A Note From Nichole Editor-in-Chief It has truly been an honor, having worked as part of Sheepshead Review for nearly three years. During those three years, I have seen the journal working at about every level there is to see, from working intricately with content as a Poetry and High School Section Editor, to working at an outer level as Editor-in-Chief, and every experience with the journal has been intriguing, insightful, and memorable. This particular issue has a number of memorable works, with an especially broad spectrum of very creative pieces. In Fiction, in terms of subject matter, we have everything from a spin on the traditional domestic, marital conflict in “Stamina” to an exploration into a fantastical world with new creatures in “The Hunters.” In Nonfiction, we have raw, deep, and explorative pieces as well, as the writers render extremely personal, yet gripping stories in each of the works. Poetry provides us with an astounding mixture of topics, as well as a number of formally inventive pieces, and visual arts, for the first time in Sheepshead’s history, has included fold-outs of artists’ works. The variation of media and subjects in Visual Arts is also very unique in this issue, and we are happy, for a second time, to include the works of high school students from throughout the state and, this time around, internationally. Congratulations to our Rising Phoenix winners: in Fiction, Conrad Kamschulte; in Nonfiction, Tess Warner; in Poetry, Sarah Lisowski; and in Visual Arts, Christian Anderson. Thank you to our judges Dwight Allen, Lisa Fay Coutley, John Lehman, and Marjorie Mau for making this contest possible and for judging the works. Thank you also to all of you who helped make this journal possible, or who participated on panels or in other events associated with Sheepshead Review: The UW-Green Bay’s Department of Humanistic Studies, The Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, SUFAC, OFO, Mike Czyzniejewski, Wendy Vardaman, Rana Husseini, and Sarah Busse. Thank you to all of the staff members of Sheepshead Review, to our Layout Editors, Matthew Larscheid and Sarah Placek, and to our Chief
Copyeditor, Beth Heidtke â&#x20AC;&#x201D; without you, the making of the journal would be difficult, if not impossible. Thank you also to our advisor, Dr. Rebecca Meacham. It has been an honor working under you, and Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve learned much about Sheepshead Review, and the world beyond it, from you. I, as well as the other staff members, am thoroughly grateful for your guidance and encouragement with and for Sheepshead Review. Lastly, thank you to our readers, for whom we compile this whole thing. Enjoy the issue!
Nichole Rued Editor-in-Chief
SHEEPSHEADREVIEWIS: Advisor - Dr. Rebecca Meacham Editor-in-Chief - Nichole Rued Assistant Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor - Nick Reilly Assistant Editor-in-Chief, High School Editor - Kelsey DuQuaine Events Coordinator - Samantha Gibson Layout Editors - Matthew Larscheid & Sarah Placek Web Editors - Kristin Hubbell & Brandon Langer Chief Copyeditor - Beth Heidtke Assistant Chief Copyeditor - Doug Larscheid Rising Phoenix Award Editor - Tess Warner
Fiction Editor - Tess Warner Fiction Staff - Corrina Delongchamp, Cory Henniges, Conrad Kamschulte, Ryan Shelbrack, Tiffany Solum, Glenn Stenson
Poetry Editor - Samantha Gibson Poetry Staff - Doug Larscheid, Samantha Severson, Katie Simson Visual Arts Editor - Jacob Jenkins Visual Arts Staff - Cristian Anderson, Anne Blohowiak, Beth Heidtke, Brandon Langer, Stephanie Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Dell, Courtney Pohl, Sarah Shaffer, Randi Turney, Samantha Walker, Needa Yang
Nonfiction Editor - Kelsey Brown Nonfiction Staff - Kristin Hubbell, Codie Richards, Anna Simono High School Section Staff - Kelli Blanchard, Jenny Draxler, Kyle Sacotte, Clarice Tuinstra, Tayler Zajac
FICTION The Girl Who Drew Trompe L’Oeil - Phyllis Green - pg. 32 Stamina - Charles Rafferty - pg. 40 The Hunters - Lane Kareska - pg. 42
POETRY Help Wanted - S.T Scrivener - pg. 58 He Called Us Recruits - Lowell Jaeger - pg. 59 Derailed: A Poem of Love - Nancy Carol Moody - pg. 60 Gilded - Sarah Lisowski - pg. 61 Making a Living - Sarah Lisowski - pg. 62 Color Me - Michelle Fiedler - pg. 63 That Kind a Angry - Kimberly Insley - pg. 64 Blackbird - Tyler Bigney - pg. 65 Sunrise in Honolulu - Kirby Wright - pg. 66 Buy Your Way to Love - Katie Turner - pg. 67 Good Eating - Jessica Hackbarth - pg. 68 Shut Up and Pray - Mary Kellom - pg. 69 Selection - Doug Larscheid - pg. 70 Escape - Abbey Weggel - pg. 71 One type of poetry wasn’t big enough to fit my feelings for you - Kate Brown - pg. 72 Survival - Emily DeHut - pg. 73 Blush - Karlee Vanlaanen - pg. 74 My Father’s Keys - James Valvis - pg. 75 Object of Beauty - Samantha Severson - pg. 76 Amateur Art - Ryan Shelbrack - pg. 77 Snake Whipping - Cole Heyn - pg. 78 What Withered the Claw - Jesse Stratton - pg. 79 LP (Long Play) - Rhonda Lott - pg. 80 Flowers in a Hallway - Caitlin Higgins - pg. 81 The Earwig - Mark DeCarteret - pg. 82 False Memory’s Children - Jamie Utphall - pg. 84
Potatoes- Kyle Martinez - pg. 88 Muriel - Tom Larsen - pg. 92 A Few Remarkable Choices - Tess Warner - pg. 102 Plausible Deniability - Julia Maack - pg. 106
VISUAL ARTS Oh Happy Day - Philip Enderby - pg. 112 Pink - Andrea Frederick - pg. 113 Self Graphic - Matt Vanden Boomen - pg. 114 Untitled - Leonard Kogan - pg. 115 Model - Daniel Klewer - pg. 116 Caution - Holly Williams - pg. 117 American Landscapes 3&4 - Joshua Hunt - 118- 119 Untitled - Andrea Frederick - pg. 120 Longing For - Alyssa Burke - pg. 121 8th Grade - Rachel Burke - pg. 122 Untitled 3 - Lindsey Przybylski - pg. 123 Step Towards Change #1 - Lindsey Przybylski - pg. 123 What’s Left Behind (Chairs/Drawers) - Eric Sommers - pgs. 124-125 Specimen - Spencer Karls - pgs. 126-127 Liquid -Mark Ard - pg. 128 The Deciever - Billy Wenner - pg. 129 Ayiti 2 - Kimberly Zachary - pg. 130 Flaneur Photography - Duncan Hill - p. 131 All of Padville LOVED TV . . . including the Snoot Family. Well, everyone besides Zephani Snoot. - Zach Roush - pg. 132 Paper Forest - Rachel Burke - pg. 133 Super Model - Whitney Robertson - pg. 134 Untitled - Matthew Larscheid - pg. 135
HIGH SCHOOL Waiting for the Light - Maria Grzywa - pg. 138 Where Credit is Due - Amanda Luckow - pg. 140 Caution: Fragile - Amanda Luckow - pg. 141 At the Cost of Pleasure - Paul Mentele - pg. 144 Willing to Sacrifice - Paul Mentele - pg. 145 Alzheimer’s - Joanna Jordan - pg. 146 Time - Joanna Jordan - pg. 148 Loving Mess - Iris Veraa - pg. 149 Hear the Silence - Dawn Krenn - pg. 150 The Ends - Amanda Luckow - pg. 152 Alan with Cancer - Eleanor Leonne Bennett - pg. 153 The Creature - Jessica Wink - pg. 154 The Balcony - Gwyer Sinclair - pg. 155 Untitled - Ashley Bernhardt - pg. 156 Submission - Maria Grzywa - pg. 157
R I S I NG PHOENIX
Every spring since 2003, Sheepshead Review has held the Rising Phoenix Contest to honor the best UW-Green Bay student submissions in both writing and visual arts as judged by esteemed artists. We showcase four winners each spring: one in Visual Arts, one in Fiction, one in Nonfiction, and one in Poetry. The winning works are displayed at the beginning of the journal. This issue includes the insights of all four winners along with the judgesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; comments on the pieces. We are always on the look out for exceptional pieces, and the Rising Phoenix is one way to honor these.
Call Upon the Cleric - Conrad Kamschulte - pg. 10
Ode to the Queens of Summer - Sarah Lisowski - pg. 18
Everything Passes - Tess Warner - pg. 20
Kiss of Dionysus - Cristian Andersson - pg. 28
Artist’s Statement I wrote “Call Upon the Cleric” after binge reading some Harlan Ellison short stories and Grant Morrison comics. They were incredibly inspiring stories that really put a capital F in Fiction. I was constantly trying to cook up wild and twisted tales just like them. I wanted the story to read as if it was told by an insane individual. In preparation, I actually engaged in a sort of “method acting” as if I were the Cleric. My friends gave me odd looks for a while. It was awkward. Luckily, I think it paid off.
Judge’s Statement by Dwight Allen “Call Upon the Cleric” has the dimensions (the scope, the feel, the drive) of a full, rounded story. And it is a strong piece of writing: ambitious and energetic and clever. It makes good and often funny use of high-flown, extravagant language, while exploring a serious theme — the imagination under attack by “adult” forces of repression — with wit. The dialogue between the “cleric” and the “child” has a nice theatricality about it — it put me in mind of the stage dialogue between Mephistopheles and Faust — and it takes some interesting turns. (The “child” more than holds his own.) There are many fine (sometimes purely playful, sometimes playful and dead-on) details, too. I think I will always remember the cleric’s “mangy red tie of burlap” and his taking his gloom and despair with him into the child’s house “as if they were pets.” Many congratulations to the the author of “Call Upon the Cleric.”
About the Judge Dwight Allen (The Green Suit) is author of the novels The Typewriter Satyr and Judge. A graduate of Lawrence University and of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was a Teaching-Writing Fellow, Allen worked on the editorial staff of The New Yorker for close to a decade. His short stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. He lives in Madison.
Call Upon the Cleric Vibrant crayon scribbles ignited a blank page. A child’s wayward imagination, accompanied by the tool in hand, wandered in all directions. A smile beamed across a fresh face as his thoughts colourfully dashed across the blankness. Dinosaurs! Robots! Pirate ships! Anything and everything could be spilled upon the canvas! Blast! Why could those parents of his not approve? “Obnoxious, unstable, overstimulated, and out-of-control” they said it made him! If he was to unleash every thought into the open, then he could never contain himself in a public setting! To the absurdities and nonsensical! Bah, they had allowed his creativities to be pursued so far, but this malarkey was to come to an end! A certain serviceman was coming to town.
Obtrusive knocks clanged. Parental eyebrows rose. The mother tiptoed past the engrossed child. The door was opened, allowing only a single creak to sneak by. A bizarre and twisted looking individual stood atop a dusty welcome mat. His attire consisted of a fabulously filthy fuming suit, equipped with a mangy red tie of burlap. Yet the queerest mystery about him was a darkened tattoo resting upon his dirty forehead. It resembled something that looked like a broken pencil, perhaps? His angular face was covered in jagged points, and cheek bones you grate cheese off of. Malicious airs wafted about his head transferring across to the mother, whose protruding nose curled at the tip! Those hawk-like eyes of the menacing man darted across the room, viciously scanning the various rooms and its occupants, before returning a fierce gaze to the maternal family figure. Only a broken man could have such a crooked smile, she thought. She began to question if it was the ethical choice to hire such a peculiar man. Oh well! Reviews revered robust results, and a lack of ethics evade entropies. “Goodness gracious me!” laughed the bitter-drenched oddity. “I can positively smell the creative juices brewing from the inside of your housing unit. Disgusting, isn’t it? How could’ve you allowed these mind tainting extremities? Bad parenting I call it, tut-tut.”
Upon the door it came! A quick succession of irregular rat-a-tat-tats on the balsa wood!
“I beg your pardon?!” exclaimed she, mother ever so baffled and outraged. “No you may not. Cleric Epson is I. Now do tell, ever so promptly. Where is the infected? The inflicted . . . conflicted . . . convicted . . . the ever indicted” he inquired, trailing and muttering continuously to himself towards the end,
slowly pushing those words through his teeth. Without hesitation he allowed himself into the home, brushing past the mother with elegant rudeness. “Too slow, for there I spy him pen and utensil in hand and mind. Revolting? Is that the word I’m looking for? Bah, no matter, I’ll accept it with all its shortcomings.” Into the living quarters he proceeded, taking his gloom and disparity with him as if they were a pet.
CALL UPON THE CLERIC
The child was still lost in his own world, brimming with all he could imagine. He was magnificently engrossed in his work. So engrossed he was, that he did not see the questionable cleric stand before him. Epson joined the child on his carpeted level, observing the ways the crayon traversed the white field. His hazel irises and abyssal pupils never released eye contact of that unremitting green-coloured wax. With every stroke, the cleric could feel a tremendous bulge building inside of his throat. His eyes would twitch upon the sight of doodled dinosaurs and sketched soldiers. How his fists would clench at the scene of make-believe battles. His blood was positively simmering! It was time for his job to start. “Greetings Jordan,” he announced. “Gordon,” the father corrected. “Horton,” the cleric reaffirmed. “Your parents speak lowly of your passion for freeing the imagination. Sounds like a lovely fondness to own, doesn’t it?” His question fell upon deaf ears and non-idle hands frantically engaged. ”My name is Epson. I’m a cleric . . . a paladin . . . a handgun harlequin . . . a limbless mannequin . . . a fabrication. Oh sorry, I do get astray often. Yes, I am a cleric, a unique one at that. I’m a cleric on an inquisition against the aging brew concocting damnation, eternally failing glory, hindering all naïve noggins, Cordon. Are you listening?” Negative. The child was absent today. The cleric rubbed his weary eyes. “I don’t think you are listening.” Epson sighed. Forcibly, he whisked away the youngster’s sheet. The child placed the crayon back into its respective box, and met the stare of the cleric with his own doe eyes. The cleric pointed a grubby finger at the sheet accusingly, leaving a curt stain on the drawings. “You see this, Lorcan? This is your damn imagination at work. It is an example of letting any unwanted, nonsensical, controversial thought escape your head, where silly ideas such as these . . . ruffian pirates fighting prehistoric lizards with artificial laser rifles . . . are best left; left to be forgotten and to decay in that crevice of a brain, having never known the light of day! Now why on earth would you willingly subject yourself to demise?” “It’s fun,” replied Gordon.
“Fun is a buzzword!” screamed the frustrated cleric, his weary throat hoarse with rage. The child responded not. In the silence, the cleric’s anger burned. The father of the child, witnessing the spectacle unfolding before him, was bewildered and utterly confused. Perhaps entranced negatively by the cleric’s display, he decided he had to interject.
To which the agitated, aggravated Epson interjected, sputtering, “for fuck’s sake, you garbled-brain scrambler! You collected a man who is driven by a mission. The mission which, still stands of today, is the eradication . . . extermination . . . elimination of the accursed imagination! Am I the only one who has noticed it since we were born? How it lingers in our heads like some lardaceous, leeching tumor, and building up with every dead potential decision, falsified memories, and expired inspiration? Putrid products soon emerge from the cancer, clogging up your head to the point where it becomes poison!” He crumpled the drawing, tossing it angrily at the man’s head. It simply bounced off the father’s plump forehead, anticlimactically. The tirade barraged onwards as an angered river. The father receded. “The foolishness of these ideas is practically insulting! Do you know why the world is so full of evil? It is because of the imagination! Crime is a result of a man imagining an act, and foreseeing the potential victory he may achieve. War has progressed to the point where we can devastate the world eleventeen times over, all because man imagined that he could develop weapons beyond sharpened sticks! Twisted religions and gods, calling for deranged crusades, all exist because someone imagined them!” He was to continue, but the portly patriarch’s engorged Adam’s apple gulped, attracting the attention of the deranged cleric. The aggravated inquisitor approached the father. His daunting eyes scoped out every inch of the dad’s face, as if he was desperately searching for a chink in the armor. It wasn’t long before he found it either. All it took was a single bead of sweat to drip off the dad’s forehead. There the cleric found an atrocious addition for his argument.
“Pardon me, but what on Earth are you doing? We hired you to solve his attention-deficit, not to ruddy traumatize him! What kind of cleric are you? Some holy man you are, spouting on about . . .”
“Well, well, well. Oh my dear sweet auntie. I am sensing a diabolical emotion within you. You’re scared aren’t you? You fear what you’ve introduced into this household.” Epson’s chortles rattled in everyone’s eardrums. The father’s eyes grew paler and wider, betraying him to the interrogator. He was going to
falsely deny such a claim, to preserve his authority before his son, but Epson interjected. “Why do you fear me?” he asked, dropping the menacing act. “Am I not a fine upstanding gentleman? Don’t answer that.” Here, the cleric wandered behind the trembling wreck of a father, maintaining a wicked smile across his face. The child briefly looked up, witnessing the bizarre spectacle. He had given the cleric what he wanted: his attention.
CALL UPON THE CLERIC
“It’s like this, Norton. At night, you see the shadows move and the monster under the bed. It’s all an illusion. The imagination is generating fear and anxiety. What a curse. It’s the root of the trauma, the phobia genesis, and the sanity vaporizer. The imagination turns on you any chance it gets. Like a snide two-faced friend it will play with you, and then spit in your face!” The child blinked vacantly, and resumed drawing. Epson frowned ferociously, his soured face scrunching. His patience was running thin. “Flash-forward: your traitorous love has left you. Stabbing you in the back! She was everything you wanted. You’re heartbroken, but why?” “Girls are icky,” muttered the child. “You prepubescent addled tosspot! It’s a simple hypothetical, for fuck’s sake!” Epson screamed hysterically. “You are distraught! You imagined you would be with this woman forever! You imagined a future! A home! A family! Everything! You imagined so many faulty lies, and in the end it ruined you! Your world poisoned by a force you never wished for!!” “Is that what happened to you?” Gordon asked. Upon those words Epson withdrew himself, muttering obscenities under his rank breath. His raggedy body was huddled over, with his grubby hands grasping at his mangy hair. At first, only his eyes were free from the self-imposed paralysis, constantly twitching and brimming with water. His breathing steadily increased. He was lost in a thought that had not surfaced for years, buried deep for a reason lost. The cleric staggered, freeing himself from his own inflicted immobility. The look of grimace on his face would have intimidated most, but not Gordon. The cleric knew this. Ripe in his maddening, his hatred bubbling, he produced a worn lighter from his back pocket. The flame it birthed smelled utterly vile, as if it were gathered from the very Malebolges of lower Hell. He allowed the fires to touch the drawing’s corner. Smolders crept up like ivy, ruining the juvenile masterpiece. The child made no comment, even as he saw his work give way to ashes. “The world should be lobotomized,” the cleric said, fondling his mucky hands. His voice, saddened and reclining, lingered away. From his torn pocket, he
produced a grimy black pencil. The pencil resembled the mark that rested on the cleric’s forehead. “All you have to do is snap the pencil, and you are wiped clean. Baptized . . . capsized . . . bastardized . . . a shadowy lie. You’ll be like a husk. No way to do any harm then is there? You can’t move, and you can’t think for those who can move. The imagination cannot destroy us if we’re disconnected from it. Can you imagine that?” “No . . .” said the boy, who seemed oddly focused on another thought. Epson tittered to himself, wagging a condescending finger. “Such is the folly of the young. They rely on the imagination . . . begging it to act as a shroud, to cloud the unrelenting reminder that the world won’t stay shiny and toy filled forever.”
“Heh-heh, I . . . uh . . . heh . . . what did you say?” “You’re imaginary. We all could be really.” “Unproven . . . disillusioned . . . in conclusion . . . NO! How could you sustain that idea even with such nourished fantasies? A preposterous ridicule that you fling my way, you dare? See what has happened? The imagination has taken root and has poisoned your head with absurd obscenities, so it seems.” “Just saying,” the child replied. “We might be a piece of a greater being’s imagination. All your quirks, your beliefs, and everything you are. You could just be a character for all we know, acting as a metaphor or a symbol. We may be a fanciful daydream merely acting as a crude form of entertainment. We could be concoctions to prove a point. An escape from their world into one they’ve never known. Could you possibly imagine that, Cleric Epson?” The tone of the boy had shifted radically. The enhancement of his vocabulary and speech patterns was a worrying sign. As Gordon unleashed his hypothesis onto the world, subtle changes were taking place. Through those twitching eyes of his, Epson saw the wallpaper peel itself off the walls. The frightened father’s eyes warped, metamorphosing in all sizes. The child’s physical form began to phase in and out of planes, producing jittering static mumbles that rattled Epson’s ears.
“Have you ever thought that you’re imaginary?” the child asked. It was completely out of the blue, and the cleric had a bit of a baffled brain upon hearing the sentence. However, it soon sunk in and it clicked. Epson realized what he just heard and it tickled. It tickled his head, his sides, his eyes, and his tongue. With the laughter of disbelief trickling alongside his words, the good cleric of anti-imagination requested repetition.
The cleric fell to his knees. A vacant expression was painted across his face. Witnessing the monstrous reality-warping, he simply muttered calmly to
himself: “All I can hear is snapping pencils . . .” The world reset itself to its original state. The child was still staring at him. The father was still in his chair. The mother was . . . still nowhere to be seen. The world was no longer manipulated by a detestable force; one that would be better off destroyed. Epson saw this stabilization as a small victory for his cause. He sported a vicious grin wildly to himself. “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Ha! Could you imagine that? To be just a product of fiction, a ridiculous claim for sure! It appears I am too late to cure you. The rot has ripped its way into your head. I can only imagine what destruction your tainted mind will cook up, but thankfully I can’t imagine.”
CALL UPON THE CLERIC
Promptly, the cleric rose to his feet. He made no comment upon the boy’s, nor the environment’s, sudden strange behavior, shortly displayed before. It was as if he had formed some semi-permeable block to what happened. He just smiled at the child, before leaning into the child’s face, and he whispered to the innocent boy:
“It only ruins you, you know. The only way to win is to snap the pencil.” He tapped the mark on his forehead, and placed the black pencil besides the crayon. After that, he simply stormed off! The father and mother made no attempt to stop him, and Epson made no attempt to be stopped. He simply disappeared out the door. The child shrugged, and picked up a crayon.
POETRY WINNER Sarah Lisowski
Artist’s Statement In a creative writing class during my sophomore year of college, we were instructed to write an ode. We were basically told its literal definition which was something like, “a poem of elaborate or irregular metrical form and expressive of an exalted emotion” (dictionary. reference.com). Exalted? I fixated on this word. The prospect of writing of an “exalting ode” reminded me of church... psalms... a higher power. I was not prepared to write a poem in praise of something like that— that’s like, sacred. I remembered a time and a place where I felt truly free— a summer night with old and new friends, music, laughter, and the feeling of being part of something that would never die, or that I would ever forget. A festival that could seem so ordinary to any other person was a defining moment for me. The memories we keep from the experiences we have are irreplaceable, beautiful, and make us who we are.
Judge’s Statement by John Lehman I like the details which make each of the three scenes so vivid . . . the jump in time between stanzas and finally its last contrasting the somewhat disappointing present with a desire to “Stay young, Live forever.” I not only understand this, the poem lets me experience it. It is not about the “Queens of Summer” nor about the poet. It is about me.
About the Judge John Lehman is the founder of Rosebud magazine and literary editor of Wisconsin People & Ideas as well as managing partner of Zelda Wilde Publishing. John was a finalist for the Wisconsin Poet Laureate position in 2004 and again in 2008. Dramatic readings of his plays have been presented in Milwaukee, Madison and Saint Petersburg, Fla. His collections of poetry include Acting Lessons, Shrine of the Tooth Fairy, Dogs Dream of Running, Shorts: 101 Brief Poems of Wonder and Surprise, and The Village Poet.
Ode to the Queens of Summer Glossed lips, tan-lined skin, tank tops showing off just enough. Fearless smiles pervading sultry evening air. Invincibility is just a sip away Can you taste it?
Late into the night, we find the place we belong. Sweaty strangers join in like old friends reminiscing of summers long past â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Close your eyes, belt the chorus, Stay young, live forever . . .
Dirty feet stumbling over coarse black pavement lined with crushed plastic cups and cigarette butts. Air is thick with barbeque smoke, filled with just enough music to carry you away . . .
NONFICTION WINNER Tess Warner
Artist’s Statement The original inspiration for “Everything Passes” came from an assignment requiring us to write a small memoir about an event that created us to be the type of person we are today. I had chosen this particular event because I’m naturally drawn to write about things that are raw and uncomfortable. Going balls deep into memories and champagne, I aimed to write “Everything Passes” with the intensity I love in fiction entwined with the harshness of reality.
Judge’s Statement by Lisa Fay Coutley Honest, raw, and surprising, “Everything Passes” offers a glimpse into the complexities of one woman’s strangled attempt to grapple with an angry world that is at once perplexing and alluring. Just as life seems to offer her little guidance, demanding too much from her, so does this essay, at times, demand too much from its reader, yet this complication is at the heart of its appeal. It confuses. It frustrates. It leaves questions unanswered. As much about forgiveness as revenge, this essay invites us to delve into the narrator’s psyche with her as she explores the abusive relationships she maintains with men and, most importantly, with herself. In a fight to find the will to stop the choking, literally and figuratively, she swallows whole the angry world that threatens to devour her.
About the Judge Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of In the Carnival of Breathing, winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), and Back-Talk, winner of the ROOMS Chapbook Contest (Articles Press, 2010). She is a doctoral fellow and poetry editor for Quarterly West at the University of Utah. She is a graduate of UW-Green Bay, and holds an MA and and MFA from Northern Michigan University.
Everything Passes Sometimes I feel a bit heartless.
He was shaking too, and I doubt it was from the snow falling around us and whining that I’m his best friend, without me he has no one, and that he’s sorry. Christ, he’s so sorry. I looked into his face, disgusting right then, all wet from tears and snow, skin all red and puffy from the lack of oxygen since he started weeping away. I’ll admit, he did seem quite sincere, but I . . . I just didn’t care. Then my eyes wandered to his sniffling nose, and more anger bubbled up. I always hated Ben’s nose. Always. It was too big, too crooked, and I always found myself looking at it and having whatever emotion I was feeling at the time, such as what I usually felt those days around Ben: fear, annoyance, or anger, just multiply. As I then caught myself looking at his nose, my anger doubling (quadrupling), I thought of probably one of the most genius things I’ll ever say. “Ben.” He looked up; most likely shocked I was speaking to him instead of silently mocking him as I had been for the past, oh, ten minutes. “If I were to break your nose right now . . .” For dramatic effect, or maybe (probably) because I was more than contemplating it, I tightened my hand into a fist, and boy, he noticed. “. . . then turn around and say that I was sorry, would it still hurt?” He tried to stammer out a reply, but I took the responsibility from him. “The answer is yes, bitch. Apology not accepted.” Now, I like to think I’m a fairly forgiving person. Over time, there is very little I won’t forgive a person for, however if you are a person like Ben that is the direct cause for me to develop a brand-new phobia, my ability to forgive goes a bit downhill.
Admittedly, it’s not that hard to have the thought at least cross your mind when a 6’2” guy is crying in front of you and you are 1. amused, 2. annoyed, and 3. let’s add some anger in the mix. Now, not only is this guy crying, he’s sobbing. The blubbering, choking, uncontrollable kind of sobbing, right out in public. And here I am, feeling the three aforementioned emotions, smoking a cigarette and nodding stupidly at what I could understand between the sobs.
Pnigo, coming from the Greek word for choke, stifle or smother. And of course we all know what the end term phobia means, though did you know that the word phobia literally comes from the Greeks meaning, “flight, terror, and strangulation”? Funny coincidence. My relationship with Ben was short-lived. We met at freshman orientation at our college and had our final falling out on Halloween, but things started to go bad after only a few weeks of knowing each other. Bad thing is, you don’t realize how wicked things were until you sit back and think about it. Which is actually quite dumb, but it’s happened to me a lot.
My father, who was both very over-protective and entirely apathetic, sat me down once when I was young and started a lecture. It was right after I started dating my first boyfriend, and my father asked if Austin was ever abusive. “No . . .” This was random. Awkward. My dad, like I said, can be on both spectrums and I was mostly used to the apathetic part of him. It was just as awkward when he asked me if I would alert him if this current boyfriend or any others in the future ever laid their hands on me. “Yes . . .” When the real answer was a probable no. My father and I weren’t very close. “Do you know what to do if a man hits you?” I gave the answer that seemed logical and first popped in my head. “Leave him.” “Wrong.” Now this turned my attention away from my plots to stealthfully sneak away to avoid further discomfort. “If a man hits you, you make sure he hits you really good.” Was I actually hearing this correctly? I couldn’t believe that if someone clonked me, my dad wanted him to do it well. “You know, break your nose, a bone. Leave a bruise. Make sure there’s a good, good mark. Lean into it. Don’t tense up. That’s hard to do. But do it.” He demonstrated the correct way to tilt my head into a blow while I started stammering that I didn’t understand. I figured that the man who had helped to conceive me would want to make sure I knew how to avoid getting marred after a physical attack, not how to intensify said physical marring. “Then you hit the bitch back.” More stammering. “You see, you want a mark so that your own attack is justified in legal terms. Plus you get the satisfaction of smacking a hoe . . .” What forty-something father figure uses lingo such as ‘smack a hoe’? That one phrase heightened the awkwardness to well above normalcy, “. . . who deserves it.” He went on to give me another lecture and then a lesson in the proper ways to throw an accurate punch (or smack a hoe). Later that night he asked for a recap of our little talk. “Hit him back, and do it right.” That was what I got out of it, and what I thought he had wanted to
hear, but I was wrong, and he blatantly corrected me. “Hit him back, and alert the proper authorities.” That’s the obvious one. But the one I forgot at the time. Or overlooked.
Simple answer was a stupid answer, but it was all I could think of. Sadly enough, it was the truth. I was stubborn. I didn’t want to admit to anyone, let alone myself, that things weren’t normal, that things were sour. I told myself that other girls had it worse, who was I to complain? Plus, I was the one that made him angry. Looking back, I see how pathetic that is, but it was the way my mind was working. “Do you think if someone hurt you again, you’d react the same way?” Ben asked, and I should have caught the innuendo in his voice. The hint of curiousness and a creepy, twisted kind of curiousness, but I didn’t. “I mean, you wouldn’t do anything to stop it, just take it?” I told him that I’d like to think that I would, that I would follow my father’s advice and hit him back, and call the cops so the asshole went to jail or at least got some kind of citation, but I couldn’t be sure. I told him that I hoped I was never in a situation like that again in order to find out just what I would do. And just as I’m saying this to my good old buddy Ben, he thinks it’s a swell idea to grab my neck and push me up against a wall. At first I squeaked, as I usually do because I have a very girlish scream, and put my hands over his wrists. Ben wasn’t holding on very tightly to my neck at first; I could still breathe and talk fine. “What the hell are you doing?” Now he tightened his grip a bit, and I tightened my hold on his wrists. He told me that now I was in a situation like I was before. What was I going to do? Was I going to be just as stubborn? I glared at him wondering if he was serious. Did he really want to see if I was that stubborn and pathetic? He laughed, and I guess my glare was a sign to him that I was. There was something in his eyes that was creepy. It was playful, but also had a sick undertone, like he was enjoying himself.This is when I noticed how annoying his nose was. I focused on it. Critiqued it. Hated it. Hated that I couldn’t look in his eyes.
To be honest, Ben didn’t ever really ‘hit me’. He had other ways. One was this funny ‘game’ he developed one day. We were at my dorm room drinking and talking about our pasts. Ben and I did this frequently, but mostly I did the talking. Ben had a calm life, nothing ever really dramatic or eventful happened, and so to him, my life was like a movie. Shocking and entertaining. That day we were talking about an ex-boyfriend of mine, who had actually hit me on a few occasions. Ben was asking why I took it, how I could take it. I told him I didn’t want to tell the guy to ‘please desist’ his physical abuse. Again, like always, Ben asked why.
“Tell me to stop, Tess. Tell me to stop.”
And I didn’t. I glared, I rolled my eyes, I insulted him. A quite brilliant string of curse words overall describing him as a waste of skin. And after every slur, he tightened and tightened his hold on my neck. You see, being strangled sucks. You have the pain of someone on your throat, your trachea. It kinda feels like someone’s trying to rip it out or shove it through the bottom of the skull. You can feel your blood rushing through your veins, going where it should and where it wants to but can’t: your brain. Plus the lack of oxygen.
You feel hot; feel like your head is a balloon about to burst, like someone shoved a grenade in your mouth. Blinking hurts, moving hurts. It was hard to sit back and take it, not say anything, not fight him because while I wanted to accept my fate and go down like a hardcore bitch, fight through what was going on, my body started to react by itself and started kicking into survival mode. That was what I assumed he wanted: to have me beg him to stop, to have me kick around though we both knew he still would have won, and I refused to give him the satisfaction. Asshole, asshole, I had thought, and even my thoughts were sluggish. Eventually a mortal body starts to shut down, slow down, and I got drowsy and wanted to sleep and hell. I wasn’t sure. I might have been sleeping forever. But Ben let go. Good thing because I had been seeing spots. He called me an idiot, but smiled when he did, and left my room without another word. Pretending is an awesome thing to do. It’s something I’m quite the expert in. So when I was with Ben after that, we didn’t talk about it, and pretended it didn’t happen. But it did. And it happened again and again. It was always just us, and we could be doing anything from playing video games, to studying, to having a conversation, and Ben would just reach over. Even after I started to avoid sitting or standing next to hard surfaces, Ben would push me across the room so he could smash me up against the wall, his hand enclosed on my neck. I wanted to ask him why, tell him to stop, or maybe (finally) beat the shit out of him, but I never could. He would just look at me with those eyes and repeat the same words: “Tell me to stop, Tess. Tell me to stop.” And I would just stare at his nose, loathe it, until I started to get sleepy and he’d let me go. Strangling me as a hobby was not Ben’s only fault. He also had this bad habit of waiting until I was drunk to start asking me what my darkest secrets were. Halloween was the final straw though. I was smashed; he was not. We went outside of the dormitory for a cigarette, and while I danced around in my stupor, Ben followed and told me he had a question. He wanted to know what my darkest, deepest secret was. I continued dancing; it wasn’t something I was willing to discuss.
“Tess,” he had grabbed my arm to stop my dancing. “Stop for a second. Tell me.” I wondered why and tried to pull away, but his hold, which reminded me of when he was holding onto my throat, just tightened and tightened. “Tell me, tell me,” he was saying, getting close and angry. Something snapped. Maybe it was because I was beyond wasted, or perhaps because I was sick of how he was treating me. But I fought him, jerked away, and tried to run. Running drunk. Not the smartest idea.
And once again, running drunk is not the smartest idea. He caught up with me, and this time I tripped and fell on my face. Ben was there instantly when I rolled back and got to my knees. He was kneeling behind me, holding, not pinning but almost, both of my arms to my sides. I didn’t even try to fight at first as I couldn’t get over the fact he was literally holding me in place. When I did start to fight, all he had to do was push me a bit forward so my face landed in the dirt. Where was my friend? What had switched inside of him that made him want to do this to me? “Details.” He wanted details. I gave in to my pride and told him to let me go. Begged him to let me go. But he didn’t and while I tried to fight, it wasn’t worth the effort. He was stronger, he was bigger. I was drunk; I was already within his hold. He wanted details. That’s all he wanted. It didn’t occur to me that that was what I thought about the secret in general and that didn’t end up being the case. He wanted details. So I gave him details. All of them. It wasn’t the booze that made me puke. It was Ben. It was the fact that he thought it was entertaining to strangle me. That it was okay to watch a girl get drunk, then use it to his advantage to get what he wanted. That it was okay to claim this girl as his best friend. He loosened his hold on me, and pulled back my hair. After a time, I didn’t have anything else to puke, and it was only tears that came. He put a hand on my back, kind of like a reassuring gesture. “It’ll pass,” he said.
He caught up, grabbed my arm again, just repeating himself. Repeating himself. Tell me. Tell me. I had the idea that maybe if I told him, it’d be okay. That was all he wanted. Then I could run away. I had the card ID to get into my building, he didn’t. I should have been thinking about what my father taught me, or that this dude was supposed to be my friend, but I wasn’t. Tell me. Tell me. So I told him. And once again, tried to run.
Which all-in-all brings us back to when the tables were turned months later: when Ben was the sobbing, pathetic urchin, begging at me, while I was the bitch who didn’t give a shit and liked to see him in pain. “The answer is yes,
bitch. Apology not accepted.” And I used my father’s lesson to correctly punch him in the face.
(Un)fortunately, I would learn later that I didn’t break his nose as I was originally intending to, but it did start to bleed and he did begin screaming. I felt kind of sadistic, but kind of pleased when he leaned forward and his hands went over his nose, blood pulsing through. “I am so sorry, Ben,” I told him as I put a hand on his back, kind of like a reassuring gesture. “It’ll pass.”
VISUAL ARTS WINNER Cristian Andersson
Artist’s Statement It is that time when the shadows are overtaken by planes of light, and struggles are replaced with a tense dance of passion. Self-conscious fears and cares disappear. The atmosphere can be intoxicating. I created this work with thin layers of overlaying oil paint with the goal of making it physically look like how I observe life: experiences are not isolated in time and space, but become moments where past knowledge and emotions react with each other to form a chaotic action. This painting is a demonstration of one of those moments.
Judge’s Statement by Marjorie Mau Within the jury process of selecting an excellent piece among a body of artwork, I look for the intention of the artist to be revealed in the execution, all the while giving me, the viewer, a mix of mystery and surprise. “Kiss of Dionysus” comprises all of these. The artist has taken history to another dynamic to include sophisticated use of materials in the use of color and gesture into a passionate portrayal. I am invited to a close engagement, the depth of the work revealing more each time of seeing.
About the Judge Majorie Mau received a B.A. from UW-Green Bay in 2002. Mau went on to become a painting and drawing instructor at UW-Green Bay and later at St. Norbert College. She has works throughout the state of Wisconsin, primarily in the Door County and Green Bay area. Mau currently resides in Green Bay.
Kiss of Dionysus
The Girl Who Drew Trompe L’Oeil Phyllis Green
My sister, Stella . . . Before I tell you about Stella shooting the minister, I think you should know a little about me and perhaps that will help you to know her. The first thing I want to do when something goes wrong is to get in bed with Mommy and Daddy in their huge king-sized mattress cuddled between them. It is the only place I feel safe and I am thirty-seven, married, with three children. My parents, or Mommy and Daddy as I still like to call them, are seventy-nine now and the king bed is long gone as they both have hospital beds side by side in the assisted living home. Yet that’s where I want to be even though I can’t and I’m sure if they knew they would laugh for days about it. They have a pretty good sense of humor. I’m Charles. I’m a middle school math teacher. I have a pretty wife, Lydia, although I have never mentioned to her about wanting that warmth of the space in the covers between Mommy and Daddy. Lydia, I believe, married me because of my father’s reputation as a beloved professor of philosophy at Adelaide College. She thought his charm would rub off on me but I am a dullard at cocktail parties. I am not taken to small chatty talk and isosceles triangles do not make fascinating or humorous party conversations. I fix a bemused expression on my face and stand around holding the same drink all evening and whatever the topic I am bemused. Even about the death of one of Lydia’s colleagues. Yes I heard about that. “Get that god damned look off your face for a change!” she berated me into the wee small hours of the morning. I knew at the next party I would have to suck in my gut, squeeze into my best gray pin stripe suit and red silk tie, comb whatever I can find over my bald spot, clip those pesky nose hairs, roll on double the deodorant and corner unsuspecting party-goers into making trapezoids out of the white cocktail napkins.
Stella, my sister, lives alone as a librarian should. She is thirty and unmarried and has never had a date. I think she resembles Sophia Loren, not the sexy part, unfortunately the not-so-good-looking part. She does have the long dark hair and long legs, hairy I’m afraid, and she is overly bosomed but not in a good way if you know what I mean and her stomach is huge. But I’m crazy about her. She’s a good sister. She has a great bellowing laugh and she doesn’t mind saying what she thinks without any thought of tact.
Stella is a first rate librarian. And she keeps a mean library, that is to say she’s been known to rip patrons to shreds with her sharp tongue. You DO NOT make noise in Stella’s library. She’s bright, innovative, but she is also insecure, feels weird among people, and not good at parties like me. Stella is an artist of sorts. Not oils. Not charcoal. Well sometimes charcoal. She does caricatures. I think she uses black acrylics. She paints people on white sheets then she drapes them over her chairs and sofa or lays them on pillows on the gold rug and just walking in to her apartment it appears as if she is surrounded by friends. Sometimes the friends look like Billy Joel or Rihanna or Frankie Sinatra. She sits among these “friends” and eats with them, drinks with them, talks with them — not anything she’d have to be committed for. But when she shot the minister they said they had to put her in jail. Not sure how Mommy and Daddy deserved us. They were such great parents. They were like conjoined twins, did everything together and their friends were long standing actually from the cradle roll. These were Stella and my friends too and maybe that’s why Stella and I didn’t actually have friends of our own age. Lydia, my pretty wife, wears her chestnut hair in a long braid that falls down her back and is secured with a butterfly clasp made with dark brown Austrian crystals. She is an associate English professor at Adelaide and she is determined, truly religiously determined to become a full professor with tenure before her nemesis, Bunny Winslow. Our children take after Lydia in looks, thank God, and they are healthy. There are the two older boys, Rob and Steve. Their interests are computers and cars. Rob is the computer geek and Steve is the car crasher. I’ve told Steve he has got to pay for his own car insurance as it is killing me. But they’re great boys. Never begged me to play ball with them. It’s not my thing or theirs. Now our girl, Katherine, who is three, well she’s all girl and only wants to be a mommy when she grows up.
He only lost a leg. Pastor Williams. He knocked on Stella’s front door and that was his mistake. Stella only lets family in her apartment. So she shot him. She said she was aiming for his private parts but she had never seen a man naked so she wasn’t sure where the equipment lingered. We didn’t know she had a gun. But she went hunting with Dad and me one autumn when we were hungry for venison. She took to a gun right away but we didn’t think she’d go out and buy one. She got the buck for us that day and she took a real liking to dicing it up too. Luckily she didn’t do that to the pastor.
What happened to the minister . . .
The prison . . . The women’s prison is about ten miles out of town. The prison is gray, typical for prisons I assume; the inmates are tattooed, brazen, foul-mouthed, greasyhaired and crass. Yet Stella doesn’t mind. She became something of a prison star when they found out she could draw famous people. Now, with the sidewalk chalk I bring her she draws the other inmate’s favorite celebrity to share their cells. James Franco. Mick Jagger. Colin Farrell. Sylvester Stallone. Sandra Bullock. Stella has many requests but the ones she does not honor are pornographic drawings; Stella is a shy and proper lady. The warden, Ann Muldoon, is a young red-haired woman barely out of college and she is quite willing to make the prison as happy a place as possible so she allows Stella lots of leeway in making the prison artistic. Because of this, Stella requested some books from her library, books like The Art to Deceive, Trompe L’Oeil Made Easy, Advanced Trompe L’Oeil, Fooling the Eye, and Ultimate Trompe L’Oeil, as well as an old novel called The Girl Who Drew Trompe L’Oeil. “Here’s your Trump Oil,” I said as I presented the books she ordered. They thumped onto the table between us. Of course she corrected me. “Tromp loey,” Stella instructed. “Louie, Louie, Louie,” I sang to tease her. “LOEY!” she said, about to lose her temper. After studying trompe l’oeil for several weeks, Stella began to practice it. She told me that in the novel, The Girl Who Drew Trompe L’Oeil, the girl Marie was able to leave and enter through the deceiving art into and out of buildings, into and out of army camps (for lovemaking), into and out of castles (for espionage), and even into and out of countries. “Well, it’s a novel,” I said. Stella got a strange look on her face as if she was not at the prison’s visitor center with me. Then she blushed, laughed, and agreed, “Yes, it’s a novel, of course, I know that.” The first successful trompe l’oeil Stella drew in her cell was a large castlesized door, an open door which led to a beautiful green grassy area full of maple trees and pink and yellow lilies. The drawing showed great talent and certainly fooled my eye. It looked like you could walk right through that door and be in that charming yard. The assisted living home . . . I visit Mommy and Daddy once a week in the assisted living home. Mostly they
don’t know I’m there. Their hospital beds are side by side. White pillows, blue blankets, pale green walls, yellow-specked linoleum floor. They both sleep with their mouths wide open reminding me of halibuts in the Alaskan seas. “Do they ever wake up?” I ask an aide in an aqua uniform. I think her name is Rebecca. “Yes, we wake them to take their meds.” “That’s not exactly living, is it?” I ponder, but Rebecca is gone on her rounds. I turn on their radio to beautiful music, the kind they loved when they were in their twenties. I hope it soothes them and helps them sleep but probably the meds do a better job of it. I listen to the music and watch them breathe in and out, in and out, in and out, and after an hour of ins and outs I take my leave. My duty is done for the week. I am a good son. The phone call . . . The warden of the women’s prison called one Tuesday. “Stella is missing from the jail.”
And yet how to explain the trompe l’oeil of broken bricks that had been drawn with colored chalk on the outside of Mommy and Daddy’s assisted living home and I couldn’t help wonder if she somehow slipped between the bricks and got inside to kiss them goodbye. I searched the outside of my house for days but found no trompe l’oeil. I was quite sad that Stella chose not to visit here but then several weeks later Lydia called to me, “Come look in Katherine’s room!” And there behind the white drape was a branch and bird’s nest on our daughter’s wall complete with mother and father brown sparrows and three baby blue eggs. Stella, you came! A letter to my sister . . . Dear Stella: I don’t know if you will ever read this (I will leave it in our secret place for childhood notes) but I must tell you Daddy has passed away. He
The inmates were questioned and some said she escaped by climbing out of the open trompe l’oeil castle door in her cell. Others said that Stella got “taken care of” by some bad inmates (the punk girl gang) but nothing could be found of her in the jail. There were rumors as to how it was done, like she was stuffed down a toilet, or she was thrown alive into the prison furnace or her throat was slit and then she was cut into thousands of one inch cubes and tossed into the prison stew. It was also rumored that her huge breasts were being tossed around in the volleyball court in the exercise yard.
went in his sleep. As you know he slept away the last year at the home anyhow but this time the sleep is permanent. I was able to tell the funeral director that I needed a time with Daddy before they closed the oak casket. It was all very private and I did climb in and cuddle with him. It was warm and wonderful like those times they would welcome us into their bed in the mornings. I had longed for this for many years to repeat the wonderful, safe feeling and I will do the same with Mommy when it is her time. I did find out the funeral home did not put on Daddy’s navy slacks, just his red plaid jockey shorts! I was outraged and did speak to them and they corrected the situation as I watched. Apparently they do this all the time, thinking family will not peek under the white blanket! He might have gotten cold in the grave. I wish you could have been at the funeral. Of course you know the whole town adored Daddy and they all showed up, thousands, or so it seemed. Mommy wasn’t well enough to be there and she does not understand that he died, just as well. Going through Daddy’s effects I have learned some rather startling things, Stella. Prepare yourself. Sit down. Calm down. Stella, we have quite a few, in fact, maybe tons of half brothers and sisters. Oh not what one would first think — Daddy was loyal to Mommy — but he did contribute regularly to a sperm bank. And now, keep sitting, more news. You and I are adopted! Now I know why I never looked like Daddy or could ever compare to Daddy. I assume Mother was sterile. Why didn’t they ever tell us? Yes I have asked myself that too! In Daddy’s notes he said he wanted to have children of his own even though he would not know them or raise them, thus the sperm bank thing, but he went on to say you and I were everything he could ever dream of in children and so we must take solace in that. I do believe him. He was a great Daddy. I hope I see you again, dear Stella. I dream that you are traveling the world making orange and yellow and purple murals or some such. Come home when it feels right. Much love, my dear sister, your devoted brother, Charles. P.S. No, we don’t have the same birth parents but who cares? Pastor Williams . . . After Stella went missing from the prison, that’s all I thought about. I did not give a second of my time to the minister that she shot, how he fared, what he was going through — nothing. I couldn’t have cared less. But one day when I left the teacher’s lounge there he was on crutches, one blue-jeaned pant leg pinned up near his hip. His shoulders were slumped. He couldn’t look me in the eye but it was obvious he had been waiting for me.
“Wanna go to Starbucks?” he murmured. “What?” I said, hoping I had not heard him correctly. “Feel like getting coffee?” Oh god, I thought. What is this about? “Sure,” I said. But I was not at all sure and right away sorry I had said it. I had just had coffee in the teacher’s lounge. God damn, I am too nice. I helped him into my car. I had no idea how he had arrived at my school. I placed his crutches on the back floor. He filled the passenger seat. Even with a missing leg he must have weighed 250 pounds. He had a wispy brown beard, thin gold-framed glasses. He was dressed in regular clothes, jeans, blue tee shirt, didn’t look like a pastor; he looked pale, maybe he had the flu as he was sniffling. His eyes seemed to be studying the floorboard of my Chevy. “Nice car,” he muttered. What? He wanted my car because my sister took away his leg? “It’s been nothing but trouble,” I lied. When we got to Starbucks I retrieved his crutches and helped him out of the car. We got situated at an outside table and ordered our coffees. Then he said, “I’m your brother.” I thought he was being philosophical. But no. He continued. “When your father died, my mother told me she had used the sperm bank he contributed to and he was my father too.” Our coffees arrived. I could not speak. My sister had shot our brother.
I took him home. I hoped that was that. But several weeks later we started to do guy things together. Ben (Pastor Benjamin Williams) had a boat. We went fishing. We went bowling, not so easy for my brother on crutches. I chauffeured him to the specialist for fittings of his prosthesis and for the big moment when it was ready. I introduced him to Lydia and the children. Lydia and I began to attend his church services. Ben accompanied us to cocktail parties and he and I gabbed together all evening while Lydia chatted up her colleagues.
In time I found my voice. Not much of one. I think I said something like, “Thanks for letting me know.”
It was a happy familial three month period before Ben started moving me in a bad direction. Sure, he was single but I was very much married to a lovely gal. He liked visiting naughty lingerie shops and getting in communal hot tubs with hot girls. Yeah, I succumbed, and felt like crap because of it. Then he wanted to go to bars in the next town where he wouldn’t be recognized and drink himself into oblivion. I did that too. One night we were really socking them down at a sports bar in Estacada when Ben said, “Some women sleep with their bedroom windows open.” “Oh?” I replied. “You gotta be choosy,” he advised. “Really?” I said. I was bombed and bleary-eyed. “It was my mistake,” he said. “What?” I asked. “I mean who in their right mind would fall into her bedroom because she is such a dog! She didn’t have to shoot me. All she would have had to do was bump me with that humongous stomach or bop me with that hanging ass and I would have been down for the count. She didn’t have to shoot me!” Ben was laughing hysterically. “Did you ever see such a dog?” he asked. I laughed and nodded my head in agreement and I kept nodding and agreeing and then I got nauseous, not from the whiskey but from realizing he was making fun of my sister. How could I have participated in the denigration of Stella? My agreeing sounds got quieter and less convincing and soon I was whimpering like a piglet that can’t find his mommy. There was only one thing I could do. I pulled Ben off the bar stool and onto the floor where I de-panted him and then I took off his prosthesis, hailed a cab and went home. The next day I mailed his prosthesis back to the church. I deceive my brother . . . At the party for the nemesis Bunny Winslow’s getting tenure (which left poor Lydia with a permanent frozen smile), I bumped into the police detective who came to Stella’s apartment when she shot the minister. Detective Bledsoe, Bunny’s cousin, made a reference to my sister, saying he was sorry to hear what happened at the jail because Stella was from such a good family but they just had to arrest her, and “besides she confessed to the shooting.” I replied, “Well, what would you do if some bloke crawled in your bedroom
window at one a.m.?” “Oh no, you’ve got it wrong,” Bledsoe said. “She said he knocked on the front door!” “And I say you are wrong my friend. Stella told me he came through the bedroom window, falling in fact on the floor, and she didn’t know who he was and she shot the devil out of him as anyone would do, don’t you agree?” “Are you sure?” he asked. “The bedroom window?” “Positive.” “Oh my god,” he said and left the party as if he was late for something. I use my brother . . . As it happened the bedroom window entrance rang a bell with Detective Bledsoe. That was the modus operandi of the infamous bedroom bandit that had evaded the police for five years. So the detective got a search warrant for Pastor Williams’s house and I’ll be damned — they found his attic, his rooms and the garage full of stolen items. Flat screen TV’s, computers, diamond rings, iPods, cell phones, air conditioners, silverware, antique rifles, ammunition, sapphire necklaces, fine china, fuchsia lipsticks, red and pink nail polishes, Nike athletic shoes, bedroom slippers shaped like bears, hundreds of ladies’ white panties and lacy bras, and lots and lots of panty hose. The items were listed in the newspaper. Apparently my brother, the minister, stole everything that wasn’t bolted to the floor. Now at the cocktail parties that Lydia drags me to, I begin all my sentences with “My brother, the one-legged thief . . .” and I regale the small crowds that gather around with stories about my bad boy brother.
I am suddenly quite popular. Sometimes Lydia looks at me as if she doesn’t know who I am.
Charles Rafferty As they make love, he thinks of spreadsheets and Visa bills, the spinning wheels of the electricity meter stuck to the wall of their house. To do otherwise is to give in to his wife’s beauty, and that would never do. For once he comes, he falls instantly to sleep, and his wife would be left dissatisfied in their palace of disordered sheets. It had been a problem from their earliest days together. In college, once, he came just from the act of slipping on a condom. Had he not mastered himself, he felt sure she would have left him, that they would not have their son and daughter, the attic window from which they could see the ocean sparkling between evergreens, or the cat that curls into their bed each night. Now they are switching positions, which is always tricky for him — a time when he must be vigilant. Things are going well. His wife is responsive. She is doing that thing where she props one leg over his shoulder and encourages him to lean into her. But he must think of dissections when she does this — how back in biology class he pulled two grasshoppers and a crayfish from the stomach of the bullfrog pinned to the tray of wax. She is beginning to pant and make noises she later will be embarrassed by. He has to stopper his ears against such music. So he imagines the corpses at Dachau bulldozed into an open pit, the twin towers imploding, a fox leg getting left behind in the jaws of a steel spring trap. It is too much, but his wife has gotten everything she needs, and he lets go of himself for the briefest moment. They lie together gasping in the jumbled bed and the gathering dusk. A dog down the street is barking. The man’s sleep approaches like a loaded barge fitting against a dock. He pulls his wife close and thinks, as he sometimes does, that sex is different from what he imagined back in high school, as he flipped through the pages of Penthouse and Swank. He turns over to look into his wife’s eyes, but already she is asleep. He is alone with the crickets coming on like little switches in the moat of roses surrounding their house. He is about to slip off himself when the cat leaps softly onto their bed, curling in between them in its usual spot.
The Hunters Lane Kareska
The dog was an Aussie, clean coat of black, muzzle of white. Charlie, the family had named it on adoption day. Once a tuft of dirty cotton, the animal was now some sixty pounds of rigid muscle — a fact the Bower boys often mentioned to their friends at school when dogs and ferocity was the topic. “Put him inside,” Travis Troy told his kid brother. “He hates that,” Ben said. “I know it. But we can’t have him out here barkin’ like that. Neighbors’ll think we’re gettin’ murdered.” Ben chased after the dog and hooked a small hand inside his grubby collar. “Come on, bud.” He walked the dog across the gravel lot to their uncle’s cream-colored trailer home. Ben ushered the animal inside and shut the door behind him. “That ain’t gonna stop him,” Ben said. The dog stood in the dirty window. Hackles raised, he barked mindlessly out at the woods beyond the trailer park. “What’s he barking at?” Ben asked. Travis Troy shrugged. “Deer out there, maybe? Elk?” Ben was the youngest Bower at ten years old. Travis Troy was the authority by another four. They were to have had a baby sister once but Lily Anne arrived stillborn. Mother and father died together soon after in an auto accident not three blocks from the house. That was a few summers ago. Since then, they’d lived with Uncle Earl. When the census man came by, he let the Bowers know that they were the only household in Egypt, Georgia to be populated entirely by men. That little detail struck Ben. Should he be proud of that? Ashamed? “Damned summer heat,” Travis Troy said, cracking open a can of Budweiser. “Get that beer outta your hand, Earl’ll kill you.”
“You hush and I’ll give you a sip.” Travis Troy had long dark hair to go with the long muscles in his arms and neck. Ben admired that. Ben was a short, fat kid and he put out like the weight didn’t bother him but secretly he was crazy to be sleek and strong like Travis Troy. At night sometimes, in their bunk beds, Travis Troy spoke great and mysterious promises to Ben. Travis Troy said that all Ben’s baby fat would fall off when his balls dropped. Said that’s how it worked with Bower men. Top heavy at the front end of life—but went out rail thin, furious and coughing, like Grandpa. It was ten in the morning and Uncle Earl didn’t get off work at the vitamin factory till six. They had the whole summer day to themselves. Travis Troy drained much of the beer can and handed it to his brother. “You didn’t leave nothin’ in it,” Ben said. “I left enough for you. Drink up, tough guy.” Ben tilted the can and drank. The cold beer tasted of copper and snow. His eyes teared up a little and his chest felt as if it had just been inflated with a bike pump. “Hey you pussies!” someone shouted from behind the hedge. Ben panicked and bobbled the can. When it hit the gravel, Ben already stood behind Travis Troy. “Aw, shut up, Knuckle,” Travis Troy said. Knuckle, a ninth grader for the second time, stood tall and shaggy and shirtless in this sunlight. A nub of a cigarette burned in his lips. A bow and quiver hung strapped across his pale chest. Like a redneck Tarzan, Ben thought. “Don’t leave that cigarette butt around the trailer,” Travis Troy warned.
Knuckle and Travis Troy casually pounded their fists. Knuckle did not offer the gesture to Ben. “What’s wrong with your dog?” Knuckle asked. “Nothin’,” Travis Troy said. “What’s with the bow?” “I bought it.”
“Cool your jets.” Knuckle sidestepped through the bushes, raking his bow across the limbs.
“You stole it,” Ben guessed.
Knuckle looked at Travis Troy, “You think your brother’ll fit in the trash compactor?” Travis Troy ignored him. “How many arrows you got?” “Five. My old man’ll notice if any are missing, so we gotta account for all of ‘em.” “Lemmie shoot it,” Ben said. “I ain’t even gonna let you look at it. Turn your head,” Knuckle said. “Want a beer?” Travis Troy asked Knuckle.
They left Charlie barking in the trailer and climbed down the cement development wall toward the river. Three boys and a bow. Hunters. They tramped down into the cool bracken under the shade of yew trees at full bloom. The air hovered cold there, and the river babbled out beyond. “I’m a shoot a fish,” Knuckle said. “No you ain’t,” Travis Troy said. “Why not?” “Cuz it ain’t that easy, dingus. Water causes refraction of the light. Makes it look like somethin’s there, when the fish is really half a foot to the left.” Refraction, Ben thought. That was a ten dollar word. Travis Troy had a lot of those. “Keep up, Ben,” Travis Troy said. They hiked on for another twenty minutes, and then Knuckle raised his hand. “Stop,” he said. “Why?” Travis Troy asked. “I want to shoot your brother.” Knuckle unslung the bow from his shoulder and pulled a long aluminum arrow from the quiver. “Don’t joke like that,” Travis Troy said. “Who’s joking? You ever heard of William Tell?” “You don’t have any idea who William Tell is,” Travis Troy said.
“Ben, go stand your fat ass against that tree,” Knuckle said. Ben’s heart kicked up a little bit and began to buck in his chest. He knew Knuckle was a tricker but he also had an authentic streak of crazy running through him. Whole family did. Ask anyone in town. Knuckle was special trouble. Knuckle fit an arrow in the string and pulled back. He aimed it at the dirt but he made full white-eye contact with Ben. Ben looked to his brother. “Don’t listen to him, Ben. Knuckle, I swear, you hush up.” “I’ll shoot you too if I want.” A deep croak burbled from the woods. Some kind of rough-bodied groan. But the sound stretched out like an insect’s long and tedious click. “Hell was that?” Knuckle asked. “Sounded like a cow,” Ben said, knowing as he spoke how dumb that made him sound. “A cow,” Knuckle said. “Come on,” Travis Troy led the way. They skulked toward the noise. Leaves and bramble crunched beneath their sneakers. Travis Troy stopped them and they listened. Nothing. Just the lickspeak of the river. It sounded again, this time like a screen-door peeling open. The sound rose and fell. Rose again and fell again. It was right before them.
Ben waited. “Oh . . .” Travis Troy whispered. “Oh, my . . .” Ben peered around the tree. Travis Troy stared straight ahead into the woods. “Travis Troy, what are you looking . . .” Ben’s eyes fell upon it. Not twenty feet away, it crouched in the bramble.
Travis pinned his back to a tree. Ben and Knuckle did the same.
Ben had seen praying mantises before. But this was not that. It wasn’t a cricket
either. It had features of both, maybe, but never, never had he seen an insect this size. It trembled in the dirt and leaves, the size of a child. Not much smaller than himself, Ben guessed. It must have been injured for it made no move, even as it watched the boys. Its antennae stood grotesquely long, six feet easy. Swaying and twitching, their hairy pads grazed across the forest floor. Eyes agog, shining black as tar, so large as though swollen with terror. Brisket full and round, all armored in dull green plates like tree bark. Six legs cocked and folded around the fat and fluted body. A set of big, sail-like wings folded across its back. Their surfaces rippled and glassy. The long boat of the abdomen spread back and ended in long, ropy tail, coiled like a scorpion’s. Ben’s throat closed. The insect croaked again, shrill and obscenely. It looked at Ben and slowly lowered its triangular jaw. It screamed. The scream lasted for full seconds. Stop screaming, Ben thought. Please stop. “Why won’t it move?” Knuckle stepped back. Travis Troy shook his head slowly. “I think it’s hurt.” “Is that a cricket?” Knuckle asked. “Crickets don’t have long heads like that,” Ben whispered. “The antennae are similar, but that tail . . .” “That thing must weigh fifty pounds. Who ever heard of a fifty-pound insect?” Knuckle asked. “Shhh,” Travis Troy said. “Thing’s terrified.” “I’m terrified,” Knuckle said. Travis Troy turned to Ben. “Go home,” he said. “Call Uncle Earl at work —” Knuckle loosed an arrow on the creature and the bolt sank halfway into its belly. The creature cranked its great head up and bellowed again, into the trees, into the sky. Ben slapped his palms over his ears. Anything for it to stop. The thing cast its head side to side, terrible wet mouth agape, openly screaming its grinding chords. The arrow shook and waved in its thorax. The
insect looked at the boys and bleated, honked at them fiercely. It made no move save to pump its face in their direction, shrieking again and again at its murderers. Ben turned away. He nearly ran but he thought of his brother. Would he follow? Would Travis Troy call him a coward? The sound finally died and Ben hugged his chest. He glanced back towards his brother and tried not to look at the creature. Travis Troy pushed Knuckle to the ground. The bow fell from Knuckle’s hands. “Whut’d you do that for, ya psychopath!” Travis Troy hollered. “Thing’s a monster!” Knuckle said. “I’m puttin’ it outta its misery. ‘Sides, we’ll be famous. Get our pictures on the news.” Travis Troy shook his head and looked back at the bug. The thing seemed to move slower now. Colorless fluid, thick as olive oil, dribbled from its wound. The insect dragged its face across the ground. Leaves caught on its eyes. “See, I killed it,” Knuckle said. Travis Troy looked at Ben. “Let’s get outta here,” he said. “Knuckle, go get your arrow if you want it.” “I ain’t going near that thing,” Knuckle said, walking away from the monster. Travis Troy took up the bow and the quiver, saying only, “You ain’t carryin’ this. You just lost the privilege.” They walked and argued on their way back toward the house. Knuckle carried on about fame while Travis Troy told him he was an a-hole. Ben said not a word. Best to let these bigger kids have it out amongst themselves. Travis Troy had it under control anyway.
Ben kept his head down and walked on until he bumped into Travis Troy. “What’d you stop for?” he asked. They’d all stopped. There were four of them. All crouched and poised at the boys, like lion cubs ready to pounce. Their long forelegs bent under them in the dirt. Travis Troy put a flat hand on his brother’s belly. The locusts twitched their heads back and forth like they couldn’t control it. Severe shivers rattled the locusts’ spines; their brittle exoskeletons trembled with anticipation. Their bulbous black eyes
“You know what that was?” Knuckle asked no one. “It was a locust. God sent them before to devour the Earth and here they are again.”
rolled. Simultaneously, the insects stood up on their spindly hind legs. They chittered as if in discussion. Their shining jaws looked as long and sharp as traps. “Go,” Travis Troy said. Ben thought Travis Troy had lost his mind and was speaking to the bugs as if they were pets, dogs. Go. Then Travis Troy gave a hard push on Ben’s belly and Ben realized he was speaking to him. Travis shouted: “Go!” Ben twisted away and ran from the trees, toward the field of standing yellow cane bordering the river. Ben raised his hands and blocked his face with his forearms. Panicked, he plunged into the tall stalks. He ran and pushed forward. Tears streaked down his red face. He coughed and choked and forgot how to breathe. His mouth filled with cottonweed. Distantly, someone shouted his name. His brother shouted his name. Ben turned and was mauled by a locust. Its heavy arms swatted at him, pulled him to the ground. Ben shrieked and cried and his brother repeated his name into his face, “Ben Ben Ben.” Ben opened his eyes. It was Travis Troy. His brother had found him, had saved him. Travis Troy pinned him to the ground, knees on his chest. “Be quiet, Ben. Hush.” Ben quit sobbing and looked into his brother’s face. “Where’s Knuckle?” Ben sniffed. “I don’t know,” Travis Troy whispered. “Let’s get home.” Travis Troy rolled off Ben and stood. Ben hauled himself up and held onto his brother’s hand. “Travis!” Knuckle screamed from somewhere. “Travis!” It sounded as if Knuckle was bawling. His voice gurgled and pleaded, “Travis, they’re stinging me! Travis, they’re —” The voice shut off. Ben opened his eyes. A figure stepped through the cane toward them. It was Knuckle. He wore a locust on his back. It clung there between his shoulder blades, green forelegs scissoring tightly around Knuckle’s face. The tail wrapped around Knuckle’s throat, some kind of stinger implanted itself deep and clean into the skin of his throat. Knuckle’s face swelled as he walked. Before Ben’s eyes, Knuckle became
unrecognizable. Became a monster himself. The swelling closed Knuckle’s eyes and mouth. His cheeks puffed out to the point that they overcame and absorbed his nose. It looked like his own head was swallowing his face. His skull swelled to the size of a basketball and bigger. The pop of bones sounded like tree limbs snapping. Knuckle’s arms waved as he stumbled about like a toddler. The hands, Ben noticed, were each swollen to the size of dinner plates. Fingers could not be distinguished. Knuckle twisted and fell. He laid still and disfigured in the cane. The locust rattled and uncoiled its tail. They killed him. I have now seen someone be killed, Ben thought. Travis Troy and Ben sprinted together through the cane. Travis Troy hauled Ben along. They stumbled into the river — the cold water suddenly up to Ben’s chest. Travis Troy pushed him forward, commanding him to swim. Ben quit thinking. He committed himself to the river and to the swiftness of the current. He let it take him. All he could try to do was keep his head above water. River water filled his ears, clogged his senses. It filled his shoes and tried to pull him under like weights. He flailed and the river took him. His heartbeat shot up into his head, the blood pounded in his temples like hammer-strokes. This was panic. This was shock. His head filled with pressure and with pain. He tried to breathe but sucked in only another lungful of cold water. Something deep inside his brain knew what was happening. He realized he was only a moment from blacking out and disappearing forever. No oxygen, no brain, no life, no questions. Ben flapped his arms a final time and pushed his face from the water and inhaled as deep as he could. This was his final moment. He didn’t understand how it had happened so quickly. Why him? Why this day? He fell back into the water, choking, dying. His lungs filled with water and he sank.
A moment passed and Ben thought: Good. He knew that this was right. This was as it should be. It was right for Knuckle to die. Right for Ben to die as well. Travis Troy would survive. Travis Troy would go on. Ben accepted this and felt a kind of relief brew up in him as he drowned. Ben shut his eyes and emptied his lungs. The priest had closed out Ben’s little sister’s funeral by looking directly into Ben’s eyes and saying, “As you pray for Lily Anne, know that she is with God, and she prays also for you.”
The river consumed him and sucked him to the bottom.
Ben liked that. He liked the idea of a little baby sister praying directly into
God’s ear for Ben and Travis Troy. Hands clamped around the hinges of Ben’s jaw and jerked his head up, trying to rip his head from his shoulders. Ben opened his eyes and saw the dark swimming shade of Travis Troy wrestling him up to the surface. Travis Troy tore at him and forced him upward. Travis Troy wrapped his arms across his brother’s belly and hauled him toward the sunlight. Travis Troy kicked as though in a frenzy. They broke the surface screaming. Together they pushed toward the far side. They scrabbled and panted in the clay. Ben’s vision tuned in and out. He vomited water into the mud. They lay on their backs, mouths open to God. Just two brothers on a river bank. Ben had never wanted more to fall asleep. “Come on,” Travis Troy said, rolling onto his stomach. He pushed himself to his feet. His hands sank to the wrist in the mud. The locusts clicked again. Buzzing from somewhere, everywhere. The sound filled the woods. “Where are they?” Ben asked. They looked back across the river at their homeland. The woods of west Georgia. Together, hundreds of locusts leapt up into the air above the cane. A tide darkened the sky. Ben could not guess their number. All the size of dogs or bigger. The buzzing shook Ben’s skin and pierced his brain. “Come on!” Travis Troy grabbed his brother and pushed him up and they ran into the hills. They ran through the fields, the buzzing everywhere, only increasing in volume. “Don’t look back!” Travis Troy shouted. They ran up the undulations of green grass, Ben’s sopping blue jeans throwing water and piss. They ran toward a long plain of grass and the empty interstate beyond that. The filling station stood old and abandoned a hundred yards away. Ben followed Travis Troy. The buzzing of the creatures rang out impossibly loud. They reached the gas station and Travis Troy tore open the door.
Ben glanced backward and witnessed the great current of locusts. All in sizes comparable to himself. They swept down from the sky like black sand pouring from the sun. Their clacking and buzzing sounded to Ben as if a power line were running through his head. A chestnut-colored yearling rolled and seized in the field, hooves aflutter. The horse battled with a trio of locusts that stabbed and pried at its back. Travis Troy shut the door. Abandoned, the interior of the filling station was stripped almost bare. The skeletal racks were empty, the counters clear. A layer of dust caked the floor. The brothers crowded in the old bathroom and bolted the door shut. The bolt fell apart in Travis Troy’s hands. Ben cried into his wrists. Travis Troy leaned against the door and slid down, panting hard. At his parent’s funeral, Ben waited for the priest to say that his mother and father were in heaven praying for Ben. He never said it. The priest closed it out differently, in some other way Ben could not now remember. Afterward, Ben gathered the courage to approach the priest and ask him. “Oh, yes,” the priest said. “All of our family members that have passed on pray to God on our behalf and He listens.” All pray on our behalf. Ben imagined his whole line of mysterious ancestors all kneeling in Heaven, all praying for Ben and his brother. Does the plea of those that were closest to you carry more weight? Is the prayer of your mother worth more than the prayer of your grandmother? Is your number of dead proportionate to how blessed you become?
“Take this,” he said. “You swing it and bash ‘em if you need to.” “Where are you going?” Ben grabbed his brother’s hands. “Gonna try and find the office phone, call Uncle Earl. Even if I can just leave a message, he can come and find us. We can’t just stay here.” “There ain’t gonna be a office phone,” Ben said.
When Ben awoke on the bathroom floor, Travis Troy handed him the heavy porcelain lid from the toilet tank.
“Maybe there will be.”
“Ain’t you scared?” Ben asked. “Hell yes I am,” Travis Troy said. “But remember what John Wayne said.” “What?” “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” Ben burst into tears. “I’m taking the bow,” Travis Troy rubbed his brother’s head. “I’ll be back real soon. Don’t open this door for nothin’. Understand?” Ben nodded. Travis Troy put his ear to the door. “What do you hear?” Ben sniffled. Travis Troy shook his head, “Nothin’.” He turned the knob and pulled the door open a crack. He peered out into the emptiness of the gas station. “I’ll be right back.” Travis Troy slid out the doorway and Ben shut it behind him. Ben applied his shaking hands to the door and held it shut. His chin trembled. He swallowed. Buck up. You’re with Travis Troy. You’re okay. Just count. Just count. Ben began slowly, “One . . . two . . .” He glanced back at the dark bathroom for something with which to bar the door. There was nothing. Filthy toilet, filthy floor. Old cigarettes and a plastic lighter lay in the dry sink. He counted. When he made it to one hundred and fifty, something banged heavily outside the door, as if something large had crashed on the floor. Another crash. Something pounded on the door. Ben screamed aloud. “Ben! Open it up!” Travis Troy pushed on the door. Ben stepped back and the door swung open. Travis Troy fell in and turned and slammed the door behind him. Travis Troy shook and trembled. Instantly, Ben knew he wasn’t right. “What happened?” Ben took to shaking as well. Dark red blood ran out of Travis Troy’s nose and ears in straight lines. He had
neither the bow nor the quiver. Travis Troy stared at his hands. His face began to purple. Terror rose in his eyes. His throat swelled as it were inflating. He screamed. He looked at Ben and screamed. In the gas station bathroom, the brothers panicked together. They both knew Travis Troy had been stung and was now going to die. Travis Troy convulsed. His chest pumped like a bellows. He looked as if he were straining his jaw. He locked his teeth and screamed as his face distorted. He tried to say his brother’s name, but his tongue filled his whole mouth. Ben screamed manically. He clutched onto his brother and felt his brother’s swelling hands grab and pull at Ben’s face. The older brother howled through his dislodged jaw. The bones in his face popped audibly. Travis Troy’s final moments would be grotesque and agonizing. This was not how Ben thought it would end. This was wrong. Travis Troy was no longer Travis Troy. He was a screaming deformity on a bathroom floor. Save him. Kill him. Save your brother. Give mercy. Kill your brother. Ben took up the lid of the toilet tank and swung it down against Travis Troy’s skull. Travis Troy’s head spun a quarter turn and slammed against the floor. A handful of teeth skittered across the tile. Travis Troy screamed louder, his eyeballs about to burst. Kill your brother. Even this, Ben could not do correctly. Ben swung the slab again and again until it shattered and Travis Troy lay on the ground, his massive head cracked inward. Ben fell onto his brother and clawed at his blood-soaked shirt. He struck his face against his dead brother’s chest and screamed and sobbed and wanted nothing more than to be dead with him, to go where he had gone.
Ben, drenched in blood, sat against the bathroom door. He sat with his hands around his knees. His head hung forward sleepily. Pray for me. Ben shook awake. No light shown in the bathroom. The smell of thick and metallic blood filled his head. He thought of Uncle Earl. He tried to imagine being rescued. But in the fantasy that played across his mind’s eye, it was not his uncle that kicked open the bathroom door to save him, it was his dog — Charlie. He imagined his great dog attacking the locusts, snapping and growling at them as he raced across
The blood and the bathroom smelled of rust. Hours passed.
the river to find his boys. If any dog could do such a thing, could brave such a hell, it would be . . . no. Ben could not finish the thought. Ben knew in his true heart that his simple, eager dog was still trapped in the trailer where he’d been left, barking helplessly, or dead somewhere, swollen up and broken — just like Travis Troy. Ben stood and took slow cautious steps to the bathroom sink. He bumped into it and scraped his hand along the bowl. He rubbed the porcelain and found the old, dry cigarette butts and the rusty plastic lighter. He took it up and rubbed his thumb against the wheel. He’d seen Knuckle use a lighter before. How did it work? A flick of his — there, a spark. He flicked it again, and again, each time causing a stir of blue light. Finally, he flicked it and held the button. An inch of quivering flame stood from the mouth of the lighter. In the mirror, Ben looked like a wild animal. His face was covered in dirt and blood and streaked with tears. It looked like war paint. He turned and cast the light onto his brother’s body — Travis Troy, helpless, for the first time ever. Ben looked away. The walls were filthy and blood-splattered. Graffiti was scrawled on the tiles, most of it illegible. Except for before him, at eye-level, someone had drawn the words: “You Go To Hell Hell Hell.” You go to hell hell hell. A sound like the buzz and snap of electricity rattled from the doorway. Something sharp and wiry brushed his cheek. Ben turned and dropped the lighter. In the last moment of light, he saw the long antennae questing through the cracked doorway. The thin door glided open. Ben scurried backward on the floor. He crab-walked over his brother’s slick and stiffening body. His hands slipped on the heavy shards of porcelain that had once been the tank lid. Ben backed up against the wall. The locusts buzzed and clacked before him in the dark. He could not see, only guess how many crouched before him. His hands curled around two sharp chunks of porcelain. Pray for me. Like a tile puzzle being solved, the thought slid and locked into position in his head: You were made for this. This is you. He’d never be his brother. Was never meant to. This was always his purpose. To be here, at this moment, with these creatures. It was as if a dam had broken within him. There is no future. That is your freedom. Ben decided. He swallowed and spat, ready to run at the monsters. Ready to
run after Travis Troy. Ben stood and wielded the shards like gruesome and ancient knives.
You go to hell hell hell.
Help Wanted S.T. Scrivener
Shattered cricket husks â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Forty-seven navy and charcoal and frayed cuffs And yellowed collars lined up and swaying, Forty-seven papery skin capsules trickling empty fast And leaving shuddering lines of destitution behind them, Clutching peeled styrofoam coffee-cups Between claws torn and ravaged to the pulp, Forty-seven rotting shells hunched shoulders up Outside the unemployment office and Around the gray bricked corner of Bane and Woe, Shining pallidly under cold sunlight With smudged briefcases pressed tightly To bony hips and wasted innards weeping, Neglected. Forty-seven meatless skeletons dressed in Baggy slacks and crumpled button-downs Trudge forward three creaking steps an hour In a glacial journey relentless and cruel with nothing but Frozen breath and minimum wage and Memories trampled into the dust.
He Called Us Recruits Lowell Jaeger
and taught us to stand and salute when he entered the room. Coached us to dress-right-dress, rank and file, the art of marching in step across the b-ball court at the YMCA. Paraded us on Fourth of July down Main Street, marshaled beside us, huffing his gruff . . . hut . . . hut . . . hut.
At ease, Men, he nodded sternly. We felt tall when he named us that. Surge of blood in our hearts as he snugged our scout neckerchiefs, inspected our stitches on merit badge sashes across our chests. Next war is yours, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d look us in the eye and hiss. To fight and die. Sure enough. Some of us did exactly this.
Derailed: A Poem of Love Nancy Carol Moody
The curtain is closed, each ring and grommet drawn to its place. This darkened compartment could be
this rust-colored Crayola molten down to curdles of mud — no trigger, no trinity may deliver it now.
headed into the twilight of anywhere the rails fly — Portugal, Panama, Pittsburgh to the Provinces —
Oh, bear with me, my garbanzo bean. And forgive me my theatrics; I fracture so freely. I’m your off-
the landscape irrelevant as we crank our way through this inexhaustible blight, the rhythmic chunk-
compass armadillo, lumbering so perilously close to the shoulder. I’m a coil-sprung gizmo,
chunk of steel on steel, the cradle-rock sway of the sleeper car. Whatever precipice is out there, it’s
dead-batteried gadget, an unredeemable, incorrigible, potion-peddling quack. Exonerate me
toothless in this Mason jar light; I’m beyond the salvation of free-fall rites: you’re nothing
once more, bind me tightly in your angular embrace. I’m a train wreck desperate for your salvage yard.
but a figment of my own desire. This beating bruise you call my heart, this battered marigold,
They call her Ivy. Grew quick as a weed, thick and green, Lush. Rich like fruit, sweet nectar inside. Creeping, climbing stems, twisting higher A snapshot, full of life . . . what a shame she’s already dead.
Half open, empty eyes stare, burn a hole through her flesh Mouths gaping, negating sound, they sneer. A girl made of gold takes the stage, she glitters only gilded. Drowns in the pulsating beats of music to carry her away . . . A dirty whore . . . she prowls the floor, almost devious in nature, but ever so seductively . . . Back on her hips, she’ll gather her tips. Always searching, she’ll find heaven one day. The reflection in the mirror is not hers. She’ll close her eyes, surrender to snow . . .
The stale, bitter stench of cheap whiskey and sweat permeate the room, and thickens menthol smoke like steam. Packed with strangers, drinking their throe and regret, yet their faces seem familiar
Making a Living Sarah Lisowski
Tanned and weathered, fingers familiar with hacks, blunt stubs Stained with dusty concrete. Strong and calloused, he cracks them. Building, fixing, knowing which way to turn a wrench. Foreign to books and desk jobs, clumsy penmanship, never owned a three piece suit. Why do you work out there, on top of buildings during frost, down in holes when it swelters? He only smiles, hands perched atop bent knees, asks if Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d like to grab a burger with Dad.
Color me blue Like the sky on a day so beautiful That every thunder clap and rain drop have been forgotten Color me red Like the devil The big bad bitch To lay all your hate upon Color me white With the purity of a thousand angels A sparkle in my smile And perfection in my step Color me gray Not black or white But the essence of uncertainty and insecurity Color me orange Without asking if I’m at the beginning or end Sunrise or sunset Color me purple Like royalty’s cape The queen of my past, present and undoubtedly my future Color me what you will But I guarantee you won’t find a match Because I’m all my own shade And that’s that
That Kind a Angry Kimberly Insley
Mama’s angry was a scary kind a angry The kind a angry that breathes fire Dragon roaring, monster stomping Dishes clattering, shattering Falling to the floor The kind a angry where you knew Your beautiful yellow ride on school bus With the stickers of all those Cartoon happy children on the sides Was about to take a trip down the basement steps The kind a angry that makes you want to curl up with your Mr. Penguin Beneath the watchful gaze of the ballerina teddy bears That dance upon your bedroom wall The kind a angry that wiggles at the wide blue glistening Of your little sister’s eyes And doesn’t seem to hear your hushed No, hurts baby whimpers This time you were there though, Daddy And I hoped you would heave a sigh with your grilled cheese breath, Say soft things in your deep Daddy voice, Stand up and take our hands But as I saw your back retreating, I realized It wasn’t that kind a story You weren’t that kind a hero
Blackbird Tyler Bigney
The same day my best friend shot down a blackbird from the sky with a pellet gun, my father taught me how babies were made – a man and a woman lay in bed naked together. And I cried that night, because a week earlier, I had laid under a thin sheet with a girl, naked. Just talking. Not thinking bad thoughts, not thinking any thoughts. The warmth of our bodies inches apart, our breath lifting the sheet, then letting it collapse into our open mouths. The open mouth of the blackbird in the field under some maple, the heat. How he didn’t know what to do with it, or his guilt. I didn’t think I’d actually hit it. I thought I would miss. I didn’t know what to say, so I bent down and dug a hole with my fingers, and when the earth became too tough to dig, I used a stick. Both of us bent over in the sun like that, our backs burning, our necks a ring of fire, our mouths open, singing, because we’d been to funerals and that’s what people do there. Amazing Grace, backed by a violin. When the hole was deep enough, we buried him in it, mixed flowers in the dirt, so he’d have something to look at — his dreams in color.
Sunrise in Honolulu Kirby Wright
A woman in a condo window A mile off Could be my wife or mother Vacuuming sand. The moon became A yellow jellyfish An hour ago, Drifted behind the Koolaus. Roofs deepen valleys. Glass the color of papaya. Scent of seaweed, salt, Surfboard resin. Park fountain starts up, Sounds like storm. I stroll eating ham Passing dead tiki torches. The ghosts of warriors March the shore.
Buy Your Way To Love Katie Turner
If I had a nickel for every love that was new, I’d have ten thousand times thirty plus two. Love is an affliction, a bargain, a curse, And will often roll with you, right into the hearse. And then the driver will say with a warm pearly smile “Pleasure to meet you. Won’t you stay for awhile?”
Good Eating Jessica Hackbarth
— Found poem Source: Confessions of a Sneaky Organic Cook (a cookbook), 1971 If you can’t stand noisy children, Chop coarsely. Man, that’s good eating! You’ll enjoy the wonderful taste. On a cookie sheet: liver heart lung brain Served in many enticing ways: Bone Meal Cookies Liver Patties Sweet and Sour Heart Bake in oven until golden brown and crisp. Cool. Serve with satisfaction. Smile. Garnish with lemon.
Shut Up and Pray Mary Kellom
There goes the doctor one last time Tells my family I’m nuts and could turn on a dime. Oh, great, just perfect, I’ve heard THAT one before And there goes my family, once again, out the door Here we go again, got more pills in their hands They take me away to some distant lands But I always come back to an unpleasant sight I’m exhausted and weary, though I ‘sleep’ day and night Honestly, though, does the doc even care? I highly doubt it; this is so unfair! I lie here with nothing to do all day long And I’m aware that my sanity is now long gone. Do I miss it? Not much; it was a burden, anyway. But I’m afraid of what’ll come at the end of the day. The doctor will come in my room and he’ll say, “It’s time for your shot; better shut up and pray.”
The darkness approaches; it’s comin’ real fast Here it comes, just like every night in the past But as I fall and the world turns to black I have the odd feeling I will never come back.
I’ve never gone without pain, without fear The doc says my death will come soon, it is near How good would it feel, I wonder tonight If I let myself go and just gave up the fight
Suppose a subject One of an extended many Caught in the flash and exposed Singled out for the moment, selected From the flock, special among the crowd Of the great masses, but for this second alone And elevated, separated by the attention of this single eye That sifts sorts shifts what it sees and organizes into the captivating And the bland teeming mass that surrounds the focus the great empty expanse That frames the frame, always out of sight, soon forgotten, unrecorded, overshadowed by
Suppose a camera Through the lens Caught moment Limited scope Exclusionary And precise Choosing The only point of view
Two signals ba-ping ba-ping cold metal doors close The metro is on its way. Racing past robins and under roads Its shiny body flies by. It will escape and be free it would escape and be free. but it cannot. Like daisies soaking the rays of the sun and logs feeding the fire the train depends on its source. Only the force of the track gives the machine power to fly.
More than all else it cannot escape because people expect. They wait. They anticipate. They need.
It gains speed. Maybe it can fly by and escape it all. But no. On the track it must stop. Something stops it. Again and again. Over and over.
One type of poetry wasn’t big enough to fit my feelings for you.
If I could sing of him, forever, I would
love meant more to me than living, then might have felt my soul die again. I see if nothing hurts. It does, so why melodies of colored eyes, open, pupils, bright blue stares, but not him. In over, under, all around, circling losing me and finding cries. look away, distract myself. Goodbyes kill us, mostly me. Just wait for when
I Can’t so I Won’t
have my shit together. I’ll go without. you see I love hating hate? I moved we could move apart, new starts. Don’t doubt, want to wrap myself in you, hearts removed. you please leave? My heart is bleeding out . . .
Survival Emily DeHut
A green sea of perfection. Each blade knitted into the earth with every seam laid strait. Not a single slash, precision amid yards of thousands, Each reaching into the clear blue sky Stretching to that huge warm ball of light in the air. Being noticed by that heavenly power is existence and sustenance, adoration, and warmth. Each stream of bright yellow light strengthens every single blade always begging to be noticed
with the help of a cool summer breeze swirling, around through the trees and through the grass, waving frantically to be noticed even after the brightness fades into an exuberant orange and pink glow then to complete darkness, they still beckon the light to return to bring life again.
It comes cautiously before thought occurs Skipping so high your feet only flit across the ground You are in the elementary school parking lot. Running with such uninhibited power You are in the middle school cafeteria You leap, bound, chase and fight to the highschool gymnasium where you Throw the blood red cap in the air and fail to catch it. He calls you sweetheart in a voice That reminds you of a car driving slowly down a gravel driveway You see him twice a year but you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think about him Birthdays flash by without memory, Forgotten before remembered. Only holidays are celebrated Only holidays you remember You jump to the stool where your legs largely fail to touch the ground as you stare At the pickles, olives, and chex mix in front of you Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s there as you gracefully step onto the stool He grows older But you grow younger. It never changes Hi sweetheart. Blush.
My Fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Keys James Valvis
My father could go nowhere without everyone knowing. Always the clink of his keys, shaking like tin pots strung on a wounded Conestoga. When he came into view, keys hung off his hip, forty or fifty of them, skinny, impotent revolvers. Later, eyeing a closed chest, a locker that needed opening, he fingered key after key, some silver, some gold, the only wealth he possessed, and when he found the one, when the lock twisted open, he sighed over his only victory. Even getting ready for bed, he wore those keys looped onto his pajama bottoms, as if he knew in his dreams all the doors would be bolted.
Object of Beauty Samantha Severson
A gardener walks on eggshells of grass Soft crunch echoing to flower ears Of new bloom and brilliance. A rose of purest white petal Like exotic, elephant tusks Catch his eye Beside it rests a mustard stained daisy Neon yellow with a blush of salmon pink Towards the center “Rose like is how you should be” Wilted petals are the flower’s reply Drops of fresh rainfall, flows down curvy stem — like tears A river of hopelessness catches them in its wake Flowing between the two flowers — like a barrier His demand is impossible! But to please him The daisy will trim her petals, Cover the rosebud rouge with sticky white paint, Hide her disfigured stem with fallen leaves, like a skirt. To look like the rose, She will alter her appearance to resemble something She can never be. “But it is impossible” She whispers to non-listening ears. The rose remains silent, An object of beauty only.
Amateur Art Ryan Shelbrack
An odious face. A contemptible smile. Your face, Is a canvas of amateur art.
Take off your mask The veil has been lifted You are not the masterpiece I used to see.
Snake Whipping Cole Heyn
Sequential plunge, Clatter on river-bottom cobble. Clasp my fingers around Sand-papered muscle-rope With teeth. Centrifugal force guides Arrow headâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s collision, With the crystal glide. Not enough to kill, Mad as all hell Kicking. Crash to find a stream-side boulder, Satanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s skull beneath my heel. Crimson spattered polished granite, Hydraulic motions halt, Dead. Maybe not.
What Withered the Claw Jesse Stratton
Amazing love, incomprehensible. How it shatters the soundest locks, Unbars the solid grates over the sewers of the soul. Sweep in like a wind and carry off selfishness in an unprecedented move. The BlessĂŠd rape of the ages, holy cosmic defloweration. Mandibles clicking in the dark unlit tunnels, Confounded. So diabolical in their ponderings, so slow, so dull in wisdom. They look on in bewilderment, Thinking all along that You didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want us, That You would leave us to the shades. But our blood will be more than sustenance for wraiths. Spirit us away, for the talons of the fade have clenched our souls.
We are those carried off, Like Europa we ride the bull to a distant shore, Our destiny bound in divine intentions. For our sake You braved the night, Shivered naked and alone, but never gave up the rescue.
LP (Long Play) Rhonda Lott
When you compared my hair’s shine to vinyl, I wanted to be a phonograph, a cherry case with gold inlay and long, lacquered legs. Lips swollen into a morning glory horn so I could wind up and whisper silk and grit. You’d hold me at the edges before you flip me. I’d let you trip fingertips across my grooves as my hair whirls and whirls through velvet smoke and blues.
Flowers in a Hallway Caitlin Higgins
Should I even wonder â&#x20AC;&#x201D; what walked these bleach and lemon halls, or filled these rooms with petal soft sanity fresh as spring with dreams of swimming sinking drowning. Waking to euphoric catatonia cool enough for jackets. But no so cold for bare feet in the warm fluorescent hum of sunshine glowing in imaginary meadows. Incessant blooming laughter playful babble of a child like mind dangerous and fragile smiles of delirious patients. Pastel flowers in little plastic cups, tranquil butterflies. â&#x20AC;&#x201D; if there is freedom in sedation?
The Earwig Mark Decarteret
has welded itself into the image of disposed gods — that wreckage left after those lesser falls and now maneuvers out the bowels of our houses to devour what little light makes it under our doors where we will try ridding ourselves of those episodes where they snacked on the adulteress’ brains and methodically saw to eviscerating our history. Long ago they had given up their spot on the pyramid’s walls where their armor was to shine like these oily pearls, their pincers kept sharp on a diet of stone only to lapse into after-thought, something spilled out dusk-dim, with a resolve lacking end stop or meaning, just industrial. Who knew more than any one thing how crucial this idea of home — this sculpting out one’s own sanctity and blessing things with one’s mark, this segmented order reassuring us some counterpart continued into those darkest of cavities — for what god is not driven to timidity by the freshly turned sheets, the slippers paired by the bed, think that tidiness staves off the abyss?
Yet they keep coming for us, working their way up from the cracks — this wriggling truth of the camp and its dismissal of the earth, to wander the moon-polished tiles and tuck themselves into our folds oblivious to time and our anthems.
Even as children we drove out their guts with a block or the soles of our shoes only to have them return to our beds where they’d clip out our dreams and revision them, leaving us only their brands and incisions so the next night we’d lay pinned, incapable of telling where one thought would end and the other would come up with day — terrified of their dutiful touch-ups, deletions but begrudging them their bold script, the way it’d lay claim to our space.
False Memory’s Children Jamie Utphall
False memories appear as strangers’ children: In others we wish to see ourselves. Such manifestations, akin to phantom-limb phenomenon, report bare feet and skinned knees dusted pink with sidewalk chalk, where bitter clowns pelt taffy; sunburned eyelids and sticky fingers ambling both ways up hill. Such displays are common, in the psychiatric literature; however, the friction caused by our own deficits was necessary, like the half-moon incisions pricked by tiny fingernails, affixing two marbled beads of smooth, cool clay. But these hand-rolled spheres seared in the second-hand oven, then crack, so no string can ever hold them. Once an entire phantom neighborhood’s worth of thirsty kids appeared at our door, lined up before our soiled welcome mat to take turns swinging on clothes hangers and hurdling laundry baskets. Fossilized Bubbalicious speckled the walls like mold. The phenomenon extended out onto the lawn we shared with the other tenants. Abandoned hockey sticks and Tootsie Roll wrappers peppered the boulevard; strewn snow pants and sweat-stained gym class pinnies hung from the lid of the dumpster, behind which a circle of fourth graders napped, linked belly, head to belly. Just think: this snot-nosed, shit-eating grin of a kid is just like you were, and not; your mother taught you how to wipe your face after gorging on a dinner of blaze orange Cheetos, and sucking on a jaw breaker the size of a kitten’s skull. This kid is about eight or nine, and hungry; the growth plates in her ankles still calcifying. Something that’s always gone without obviously can’t be expected to know what’s missing.
After I left — not right away, but after an adolescence invaded by such apparitions — I visit abandoned playgrounds, between the night and morning shifts, to read or write, the dewy slides and monkey bars my carrel desk, after the others my age have trashed the place. I cross woodchips littered with used band-aids and liquor bottles, waiting for small restless hands. I tell myself I don’t want this park for my own children someday, as I lean against the inside of the rails of its chain-link. But now, under a wide-expanse of sky, cushioned by traces of the living, a squirrel stalks off with a neon slate of Pop Tart. And what does that leave us, I wonder?
Potatoes Kyle Martinez
The hospital was a welcome relief. A short ambulance ride, a nice man holding your arm in a makeshift tourniquet, the red sirens flashing and screeching. Then you were there. The paramedics wheeled me into a cozy corner. Privacy is one thing you do not get in an emergency room. You get a space of hard linoleum flooring and an uncomfortable bed. Who could sleep in that mechanical bed? It makes you sit up in a way that is unnatural. It’s like the ER is deliberately keeping you awake. They will be checking on you. Yes, every fifteen minutes. “I need to check your vitals,” said the nurse. “I need to adjust your bed,” said the orderly. “I’m the hospital psychiatrist, how are you?” he muttered. “You need to eat something,” said the other nurse. “Hi, I need to take your blood,” said the third nurse. Sorry, already tried that — didn’t work, I thought. And by the way, how many nurses do you need in this place? No wonder our health care system is fucked. I thought I was going to get some rest; no chance. Not to mention noises from the other side of the drawn curtain. Shared rooms are inventions of architects and space planners. Only the rich and famous (or infamous) get privacy in this world. Pop, pop, pop. Constant talk about popping this, popping that. I got to know my curtain buddy better than his own mother. I knew what he popped, how many milligrams he popped, and how many times he had tried to perform this same popping function.
It was his sixth. This time, he popped twenty 20-milligram Zyprexas, all at once. Pop, pop, pop, that’s what we do all day long. My thoughts were still insane. I have taken Zyprexa before, and one 5-milligram pill made me quiet and tired all day. So, multiply the 5 milligrams I took by 4 milligrams. That equals curtain buddy’s 20-milligram dose. Now, multiply that 20-milligram dose by 20 pills. Simple 5th grade math tells you that’s 400 milligrams of pure, psychotropic heaven. No wonder curtain buddy drooled and muttered. Funny thing, I understood him more than the doctors and nurses did. Because I was in the same state. A different city, maybe. But definitely the same state. He was in Pills, Idaho. I was in Alcohol, Idaho. Same place really, just different inhabitants. Both dirty, just like potatoes. The psychiatrist came into my drawn curtain. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “I want a cigarette,” I said. “You hurt yourself bad. Any reasoning behind it?” he asked.
I was beginning to sober up. Clarity was being restored. “Reasoning? I didn’t want to commit suicide if that’s what you mean. Let’s just say I was testing God. I’ve been doing that all my life. I wanted to see if he was really there or not.” I glanced at his clipboard. “What’s that say?” “It says your blood alcohol content was .351. That’s pretty close to death. Do you know that? It also says they had to put you in restraints after they brought you in here. Do you remember fighting with anyone last night?” he asked.
“Bits and pieces. What I really want is a cigarette. Badly,” I said, still thinking of myself.
“Yeah, too bad we don’t supply those here, as you probably already know,” he smiled. “Do you know what a 51/50 is?” he asked. He’s trying to have me committed permanently, I thought. “No,” I said. “I’m putting you on a 51/50. It’s a 72-hour hold at SMHTC,” he said. He pronounced it s-m-i-c-k-e-d. “Do you know what SMHTC is?” he asked. “No,” I said. “It stands for Sacramento Mental Health Transfer Center. I see here you don’t have any insurance. Is that the case?” he asked. “Yes, I don’t have any,” answering in reverse. “SMHTC is basically a free mental facility for people with no health insurance,” he said. I pictured the looney ward with people in sheets. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest flashed into my mind. I’m going to be Randall fucking McMurtry hanging with the mute Indian . . . I laughed inside. I silently hoped Nurse Ratchett would be there — handing out meds especially designed for me. I would fake taking them by hiding the pills under my tongue. Except they always check under your tongue. That’s standard operating procedure for looney bins. As if he read my mind, the psychiatrist said: “It’s not that bad really, all things considered. Pretty clean facility, all things considered,” he said again. Now you’re really scaring me. I don’t like when people say things twice like that. That’s always bad news baby, my brain flashed. And what does PRETTY CLEAN mean? It’s either clean or it’s not clean. Is there shit everywhere? Do people eat their own shit there? I am going to a place where people eat their own shit. My brain told me this in one second. “Do I have a choice?” almost pleading.
“All things considered, no,” he said a third time. You say those words again, and I’m gonna jump out of my bed and break your nose. How would you like that? You ever have a busted nose? I have, twice. It feels like dog shit. That’s why I respect boxers. Boy can they take pain. They eat it like candy. “What now?” I sighed. “Are you hungry?” he asked. “I could eat,” I replied. “I’ll go and ask the nurse what we can rustle up for you. Not going to be anything special. But we’ll see what we can do,” he smiled again, then departed. Those psychiatrists are always smiling at people. Personally, I think they have a screw loose themselves. Everyone does in one way or the other. When he goes home he probably puts on women’s pantyhose. That’s his thing — I just pegged it. The nurse came in and delivered the sandwich. Turkey, with mayo and mustard in little packets on the side. The soda was Fanta Orange. I ate with gusto. I fell asleep.
Two hours later, there I was. No escape. From. Myself.
I dreamed. Mostly, of S-M-I-C-K-E-D.
The elevator doors slide open. The old girls look at us packed shoulder to shoulder and they roll their eyes in resignation. More hip to shoulder in my case, beanpole that I am. Andree glances over with a teary smile, two beanpoles neck deep in grannies. Add to that they’re in costume! The one next to me is a bug of some kind. Her coiled antennae bonk me whenever she turns her head. Directly across is the devil herself, and you know this one really IS a devil. Those baby blues brimming with mischief, trouble still, even with the walker. There’s a bunny here and Frankenstein there and in back, Darth Vader in a pink chenille bathrobe. Best of all, they’re nuns, every one. With us still though decommissioned, marking the time till they’re called to heaven. And while they’re waiting . . . well, it IS Halloween. The doors take forever to close and the ones outside are looking at me, Raggedy Ann smiling coyly, Statue of Liberty with a pink paper torch. She whispers something to the scarecrow beside her and I blush like I do when the girls talk about me. We take turns pushing buttons and the doors finally close and either the floors are too far apart or this is the slowest elevator ever. The old girls shout over their deafness, friends and sisters for a lifetime, so right they should finish together. Muriel introduces us and they ooh and ahh while we smile and fidget, the two of us eight years old once again, though a decade, at best, from our own dotage. Then the doors slide open and it’s more of the same, a pair of pirates, a coven of witches, cowgirls in wheelchairs ready to roll, a few not quite with it but hanging in there, flapping their gums and scolding their IV bags. The old nuns, bless ‘em. And we as lapsed as we can be. My last Sunday mass was somewhere back in Latin. Out of practice but slipping back into it. The nuns will do that to you. The effect is always the same. A softening of the spirit words can’t describe, losing yourself in their good graces, the row house accents, the smell of soap. The party’s just starting when we hit the lobby and it takes a while to push
through the crowd. And what a crowd! Wrinkled faces smeared in makeup, funny hats and fake moustaches, more Fellini than Fellini, the sort of thing you can’t make up. “The sisters really go all out, eh Muriel?” I guide her out the door. “I think the full moon has a lot to do with it,” she takes my arm. “Are you sure you want to miss this?” “Absolutely.” Muriel, aka Sister Pascal is one of Andree’s two surviving aunts and as close to a saint as I’m likely to get. Until recently she was a tiny tower of strength, but the years and the hip replacements have taken a toll. She walks like there’s a bad connection, which, of course, there is though she’s not complaining. Good as new is what she tells us, a real trooper, as Andree’s dad would say. We are here at St. Joseph’s to take her to lunch. I can usually get out of this sort of thing, but Muriel is a favorite of mine and I could use the credit. The truth is I’m a sucker for the old folks. All of them have a story to tell and I’m the one who can pull it out of them. I ask away and Muriel always answers. Andree calls it interrogation but we think of it as banter. In her eyes I see Muriel knows my type well. We cross the parking lot past the statue that looks like a logo, our eyes are drawn to the face without features. “Let me guess. St. Joseph?” I venture. “So they tell me,” Muriel grunts.
“It’s an abstract. It takes getting used to.” “ . . . You hate it, right?” “It’s controversial.” “ . . . You hate it.” “Intensely.” She’s the matriarch by attrition, from a time when each clan sent a few to the calling. Second oldest of five sisters, Port Richmond born and raised. Just eighteen when she joined the convent and I think of her then and I have to wonder. Too young to vote or buy a bottle, old enough to vow it all away. An only photo shows a handsome girl smiling into the sun. A wide brimmed hat,
“His head looks like a donut.”
her only extravagance, but quite the extravagance, I must say. The sister who became a sister, the rest going on to boyfriends then husbands and their share of the baby boom. Like most nuns Muriel became a teacher and like most teachers she worked the circuit, transferred on diocesan whim, Broad Street to Bristol and points in between. Never long enough to become a fixture, at least that’s what they must have figured. One of that army of savants and drill sergeants that made Catholic schools the best in the business. Sixty years at the head of the classroom, past middle age and onto the downside. Those husbands gone, some forgotten, five sister widows left behind. The last years spent in ill health and loneliness. Going, going, and they’re gone. Except for Muriel. “My problem with St. Joseph is he gets no credit,” I say as we turn into traffic. “I mean what was really in it for him?” “What do you mean ‘in it’?” “Well, he gets to be the husband but not the father, and then after Christmas you never hear of him again.” “Maybe that’s the way he wanted it,” Muriel smiles. “But what do we know about him? I mean he’s just a footnote.” “We know he was a carpenter.” “Well yeah, OK. He had a job, but the rest they skip over. He doesn’t even have any lines!” “I didn’t realize you were a biblical scholar.” “Just basic Catholic school stuff, Sister,” my George Raft just too good to resist. “St. Joseph, the carpenter with no lines. I mean, was he a good carpenter or just the guy with the hammer?” “He was an excellent carpenter.” “Where does it say that?” “In the Epistles . . . St. Paul. Corinthians.” “ . . . You’re making that up,” I look to Andree. “She’s making that up.” “Do you even own a Bible?” Muriel wonders. “I can get one.”
We’d planned to go to the Italian place but when we pull in the lot the sign says Closed. So we drive around arguing scripture until we spot a Beef and Ale with cars in the lot. “What do you think?” I signal left. “Tom, it’s a bar!” Andree kicks me under the seat. “Yeah, but they have chicken fried steaks! When was the last time Muriel had a chicken fried steak?” “What’s a chicken fried steak?” Muriel wonders. “One of the great culinary mysteries,” I turn in. “Think the Trinity without the Holy Ghost.” The place is done up like an English pub. We hang our coats on the booth hook and slide in beneath a fake stained glass window. Out the window is a picture of a deer grazing in a picture of a meadow. The jukebox is playing something by Ella and the barman has a walrus moustache. My kind of place. “Give us three chicken fried steaks and a round of Guinness,” I tell the waitress. “None for me, thanks,” Andree overrules me. “I’ll have the garden salad.” I look to Muriel. “Just you and me kiddo,” “Is it chicken or steak?”
While we’re waiting for our order Muriel updates us on the state of the sisterhood, a regular feature of our program and invariably dire. It’s not something she’d volunteer on her own, so I make a point to ask. She speaks directly and doesn’t flinch. “So then sister, how are we doing?” “Not well, I’m afraid. If you can believe it, we’re down to four.” “Four nuns?!” Andree bugs her eyes. “Four enlistees,” I set her straight. “Novitiates,” Muriel sets me straight. “Oh my God, that’s awful,” Andree tries to conceive of it.
“It’s both and it’s neither. Trust me on this.”
“A widow, a divorcee and two young Guatemalan girls,” Muriel breaks it down. “I’m beginning to think we’re doomed to extinction.”
“Beginning? That biological clock is barely ticking,” I ignore Andree’s kicks under the table. “What about the average age?” “It’s getting higher.” “Let me guess. The widow and the divorcee are no spring chickens. So that leaves the Guatemalans to hold down the curve. Sheesh! And they’ll probably run off with, I don’t know, leftist guerrillas or something.” “The numbers are discouraging, but it’s the why that concerns me,” Muriel says. “Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because these days 18-year-old girls have more than two options?” Wise guy that I am. “That might explain a reduction, but a complete lack of interest?” “Hey, check the seminaries. They’re staying away in droves. But that’s another story,” which earns me another cautionary kick. And just what does Muriel think of our predator priests? The blackest cloud we could ever imagine, the bad news in bunches that shocks even me, a confirmed infidel and practicing cynic. Muriel can be as candid as I am curious, but neither of us are going there. “OK, average age then. Gotta be what? Sixty?” “Sixty-four.” “Jesus, what’s the average LIFE expectancy?” “It’s a crisis. What can you do but pray?” “Well, for one thing they could let the clergy get married. Other religions allow it.” “Perhaps one day,” she smiles. “When I’m gone.” “By then it might be academic. I’m just saying if you need more fish you should make the pond bigger.” “Yes. What would be the harm?” Andree shrugs off my clever analogy. “There’s the matter of commitment,” Muriel explains, “Celibacy is not a punishment. It’s a discipline.” “It’s asking too much.” “It’s inhuman.”
“Yes well,” Muriel shrugs. “You know what they say about old dogs.” I study a spotted spoon. “I have an old dog and he’s not celibate.” Our food arrives and Andree toys with her salad while Muriel and I dig in. The steaks are superb and we nod and chew as Ella gives way to Dinah. I make a note to remember this place. “What do you think?” I ask with my mouth full. “Very good,” Muriel nods in earnest. In between bites we throw back the Guinness. The old girl matches me measure for measure. Andree rolls her eyes and spears an olive. “I suppose they’ll be closing schools.” I watch Muriel slather a french fry in ketchup. “Whole parishes, if the cardinal has his way,” she pops it in whole. “And more believers slipping in every day. Can you imagine? A world without Catholic school.” “They can’t close them all,” Andree hopes against hope. “Where will the mob kids go?” “That reminds me, Muriel. You ever see any of your old students?” “Oh my, yes. In fact every Christmas I have dinner with three of them.” “So they made out OK? I mean what do they do for a living?”
“You’re kidding.” But the math is easy. School kids to pensioners before you know it. “There’s a few more in Brigantine. I see them when we’re down the shore.” “They put you up?” “No, the order has a summer home.” “On the beach?” “Why yes, we’ve been going there for years.” Visions of old nuns in bikinis come on before I can stop them, frolicking past until Andree kicks me. I try to recall seeing nuns at the shore but the nuns in bikinis come popping up again and I excuse myself to grab a smoke. Out in the parking lot the nicotine hits me harder than usual and I feel all fuzzy and
She holds my eyes. “They’re retired.”
I think of the nuns. Catholic school. If you didn’t go you have no reference. The stuff of countless novels and comedy routines cannot be known second hand. When I was a kid I envied my public school friends, but the older you get the more you cling to what defines you. Catholic school, which is to say the nuns. Thirty years later I watch the kids heading off in their uniforms and skinny ties and I know what they face. The rod, the rule, myth and ritual beyond comprehension, truth and faith mixed with wild yarns and glaring gaps of logic. You may not come out of it pure of heart, but you know right from wrong and your handwriting puts the heathens to shame. What’s special in Muriel is easy to see, too sharp to lose advantage and too quick with a laugh not to know how to use it. Every school had one, impish and disarming, passing down from brother to sister. The one who could strike sparks and reach the unreachable. I don’t know what Catholic school is like these days but I’m guessing innocence has taken a hit. Now the pulpit is the last refuge of the scoundrel and the Catholic Church has the scoundrels to prove it. Suffer the children, feed thy lambs, the wages of sin will flatten you. The sisters taught us that. “So, why Pascal?” I think to ask as we turn out of the parking lot. “The official name. How did you decide on it?” “You are the curious one, aren’t you?” Muriel smiles via rear view mirror. “I’ve always wondered. It’s a great name compared to some. Sister Humphrey Aloysius comes to mind.” Even Muriel wrinkles her nose at that one. Sister Al, my third grade cross to bear, a name that fit her, warts and all. “And I thought Epiphania was a pretty grim,” Andree says. “I don’t know how the other orders do it, but when you’re ready to take your vows they ask you to submit three names for consideration,” Muriel tells us. “Pascal?” I raise a finger. “Isn’t he the one that blesses your throat?’ “He is.” “And what a quaint little custom THAT is. Kneeling there with candles crossed at your neck. Scared to death you’ll choke on a chicken bone.” “It beats Ash Wednesday,” Andree points out. “He’s been known to work miracles,” Muriel reminds us.
“I don’t know,” I check her in the mirror. “I’ll take Saint Heimelich every time.” “It’s not just choking. Saint Pascal protects against disease.” “That’s why you picked him? Or was it the sound. Sister Pascal. From France.” “I didn’t pick it.” “What about the three names?” “I don’t know. They just assigned me Pascal. I’ll admit it was disappointing at first, but I came to like the sound of it.” “Did any of the others get a name they picked?” “Not a one,” Muriel shakes her head. “But it’s funny. A few years ago I was walking around the convent grounds with Sister Margaret Louise and we passed through the cemetery. At the end, just before the gate we saw a grave marked Sister Pascal and behind it, another marked Sister Margaret Louise.” “You’re recycled?!?” I yelp. “Apparently, yes.”
The party is down to diehards when we return to St. Joseph’s. There’s a lone figure singing into a dead microphone while the devil herself bangs out Chopsticks on the piano. There are no lyrics to Chopsticks that I know of, which might account for the dead mike and Sister Satan’s devlish grin. Gangs of nuns are gathered at the elevator, gabbing like they haven’t seen each other in years. Considering their varying degrees of immobility, it’s possible they haven’t. We pile in the elevator and the crowd thins at every floor. Then its down to us and Muriel’s neighbor, Sister Immaculata, a name that never made a wish list. The two go back a long way and I can see the bond and I envy them for it. Their years spent in the struggle, a lifetime holding up their end. It’s a bond few men live to hope for, weightless as God’s grace and stronger than a mother’s will. In the end the priests were like our fathers, distant and imperious, volatile but avoidable. Like our moms the nuns were entrusted to raise us using wisdom, guile and no more force than necessary. They saw us through the events that shaped us, from A-Bombs to astronauts, presidents to popes.
An unsettling tradition and clearly deceptive, but it’s not like a cool name will get you somewhere. The next Pascal will have a tough act to follow. A namesake with a hundred year legacy, presuming Muriel isn’t last in the line. There’s a measure of comfort in this strange conveyance. Her tenure may be drawing to a close but a Sister Pascal will be always with us.
“You know,” Sister Immaculata says to me, “for years people thought Sister Pascal and I were sisters.” “Real sisters,” Muriel explains. “What do you think?” Immaculata shoulders up. They’re both old and both tiny. Any further resemblance would be a stretch. “Why, it’s uncanny,” I tell them. “Twin sister sisters.” “Of course, I’ve put on some weight,” Immaculata says, though you’d never know it. The two of them could fit in my pocket. We visit Muriel’s room, an invite I couldn’t pass up. The nuns were such a relentless presence it’s hard to imagine what they went home to. When we get there I’m surprised to see a TV and remote control, an overstuffed chair, an electric coffee maker and yesterday’s Inquirer folded on the bed. The rooms is small, just a cell really, but it’s on the top floor and comes with a view. Add an ashtray and a beer cooler and it would do me nicely. “Cable?” I wonder. “Oh my, yes,” Immaculata assures us. “A gift from Heaven,” Muriel concurs. It’s dusk when we bow out with hugs all around and a promise to return. I’m looking forward to keeping that promise. Like most things Catholic, St. Joseph’s has that fade-away feel and I can’t deny the spirit suits me. We circle the statue and head down the lane, the place lit up like a grand hotel. We pray they’ll all meet again in heaven. And if there’s a God who holds up his end, he’ll see that they’re happy forever and ever. Amen.
A Few Remarkable Choices Tess Warner
It is wrong if I consider it beautiful. The pure irony is extreme, immense, supreme. How charming is it to wish harm, and in a moment your dreams and hopes become true? “When you told him you wished he fucked off and died, were you serious?” “Yes.” Yes, yes I was. I wished, in a moment, a fell moment of desire and darkness that yes, yes I wished he would die. No, not just die. I wished him pain. Humiliation, degradation. I wished him . . . not immediate death. It was too kind, for what he had done to me. How sick is retribution? Before this, it was not long ago that I was thinking about our prison population. And I thought to myself . . . how dare the government give better healthcare, better love, better care to criminals, than our own poverty-stricken . . . I thought to myself . . . why do we even have a prison system? In the old days, we used to put criminals in a ring, give them swords, and have them fight to the death. Who gave a shit about who won . . . both would die in the end. In the old days, we used to cut men’s heads off for sport, have a symphony watch with admiration . . . it was a game. Ideas, ideals, idealisms like this are sick. Are they not? Or are they? Maybe our ancestors were right. Maybe we should get rid of our sick, depraved, darkened, and deedless. Maybe, just maybe, these monsters deserve to die. And why not make a mockery out of their death? Don’t these fools deserve it? Shouldn’t we appreciate their pain as a justification for the pain they’ve caused upon others? I was hurt. Maimed. He made me bleed. Shouldn’t he bleed? Shouldn’t he feel as I feel? And yet . . . am I not replicating the very crime he has committed . . . appreciating the pain of others, relishing it, to a sickening degree? He makes me think of rapists, and pedophiles, and priest-pedos, and
murderers, and adulterers, and profiteers, and arsonists . . . and I wonder, if I were in charge of the punishment of these fools, what would I do? Our prisons are over-populated with sick deserters receiving better treatment than myself. Yet . . . it’s wrong to treat them with less respect than the average human, because, after all that is what they are . . . human. As my eyes flamed, and my skin boiled, and I felt the pure infection in my marrow, all I wished was pain, torture, sickness, truly crude and cruel things upon him and people like him and yet wonder if I am thinking as them. Am I? Am I as horrible as the people I claim to hate? What makes me different than these sinners? Maybe nothing . . . maybe I’m just as bad. Maybe . . . I believed, wished, hoped for him to die so much, it is my own fault. Maybe the gods heard my plealess prayer and sent to him his thoughts, and then sent the car. Maybe. I killed him. Maybe. “He ran out in traffic. He got hit by a car.” “Are you serious?” “Yes.”
There was another quick dart of his penlight across my eyes. He acted as though I was the victim, somehow searching for life behind my irises. Judging by my reaction, I might as well have been. The light seemed far away, not bright enough for me to care. “Miss Warner?” he repeated, and I finally closed my eyes. The trees vanished, and my bubble shattered. There was noise, commotion, everywhere. There were smells, and flashing lights I could see through the thin skin on my eyelids. “Yes?” I wondered irritably without once looking at him, or opening my eyes. “We’d like you to come make a formal statement.”
And my eyes flicked up and I watched the trees. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking at them, wasn’t contemplating them, but I was aware of them, aware I was staring at them, aware that as I did, I was being stared at. There was a quick flash of light in front of my eyes, but something stopped me from reacting to it. “Miss Warner?” His voice seemed odd; it came into my bubble of space. It didn’t pierce, but rather slowly prodded and pushed.
I sighed. Somehow the trees, dark silhouettes against the navy night, were welcoming. I ran my sight over the intertwining branches that reached up to
the clouds. I didn’t answer him, and his anxiousness was almost throbbing in the air. He opened his mouth and began to say my name, but when I sighed once more he immediately shut up. “I’ve told you what I know.” I turned to face him. “Nothing.” “You’re sure you don’t know the victim?” He looked at my eyes. Not into them, not trying to read me, but at them. He analyzed the dark smears of my makeup, the redness around them, the glistening of tears. I let him look, and turned my expression cold. I wandered over the conversations of the past, vaguely aware that he was waiting for a response. “Never met him before,” I told the truth. And turned away. In a second, a man can make an impression. Maybe he had pretty eyes, or colored hair. Maybe his gait was sideways, or his voice carried an unknown accent. Maybe he held onto love from the past, or hate, or scorn. Maybe his soul attracted yours. Maybe it repulsed yours. Or intrigued. Or disturbed. Trevor was all of these. A beautiful face: perfectly defined jaw-line, cheekbones, nose. He could have been a model. His eyes were those of legend. The kind of eyes that held more than color . . . but depth. His voice . . . a sinewy little drawl of a child, too innocent to be a man’s. He held his heart high in his hands, proud enough for all to see or stomp. And I stomped. “Is he dead?” “No.” “Will he die?” “Yes.” His charm vanished. As fast as I realized it, it disappeared. The beautiful mouth spoke in haste and hate, the eyes raised in condescension, the nose twitched in irritability, he became something I had never hoped to see. The kind of man with no hesitance, the kind of man with no morals, or beliefs, the man with nothing holding him back. Trevor believed in what he was saying, regardless that it came off as nonsense to the rest of us. He spoke in silly half-dreams, and whole lies. He spoke with slurred tongues, and murmured voices. He spoke disdain, and dread. The kind of words that hit faster than a speeding bullet, with more force than a battering ram, and never failed to hit the heart. He was good, no doubt. He knew how to get under a person’s skin, like a sliver one just cannot reach. He knew how to tie the strings perfectly so you didn’t realize you were being raised upon his marionette. A silly mistake to make. A silly mistake I fell into.
“It’s your fault.” “How could it be my fault?” “You said you wished he died.” “People say that all the time, and nobody ever gets hurt. You can’t blame me.” “Yes. I can.” Pain spreads like acupuncture needle, threading through the body from the point where struck. Blood pools like a balloon popping against the floor. Immediate feelings: eyes watering, mouth salivating, fingers twitching, buttery torso, blankness, and abhorrence. Words bubble up. Unnecessary, demeaning, childish strings of curse words, typical American cusses involving a man’s parentage, mental capacity, sexual proclivities, and inevitable bodily functions. As well as Trevor was with words, as well as he made me lose my temper, I think, in the end, I won. “Trevor. I hope you have a good night. And I hope you fuck off and die.”
Who knew he’d take it to heart.
Plausible Deniability Julia Maack
“She’s kind of a music snob,” Samantha faux-whispered to Adam over the thrum of the music. She was drunk so I could hear everything she said, though I pretended I couldn’t. I widened my eyes in what I had hoped would come across as innocent or scandalized, but the effect wasn’t noted. “What’re you telling him about me?” I asked Sam, even though I knew perfectly well what she had said. “Nothing!” Sam yelled back at me with a smirk. I smiled vaguely and let it go, my eyes wandering over the general 20-something populace of the club. The later it got, the less I wanted to be there. In the last hour, the population had swelled; it had to be past occupancy laws. The night began innocently enough, Sam and I chatting and having a few drinks at a local dive bar, playing some darts. She got a text from one of her many friends saying he was at a club downtown and she should come hang with him. So we did, or I should say, she did, and dragged me along behind her like the gimp third wheel, just like it had always been. I was always a social handicap for Sam, though she didn’t seem to mind it. I guess since our friendship predates any of either of our current relationships, it matters to her. It matters to me. So whenever she asks, I go, half just to amuse her, and half out of hope that I might actually have fun, even when all previous evidence points to the contrary. I try to ignore what Einstein calls the definition of insanity and convince myself that different variables mean a different situation altogether, though whether these particular variables are different from past variables, I am unsure. We got to the place, a sports bar with a nightclub on top, and found it primarily empty. We went upstairs to the dance club and parked at a table. Earlier that day, a counselor told me to take more risks, make friends. The success wouldn’t be in the outcome of those risks, but that I was brave enough to do it in the first place. It was really almost like getting a blue ribbon just for participating. Participation counts, right? Even if I end up hating it, and avoiding it at all costs in the future? This whole going-out thing was a risk in the first place for me, a constant homebody. Another “risk” comes my way — drinking. I’m not a drinker; I’ve seen too many bad things, alcoholism
in the family, and have too much of a guilt complex to really enjoy it. But I drank. Once we met up with Adam, we drank more. There’s a reason why they call it “Liquid Courage,” and it’s true in my case. Like most humanoids, alcohol lowers my inhibitions along with my standards, apparently. My repressed femininity surfaces in the little things I would never do while sober. The touching, the dancing. I’m not an affectionate person; I can hardly hug my best friends. Still though, I recognized the risks and took them. There was lots of dancing. Sam loves to dance, and she’s pretty good at it. By the end of the evening she had attracted men from the four corners of the room. Even though she doesn’t look like a supermodel, when she dances, her presence beguiles. She seduced Adam even as she tried to set him up with me. He bought us shots. Nice of him to include me, I think. His eyes were fixed on Samantha even when she wasn’t dancing. She was one of the boys when hanging out casually but morphed into a feline sex goddess when she danced or flirted. I sat out for awhile. The music wasn’t something I liked. Like Sam had said, I’m a music snob. Adam bought another round of Goldschlaeger, which while pleasant-tasting at first, burned for a second afterward then faded to a hazy cinnamon puff with your breath. “What is this?” I asked the two. “It’s Goldschlaeger. Apparently some people get stomach cancer who drink it too much because there’s real gold in it,” Sam informed me.
My self-confidence, once buoyed by the liquor, had taken a small hit without any acknowledgement from Adam. I desperately tried to dance with him, and he danced, a bit. We got close enough to touch but he backed off, instead leaning into my ear and commenting on how awesome the waitress’s ass looks in those shorts. I rolled my eyes inwardly and give a fake chuckle, as if I’d really be amused by his comments about how hot the supermodel passing out shots is. It was one hour before closing time. I decided to give it a go, throwing caution to the wind. Knowing I would regret it later (and I did) I danced with him, on him, and he reciprocated, more out of obligation than anything else. When I talked to him, I pressed my body against his under the guise of it being too loud to hear him if I wasn’t plastered against him. Nothing. I stepped back, a boiling vat of anger, frustration, and self-pity. Not to mention the growing sense of claustrophobia at the increasing number of people packed into this small space. I looked at Sam, her ease with men, the way she could shake her hips and do that thing with her eyes that beckons
“Hmm. It’d be interesting to kiss someone with it,” I thought it was a bold enough remark to let Adam know I was interested. Sam smiled knowingly and Adam looked away, more concerned with a hot waitress selling shots.
them from across the room. She was dancing with yet another man who was clearly enjoying himself. I checked my phone to make it look like I was doing something important. Not that it mattered, no one was looking at me anyhow. I’m not someone people look at. I’d be a great spy. Finally I give up, too tired to hold up the wall of civility and pretend I’m an extrovert. I slung my purse across my shoulder and beckoned to Sam. “Are you ready to go?” I asked, more pleading than anything. Please let her be ready to go, I prayed inwardly to the god I don’t really believe in. Of course God-I-Don’t-Really-Believe-In fails me. “No,” she stated, holding her ground. She saw the way I looked, having known me for fifteen plus years, and made a quick decision. She yelled something at Adam and he nodded. “Adam can bring me home. You can go,” she said, dismissing me. For a moment I’m torn; I feel at once as though I’m being set free but also as though I’m being sent away. I smile, apologize, hug her goodbye. I elbowed my way through the hoards of horny young adults looking to get lucky and finally make it downstairs where it’s less crowded. There are tears in my eyes as I walk out, but I walk straight and confident with my car key spiked between my knuckles, lest any lurkers want to attack me, though I’m sure they could find prettier, richer, and thinner prey. I make it to my car, get in, lock the doors and start to cry. At this moment, I am painfully sober and aware of my own antics, which seem to me part desperate sadness and part sitcom fodder. The worst part is that I wasn’t even attracted to the guy. Or maybe I just tell myself that after the fact. Plausible deniability, and all that. I drove home and changed into my cotton pajamas and a sweatshirt, cleaned off the mascara that had migrated to my under eye circles, and slip into bed, finally, sadly, and peacefully alone.
VISUAL ARTS Oh Happy Day - Philip Enderby Pink - Andrea Frederick Self Graphic - Matt Vanden Boomen Untitled - Leonard Kogan Model - Daniel Klewer Caution - Holly Williams American Landscapes 3 & 4 - Joshua Hunt Untitled - Andrea Frederick Longing For - Alyssa Burke 8th Grade - Rachel Burke Untitled 3 - Lindsey Przybylski Step Towards Change #1 - Lindsey Przybylski (fold out) Whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Left Behind (Chairs/Drawers) - Eric Sommers (fold out) Specimen - Spencer Karls (fold out) Liquid -Mark Ard The Deciever - Billy Wenner Ayiti 2 - Kimberly Zachary Flaneur Photography - Duncan Hill All of Padville LOVED TV . . . including the Snoot family.
Well, everyone besides Zephani Snoot. - Zach Roush
Paper Forest - Rachel Burke Super Model - Whitney Robertson Untitled - Matthew Larscheid
HIGH SCHOOL Sheepshead Review is proud to feature another collection of works from high school students. This springâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s issue includes artists from all over Wisconsin, as well as the United Kingdom. This special section was started in the spring of 2011 with the aim to provide students with experience in the publishing process and the opportunity to showcase their work. We would like to thank the high school teachers and administrators who have helped us to bring their studentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; work to print.
Waiting for the Light
Maria Grzywa - Bay Port High School
The black of night arises and there is an abrupt chill throughout the room. Harsh darkness wraps around her. She replays, she replays, she replays, a vivid image: a daunting figure emerges from the devilish darkness. No matter how assiduously she struggles to see, there is no escaping the infinite sea of black. She pulls the covers to her chin, shielding herself from the unknown, sitting and waiting for the light. Embraced by night, a horrible howl erupts from beyond the bedroom walls. The cadaverous wind slides against her window, creating a noise only death would welcome. Suddenly, she sits at a ninety degree angle, stiff as a rock; alert. With every clamor, the girlâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s visage loses its natural olive glow and becomes increasingly pallid. She allows the dark to abuse her incorrigible and malleable imagination. Image after image turns through her mind creating a sequence of threatening situations materializing from the dark. The images force a deafening silent gasp to escape her. The feeble cry for help leaves her stark, maroon-tinted lips and is lost forever in the dark. With black solitude caressing her body, she plummets under the covers. Although the darkness of her haven is even deeper and denser than the sea she left behind, she feels safe. Securely in her commodious cocoon of covers, she recalls the irony of her situation. As she avoids the black of night, she seeks the black of covers. Although she desires to stay there, the realization that she cannot sinks in. She relaxes for a moment, shuts her eyes then regrettably realizes the density of the air. Warm and heavy, the air begins to make her uncomfortable. She refuses to leave her refuge, but she knows that the temptation of the cool air just beyond her covers will overpower her. With her lungs becoming heavy, sweat starting to materialize on her sallow brow, she eradicates the shield between her and darkness. Fully exposed, she lets the cold strike her moist skin, acquiescently letting a chill run down her spine. Enjoying the invigorating moment, she closes her eyes and inhales the refreshing air. However, this moment does not last. She feels the control of the black abyss creep over her trembling body once again. She seizes for the blankets in order to protect her unveiled body. Conversely, in her panic, the
covers get tangled and are unfeasible. Now thoroughly naked to the black realm, she restively peers through the darkness. Knowing she wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be able to detect anything, she strains her neck and eyes trying to see something. She longingly wishes she could tip-toe out of bed to the lamp on her desk. The lamp would bathe the shadowy room in a yellow, illuminous glow. However, the immediate blackness causes her to linger in bed, for if she extracted herself from it she would be consumed by the dark. Still sitting in total awareness, she watches the clock. The only source of light is the small blue aura emitting from the numbers. The clock never ceases. First minutes tick away, then hours. The magnificent glow of sunrise permits a radiant light just around the corner. This thought, however, does not put her mind at ease. Darkness continually swarms around, taunting her imagination. Trying to soothe herself, she lays her head on the pillow with graceful terror. Her eyes, usually a shocking hazel now tainted red, copious with weariness, begin to droop. Her eyelids are about to close, completely heavy with the dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s adventures, but panic floods her and her eyes burst open.
With the infinite, black mask impeding her from tranquility, she is unable to position herself to sleep; she sits and waits for the light.
Where Credit is Due
Amanda Luckow - Oshkosh North High School I slip into my most comfortable shoes, the ends of their laces frayed from my clumsy pigeon-toed feet but still so reliable. Thank the hungry child who crafted them on slave pay in China. I turn the ignition on. My battered Chevy breathes life again, Its dents and scratches and noises â&#x20AC;&#x201D; ode to the accidental punishment I put it through. Thank the high school dropout whose fingers are stained an oily black. I slouch behind a graffiti-covered desk among 33 others. Thank an uneducated man whose political status pushed class sizes up and budgets down. I glance at a faraway sun, its radiance cradled by clouds â&#x20AC;&#x201D; thank no one.
Amanda Luckow - Oshkosh North High School
I once found a small eraser beneath a vending machine; my dearest treasure of my earliest days I lost it when mom moved away to a scary, smelly city somewhere south of here A while before she had gone I remember waiting in dad’s truck So unaware; the frigid air visible with each exhale Leftovers of ivory flurries made rolling hills of previously level, landscaped lawns
Dad hurriedly marched from her doorstep Furious footprints left imprinted in drifted snow dunes When he slammed the driver’s side door everything shattered: a tiny cutting avalanche I wish I could erase that moment During one of my many visits to a scary, smelly city somewhere south of here I cowered in the kitchen doorway while mom’s husband barricaded the front door shut, and mom howled outside I choked on air in silent sobs (continues)
Caution: Fragile Through the little window I watched her face contort with livid anger then her fist crashing through it Portions of pristine crystal exploded (into as many tears as I would cry) It shot into his eyes, and onto the floor, and the rest ripped her arm A raging red river rained, drunk, and unafraid I wish I could erase that moment
During one of my many visits to a small, secluded town somewhere west of here I heard an all too familiar crack; the icy scraping rain and found my baby sister frozen near a steaming dishwasher Its foggy maw dripping scalding water onto the streaky tiled floor The vapor clung to the nearby windows like in a cold old truck from so long ago, and water droplets dispersed like blood from so long ago She held half of a glass the rest scattered all around her Her eyes were wide, fearful, confused
It was too much I snapped, “Why do you have to break things? Don’t you know any better?” Her features twisted, blushing deeply as the red river, tears dotting her eyes; Although held back, because of her powerful pride She coughed out a small sob still holding half of the broken mug Her terrified words trembled out “I’m sorry, sissy,”
Guilt Regret Pain Sharper than all the shards of splintered panes sliced my soul, so I sought solace I knelt down, held her to my chest, And said, “It’s alright, we just have to learn to be more careful.” I will never forget that moment.
Familiar reflection of a past self clearer than any mirror, as effortless to break
At the Cost of Pleasure
Paul Mentele - Oshkosh North High School
I ate a Big Mac today. It felt like loveless sex. I left her in bed; ketchup and cheese all over the sheets, I told her I had to leave to feed my dog, Butch. She doesn’t know I’m a cat person. My wife still thinks I’m a vegetarian.
Willing to Sacrifice
Paul Mentele - Oshkosh North High School
If my muscles aren’t big enough, they make injections for that. You might have to hold me down. (I hate needles). If I’m not fast enough, I can load my body weight on a sled and pull until it rusts. Then I can outrun any wind that aims to whip you away. If I’m too fragile, I’ll slice off my limbs and procure robotic attachments. If I’m not ferocious enough, I will spawn into a monster. I will rampage and climb buildings with vicious velocity. If you’re in distress, I’ll go to knight school so I can come to the rescue. For you, I’ll be a hero.
Joanna Jordan - Oshkosh North High School
Your Queen’s throne was navy blue leather, a shiny metal frame, with large rubber wheels. Dolled up for a dinner with family; your thin strands of spider silk were combed back, your crown of glory. Rosy pink paint plastered on cracked lips, a simple blouse, cozy pants; you may be royal but you liked to keep it real with your thick orthopedic shoes. Your feet, could still push you, barely.
Weathered hands flew up, You clutched your head and moaned sadly, in pain. I moaned with you, silently; pieces fell away from my heart every time you stomped your foot in frustration. We understood this routine as your brain vanished from the disease,
but that didn’t mean we would acknowledge its existence. For your sake and ours. One night, your great grandson, Peirce, visited the Queen, a bouncing ball of three. We chased him around the house, clomping feet reverberated off the walls; He sounded off, like a Siren, high pitch squeals of glee. We zoomed past you, careened around you as you stomped and moaned. I stood to your left ready to capture him. I didn’t get the chance. Even in your crippled, lifeless state you declared, ‘enough is enough!’ You used your limited mobility just how you could, and stuck out your ferocious foot for stomping. There was a thump.
He landed hard and fast. You scolded him, your garbled mumbling sounded strict. Then you settled down back to how you were before. But I detected a hint of disciplinary defiance.
Your mind may have been faded, almost gone. But at that moment it sprang to life; one last unaffected neuron firing as it should.
Joanna Jordan - Oshkosh North High School
The wispy fog covered road pulsed, like the rhythmic beat of a bass drum as cars passed along it. This road shoots like a cannon through the pine trees that enclose it; a long, ugly scar burned into the ground. Take a picture with your camera, freeze the scene in time, and wait to see which will last longer; the trees or the road.
Where I am from, the words “I love you” are stuck on repeat, the smell of spaghetti after school is as common as law, and the three leg cat always sits in front of the house.
I am from returning love that has the ability to take over the steering wheel, that’s called my brain. The struggle goes on, and on and on.
I am from Dutch tunes flying through the car when we cross the Belgium border because camping is cozy not primitive.
I wanted to chase the tigers, that made my sister say she was worth nothing, but frustration made me cry.
I am from spreading dark brown Nutella out on my bread, watching my reddish neighbor do the same, as always, not realizing we will grow apart.
I am from finding out that everyone thinks it’s better somewhere else in the world, but it’s not. Home is home, best place in the world.
I am from my grandma, who went from saying too much, to saying nothing without noticing. But that white box of purple pills will change it. I love how her head still turns, when I walk in. I am from a house where soda cans apparently don’t belong in the trashcan, lost socks are found back in the corner of the couch. This mess, not representing our family. I am from saying: “I can’t do it” that’s why I can’t.
I wish I could say “I am from being myself” but who am I?
Iris Veraa - Oshkosh North High School
Hear the Silence
Dawn Krenn - Oshkosh North High School
I want to talk about abuse how it’s infected our nation, with black and blue reverberation. Do you hear their silent screams and pleas the whispered prayers? I want to talk about Baby Kaleb and his swollen head, how all he did was cry too loud. Wake up America land of the proud. I want to talk about babies with tubes up their noses IVs in limp arms, and heart rate monitors where toys oughtta be. I want to talk about infants growing cold before they were one year old. I want to talk about daddys who use their belts to teach their children what’s right with wrong, and their words that they use like fists to thrash trust from frayed souls. I want to talk about men who hear no but continue like yes. I want to talk about teenaged girls coerced into sex,
little girls who didn’t know what was about to meet them at the end of the steps. I want to talk about the aftermath. Self-medication. Mutilation. A wounded generation. I want to talk about bruised thighs dark, dead, empty eyes. I want to talk about little boys who don’t hold still because it hurts to sit. I want to tell America that abuse picks its victims without discrimination. Black. White. Latino. Native American. Asian. Boy. Girl. Smart. Slow. Nice. Mean. Christian. Athiest. Muslim. Fat. Thin. Anybody can be a target, of poisonous sin. I want to talk about the victims, picking up their pieces with rips in their edges, how the puzzle never quite fits back together, how the world is a round hole and its victims are square pegs dented, un-whole.
I want to talk about the aftermath. Self medication. Mutilation. A wounded generation.
I want to talk about my abuse the repression for five years, my nine-year-old self’s depression. Abuse is my obsession.
Listen to their cries. Look into their lost eyes. For once in your life America, just listen up. Lean in close, fasten your briefcase, shut the desktop, sift through the white noise— Indifference is a choice.
Abuse misused me stole me, controlled and, broke me.
I want to talk about my fears, endless nightmares. I want to talk about how abuse has controlled me with its heavy hands, and dirty nails, how it has terrorized me, with his memory, all the threats, slayed my identity. I want to talk about the aftermath. My self-medication. My mutilation. I am this wounded generation.
My silence ends here, I want to talk about abuse.
You’ll hear it in soft whispers you’ll feel the cold drip of tears and taste their fears. When you do, Stand up.
I want to talk about how our silence is the belt that beats our backs, the words that ruin us, and the locked doors of seclusion.
Amanda Luckow - Oshkosh North High School
Alan With Cancer
Eleanor Leonne Bennett - United Kingdom
Jessica Wink - Bay Port High School
Gwyer Sinclair - De Pere High School
Ashley Bernhardt - Denmark High School
Maria Grzywa - Bay Port High School