He knew she was right. He could go to the Red Lobster or Chili’s or anywhere else and stay there all day and nothing would change. When they got back home he would have to pick up the phone and make the call. But he still wanted to delay doing it. The man’s threat and his very demeanor were still vivid in his mind and were too frightening for George to ignore. Maybe he would feel a bit less shaky after getting out of the house for a while. George knew that Nancy liked the Red Lobster, so he suggested they go there. She shrugged and said resignedly, “Okay, but this is just making it worse. We have to make that call sooner or later.” “Yes, I suppose so, but we do have to eat. I’ll feel better after I’ve eaten, and you will, too.” The restaurant was about 30 minutes away. George ordered a margarita with his lunch and coaxed her into having one, too. By the time they got back home they had been away for a couple of hours, and George hadn’t come up with any brilliant ideas. He figured he may as well make the call and get it over with. They came inside and went across the living room to the kitchen. The living room was just as they had left it, but the kitchen was a total wreck. The breakfast table was turned upside down, and the chairs had been thrown across the room. The cabinet doors were open and the dishes were broken and the pieces scattered across the floor. Several picture frames were broken and the pictures had been taken out. There were four of George’s favorite pictures of Nancy, and all had been torn in two. They were lying face-up on the floor covered with what looked like red ink poured over them. A yellow tablet page was lying on the table with a note written in large black magic marker letters that said, “Have the money

years before. Charley had stolen it and pawned it for thirty-five dollars. Fortunately, George had confronted him and found out what had happened. George rushed to the pawnshop and retrieved the bracelet before it was sold. That was when they decided Charley had to leave. Ronnie had taken him back on a temporary basis offering Charley one more chance to get his act together. As far as George knew he was still there. The man standing in the doorway put his right hand against George’s chest and pushed his way into the house. Then he turned and closed the door behind him. “Get somebody’s ass in here, grandpa,” he said. “Somebody owes me four thousand dollars, and I plan to collect. I don’t care where it comes from. If it ain’t Rabbit, I suppose it’s gotta be you.” George didn’t have any idea what was going on. His heart was pounding; his knees were so weak that he was afraid they were going to let him fall. He was trying hard not to let his visitor know how scared and weak he was. He extended his hand, and trying to keep his voice from trembling, said, “My name is George Wilkins. I’m sorry but I didn’t get yours. I’m not sure what you’re telling me.” The visitor didn’t take the proffered hand. “That little shit owes me over four thousand dollars,” he said. “I don’t need the goddamned money next week. I need it right now. I’ll call you later to let you know how to get it to me. Don’t even think of talking to the cops, cause I’ll make you sorry you were ever born if you do that. If you ain’t worried about yourself, maybe you’d better be worried about grandma.” He turned, opened the door and left. Nancy was wringing her hands and staring at George. “Honey,” she said. “Who was that man?” “I don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t know.” He went to the couch and sat down. “Come over here,” he told her, and she came and sat beside him. “It must be some kind of a mistake,” Nancy said. She was staring at George, her eyes pleading. “I don’t know, sweetheart. It looks like Charley may have gotten in over his head.” “Are you going to call the police? I’m afraid he will hurt us if we do that.” “Maybe. We’ll get you over to Betty’s house first. I don’t want to do anything until we get you somewhere safe. Then I will call them as soon as I get back from Betty’s. I hope they can figure out what to do.” “I don’t want to leave you here by yourself,” Nancy said. “Let’s call them right now. They say it’s always better to let the professionals handle things like this.” George didn’t know what to do. He decided he would see if he could find out where Charley was, before he did anything else, and talk to him. Maybe he could learn something if he talked to Charley. “Honey,” he told Nancy. “Let me see if I can get ahold of Charley first. Maybe he can tell me something.” “Okay, sweetheart. But I think you should call the police. Charley can’t help you.”

The man standing in the doorway put his right hand against George’s chest and pushed his way into the house.

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two cartridges from the box in the bedroom and refilled the pistol’s clip. George and Nancy had almost finished cleaning the kitchen when the phone rang. George answered it. “Did you get my note?” a voice said. “Yes sir, we did,” George answered. “You didn’t have to make that mess. We were getting the money. We have it now.” “How much?” the voice said. “All of it. You said four thousand dollars. That’s what we have.” “Okay. Do you know where the little park is at the end of your street?” “Yes, I know.” “Put the money in a large envelope and bring it there and put it in the first trash can. Then go home. I promise I’ll never bother you again.” “No,” George said. “I won’t do that. I want to get this day over and out of my way. Come to my house this evening. If you are not here by nine PM, I’ll call the police and tell them the entire story. More importantly, I will give them the money with a filled-out deposit slip to be deposited back into my bank account. So regardless of whatever happens to me, the money will go back into my account. That gives you a little more than four hours.” “No. Take the money to the park like I said,” the voice shouted. “The money will be here until nine PM,” George said, “Just knock on the living room door. I will give you the money because my grandson owes it to you.” He hung up the telephone. Then he told Nancy, “Charley’s in jail, so if anything should happen to our visitor he will not be a suspect.”

tomorrow.” George almost passed out. Nancy’s mouth was open and her face was white. George picked up one of the red-stained picture pieces and stood still staring at it for a moment. Then he walked to the couch and sat down. Nancy sat beside him. “We’ll call,” he said. “We’ll call right now.” They sat for a while not moving. Suddenly the front door burst open and slammed against the wall. Footfalls raced down the hallway to one of the bedrooms. At the same time they heard police sirens coming toward their house. “Oh, my God,” Nancy screamed. “That’s Charley.” She jumped up and rushed to the bedroom that Charley had entered with George right behind her. Charley had the mattress half-way off the bed and was grabbing a pistol from on top of the box springs. A box of ammunition was on the bed next to the gun. George realized the police were chasing Charley, and he was trying to get the gun. George said. “No, son. Give me that” and took the gun from Charley’s hand. “Get him into the other room,” he told Nancy. “Hurry. The cops are here. Don’t mention the gun.” As Nancy led Charley into the other room, George put the gun back under the mattress and straightened the bed. He walked into the living room just as the police burst into the house. As he passed the entry to the kitchen he realized he had to get the police out of the house before they saw the kitchen and began asking questions. “Sir, are you all right?” one of the policemen asked him. “Yes,” George said, steering Charley and the policemen onto the front porch. When they got outside, George said, “This is Charley, my grandson. He lives with us sometimes.” The cop said, “That’s a stolen automobile he was driving.” He pointed to a car parked in front of the house. “He has to go with us. Are you okay?” “Yes,” George said. “We will call his parents. They will keep us up to date.” He closed the door and sat on the porch steps. Nancy stood holding the railing. After a moment one of the policemen said, “We need to go, if you’re sure you’re okay.” They had put handcuffs on Charley. “Yes,” George said. We are wonderful. Sorry to be such bad hosts, but it’s time for our naps.” One of the policemen said uncertainly, “If you are sure everything’s …” “Take good care of our grandson. He’s really a good kid,” George said. He and Nancy went into the house. “That was too close for comfort,” George told Nancy. “If they had seen the kitchen everything would be ruined.” “We forgot to tell them about the man who did this. We need to call them now.” “No,” George said. “Everything just got much better.” He went into the bedroom and checked the gun. It seemed perfect to him. Just to make sure, he put on a pair of Nancy’s old rubber cleaning gloves, took the gun into the garage, put a couple of bags of topsoil against the concrete wall of the garage and fired two rounds from the pistol into them. The gun worked perfectly. He put the shell casings and the gloves into his pocket and retrieved the two spent slugs from the garage floor. Then he got

It was less than an hour until nine o’clock. George was sitting on a stool by a bedroom window which was practically adjacent to the sidewalk leading from the street to the front door. The window was open, and the screen had been removed. George had on a pair of Nancy’s rubber gloves. The sidewalk was well-lighted and easy for George to see. However, it was impossible to see from the outside of the house into the dark room where George was waiting. He was not sure if his plan would work. He would give the man until nine-thirty to take the bait. Then he would call 911 and tell the police the entire story. Because from that moment forward his life and Nancy’s would almost certainly be in danger. He saw a man walking up the sidewalk holding a gun. George had a very good view. There was absolutely no doubt that the man was his visitor from earlier in the day. He was outside the open window just a few feet from where George was sitting when George pulled the trigger the first time. He shot twice more to be sure the job was finished. He opened the front door and dragged the body inside. He saw a gun on the sidewalk and picked it up and put it in the man’s jacket pocket. Then he and Nancy wrapped the body in an old blanket and pulled it into the garage. After they worked it into the backseat of their car they waited until it was darker before they moved it. Then they hauled it to the street just in front of their house where the man’s car was parked, dumped it be-

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hind the car and brought the blanket back inside to be washed. George took the clip from the gun and emptied it. He took both items to the garage and pounded them with a sledge hammer until he was certain that they were useless. Then he put them, the blanket and Nancy’s gloves into a mesh bag that Nancy used for washing small items and threw the bag into the washing machine and turned it on. He washed everything else with soapy water and a brush: the expended shell casings, the spent bullets, and the live ammunition from the clip and from the box. He wasn’t satisfied until everything was accounted for. He put the rubber gloves back on and wrapped everything in old newspapers from a trashcan across the street and put the messy package into a couple of grocery bags he found at the same place. Then he went to a Wal-Mart and threw the bundle into a dumpster there. He brought the gloves back home. The body was still lying behind the car. He and Nancy went to bed. It had been an eventful day.

stairways. Here a gunman fired bullets on a lethal hopscotch game. Here it eclipses sunlight with iron fingers stretched to catch the jumper from 214. Here it pops Valium with Jack and Coke chasers. Here father's murder daughters for honor. Here Goldman Sachs and Wall Street cut in line at the soup kitchen. Here it breeds hairless cats and teacup poodles that scamper about in Astroturf gardens. Here it texts suicide notes to bullies. Here it caresses young boys with priestly robes. Here it buys a penthouse with the doorman's 401K. Here it eats Krispy Kremes over speckled corpses flat on their backs in the morgue, eyes rolled up like bamboo blinds. Here firemen douse flames from the jealous lover. Here it surfs kiddie porn in corner offices. Here it buries the dead in stone boxes that seal

• • • Wayne Orr was born in Amarillo, Texas many years ago. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas in Austin. While he was a student there, he met and married Esther Mata which he says was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to him. They have three girls and two boys and several grandkids and great grandkids. Wayne spent his career writing policy and procedural manuals for the Department of Defense. He is retired now and lives in Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington D.C. and spends much of his time writing and traveling.

in demons. Here it fashions gold brick houses next to skinny bitches who eat maggots and shit in their driveways. Here it hides newborns swaddled in trash bags in church courtyards before sunrise service. Here it scrapes virtue from under fingernails. Here they hang boys the wrong shade of skin. Here in high school hallways gym teachers proposition homecoming queens. Here it leaves candles burning in windows for wayward spouses. Here it sleeps on park benches. Here in memories

City of the Damned

of steel birds piercing glass. Here dogs, fur draped across hollow bones, bleed for masters. Here it kneels before the golden calf. Here it cooks meth

by Janna Vought Sorrow lives here. Here in gutters filled with oil spills and chromium that feed rivers and quench manicured lawns of executives absent

and macaroni and cheese. Here it severs forests, trees screaming. Here farmers suffer the honey bee holocaust. Here God abandons.

from families— tied up in business meetings with high dollar hookers. Here it feeds off flesh of the burned man lying behind the Walmart dumpster, crisp

• • • Janna Vought is an MFA graduate student at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri. She is published in multiple genres.

body, green and garnet, spits and blisters. Here it calls for a tee time, missing dancing daughters and baseball games, dressed in sharp khakis careening down coiled highways in a cherry Bentley. Here it turns tricks to pay the phone bill. Here it festers in unclean spirits that haunt concrete

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

The Story of Christopher Diamond

by M V Whalan

T

In a month he wrote to me again and told me that he and Liana had broken up and he did not know if he should talk to her or if he should let her have her space. He updated me monthly on his life and whenever one of my books came out he would write me a long review in his next letter; sometimes good and sometimes bad. When my wife died of lung cancer her obituary appeared in the New York Times and Christopher wrote a letter telling me how sorry he was to hear about it, and that his Mom had died when he was thirteen so he “knew what it was like to lose an important woman.” He would write to me complaining about school and how his grades were always low. He would write to me about the books he was reading: The Things They Carried was one of the first. It never occurred to me that a fifteen to sixteen-year-old kid would even know who Tobias Wolff was, but he told me that The Barracks Thief was also one of his favorites. His school librarian had been recommending books. He told me that she was a good mentor for him and that he may have a small crush on her. 1999 was his senior year of high school and he wanted to leave the country but did not get accepted to any of the Study Abroad programs so he stayed miserably at home. In the year 2000 he got a job dishwashing in a local diner and fell in love with one of the waitresses. He was eighteen and she was sixteen. When she turned seventeen in early August of 2001 he asked her to marry him and she said no. My book came out in September of that year and in his next letter he wrote to tell me that he was at the reading I gave at the Barnes & Noble on 18th Street in New York City. I tried to remember all of the faces and guess at which was his but I could remember no one. I wanted to write back to him but I remembered what he told me in his first letter. Ten days before Christmas in 2001 he joined the army with his broken heart and wrote me Military Stories. He hated his commanding officers but made great friends with a couple of the other soldiers. He read The Barracks Thief again and liked it even more. He feared being shipped over to war but believed sincerely that he was defending his country and would “take the world as it came to him.” He sent me letters from Iraq. He told me gruesome stories that he needed to get down on the page or else he would explode. And that was clear. His war letters were written with over urgency and extreme agency. I thought I could smell the sweat that dropped from his forehead onto the pages. His longest letter came after I had not heard from him for about four months. It was written on ten pieces of paper and four squares of toilet paper. He had had trouble writing because it was hard for him to

he sun is faint and becomes less significant in the temperature. There is a pond behind my house that exudes mist when the air cools and the days turn silver. My property is silent. My property is safe. I sit by the pond with the last letter I would ever receive from Christopher Diamond in my right hand. Christopher Diamond wrote me his first letter when he was fifteen and I was forty in response to my fifth book. Rarely does a fan send a letter in which one of the following is not stated: “Your book changed my life,” or “Your book made me want to kill myself.” Christopher claimed I changed his life. He told me that my book made him want to read more. He never knew that books were enjoyable because they were always associated with school but when he read my book he changed his mind. He then told me that he lent the book to a girl that he had a crush on but could not seem to make progress with. She liked the book and it triggered good conversations with her. He had finally gained the courage to ask her on a date. She said yes and they would go out the next weekend. Most fan mail either ends or begins with the fan saying something along the lines of, “I know you probably don’t read fan mail, but you should find it in your heart to write back.” Christopher’s was different. His said at the end: “I know that you probably don’t read fan mail, and if you do, I don’t want you to write back, but I will continue to write to you anyway.” That line made me deflated. I considered the possibility that he really did want me to respond and that saying he did not would make me curious enough to respond anyway. The other possibility was that he wanted someone to listen to him, and by telling them not to respond he could not face the rejection of allowing them to respond and then not hearing back. Most fan mail was sent to me through my publishing house unless I gave them the information of somebody whose letters I wanted to come directly to my address. Christopher Diamond was the only fan I had ever done this for. Over the years his writing skills developed. The next month I received another letter from him. He updated me on his situation with the girl he liked. He told me that they had kissed for the first time in the school library behind the philosophy section. The letter was three handwritten pages and two of those pages described what it felt like when she traced her fingernails down his back. He told me her name was Liana and that “her smile was all he needed.” He ended by telling me that he had read another of my earlier books and did not like it as much. He said that I should “use shorter sentences.”

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

who was usually just telling him that he was late on his rent. He began to drink heavily. He told me that he would stay in bed for days at a time. At one point he told me he hadn’t spoken to anyone for three days and he was thinking about writing a memoir about the war. In his next letter a month later a package was sent to my house containing the first thirty pages of a memoir but he told me not to read it and that he was only sending it “as a sign of respect.” He wrote it because it gave him something to do and his loneliness was accompanied by creativity. If I were to write back I would tell him that that was why I became a writer as well: so that my loneliness had a friend. But he wrote me the next month and told me that he had given up on writing and did not really have much else to say. It was the shortest letter he had written me and its two paragraphs seemed forced. The next letter was the same. His letters revived soon enough though. They came back to their original length but they became less personal. They were about sports or politics or movies. He had even stopped telling me which books he had read and for the last few years at the end of each letter he always wrote, “I’m sorry I don’t have more to say.” I had seen his life in all of its stages and it was sad to see it so diffused. I had never thought of writing back. We had a deal and it was not up to me to break that deal. I was not his friend. I was the black hole that his letters disappeared into. I was a listener and nothing else. I was powerless. His last letter to me was a suicide note. He drank himself dry and it was me who he wanted to wave to on his way out. It was three pages long and his final reason was because he “didn’t stand a chance in this world.” I had suspected that he had already killed himself by the time I got the letter but there was no way to know for sure.

get his recent experiences on the page. He told me that the letter was so long because once he started he could not stop. His best friend killed a civilian in crossfire and had been missing for two months. Christopher then described the first person he killed. And the second. He shot the first one in a firefight, shooting randomly out of fear. In effect, he hit his target. That one was not so bad because he did not aim and shoot. He shot and happened to hit the right thing “and that was war.” The second person he killed was when he was searching an abandoned building. The building’s silence was petrifying. I imagined him in a darkened room full of rubble with a trembling grip on his pistol. A man jumped from a hollowed out doorway and tried to cut Christopher’s neck and Christopher turned quickly and pressed the gun to the man’s face and “shot him below the cheekbone. Killed him.” He continued to write me disturbing letters from Iraq with the exception of one beautiful letter. They were rounding up civilians in the street and having them sit together. There was the suspicion that an air attack was coming and they wanted to get everybody nearby organized and moved as fast as possible. Christopher described in two pages an Iraqi woman with her crying baby wrapped in a shawl. The woman walked to the edge of the crowd and stopped at Christopher. She stood in front of him and stared at him for a moment with other skies in her pupils, and in the moment that she was about to cry she thrust her body into his and wept on his shoulder. He had not hugged a woman in a long time. He had almost forgotten how. His hands hesitated but he held her close and did not mind enduring the degrading stares from his fellow officers. He could see down the back of her shirt and was struck by the way the muscles flexed between her shoulder blades with the jolt of each sob. He had “just fallen in love with her when she pulled back and walked away.” He was yelled at that night for touching her inappropriately. In his first letter when he got home he told me that if he had not been writing letters to me throughout the war he would never have made it through. He told me in one of his letters that it was the middle of the night and he was suffering a terrible anxiety attack. He was having bad dreams about the war and was constantly afraid. He had been up biting his covers and breathing hard but decided to write me a letter to unleash it. He got a job in an appliance store and fell in love with the manager. He was afraid to talk to her because she was intimidating in beauty. Her name was Celia and she was twelve years older than him. He always wanted to strike up conversation with her but had more or less forgotten how to speak to females. He also knew that she would never engage in a relationship with somebody who worked in the store, so instead of talking to her he spoke to absolutely nobody at work. She was funny but he never laughed at her jokes because he was afraid to do anything around her, and after two months on the job she fired him because they had “communication problems.” Christopher was in his late twenties at this point. Most of his letters after he was fired were about loneliness. The only person he ever spoke to was his landlady

I am old. I am quiet. I know more than he did. You’re right, I would have said to him, you don’t stand a chance in this world, but that’s no reason to kill yourself. The human experience is one of inferiority and if you feel like you don’t stand a chance in the world then you know that your heart is working correctly. You know you are rational and you know that you understand yourself. That’s not a reason to die. It’s a reason to live, I would have said to him. The sun is dark now and the pond is invisible. I lie on my back, unfold the papers and press them against my chest thinking that maybe I will never have to move again. The nocturnal sky. The cool grass on my neck. The mountains beyond, and yet the beauty of the planet seems emptier. After a moment I stand up and walk back to my little house where I write the dedication page to my next novel: In loving memory of Christopher Diamond.

38


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

by Robert Graham

Being Monica Bellucci

A

She thanked her and left. It’s before my time too, you twit.

s she sped towards her own gate, Holly Carter braked, the rear wheel skidded and she turned the handlebar, tore up the front path, swung her right leg over the saddle and, applying her foot to the ground, she came to a scuffing, rattling halt at her front door. In the hall, she let her bike fall with a clatter against her housemates’ bikes. ‘Hi!’ she shouted to no-one in particular and took the stairs to her room two at a time. It wasn’t often that David took her out for a meal and she couldn’t help looking forward to it. Moments later her shoes, clothes and underwear were piled up one on top of another as if she had been raptured out of them, and she was in a steaming bath, flexing and release her tired muscles. Venezia wasn’t a big step up from Pizza Hut and David was going to say ‘Let’s just have the house red, then’ in a way which suggested that they usually had something much grander, but it was the end of the working week and technically Venezia was a restaurant, so hey: he weekend starts here. She twisted the hot tap off with her toes. She didn’t spend long thinking about what to wear – pleated culottes and a Breton top. Hair up, lippy on, she rode over to Huyton station, locked her bike to a lamppost, rolled a cigarette on the train and was getting off at Lime Street by half seven.

Bold Street was starting to fizz with laughter and excitement. The thought of lighting up made Holly march along Slater Street, her shoulder-bag slapping against her back as she passed Bar Red and Probe Records and came to Venezia, where the tall, lugubrious waiter who usually served them waved her to a seat at one of the outside tables. ‘Signorina,’ he said, sounding more Sligo than Sicily. ‘How are you, Dec?’ He inclined his head in a way he presumably thought waiterly or possibly Italian. ‘Would you like to order a drink?’ ‘Yes, actually. I’ll have a large glass of Camillo de Lellis if you don’t mind.’ ‘Why would I?’ he said and sauntered off. It was only David who would mind, and suddenly she didn’t care. She took out her roll-up, flipped her Zippo, lit it and inhaled. David was supposed to be here now, but he would be late. He was not the most reliable boyfriend she had ever had. So. She exhaled. Unreliable, tight-fisted and what else? Obsessed with Everton. Rigid. Insecure. And here she stopped. Let’s dwell on the positive, girl. She took another pull on her cigarette and thought about it. Soon, she was thinking about something else and then Dec arrived with her wine. He set a white tissue coaster on the table before placing the glass carefully on top of it. ‘Lovely,’ she said and thanked him. She liked his dark features. He looked Italian, even if he was Irish. A bit like David, who looked like boyfriend material, even if he wasn’t.

Beth Williams stopped before the mirror in the library’s staffroom and studied her floral print dress. It was perhaps the only item in her wardrobe that was guaranteed to draw compliments from people at work and it was lovely. She felt taller in it and slimmer. She offered her reflection a smile. Maybe she should try being blonde. Maybe it wasn’t too late to risk lipstick sometimes. A sparkling, summery instrumental began to play. There was a name for this style … bossa nova? But where was it coming from? Nobody played music in the library. It wasn’t what libraries were for. She slung her handbag over her shoulder and went back into the library. The music was still playing, not too loud, not too soft. Listening to it, she imagined riding a Vespa along a coast road on the Mediterranean, her hair blowing in the slipstream. She looked around her, at the front desk, the computer terminals, the shelves. She could see no source for the music and as she walked over to her colleague Anna, who was on the desk, it faded out. ‘Did you hear that music just now?’ she said. Anna looked mildly bewildered and shook her head. ‘I heard some bossa nova. It’s very strange.’ ‘What?’ ‘You know, like ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ – that sort of thing.’ Anna shook her head again. ‘Before my time.’

Beth didn’t notice the dull parts disappearing from her life, but they did and not gradually, but instantly – although she was not aware of that at the time. There was the mysterious music business and then the only things that happened to her were things which contributed to a growing sense that, well, life had a purpose. Gone were the wait for the bus, most of the preparation of her evening meal, all of the dishwashing, tidying the living room and waiting and in their place were things that, yes, had purpose, were going somewhere, were tense, and involved – what was it? – conflict. She left work. She was on the bus going home. She ate a plate of ham and salad and drank a tumbler of elderflower cordial. The doorbell rang and when she opened the door, her sister Francesca was standing on the mat with tears in her eyes. ‘Oh dear,’ Beth said. ‘Come on in.’ At the kitchen table, Francesca mopped her eyes and blew her nose. ‘I need your help,’ she said.

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

‘What happens here?’ Her forearm was dewy in the dank heat and her cotton dress clung to the small of her back. Francesca sipped her espresso. ‘Maybe nothing.’ She could be so annoying. ‘We hope that they’re still in his mother’s flat, which is just…’ she scanned the balconies on the terrace opposite them and pointed ‘…there. Above the white van covered in graffiti.’ Beth nodded. Obviously, it was very wrong of him to have snatched Sophia, but she didn’t really blame Tony for taking up with that au pair. Francesca spent all his money and was endlessly dissatisfied. ‘Where’s the exit?’ she said. ‘Where would he come out of his mother’s building?’ ‘There. See that luggage shop?’ Francesca indicated a narrow store called Pelletteria Valigeria. A couple of canvas shopping trolleys and two or three suitcases stood outside. ‘The doorway to the left.’ The music playing now involved bassoons and violas. She was tempted to tell Francesca that she feared for her own sanity – what was happening inside her head and what outside, in the world? – but somehow it was easier to kid herself that nothing was wrong if she did not mention it. Things accelerated again. Tony, Francesca’s estranged husband, emerged. (Rhythmic, looping string figures, which reminded her of the music in the Bourne films.) They followed him into a metro station. (Solo upright bass.) The train they were on shot through a series of tunnels. (Wah-wah guitar and more than one drumkit.) They sat in a café opposite a shabby bar where Tony sipped from a bottle Peroni, watching clients on the other pavement tables play chess. (Repeated piano chords.) A woman arrived with a child and he stood up, blocking their view, but when the three sat down, there was Sophie, her niece. (Chilly Hammond organ.) ‘Baby,’ Francesca said, her voice trembling. But Beth wasn’t thinking about Sophia. She was looking at Tony and remembering what a charming, easy presence he was. He had been wasted on Francesca. If he’d married her, Beth thought, there would never have been a need to run off with anyone.

Francesca had never asked her for anything. ‘You what?’ she said. ‘I need your help.’ She lit a cigarette, which Beth hated, but could never say so, which made it all the more annoying. She explained what had happened and what she intended to do about that and when. ‘I can’t do it on my own, though,’ she added. ‘But I’m working tomorrow.’ The impression her sister gave was that people who were married, even if their husbands had taken off with the au pair, people who had children, had priority over those who weren’t or didn’t. There was never any evidence she could have used in court, but somehow Beth always felt that Francesca regarded her as a sad case. ‘I can’t just drop everything and fly to Rome. Couldn’t it wait until I can ask for some compassionate leave?’ ‘No. I can’t rely on him to stay there where he knows I’ll think to look for him. It has to be tonight.’ Holly took her time with the Camillo de Lellis. It was the only glass of it she would be getting tonight and she wanted to make it last. She checked the time. David was now half an hour late. It was true that she wanted to linger over her wine, but time in general felt as if it were slowing down, and she was a girl who liked to live fast. She sighed and rolled another cigarette. It would be cool if personal ads included a section for women who wanted to offload their boyfriends. What might she post for David? Boyfriend available. Unreliable, tight-fisted, insecure, rigid. Keen Everton fan. Would like to have GSOH. It’d be interesting to see who responded to her advert. Maybe it was imagining an offloading boyfriends section that got her thinking of her Comedy Prawn list. In the early days, it was easy – Prawn Free, The Prawn Supremacy, Breaking Prawn– but the more you came back to it, the harder Comedy Prawn became. The Prawn Birds only arrived with an effort and sometimes you might break the rules – Badly Prawn Boy, for instance, or ‘The Boy With The Prawn In His Side’ – and it could be some time before you would concede to yourself that you had. ‘Prawn of the Dead!’ she said, pleased with herself until she realised she had been speaking and not thinking it. Her mind turned back to the personal ads and she had a better idea. There ought to be a Valedictory Messages section. It would be like Valentine messages, only less romantic.

Holly looked up, and there was Dec again, looming in the Venezia’s doorway. He gave her a sober nod and approached her table. ‘Would you like to order?’ ‘D’you know, I don’t think so tonight. Think I’m going to give up on the boyfriend and just – ‘what? ‘ – paint the town red.’ ‘Very good.’ ‘What do you do for fun, Dec?’ ‘Ah.’ It was almost a laugh. She imagined that if he really laughed it would be loose and golden. ‘I don’t know about fun, but I’m a great man for the flicks.’ ‘A film buff.’ ‘More of a geek, I’d say.’ ‘Any tips?’ ‘Oh I never choose a film in advance. I just go to the cinema and pick one when I get there. Saves you sitting down with too great expectations, if you get me drift.’ ‘I do, I do. Right,’ she said. She sank the rest of her wine and got to her feet. ‘I’m off.’ She slipped a fiver

It was astonishing how fast Beth’s life moved now – often with a musical soundtrack that only she could hear. She and Francesca were in the air. They were passing through customs at Rome airport. They were sitting at a boulevard café and it was 28º at 10.30 in the morning. Some of her experiences at this time only lasted long enough for her to register them.

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

Holly Carter sat reading Great Expectations at a beach restaurant. ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ played on the lo-fi hi-fi on the bar counter and now and then she lost her concentration and hummed along with it. A large Peroni parasol afforded cool shade and the big, dark circles of her sunglasses shielded her from prying eyes. ‘Signorina,’ a familiar voice said. She lowered her sunglasses and peered over them. ‘Look what I found to have with our dinner tonight.’ As if for her to inspect, he held out a bottle of Camillo de Lellis. ‘Oh yes,’ she purred. ‘Have you ever been told you look like Monica Bellucci?’ Holly smiled and pushed the sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose. It would be a while before she got tired of this joke. They got up and began to walk back to their apartment. ‘You know, there was one thing about that film, Dec,’ Holly said. ‘I could go with having lots of minor characters played by Monica Bellucci.’ ‘I’d say it was a kind of homage to Being John Malkovich.’ ‘Yeah, but I just didn’t buy a librarian as the plucky heroine in a thriller.’ A breeze came in off the Mediterranean and gently lifted her loose hair. People turned their heads as she passed by and she looked straight ahead with the wind blowing, blowing.

under her glass and then paused. ‘Listen, I’m not one for too great expectations, either, so how would it be if we went to the cinema and picked a film together? I mean, y’know, some time when you’re free?’ And more fast-moving, truncated experiences: Beth and Francesca were in a taxi, flying through narrow, congested streets after Tony and Sophia in a cab, too - horns blaring, brakes screeching. They skulked behind racks of flimsy dresses in a department store where every third sales assistant looked like Monica Bellucci and Tony bought clothes for Sophia. Finally, they came to a park near the Spanish Steps. Tony paid their cabdriver and he and Sophia sauntered over to a play area. Beth and Francesca sat in their cab and watched Tony push his daughter on a low-slung swing. Where they were parked, the taxi was almost hidden behind a small chalet that sold cold drinks and ice creams. ‘We may get our chance here,’ Francesca murmured. ‘You should phone the police.’ Her sister looked at her and let out a little snort. After only a few minutes – Beth remembered that he had a low boredom threshold – Tony and Sophia came to the chalet and he bought ice creams which they sat on a nearby bench to eat. Beth could sense Francesca holding her breath. It felt as if they were trapped in a lift. Over at the bench, Tony was on his feet and talking to a woman (who also looked like Monica Bellucci). Francesca flipped the door handle next to her. ‘I’m going to grab Sophia and get her in here, but I need you to do something to slow Tony down.’ ‘What? What can I do?’ ‘I don’t know. Just get in his way.’ ‘Okay,’ she said, but it didn’t sound very confident, not even to herself. She tumbled out of the car after Francesca. When her sister came up to Sophia and took a hold of her arm, the girl’s eyes opened wide but she offered no resistance and ran with her mother back to the white taxi. It must have been something like the music, the disappearance of anything dull and the way some of what she was experiencing seemed to be chopped up, but Francesca and Sophia looked as if they were moving in slow motion. Ignoring the tricks her mind was playing, Beth kept her eye on Tony, who was still chatting to the young woman, and backed slowly over the grass towards the cab. Tony glanced to the side, saw that Sophia wasn’t on the bench and, after only a moment to take in what was happening, he came running towards the taxi, right at her. Those repeating string figures that reminded her of the Bourne films were playing and his running and her getting in his way and their scuffle and her knee ramming into his thigh were a collage of flashing, blurred, cut up reality. He put his weight on the leg she had dead-legged and fell down. A couple of times as she fled, Beth looked over her shoulder at him there on the dry, yellow grass, then she jogged to the taxi and climbed back in. ‘Drive!’ Francesca shouted and they were off, the girl safe between them in the back of their taxi. (Descending chords on a Rhodes electric piano.)

• • • Robert Graham's short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies and on BBC Radio 4. His first novel, Holy Joe, was published by Troubador in 2006. Salt published his short story collection, The Only Living Boy, in 2009 and his novella A Man Walks Into A Kitchen.

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

The First Time

Joe

by Holly Day

by Holly Day

he said I was making him crazy, he said I was too young to be spending so much time at his house, ditching school to watch tv

I pretend I’m blind so they won’t bother me, but even I know when I’m being so persistently stalked. I admit I’m a killer but it was out of love. It’s a complicated story, but if the man in the shadows wants to ask me why I killed his brother, he can come into the light

with him, still wearing the old sweat pants he slept in the night before. he said

and ask me and I will tell him. I will.

I was too pretty to waste my time hanging out with an old man, that I should try to meet a boy my own age. but I knew those boys would never talk to me.

Collapse by Donald Ishikawa I stare into your pictures, You were proud. A dauntless beacon above the ranks, The eagle perched vigilant.

The Wife by Holly Day

The eyes that peer back, Unflinching in their judgment, Honed like a blade. Instilling bravura in our defenders.

hand in hand, fingers locked in a bright show of marital bliss, smile for the outside world to see. no reflection of nightly rituals of blood and bone, of skin against metal the room with a

I look at you, Now you're feeble and helpless. Exhaustion wasting away at a once powerful form, Sinking into your chair. Your eyes glazed with time, Peerless knowledge corroded. The once keen scrutiny, Now a dulled and rusted trinket.

drain in the floor. her smile is carefully controlled, quiet years of hiding a mouth full of chipped, dying teeth, lips rouged to hide the hairline splits in her flesh, the way the

Gazing into nothingness, No thought nor purpose. You just sit blankly, For blighted existence to end.

skin puckers in too many directions when she tries to speak. he shelters her with his body in public, banishing questions from friends and family who ask why she never calls anymore.

• • • Donald Ishikawa is a high school graduate who is now an avid poetry writer. After a year in a creative writing class he not only loves writing poetry, he also aspires to make his writing better through submitting to publishing websites and posting on online forums.

• • • Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her poetry has appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Oxford American, and Slipstream. Her books include The Book Of, A Bright Patch of Sunlight, Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar-All-in-One for Dummies, and Music Theory for Dummies, which has recently been translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese. 42


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

Always On My Mind by John Tustin It was in my father’s car, My wife and myself in the backseat. Willie Nelson came on the radio, He was singing Always On My Mind And I had never listened to the words before, But that night I did. We were in South Carolina And those streets are black at night. If you look out the window All you see is yourself staring back. I started to think about you And tears came Because that song could be about you, Me and you. I stared out at the black nothingness Beyond the window and thought About you, Moments of you. I hadn’t thought much about you in years, just sometimes In passing, and now I was thinking of all The silences I never filled, all the things I knew were true but called a lie And all the things I knew were lies that I swore Were true. My wife looked at me And she asked why I was crying And I told her I was listening to the song And thinking about her And she gave me this triumphant smile. It was a smile of vindication, of victory, It was a deathmask smile. The kind of smile that would never have crossed your face Had I told you the truth. And that’s why I heard the same song tonight And there you are again, The tears in your big Spanish eyes Staring back at me From the black roads Of South Carolina And from that apartment in College Point And from this sad and lonely room Where you haunt me tonight, As lovely as you ever were. Tonight I tell you the truth. I really did love you And I’m so very sorry. You were never second best.

Buk by John Tustin it was like Bukowski wrote about every moment of his life real or imagined and it is wonderful and horrible and sometimes unbelievable and sometimes mundane and even egotistical and boring but you know I’ve read every word loved it sometimes and been ambivelant sometimes and Bukowski I drain this brew and think of you because this poem is one like one you should have thrown away but didn’t and I’m glad in every sense • • • John Tustin is the divorced father of two perfect children. His poetry is forthcoming in Askew, RiverSedge, The Alarmist, and others. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry is a link to his poetry online.

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012

by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip

Little Red Light T

‘OK.’ I stand here. Uncertain. I go to the kitchen and pour myself some iced water. I hear the creak of footsteps on the landing. Then the toilet bowl splashing. Moths batter on the kitchen windows’ glass. I rinse my cup and put it on the rack and turn off the main lights and go into the downstairs bathroom. Once I’ve gotten rid of my too-tight clothes I comb my hair, brush my teeth and wash and dry my armpits. I stare at myself in the mirror. I lean in. Ugh. My foundation is caked. Powder has melded with perspiration to form a congealed goo in the centre of my chin. Around my eyes the eyeliner has run into the crevices and flecks of mascara stick to the bags. I sigh. I wring out the cloth and place it over my face. The water soothes my skin. I open my eyes. The world’s all white. I suck in a filtered humid lungful. I take it off. I rinse and wipe, rinse and wipe, until instead of being caked with goo, my face just looks blotchy and red. I make a twisted cone with a clean corner of the cloth and swirl it around in my navel. I feel a kick. ‘Sorry bub, have I woken you.’ I look down at my belly. My stretch marks are becoming more prominent. Long, thin, irregular purpley lines. Not a lot I can do about them. Not a lot I can do about my new dark brown line either. The one which runs from my mons and up over the curve of my belly to where it peters out just beneath my breastbone. My nipples and areolas are also changing. From the baby pink they’d always been to a deeper, darker brown. And my breasts are getting bigger too. I already feel uncomfortable with the extra weight. Ugh! Gross! I examine it in the mirror. My nose wrinkles. Double Gross! I hadn’t noticed it before. A short curly black hair growing just under the left nipple like a refugee pube. I reach for the tweezers and pull it out. ‘Ouch!’ My nipples harden. I check carefully. There’s no others. I rub Biodynamic Beauty Lotion into my face and then Supple Skin Soothing Gel over my legs and belly. I finish off with Revitalising Almond Hand Cream and add a dab of Poison to my neck. I leave the bathroom and go into the walk-in robe of the spare bedroom where I store my clothes. I choose a pair of black satin lacy panties. They’re way too small. I settle for a peach-coloured slip that still just fits.

he sun’s gone behind the hills by now and tufts of amber-coloured clouds drift high in the deepening sky. It’s hot. Every living thing outside looks thirsty. Eddies of tiny insects swirl above patches of dirt and dead grass on the nature strip and the rhododendrons by the mailbox are wilting. I pull into the carport and turn the engine off. The air in the car stales immediately. Scott opens his door. ‘Thanks for driving Honey.’ He leans over and gives me a smack on the cheek. Tannins mingle with hot air. ‘No problems wine breath,’ I say, pecking him back. ‘You said you didn’t mind if I had a couple of glasses.’ ‘Just teasing,’ I say. I manoeuvre my belly around the steering wheel. His gait is slightly unsteady as we walk to the front door. Dry leaves crackle under our feet. He stands back as I find the right key. ‘Oh man,’ he says. ‘Is it ever going to rain?’ His arms encircle me. I smell his cologne. Feel the scrape of stubble against the back of my neck. ‘Stop it. I’m trying to open the door.’ He eases off slightly, pushes forward again. The lock turns. The door swings open with a groan of swollen wood. We both stumble in laughing. He gives my boobs a squeeze then lets go. ‘I’ll go wash the dishes.’ ‘Very funny,’ I say. I turn around and kiss him. This time properly. I can taste steak and chocolate. ‘I just wanted to say “Happy birthday” birthday boy.’ ‘Thanks.’ He hugs me back. ‘Unfortunately you should call me birthday old man, not birthday boy.’ ‘Don’t be silly. Thirty-eight isn’t old.’ ‘Try telling that to a twenty-one year old.’ He draws me closer to him, his hand holding onto my bum. He kisses my forehead. I feel his breath in my hair. We stand here in the darkened lounge room. The fridge hums. The clock ticks. When I move to stroke him he’s stepped away. He turns on the lounge room lights and bends down and takes off his shoes. ‘Need a hand with yours?’ he asks. ‘Actually yes.’ I lean on his shoulder. ‘Ouch,’ he says. ‘They look sore.’ I scrunch my toes back and forth on the rug, enjoying the air between them. I look down at my feet, at the thick red indented lines that run across their tops. ‘For the rest of the pregnancy I think I’ll be sticking to ugg boots,’ I say. ‘I don’t blame you.’ He puts our shoes in the chest by the door and heads towards the stairs. ‘I’ll see you upstairs, OK Hon?’ he says. 44


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

He stretches for the lamp switch. He stops. ‘You’re OK with that aren’t you Honey?’ ‘Of course I am.’ He pecks my forehead. ‘Love you.’ ‘Love you too.’ The light goes off. The mattress moves as Scott settles. I lie in the dark on my back. The lines of the clock radio cast a faint green tinge in the room. I hear the whine of a mosquito trying to get in through the screen. ‘What! The! Fuck!’ I yell. I switch the lamp on. I stand up out of bed and point at him. ‘What?’ He rubs his eyes and squints up at me. ‘You think I’m repulsive, don’t you?’ ‘What?’ he says again. He sits up against the bedhead. ‘Bunny! What are you talking about?’ ‘You think I’m fat and ugly!’ I scream. ‘Bunny. The neighbours —’ ‘Don’t you?’ ‘No I don’t.’ ‘I come to bed willing to make love with you and all you do is ignore me.’ ‘I didn’t ignore —’ ‘Fat and ugly!’ I stomp my feet. ‘Hon —’ ‘Fat! Fat! Fatty, fat, FAT!’ ‘Honey. Stop it. Seriously. You’re skinny and you’re beautiful.’ ‘Well why don’t you want to fuck me then?’ ‘I’m tired and I had a bit too much to drink. That’s all.’ ‘We haven’t made love for ages. Not since …’ I look at the lamp and count. ‘Not since before the nineteen-week ultrasound.’ I point at him with both index fingers. ‘That’s it, isn’t it. You won’t fuck me because I’m fat and ugly and I’m getting even bigger.’ ‘Stop that! Now!’ He gets out on his side and starts to circle the bed. I back away. ‘You were the one who started it anyway!’ I yell. ‘How dare you give me mixed signals.’ ‘I didn’t Honey.’ He reaches for me. I twist. I’m against the wall. He rests his hands on my shoulders. ‘Now I don’t want to hear any more of this OK? You’re the sexiest pregnant woman I’ve ever known.’ I glare at his chest. I clench my fist and hit it. ‘Ughhh.’ He steps back. ‘You did.’ ‘Did what?’ ‘You did give me mixed signals.’ The lamp shade is hot against my side. ‘When we got home you were rubbing your dick against my bum and now you can’t even get it up.’ ‘Bunny, it’s not like that.’ He glances at the window. ‘Just because I get an erection doesn’t mean we always have to make love.’ I go to slap him. He catches my wrist. I begin to cry. He cuddles me. After a while he switches off the lamp and we lie back down on the bed. Front to front, face to face, forehead against forehead.

As I go up the stairs I wonder if Scott’s already asleep. He isn’t. He’s sitting up reading. ‘Boy it’s hot in here.’ He glances at me. ‘You can put the fan on if you want to.’ ‘I think I will.’ I walk to the corner of the room. Bend over. Take my time to switch it on. I straighten up and turn around. He’s not watching. Cool air blows on the back of my legs. I go around to my side of the bed and get in. I curl up next to Scott and rest my head against his arm. ‘You don’t want the doona on, do you?’ I say. ‘Mmm?’ ‘I said you don’t want the doona on, do you?’ ‘No. I guess not.’ I kick at it until it lies crumpled at our feet. I curl up closer. The fan hums on and on. Every fifteen seconds or so there’s a faint thunk as it reaches the end of its rotation and turns back the other way. ‘What are you reading?’ He tilts the cover at me, eyes still on the page. ‘What’s it about?’ ‘Mmm?’ ‘I said what’s your book about?’ ‘It’s a medieval whodunit where a monk solves some murders.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Well at least I presume he does. Aren’t you going to read?’ ‘Maybe in a bit.’ I start to play with the course hairs on his thigh. ‘Stop that!’ He jiggles his leg. ‘It’s ticklish.’ ‘Sorry.’ I look at the cars on his boxer shorts. I look at the framed poster of Prague on the wall. I look out the bedroom door. Down the hallway in the lounge room I can see the little red light on the TV glowing. I swing my leg over and press my groin against his knee. His eyes widen. He looks at me. ‘You’re not wearing undies.’ ‘No shit Sherlock.’ I go to kiss him. He kisses me back but I don’t feel any movement beneath the cars. He breaks off the kiss, inserts his bookmark into his book and puts it down next to the lamp. ‘We should get some sleep,’ he says. I touch his nipple. He flinches. ‘Don’t you want some dessert?’ I say. ‘That’s really sweet of you Honey,’ he says. ‘But we don’t have to just because it’s my birthday.’ ‘Maybe I want to,’ I say. He hugs me and scoots down so his head’s resting on the pillow. ‘Thanks Bunny,’ he says. ‘But it’s nearly eleven. I’ll be Dr Zombie at work tomorrow if I don’t get some sleep.’ ‘OK.’ ‘Plus it’s really hot.’ ‘It is.’ ‘And our stomachs are nearly bursting. Or at least mine is.’ ‘Mine too.’ 45


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I roll to the side as much as my belly will let me and place my hands down on the mattress and brace myself. He tries to stick it up my arse. ‘Stop it!’ I yell. I kick at his legs. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ‘It’s my birthday.’ There’s a slight whine to his voice. ‘So?’ ‘You used to let me.’ ‘That was years ago. Before we were married! We’re not going to start that up again.’ I roll away from him. ‘I’ve had enough,’ I say. ‘I want to go to sleep.’ I feel him shift closer. He starts to fondle my bum. I slap his hand. ‘Go away.’ He doesn’t. I feel his breath on my neck. A drop of sweat lands on my cheek. I reach behind me. I reach for his scrotum and squeeze.

He massages my neck, my shoulders, my back. Our breaths mingle in a warm eddy between us. We kiss again. Properly. I feel the cars start to move. I hook a thumb around his waistband and pull downwards. He starts tugging my slip up. We get tangled. We laugh and sit up in the dark and sort ourselves out. The boxers and slip hit the floor with a faint whoomph. I move my circled hand up and down. He pushes me back on the bed. He nips my neck. ‘Hello boobies.’ His mouth settles on my breasts. He tiny kisses his way slowly downwards. I let my thighs fall apart. As his tongue runs around my navel I think of the curly hair, the tweezers, the fact I haven’t showered. ‘Ow, ow, ow! Let go of my ears.’ I don’t until he’s back at my level. ‘C’mon,’ I say. ‘Let’s wrestle.’ He supports himself on one elbow and looks down at me. ‘What’s the matter?’ I say. ‘Are you worried that I’ll fall pregnant?’ ‘Very funny,’ he says. ‘I’m worried that I’ll squash you.’ ‘Don’t be silly.’ ‘I’m not.’ ‘Yes you are,’ I say. ‘I’d offer to get on top but I don’t think my legs will hold out.’ He kisses me again. ‘We could just cuddle.’ ‘Now you’re being stupid.’ I turn away from him, onto my side. ‘We’ve managed positions other than missionary in the past. I’m sure we can manage it again.’ He leans over. He tilts my head towards him. We kiss. He shifts upwards. We kiss some more. He moves. He’s kneeling at my shoulders now. Pushing pressure on my hair. ‘Ahhh … excuse me.’ I feel it touch my chin. ‘Stop it!’ He does. I can see the whites of his eyes. ‘I thought we were going to wrestle,’ I say. He goes to kiss me. I turn away. ‘Well?’ ‘I just thought …’ ‘Thought what?’ ‘Maybe I could have a blow job instead.’ ‘Forget it,’ I say. ‘My jaw’s sore.’ I open and close my mouth. It clicks. ‘C’mon,’ I say, dropping my head back down on the pillow. ‘If you don’t take this chance now you’ll miss out.’ There’s silence. I feel him watching me. ‘Just a sec,’ he says. He gets out of bed. He goes into the bathroom and closes the door and turns the fan on. He’s in there for ages. I’m just about to go check on him when there’s a flush. He comes out. Penis erect and glistening. ‘Did you put Vaseline on your dick?’ I ask. He makes a non-committal grunt and gets back in beside me. We start kissing again. His warm oily glans presses between my legs.

Maureen coughs. ‘So what happened then?’ she asks me. I look at her click clacky balls-on-wire gadget. I look at her copy of Clinical Psychology in the bookshelf. I look at the snow globe on the desk. ‘We fought some more,’ I say. ‘Then I made him sleep on the couch.’ ‘How did he take that?’ she says. ‘He was really angry,’ I say. ‘In the morning he told me about John.’ • • • Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip are a husband and wife team. Suvi holds a Master's degree in Writing and Literature from Deakin University and has published many short stories in various literary magazines and online in Australia, the UK (including on 'East of the Web') and the United States, and has worked as a journalist in Australia and Canada. Luke is an OBGYN who enjoys writing, travel and photography in what little spare time he has. Together they recently published a featured short story in Ars Medica, a literary journal that explores the interface between the arts and medicine.

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a level-head to guide home over a horizon of daybreak or dusk to the wife, the two bedroom, the two dogs. I remember the night I got the call on how the dogs would need someone else to watch them. How his wife never calls. How she said, “Jim was in the mountains near Wheeling, West Virginia.” It becomes memory after a body has flown through a windshield, after it has landed in an adjacent mountain lake and how especially hard I wished for a board and nail for that catfish, that Jesus, that Jim.

Angst by Adam InTae Gerard Pulled from the rafter of love & violence by the half moon at dusk in the nadir of your crimson age you trekked the smilewide sunset contumacious as the discorded sea at the track of convention & dissent a message in silver bottles a ghost among lost relics searching for an idol hand.

Helen of Troy by Adam InTae Gerard

You incendiary shadow of a demotic haze under the errant litany of a tangerine star cropped the glimmer of your benefaction

It is a tryst made in hell despite your armament of flowers. Her cold curve pays high hat to a tithe on a tremor.

the world is pregnant with glass windows where the klaxon ducked its tumor of sound in the hemorrhage of your unbecoming.

Warlike words entomb her in the visage of a golden bough.

For the procurement of a falling floret the hybrid rhythm of the discordant leapt twice across your aquiline heart

A thousand ciphered diamonds contrive to unlock her cadenced gait.

as the townsfolk walked in circles & heat rose slowly from the floor.

The marble truth is that she has been & will always be the legal instrument of one's surrender.

• • •

The sky lays down to die the stars go unplugged & pyres stab the atmosphere.

All Nails And Boards by Christopher Bowen

At the epiphora of height that impelled a torch into the undressed moon you cut your losses that profusion of paper cuts.

We were dealt cards and played them. Down a quarter mile of road on bikes trying to get smokes was very much like the day he came over to go swimming in the lake. Dad and I were fighting in the driveway, literally fighting, and about to use fists and I said “Com’n, come on over!” Dad yelling, “No, don’t, never Jim!” Ten years later we caught a monster catfish of the lake there with his wife, pictures taken. A catfish has a simple head. My father always said to kill a catfish for cleaning in ‘the most humane way’ was to bludgeon the head a bit to knock it unconscious or use a board and nail through the skull. Two slams of a hammer from Jim and we got that first catch. Don’t ask what happened during the first slam. Later was Jim’s wedding, wedding reception, the nights with just a six or twelve pack, he and I. I never felt pain with Jim around. As a trucker and there the road, he drove madly through states and uneven loads teetering on the brink of a continent. He rolled from sea to shining sea and only

You exit the dismantled play. The city snarls before you. • • • Adam InTae Gerard received his B.A. in English Literature from Iowa State University (2009). Adam is currently a third-year master’s student studying philosophy at Northern Illinois University. His poems have appeared in the November 3rd Club, Sketch, Paper Darts, and P&W. Adam is a jerk and prefers bowl ramen noodles. Bathroom stalls across the nation are inscribed with his lithe stroke and political commentary.

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aunt appeared. “Bianca! What are you doing? People will think you’re a nosy body.” “Our neighbor’s moved into the well.” “Well, that’s his choice, isn’t it?” “He wants to get out.” “He told you that?” “No. But, who would want to live in a well?” “Bianca, stop poking your nose into other people’s business.” “Shouldn’t we help?” “Silly Bianca! He wanted to move into the well!” Her aunt patted Bianca on the head, saying matter-of-factly, “People make their choices, but we need to respect them. That’s called tolerance, dear.” Bianca nodded, watching her aunt fade into the darkness, wishing that she too could walk home, but her neighbor still needed her. “Bianca,” shouted her uncle, “what are you still doing out here?” “Uncle, you’re friends with the neighbor. He moved into a well.” “Well, he hasn’t asked me for help. He doesn’t want help.” “He might need it, and you lived in a well before. You know how to move out.” “He didn’t come visit me in my well, not even once. Besides, when I moved out of the well, I really wanted to move out, and I did it all on my own! Mind your own business, Bianca, and hurry inside. It’s almost night.” Bianca looked up, and indeed, the sky was growing darker by the minute. A mist was rolling over the land, falling forward, almost swallowing her, and the moon was already so large and full, so tangible, that Bianca wondered whether she was seeing the last of daylight or the first of night. It was hard to tell. Bianca watched her uncle vanish into the sable shadows, and she peered once again into the well. There was hardly anything to see since the night swallowed any drop of light, but she could still hear the splashing of the neighbor. After rubbing her eyes and blinking a few times, adjusting to the darkness, Bianca could see the neighbor was still treading water but not with the slow, even strokes of before; instead, his arms flailed about as if disconnected from his body. (But, she did not notice the pinpricks of tears gathering on his long, pale eyelashes like dew gathering on rose petals. ) “I had it all wrong. I see differently in the dark.” Bianca thought aloud. “He must be happy! He didn’t ask for help, and he’s splashing around. He’s at home in the well.” She wanted to ask the neighbor if this was indeed the case, but Bianca held the question in; she had grown once the night set in and now knew that it was best to mind her own business. The water was now nearly motionless, still and gleaming as glass; only intermittent movements erupted from the neighbor as his arms and body progressively lost power; his head bobbed over and under the well water, his lungs steadily filling. He looked up to see the impossibly far-away night sky, with its peppering of stars, one last time, before surrendering to slumber in his well. Bianca was long gone, having skipped off into night, so that she did not hear his goodnight prayer.

Treading Water by Allison Ivans Coulson

B

ianca’s neighbor moved into a well twenty-feet from her house. She discovered this on a chilly October afternoon, when darkness was just beginning to swallow the scenery and the sun was dripping into the sky—the reds, oranges, and pinks, slipping to navy and black. Bianca was resting, nearly asleep, against a nearby oak tree, crisp fall leaves swirling around her; then, she heard the stirring of water within the well. Pursing her lips, she bent over, and peered in, gasping as she saw her neighbor deep inside the hole, treading water. “Are you alright down there?” she shouted. There was no answer. “Do you need help? Hello?” “N—no.” “Are you sure? Aren’t you tired?” “I—I’m fine.” The neighbor—of a ghostly pallor—replied, shivering, his eyes moist and red. “What are you doing down there?” “L—living.” “Why are you living there?” “I had nowhere else to go.” “It must be drafty at night. I can’t imagine that it’s comfortable.” “I—it wasn’t too bad in the beginning; it was p— pleasant actually, a type of sanctuary. But, now I—I’ve been here so long that it’s impossible to get out.” “Bianca,” scolded her father, “how many times must I tell you to not bother the neighbors?” “I was going to ask his name, Dad. See, he moved into the well.” Her father’s eyes flashed towards the well and then back at Bianca, his cheeks blushing. He muttered under his breath, “I know. Mind your own business.” “He’s treading water; he’s going to get tired. Maybe he needs help.” “How many times have I told you to mind your own business? He moved into the well because he likes it there.” “But, Dad—” “Fine, Bianca, throw some sticks into the well and then walk away,” growled her father, grabbing some nearby branches and shoving them into his daughter’s empty hands. She stared at the sticks and branches. “Throw them in, Bianca. You should try to help when you can,” he instructed. “Will branches help?” With a roll of his eyes, he took out a pen and paper and scribbled down a prayer. “Throw this in, too,” he added, grinning broadly and rounding his shoulders. “It feels good to help. Doesn’t it?” Her father straightened his coat and smoothed his pants before continuing his walk home where a full three-course meal and warm fire awaited him. A few minutes later, just as Bianca threw the last of the branches down to the neighbor in the well, Bianca’s 48


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

A Diet for Worms by William Ogden Haynes

D

nervous system that he could bullshit his way through just about any pedagogical situation, but he noticed that he was forced to do it on a more frequent basis as of late. When he suffered a seizure in the departmental office, he was taken to the hospital for examination. Just a glance at the doctor’s computer monitor allowed Chamberlain to diagnose himself, even before the physician could explain the problem. Much of the area pictured inside his cranium was almost black, which was normal, but the contrast medium used in the MRI highlighted a translucent mass that resembled a jellyfish aimlessly floating in the darkness of the ocean bottom. The doctor now wanted to order a stereotactic biopsy to obtain cells for use in a more specific diagnosis of what exactly that jellyfish was. Dr. Chamberlain, however, already knew it was a nasty brain tumor called a glioblastoma multiforme. As the doctor talked, Chamberlain had mentally turned down the volume and simply watched the doctor’s mouth move without hearing what he said. There was nothing this sawbones could tell him that he didn’t already know. For example, Chamberlain knew that this was not a growth to be admired like an orchid or hibiscus, but one to be feared. The glioblastoma is especially invasive and increases intracranial pressure due to the increasing size of the tumor. There is only so much room in the brain case and a tumor crowds out brain tissue as it weaves its way through the lobes of the brain. He knew that surgery is often the first option with the goal of removing 98% of the tumor. However, there is a very high rate of recurrence, both at the original site and at more distant locations depending on where the tendrils of the glioblastoma have infiltrated the brain tissue. This is why surgery alone cannot usually solve the problem. Typically surgery is followed by courses of radiation and chemotherapy to slow the growth of the remaining cancerous tissue. Chamberlain knew full well the prognosis for those poor souls with glioblastoma. Without treatment a mere three months of life remained, and if he tried to fight it he may have one to two years left on the planet. Even with treatment, one could bank on spending the latter portion of that reprieve in a nursing facility to compensate for the myriad of bodily functions lost to the tumor. The prognosis was even worse for those over sixty years of age, a landmark he had already passed. He did not want to end up in a hospital ward or hospice with a load in his adult diaper and spinach hanging like Spanish moss in his beard. The next day Chamberlain began researching alternative treatments for tumors in the brain. He found that the area just south of the Mexican border was a Mecca for alternative procedures such as enzyme therapy, chelation, vitamins, immune system therapies, diet alterations, blood purification, hyperthermia, laetril and

r. Anthony Chamberlain, professor of neuroanatomy at San Diego State University drove his Cadillac CTS down highway #1 from Tijuana to Rosarito, Mexico. Chamberlain was a fit and attractive seventy year old lifelong bachelor. Although he had just retired from teaching, he continued to wear dress shirts, bow ties and sport jackets with leather sleeve patches. In the passenger seat was Dr. Haywood Martin, a fifty year old who had earned degrees in biomedical science, medical technology, biochemistry, and microbiology. Martin looked exactly like his degrees sounded. He wore plastic rimmed eyeglasses, a lime green sport shirt with a ball point pen in the pocket and a pair of chinos. “So Anthony, tell me why we’re driving down to Mexico. You’ve been awfully secretive about this trip.” Chamberlain smiled. “We’re almost to Rosarito. Once we get there you’ll get the picture.” Rosarito is a city located on the Baja peninsula with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Chamberlain turned on Faustino Alvarado Street and pulled up to a clinic building with a large “for sale” sign written in two languages. According to the real estate brochure, the clinic included examination rooms, a waiting area, three surgical suites, recovery areas and a large laboratory facility. Most of the medical equipment also was included in the deal. The asking price was $1.5 million U. S. dollars. A look of understanding eclipsed Martin’s face. “Anthony, I can’t afford this. I’ve always wanted to move to Mexico, but I simply don’t have the money.” “You do now.” said Anthony. “I’m gonna buy this place so you can work stress free and actually charge people for your wonderful gifts.” After a tour of the clinic, Chamberlain and Martin met with attorneys and realtors. Anthony finally wrote a check for the entire amount and they headed back north toward San Diego. Chamberlain smiled with the satisfaction that can only come from having repaid a tremendous debt. Haywood Martin just stared out the car window at the passing scenery, his eyes glistening with tears. Five Years Earlier Chamberlain was on his knees in front of his new Kohler Rialto toilet tossing his cookies for the third time that day. He had experienced headaches, nausea and some faint, inconsistent numbness in his right arm. He also suspected he had some numbness in his right leg as well because he was not as sure-footed as usual. In addition, Dr. Chamberlain had some minor difficulties with memory, known only to him and unnoticed by his graduate class in neurology. He knew enough about the 49


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chew their way through normal brain tissue to get to the tumor. When the worms found the cancerous tissue they would eat all of it, not leaving behind even the two percent of the tumor that is typically unreachable by the most skilled of surgeons. Chamberlain got out of his car and approached the laboratory door. Although the operating hours posted on the door indicated that the lab had closed several hours ago, he tried the knob and the door opened into a Spartan waiting room. When Chamberlain entered a door marked “laboratory” he walked past a series of aquariums lined up against the wall. Dr. Martin was working with a large machine at the back of the room, but noticed Chamberlain ambling toward him carefully examining the laboratory setup. Martin extended his hand and smiled at Chamberlain. After the handshake Martin said “So, how long have you had the gioblastoma?” Chamberlain replied, “I’ve only known about it for a few days, but it’s probably been growing for months.” Martin extended his arm and pointed. “See the worms in aquarium number three. They increased their activity as soon as you walked by. They have an almost uncanny sense of smell. It’s a shame you didn’t come to visit my worms several months ago when the tumor first began to grow, because they would have had the same reaction, even in the beginning.” Chamberlain looked at the line of aquariums and noticed that the third one from the end was undulating with movement. “Why is that aquarium the only one that’s so active?” Martin smiled. “Because that’s the one containing only worms that were trained to eatgioblastoma multimorme. They could tell you had it the moment you got near the tank.” Martin went on to show Chamberlain other tanks where worms were trained to eat early astrocytomas, different types of gliomas, meningiomas, and medulloblastomas among others. “All the biopsies and the tumors that have been surgically removed are sent to the lab and instead of disposing of them as biohazards, I’ve carefully catalogued them by type and systematically fed them to my worms. I’ve been doing this for about ten years now.” Chamberlain went over to the gioblastoma aquarium and held his hand on the glass. The activity level of the worms increased markedly and he could see the slimy bodies moving against the front of the tank. Through the murky contents he caught glimpses of open mouths and sharp teeth visible even though the creatures were only a few millimeters in length. He stepped over to the adjacent tank putting his hand on the glass and there was no change in the movement of the worms in that aquarium. “Have you ever thought of using these worms to perform surgery?” “Well, that’s the point, isn’t it Dr. Chamberlain? Not too many people would come to that conclusion as swiftly as you.” Martin turned on a computer monitor on a nearby lab table. “This is a demonstration on a dog, but it’s important to note that cancer in dogs is very similar to cancer in people. As a matter of fact, the similarities are so great that dogs are being used commonly in comparative oncology studies to gain information about human cancers.” The screen came alive with the title ‘The

detoxification. Most of these treatments were illegal in the United States and sadly, the scientist in Chamberlain realized that none of them had been shown to result in clinically significant effects. The data from evidencebased practice were either missing or failed to show unambiguous results. A long list of famous people from Steve McQueen to Steve Jobs availed themselves of alternative treatments and died of cancer in spite of their wealth and efforts. Chamberlain closed out Google and turned off the desktop. Just as he was walking out of his study the phone rang. The caller was a Dr. Haywood Martin. “Is this Dr. Anthony Chamberlain? We’ve never met, but I run an independent laboratory here in town. We process all the biomedical tests from local hospitals and I got your name because we ran your analyses recently. I was wondering if you would be available to chat about your results.” Chamberlain replied, “Has there been some sort of mistake with the lab tests?” “No, unfortunately the test results were valid. I just wanted to talk with you about your plans now that you know about your situation. Are you going to have surgery followed by radiation and chemo?” “I’m definitely not going to undergo traditional treatment. Actually, I was just now exploring some alternative methods, but I’m not certain what I will finally elect as a treatment.” Martin paused. “Well, if you want to talk about alternative treatments, I would be glad to give you my perspective as a biologist and someone who has done some research into other options.” Chamberlain did not see what he had to lose by talking with Martin. “Just tell me where to meet you and we can talk.” The laboratory was located at the end of Duluth Avenue in the warehouse district. The building was constructed in the 1980’s and appeared modern in comparison to the structures that surrounded it. The laboratory processed various biological tests, performed histopathology and toxicology analyses and disposed of post-surgical biomedical waste. Typically in the evenings, Martin stayed late in the lab to work on a special research project. For ten years, he had been conducting experiments on the use of gnathostomiasis larvae which are flesh-eating worms with sharp teeth. The worms grow to between 1-3 millimeters and can travel throughout the body by chewing a path ahead of them. Often, people in Asia ingest them in raw or undercooked sea creatures and the worms can live for years in humans subsisting on body tissue. Martin had discovered that the worms could be conditioned to eat only certain types of tissue if they were fed one variety from birth. For example, a worm would eat only brain tissue if it had been exclusively fed such tissue since birth. Similarly, if you fed the worms fatty tissue, then they would only eat fat. Interestingly, the worms could detect their favorite food even if it was embedded in another type of tissue. So, a worm that was trained to eat fatty tissue would bore through brain tissue without eating it to get to a piece of fat embedded within. Martin had also determined that the worms could be trained to eat certain types of cancer tissue, such as particular types of tumors to the exclusion of anything else. These worms would 50


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

any more than my worm procedure. Any new treatment in this country requires a lot of development, animal studies, pilot studies with humans, double blinded randomized clinical trials and all of that takes years.” “So, you’ve only done it that one time?” asked Chamberlain nervously. “Yes, and you were correct, it apparently worked.” “Would you consider doing it on a human subject? Me, for instance,” said Chamberlain. Martin did not even hesitate. “Well, that’s why I asked you if you were going to undergo the traditional radiation and chemotherapy. I think people should use approved methods first, but you said you were looking for alternative treatments. I’d love to try my procedure on a human, but I want it to be your choice. There’s no guarantee that my approach will work like it did with Daisy, but I’m willing to try if you are. I’ll do the procedure at no cost to you since it’s illegal and experimental in nature.” Chamberlain said, “To me, I have nothing to lose in trying your procedure. It certainly makes more scientific sense to me than chelation therapy or detoxification. There is even a guy down in South America that says he can cure cancer by laying his hands on you. No, I want to try an alternative method that has at least some basis in science and your work with Daisy speaks for itself. At least I’ve seen it work and it makes sense to me. Also, even if it fails, it’s a lot less invasive than the surgery I would have to undergo prior to the radiation and chemotherapy.” “You know, of course, that what we’re talking about is totally illegal and not within the bounds of medical ethics. We would have to keep our arrangement to ourselves. Even if the procedure is successful, we unfortunately can’t tell anyone.” said Martin. Chamberlain once again eyed the third aquarium tank. “When can we begin?” On the evening of March 24th Chamberlain arrived at the laboratory after fasting for a full day prior to having the surgery. Martin had converted a section of the lab into a surgical suite with an operating table, instruments, IV drip, respirator, anesthetic, a cranial drill and a cranial saw. When Chamberlain saw the medical equipment, a pang of fear grabbed him and would not let go. This guy was not a surgeon or even a doctor for that matter. What if something went wrong during the procedure? Would Martin call 911 or just let him die and dispose of the body, feeding selected parts to his worms to hide the evidence. “Having second thoughts Anthony?” Martin said with a wry smile. “If you want to cancel, I fully understand and would not blame you. I can only assure you that if you go forward with this, I’ll do the very best I can.” Fear or not, Chamberlain thought about the torture of traditional treatment over a year or so. He reflected on the prognosis of three months to live with no treat-

Efficacy of Canine Brain Surgery Using Gnathostomiasis Larvae’. In a series of Powerpoint slides and videos a procedure was illustrated in which a one inch orifice was drilled in the skull of a Laborador retriever at the nearest point to the location of a tumor. A test tube full of worms was introduced into the hole and quickly disappeared into the brain tissue. The screen switched to a series of MRI images showing the worms migrating toward a tumor. As the worms arrived at the site of the lesion, the tumor gradually began to disappear. When it was totally gone, Dr. Martin held a test tube containing the same type of tumor tissue on the side of the dog’s head near the hole. As soon as the new tissue was situated, the worms backtracked through the opening they had created to get to the tumor, emerged from the hole in the side of the skull and into the tissue mass the doctor had placed in the test tube. Then, Martin placed the tumor tissue full of worms back into the aquarium. The next slides showed MRI postoperative images of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months in which there was no further growth at the site where the tumor had been. “Have you presented or published these results? If you have, I certainly haven’t seen them in the journals or convention programs.” said the obviously amazed Chamberlain. “This could revolutionize the entire field of neurosurgery!” Martin smiled and shook his head. “Maybe because you teach neurology you are not as familiar with the protocols for using human and animal participants in medical research. A study like the one I showed you would have taken many months to gain approval from our Institutional Review Board even for the use of an animal participant. My dog, Daisy, just didn’t have that much time before she would have died from the tumor. It’s a sharp decline in dogs, just like in humans. Also, I’m using tissue to feed the worms that should have been disposed of according to our guidelines for biomedical waste. If they knew I kept the tissue and fed it to my worms, I would have been in prison years ago. Finally, I’m not a surgeon, just a laboratory technician. If they knew I was doing “surgery” even on a dog without a veterinary medicine degree I’d be in violation of many medical licensing and certification guidelines. The only reason I took the chance is it was Daisy’s only opportunity and the only real “surgical” part of the operation was cutting the hole in the cranium. The worms do the rest. I studied a lot of surgical literature on how to open the cranium and patch it up after the operation. I also picked the brains of our best anesthesiologists at local hospitals. “ “But it worked!” said Chamberlain. “This makes so much more sense than all those other ‘alternative’ therapies that people have every day.” “Remember though,” replied Martin, “Those alternative therapies aren’t accepted by the mainstream medical community or the Food and Drug Administration

“You know, of course, that what we’re talking about is totally illegal and not within the bounds of medical ethics…”

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During his 12 month visit, however, Dr. Martin showed clear signs of concern. It wasn’t related to the tumor, however, because there was still no sign of it on the scans. Chamberlain said, “What’s wrong Haywood? You seem concerned about something.” Martin walked over to a large square box covered by a sheet. “I’m concerned about this.” He said pulling the sheet from a large pet kennel. Inside was Daisy, lying on her side, trying to lift her head. “She can’t walk anymore without falling over. She seems disoriented and does not eat because she can’t swallow. It seems that all of her cognitive, sensory and motor functions are gradually becoming impaired.” “What’s causing this?” said Chamberlain with a look of concern. “I’m afraid this is the cause.” Martin said turning on the computer monitor showing a brain scan of a dog’s head. “See these squiggles in every part of the brain?” “Are those worms?” said the shocked Dr. Chamberlain. “I saw them come out of the skull opening after they ate the tumor. All the worms headed toward the tumor you placed in the test tube to lure them out of the brain tissue.” “Yes.” Martin replied. “I even counted the worms that re-emerged under a magnifier and the same number that went in also came out. I did the same for your surgery.” “Then how did more worms get into the brain?” queried Chamberlain. “The only thing I can think of is that one or more of the female worms laid eggs while they were in the brain. The incubation period for the worm eggs is a couple of months and once they hatch there are reports of worms remaining in a human or animal host for up to ten years. Although the original worms were trained to eat only glioblastoma tissue, a newly hatched worm was not trained that way. Since the newly hatched worms were trapped within the skull they would eventually have to eat in order to survive. Unfortunately, if the only source of food was healthy brain tissue, the worm would learn to eat that as a source of nourishment. Unfortunately, once they begin eating brain tissue and reproducing, more and more of Daisy’s brain will be eaten. Plus, the worms eliminate like other animals and the excrement can also damage the brain tissue. This explains the slow and steady deterioration I’ve observed over the past couple of months. After this experience with Daisy, I’ve added a chemical to the worm aquariums that sterilizes the females so that eggs are no longer a possibility. I’m just sorry I didn’t know about this before you had the procedure.” “Well, you know what Haywood?” Chamberlain said. “I’ve had a whole year tumor free and no negative symptoms. I never would have had that with conventional surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I don’t know what the odds are of getting a worm who laid eggs during my procedure, but if it’s anything like Daisy, I might be lucky enough to last another whole year. Plus, maybe I didn’t get a pregnant worm or no eggs were laid inside my skull. I didn’t see any worms in today’s brain scan, so it’s very possible that we beat the glioblastoma AND the worms.”

ment at all. His dissatisfaction with other alternative treatments still dogged him. “No, Haywood. Let’s get on with it.” A craniotomy is a bony opening in the skull used to access the brain. In the case of Dr. Chamberlain, Martin would create a burr hole or keyhole craniotomy typically used for procedures that are minimally invasive. Releasing the worms into the hole falls under that category. First, Martin placed an IV line in Chamberlain’s arm and the anesthesia was systematically released in the correct dosage. There was no doubt about it, working on a human being is a lot different than working on Daisy. Martin’s hands were sweating within his latex gloves. He was so close to aborting the process and turning off the IV. But he could not forget that this man would die in a few months without some sort of intervention and since he would not take traditional therapy, this was his only option. When Chamberlain was asleep, Martin placed his head in a 3-pin fixation device to hold his skull in the correct position. A respiration tube was placed and Martin made a skin incision on the side of the head and folded back the skin and muscle tissue as a flap. Now there was no turning back. He then drilled three small burr holes in a triangular relationship about the size of a quarter with the cranial drill. Then he used the saw to create a cut in the cranium connecting the three burr holes. At this point he lifted out the triangular piece of bone and stored it in a liquid medium where it stayed until it would be placed back in the opening to plug the hole. While most brain surgeries have to incise the dura mater covering the brain, the worms when released, burrowed right through it. Martin released half a test tube of worms in the opening he had created and they quickly migrated into the brain tissue, drilling down to the location of the tumor. Martin monitored the progress made by the worms with frequent brain scans until no evidence of the original tumor was evident. Then he placed glioblastoma tissue near the skull opening and watched as the worms retraced their path back out on the hole and into the tumor tissue encased in a test tube. Finally, the worms were placed back into their aquarium. After the procedure, the piece of bone was secured to the skull with tiny titanium plates and screws. The skin flap was then folded back over the bone and sutured into place. Martin removed the IV and respiration tube and wheeled his patient into another area of the lab for recovery. As Chamberlain began to wake up, Martin asked him to move his fingers, arms and legs and also asked some questions about his name, address and other personal data. Chamberlain remained in the recovery area for three full days until his activity level increased. Three days was more than enough time for Chamberlain since the television programming became boring after his initial day. During the recovery period, Martin showed Chamberlain the brain scans before, during and after the surgery. Not a trace of the tumor was evident after the worms had completed their work. Chamberlain went back home and resumed his teaching schedule after a few weeks only returning to the lab for follow-up brain scans. The pictures from 1, 3, 6 and 9 months showed no further tumor growth and Chamberlain felt as if he had a new lease on life.

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In the ensuing years, Chamberlain returned to the laboratory on a progressively less intensive schedule. While he started at every three months, he increased his time between visits to six months, a year and every other year to look for signs of the tumor or the appearance of worms. After five years there was no evidence of either in the scans or in his daily functioning. As Dr. Anthony Chamberlain lectured to his 9AM neuroanatomy class on the topic of brain tumors, he had to exercise a great deal of restraint to avoid discussing his experience with Dr. Martin and the worms. He knew that revealing what had happened over the past five years would mean the end of Dr. Martin and any help he could bring to other cancer patients. Still, he so wanted to thank Martin and let the world know about his remarkable accomplishments. He always included a short section of the lecture on the quackery of alternative treatments for cancer available in Mexico. But this time he added a new twist. “Alternative treatments thrive south of the border because our government requires such extensive testing for any cancer therapy before it can be used on humans. In most cases, the patients are dead before new treatments are finally approved. I can tell you, however, that not all alternative therapies are quackery. New alternative clinics open up in Mexico every month and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a treatment not approved by the FDA could soon offer hope to desperate patients. Stay tuned for further developments.”

Last Night in Las Vegas by JY Saville y mother never held me, Anita had said, She never loved me. Neither did I, thought Joe. Anita had been a supremely unlovable person, even when sober. Her blotchy skin and the downward turn of her mouth, holding itself ready for the next whine. Her shapeless sweaters with the sleeves stretched so they could be plucked at by her nervous fingers. "You done in there?" A sharp knock on the flimsy door. "Mister? I gotta clean that room for the next people." Joe stirred himself from his reverie and swung his bare feet off the rumpled bed. The air felt thick and suffocating but he didn't think opening the window would help. "Mister?" The knock again, hesitant, but loud when it got going. The voice had sounded unsure, like they weren't expecting any answer. Maybe there had been allegations. Reports of a disturbance. "Yeah," he called. He tucked his patterned shirt into his jeans and picked up one pointed brown shoe, carried it round the room a couple of times until he'd located its partner, enveloped in the folds of a discarded sheet at the foot of the bed. The hesitant knock began its arrhythmic scuffle and Joe moved towards the door. "Keep your hair on, honey - I'm done." He turned back for a last look at the bed. Anita's face pressed into the pillow, the livid imprints of his large hands on her cold neck. Not much point trying to cover her up. He flung open the door to the chambermaid. "OK, I'm ready," he said.

M

• • • William Ogden Haynes is a poet and author of short fiction from Alabama who was born in Michigan and grew up a military brat. His book of poetry entitled Points of Interest appeared in 2012. He has published in literary journals such as California Quarterly, Quantum Poetry Magazine, Front Porch Review, Full of Crow, Indigo Rising, Forge, The Houston Literary Review, Bolts of Silk, Falling Star Magazine, 971 MENU, Blue Lake Review, Amarillo Bay and PIF Magazine. In a prior life he taught speech-language pathology at Auburn University and authored six major professional textbooks.

• • • JY Saville lives in the north of England and writes mainly short fiction, mainly in the genre loosely termed speculative, but more mainstream work has appeared at Short, Fast and Deadly; Every Day Fiction; Boston Literary Magazine; and in The View From Here. In 2010 she released her first literary graphic novel, Boys Don't Cry. She blogs at thousandmonkeys.wordpress.com. 53


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

A Father Leaves in the Morning

The Fire

by Jack Foster

by Vaijayanti Banerjee Is it true, is all I have today The remnants of a frozen fire Within my soul Is it only this pain That has over my life Its complete control

He thinks the morning belongs to him as I lie awake on my back, keeping my ears at attention – assuming the awkward motions of his hands shaving one-day gristle off his chin, or running pomade laden teeth through his graying temple-hair. He puts his clothes on the same way as everyone else in the world, descends the stair – hands as eyes, counts every step – fills and drains the only chipped-lipped tumbler, permanently stained ring barely visible in its depths. As his silhouette lurks across the walls and out the door, he leaves – I, his only witness.

My soul is on fire today My feelings burn In its incandescent flame Perhaps it would burn with it All signs of my pain Perhaps finally it would obliterate From my heart your name The heat from the flame Is pleasing to my cold shadow It brings back memories Of your warm embrace It reminds me of you Your love, your soul, your trace

The World Outside by Jack Foster

Is it true its over? The love is evanescent tonight As I hold your thoughts In my surreptitious gaze I feel assured I find in me, renewed light

At any given point in time, the tales of distant conflicts and skirmishes are spun, both in syntax and determination. Right now, American children are impacted by the shockwave of manifest destiny and the echoes of fallen victors. A child somewhere sits in benign neglect of the world’s impoverished state – unknowing of the differences in brushstrokes and accented letter trails or the location of any given country ending in “stan.” A version of our country’s slogan claims the future lies within the coming years of those labeled X and Y – but what can generations possibly put forth when the world outside is monitored and filtered through barbed wire and ghost authors?

You might pity my existence You might judge my hope forlorn But you are not aware Of the frozen fire That my heart has for long Now borne It is the frozen fire That has awoken To give me life tonight It is this fire That exhorts me For a renewed fight

• • • Jack Foster is a Ted Pugh Prize-winning writer from Southern California. His work can be found in magazines such as The Adroit Journal, Cavalier Literary Couture, Pomona Valley Review, and Yes, Poetry. He maintains a blog at jackfosterpoetry.blogspot.com.

The light of the fire Will illuminate my life again In its warm flame I would search For the remnants of my self again It is this fire Which would blow The tide of wind in my favour The fire would be the anchor Which would carry me In life’s endeavour! • • • Vaijayanti Banerjee is a research scholar by profession and a passionate reader and writer by choice. 54


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

The Butterfly Collector

by Kevin Scott

L

eaning against the back door, Alan Campbell explored his pockets for the keys that would take him from one misery to another. His chubby hands, reddened and numb from the chilling spring wind, struggled to grip them. He stumbled back and looked up into the starless sky, his balance as hard to find as the solace he sought from the heavens. ‘Is that you? What are doing out there?’ said a voice from the other side of the door. ‘Aye, it’s me. I fell. I’m caked in mud.’ The door opened and Alan’s wife’s head shook. She folded her arms and scowled, familiar lines falling into position on a face still well-maintained but now jaded and an ineffective tool of manipulation. Alan’s own weathered face looked back expressionless as he hunched under the protection of a green wax jacket that hung lopsidedly from broad shoulders. His wife’s eyes thinned. ‘I don’t care how cold it’s getting, you’re not coming in here until you’re down to your underwear.’ ‘Be reasonable.’ ‘Dinner’s ready. You’ll eat then run a bath. One or the other might sober you up.’ Alan glared at his wife’s back as she turned inside. His dignity ebbed further away with every layer he removed, until it was lost amongst the damp pile of clothes and he was left looking down at his nearly naked body, repulsed by the starkness of the white blubber in the pale back door light. Shivering, he threw his clothes into the kitchen as if they were being cast from the bow of a ship and stepped over the threshold, slamming the door behind him and failing to make it look accidental. His wife sat at an oak table set for two, with a vase of fresh dahlias standing between two plates of pasta. Alan stretched his arms above his head, allowing the comforting warmth to break against his flesh. He felt oddly reinvigorated by his dalliance with the elements, as if the alcohol in his blood had been drawn out by the icy wind. He lifted his plate. ‘Where do you think you’re going with that?’ ‘Next door. I want to see the news.’ His wife generously topped up her glass from a halfempty bottle of Bordeaux. ‘Has the fact the table’s set passed you by?’ Alan looked at the mats and cutlery, the side plates and flowers, and felt as though he and his pasta were stranded between this world and the one that existed inside the television. ‘I hadn’t noticed, sorry. Where did you get the flowers? Is it not a bit early for them?’

55

‘Elsie was round this afternoon. She picked them from her garden. You’d be surprised how life can bloom if given the chance.’ ‘They’re nice anyway. They seem, spring like.’ Alan sat down with his plate and scooped up a forkful of pasta, casting a glance at his still empty wine glass. ‘This is good.’ ‘I bought fresh basil. It makes a difference.’ ‘So have you seen the news today?’ His wife speared her fork into a mound of pasta. ‘No Alan, but I’m sure it’s more interesting than my day. Go and put clean clothes on and watch it. Eat, have a bath. Whatever makes you happy.’ ‘You sure?’ he asked, already standing up. ‘More than you realise.’ Unperturbed by repercussions he assumed would follow, Alan moved through into the living room. The floor lamp was already on, providing a homely glow that found harmony with the flames gently leaping in the fire. The scent of burning wood hung in the air, warding off the weather that had stalked him home. He put his plate down on the coffee table that divided a pair of Chesterfield couches and kneeled at the fire to adjust blocks of woods, unconsciously humming along to the Rachmaninoff concerto radiating from the stereo his wife had left on again. He stopped the second he became conscious of this, cursing what he thought was pretentious taste. On the hearth, a silver framed wedding photo stood proudly, surrounded by smaller frames containing faces of their children when they were just that, along with the black and white of his mother-in-law that his wife insisted took its place there. His dinner could wait. Ten minutes later Alan sank slowly into hot water. Lavender floated into his nostrils and he could feel himself sober up as his pores opened. He closed his eyes and leaned back, thankful for the sanctity provided by both the water and the confinement. His mind took him back to his wedding day – bright lights flashed as a photographer froze moments of life at its peak; when he loved his wife, when the pub he ran was full every night and the drinks he poured were for others. His reminiscence was disturbed by the murmur of a thousand voices, whispering so quietly that it took each and every one of them to create a sound. The voices seemed to swirl around the room, getting louder until they were silenced by the crash of the toilet lid slamming shut. Alan opened his eyes and felt the water chill. At the end of the bath a dark figure was sitting on the closed toilet, resplendent in a suit as black as its slicked hair. The suit had a wide hood attached to it, draping itself over narrow shoulders. This was complemented by a tai-


The Rusty Nail, November 2012

lored black shirt and accompanying tie. The figure leaned back against the cistern, intently observing Alan, who had temporarily lost the ability to breathe. ‘D’you know who I am?’ it said in a deep authoritative tone, leaning forward, forearms resting on its knees. Alan meekly nodded. ‘Then you’ll know whit I’m here for?’ Alan dug deep to find the courage to fully sit up and face the figure. He was met with a stare of such intensity it reverberated through his soul and caused the water to ripple. It pupils were as black as its irises. They shone like marbles and swept away any lingering hope Alan had that he would leave the room alive. ‘How did you get in here? The door was locked,’ he whimpered, covering his manhood with a cloth. ‘Should you no’ be more concerned about why I’m here rather than how I got here?’ ‘I don’t… I don’t know. You’ll forgive me if I’m a bit overwhelmed.’ ‘But no’ lost for words eh? Most folk are. You shouldnae worry, Alan. See that memory you just had; the best day of yer life?’ Alan nodded, his mouth hanging open limply. ‘Well, soon you’ll cast it aside as if you’d picked up a ten bob bit oan a beach of diamonds.’ ‘How do you know my name?’ he pleaded. The figure sighed. ‘Are you takin’ in anythin’ I’m telling you? I know yer name ‘cause it’s oan my list.’ Alan splashed his palms into the water like a petulant child. ‘You can’t do this to me. You can’t come sneaking into my house, while I’m in the bloody bath of all places, and end my life.’ ‘Whit would ye prefer, Alan? A wee tap at the door, while ye lie on yer bed, weary of life and ready for ma arrival? That’s no’ your decision and it’s no’ mine either.’ ‘Then whose decision is it?’ A wry smile crossed the figure’s face so briefly it barely existed. ‘A’ways the same questions.’ ‘Can you at least tell me what’s going to kill me? Is it a heart attack? It must be. I mean, I’m not about to drop dead from a brave fight with cancer, am I?’ The figure smiled again, broader this time, revealing teeth like ancient tombstones. ‘Tell me where I’m going, for God’s sake. What happens next?’ ‘I’m just here to collect you. That’s the extent of ma joab.’ A phone began to ring and the figure stood up, cursing, casting a dark shadow over the whole room. Alan was transfixed as it watched the figure slip a grey-skinned hand into its inside pocket and retrieve what looked like a Blackberry. ‘Whit is it? I’m workin’,’ it barked. Then after a pause: ‘What? Fuckin’ doctors. Right, I’m comin’, he’s no’ getting away that easy.’ It slammed the phone back in its pocket. ‘You’re a lucky boy Alan, you’ve won a reprieve.’ The figure looked at its watch. ‘You’ve got an hour. I wouldnae waste it sittin’ in the bath.’ The figure closed the door heavily behind it, leaving Alan suspended like a ship run aground. He sat there, his mind as powerless to move as his body. What a curse it was to be granted a final hour to reflect on life. Unable to escape, Alan tried to live in the

present, but his rapidly thawing mind darted between decades at will, changing direction with every triumph and defeat. Life in all its magnificence and horror was laid bare. Among it there was only one constant. Alice. Over a quarter of a century had passed since she walked into the pub and asked if there were any jobs going. There weren’t, but he found one, eight hours a week, always when he was on shift. They flirted, they talked, they laughed. They married. Trembling, he reached for a towel and rose to his feet. Using the little energy that he could find in the dying embers of his life Alan Campbell used the banister to steady himself on the way downstairs, his dressing gown clinging to him. In the living room he saw comfort glowing from his wife as she curled up on the couch, reading a book. A violin swirled out of the stereo. Steam rose tantalisingly from a mug of tea sitting next to a glass of wine. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t home earlier.’ He sat down unsteadily next to her. ‘You’re your own worst enemy Alan,’ she said, putting her book down. ‘I’m my own fool, that’s what I am.’ He lifted the mug and glanced at the wedding photo on the hearth. He tried to smile. ‘You smell odd, like a chalk duster but sweet. And look at you; you’re shaking. What have you been doing?’ ‘I don’t want to fight pet. I’ve not been doing anything. Let’s just sit for a bit, eh? Enjoy our drinks.’ ‘I doubt you’ll enjoy that too much, there’s nothing but tea in it.’ Alan dodged the blows, sipping from the mug and trying to ignore a clarinet as it danced across the room with a compliant piano. ‘Can I put on something a bit sunnier?’ ‘Like Eastenders?’ He ducked and weaved, not letting anything land. ‘Look, I’m just trying to unwind. We’ve not done this for ages. Let’s just settle in; how about it?’ Alice’s mouth opened but only a slight sigh emerged. He sipped. She sipped. The clarinet gave way to more violins. Every conversation he had with Alice ended in failure. ‘That was some day wasn’t it?’ he said, motioning to the wedding picture. Alice took his hand and squeezed it. He captured the moment in a mind that was fast running out of room for new memories. ‘Drink your tea Alan.’ He took a satisfying gulp. The violins were joined by their stringed companions and swept majestically into Alan’s ears. For the first time he could see the players, strained in concentration, perfect in their execution. ‘What is this? It’s quite soothing,’ he asked, coughing on the final word. ‘It’s Beethoven. It’s the story of a woman who takes desperate measures to save herself from a torturous life.’ ‘You sure love? I didn’t think classical music had a story.’ He coughed again. ‘And for a time I thought untraceable poison was the stuff of stories.’ A kaleidoscope of butterflies took flight, lifting Alan to his feet.

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‘What have you done?’ he exclaimed, feeling his throat tighten and the walls of the room begin to shift outwards. ‘It won’t take long and it won’t hurt. You have to understand Alan. I’ve had enough.’ ‘You knew this was going to happen,’ he croaked at the figure as its grey hands tightened around his neck. He fell to his knees and saw a conductor’s arms outstretched as symbols crashed and the air from emptied lungs accelerated through brass, emerging in swelling tones so rich they sounded like life itself. ‘He’s all yours now,’ he thought he heard his wife say. For an instant Alan saw a darkness so beautiful in its totality that a pulse of euphoria surged to every cell in his body. He exhaled in gentle ecstasy and knew it had passed. ‘That bit makes it aw’ worthwhile doesn’t it?’ said the voice of the figure through the silence, jolting Alan, who instinctively sat up and saw a grey hand reaching down to him. He took it and was effortlessly pulled to his feet. ‘Makes what all worthwhile?’ Alan said, breathing easily. ‘Life, ya daftie.’ Alan looked around his widow’s living room. Alice was on her feet, pacing, a mobile phone pressed to her ear, confined to the mortal possibilities she had freed him from. He smiled, content with her punishment. ‘Where are we going?’ he said. ‘I told ye before, I’m just here to collect ye.’ The figure put its hood up and walked towards the front door, throwing its arm around its subject’s shoulder. Alan strode forward, not yet aware he had already left the room. He tried to turn back and look at the body that had diligently obeyed him for fifty-two years but was restrained by the strength of the figure’s arm. His hour was up.

Hands on hips, I look at the obstinate water softener spewing its juices over my walls. Lost in incredulity, I want to collapse into the wet. Yesterday, I replaced the damn thing, the day before, the water heater. It mocks. Disgusted, I walk into the garage where the car lays in shambles begging me to crawl beneath its underbelly hoping for an altered result. First, the valve cover gasket, then the radiator, and now the gas tank. The large door stands open revealing that another rain has brought our grass to grow. The lawn mower sits in the corner, a pigheaded child too engrossed in a video game to go to the bathroom, it leaks. Fixed before he left, obvious the repair was in vain; the first fill drains onto the floor. The mailbox leans forward as if reaching for the next letter too long overdue. Someone crashed into the pole and I replaced it. Too tired for more, I forgot the concrete anchor to gird its pole. I could call someone, pay someone, but that’s not who I am. I persevere. There’s dinner to be made and I go inside. Fewer to feed amounts to little, as the children have grown and like ravenous animals devour the fruits of my labor. I stare over the sink from the kitchen into the family room. His black leather chair faces a dark computer desk. The silence stretches like the sound of the ocean in a seashell. I miss him. His stupid haircut and birth control glasses. His half smile that’s always followed by a chuckle at simple pleasures. I could use his help as the house crumbles around my feet, the dog whines, and I drown in self-pity. He’s off serving his country, proudly wearing the pixilated shades of green I associate with baby poop. Reveling in the excitement of the challenge. Risking his life. Risking our happiness, as if I don’t matter. If he were here, I realize, nothing would change, but his dulcet voice complaining about the ineptitude of the cashier at the store. The price of milk. A car rolling through a stop sign would bring rantings about laws poorly enforced. A knock at the door and the paperboy stops to collect what’s due. An echo of his comment on the stylings of today’s youth, filters. With a sigh, I take solace in the fact that I’m capable of handling near every situation. I know this comforts him, a peace of mind that I’m able to care for hearth and home, while he defends them. Water continues its summons, the puddle expanding. I pick up the torch, pull the trigger, and watch as flames eruct. In the back of my overtired mind, I imagine I’m Sigourney Weaver about to barbeque a bunch of freaking aliens.

• • • Kevin Scott is a journalist trying not to let the fiction of his imagination get confused with the facts required of his day job. He is currently studying an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. He's on that internet thing at www.kevscott.net

Flamethrower by Lori Lopez

• • • Lori Lopez is an author, military wife, mother of three, sister, dog owner, friend, and postal worker. Her completed works include a series of six young adult fantasy, one thriller and one romantic suspense novel, as well a handful of short stories. www.lostinthewriting.net

Some days it’s enough that he breathes. The exchange of air grates on my psyche like the high-pitched squeal of a six-year-old at the sight of a spider. A childhood dream to be a pilot, he sits with his hands grasping the yoke of a computer flight simulator. At his perch, he can turn from the pretend to the surreal. An endless choice of television shows filled with intolerable stupidity, followed by commercials selling drugs with side effects more damning than the symptoms they claim to cure. It all culminates into a farce. He’s been deployed for months and I’m left with only the memory to fuel my fire. 57


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Still Life Reflected

Little Girl

by Janna Vought

by Janna Vought

In shadows, I find her through residue of steam and haze, her eyes bear witness to my endless days. In the flash of her silvered gaze I know things are always what they seem. Downstairs he's drinking coffee and buttering toast, reading the paper. He can't hear my screaming. Thank God for television snow. Outside, neighbors’ houses line the street like curious spectators leering at a fatal car crash; imagine carnage inside my fabricated estate

I packed the box myself, packed it full of tears: a tiny pink teddy, It's a Girl scrolled across belly plump with batten filling, a wisp of honeyed hair soft as dandelion fluff clipped from her head, Hello Kitty earrings I bought her when she pierced her ears, the first tooth she lost on our trip to Durango. I placed it on a shelf in the back closet beside Alice and the Mad Hatter, late night whispers under a cloak of blankets, and lazy morning blueberry pancakes wet with warm syrup; giggles season the Sunday funnies.

absent any four leaf clovers. Ghost sun half hidden behind a cloud mob wrinkles light across her face. Eyes caress my body, a temple of matchsticks, a silhouette of ash embedded in the hiss of an extinguished wick. I whisper her name; she beckons me. Her lips capture twists and turns of truth escaping my mouth—a flock of swallows soaring. A shawl

Somewhere in shadows, a little girl waits for me, gold hair woven in two braids—ribbons streaming. We lie in grass fingers tickling our feet like a thousand frenzied butterflies, sculpting clouds with our eyes: lambs, rabbit's tails, cotton crocodiles without legs. Rapture is a kiss on her forehead, orange blossom clinging to her velvet skin. The house reeks of silence. Phantom footsteps echo in moss covered hallways, no laughter outside the kitchen window, tossing stones across hopscotch games, chasing dragonflies through rows of flowers thriving in glass domes. I line drawers with letters I'll never send: Dear sweetheart, I am a book with no ending, a broken guitar string, a piano absent melody. She is a sliver of ice on my tongue, last ray of sunlight slicing the sky before dusk, pause of a hummingbird wing. I embrace the past when her childhood was not yet over and time stretched before me a flawless beach, sands smoothed by the wave's caress. Nothing prepared me. When she slipped from my branches, only then did I realize—tomorrow.

of misspent tears careens down my face, dangle from my nose like a hopeless stockbroker. With delicate hand she brushes them away. Some mornings she sees blisters secrete his anger across my cheek, pale as dawn's first frost, like an ink plume. His ring slashes her skin as thin as the pelt of an autumn pear, marring her perfection. My hand presses against her face—a glass lake. I swim forever. Her fingers clasp mine; we smile. I dipped her in amber honey so bees would adore me.

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I remember that man’s devotion to his ailing wife that I witnessed during that snowstorm. I am once again starting a new relationship, and I wonder if my new love will ever be able to achieve that same level of depth. I aspire to that level of care and attentiveness; however, I wonder if that expectation is realistic. When in the past I have given that kind of love, it has often ended in rejection, and the hurt covered up by masculine stoicism, an easy response. The risk of devotion is great but it is insignificant compared to what one loses by not staying up through a storm.

The Virtues of Sleep Deprivation by John Dow

You’ve broken your pelvis,” I tell my patient, who has somehow wedged herself between her toilet and heavy claw foot bathtub. The tub looked out of place in the tidy teal and surf green bathroom last remodeled around 1959. Winter winds send snow skittering around the matchbox house as I concentrate on securing the woman’s fragile bones in a more comfortable alignment. My partner and the woman’s husband look on from the doorway. I hate the distraction of an audience and pull my “EMT” cap’s visor down slightly to block them from my view. Thankfully, strong hands and long fingers make threading the KED, a kind of upper body splint, around the bony curves of the pelvis, the Iliac crest, a smooth process. The trick, I remind myself, is to slowly wiggle and wiggle so that the patient is barely aware of being manipulated, like joking with a youngster so he doesn’t notice you dressing a painful scrape. Finally finished I lean back on the splint and tighten it to pull my patient’s pelvic bones back in to place. She breathed a visible sigh of relief in response. Outside, with the patient supported and bundled on our gurney, we make our way to the ambulance by flashlight. The smell of diesel fuel is comforting because it means I am steps closer to the rig and getting my patient to the clinic, and my crew and myself back home. “Can I ride with you?” Turning to face my questioner, I meet the beseeching gaze of my patient’s husband, whose lined and tired face is shadowed by his work jacket’s collar and hood. Age, malnutrition, and fear are clearly evident as he stares at me hopefully. “Sure,” I replied, “you can sit in the cab with the driver.” After a few minutes we were settled in and ready to go. As we drove to the clinic I settled back into the warmth and comfort of my jacket, my patient now stable, medicated, and dozing. Her husband never took his eyes off her for the whole hour we were on the road. Every so often I would check his wife’s vitals and flash him a thumbs up, which was answered by his small grateful smile. Report, paperwork, cleanup, and back out on our next call. In between I sneaked a few moments to wash my hands and arms, the privileged alone time of an emergency crewchief. Typically after leaving to answer your next call you never see the patient you just brought to the hospital, but that night this was not the case. Due to the severity of the storm my crew and I were eventually ordered to remain at the clinic to assist with the overload of cases. During a lull in the evening a nurse handed me a juice cup. I was not thirsty, but I knew someone who was. My patient’s husband had not moved from her side or taken his eyes off her for a moment, and I felt he needed the fluids. At sunrise we would be taking his wife through the mountains as best the roads would allow so she could receive needed surgery, though for now she still slept.

Certain to Lose by Randy Simons

T

he man listens to the radiator tick, a gravel turnout alongside a narrow two-lane just south of the Canadian border. A sleeping child is nestled into a pile of flannel shirts and a single wool blanket on the seat beside him. Only her head pokes out, little bigger than a geranium in full bloom, cradled in a stocking cap. Trees loom around them. The man scratches his four-day stubble and cranes his head out the open window. He hears a radio playing, an old rock-n-roll tune slipping through the woods from the patrol shack. In his wallet he’s got four hundred and thirtyseven dollars. Another few bucks worth of quarters and dimes in the ashtray. A sleeping bag is wedged behind the seat. The girl’s teddy bear. A box of crackers. The truck bed contains a tent and a hastily packed suitcase. No socks. His breath crackles in the cold air. Snowflakes feather down. He can picture life in a small apartment. Down-town Toronto. Close to a park. A sledding hill. He is good with his hands. Could find a job in the classifieds, eventually move them to the country. Get a dog. Grow a garden. The girl stirs but doesn’t wake. The man sets his hand on her back and gently rubs circles. Crossing this border, this imaginary line, will give him something the courts wouldn’t. The right to see his baby girl more than just on the weekends. More than every other holiday or when the sitter phones in sick. He starts the truck. Cranks open the defrost. Rolls on.

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tongue like a campaigning salamander. Slaver and choke, the bale of oat would not go down. A sad grin and an empty head and the long tightening of the anus, mankind's original alarm system. There would be no shitting before the shooting. Let's not shit the shoot. Let's just keep tight the prairies are unsafe for gentlemen at this time Colonel the mountains as well so everyone stays on the railroad it's a little bright the cars are all very orderly though and the considerations of ownership toward labor are quite generous. Why I saw a man with no thumbs pitchin coal where he couldn't shovel it but he had himself a job and a pair of shoes. A bit of it went down. The southern half of the grain field with not a raindrop in sight. Just poor cowbones rockingchaired over hubcaps and an empty water tower. Diseased wood fruits away in chunks, nobody cares. The ocean is a poor master and a sloppy teacher. Swim a mile and a jellyfish'll clamp up yer snorter and the tide go out. The official withdrawal of concern. The studied rocks. The pallid cave-mouths. The crapping seals. Eyes open he stared into the mist and could see Johnsons of one kind and another assembling their small militia. They would come into their yard wanting to piss and light cigarettes. The Courier had been parked under the fir tree since the day it, in its turn, had been shot to death by a Johnson in a legendary display of fighting arms. From thirty paces with his eyes closed Johnson had Annie-Oakleyed the poor Ford through the radiator and it had bled pleasingly toxic ichor upon the colorless clay soil. Motorcycle parts were stored in its cargo space and woodrats lived in the springs. He felt like he was a rat, tapping at the experimental faucet for his reward, and the wires in his brain had all been stripped bare, so they shone with an interior light. He could sometimes feel it burning through his eyes. It stank with rat piss but also Barbara's decaying flesh and his own flatulence of the damned. He felt the active deterioration of his gut with each pass, parts of him too small to capture but too large to overlook were draining away with his own wind like the draft through a rusted planing mill. Sour and rotten. Sulfurous. He made no distinctions between Johnsons. One was identical to any other, in his opinion. They were all slender, freckly, red-haired males with crude haircuts under greasy hats. They traveled in a group of five, and they appeared to all be thinking the same thing at the same time, just like birdflocks on the swerve. Any one of them alone was hopelessly outmatched by any situation, but in a group they were potent. Their work was chemical stimulants. They produced and marketed. Typically a great many people owed them money. Sometimes one of these people died. It was all very hush-hush. Barbara the Cat groaned by way of speech, said a word too brief and tortured to be understood, and unlatched the door. She let the door rest loose but not enough ajar to to seen. Careful, he insisted. They'll see it. We got to come on them all at once. It was obvious they would soon be coming through the door. He wanted them to be clumped together still.

Plastered by Crawdad Nelson hat all was wrong? He was holed up thick as a barrel of mud in a Ford Courier with dirty clothes on and with a bad smell about him. He hadn't slept. Not in some days. And the wires in his head felt like rat-feet tinkering among the baby's things. It was an evil feeling and one he could not get used to. But he was accustomed to it nonetheless. Barbara the Cat crouched like a starved, repulsive animal beside him on a folded-up vinyl jacket. Something she had brought with her from jail. She looked like she had stolen a skin from a larger person and done an imperfect job of filling it out. Loose flesh hung at her joints and gaping sores infested the overlaps. The house looked empty. Sunshine made an optimistic pass through the mist but the morning was grim and hushed. Then a light came on. Someone in the kitchen. He stirred and grunted and at the same time pulled the gun out of its holster and fondled it. He saw figures in the mist slanting dangerously toward him through the yard. But not at all. He rubbed his eyes and was not sure he felt his hand. The eyes were still raw and full of danger when he checked the mirror. When they come out, he said, take anyone on the right. I have left and center. You gotta pay the price, he told her. He watched her finger the rifle. He realized that killing was in no way offensive to her. She had simplified all of it, the madness and yearning and spikes and jailcells, along with the civil disorder associated. She was a true and actual evil whose bile nourished her instead of killing her. She was tougher than other people. He had seen her eat moldy potatoes from a cold campfire as if they were cupcakes. She could swallow chunks of wood. Her blankets were as cold when she got out of bed as when she got in. If there was anything good to be said about her it was that she was no worse than the men in the house. I'm collecting today, she said. I'm gettin paid. An honest day's work. Just like at the mill. It was crazed and absurd to be here at this time watching the Johnson brothers get out of bed and make coffee, ready to open fire on them like Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. It was a sticky, chilly, feverish morning and his eyes were shrunk like a pair of olives thumbed into liver loaf. He could barely see and the metal smells that rose out of his gut were awful. Barbara had lined out a pair of rails on her sleeve and was offering it to him. Her arm was narrow and angular like outdated machinery but she held it still and grunted at him Rise and shine cowboy we come too far to doze off now. He snorted and it felt like brass in his brain and an animalshell clamped over his balls. The desperate loneliness of the migrating whale. The passion of the bug. That thing crawling up the window. Actually water sliding down it. He ate a vitamin pill, chewing slow and thorough until he had a mouthful of green barley and a

W

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Don't let them separate. It'll be just like sluicin a flock of quail. But we have to be fast. And accurate. He realized he was talking again. Don't just fire. Aim. Keep knocking em down if they get up. Outside in. If we don't get them they get us. He tried but could not connect this moment to the rest of life. This was the gold rush of all time. This was chemistry and torque and the bloodstream, a disconnected moment, years worth of living, the point of it all. He could solve at least one thing. He planned on taking the empties to his brother's grave, as proof. That and an eight-ball. The door swung open. It was full of Johnsons. They were oblivious but wary, patting their bellies while the air between them and the Courier was still and saturated. Now! He was outside and firing from an upright position just as he had planned, watching bodies fold and aware of the sound of bullets striking wood and glass. There were voices. Barbara the Cat was calling them by name as she fired. He could hear her shots but not his own. He was floating out of his body and could not even see anymore what must have been a beautiful sight. Because they were all dead, or writhing in mortal agony, while he continued placing shots, execution style, into any body part that presented a profile above the lumpy firewood pile of Johnsons in and around the doorway. They were still yelling while he snatched the clip out of the pistol and slammed a full one in, but their voices were those of dying wounded things.

Icarus in Recession by Jessi Lee Gaylord Where’re my panties?” I said, two hours after we left the Happy Hour and ended up at Icarus’s apartment. Icarus leaned on his elbow at the foot of his kingsized bed, his head propped on his hand, his black wings at half-mast. He pulled my underwear out from under his knee. I reached for them, but he drew back and brought them slowly to his nose. He inhaled with his eyes closed. “Why do you have to be so weird all the time?” I said. Icarus shrugged and handed over my panties. They were damp. “I like the smell,” he said, “what's weird about that?” The way he said it made me want to take a sniff at the panties myself, but I put them on instead. I sighed and pinched my shirt off the bedspread. “My shirt's all wrinkled.” “That's because we fucked on it,” Icarus said. He curled his toes, yawned. “If we fucked on your shirt and it wasn’t wrinkled, then we'd have a problem—either there'd be something wrong with the way we were fucking, or there'd be something supernatural about your shirt.” He wore his brown-black wings unclipped at home. He kept them pointed earthbound, but it made me nervous nonetheless. We were taught the ersatz lesson that wings should always be clipped, neatly bound, our feathertips safely pointed at the ground. Freed wings weren’t illegal, but there was something forbidden about them. Icarus wrapped his hands in boxer’s tape, only pulling a pair of underwear on afterward. He had a heavy bag on the roof of his building he liked to punch with an obstinance-is-bliss expression, better known as Icarus-Face. I smoothed my shirt as best I could and slipped into it. The first time Icarus ruffled my feathers was after a particularly long drinking jag at the Happy Hour after work before Matt J. was laid off. Icarus started at Labyrinth Publishing as a temp the year before; the weirdest temp on earth, with his smutty black beard, his menacing black eyebrows, his Electric Wizard t-shirt, and the intense yet deadpan expression Matt J. dubbed “IcarusFace.” You could never tell if Icarus was pissed off or stressed out or bored or turned on. He had the same facial expression for every nuance of the human condition. Matt J., before he got laid off, had a theory that Icarus was a robot. Within eight months Icarus was promoted to copy editor, then to project manager. “He thinks he's Don Draper,” Matt J. said grudgingly, before he was laid off, the day we found out Icarus was promoted, and everyone converged at the vending machine in the lunch room to talk about how weird it was to work for a former temp. Everyone loved Matt J. He had a rotten front tooth from eating too many gummy bears but his smile was frequent and contagious. Matt J. lasted through the first round of firings but not the second. There was something disreputable about Icarus that made us equivocally respect him and loathe him. Not in

The Girl in the White Bikini by Douglas Polk she wore a white bikini, to the swimming pool in town, when wet, it was almost see through, five or six years older than me, she was the star, of my thirteen year old dreams, sun bathing with her sister, while we prayed and prayed, hoping she would take a dip in the pool, to cool off, afraid to breath, when she started to get off her towel, breathing again, when she jumped in, eyes averted when she climbed to the side of the pool, sneaking peeks every ten seconds, younger boys sent, blocking the way back to her towel, so we could see her just a little longer, the girl in the white bikini.

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screwed up the Chicago Cubs Fans series,” Icarus said, and started to punch the heavy bag suspended from a metal frame. Labyrinth’s best selling genre were Chicago sports series that we ghost wrote for the innumerable and fanatic fans. “How?” “There was a heavy-set woman on the cover and the title was I’m a Huge Cubs Fan.” I laughed. I had to. I thought of what Matt J. would say about that. “You’re kidding,” I said. “Did it go to press?” “They did a print run of ten thousand before they caught it. The woman is suing Labyrinth even though it was her quote.” I tried to figure out how much a mistake like that cost. A lot, I decided and gave up. “Minos is going down,” Icarus said, as if he were commenting on how sunny it was or declaring he liked to eat animal cookies in the nude or he’d been raised by Carnies. “I thought you and Mimbo were like best friends forever,” I said. “No,” Icarus said, cryptically, without pause in the rhythmic motion of hitting the bag. I liked the smacking sound his fists made on the leather. The heavy summer air tasted like sulfur and stale bagels. “I'm going to expose Minos to Mr. Ottar. I'll let him hang himself.” “Don't do it, Icarus.” I knew Icarus sent money to his parents in Michigan. Icarus didn’t seem like the kind of man that talked to his mother everyday, but he did. His father was forced into early retirement from the can opener plant he worked at for thirty-seven years outside Detroit. Icarus stopped punching. The chain the heavy bag was suspended on creaked. His eyebrows were drawn in a fierce black v across his forehead. His eyes rolled up my neck over my chin and landed on my forehead. “I'm doing it to save our jobs,” Icarus said. But the way he pointed his finger like a gun and poked me in the forehead, right between the eyes, made me suspect the sniper of fiscal panic had me in its sights. “My god,” I said, “you really think you’re Don Draper.” My wings felt heavy, as though they were strapped to my back with steel chains, instead of soft elastic bands.

the same way we loathed Minos, head of our division, referred to secretly as Mimbo. Mimbo was dating the nineteen-year-old intern, Corki. They baby-talked all day, using the speakerphones like walkie-talkies so the entire office could listen to “How’s my widdle Corki-worki?” and want to puke. Mimbo had one of those unfathomable mid-level positions no one could guess the function of. At divisional meetings he said things like, “Remember, the grass is always greener.” But without context, wearing a green polo shirt, and gesturing at nothing with a can of Mountain Dew. That night at the Happy Hour, we were the last three standing. Matt J.’s wings were as red as his hair and sticking sideways out of the bottom of his jacket. He staggered into a taxi in the Loop and banged his big laughing head on the way in. Icarus gave the cab driver money and Matt J.’s address. When Icarus turned around I’d slurred, “That beard makes you look like a killer.” His response was Icarus-Face. “It’s a good look for you,” I said, and started to laugh, so loud and obnoxious, I gave myself a side ache. I doubled over to catch my breath. “What’s wrong with you?” Icarus said. “You bother me,” I said, hunched over with my hands on my knees. “Sit down,” Icarus said. He took my arm and shoved me on the curb and sat beside me on the sidewalk, his legs in the gutter next to mine. An errant black feather was on his sleeve. His beard was unkempt like a caveman. “You bother me too,” he said, in typical Icarus voice, which, like Icarus-Face, was a combination of intensity and blandness. “What?” I said. Scoff. “What the—?” Icarus gnashed his mouth against mine. His tongue tasted like onions and Old Style. I kind of liked it. His mustache scraped the tip of my nose and his coarse beard pricked my chin like pine needles. I kind of liked it. “We can’t do this,” I said, wiping his saliva off my lips. “Bother each other?” Icarus said. “We work together.” “We can do anything we want,” he said. “No.” I picked a broken feather off my blouse. It was coarse and brown-black like Icarus’s beard. Instead of flicking it on the ground, I put it my pocket. “We can’t.” “Try it sometime and find out,” Icarus said. Done and done. But I told him we wouldn’t be ruffling feathers again because we worked together. Inappropriate, I said. Messy, I told him. “Don’t shit where you eat sort of thing,” he’d said. “That’s one way of putting it,” I said. “In any case, it’s not happening again.” It happened again. And again. Usually after the Happy Hour after work, where we’d all gather and talk trash about Mimbo. Finally, Icarus ruffled my feathers every Wednesday, Friday night, Saturday, most of Sunday, and my birthdays for two consecutive years. I followed Icarus up to his roof. It was summer and the days were long and dirty with Chicago humidity. I liked the way the light made the black feathers of his wings glow with blue lines like veins in flesh. “Minos

A week later Mr. Ottar called a surprise meeting late Friday afternoon. Friday afternoon was the designated time management held the lay off meetings and meetings announcing pay cuts. We’d been through the dreaded Friday meetings before and survived. We didn’t huddle together around the vending machine talking at each other in frantic whispers like we did the first and second wave of lay offs. We marched down the hall, silently, toward the Michigan Conference Room, avoiding eye contact. Corki followed us, giggling on her cell phone. Icarus was already there with Mimbo and Mr. Ottar. Mr. Ottar was our boss’s boss’s boss. He was five feet two, mid-sixties, with a deceptively boyish face that was terrifyingly in contrast with his loud brusque voice. Everything that came out of his mouth held a note of censure. “We’re doing some restructuring,” Mr. Ottar said 62


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clock above the bar, at our watches, at each other, over our shoulders, at the No Smoking sign. I had three PBRs in quick succession. The beer tasted bad. But the butterflies in my stomach were staggering around drunk instead of practicing scary aeronautics. “I can’t believe he’s gone,” Mary Bunt said. “Girl, quit actin’ like he dead,” Shanice said. Muthu stirred the straw in the melting ice cubes of his Sprite. “I miss Matt J.,” he said and looked around as though surprised he’d said it aloud. “Shut up, Eagle Scout,” Shanice said, but her voice went sponge damp. “Me too,” Matt S. said. “I miss Matt J. too.” We took a look at our hands wrapped white knuckled around the necks of our PBRs and tried to swallow the collective lump in our throats. We missed Matt J. We missed our jobs and we hadn’t even lost them yet. The publishing industry was collapsing like an anorexic and taking our livelihood with it. We cleaved to Icarus since the first round of lay offs. Icarus was fearless and the fact was, we all believed he was just too weird to be touched by something as earthbound as the recession. Now he was fired and the rest of us were swaying on the edge of a windy city ledge. I took one last bitter swig of PBR for courage and went to find Icarus. Black feathers fluttered in Icarus’s stairwell like a dark song caught in a breeze. I didn't know what I'd find. Icarus gone, fluttering black feathers the only evidence of his existence? Icarus hanging from the ceiling fan wearing fishnets? No one answered my knock. I heard muffled thumping heavenward and climbed the stairs leading to the roof. I pushed open the door. Icarus’s wings were flung open in the late afternoon sun. I’d never seen a wingspan so brash. He was shirtless, still in his slacks, his hands taped and busy at the heavy bag, the late summer light gleaming off his dress shoes. “Icarus,” I said, my voice walking a tightrope the distance of the roof between us, quivering, and holding its breath. “What are you doing?” “Punching,” Icarus said. My wings jerked like they had the hiccups. My throat was stuffed with feathers. There were feathers in my mouth, my ears, my eyes. “Come here,” he said. “I’ll show you how to box.” My wings whispered against the elastic band that bound them as I moved toward him. “But what are you going to do?” I said. Icarus shielded his eyes from the sun. “Keep punching,” he said.

before Mary Bunt sat down. “And we’re asking everyone to brain storm ways we can cut corners.” Mary Bunt hurried into her seat and scratched at her rash guiltily, as though she was a one of those mysterious corners that needed to be cut. Mimbo cleared his throat. “I was in a comic store and I had this idea that what would really stand out is a series of black and whites. The switch to black and white ink would cut production costs by three-thirds.” “You mean two-thirds,” Icarus said. “And it was my idea.” Mimbo faltered. “We discussed—.” “We’re on the same team,” Mr. Ottar said. “The fact is, our profit margin has shown an unexpected loss and it’s because our teamwork is subpar. The Chicago Cubs Fans has always been the money maker and there was an inexcusable error due to—.” “That was Minos’s error. He should’ve caught it before it went to press,” Icarus said. Matt S.’s adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. Even Shanice’s mouth was clamped shut. Mr. Ottar was not the kind of man you interrupted. Minos was glassy eyed, his mouth hanging open. “Minos signed off on it and he should’ve caught it— before it went to print, before a lawsuit was filed. The problem is the team leader, not the team,” Icarus said. “The fact is—,” Mr. Ottar barked. Icarus snapped his hand in the air like he was karate chopping Mr. Ottar’s interjection. “The fact is, Minos is too busy ruffling the intern’s feathers to do his job.” Icarus said. “Don’t hump the interns, that’s what I say.” Corki stopped texting on her cell phone and giggled. Mimbo’s mouth drew down at the corners in a way that made me want to say, “Turn that frown upside down.” Mr. Ottar was unfazed. “You’re fired,” he said, as ominous as a cough in a church. “Me?” Mimbo said, pointing approximately where his heart was located under his salmon colored polo shirt. “Not you,” Mr. Ottar barked. “Icarus.” We inhaled, a sharp collective breath of shock. We looked from Icarus-Face to Mr. Ottar, from Mr. Ottar to each other, and back to Icarus-Face. Black feathers drifted peacefully in the air around Icarus for a two second pause that was like a bow. Icarus nodded twice. Yep. Yep. He stalked to the door and disappeared. His eyes didn’t touch mine on the way out. I was grateful. Matt S. exhaled loudly. “Icarus!” Shanice said. Icarus shot Icarus-Face over his shoulder and waved with one hand as though we were strangers he saw across the street and thought maybe he went to college with. Mary Bunt said “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” under her breath. Matt S. leaned back in his chair, angling to get a better look out of the Michigan conference room and down the hall toward the elevator bank. Even Muthu frowned, and for the first time, I noticed he was going bald. It choked me up. Mimbo cleared his throat and asked us to leave the conference room. Corki giggled. We cut out an hour and seventeen minutes early and hit the Happy Hour. It was our silent act of defiance or would have been if Mimbo hadn’t left early with Corki, right after Mr. Ottar. At the empty Happy Hour, we glanced at the neon Old Style

• • • Jessi Lee Gaylord is a writer, editor and college instructor. Her work has appeared in Pool, Another Chicago Magazine, Knee-Jerk, the Denver Syntax, the Battered Suitcase, and others. Read more at On Chicago Avenue: onchicagoavenue.wordpress.com

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Thanks for

Reading

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The Rusty Nail, November 2012, Issue 9