editor of the future
Betty Marie - www.steadybettytattoo.com
ne summer night, many years ago, a trucker mated with the son of a traveling salesman under a full moon in San Francisco, California. The result of this union was an early little girl who grew up with a lopsided smile and a sarcastic disposition. She spent most of her youth donning combat boots, a Catholic school uniform, and a bizarre sense of humor. As a young adult, she moved to Portland, Oregon and spent her first few years there in some sort of quarter-life crisis oblivion none of which is really worth recounting. One day she found herself on the doorstep of a tattoo parlor called Icon, the owner of which ended up hiring her on as his apprentice based solely on the fact that she carried a knife in her boot and pencil through her ear. She didnâ€™t know it then, but it was to be a defining moment in her life. Because of all the professions she had tried on during her not considerably long life, this was the one that was to stick. She slept very little in the following years which will probably result in permanent madness
or at least some sort of personality disorder, the doctors are still running tests, but it was all worth it because she became a licensed tattoo artist in 2009.
bout a year into her tattooing career, she decided that it would behoove her to learn how to watercolor. She discovered that she sucked at it. Throwing down her brushes in frustration, she announced an undying hatred for watercolors, and swore to never use the medium again. Untrue to her word, she picked it back up again less than a week later to satisfy the nagging of her mentor. The months that followed were not without angry outbursts, but, not being one to admit defeat (at least not the second time around), she kept at it and eventually grew to accept, even enjoy the formerly disowned medium. These days, she spends much of her free time with her trusty set of watercolors and it is now her medium of choice, aside from tattooing, of course. She specializes in neo-traditional style tattooing and â€œThatâ€™s what she saidâ€? jokes.
Melissa Filosa-Palmer's poems “Brueghel” and “In the Frame,” were featured by the Rogue Scholars Collective. “Mom’s Song” and “Things I forgot to tell you,” two pieces featured in Kiss Me Goodnight: Stories and Poems by Women Who Were Girls When Their Mother’s Died. Her poem “The Broken Doll,” appeared in Illuminated Paths: Women’s Visions on Sex and Self. Her short story “Mrs. MacMillan’s Garden” will be featured by the Writing Disorder next Spring and she was recently named an “honorary Scot” by the McStorytellers for her short story “At This Moment,” which also appeared in Quail Bell magazine. A chapter of her memoir A Life Less Normal, appeared in The Quotable. “Shattered” also appeared in the Wilderness House Literary Review.
“TRANSVESTITE MUSIC” by Melissa Filosa-Palmer
t is said that music knows no limits, that it is a common thread that crosses cultural boundaries, a link stronger than language or the written word. When the AngloCelts came to our country’s great Appalachian Mountains, they brought with them their music. It was the glue that held tradition together, used to tell stories and histories in the custom of the bards. It was used to mourn and remember, to express faith and joy. When the sounds of banjoes and fiddles filled the mountains, it was a means of joining together bands of people to a common purpose. That music lifted the hearts and spirits of the folks in the know, but was also borrowed by the rest of America during the Great Depression. During those years the mountain folk lifted the spirits of a nation with honest to goodness music that spoke to the everyman on his last leg during desperate times. My mom’s old organ was a relic that survived not only two renovations but each and every surge of mass destruction that passed through our household. It sat in the great room a great totem to years gone by. It was a sacred yet tragic old bird. Its lower keyboard barely worked, and its primary keys, the ones that lived up top would stick in a constant drone of middle C or high E. But we kept it there nonetheless. It was one thing my mother never threw out. The old stereo downstairs, even the projection screen TV had all met their makers, yet that crusty old organ that sometimes wouldn’t turn on sat in the corner of the great room like a wise old medicine woman, silent and watching, always hearing but rarely weighing in on what she saw.
Why else would Michael and I retreat to the basement to sing with imaginary guitars? Why else would music hold such sway over me in later years? Why else would God
My mom used to play that thing when I was little. She’d line us up on the brown gravy couch in the pee-smell living room and she’d turn the volume up high. This of course occurred after dinner on alternating fight nights. She’d open up her song guide and play old time show tunes and Irish favorites, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and I’m in the Mood for Love. If she liked a song she would play it a dozen times in a row, never tiring of the repetition. She’d trip over the keys; some points would speed up or slow down but we dared not move. Singing made her happy. Music has that power.
communicate with my dad through a record player? It had to be some kind of hoo-doo. And my brother and I, even my dad, were not about to question it. The music of the mountains brought together the old tunes of the Celts with the most unlikely of companions, the booming, driving drumbeats of Afro-American music. The two melded there in the deepest backwoods into the raucous, foot-stomping celebratory anthems that healed the broken hearts of the Depression. It had to be some kind magic. My mom was asked in high school to join a singing group. She told the story all the time. It was a mark of pride for her that the “colored” girls invited her to be one of them. She didn’t do it, of course. Back then it was too risky, even for her. But she never quit. She sang in the old living room for years despite my dad’s eye rolling and her fidgeting kids. And even though the old organ sat lifeless in the big room later on, it was still treated with such reverence. She dusted it off daily as if someone were about to sit down at the stool and play. That music brought hope. I guess that’s why I put so much stock in it. Robert Smith had held me close in the depths of the Skinny britches sorrows. Even as a little acne-faced screw-up I’d sit in my room and cry to songs by Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, resting my head on the speakers beside my old stereo, headgear pressed against my cheek. Even as the littlest of munchkins my brother and I would dance alongside my mom to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”. When the music was on, I was never alone. Maybe that’s why Old Time Music galvanized our nation. It was honest and binding. So it stayed rooted in our history. It grew and evolved like Jack’s beanstalks, its branches reaching out to through the deepest depths of Americana. They called it other names like Bluegrass or Honkytonk or as plain old Country. Music has a language all its own and moves people despite what it’s called. It doesn’t give a shit about semantics. Before I met the rat, I really wanted to be in the FBI, not just because I really liked Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs. That helped of course, but it was more than that. Back then, before I knew I was truly awful, I wanted to be one of the good guys, before I knew about phone taps and background checks and the kinds of things that that constitute federal crimes. None of that worked out. But that’s not important. What is important is what ended up happening, something that would live on forever in annals of my family history.
My mom was known to play Kool and the Gang for hours on end. There seemed to be no limit to how many times she could listen to one song on the record player. I once concocted a conspiracy to get Bob Segar himself to write my mom and plead to her to stop playing Old Time Rock and Roll. That didn’t work out either. She never did get that letter.
Music had a great impact on my family, and my music was by all intents and purposes, weird.
My dad had gotten himself into the pop stations that his chippies liked and my brother was of club age, and in North Jersey that meant bass, club music that made the woofers on cars go boom, the house tracks that became mating rituals for young Italians everywhere. And here I was listening to transvestite music. My dad came up for that name one of the many nights I had my Jodie Foster film in. The bad guy dances around in a lady skin suit to a song that my dad quite rightly named, up my alley. “That’s the kind of shit you listen to Meliss, you love that transvestite music.” He was right. It was the type of stuff I liked. No one else really did. Not in my school, not many people I met. I had to stay up until one in the morning to watch the obscure show on MTV that showed the videos for weirdoes like me. The name stuck and I didn’t mind. It was mine and I loved it. There was a day I came home from school. It was bad that day. The rat and his army of idiots had told the majority of the school that I had a “monkey disease.” I’m pretty sure they were talking about AIDS. Idiots. My cat had died in a tragic appliance accident that had all to do with me, much to the raucous laughter and idiotic jokes of the same army of idiots. And if that wasn’t enough, my mom had decided to tell me that I was molested by my grandparents when I was a baby. Wait, never mind, no, she was just kidding because she was really mad at them that day. Great jokes. I went upstairs and popped in a Morrissey tape. My brother had joked once that he had taken eight of my mom’s pills, an assortment of the orange sleepy pills and the fairly harmless Xanax. He said it was more like a cocktail that put him into a blissful fog, a walking hammock really. If eight had been great for Michael, I had counted thirteen pills left in the remnant bottles on top of the fridge. They were the schwag forgotten pills that had fallen aside. Surely they wouldn’t be missed. Surely, not missed. I poured the pretty mix of orange and fuchsia and white into my hands and thought Okay God, if this goes bad, so be it, if not it’ll at least take the pain away. I tilted my head back and swallowed them without water. I couldn’t risk my mom coming into the kitchen. There was a strange feeling of anticipation as they went down, a mixture of here goes and a silent prayer to make all the hurt go away. I was willing for temporary or forever and threw the dice.
I never, ever ate back then so they hit fast, faster than I’d anticipated. The song hadn’t even finished. There was a sharp, burning pain in my stomach not unlike taking a vitamin that hits you wrong. Then there was a slow motion feeling as I dropped down to my knees. The rug was so vivid. I never noticed how intricate the pile loops were. They
Morrissey was singing about an Ouija board. I loved that song.
stood up at attention a tiny army of individual pink soldiers, woven braids atop their heads. I pet them one by one. Then it gets kind of foggy. There was a clicking sound. Morrissey had ended. I wanted to put something else on but couldn’t move. I thought, I’m dying, I should call my mom, and tried, but when I went to open my mouth I just drooled. My head felt very sluggish and slow, so very heavy, as did the rest of my body. I seemed to be slowly melting into the pink carpeting. I woke up the next day, face planted into the floor. My skull felt like it was made of granite and my mouth was dry and salty. A new boy I was seeing, sort of, a nice boy from the musical I did that year had been calling for the whole day previous. He rushed over that morning to see what was wrong. All he wanted was to help. I dumped him in a really mean way. In hindsight, it wasn’t really nice. What was? Not being dead. Upon not dying I was immediately stricken with shame and sadness. I was sickened by my own weakness. It was then I swore off the hard stuff. I never touched my mom’s pills again. After all, there were people out there with real problems. I went to school with a girl whose dad not only stabbed her mother to death, but did so right in front of her little brother. She was about to sing the national anthem for the volleyball championships when the assistant principal had to come out onto the court in front of the whole county and give her the news. She dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. To make matters worse, when her dad tried to off himself after the deed was done, he didn’t succeed. He slit his throat but failed to sever the artery. He was a miracle, like me. Only he was debilitated and in jail awaiting release. That’s a lot to have on a plate. My story was nothing like that. I was mortified by what I had done to myself, by the gift I’d taken for granted. The poor kids in the Appalachian Mountains don’t even have books, and here I was sad because some douchebag talked fresh about my cat, because some group of dirt bags in a public high school said that I had sex with a monkey. That didn’t even make sense.
Susie stood there with a look on her face that nothing can really explain. I however can be described with one word.
“You know I could kill you right here,” she said to my dad who stood grinning at the candles like a large, sedated toddler. She held the knife to his throat for a beat and when there was no response went right back at the cake.
When Susan, the girl with the really sad story, came over for my 18 th birthday just before I moved to college, my mom had taken the large kitchen knife away from the ice cream cake for a split second that might as well have lasted a lifetime.
Mortified. It was moments like that that kept me grounded, let me know that no matter what happened, I didn’t have it so bad. When I moved to college by myself, I didn’t feel bad. I felt angry. I watched the girls with their smooth blond ponytails and outfits from the expensive catalogs embracing their parents in teary good-byes and wanted to run over and kick them in their collective asses. Why was everyone at college so stupid? I had a roommate who smoked like crazy. She was a puffed up poodle of a girl with a nasally voice who told me she was only in school for her MRS. It took me half a semester to figure that out. It made no sense. My room smelled like an ashtray even though the sign specifically said non-smoking on our floor. When I asked her why she picked a nonsmoking room she had explained that when she filled out her college applications she didn’t want her mom to know of her dirty habit. Her mommy had helped her fill out the forms. Everyone was so stupid. It never got me down. It got me angry. My next idiot in the ever growing string of random-stupid-idiots-I-dated was at college, a boy who had black light posters in his room and a never ending supply of Lysol and rolled up towels for under his door. He had highlights in his hair. He was a total douche. But he liked me, so whatever. I certainly didn’t like him, but I wasn’t so much picky either. And I didn’t really realize how much I didn’t like him until we decided to trip on acid. History should have told me it was a really bad idea. Every story I’d ever heard about acid ended badly. It had always turned out with my dad getting maced or some whacked-out Deadhead jumping off a building thinking they could fly. I sat in that dark cramped room full of smoking idiots. It seemed every single idiot kid who got away from their mommies and daddies decided to rebel and smoke in college. Idiots. Not one person had one thing of interest to say. It was all the cliché stupid crap you hear from kids away from home. It was like summer camp on crack. Wow, what if we’re on a molecule that’s in this big creature that’s walking around a zoo somewhere?
The room was as dim as the people in it and stunk of air freshener, a dark and stink that only became amplified as time trudged agonizingly forward. It must have been the stuffiness of that room that first prompted the sensation of dying. I was dying for sure, and I was in a room full of morbidly stupid, overly-pampered assholes who thought that it would be a great idea to drop acid while listening to the soundtrack of the Walt Disney World theme park.
The deep thoughts of the college freshmen were astounding. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Dr. Seuss imparted that gem of wisdom on me when I was like five.
I looked around the room and one boy who normally looked like a teddy bear, looked to me like he was 87 years-old. I am pretty sure he was mumbling to himself. The boy next to him was talking to an empty chair. A thin girl with a face like a witch looked like she was knitting in a rocking chair, and I sat paralyzed, dying. I had made it past the pills only to die in a room full of stupid little children who were listening to It’s a Small World as a soundtrack to my demise. When had I broken my back? For sure it was broken. Or was it my neck? What happened to my neck? Oh my God I had jumped off the building. “No seriously, what the fuck are we listening to?” I had sat up gasping from my death bed. The idiot boyfriend grinned like possessed gopher. He didn’t hear me because I was dead. “No seriously, what the fuck? Hello? Do you have any like Flock of Seagulls? Some Dead? The Grateful Dead would be good? Hello? Anybody?” I wanted anything to stop the pirates from singing to me about pillaging and raping. I didn’t remember them saying that on the ride in the park but here they were telling me they were going to break into the dorm room and sodomize my loved ones. I couldn’t hope that any of the 87 year-olds would have any transvestite music. Nobody had transvestite music, except for me and unfortunately I had just died. No one wanted to take a walk outside. They just wanted to sit in that dorm with the closed windows in the dark, staring at black light posters, chain smoking. And then the ghosts from the mansion started singing again about how they were going to eat our brains and steal our souls and no one cared that the whole album was playing itself over again. I laid my head down and tried to close my eyes. That didn’t help. Evidently time stands absolutely still when you are on acid. In my worst nightmares it was the fat guy with the ball peen hammer hitting me in the head. Sometimes there was that dream where I sunk low into the ground like gravity was too heavy and I couldn’t stop it, but never had I had a dream worse than this. Because even my subconscious would never admit this fear could be possible. The focus shifted off of me. Maybe it was because I was wearing her sweater that moved my crazy head this way. I will never know. I will only know for sure that acid is evil and unforgiving. It digs into the deepest recesses of the human brain and unleashes the demons that have been held at bay for a lifetime. It doesn’t give a shit about you or anyone. It doesn’t discriminate.
In my devil vision, my mother had jumped off of the building we were in, landing on the ground, breaking her back and neck. She could see her loved ones around her begging her to hold on, to keep strong, that she could make it if she just held on. I begged of her
All of a sudden I was not in my body. It was like I was in a movie, like a dream, only I wasn’t me. I was my mother. I would jump from watching from above to actually experiencing the carnage that I was seeing below.
not to go. I both begged her and as her heard the pleas of the crowd that stood encircled around her to the booming sounds of Disney in the background. I lay there like a corpse for the better portion of that evening, trapped in a catatonic prison where my mother lay dying and I couldn’t save her. When the sun rose, and the spell had worn off enough for me to weave my way through the cinderblock hallways back to my own room, I couldn’t dial the phone fast enough. “Mommy, hi, I’m so glad to hear your voice. How are you?” my voice was strained and terrified. I had soared with relief when she’d picked up the phone after five rings. “I’m…fine. Meliss, its six o’clock in the morning.” I hadn’t realized how strange that early call must have seemed but had a recovery my mother would surely understand. “I, I’m sorry mom. I…had a nightmare.” It slipped out despite the other words pounding in my brain. I hung up feeling relieved and stupid at the same time. I lay back on my Lion King comforter unable to rest, staring at the ceiling. I pulled on headphones so Echo and the Bunnymen could lull me to sleep. I needed something beautiful to drown out the horror of the night before. Over the strains of Nothing Ever Lasts Forever, I tried not to think about what I’d almost just said to my mother, what I’d meant to say.
I thought you were dead.
Rachel Burns – “Spider Rain”
Rachel Burns – “Perfume”
Rachel Burns – “Camouflage”
Rachel Burns recently graduated from Harvard College with a degree in English and French. Her poetry has appeared in Literary Laundry and Florida English, and her illustrations have appeared in The Harvard Crimson. She is currently living, working, writing, and painting in New York.
Rachel Burns – “Abstract 1”
Why Immigrants Come to America is Robert Joe Stout’s most recent book. His fiction and poetry has appeared in South Dakota Review, Interim and The New Orleans Review, among other magazine and journals. He lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.
“Union Worker Remembers 1938-1939” by Robert Joe Stout
“Without money, without technicians, without transportation, without foreign sales, Mexico was condemned to drown in its own oil.” Cástulo García-García La dictadura del PRI y su decadencia Gently he cursed as one might scold a faithful dog, two fingers of his raised left hand bent sideways—drilling accident, he shrugged, bright bits like quartz glinting through the cataracts that veiled his eyes. Living, sleeping on the rigs, no engineers just chavos who could make things work, pumps ripped apart, rebuilt: don’t ask! just do! Worker communes—the mamás raised the food, butchered the calves, the hogs! Production never stopped, pipelines sabotaged, blockaded ports, the work went on:
Viva México! he choked, those were the days, the land was ours! The oil ours! Not like today, pure beggary, kissing the ass of Uncle Sam.
“What They Said”
by Robert Joe Stout
Dreams slap my sleep —rain-soaked wind-driven leaves that splat and slither into mush that clogs the reasons for the anger felt the day before and lingers in a murky pool of semiconscious thought...
Why? I ask —stupidly: Insults pierce the core of who one is: a child who merely wants a bit of love.
John Repp's most recent collection is Big Conneautee (Seven Kitchens Press, 2010). Individual poems have appeared in recent issues of Michigan Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, and The Journal. “Vapor”
by John Repp
Certainties are arrived at only on foot. Antonio Porchia She fades to vapor, darkens to smudge on a vinyl tablecloth—impossible even in vision or dream & certainly as sensory phenomena, but I’ve hunted her so long an evanescent smear of carbon unequivocally her would mean—grace? The quest’s resolution? So long & sometimes pathetic to yearn so. She vanished into the salt marsh at Hansey Creek or into the smoke in Scotty’s pool hall or into the war, always the war. Or happiness far elsewhere. A puff of mist underneath a mess of raven-black hair. Crooked eye-tooth & perfect pitch. I asked a friend once what he knew. He kept working the wrench. I left the back step & made for the garage. He aged. As I closed in on him,
for awhile, did I.
Nobody knows shit he said & went back to work & so,
he coughed. I coughed. I asked again & louder.
by John Repp
To wound the heart is to create it. Antonio Porchia She lived at the end of the hall. Once we’d driven the roommate out, we lived at the end of hall unless she’d exiled me for some outrage trivial as the oil on the Blimpie’s subs we gobbled on Fridays. “Trivial” to the workaday drudge I’d been raised to be. Oil glossy on our mouths, burn of onion. She exalted me. She’d have it no other way. Want has never been so weak a word. We all but tore each other open. We solved equations. We constructed presentations & practiced on one another. We played chess & watched one another piss into a Styrofoam cup. We resumed reading or eating, fucking or lying quiet inside our breathing, our eternal— my God, we were infants— conjoined breath. On the balcony
glitter on the hood of a car. Once, far past midnight,
in the cold dark, we let go of the cup & watched spray
in the red bathrobe I loved to untie, she swung a leg over the rail & said I’m done in a voice I’d never heard. I begged, of course. I said all the things you’d expect. She came back to me after awhile & everything went back to normal. I mean it. You can stay young for decades. It’s easy.
There we are, lying in a narrow bed, laughing.
Changming Yuan, 3-time Pushcart nominee and (co-)author of Chansons of a Chinaman (2009) and Three Poets (2011), grew up in rural China and published several monographs before moving to Canada. Currently Yuan teaches in Vancouver and has had poetry appearing in Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, London Magazine, RHINO and nearly 390 others literary journals/anthologies in 17 countries. â€œThe True Cause of Ischemiaâ€? by Changming Yuan
You have all the symptoms of ischemia: Nervousness, depression, heartache Although no test results show you Having a physiological cause of the problem
While your doctors are at a loss Wondering why you have been suffering From such lack of blood, you well know Your heart has been like a sponge From which you have squeezed out Too many of your blood-rooted words
by Changming Yuan
Tire dof Havi ngto Actc onstantly Then ewly Oldc ouple Fina llyreturned Toth emselves Whil ethe Stag esstill Rema in Betw eenthem
PHOTOS by Jenna McCoy
Jenna McCoy is an undergraduate studying literature at Richard Stockton Collegeâ€”a small state school located dangerously close to her hometown of Ocean City, New Jersey. When not in class, and sometimes when she should be, Jenna's travels take her across the globe. Her most recent adventures have included studying in India-administered Kashmir, glacier climbing in Iceland, and hiking the Appalachian Trail. Jennaâ€™s creative nonfiction has been published in The Curbside Quotidian and Polaris. Her photography is forthcoming in Adventum.
Alyssa Greenberg is recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and is currently living in West Philly.
“SURFACING” by Alyssa Greenberg I.
own by the edge of the golf course, where the manicured lawn gives way to churned-up mud and dead trees draped with plastic beer can wrappings and discarded washing machines and the chemical swirl of the polluted creek and finally the security wall keeping it all behind the curving highway, we are pretending. We pretend that our football team isn’t having a losing streak, that our hands and toes aren’t freezing cold in the November night, that we won’t be exhausted and delirious at the pep rally tomorrow. We pretend that the cops won’t come, that all of us will be able to act perfectly sober if they do, that we are looking our best in our thermal underwear, class-designated sweats and faux-fur-lined boots. We pretend that we are always this funny and fun and outgoing, that our dramas and inside jokes are matters of life and death, that we won’t ever have to deal with anything as trivial as the world after high school. We pretend that, past the beams of cars’ headlights that flicker over the barbedwire top of the security wall below us, there is nothing that concerns us. We pretend that beyond the wall, and the highway, and the long stretches of housing projects that we have been warned never to approach, and the DMZ even farther out, there is nothing that concerns us. II.
hree months ago, Mark Della Croce and Theresa Larkin died. It was all over the news. A real tragedy, custom-made for people to sigh over as their morning coffee brewed and then forget about until it happened again. Two neighborhood kids getting in Mom’s Honda Civic, showing the checkpoint patrol at the edge of town their IDs, driving out along the tree-lined security wall where the graffiti taggers have scrawled anti-government messages, speeding east through the scrubby russet expanses of what used to be good Jersey farmland, and finally coming to the edge of the Donald J. Henderson Memorial before taking the bridge at one hundred and twenty miles per hour, making a ninety-degree turn through the mesh barrier and finally hovering briefly, hood flashing in the hazy sun of late August, hanging for less than the blink of an eye,
between the swooping gulls and the cigarette boats full of bronzed New Yorkers that still careen across Manahawkin Bay every summer despite the travel warnings – and then the plunge. Even without the superlative details (two months from graduation, National Honor Society; babysat for the neighbors’ toddlers; lifeguard at the local Y; survived by parents and two younger brothers), it feels hackneyed, manipulative even. It’s pretty damn romantic if you are the morbidly romantic type and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to some dark instinct inside of you, and even if you aren’t you hope that Mark Lucas Della Croce, eighteen, and Theresa Ann Larkin, also eighteen, at least had a few seconds to take in these details and maybe exchange a final look into one another’s eyes before the impact and the silence of the deep water took them. I think they must have, given the way things transpired. I remember driving through that same farmland the day after they died. My earliest memories are of pulling the silk off ears of corn on the back patio with my sisters, my mom yelling at me for the blueberry stains on my shirt. After the farms, now lying fallow in the billowing summer heat, there is the vast sprawl of pine trees spilling into the horizon. By the time I drove through the Pine Barrens, Adam and I had grown used to the ugly silence between us in the car. He stared out the window, away from me. Adam, who knows that I like feeling bad but who had gone too far that day, unable to look at the plum-colored bruise spreading across my cheek. “I’ll come visit you at school, wherever you decide to go,” he had said, only half an hour ago, his hand on my lower back, silently pleading in his own way. “Just don’t end up with some frat boy instead.” And I had said, “I slept with someone this summer.” And he had said, “Oh.” And then I was sitting in the grass, the side of my head dull with pain, my mouth dry and my chest heaving at the thought of the effort it would take to hide it from my family, the maneuvering I would have to do to get to my concealer in the upstairs bathroom unseen. I remember Adam gulping and sobbing, hand pressed against his mouth to stifle it. I don’t remember getting back in the car, but I do remember driving and driving, my knuckles white, wondering if this was what nobody knew about Mark and Theresa. It used to be that the sneakers tied together and thrown over the phone lines by drug dealers in the Pine Barrens were that drag’s only distinguishing feature, but now it’s the place where everyone who lives back here puts up roadside memorials. Dollar store flowers, Phillies paraphernalia and candles stretch out for miles, blurring together into a dizzy mess of Technicolor in the dying sunlight. As we got closer to home, the memorials stretched on. There were people setting up a new one. I eased up on the gas, looking sideways at Adam, but he was still afraid to look me in the eye. We passed the couple and in the pearly blue dusk I saw that it was a man and a woman, both in their fifties, grizzled and wearing matching Eagles hats. She
was apple-shaped, wiry-haired, lighting the votive candles. He had a black handlebar mustache and was fumbling with the bouquet of fake, papery calla lilies. In the reflection of the rearview mirror, I watched them finish up, and then the glare from the sunset made it too hard to look at.
Thomas Piekarski’s work has appeared in Agni, Ploughshares, Paris Review, New York Quarterly, Southern Review, and others. His first book, Time Lines, was published in 2010 by Nimbus Press.
“Dialogue du Jour”
by Thomas Piekarski
Have you heard? We’re not alone, there are lots of universes besides ours. Right now we’re being sucked by a neighboring universe toward a cold hole in the hot microwave membrane that comprises our universe’s edge. This is fortunate because ours is expanding, and it needs an escape hatch. It has found one, thank goodness. Our future is to collide with a neighboring universe much like merging galaxies. Except that our neighbor is also being drawn into a sister universe. This seems to be duplicated ad infinitum. Is this what they mean by soul? Tell me, oh savant. “ I would like to answer you but am presently inundated with periphrastic ineptitude. The soul is Greek to me. Perhaps due to my pesky hebetude I simply can’t put a finger on it. Give me a minute. I’ll come up with something.”
“ I can guarantee you obscurity upon death. How’s that for starters?”
Your minute is up.
It will do. Carry on. “Unless you propel yourself off into some stellar orbit methinks you’ll soon be reciting a petrified Angelicus… For chrissakes, man, you live in Lower Barbaria! Don’t you know immortality, religion, myth, spirituality, metamorphosis, science, soul, time, they’re all irrelevant? You should change your diet of fruitless pablum and connect with the confirmation on the street that would be uttered by any illiterate farm worker, that Beethoven is dead. Truth is we can’t hear him play his music as it was meant. It’s notes on a sheet, no more. To be alive matters. Or maybe not.” I thought you might be willing to take some risks in light of current revision of Physics books.
Maybe the soul is a mosaic, mosaic made up from pure truth and infinite love as a reflection of every experience and every memory ever accumulated in you, your forebears and progeny over the vast expanses of time.
“ Here’s a Physics lesson: take Picasso’s supposed masterpiece, bicycle seat as a bull’s head. It is pure deception, a fool’s joke. And yet he led the intellectual class into an aphasiac euphoria over it. The glory of his genius exists in self promotion. An endless universe? Gods that pry your want-driven beliefs? Dream on.”
Would that qualify as soul? “My culinary masterpiece will soon become feces. Of that you can be certain.” So time has no future nor past, only existing in the present. Is that it? I sit down to tie and untie my shoe. It took exactly fourteen seconds. I know. I timed it. “Obscurity in death is timeless. You’ll find out some day.” Let me ask you this: have you ever had a dream where one of your dead parents appeared as plain as day? If so, was this the soul taking measure of itself and rightly? “It’s like the Surrealists. So much poppycock artifice. Just take Duchamp’s urinal. Anybody could proclaim a urinal as a great work of art. The fact that he got away with this charade is no justification for thinking it will last in any universal rubric you might ascribe.”
“Humans, in their vainglorious consciousness, in their utter arrogance, as a result of the conglomeration of biochemical reactions and nothing more, strive to know what’s not there.”
So that makes me a cave man spending my nights wondering why the moon isn’t full every night of the year?
Newton discovers gravity, Beethoven composes the Ninth Symphony, the pyramids of Giza built. Are these all worthless endeavors? Or perhaps some proof of a collective soul that can’t be denied by rhetoric or doubt, certainly not reified But surely up and about.
“It’s axons, dendrites and synapses working together at random. That’s all you get until you collapse into a stupor and lose consciousness for good. Try this universal act on for size, then see if your wonderful art rescues you into the beyond.”
SophiaR - http://retrogressive.co.uk
Raud Kennedy is a writer and dog trainer in Portland, Oregon. To learn about his most recent work, Portland, a collection of short stories, please visit www.raudkennedy.com
“Making My Own Acquaintance” by Raud Kennedy
I used to smoke, crave it, enjoy it. Now it’s something people do who are ambivalent about life, not sure if they want to live or die. I used to drink a lot. It was the high and low of my day. Now it’s what people do who are in pain. Their pain has taken on a life of its own and needs to be fed and cared for like a lost soul they’ve brought home from the bar. I used to feel sad and needed that sadness to have something to escape from because without it I’d be left alone experiencing an uncomfortable silence with a stranger.
In bed, prolonging the moments before pushing back the covers. The voice on NPR, a reporter in Afghanistan, refers to the spring fighting season as if he’s announcing the opening of ski season at Mt. Hood Meadows. I brush my teeth, minty fresh, extra whitener. Death tolls from suicide bombings. Toweling off after showering, it’s total US casualties, a number that could be the population figure of a small city. A city of dead young men and women. The refreshing lather lifts my beard as my triple bladed razor shaves my face kissable smooth. Tell me again why we are there while I am here.
by Raud Kennedy
by Kit Meyer
I knew a girl who told me that the oceans were only as deep as you made then out to be – She moved water with her eyes, she spun stardust with the swing of her hips. Still warm from the flick of her fingers I sit on my porch and wait for the rains to come; Waiting for her fingers to trace me again, waiting for the oceans to swallow me whole.
by Kit Meyer
On some evenings she is the lump caught in my throat, the crickets, the storm brewing in the east wing of my soul. Others? She belongs in museum cases marked as the last great mask of failure, the first and falling hope. When I say I lost my friend I don’t mean to make it sound symbolic.
What I mean to say is that the girl with the wiry eyes and burn marks on her heart stumbled one evening, dressed in a black-dust cloth, wicked – as she fell to the tresses of the night.
Ted McLoof teaches fiction at the University of Arizona.. His work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Minnesota Review, Gertrude Press, Sonora Review, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He'd like to thank Melissa for all her help with this piece; he owes her a drink.
“Point Pleasant” by Ted McLoof
t’s the hottest summer on record, the reports keep saying, but Penny doesn’t need the radio to tell her that. Tourists tan on the beach, and she watches them from the porch, freckles occasionally peppering her arm. She’s always loved summer, because it’s the only season when she is happy. Her birthday is in the fall, which she hates. Christmas is in winter, which she hates even more. And spring makes everyone else happy, which only emphasizes, to her, how unhappy she perpetually is. But summer is bright; summer smells like suntan lotion and Captain Zing’s Buffalo Wings. She lives in Point Pleasant, and summer is the time when she lives in a town that other people want to visit. At twenty-one, Penny knows it’s time to do something, a change is going to come. It’s in the air, in the heat, but she doesn’t know what it’s going to be. She doesn’t want to be a musician, although several years ago she took Drew’s old guitar and learned the chords. She has always wanted to inspire music, rather than play it. This is what being in Drew’s basement had been all about. She was grateful to Cameron Crowe for delivering Band-Aids to the public, and that she shared her hero’s name; seeing Almost Famous for the first time in high school, she thought, This is my destiny. She was the mother hen of the lot back then; she kept everyone in line and had a special place with them. She likes to think that there is an empty spot without her there, something unfillable, something that seems off now when they jam together. She thinks about this as her sister watches The Fairly Oddparents, eating Apple Jacks. Her mother is almost ready for work, and comes out to the porch with curlers in her hair. “What are you doing today?” she asks, as though the answer might actually be unknown. “I was going to take Jane to the beach. She likes the waves, and it’s windy out.” “Don’t stay out too long,” her mother says, distractedly, as she buttons her blouse. “Your neck is all red, and I don’t want her getting sunburned, too. Bring the lotion.”
“Hold on,” she says. “I have to grab my bag.”
“You got your stuff?” she asks Jane after she rinses her bowl out in the sink.
She has been turned into a housemaid and a babysitter, nothing more, she thinks. As her mother kisses Jane’s forehead on the way out the door, Penny thinks about what it must be like, as a mother, to get to the point where you’ve given up on your child. What must it be like, she thinks, when you’ve decided that your daughter will not be the things you hoped she’d be, when you have to start looking at her as an instrument of use, rather than a daughter? When she was Jane’s age, Penny was still as unformed as a lump of clay, and could have been made into anything with the proper molding. Now she’s been built, and she’s asked to watch after the Last Remaining Hope because her mother has decided that this is her only discernable function.
Jane disappears into her room, and Penny can hear her moving things around in there, in that room that used to be hers. When Penny had the room, it was wallpapered with posters and every Rolling Stone cover she could find. She used to go to sleep watching the Beatles cross the street; she used to space out with Kurt Cobain’s sad black-and-white eyes staring back at her. Now the room has a poster of Tony Hawk on one wall, and a surfboard leaning against the other. Penny once had a sort of quiet, deep regret that Jane wouldn’t be following in her footsteps, but now it pleases her, in a way, to see what a jock she’s turning out to be. Jane emerges from her room with an Adidas bag and a towel with a weird eastern design on it. “Ready?” she says. “Did you pack the suntan lotion? Mom’s gonna kill me if you get burned today.” “I got it, I got it. Is Shawn coming with us?” “No,” Penny says, too fast. “He’s got work.” Jane smiles. “What?” Penny says. “‘Penny Riggs’,” Jane chuckles on her way out the front door, grabbing a deck chair. Penny squints at her, as if. If she’d had the will to say the first two words out loud, she might have kept going: as if I don’t have to think about that every day! They walk out to the street. It’s hot today, of course. Things have been heating up for a while, and Penny knows you don’t get heat like this without it breaking, and soon. At five o’clock she realizes that her mother will be home in an hour, and she still hasn’t cleaned the house. The house, like the others on the block and elsewhere, is small, with a door that never closes in the sunny months, and a faux-grass rug on the porch, and peeling paint. There are Solo cups littered around, and a seashell ashtray full of cigarettes that Penny is adding to at the moment. A housemaid and a babysitter, she thinks. Nothing more. Some shirtless teenagers in Ray-Bans and puka shells walk towards the beach with surf boards, as though they are in Hawaii, or some other exotic place. Penny rolls her eyes and blows out a puff of smoke in their direction, as they kick some broken glass from a beer bottle at the rusting fence next to them. She wipes the sweat from her forehead, pulls her shirt off, cleans the house in her bra and shorts. A car horn honks outside and she knows who it is. Shawn is there in the driveway, in his Volkswagen Jetta, poking his head out the sunroof. “Come on,” he says. “It’s fucking hot.” She promised him that she’d go to his house when he was done at work, but she isn’t in the mood. She hasn’t been for weeks. “I can’t,” she says. “I’m cleaning the house for my mom. I have to finish.” “We can go to my place for the rest of the night. It’s cooler there.”
The empty beer bottles in the kitchen are the first to go, and she checks for the floaters. This is done without thought, out of habit, routine, constancy, like men in an assembly line, building Fords. She picks up the half-empty bottle of vodka, takes a quick swig and puts it in the
Penny doesn’t wait before throwing up her arms and saying, “Could you wait a fucking half an hour? Christ.” She walks back inside without holding the door for him, and he stacks the cups and throws them into the garbage bag that hangs from the banister.
freezer. She leaves the freezer door open for a minute, cooling herself, as she thinks about how the name “Point Pleasant” is trying too hard. She closes the door to find Shawn leaning in the doorway, watching her. “I can get you guys one. You know I don’t mind.” Shawn sells air conditioners and other necessary home appliances at the Sears in Long Beach Island. “She’d never take it,” Penny tells him of her mother, but the statement couldn’t be less true. Penny doesn’t want an air conditioner from Shawn, a permanent object delivered from an impermanence in her life. She puts her arms around him, digging her hands into the back pockets of his khakis. He kisses the top of her forehead where her hairline begins, and she smells the sweat coming off his chest. “How you wear this outfit everyday in this heat is a mystery to me.” “I have to,” he says, “for my job.” He takes one of her cigarettes and finds the Pine-Sol from under the sink. He’s handsome, tall, and slightly muscular in the way she knows girls are supposed to like. But there’s something about his earnestness that irks her. Penny doesn’t want to be asked what’s wrong, and she doesn’t want help cleaning things. It’s her only pragmatic function in the house and she wants to do it alone. “Go watch some TV,” she says, taking the mop from him. “It’s five. Saved by the Bell is on. I’ll be done by the time it’s over.” He shrugs and walks toward the family room, looking vaguely hurt at her insistence that he isn’t needed, as she pours the Pine-Sol into a bucket and listens to that initial, familiar school bell screech out from the television speakers, and wonders whether her next boyfriend will even know who Zack Morris is. She hopes not. She’s been seeing guys who know who Zack Morris is since she began seeing guys, and she’s sick of it. “Surfin’ Safari” is booming out of Shawn’s car stereo as they drive to his house. The windows are down, and Penny smells the air, fresh, beachy, sand occasionally brushing against her palms as she makes air waves with her arm. “I think I might be getting a raise,” Shawn says, and she hears him but doesn’t respond. Her eyes are closed and she wants to listen to the Beach Boys. He turns down the song. “Hun?” he says. She turns to him. “I might be getting a raise.” “That’s great,” she says, let down by how unconvincing her interest is. She tries to make up for it, like always, with stock questions. “Have you been impressing them?” “I think that’s part of it. But once you’re there for a certain amount of time, they sort of have to give you more money to keep you. They want me, at least.” They want him! Penny thinks. Such pride in his voice! This is where he wants to be, this is the job he’s proud of, and making moves for: a hardware store in a town that only exists, in any significant way, one fourth of the year. “That’s terrific,” she says. “If it’s a big enough raise, we can move in together. Maybe move up to Midland Park, near my mom, you know? I could take care of you like I can’t now.”
There is a slight irritation of sunburn on the back of her neck, from lying on the beach reading Crime and Punishment all day and wishing she knew the people in the book, people with situations and problems that mattered. She wished, to a smaller degree, that she even knew someone who had read it. But she also knows that there is something else, and it’s on its way, soon.
She smiles at him and kisses his shoulder, leaving a barely visible lipstick mark on his blue Sears polo shirt. “Maybe,” she says, and turns the song back up.
They pass Drew’s house, and she thinks of the time spent in that basement, listening to them jam to old Steve Miller hits and not thinking about her life. She remembers singing along to the line “I’ve gotta go out and make my way/ I might get rich, you know I might get busted.” She remembers how much she loved it, and sees the same old cars in his driveway—Mike’s grey Sierra, Finch’s black Thunderbird—and knows that they’re probably still doing the same thing right now, without her. She refuses to go anymore; listening to the music back then seemed to have momentum, a direction, a place to go, with a career of playing for money and for the love of it. They’d never be famous; she knew it in a way that they didn’t, but could easily picture them playing weddings and anniversary dinners on the weekends, and the fact that they haven’t even accomplished this miniscule goal depresses her. The practicing lost its point, somewhere, and with it her only vision of the future. Shawn pulls over to get gas and she gets out to buy cigarettes. He pulls the last one from her pack, lights it, and says, “You really should quit, you know,” with a smile. She hates him for it. She wants to be with someone who doesn’t tell her to quit, or with someone who means it if he does. She wants someone who knows better. Shawn lives in the top part of a two-family house, with glass sliding doors in every room. They’re all open when they get there, and Shawn starts to close them to turn on the AC. “Don’t,” she says, putting her hand on his arm. “I want to smell the air for a while.” “It’s too hot,” he says. “We’ll go for a walk later. You can smell it then.” She sits on his couch and turns on his TV as he makes them dinner. She finds the Disney Channel and watches The Suite Life of Zach and Cody. She wants something she can ignore. While dinner is cooking, he comes in and sits next to her, his arm resting behind her on the sofa. Her head is in his lap, watching Zach or maybe Cody get a pie thrown in his face. She laughs, not at the show but at how this joke is still used, eighty years after vaudeville died. An ad comes on and Penny changes the channel. Someone is interviewing Maureen McCormack about Celebrity Fit Club on E!. She’s saying it’s one of the best shows she’s ever done. “You know,” Shawn says, “if you’ve only done two shows in your life, and you call one ‘one of the best shows I’ve ever done,’ that’s not really saying much.” Penny giggles and is grateful that, though his greatest passion is television, at least he puts it to practical use in making her laugh. He puts his hand on her hip under her shirt, and rubs her bare skin. She tries to ignore it, watching Hannah Montana, until she feels his erection growing behind her head. He’s giving her that look, that hungry look that used to win her, the look that won her in the first place when they first met on the boardwalk six months ago. He moves his hand into her shorts and she shifts herself, adjusting, making herself more accessible. Her entire life has consisted of shifting to make herself more accessible to people, she thinks. She kisses him as he continues to move his fingers slowly up and down, up and down, until he stops to take his shirt off. “How long until the buzzer goes off?” she whispers, in between breaths.
They lie naked on the couch until the buzzer goes off, sweating even with the blast of central air in Shawn’s apartment. She runs her fingers over the tattoo on his left arm, the thick black barbed wire that grows from his shoulder to his wrist. When he gets up to turn the oven off, their skin is stuck together and it makes her sick, especially when he kisses her, her lips cold,
“We’ve got enough time,” he says, and she doesn’t care if it’s the truth. She just wants it over with.
her nose cold, the blood drained from her face as it always is afterwards. She slides her shorts back on and watches TV shirtless until he’s set the table. “Here you go,” he says. “Breaded chicken cutlets, a la me.” He used to want to be a chef, he once told her. He planned to go to Culinary School when he was younger, but he gave up, or lost interest, she’s never been told which. She hates his cooking, hates how good it is, because every bite tastes like failure and wasted time. “Huh?” he says to her, after she takes her first mouthful. “It’s great,” she says, and forces a smile. From outside the gymnasium at her old middle school, Penny can hear fifty basketballs being dribbled at once. She waits for Jane and leans her head against the forest-green door, thinking about how similar the sound is to the modest complaint of raindrops on a rooftop, to the hail storm that refuses to fall in a heat wave of this degree. Then she hears Miss Fyster’s whistle blow and cut through her fantasy, letting the girls’ intramural league out for the afternoon. In the car on the way to the beach, Penny asks, “How much does Mom pay for these rehearsals?” Jane looks annoyed, opening her eyes and looking at Penny as if just realizing she’d accidentally gotten into the wrong car. “I don’t know. Like fifty bucks for three weeks, I think. Why?” Penny lets a pedestrian, a girl with a white-and-brown spotted bulldog, pass across the crosswalk as she thinks about why she asked. Probably, she thinks, because her mother doesn’t make any money. Probably, she thinks, because she can’t imagine sending her own daughter to basketball camp instead of letting her go to the beach in the summer. Probably, she thinks, because she feels more and more like her mother every day, and wants to figure out the motive behind each move her mother makes, so that she might gain the power to stop the transformation, mid-process. “I don’t know,” Penny says. “Do you even like basketball?” “You should see my foul shot. I haven’t missed one all summer. Fyster says I could play in the WNBA if I play my cards right.” “I didn’t ask if you were good, I know you are. I asked if you liked it. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you should do it for a living.” “Says you,” Jane says. “You don’t do anything, except hang out with Shawn. Even he knows what he wants to do.”
“Well, what do you want to do then?” Jane asks, her tone the unmistakably mimicked tone of a guidance counselor.
“Shawn doesn’t know everything,” Penny says with the exhale of her smoke, by which she means, Shawn doesn’t know anything.
Penny never normally smokes in front of Jane, but feels the need to make an exception in a conversation like this: Jane doesn’t usually speak to her this way, and Penny feels the limpid, transformative newness of the give-and-take. She’ll smoke in front of Jane now because Jane wants to be treated like an adult, though Penny takes great pains in her precision of how gradual that process will be.
“I want to be a chef,” Penny blurts out, the tone just as aped and just as familiar, and therefore just as false. She has no idea how to cook and doesn’t really care about it, either, but her point about not having to commit yourself to whatever you’re good at actually sounded sensible. And anyway, the profession has taken on a sort of generic, catch-all use in her mind: if Shawn can lay claim to culinary aspirations without ever pursuing them, why can’t anyone? The truth, Penny thinks as she shifts gears to first and cruises in the parking lot, looking for a spot, is that everything she wants is defined in the negative. But all of those negative desires are the truest, feel the truest: she doesn’t want to be her mother, or to be Penny Riggs, or to play music or live in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, or, honestly, to be a chef. But how to explain that to a thirteen-year-old? How to communicate such a no-holds-barred knowledge of her own limitations to a girl who, in all sincerity, thinks she’s going to grow up to be a basketball star? It doesn’t matter anyway, because as Penny pulls into a parking spot, Jane is shedding her basketball uniform in the passenger seat and tying the florescent-pink spaghetti straps of a bikini top behind her neck. Penny watches the sweaty intramural basketball shirt fall limply on the ground in the back seat, temporarily forgotten. That night, she and Shawn reach the boardwalk as it’s closing down, but he knows a guy, he says, and they’re let in as long as they promise to be out by midnight. They pass a group of teenage girls, one with braces, one in a bathing suit bottom and a sweatshirt, one with ass-length bleach-blonde hair, holding giant prize SpongeBob Squarepantses and cotton candy. This is a fucking carnival, Penny thinks. They’ll be going back home after this, but this is where I live. They remind her of what she was like at that age, skinny as a stick and nonplussed by the boys in her grade. She remembers Jennah, her best friend, whom she used to stroll the boardwalk with, looking for trouble, when funnel cake was the perfect and only way to cap off a summer day, when summer was only one of the seasons she liked. “What are you thinking about?” asks Shawn. She squeezes his hand a few times like a pulse, and then looks at his face, tan from the locale with pale blue eyes, and says, “I want to be free.” He puts his arm around her shoulder and turns her towards the beach. They walk down to the sand and he points towards the ocean, vast and dark and seemingly bottomless. “Look at that. How does that make you feel?” She is irritated by it. Small, is the answer, not free. She doesn’t want him to try and be poetic. She wants him to know that she’s trapped right now, with him, and that there wasn’t any other way for her to say it. He lays out the towel that he’s brought with him, in a spot where no one will bother them. “Are you okay?” he asks, in that rhetorical way that boys do at times like these. “I’m fine,” she says, evenly. He keeps his hand on her head; she keeps her teeth out of the way. He tastes like others do, but he doesn’t take as long. As they finish she tells him, “I can’t stay over tonight. I’ve got Janey in the morning.”
“Yeah, Shawn,” she says, “I’m sure that’ll be a barrel of laughs for a thirteen-year-old. I’m sure she wants nothing more than to spend her summer off at Sears.” But she says it with venom, as if to say, No one should want to spend their summer at Sears. No one should want to
“You should bring her by the store,” he says. “I could show you the units we have in.”
spend any part of their life at a Sears. He hears it, too, and what makes her feel worst is how sorry she isn’t. The next day, watching Jane fight the waves, Penny recognizes her other favorite thing about summer. Jane looks comical, a string bean spec in the endlessness of the water. She fights the waves with Ahabian determination, slapping them loudly as they pass through her and struggling to stand with each one. Penny does her best to suppress a smile and turns back to Dostoyevsky. The crazy things that happen to the characters in the book remind her of that feeling she had, that the heat means something’s coming, that things have been the same for too long and that something is going to give. A change is coming, she thinks, but it occurs to her that she doesn’t quite know how change works: does it come to you, or do you have to move toward it? She looks up to check on Jane and can’t find her in the ocean, can’t pick her out of the bodies that litter the point where the water meets the sand. She spots her, eventually, on the side, talking to a boy with a surfboard. Jane’s laughing and rubbing the sand with her big toe, and hits him playfully before she runs back to the blanket, her hair wet and separated into strands. “That was fast,” Penny says. “You just went in ten minutes ago.” “Ten minutes in the water is a long time.” “Usually you’re out there for an hour hitting those waves.” Jane tilts her head and bangs a few times on her left ear to get the water out. “I’m getting a little old for that.” “Who’s your boyfriend?” “Huh?” she asks, looking back to see if he’s still there. “Oh, I don’t know. Just some boy. Brian, I think.” She fakes nonchalance like a thirteen-year-old. “How old is he?” “Fifteen I think.” Jane dries off and lies back on her chair, sliding the straps of her bathing suit over her shoulder and closing her eyes. Penny squints, confused at this girl who until recently did not know, in any significant way, what tan lines were. On the phone, Penny paints her nails as Shawn talks to her. “It reached a hundred and two today,” he says. “No way.” “It did. They said on the radio. People were coming in all day and talking about how hot it was. Some of them were just coming in to cool off.” “Nobody goes to a hardware store to cool off. That’s what pools and the ocean are for.”
She cringes at the word “unit.” Units are living spaces that realtors give tours of, units are measurements of time that physicists study. They’re not units, she thinks. They’re air conditioners. Who the fuck do you think you are? She hears her mother walk into the house and
“I’m telling you,” he says, “I’m just telling you what I heard. You guys really should get a unit in your house. It’ll be cheap. I can install it myself…”
checks the clock; it’s eleven, so Penny assumes she went out drinking at the tiki bar down the street. She listens as her mother’s keys hit the table and fall to the floor, as the refrigerator door opens and closes, and as the opening guitar line from “Roxanne” creeps its way, muffled, out from behind Jane’s door. Those opening bars have always struck Penny as the eeriest ones she’d ever learned to play. “Penny?” She shakes it off and continues painting her nails. “What?” “I said, are you babysitting tomorrow?” “I don’t think so. I think she has basketball camp,” she says, and immediately regrets it. “So come over then. I can’t remember the last time you slept here.” Friday, she thinks. The TV is on mute; Jon Stewart is pulling his tie and making a face next to a graphic of Alberto Gonzalez that says ‘Hearing Problems.’ “Can I take a shower first?” “Shower here. You’ll just end up getting sweaty anyway.” She lets the conversation halt for a moment until he says, “Yeah, fine. I don’t care. I’ll see ya in a half an hour.” She hangs up the phone as he’s saying ‘Bye, babe,’ and she finishes her thumb. She can still hear the Police, barely audible, now telling perverted teachers not to stand so close to them. She looks at the Beach Boys poster on the wall and thinks of Drew, who gave it to her, the only birthday present she ever received in high school that wasn’t alcoholic, or menthol flavored. Shawn once told her a story about fans greeting Brian Wilson backstage after a concert during the years that Wilson lost his mind, complimenting him on the show, and when Wilson said thank you and asked their names, they said, “We’re your kids.” Shawn thought the story was hilarious, but to Penny it just added a layer to his songs that’s so sad it’s almost unbearable. It added new meaning to titles like ‘Smile’ and ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.’ Brian Wilson’s gaze on the poster is intense, and she wonders what it must be like to have that intensity, to be so serious, to never let anything simply pass by, especially not life. She thinks of this, rolls off her bed, slips on her sandals, and walks down the stairs, as if to say, Sorry, world. I give up.
It was in his basement after band practice. Everyone had gone home and they were smoking cigarettes, trying to think of things to do. He asked her why she was going out with
Penny thinks about what Jane’s dating life will be like, when she gets one. Penny had been one of those who developed breasts much earlier than the other girls; she had a leg-up on everyone by the time she was thirteen. She had already had braces on and off by then, she had already pierced her ears (her mother made a deal with her—pierced ears for good grades—so she aced her classes for one marking period and then continued not paying attention). She had her first boyfriend by seventh grade, and had had sex with Drew, her first, at fourteen.
The next few weeks are the same, of course: she stays over Shawn’s some nights, and some nights she doesn’t; she decides to paint her nails black and white, like piano keys; she gives up on Crime and Punishment three hundred pages in, as she usually does; she cleans the house. But one thing changes, slightly: she still goes to the beach with Jane, but now Jane is spending the time there with this Brian person. There never seems to be a specific date, or meeting time. They just seek each other out and swim together. Penny has begun to watch them, glancing above her sunglasses every two minutes or so. Jane laughs much more often than she normally would, and Penny wonders if she learned this trick from her older sister. Last week Jane’s bikini strap slipped—in what could only be a planned accident—off her shoulder, and he fixed it for her.
Kyle, her boyfriend at the time, and she told him, although she can’t remember the answer now. And then she asked him who he’d been with, and then it went from truth to dares, from dares to alcohol, from alcohol to flashing, to fooling around, to sex. It seems ridiculous and cheap when she thinks about it now, but it was exciting then. It hurt, yes, but it was a bigger rush than Bacardi or weed ever gave her. Why, she often wonders now, was that more romantic than moonlit, adult sex on a beach with her boyfriend of six months? Jane runs back from the water, her hair stringy, her bathing suit folding up on top of the first signs of breasts. “Hey,” she says distractedly, “I’m gonna go for a walk on the boardwalk with Ryan.” “I thought his name was Brian,” Penny says. “Ryan. I’ll be back in a little bit.” “You said his name was Brian,” she says, but the comment falls flat: Jane is already running back to Brianryan’s towel. In Shawn’s bed, Penny jolts forward violently from a nightmare she can’t quite remember. It had something to do with Shawn and her, having sex in the ocean. She can’t remember anything else, save for a girl who was in the background: someone she didn’t recognize except that she looked vaguely like herself at age fourteen, and a bit like Jane, too, but otherwise a stranger. What had she been doing there, this girl that Penny didn’t know? She can’t remember anything except for her face, which bothers her still, now, as she looks at Shawn, who doesn’t budge. She is sweating, shaking. Pillows are all over the floor, except Shawn’s own. She runs to the bathroom to catch her breath, and looks at herself in the mirror. Dark circles have begun to appear below her eyes. Her breasts don’t sag, but they’re lower than they used to be. Her eyes are bloodshot. She needs sleep. She walks back out to the bedroom and picks up two pillows. She puts one behind her head, one between her legs. Shawn rolls over and spoons her. “Everything all right?” he whispers, half-asleep. She doesn’t answer. He’s in the haze of sleep and she knows from experience that she could have an entire conversation with him when he’s like this, and tomorrow morning he won’t remember a thing. But her side of the conversation sticks with her anyway: she’s suddenly aware of all the things that are on the tip of her tongue, all the words stuck in her throat like a too-full bite of his chicken cutlets, all the statements stuck on her lips like cottonmouth. The conclusion is so simple, it’s no wonder it’s taken so long to come to: I can go, she thinks, and smiles so broadly that she almost laughs, but thinks better of it. I can just fucking go! Her future, she realizes, isn’t just defined in the negative, because not being Penny Riggs also means being Penny Someone Else, Penny Wilson or Miller or Torres or whoever the hell else she might meet, or—and this thought thrills her most of all—even just Penny, Penny No One Else, Penny Herself. Penny Whoever, so long as she’s not tethered to Shawn, and therefore to Sears, and therefore to Point Pleasant, and therefore to anything.
The following Tuesday, a month after they first saw Brianryan on the beach, he comes to the house. Penny was supposed to go out with Shawn tonight, but her mother wants her to keep
The decision’s been made: she’s going to leave him soon. She strokes his hand, closing her eyes. She’ll miss him.
an eye on Jane while she has a boy over. Babysitting has never been so easy. She doesn’t even need The Fairly Oddparents to keep Jane busy tonight. Brianryan arrives and Penny lets him in. Penny’s on the couch so she tells them they’ll have to hang out somewhere else—on the deck, or in Jane’s room, as long as they’re in plain sight of her. She turns on the TV and watches Best Week Ever. Britney Spears checked into rehab. Meg White had a fake sex tape hit the internet. Jane turns on Sublime, increasing the volume so that their voices become barely audible. Kiefer Sutherland’s been arrested for drunk driving. Adrienne Curry made a racist statement on her website, but Penny doesn’t know what because she can’t hear it. “Jesus, Janey, turn it down!” Jane pops her head out, laughing at something. “What?” “I said turn it down! Christ, you could hear me if it weren’t so loud.” “Come on! Who cares? You’re just watching TV.” “Yeah, and I can barely fucking hear it, Jane, now turn it down before I kick him out!” Jane rolls her eyes. Instead of turning down the music, she closes her door to muffle it. The Olsen Twins are having the Best Week Ever, audibly now. The phone rings and Penny doesn’t even want to look, she’s so depressed by the inevitability of her own life. “Hi, Shawn.” “Are you sitting down?” She stands up. “Yes.” “Good, because guess what?” She walks to the kitchen and hunts through the empty packs of cigarettes for a fresh one. “Hun?” he says. “Guess what?” “What?” she says, as though she had already asked. “I got a raise!” he says like a little kid. For once, he’s ignored her mood, hasn’t let it bring him down; she can hear it in his voice and, oddly, that makes her happier for him. “Really? That’s great, Shawn.” She walks outside and smokes her menthol, picking at the plastic grass on their porch. “Yeah. So why don’t we go to dinner tomorrow night? Your choice.” “No, come on. It’s your promotion. It should be your choice,” she says, and means it. She is endlessly grateful for how sincere she can be at a time like this. “I don’t care where we go. I just want to take you out to, you know, discuss things.” She does know. She’s known for a while that this is his plan. She takes a puff and lets the orange illuminate her fingers, and then blows out her thought with the smoke.
She hangs up the phone and walks inside, feeling cold and mean. She looks at the phone for a moment until something catches her eye. There is no light coming from underneath Jane’s bedroom door. There is still music, but no light. Even to Penny, someone who resents the job with vigor, this feels as though she is being a bad babysitter.
“Not yet,” she says. There is silence from the other end and she knows she’s disappointed him. “I have to go check on Jane.”
She walks towards the door slowly, and puts her ear against it to hear what’s going on. The music is drowning out everything. Maybe they went out, and she didn’t see? She knocks. No answer. She knocks again, louder. Still nothing. The acoustics have been set up in the room so that nothing outside can be heard. She knows because she’s the one who arranged them that way. She opens the door, just a crack, not enough for light to pour in but enough to see a slice of what’s going on. She doesn’t see much, except for long, skinny string bean legs, and a masculine elbow moving up and down, up and down, awkwardly, fast and without grace of any kind. Penny can’t hear anything, until the weary, dry, drained sound that breaks her heart: achingly, but very quietly and slowly, she hears Jane’s voice, saying, “No.” Before Penny knows what’s happening, she has a tuft of Brianryan’s hair in her hand and she’s ripping his entire slimy, lanky, teenage body out of her old bed and off of Jane. He begins to protest, but before he can get the entire word “bitch” out, Penny is literally kicking his ass out of their screen door, where he trips down their steps. He pauses only for a second on the sidewalk, where Penny grabs an empty vodka bottle from the front porch and launches it at his head, full speed. “What the fuck!” he shouts, his voice cracking on “what,” and then he runs away. Penny waits on the porch for a moment, heaving and looking at nothing in particular, just their street at night, which now, in late August, has fewer visitors than earlier in the summer. Everything is very apparent to her right now: the air is thick and warm, buzzing. The paint on the side of the house is flaking up in little curly-Q’s, chipped and cracked but also, it occurs to her, pristine in that broken sort of way. A pang rises up in her stomach so strongly that for a moment she thinks she may vomit, until she realizes that it isn’t nausea. Last week she got into the shower and she didn’t know her mother hadn’t paid the gas bill, and when the ice-cold water touched her skin she recoiled and thought it was too hot, thought it was burning her, and she was fascinated by the fact that before your brain registers the logic of the situation, those two extremes—hot and cold—can be mistaken for one another. All you know is the feeling it gives you, all you know is that it hurts. The feeling in her stomach is like that, and the only way she can think to describe this to herself is that she feels awake. She forms this sentence in her own head to make sense of it: I feel awake. The music inside suddenly stops, and she waits a moment before going back in. The bedroom door is closed again. Penny knocks. “Janey?” She can hear the covers of her bed being thrown around. “Janey?” Penny whispers again. “You want a cigarette?” Penny doesn’t expect an answer any time soon, so she goes back outside and smokes one herself. She hears laughter faintly, in the distance, coming from towards the ocean. The laughter comes out in little giggles, uninhibited. The door opens behind her, and Penny doesn’t turn around. Jane sits down next to her, and Penny hands her the cigarette she’s smoking. “Have the rest.”
Jane takes the menthol and looks vaguely sick, but otherwise unchanged. Penny picks some fake grass from the front porch.
“I should quit anyway.”
“You sure?” Jane asks.
“It’s really fucking hot,” she says. “Yeah,” says Jane. “Can we get an air conditioner?”
“Feel the breeze. We don’t need one.” The giggling is louder now, it sounds like it’s next to them. They look down at the sidewalk and see three young girls, ten or eleven years old, lit by the streetlight. They’re carrying prizes from the boardwalk, and one trips over her flip-flop as they walk past. Jane takes a drag and leans back on the porch. Penny smells the air and the ocean; she can feel herself get carried away by the breeze, like steam, she is rising hotly through the leaves, and she fans herself, softly, with one hand, to cool off.
“Contagious”, 2011, oil on canvas, 56 X 54" by Samantha Palmeri
â€œLaundry meat after a funeral", 2011, oil on canvas, 44X44 by Samantha Palmeri
the recipient of a 2011 Individual Artist Fellowship from the New State Council on the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. An force in the cultural community, Ms. Palmeri was a teaching artist for years, and the owner and director of the Catherine Street Gallery in Island from 1999-2001.
She is Jersey active over 5 Staten
Samantha Palmeri is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts.
Currently she is the creative director of The Intersection, a collaborative performing artist group based in NJ. Ms. Palmeri is in the process of opening an art gallery with fellow artist Dawn McDonnell in Manahawkin, NJ. Set to open Nov/Dec. this year, the gallery will feature local and national artists, as well as a classroom, gift shop and lounge for local artists, musicians & poets.
"Laundry meat", 2011, oil on canvas, 50X50 by Samantha Palmeri
All Rights in Reservations 2009-11