Sisyphus The St. Louis University High School Magazine of Art and Literature LITERARY EDITORS
Justin Dussold Jacob Hilmes Noah Weber Emil Beckford Hap Burke Sam Fentress Garret Fox Matt Smith LAYOUT EDITORS
Jacob Hilmes Sam Fentress Giuseppe Vitellaro
Patrick Conrey Thomas Williams Jacob Colvis Giuseppe Vitellaro Nick Bentz Jack MacDonald
Frank Kovarik Rich Moran
Manuscripts are considered anonymously. Thanks to all who offered their artwork and writing for consideration.
Special thanks to John Mueller, Joan Bugnitz, Matt Sciuto, Ben DuMont, and Mitchell Shorey.
Sisyphus Spring 2014 Golden cover photos by Ben Banet Inside front cover drawing by Nick Bentz Inside rear print by Paul Fister Wintry cover photo by Thomas Williams “Hip hop” inside cover photo by Casey Chura
1 photograph by Ben Banet 3 To the Kid Who Liked Water Fountains, poetry by Austin Strifler 4 photograph by Ben Banet 5 Antigravity, fiction by Hap Burke 6 A World That Just Don’t Exist, fiction by Noah Weber 6 photograph by Ben Banet 9 photograph by Ben Banet 10 photograph by Casey Chura 12 photograph by Ben Banet 15 Planet of a Small Mind, poetry by Adam Lux 16 photograph by Thomas Williams 17 Natural Order, microfiction by Ian Lewchenko 17 Distant, microfiction by David Szatkowski 18 drawing by Nolen Doorack 19 Bad Apple, fiction by Gabe Miller 20 drawing by Chip Austin 23 photograph by Emil Beckford 24 photograph by Casey Chura 25 Where Beauty Lies, poetry by Adam Lux 26 photograph by Casey Chura 27 Understatement, poetry by Austin Strifler 28 Ditch, prose by David Schmelter 29 photograph by Jack Barbey 31 photograph by Jack Barbey 33 photograph by Ben Banet 34 Aktion T4, poetry by Austin Strifler 34 photograph by Casey Chura 35 A Birthday Present, fiction by Zach Voss 35 print by David Greaves 36 drawing by Alix Warner 37 drawing by Joe Fentress 38 The Girl Stars Died For, prose by Adam Lux
39 photograph by Ben Banet 40-41 photo by Ben Banet 42 The Death of Satan, fiction by Justin Dussold 42 photograph by Andrew Gilkerson 45 photograph by Andrew Gilkerson 47 photograph by Andrew Gilkerson 49 Mama Bird, poetry by Jack Kiehl 50 Brakes, prose by Kevin Thomas 50 photograph by Adam Lux 51 Ralph’s Anti-Diner, satire by Noah Weber 52 photograph by Thomas Williams 53 The Postcard, prose by Adam Lux 54 Red Devil, nonfiction by Ben DuMont 55 photograph by Ben Banet 56 Primus Dies Ludi, poetry by Mark Robinson 57 Wingdings, poetry by Kevin Thomas 57 design by Pat Conrey 58 Ashes Ashes, fiction by Tristan Finazzo 59 photograph by Sam Beckmann 60 photograph by Ben Banet 61 Hannibal, prose by Jacob Hilmes 62 photograph by Sam Beckmann 63 photograph by Joseph Mueller 64 Alliterated Life Lesson, poetry by Joe Salamon 65 “Why Are There Holes in the Table?” poetry by Wisdom Akpan 66 Beautiful World, fiction by Hap Burke 67 photograph by Casey Chura 70 photograph by Ben Banet 72 photograph by Sam Beckmann 73 photograph by Casey Chura 74 The Treasure, fiction by Stephen Baumgartner 75 photograph by Ben Banet 77 Then We Reach the Top, prose by Noah Weber 77 Mating Call, fiction by Gabe Miller 78 Fore! fiction by Mark Robinson 78 pastel by Dan Mudd 79 Burn, poem by Austin Strifler 80 Fallout, fiction by Matt Whalen 80 Secret Agent Timmy, fiction by Alex Peraud
To the Kid Who Liked Water Fountains Austin Strifler One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi, Four Mississippi, But don’t drink the whole Mississippi. Knowing you is like crossing a river Because no words flow from your mouth, But “do it do it do it,” Providing your own beat to life’s music, The music that opens the floodgates Of your heart and mine The music that acts as a key to your mind The music that lets you tell us What you want What you think You want a drink. As you sip I see That you are an endless sea. You are like the water That brings both life And drowning death. Your mind, That makes you one of us, Also makes you One of them.
photograph by Ben Banet
Antigravity Hap Burke
t’s like this: You won’t remember much—life is fickle, giving and taking memories as easily as the rat-tat beat of fresh rain—but you swear you’ll never forget the look on that little girl’s face when her little red balloon defied gravity and drifted out of her short reach last Sunday morning. And she had it coming, too. For she loosened her grip, she slackened the string, and the little red balloon, yearning and pining for a loftier future, chased higher and higher. She hadn’t even noticed at first—the change was quite gradual. Perhaps the lollipop stuck in her cherry-red mouth had tasted a bit too good, or her little ankle-high brother had cried a bit too loudly, but one way or another, the little red balloon had left center-stage. And even after her mother sagely warned her to clutch tightly to the white ribbon that bound the balloon to earth, the girl’s grip became ineffectual and the balloon had lost interest in lower altitudes altogether. It was gone now, and with it, the girl’s short, drifting joy. You had never seen anyone so devastated. She had sobbed, all right, and even the mother’s soft, calming whispers did nothing to soothe her. And as she toddled away, holding her mother’s hand in one and not holding a balloon in the other, all you could think about was that it was just another stupid little red balloon.
A World That Just Don’t Exist Noah Weber
push open the old wooden door of Sandymount Strand and the smell of books blows into me like a cool breeze and slides up into my brain. I smile. More than anything else about Sandymount, I love booksmell. But there’s a lot to love about Sandymount. I love the way we have too many books for the too-tiny shelves, and so the overflow piles up everywhere against the walls. I love the way toward the back you can go up this little flight of stairs onto this little half-sized upper level and look out over the rest of the store like you’re in somebody’s personal library, or like that upper level is
the balcony of some romantic French restaurant, and below you Parisians shop for their Hemingway and Joyce. I love the way the aisles on the first floor are far enough apart that you can navigate them okay, but close enough together that nobody can pass anyone, meaning when you look for a book in an aisle, that whole aisle—and it feels like something even bigger than just that aisle— belongs only to you. Then I see Ramona’s inside. She’s standing there next to Linda looking up and away from everything like she has a habit of doing—like she doesn’t even notice the people photograph by Ben Banet
below her gaze. Like she’s looking into the future. She keeps standing there with her hands in her pockets and doesn’t move when Linda says, “Stephen!” and comes over to give me one of those not quite a hug, not quite a handshake things. “This is—come on, come on,” and she calls Ramona over. “This is Ramona, she—” “We’ve met,” Ramona says, not exactly rudely, more matter-of-factly. And it’s true. I met Ramona a few years ago when she moved to Seattle from Brooklyn. Her dad was one of those rich dads who made sure his children still worked for a living. She was always talking about how she hated her jobs at Subway or the movie theatre, and I was always just happy she was talking to me. After a few more failed attempts to mediate our conversation, Linda retreats to her office and leaves Ramona and me alone. “So how’d you get this job?” I ask. “Dad’s a friend of Linda’s. They went to college together or something.” She starts walking up and down the aisles and I follow behind her as she talks. “They made this agreement, right? Linda mentioned she was short on staff and Dad said I needed work. It’s like I’m the fatted calf in the dowry of their marriage.” And then she turns around abruptly and looks directly at me, her voice a little quieter now. “Or at least the marriage Linda wishes they had. I swear to Christ, if you saw the way she looked at him. The other day when they were making this arrangement about me, she kept complimenting him all pathetically on his clothes or his hair and making all these remarks about how he’s never aged a bit. It’s like—why don’t you just take off his pants already and suck his dick?” I always loved Ramona’s frankness, the way she was able to talk about her father’s genitals like he was some guy in school she’d never really met. Talking to her always felt so easy, mostly because I hardly spoke any of the words anytime we talked. But I admired
the way she was so sure of herself—the way she was so sure of everyone around her. More than anyone else I knew, Ramona could see through all the cloudy mirrors that surround everyone in the world and look right into a person. Each time she talked with me about someone, it was like I was meeting that person for the first time. It was like I had only vaguely gotten to know the person before her, but then she would say something about them I knew to be true, and I’d realize only then did I really know the person. It was beautiful.
he first time I ever really talked with her was a couple of years back at lunch one day when she was still new to our school. She’d moved in maybe a month or so before then. It was back before she really had any good friends, and she was sitting in the cafeteria alone with a little knit beanie on that seemed to block her out from everybody else. She was hunched over and small. But I walked over there and sat down because, why not, and she sat up and smiled but didn’t say a word. So I started the introducing and the talking, and then she finally got going. “I’ve got this game,” she said, a little excited. And she didn’t wait for me to ask what the game was before continuing. “See that guy over there?” she asked, pointing across the room. There were a bunch of guys over there, but it looked like she was talking about Rich Atman, who I hardly knew at all. “Do you know him?” “Not really.” “Okay. So, what we do is we just look at him and we tell each other his life story. And then we decide which one of us is right.” I was suspicious of how this would play out, but certainly intrigued by the proposition. “How are we supposed to do that?” “That’s why it’s a game. Just look at him. He’s been growing out his hair these past few
years because his mom doesn’t like his poetry, and neither does the girl he’s been trying to get with. So he picked up bass guitar and probably smokes a little pot. Back in middle school everyone thought he was the smartest kid in school, but these days he’d rather mope around and eat Cheetos at home than hang out with anyone. His dad left him and his mom when—” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. How can you tell just by looking at him that his da—” “He’s got a bunch of acne and he’s growing out that creepy unibrow moustache thing. Clearly he’s stressed frequently and doesn’t have a strong enough male figure in his life to tell him the worm on his lip needs to die. I mean, it’s like you’re not even looking at him!” She was only partially joking, I think, with that last line. I could tell even though it was fun for her, she took the game pretty seriously. Watching Ramona pass judgment on my peers was like watching Shakespeare write his sonnets. This was what she was born to do. It wasn’t much of a game, though. Ramona would explain that one girl’s wolf sweater was a sign that her only real friend in school had just moved away, and so now she wore quirky wolf sweaters because she didn’t feel she fit in, and since wolf sweaters were a weird wannabe hipster thing these days, she thought maybe if she could get one or two people to say, “Hey, cool sweater,” she would feel like she had a purpose in life. I would say maybe the girl just liked wolves. And so Ramona won each round. Then lunch was over, and right as we were packing up to leave I said, “Okay, so I mean you hardly even know me, right? This is the first we’ve ever met. What’s my life story?” I was smiling a little, like I’d trapped her. But like I said the game was serious business to her, so she squinted her eyes up and down my whole body before speaking. “Your mom and dad have raised you like
they’d want a kid to be. You probably like reading and watching dopey movies with your family. I want to say you’re an only child, judging from the way you don’t really see anything in anyone. You—” “What’s that supposed to mean?” I interrupted. “Like, if you had a little sister you’d be able to see that a person can be all warm and fuzzy on the outside and ruthless on the inside. You only ever see what people are like on the surface. Like today with the game— you never think about why anybody does anything. Most of the people in your life have been good to you, so you never think about what a person means when they do something.” Then she paused for a minute to pick up more of her trash before uttering the line that ruined me forever. “It’s cute.”
ight around the time Ramona started working with us, I started realizing Linda was obnoxious. It took fresh eyes to point out how fake and manipulative Linda could be. She came from Iowa and acted like she loved everybody. Anytime a customer came in, she’d try to talk to them instead of just letting them shop. Every so often she would even hold the door for them when they left. Ramona pointed out to me how pathetically indebted Linda was to all of our customers. She didn’t have that much money herself, so her customers’ money was her money. If it meant holding the door open for them or practically begging at their feet to buy more books, at the end of the day she was going to do it. Linda was always reminding us that independent bookstores were dying, and if we wanted to stay alive, we had to convince the same people to keep coming back to the same store. Her reasoning was that since we had lower name recognition than, say, Barnes & Noble, we would never stay open by trying to get a bunch of new people to shop with us,
so we had to get the same optimistic, maybe even altruistic folks to “Save the whales,” in a way. Save the bookstores. Or, ours, at least. Plenty of wealthy Seattleites liked the store enough to keep us running without these extra efforts on our part. Most of people in the store’s neighborhood had huge earnings from the tech industry and kept us around. But Linda’s way of keeping people coming, of making sure our customers, “Don’t feel at home, but are at home,” was Thought You Might Likes. Every Friday for an extra hour after we closed, Ramona and I would have to go back to the little office area behind the counter where the stack of blank stationery paper with goofy little book-and-pen border pictures sat, and we’d handwrite our weekly letters to the people who had given us their addresses by joining our frequent buyers club. Basically they would go like this: Dear Edward, Thanks for shopping at Sandymount Strand! Local bookstores like us need loyal customers like you. We noticed you recently purchased The Sound and the Fury. That’s quite an impressive endeavor. Hope you’ve been making some progress. If you’re interested, we here at the Strand thought you might like Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! It’s narrated mostly by Quentin Compson from The Sound and the Fury and follows the life of Thomas Sutpen, a white man born into poverty in
photograph by Ben Banet
western Virginia who comes to Mississippi with the complementary aims of gaining wealth and becoming a powerful family patriarch. This selection is available today at the Strand, and if there are any other works that interest you that we don’t have right now, we would be happy to order them. As always, Edward, we thank you humbly for your patronage. Hope to see you again soon! The Sandymount Team Anytime a buyer’s club member bought from us we’d enter the name into a program that kept track of every purchase they’d ever made so we could write to them what purchases they should make next. I don’t even know if this was legal. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be, but it always struck me as invasive. Linda assured us that if anybody asked to stop getting the letters we’d stop sending them, but nobody ever asked to stop receiving the letters—everyone loved them. They worked just as they were supposed to. Nobody even seemed to notice that the book descriptions were directly copied from the first lines of Wikipedia articles. They loved getting their cute little handwritten letters on the cute little stationery with the cute little thank you phrases on it. Thought You Might Likes made physical the aura of quaintness that automatically clouded all independent bookstores, and sure enough week after week the same people would come in and either buy the books we’d recommend or not, but they’d return to the store all the same. And while other stores like ours collapsed into bankruptcy, a handful of dedicated chosen people held open the old wooden door of Sandymount Strand each day against the blistering winds of a dying industry. Despite Linda’s insisting that the letters made us everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood bookstore, Ramona kept pointing out that they seemed so damn insincere, and I agreed. Sure we took the time to write people and thank them for supporting us, but at the end of the day we were inviting
them back not just so we could say hello, but so they could buy more of our stuff. At the end of the day, we were a bunch of scheming hypnotists, coaxing our customers into doing our will. Take this one guy who comes into the store all the time and buys the books we tell him to. He asked Linda to help him look for some Chaucer one day—he was always reading old stuff like that. He’s maybe a little older than Ramona and me. Anyway, Ramona walked over to Linda and him that day and said, “What’s going on here?” and Linda explained what was going on there. “I was just telling him I thought Chaucer might be a little old-fashioned for a handsome young gentlemen like himself,” Linda said with a chuckle. Ramona groaned and mumbled something like “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Then she looked right at the Chaucer guy and said, “Look, get whatever
book you want to get. You don’t have to listen to her.” Linda looked puzzled. “But I was just telling him he might be interested in some more modern—” “Just get whatever book you want,” Ramona said again. The guy was already holding a hardcover copy of the collected poems of T. S. Eliot I assume Linda had picked out for him. He looked a little overwhelmed at the exchange. “Ramona, if you’ll excuse the two of us,” Linda said. “I’d appreciate it if we dealt with this—whatever this is—in a bit.” But Ramona was already walking back toward me while Linda was still speaking, and the guy finally just said, “You know, I think I’m good for today,” and left without buying anything. Ever since Ramona’s dad wangled her into the job at Sandymount, Ramona and Linda’s relationship had been a tundra frozen
photograph by Casey Chura
over with no hope of anything ever growing back. Ramona was always doing destructive little things in the store to make Linda upset, like shelving Ann Coulter under “Fiction,” or flipping every other book on a shelf upside down so we could watch the customer’s head shift from tilting left to tilting right to tilting left while struggling to read the spines. She and Linda never agreed on anything. Ramona once called Thought You Might Likes “Insincere bullshit bourgeoisie gimmickpiss” to Linda’s face, and called Linda “a whore running a brothel in a town hungry for fauxculture kitschy bookstore prostitution” behind her back. “What was that about?” I asked Ramona as Linda walked way off to the back of the store to shelve the Eliot collection the Chaucer guy had left. “Weren’t you watching?” Ramona replied, certainly loud enough for Linda to have heard. But then she got all hushed up. “Didn’t you hear what she called him? ‘A handsome young man like yourself.’ See, that’s exactly what I was talking about with her and my dad.” She was really fired up and seemed on to something. “She always makes men think she’s this sweet little lady, but she’s just a fiery bitch with ulterior motives that could kill. Did you see what book she was having him buy?” I hadn’t gotten an especially close look at it. “I don’t know, some T. S. Eliot thing, right?” “Yeah, but it was this crazy special hardcover edition of all his poems. The thing cost, like, twenty bucks!” And I knew what she was getting at. The Chaucer paperback he had wanted to buy cost maybe four or five dollars. So Linda figured she could coax a little more out of him than that. When Linda came back up by the counter, I saw in her eyes the intricate and relentless planning of a slithering politician, squeezing extra cash out of her unsuspecting
victims under the guise of her sweet Midwestern charm.
few months later and it’s Friday. Linda doesn’t work on Fridays or Saturdays, so Ramona and I close up the store and go back into Linda’s windowless office to start our letter writing. I sit down at the old tan computer and pull up the spreadsheet with all the frequent buyers on it. Ramona’s hunched over the little card table behind me where the giant stack of stationery paper looms over a nearly equally tall mound of empty envelopes. I’m just starting my first letter when she speaks. “You gotta see what I’ve been up to,” she says. I don’t really hear her at first because I’m finishing a sentence, and I don’t want to start writing what she’s saying instead of what I’m thinking, so I put a period after “loyal customers like you,” drop my pen, and say, “Huh?” “I said you gotta see what I’ve been doing these past few nights. Here.” And she reaches down into her bag and pulls out a huge stack of envelopes, ripping the top one open and shoving the paper it contained into my hands. I think I know what it is. “Linda doesn’t want us to type our Tho—” “Just read it,” she says. And I do. Dear Theresa, Thank you for shopping at Sandymount Strand! Local bookstores like us need loyal customers like you. In fact, we desperately need them. Truth is, there just aren’t enough goodhearted people like you left in the world anymore. Which is why it is with great regret that I inform you of the imminent closing of our store. In a turbulent economy like the one we have weathered these past few years, it’s a wonder we were able to survive this long. Rest assured our prolonged business was all thanks to you and others like you. To celebrate your patronage, we invite you and the rest of our frequent buyers to an exclusive blowout sale next
Monday. All items will be at least 50% off. We hope to see you there! The Sandymount Team Right away I look up at her and say, “Are you really going to send this to people?” When she nods, I know I’m holding the equivalent of Ramona’s—and maybe my own—resignation. Even worse, if she sends these out they’ll probably cause Linda to lose enough business for her to actually go bankrupt. She’ll be the weird lady who lies about her store closing for attention. But only a few parts of me are thinking things like that. There are a lot of parts of me, and nearly all of them are the parts that look up at a beautiful, grinning Ramona while I hold the letter, smile at her weakly, and squeeze out a small, “That’ll be pretty funny.” “Funny?” she says kind of offended. “It’s brilliant!” She’s not looking at me anymore, but up and over me, like there’s some great joke in the way the clock on the wall ticks. “Linda doesn’t even know what she’s talking
photograph by Ben Banet
about half the time. She’s all horny and crazy, and she’s always having us write these obnoxious letters to obnoxious people all in the name of getting them to buy our shit! She’s a manipulator, Stephen, don’t you see it?” And I do. Ramona had voiced my exact opinions on Thought You Might Likes, and I began to see our customers like the losers Ramona
had always known them to be, swooned by the Siren song of Sandymount’s quaintness. She takes the letter back from me and puts it in a new envelope. Somewhere I’m thinking that I’ve generally enjoyed my job at the store, and that Linda doesn’t really deserve this kind of sabotage. But like I said, I hardly ever say anything when I’m with Ramona. And I don’t now either. After a few more minutes of almost talking, I finally just pick up my backpack, tell Ramona in the most genuine tone I can muster that I think the letters will be excellent and that she’s brilliant, and leave the room before I can change my mind.
got to work an hour early on Monday and Ramona must have already been there because the door was open. I wanted to get there before Linda. Before the mob. Without giving any explanation, Ramona hadn’t come in on Saturday, so it had been just me all day. I’d stood there wondering if she’d really sent the letters. I was pretty sure the post office delivered less on Saturdays, so maybe even if she sent them not everyone would get them in time. But even if thirty letters were delivered and thirty people showed up, there’d be about twenty more people in the store than we were used to having at any one time. It’d be packed, and they’d all be going crazy buying stuff. I imagined shoppers trampling each other for deals, tearing up every aisle of the store. Ramona came out of the office and I just said, “Did you?” and she just nodded, not exactly proudly, but matter-of-factly. Even if I told her I really hated the idea and thought we should call the whole thing off, it wouldn’t matter now. Through the bay windows at the front of the store, I could see a heavy woman in a turquoise tank top peering into the dim building. Then another woman joined her. This one was short, and she stood on her tiptoes
to see over a stack of books by the window, waving a little to get our attention. “Should we let them in?” Ramona asked. Linda usually came into work a half an hour or so before we opened. I figured it would be weird if there were already customers scrambling around when she came in. So I told Ramona we should at least wait until Linda got there. 7:45 and Linda got there, fifteen minutes before opening. Already a crowd of about thirty people stood outside the door, each straining to see in. I could see Linda’s little body snaking through the masses to the door, and then unlocking it and coming inside. While the door was open I heard the crowd comforting Linda with a symphonic array of “We’re here for you!”s and “It’ll be okay”s and “Sorry!”s. But then Linda closed the door behind her and spread her arms wide across it as though she were personally stopping everyone from coming in. And from that position she looked over to Ramona and me behind the counter. “What’s going on?” she asked, her eyes fixed on Ramona. “Who knows?” Ramona said. Linda walked over to us, brushing her frazzled hair with her hand. She didn’t buy it. She just squinted at us for a bit. And then without saying anything more she turned and went to open the door.
very year on Christmas Eve my mom and dad and I sit down together late at night and watch the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. Truth be told, though, the movie’s too long for me to watch all the way through every year. I never really have figured out how George Bailey gets into trouble. But I’m still wooed and gushy when the whole town comes together and gives him all that money while his little daughter leads them in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” When those people—some forty peo-
ple—came into Sandymount Strand that day, it was no Black Friday mob of deal seekers murderously hunting down fifty-cent mystery novels. It was instead the town of Bedford Falls, running past a bewildered Linda as she held open the door, and directly to the counter where Ramona and I stood, tossing twenty-dollar bills and fifty-dollar bills into a quickly expanding pile in front of us. Linda had no time to leave her hold at the door as people kept pushing their way in and out of the place, periodically stopping to hug her and tell her things like “We’ll make it through this.” She stood unmoving and unseeing, her hand white-knuckled and clutching onto the door. Hundreds of bills were strewn across the counter. One guy walked up wearing a suit and tie—something you hardly ever see in Seattle. He was an older guy with hair all neat and gelled, and he had a great big watch on. I’d never seen this guy before; there was no way he was in our frequent buyers club. I wouldn’t forget a guy this dignified. He stood at the counter and turned around, a crazy crowd of people smiling at him. He raised his hands and said in a big booming voice, “Everyone please give me a moment.” And we all got quiet and looked at him. He cleared his throat. “I must confess I’ve never been inside this store myself before today. My daughter frequently comes in here to purchase books, and is always telling me stories of a lovely woman named Linda who owns the place.” He paused and turned to glance at Linda, and then at Ramona and me. Linda looked hypnotized. Ramona was just looking at the floor and I gave him a little half-smile. “My daughter loves to tell me one story of her and Linda getting wrapped up in a conversation about Harry Potter, and staying almost an hour after closing time on a weeknight to talk about the book.” I remembered that day. This was before
Ramona worked at Sandymount. The guy’s daughter was probably twelve or thirteen. She was always buying all these classics like Bronte and Austen, and I was always sending her Thought You Might Likes that encouraged her to continue. Then that day she was getting ready to check out Wuthering Heights, and I was all set to ring her up when Linda came over and said, “Wait a minute, Allie.” (She knew her name—she knew everyone’s name.) “Allie, I have to ask. Why are you always reading these big, laborious books? Don’t you ever read anything fun?” Allie turned to her and rolled her eyes and scoffed a little and told Linda she was perfectly capable of reading grownup books, thank you very much. “But I see you in here all the time and you’re always picking up classics,” Linda insisted. “Don’t you know life’s too short to read classics all the time?” “Yeah, and you’re always sending me letters telling me to read more classics.” “Oh, forget about those letters!” Linda said. “Here, come over with me.” She took Allie by the arm and walked her over to the Young Adult section. “It’s not because you shouldn’t be reading classics. You should be. It’s great that you are! But there’s other books too, perfectly good books, that you can just read and enjoy without working so hard all the time.” When I left at closing time, the two of them were still talking. It turned out Allie had been borrowing Harry Potter books from the library and had been embarrassed to be reading such trash. She hadn’t yet read book seven, and the two of them discussed Snape’s intentions in killing Dumbledore.
“So, when my daughter came to me last night,” Allie’s father continued, “and told me the store was closing—that she’d gotten a letter saying one of her favorite places in the world was going away—my heart sank.” And then Linda looked even more confused. She was more shocked than anything—too shocked to be angry. She squinted at Ramona and me and mouthed “What?” The guy continued. “I’ve worked at Amazon here in Seattle for the past ten years. In that time we’ve made a lot of money, and caused a lot of stores like this to close. So when my daughter told me that, I looked at her and saw in her eyes all of the ‘Sorry, we’re closed signs’ I’ve helped place on the doors of stores much like this one. When she told me that, I looked at her and said, ‘I beg to differ.’” The crowd started to clap a little as he paused and turned to Linda, who was still standing at the door. He called her over and she shook while she walked. The crowd murmured and stepped out of her way like she was some dignified world leader. The man grabbed onto her hand, and with his other hand reached into his pocket. “Linda, you’ve been too good to my daughter for me to ever see your store go. I’ve got a check for $5,000 here—” The crowd started going crazy and Linda looked like she was about to faint and the guy kept talking but nobody could hear him. Ramona grabbed onto my hand, reminding me this was all partly her doing. But even if the fake letters had gotten these people in the door, ultimately they weren’t giving the money to Sandymount. They were giving it to Linda. Smiling at Linda’s confused, bright, sincere face, I let go of Ramona’s hand.
The Planet of a Small Mind Adam Lux On November 22, 1963, many great men and women died. But there are two that I know about: John F. Kennedy and C. S. Lewis. Some men are smaller than others and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad because Pluto is more loved than it can know and bees can be cute and fuzzy and men can inspire, even when no one remembers their death day because a particular president got shot. And maybe your examples are smaller than mine more outshined, more deserving. And volume is a funny thing. I am one person and there are many people of all various volumes and we don’t even touch a mountain which doesn’t touch a sea nor ocean planet sun galaxy universe and whatever is beyond and I am so small. But what I love the most are the Plutos of the atom. Quarks with their strange charm seem so up atop the mountain of fundamentality while being down at the bottom of our view. Eyes see the small as invisible and I find that funny. Yet it is the combination of invisibility that makes the visible. And everything visible from you and me to bees and lonely elephants to Jupiter and yes, even Pluto is up, down, top, bottom, strange, and oh so charming. And maybe one day we will live on Pluto. All us small people that is. All us little spirits with our little coats, because it’s cold, and our little lives we will live quietly
because small seems to be quiet and maybe the baby girl, and the soldier, and the boy who wants to be a doctor, and the mom and her kid and the man with cancer will be there. And maybe a certain outshined Englishman who liked tea and loved books can read to us. And I can read to us.
And I will live quietly on our small quiet planet and we small quiet people won’t care that Pluto isn’t a planet and we aren’t big enough to be people yet because we all have to be made out of the smallest things and we are all small at heart because of this.
photograph by Thomas Williams
Natural Order Ian Lewchenko
loyd and Evan stood back on the beach, watching as the evening tide began its inevitable assault on their day’s work. “Why does the ocean hate our castle, Lloyd?” “It doesn’t. It’s simply following its natural order of motion.” “Then why did we build it?” “Because it is fun. It’s only natural for us to pursue fun.” By now their castle was no more than a lump of sand, and soon that too would disappear. “I guess that makes sense,” said Evan, not understanding at all. “So can we build one again tomorrow?” “Yes. We can, and we will.”
Distant David Szatkowski
atrina smiled. She was petite, barely five feet tall, and her eyes were a dark smoky blue. We lay on the floor, doodling our interpretations of Troy. All around, other Latin enthusiasts from across the state babbled about Greek gods and Doctor Who. “So you run cross country?” she asked. “Sounds tough.” “It’s a good fit for me,” I explained, “’cause it doesn’t need any skill. It’s just straight up hard work.” She laughed. “So, where are you from?” I asked, watching her eyes. “Kansas City.” I forced myself to smile at her answer, and thought, Damn, not again.
drawing by Nolen Doorack
Bad Apple Gabe Miller
an, what the hell’s going on? Fireworks at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning?” Randy was chuckling and shaking his head as he coughed his way through the door. It was actually almost 10:00, but he still had a valid question. I had been all suited up and pacing around the porch waiting for him when I sprinted inside to find my mom and ask her what was the deal with all the booms and bangs and screeches. So even though Randy had exceeded his usual fiveto-eight minute tardiness, I was just coming up from the basement when Randy stumbled through the door, both of us fresh out of breath and panting in my newly repainted green hallway. “Ah, good. I’m glad you weren’t waiting for me, Gus,” he said distantly, as if this were the first time he’d ever been late to something. It was always the traffic or his friend who needed help or he forgot how long it took to shave. I started to explain that I had actually been waiting for close to ten minutes on the porch, but a few words into what would be a lengthy explanation, I just let it go. Not everyone you know is allowed to push open your door whenever he or she wants, but Randy, despite his ever-pressing tardiness, definitely had that privilege going for him. And especially if it was Donut Saturday. Every Saturday when he finally showed up, he and I cruised over to Oh Nuts Donuts! for a baker’s dozen. “Hey, Emily, what the fu—ah sorry, Gus—what the heck is this?” he yelled out again to my mom, who was toting too much laundry up from the basement. “Somebody having a party around here?” “Randy!” she poked her head around the
basket of freshly folded linens. I knew her tone meant that sometime later on she was going to have to have a fast, whispered conversation with him about how I was young and he shouldn’t talk like that around me, or even around her, for that matter—they weren’t in college anymore. I feel like she’d been delivering a lot of those conversations recently. “Well, let’s go, G,” he said and turned around and walked out of the door to avoid my mom’s piercing glance. Most people I know drop by the donut shop on Sundays or get some sweets after their church service. We never went to church, though. I remember asking Randy on one of our previous donut runs why Robert and Molly and James and Tommy and Emma and Pete always went to church every Sunday. He threw his cigarette out the window and thought for a few seconds. “I mean, that’s on them. We don’t need that shit, Gus. People like us… Listen, it’s just a buncha people getting brainwashed. You hear me?” He fumbled around his chest pocket, searching for another cig. “You think there’s some fat man up in the sky yelling at people? I mean, look, believe what you want, but that just doesn’t make sense.” He looked around the car. “Hey, Gus, hand me that lighter on the floor there, will you? Here, I think it’s under those.” He was pointing to a bag of “Extra Fancy Apples”—as if he deliberately decided against the lowly “Fancy” apples and thought he deserved the prime rib of appular delights. “Here, how ’bout them apples? Just toss them in back.” I lifted up a bag of nearly overripe apples, lobbed them behind me, and grabbed the lighter. I flipped open the top of the shiny Zippo rectangle a couple of times before forking it over to Randy’s opened sweaty palm, wet and languid like a puppy tongue. I shivered. My bones got all chilly, and I felt pressure all over my body. “Randy!” I yelled.
“What, what?” I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came to mind or mouth, so I just shook my head. “Nothing,” I whispered. “No worries, man.” Randy wasn’t the kind of guy who pressed you on stuff, so he just turned back to the road.
“What is ‘pregaming’?” “Oh, you know, just…‘getting ready.’” June 8th sure was a peculiar time to pregame for the Fourth. “It’s not even July!” I laughed and turned to him for reassurance. “But…damn, it is hot.” I thought maybe if I ramped up my language I could get some response, but he just shook his head a little and fter we passed Green Street, where we sighed as if he were waiting impatiently for a usually made a sharp left to the donut train to come. The AC never worked in his shop, Randy glanced over at me. “Hey, Gus, Pontiac, and the smell was such that if the you mind if we make a quick pit stop before windows weren’t rolled down, I would have grabbing the goods?” suffocated instantly. Despite the rush of air I happened to be a fan of pit stops be- from the windows, Randy was sweating like cause they usually involved gas stations, a freshly-sliced cactus, gushing out all of his which often, especially if I weren’t with my stored-up water. I could tell my own internal mom, included a clutch candy/soda pur- cactus was just about to start leaking steadily. chase. So I said I didn’t mind one bit. I looked outside down at the road to avoid “I’ll just jump out and grab,” he paused locking eyes with the beads of perspiration as if trying to think of the right word to say, sliding down his face, but the road was whiz“what I need when we get there.” zing past me as we accelerated, and it just I nodded my head. Rats, no candy. I tried made me feel more nauseous. to hide my disappointment with a question. “Were those fireworks we heard earlier?” My “ ere.” Randy poked his head back into question hung in the humid air of the car as the car after he’d gotten out. “Wait we curved around an unfamiliar bend. here; I’ll be right back.” He started to shut “I don’t know, dude. Maybe just some the door but then stopped, poked his head kids pregaming for the Fourth or some- back in, and spoke sweetly. “Actually, hey, do thing.” you possibly have that money your mom always gives you every weekend for donuts?” It’s true, my mom always gives me $10 or $20—or whatever she can scrounge from her purse—just as a courteous gesture to Randy. He never made me pay for any of the donuts, but sometimes I told her that I bought them so I could keep a bit of the money. I didn’t do it every time because I couldn’t do that to my mom. Occasionally I’d give Randy some dough for gas money, or maybe I would snag a couple packs of Nutty Bars and Zebra Cakes from the ZX Mart Gas Station and hide them in my backpack. This worked especially well in the winter when the chocolate wouldn’t melt. The heat these days didn’t alpermanent marker art by Chip Austin low chocolate to nestle unmelted in my bag,
so I hadn’t bought anything recently. Amid the firecrackers this morning, my mom’s anger at Randy for his foul language, and Randy’s quick dash out of the house, she had not actually given me any money. Luckily for Randy, though, I had last week’s monetary haul still lurking crisply in the new leather wallet my uncle had just given me last month for my thirteenth birthday. I took out a few bills and quickly handed them over to the clammy palm. He wasn’t the kind of guy who pressed you on stuff, but when he asked for something, I’d learned, you gave it to him. “Thanks, G-dog, I really appreciate it, man. I’ll make sure to give it…” His voice trailed off as he shut the door. I turned away, sad to part with my mother’s hard-earned cash. “
eah, your daddy sweats like a big ol’ horse!” my mom was telling me. We were laughing. I had asked about the dark splotches under his arms that had magically appeared after we’d played Hot Box for almost an hour. “What is sweat, anyway?” I finally asked after a few minutes of chomping on pretzel sticks at the dining room table. “Oh well, you know, I can’t say for sure, really...” my mom chortled playfully, turned her head to the side, and thought for a second, “...but I think your body does it to cool you down…yeah.” She nodded her head a few times before turning to my dad, who was coming into the dining room kneading noisily between his massive jaws one of his famous peanut butter-apple-honey on pumpernickel rye sandwiches. He must have been listening through the wall because he jumped right in to the conversation. In between chews, my dad sputtered out something I’ll never forget. “Sweat is just a mark of intensity, Gus.” He talked with his hands and his sandwich. “It’s… it’s… tenseness—” he swallowed his bite before finishing the thought and looked at me to make sure I understood the word tenseness, “—it’s tenseness leaving your body. You hear me, Gus?”
“I hear you, Dad,” I chuckled nervously. Compared to my mom’s light and jovial mood, my dad’s temperament seemed oddly serious. He shifted his gaze from me to his sandwich to my mom to my pretzels. On his eyes’ way back from the pretzels to my puzzled face, I feel like he threw in a wink, though he couldn’t wink very well so it could’ve been an asymmetrical blink. But he suddenly broke into a smile and started nodding his head. “Play hard, Guster, always play hard.” I saw the sweat splotches under his arms as he lifted them up in a stretch, almost knocking into the chandelier. Sandwich still in hand, he brought his edible creation down to his mouth and sank his teeth into it. He turned around and lightly slapped the top of the door frame. I admired the beads of sweat that cascaded down the back of his neck as he walked out of the room. I grabbed another pretzel stick and heard the screen door open and close. That was the last time I ever saw him.
never ate breakfast at home on Saturdays because we always went to pick it up, but since we were still donutless, I was in the mood to munch. Oh! I remembered the apples I had chucked in the backseat. I’m no professional apple-chucker, but I must have put some spin on the bunch because I couldn’t see them anywhere from my position in the passenger seat. I toppled over the front seats and onto the significantly crumbier and more junkridden row. My right hand, sweaty from the humid heat, met some greasy screws that were gathering grime on the seats, scattered among a couple empty, unfamiliarlooking bottles. Underneath the box that I had crushed on the topple were white, red, and sky blue wrappers of some sort. The greasy, patriotic color palette reminded me of the fireworks this morning. Hey, now we got fireworks and flag colors! I was getting a little giddy, and I almost forgot I was on a fruit hunt. When I put my left foot down in a moderately successful effort to stand up
in the cramped space, my feet met not the trash-laden carpet I was expecting but the apples! I wobbled and almost fell backward. Whoa! In addition to the sack of apples I had lobbed back, there were probably twenty or thirty more apples, some of them all moldy, others crisp and ready for chomping. Why are there so many apples? The apples had babies! I laughed to myself. I guess Randy must love apples... I made a mental note to ask him about that when he came back—maybe he’d be in a more talkative mood. I stared down at the apple pile that filled up the foot space and spilled under the passenger seat. Not wanting to take any chances with worms, I grabbed an apple from the bag of fresh ones I had added to the pile. Randy had never taken me to anywhere except Oh Nuts Donuts!, so I didn’t know how long we’d be sitting in what looked like the parking lot of the shopping center my dad always used to take me to (only I didn’t see a Tommy’s Pretzels here, so I knew it wasn’t the same place). I took a bite of the apple and mashed the skin between my jaws. Ah man! Flavorless. Maybe leaning toward the bitter side of the tongue. I would have to inform Randy that these apples were no good, that he could just toss them out. Where is Randy? Nasty apple in hand, I crawled over the seats back up to the front where the leaf-sifted sunlight created a beautifully speckled pattern on the hot fabric. I wanted to throw out the piece of bitter fruit in the trash. Come on, Randy! I yanked back the door handle and tripped out of the car onto the dirty blacktop. “Randy?” I said quietly at first. “Randy? Randy?” I was yelling now. “RANDY!?” I hustled around to the back of the car to look across the street. I saw two women dressed like my mom chatting vigorously as they walked into some kind of thrift store. My dad used to take me to a place like that, only we’d just poke around the bins hoping
to spot unappreciated Red Schoendienst or rare Hank Thompson baseball cards. These women didn’t look like they were looking for baseball cards. “Randy?” I said again, more hopelessly. I thought I saw something move in my peripheral vision. “Gus, what the hell?!” That was Randy’s scream. I turned around and sprinted toward the front of the car. About a hundred feet away Randy was hobbling toward the car as fast as I have ever seen anyone hobble. I always knew he had a limp, but this was the first time it seemed to slow him down. I guess I just never had seen him run before. “Get back in the damn…get in the car, Gus…we gotta go!” He was probably fifty feet away, now, and I could see he had a bag of some sort in his hand. Maybe he got some candy after all? The bag didn’t look like the usual gas station bag, but then again, is there really a “usual gas station bag”? Ah, no, it probably wasn’t candy. He was close enough now that I could have hit him right in the face if I had chucked my insipid apple. “I’m just trying to throw away this apple, do you—” “Gus, screw the apple. We gotta leave now, man.” He opened his door. “Can’t I just—” “Dude, just throw it somewhere. It doesn’t matter. Throw it in the back—I don’t give a shit. But get in the car!” He swung himself through the thick air and crashed down on the seat. I didn’t know what to do with my apple, so I just put it in my pocket of my shorts. It bulged a bit, but thanks to my laughably deep athletic shorts pockets, it sank low against the side of my leg, so Randy couldn’t see it when I sat down. We smoked it out of the parking lot and curved onto the street. We whizzed by the thrift store so fast that I almost missed a smiling woman and a laughing man, each holding a baby. I turned around in my seat and looked out the back window just in time to catch a sweet glimpse
photograph by Emil Beckford
of the two parents waving the babies’ hands to me before they faded away in the distance. Past the fourth stoplight, I was finally able to clear my already thrice-cleared throat and say something. “Those apples,” I looked at Randy, “taste terrible. And…” For some reason—maybe his flared nostrils or lack of eye contact—I felt as if I were asking him something I shouldn’t. “...why do you have so many apples?” My minutely-soiled lungs, ridden at this point with more than my fair share of Randy’s cigarette smoke, released a long sturdy flow of CO2 up my trachea and out of my mouth. Just an honest question—he can’t get mad at that, right? Randy shrugged and shook his head slowly. “Hey, man,” he tucked his newly acquired bag further under his seat, “I just like apples, you know? Don’t I always get the apple fritters at—oh shit! The donuts!” For the first time since we got in the car Randy looked over at me. After meeting his glazed eyes, I turned away. “Hey, Gus.” He was
tapping on the steering wheel without any semblance of rhythm. “Listen, man, I…” He slammed his fist on the steering wheel and the horn honked. “JESUS, what the hell am I doing?!?” I jumped in my seat and suddenly realized we were about to miss Green Street, where the sugary confections could at least provide some kind of pleasure. “Randy, you need to turn left right here—here’s Green Street!” “Dammit. Yeah, I know,” he said as he cut across two lanes and swerved left through a yellow light. “Shit, that was close!” He shook his head quickly and chuckled. “Eh, Gus,” he said and looked at me. I could tell he noticed the tears on my cheeks because he let out a long sigh. “Hey, listen, Gus.” His tone was as warm as I’d ever heard it while still being obviously nervous. “I’m…I’m sorry, man.” I let the tears flow and he let the wheels roll until we pulled into the Oh Nuts Donuts! parking lot. I started to get out of the car, but he pulled me back down into my seat. “Goddammit, Gus, I’m a wreck, man.” He put his hand on my shoulder. I sniffled and let him keep it there. “I’m so sorry. I forgot about your…” He motioned his hands as if he were trying to get me to say something. “What, Randy?” I said as I wiped the sweat from my face and the snot from my nose. “I forgot about your…dad and the accident.” “Yes,” I said. We both sat silently in the humid air. Sunlight streaming through the windshield, the car was getting hotter as we sweated and stared out the windows. A minute or two after I stopped crying, Randy opened up the compartment between the seats. “You looking for an apple?” I said. “I can get you one from the—” “No, thanks, Gus, I’m looking for…”
He was rustling his hand around in the little cubby. “I’m looking for—ah, here we go!” He pulled out a roll out of quarters and tossed it into my lap. “There we are.” I had forgotten about that roll. My mom had gotten it from the bank a few months ago and had given it to me for donuts or gas. I thought I had lost the $10.00 roll, so I had to tell my mom that I’d used it that week. But I must have left it in his car. Smiling, I ran my clammy fingers along the side of the cylinder of quarters, rough and bumpy but full of value. I started to get out of the car, but Randy grabbed my arm again, this time more lightly. “Wait a minute, Gus. Let me drop an idea on you, man. I think we need a new tradition.” He turned on the car. “What’s even better than donuts? Wait, there’s only one place better than Oh Nuts Donuts!” He
flicked on the radio and some kind of cool Saturday morning “reggae” show came on (or at least I think that what’s Randy had said it was called). “Listen, here, this is it: we’re going to Stalzie’s Creamery, and we’re getting as much custard as this little roll of quarters’ll buy. And I’m not taking you back home until you’ve taken it all down. Is that clear? You’re fillin’ up on the cream, G-man!” I laughed so hard my lungs ached, but it was the best kind of ache I’d ever felt. Fresh tears sneaking from the corners of my eyes, I said in between giggles and coughs, “Let’s go, Randy, you got yourself a deal!” Randy reached down and tucked further under his seat that bag he had brought back to the car. He turned up the radio, grabbed a fresh cigarette, and we sped off to custard land.
photograph by Casey Chura
Where Beauty Lies Adam Lux Flecks and spots the texture of a thing is in its small parts and therein lies beauty. And within its texture is its purpose, usefulness toward creation and destruction and therein lies beauty. And within the purpose are its spirits drunk and sober and therein lies beauty. And spirits contain its goodness whose hand we might yet have and therein lies beauty. And deeper down still is its essence, seemingly impenetrable and therein lies beauty. And it is essence we breathe and essence we eat and essence we hold cupped in our fingers and however much drips, splashes, tinkles out of our understanding, there, seemingly infinite, is more essence grasped. But essence holds one secret a half-metaphorical string which has us all like 7 Billion yo-yos tangled Herein lies all beauty.
photograph by Casey Chura
Understatement Austin Strifler You are mountain ranges On once-smooth skin, A concrete incomplete kiss, Backyard swing sets in summer, Blackbird singing Let me hold your hand, Eyes widening as The mandolin begins, Iris contractions, And you hold the notes inside yourself, Wrapping them around your heart Like little necklaces. â€œI really like this song.â€? Me too.
Ditch David Schmelter “
ey! Hey!” Hirsh and I were breathing heavy. We had made it to my front yard and were peering at Mr. Olivier through the holly bushes planted outside my front door, about twenty feet from where Mr. Olivier stopped at the end of his driveway. Mr. Olivier’s eyes were in constant motion. He searched his yard and glanced up and down the street. “I’m calling the cops next time,” Mr. Olivier said, soft enough so as to not make a scene, but loud enough for us to hear him. “I’m gonna call the cops,” Hirsh whispered mockingly. I shot him a nervous smile. The front door behind us swung open.
taining wall separated the holly bushes, the Japanese maple, and my front door from the Oliviers’ driveway, like a barrier between the two houses. A boy named Hirsh Patel lived two houses up the street from mine. Hirsh had olive-brown skin and shaggy black hair. Because of our closeness in age, Hirsh and I became friends. He was fourteen, a year older than me, had a crude sense of humor, and was always the man with a plan. Hirsh and I could start at the Oliviers’ front door, run up the path in front of the Oliviers’ house, cut across their driveway, scramble up the retaining wall and through the bushes that bordered it, and stumble through my front door in nine seconds flat.
irsh was prone to coming up with ideas that were bound to get the two of us in trouble. One time, about a week after school got grew up in a suburban neighborhood out, Hirsh called and told me to meet him that had been developed on one of the in five minutes on the side of my house with last farms in the area. The houses all looked swim trunks on. similar, but each had defining characteris“Why?” tics. My house was two stories high. Dark “Just do it. I’ll be there soon.” Hirsh red brick covered the front of the house hung up. and white, wooden siding lined the sides I set down the phone on the counter in and back. A concrete driveway connected the kitchen. What Hirsh had in mind was the street to our three-car garage on the probably not a parent-approved idea, but I side of the house. In early summer, the never questioned Hirsh. Nobody ever did. driveway was littered with white flower pet- Plus, it was 2:00 p.m. and Mom wouldn’t be als that fell from the Bradford pear in the home from work for at least a couple more front yard. The front door of the house was hours. painted jet black. Mom usually decorated it I ran upstairs into my room and dug with a seasonal wreath. Large green bushes around my closet for my solid blue swim and a Japanese maple, with red leaves that trunks and brown flip-flops. I found both, glowed when touched by the morning sun- took off my shorts, leaving them where they rays, lined the walkway up to it. landed on the floor, and pulled on my swim The Oliviers lived in the next house over. trunks. Sliding on my flip-flops, I ran back Their house was built with sandy colored down the stairs and out through the garage. bricks that had a touch of pink to them. The Two minutes passed and Hirsh appeared, elevation difference between the two houses walking down the sidewalk with a confident was significant enough that a three-foot re- grin. He had yellow swim trunks on and a
red and white striped towel slung over his shoulder. “We’re going swimming.” “I hadn’t guessed,” I retorted. “Where at?” “The Jacksons are out of town, and they asked me to watch their dog.” The Jacksons lived in the cul-de-sac at the bottom of the hill. They had just built an in-ground pool in their backyard that spring. Mr. Jackson told Hirsh’s mom the code to the garage so Hirsh could get into the house. Hirsh and I walked down the street. We opened the garage and went into the house. Charlie, the dog, was in the laundry room. Charlie was a fat Spaniel with curly brown fur and floppy ears. We fed him, opened the sliding door, and encouraged him into the fenced-in backyard, eager to swim. He eventually hobbled out. We followed. Hirsh took off his t-shirt and flung it, along with his towel, on a lawn chair by the pool. Then he stepped back and, with a running start, jumped into the pool. I laughed at him, took off my shirt, and jumped in after him. “Cannon Ball!” We hadn’t been swimming for long when we heard a voice. “What are you boys up to?” Hirsh and I turned and spotted Mr. Olivier. He had entered the yard and was closing the fence gate behind him. Charlie barked and made his way over to inspect. Mr. Olivier ignored Charlie and walked toward the pool. “Mr. Jackson told me to
watch the house for any funny business.” I knew Mr. Olivier and Mr. Jackson were friends. They got together for poker nights that Dad sometimes attended. Dad wasn’t a fan of the poker nights, though. said that photograph by Jack Barbey He Mr. Olivier and Mr. Jackson were always complaining about something—work, politics, even the weather. “I wasn’t sure if he had given anyone permission to swim while they were away, but...” Mr. Olivier began. “We were just letting the dog out,” Hirsh tried to explain. “…I just got off the phone with Mr. Jackson, though, and you two have to leave.” I looked at Hirsh and then at Mr. Olivier. “We’ll get out of here.” Mr. Olivier waited with a straight face. He was a grumpy man. I couldn’t remember ever seeing him smile. “Not so fast. I’ll be calling both of your parents when I get back from my walk. You aren’t going to get off easy.” Hirsh and I gathered our things, put Charlie back inside the house, and headed home. I split from Hirsh in front of my house, and he continued up the street to his. When Mom got home from work, she was disappointed. I remember her saying, “I thought I could trust you alone for the day. For the next two weekends, you’re grounded, no leaving the house, no video games, and no friends.”
Hirsh didn’t get into much trouble with his parents, or at least that’s what he told me.
Hirsh smirked. “Quit talking until you beat me.” He had won the first two games of Uno ater that summer, Hirsh introduced me straight. to “Ding Dong Ditching.” After six games and three wins for each We were sitting at my kitchen table eat- of us, we both agreed that it was a good time ing Pringles late one afternoon when the to stop. It had been dark for an hour. I kind subject came up. Mom had just gotten home of hoped he had forgotten about Ding Dong from work and was in her bedroom reading, Ditching. and Dad was out of town on a business trip. “Okay, it’s dark out. Let’s do this,” Hirsh Hirsh continued. “You run up to a house, said eagerly. ring the doorbell four times, as fast as you I looked at my digital watch. It read can, and then hide before someone comes to 10:03 p.m. It was late. People could be sleepthe door and sees you.” ing already. But I had already agreed, so I fol“What if we get caught?” I said. lowed Hirsh to my front door, we slipped on “That’s the point. You try not to.” our shoes and went outside. I thought for a second, munching on a I looked at Hirsh. “So which house?” Pringle I had just put in my mouth. The sun “Well,” he said, “the Oliviers are closest.” was low in the sky and shined through the Hirsh and I walked down my front steps. screen door by the kitchen table. It warmed We slid through the bushes and jumped down my side. the retaining wall. I was sweating already. It Hirsh looked at me. was a warm and humid night. I was anxious. “All right, let’s do it. But I want to wait I knew that Ding Dong Ditching was someuntil it’s dark out, so we’ll be less likely to get thing I shouldn’t be doing, especially at this caught.” time of night. We let a couple hours pass. Hirsh and I “C’mon, man,” said Hirsh. He quickened stayed at the kitchen table and played Uno. his step and bent his knees and his back into Hirsh began to tell me about Mr. Daly, a slight crouch as we crossed the Oliviers’ his eighth grade history teacher that I’d driveway and made our way to the front door. probably have next year. I kept quiet, trailing Hirsh. He slowed “He assigns these worksheets where you when we reached the front door. have to read the textbook to answer ques“Ready?” tions.” “Ready,” I said in a shaky voice. I played a card. I think Hirsh felt like he DING DONG! DING DONG! DING had to look out for me, show me the ranks, DONG! DING DONG! since I’d be in eighth grade next year. I bolted up the path and across the Ol“They take almost an hour, and he as- ivier’s driveway. Using two hands to boost, signs them every night, so Tom and I switch I hurdled myself up the retaining wall and off doing the work every night. One night I’ll scrambled through the bushes, kicking read, do the worksheet and give Tom the an- mulch behind me onto the Oliviers’ driveswers in the morning, and then next time he way. I slipped into the house. Hirsh was on does the work.” my tail. I shut the door behind him and took Tom was one of Hirsh’s friends at school. a shaky deep breath. “That’s a good idea,” I said, looking up, Nine seconds. “You came up with that yourself, huh?” I looked at Hirsh and we broke out into
photograph by Jack Barbey
laughter. My initial anxiety became a high of excitement. I was unsurprised by this and, at that moment, knew one thing: “We have got to do that again,” I said.
Central was the public high school in our district. The thought struck me. Hirsh would be in high school next year. It would be weird not seeing Hirsh at school anymore. I put it out of my mind. “Well, let’s eat.” y the Fourth of July, we had Ding Dong Hirsh and I went up to the table and Ditched almost every house in the loaded our plates with food. I got a bratneighborhood. wurst and Hirsh got a hot dog, and we both On the Fourth, the neighborhood held filled our plates with potato chips and baked a block party in the cul-de-sac at the end of goods. Then we found two empty seats at the street starting around 4:00 p.m. Each the end of a rectangular table and sat down. family brought a different dish and a cooler Adults that we recognized from around the full of drinks. A tent was set up in the mid- neighborhood but had never talked to occudle of the street with tables and lawn chairs pied the other seats, so we kept to ourselves. under it. Adults gathered to chat and drink “I’ve got a pack of bottle rockets back at beers, and the little kids spent the afternoon my house that we should shoot off after dinswimming in the Jacksons’ pool. Hirsh and I, ner. There’s five for each of us,” Hirsh said. like most of the teenagers there, showed up “Sweet. How’d you get them?” for the food and then bailed before we could “My dad got them earlier today when he get drawn into a conversation with the adults went to the grocery store to get food for this about how school was going or whether or thing.” not we had girlfriends. “Nice!” I met up with Hirsh at the party around We each took a bite. I heard the woman 5:30 p.m. “How long have you been here?” I next to me talking. asked him. “... The other afternoon after I got home “Not too long. My parents wanted me to from work, someone kept ringing the doortalk to Mrs. Garcia, since she teaches Fresh- bell and running away.” man Spanish at Central.” I stopped chewing and looked at Hirsh.
“Yeah, that happened to me too,” another woman commented. “Probably just some neighborhood kids joking around.” “Well, I don’t think it’s very funny,” said the first woman. Hirsh and I finished our food and escaped to his house to shoot off bottle rockets. We laughed the whole way up the street. We couldn’t believe people were talking.
“I’m calling the cops next time,” Mr. Olivier said. “I’m gonna call the cops,” Hirsh whispered mockingly. I smiled nervously. The front door swung open behind us, and Mom stepped out. She saw Hirsh and me hiding behind the holly bushes. “I thought I asked you to grab the mail for me.” s we became more experienced, or I was speechless. I looked at Mom and should I say, more daring, Hirsh and I then turned to see if Mr. Olivier was looking. began to Ding Dong Ditch during the day. Mr. Olivier saw my mom talking to someone One Saturday afternoon in August, our behind the bushes, and Mom followed my target was the house we frequented most. gaze to Mr. Olivier. From my kitchen table, Hirsh and I looked She turned back to us. “Stand up, you out the screen door and saw Mr. Olivier fin- two. What’s going on here?” ish cutting the grass in his back yard. It was Hirsh and I stayed put. his custom to mow his front yard first and “Both of you!” Mom didn’t quite know finish in the back. what was going on, but she had picked up I looked at Hirsh. “Want to ditch him?” from Mr. Olivier that Hirsh and I were up It had been a lazy afternoon. to no good. “I’ll do anything.” We rose. I stared straight at Mom, not We put on our shoes. wanting to make eye contact with Mr. Ol“Honey, can you grab the mail while ivier. you’re out there?” Mom asked. “Is there something you need to tell “Sure,” I said, and went outside to check me?” Mom asked, staring directly at me. out the situation. I explained that we had Ding Dong Mr. Olivier had definitely put away the Ditched Mr. Olivier. I couldn’t lie about that. mower and closed the garage door behind He was standing right there. Conveniently, I him. made it seem like he was the only victim of “Looks like he went inside,” Hirsh said. our prank and it was just this one time. “Yeah, let’s do this.” “I’m sorry, may I add that these ditchSide by side, Hirsh and I ran up to the ing incidents have occurred multiple times, front door. I punched the doorbell. including after dark, around the time I get DING DONG! DING DONG! DING to bed. I have no proof it was you two those DONG! DING DONG! other times, but I have my suspicions.” Hirsh and I ran up the path and across I looked at Mom, I thought I’d see anthe Oliviers’ driveway. ger, but I didn’t. I saw disappointment. “Hey! Hey!” “Hirsh, you should head home. I’ll be “Get to the bushes,” I said to Hirsh. calling your mother. And you, mister, we We jumped up the retaining wall and slid need to have a little talk.” Mom turned and in behind the bushes just as Mr. Olivier came went back inside, shutting the door softly down the path to his driveway. Barefoot, he behind her. stood there looking for motion. “I thought you boys would have learned
to keep out of trouble after the swimming incident earlier this summer,” said Mr. Olivier. Then he turned and went back into his house, happy that he put Hirsh and me in our place again. “All right. See you,” I said to Hirsh. “Good luck with your mom,” he said and started towards his house.
cheesy card with an owl wearing a graduation cap on the front. I ended up signing it and writing a little note. I rang the doorbell. DING DONG. Then I had an urge. I looked up and down the street. Nobody was in sight. I ran to where my car was parked in front of Hirsh’s house and hid behind it. Peering out irsh and I were both grounded for from behind the car, I saw Hirsh open the the remainder of the summer. Hirsh’s door. He looked out for a moment and began mom had heard the other adults in the to shut the door, but then noticed the enveneighborhood talking on the Fourth of July lope on the entrance mat. He stooped down and quickly connected those pranks to this and picked it up, shrugged, and went back one. Soon July turned to August, and school into the house. started. Hirsh went off to high school when I got into my car, started it, and drove the summer ended, and I saw less of him. down the street. I don’t know why I ditched. With soccer practice and an increased I guess I didn’t want to change my image of homework load, he became too busy to hang Hirsh by going to the party. I slowed down out most afternoons. The next summer, my as I passed my old house. I continued past family moved from the suburbs to the south the Oliviers’ and drove down to the cul-deside of the city and I ended up enrolling at sac in front of the Jacksons’. I turned around, an all-boys Catholic school close by. headed back up the street, and swung a right onto the main road. often think about Hirsh. I went to his high school graduation at Central. He was excited to see me and invited me to his graduation party later that night. He said it was going to be crazy. I remember pulling up to his house and sitting in the car for a while. It was weird being back in the neighborhood I grew up in. I saw a group of girls in tight jeans and short skirts enter the house. Then a car pulled up and four guys got out. I recognized one of them. They were all wearing baggy t-shirts and shorts. They stuffed some beers into their clothes, hustled up to the front door, rang the doorbell, and were invited inside. It was just like Hirsh to throw a party like that. I got out of the car and walked up to the front door. When I got to the front door, I paused. I reached into my pocket and pulled photograph by Ben Banet out an envelope. Mom had bought a card at Hallmark for me to give to Hirsh. It was a
Aktion T4 Austin Strifler
75 years ago In the country Of my ancestors I would have been Shipped off to a camp. I would have been marked by A black triangle. I would have been labeled “Arbeitsscheu,” “Asocial,” Unfit for the world. My life would have been decided By a series of Pluses and minuses. Three strikes and I’d be Off to the chamber, Because I wouldn’t be worth The cost of injection.
photograph by Casey Chura
A Birthday Present Zach Voss
im had had the tattoo for six days. It was “ an I get a tattoo?” Jim asked at dinner a bear print under his left clavicle. It was eight months before his 18th birthday. navy blue. He had already had two near “Absolutely not,” his mother responded misses with his parents. The first when he without looking up from her meal. forgot to bring his shirt into the bathroom “Even if I pay for it?” he asked. with him to put on after his shower and had “Nope.” to run to his room shirtless, and the second when he bent over to pick something up in im had been 18 for a month. He was in front of his father which caused the front of school and had a job as the concession his shirt to droop down. He was constantly stand worker for the public pool on the aware of his parents’ gaze when he was with weekends. None of his friends had tattoos, them and how his shirts covered his chest. and the only talk of getting some was said He resisted urges to scratch anywhere near in joking tones. Jim was enamored with body it for fear of pulling his collar down just art in all forms but was too uncomfortable enough to let it show. He refused to wear and self-conscious to get any kind of piercV-neck t-shirts. ing. He had math notebooks with margins filled with various tattoo concepts for him or other people. He had brought up tattoos only three times to his parents before, but only one of those times was of him asking to get one himself. His parents had no tattoos, but his mother had her earlobes pierced.
print by David Greaves
hat are your parents going to do when they find it?” Tony asked as he stared at the tattoo for the first time. “They aren’t going to,” Jim said. “Don’t be so stupid. They’re going to see it eventually, and when they do they’re going to flip their shit,” Tony said as he finally remade eye contact with Jim as Jim let go of his stretched out collar. “Well, it’s a tattoo. There isn’t much they can do if they find it,” Jim said, shrugging. “Couldn’t you have stolen your dad’s beer or done something else less permanent for your dumb act of teen rebellion?” Tony said and laughed.
“It’s not an act of rebellion; it’s my tattoo,” Jim said.
im had collected cash for a month before entering the shop. He couldn’t risk using his debit card or taking direct withdrawals from his bank account without having his parents notice. He went around his neighborhood and offered to mow lawns or wash cars for cash. At first he felt foolish, stealing business from the 12- and 13-year-olds who weren’t old enough to have an actual job like he did. When his parents questioned why he was spending long hours outside, he would tell them he was hanging out with Tony or helping with a school event. He gave up twice, deciding to wait until he could easily pay for a tattoo before getting one. But it only lasted a few days and then he started fantasizing again about tattoos and creating more ideas and then he returned to the manual labor.
our skin is looking a little red, man,” Tony said. He and Jim were at the gym and Jim was in a tank top. “Yeah, it has been itching because I always have it covered up,” Jim replied. “I put lotion on it, but it ends up getting soaked up by my shirt.” “Give it some air once in a while,” Tony said and laughed. “At least when you’re in your room or sleeping.” “No, I can’t risk having them walk in on me at any time,” Jim said shaking his head. “Well, I think you’re being dumb, but watch that thing anyway,” Tony said.
e had seen Jack’s Parlor many times. It was part of the strip of shops that he and his friends passed whenever they were out to eat or shopping. He would always linger behind the group in order to stare into the shop. Often he would just see the artists
drawing by Alix Warner
lingering around without any customers, or a few people looking at the art books. The few times he saw a person in the middle of a session he would stop and walk up to the glass and peer in. He never had gone into the shop. When Jim stood in front of the propped open door to Jack’s Parlor 12 days after his eighteenth birthday, he could feel his hands sweating into the wad of cash he had stuffed into his jean pockets. After noticing that the people in the parlor had stopped talking to each other and were staring at him, Jim walked into the shop. He nodded a greeting to the red-haired woman behind the front counter and asked to look at one of the artbooks. Jim smiled as he looked at all the people and the tattoo paraphernalia. He felt proud that he
knew the history of all these designs while his friends and his parents did not. As he flipped through the book looking at the daggers dripping blood and eagles wrestling snakes, he started to panic. He had brought enough money to pay for three sessions worth of inking, and he was prepared to use it all, but suddenly the idea of having his entire shoulder inscribed with intricate colors and line work made him almost nauseous. He flipped to the front of the book where the smaller and cheaper tattoos were and pointed out the bear claw. He told the woman he wanted it on his chest. He shook as he walked to the plush leather chair and sat down. What he remembered most was that it hurt like a bitch. After it all happened, he paid the $45, feeling foolish and regretting working long, grueling hours and not using the money. When he got home he put the rest of the money in a jar in his closet. “
om, what do you even have against tattoos?” Jim said as he put away groceries. His mom stopped putting away a can of tomato sauce into the cupboard. She looked up and thought for a moment. “I think they are tacky and dumb,” she said, still looking up. “That’s it? You just think they look tacky?” Jim replied. “I also think that no person, especially at such a young age,” she looked at Jim with raised eyebrows, “should commit to something permanently on your body.” Jim scowled when she said “your.” “I’m not going to regret it,” Jim said, avoiding eye contact.
with his right hand and winced as pain shot through his body. The bear print was yellowed and puffed out. He took some lotion from the sink and squeezed a small stream into his palm. He tried to apply it onto his skin while withstanding the pain, but as he lightly rubbed the area, the skin broke and pus oozed from the right side of the bear print. “Oh, son of a bitch, are you serious?” Jim said between winces. He frantically looked around him and violently grabbed a few sheets a toilet paper. He dabbed the sheets onto the rash but it only caused it to leak more and for him to wince more. He stopped and stared back into the mirror. She was going to be so proud of herself. She was going to ask him if he regretted it. He didn’t regret it. He didn’t regret it at all. But he looked down at the rash and back up to his grimacing face. He took a deep breath, fogging up the mirror. “Mom!”
im looked in the bathroom mirror. He had taken his shirt off. The skin on his chest was hot to the touch. He pressed on it gingerly
drawing by Joe Fentress
The Girl Stars Died For Adam Lux “
an you smell the honeysuckle?” I mumbled an affirmative and continued to not look at the young woman beside me. Instead, I continued to glare at the ground, trying my best to not step in mud. All I knew of our short walk was that it consisted of a lot of freshly cut dew-wet grass and very little sidewalk or street. My favorite red shoes were not happy with me. Our arms swung in the humid night air but stopped when the backs of our hands brushed. Her bare feet halted, so I looked up and was greeted with a large dead willow. Its long limbs were leafless, and I could see the outline of vines growing up its trunk. Everything was black or grey. The ground was inky and pulled up into a charcoal tree which met an ashen sky blended with light grey clouds. The willow’s branches looked as if they were veining out into the sky, and I thought that the earth was a huge heart pumping life through that tree into the universe. “That’s a nice tree” is what my brain decided to announce. But she didn’t notice the tree, even though it was our destination. Her shoulders were slouched and her head cocked back. Golden hair hung like a pillar. I was observing this from behind her, standing closer than a friend but farther than a boyfriend. We stood in silence. “I’m trying to tell which stars are the real ones. Aren’t real stars suppose to twinkle?” “I haven’t the slightest idea.” I stood there in limbo staring at her cheek and wanting so much to wrap my arms around her waist and kiss her on that cheek. But the fist in my gut pushed me away.
“Sometimes I see stars go out and I think of how a star just died. Millions and millions of years ago, a star died, and here I am, looking up at just the right time to see it.” My first inclination was to correct her, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that what she was seeing was probably light pollution drowning another victim and not the death of a ball of hot plasma. She walked away from me, leaving the in-between zone, and lay down in the cool damp grass. So I lay down next to her, this time leaving the correct gap between us to indicate “friend.” “That cloud looks like a pregnant seahorse and that one looks like a heart and that one looks like E.T.,” she said. “Male seahorses give birth instead of female ones,” I blurted out. She laughed and announced, “Tonight I saw a pregnant male seahorse in the sky.” She reached both arms up as if to grab the sky’s foundation then her arms went limp and fell and she asked me, “What are your dreams and goals?” I was quite unprepared and hesitated. Running my fingers through my too short hair, I answered, “Well, I guess I want to finish high school, get into a good college, maybe go to graduate school, get a job—” “And start a family?” she cut me off. She stretched her arms and pulled up her legs slightly. Her knee stopped less than an inch away from my leg. “Yeah, I’d like a family.” More silence. I wiped a bead of sweat from my forehead. “And some pets.” She giggled and found her way to her
feet, not waiting for me to get up before beginning to walk. I sprang up and awkwardly jogged up next to her. She continued talking of honeysuckle as she tilted her head up to watch the heavens. I continued trying to protect my shoes, hunching over and dancing around spots of mud. I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep from swinging my arms.
I began to think about what she said, about seeing the stars go out, and I started to hope that she was right. I hoped that she really did see stars die, that millions of years ago a few stars decided to burn out just at the right time for her to see it, only her. I hoped the stars wanted to die for her. Sheâ€™d be a good person to die for.
photograph by Ben Banet
photograph by Ben Banet
It was loud and crowded. The father and mother sat in the front, and the two girls Trisha and Kay sat behind them crammed in the Justin Dussold two backseats. Also in the backseats, large enough to lay across the two girls on the ophere, dreams were floating, knitting to- posite ends of the seats and splatter their gether in his mind. The threads chang- skirts and blouses with blood, was Satan. ing color, shape, elasticity and forms of Tom and his two brothers jumped into the matter as they twisted about and pulsated back of the car, their faces peaking over the in rhythm. Tom slept as John and Jim called backseats and their arms reaching over the his name. heads of their sisters to pet Satan. Eugene “Pull ’em.” was already putting the car onto the road The two boys yanked Tom out of his when Jim reached back and shut the backbed, and the dream-threads shattered like door so that he and the brothers wouldn’t be glass as his eyes flashed open in a tangle of thrown out onto the driveway. blankets on the ground. It was the first time they had been this “Get up, Tom,” John said. “Satan’s hurt close to Satan for this long. bad.” The boy tried to say it matter-of-fact“I can’t feel my legs,” Trisha yelled. The ly like their father would, but something dog’s weight was crushing her and Kay. hooked in his throat and betrayed the fear “Then lift him a little!” Eugene yelled in his voice. back. The girls’ hands slipped under the Car headlights flashed into the room dog and eased the weight on their legs. through the curtains. The three boys could Blood stained their pajamas. Tom’s hand was hear their father holler: “Come on!” Three stained red from petting Satan’s oily dark fur, sharp car horns followed, and the boys ran and he jostled against his brothers as the car out of the room in their pajamas, running sped down the back roads towards the hosdown the hallway and out of the house, into pital. the cold night. Eugene rolled between two parking spaces, and he ordered his family out of the car. Kay and Trisha squeezed out of the backseats, coaxing Satan along by pulling softly on his tooth-marked leather collar and scooting out as he rose off of their legs. Jim popped open the backdoor, and the twins jumped out of the car. Tom saw Satan take a slow, shaking step onto the parking lot concrete, as though he were feeling in the dark, and the boy turned back to look at the splattered backseats, Satan’s blood marking where each girl sat. Tom jumped as Jim shut the door. “If you ain’t interested, Tom, you don’t have to come,” Jim called behind him as he raced to the family, pulling Satan into the animal clinic doors. Tom hit the backseat with a closed photograph by Andrew Gilkerson
The Death of Satan
fist. He opened the rear door and ran to meet them. Tom walked through the white walls of the animal clinic. Pictures of celebrities and their pets lined the walls. There was a framed picture of President Carter holding a border collie. A plate under it read: Jimmy and Lewis.
atan was too big to lie on any of the clinic’s beds, so the clinic workers laid a green quilt on the white linoleum floor. The clinic employees worked quickly, because Satan’s growling rose in pitch every second they were in his presence, restrained only by his injuries and Eugene’s tough hold on his leather collar. Once the quilt was on the floor, the clinic workers retreated to the other corner of the room. The two parties stood there, watching each other across the room over the green quilt. One of the veterinarians, a woman, called across. “My name is Donna Richardson and I will be your veterinarian today,” she said. She pointed to a fat male veterinarian standing next to her, “This is my coworker Steve—” She was cut off by an explosive bark from Satan. He didn’t like hearing strangers talk. “…Steve Krajiek.” “It’s nice to meet you,” Eugene said dryly, “but I’d rather we get this thing done quick, eh?” “We’d sedate him there in the corner, but I bet we’d have a tough time carrying him over to the blanket there,” Steve Krajiek called out over Satan’s tortured growling, “And I don’t intend on getting bit today. Not by that thing, anyway. “ “Then how are we gonna get him over there?” Trisha called. Krajiek raised his eyebrows. “We’ve got a method.” He clapped Donna’s shoulder, and the two walked out of the room for a moment, returning later with a paper package of
ground meat and a can of Budweiser. Krajiek walked slowly up to the center of the room and placed the ground beef on the quilt. He took a vial of barbiturates out from his pocket and sprinkled a little of its contents on the beef. Donna popped open the can, took a long draught, and poured the rest of it on the meat. Satan’s ears pricked at the sharp fragrance. The two shrank back to the corner and nodded to Eugene, who released his grip on Satan’s collar. The dog walked to the quilt and sat, watching the veterinarians in the corner. A trail of blood marked his passage from the family to the ground meat, and a glob of thick red saliva dropped from his mouth onto the food below him. Seeing no threat to his dominance, the beast lowered to the meat and ate slowly. Tom felt pity for the dog, who would have easily swallowed most of the meat in one bite when he was younger and healthier, but Eugene barked a laugh. “He hates it when he has to eat ground meat. Nothing to grip, nothing to tear off.” Satan finished, and the dog looked up, sitting still on the quilt, his black tail swishing in a puddle of blood on the linoleum floor. “All right,” Krajiek said. “We’ve got to wait until it sets in. About fifteen minutes.” “Fifteen minutes?” Kay asked in a shrill voice. “Then what was the point of racing over here?” Donna shrugged. “You’ve got a big, nasty dog. If he were smaller, he wouldn’t have to take so long for the tranqs to affect him. If he were friendlier, we would just stick him with a syringe and knock him out cold just like that. But this thing you got…” She looked at Satan. “He’s a real devil,” Eugene smirked. “Yeah, sir,” Krajiek said in a drawling voice. Satan stood and was about to get off the quilt to get the cornered veterinarians
into his lunging range, but Eugene walked to him and kicked at him with his leg. The dog growled at him, but remained on the quilt. Then there was silence. Donna clicked a pen and held the tip to a clipboard. “So while that dope’s going to work,” she said, “let’s get some dirt on this fella. Has he been here before?” Eugene kept his eyes set on Satan, his thumbs in his pants pockets, looking over his lesions and scars of countless battles, and the gaping wounds still bleeding. “Nah.” “Do you know if he’s allergic to anything? Foods or medicine?” “Nah.” “Does he have a history of diseases like heartworm or bowel diseases? Seizures?” “Nah. Well,” Eugene looked up to the ceiling before darting back to Satan, “He shat worms once, but that was a long time ago.” The woman veterinarian scratched at her clipboard. “Uh-huh,” she said. Satan made a sound like ripping cloth, and Trisha cried out as he coughed a red glob of mucus and ground beef onto the quilt. “Yeah,” Krajiek said, stuffing his hands into his pale blue pants, “That’s not good.” “He probably threw up most of the tranqs. Looks like we’ll have to sedate him anyway,” said Donna, clicking her pen and giving her clipboard to an assistant. She turned around to a counter and readied a dose. Steve Krajiek nodded. “All righty,” he said, turning to look around at Donna. “I’ll hold the bastard. Are you going to do the dirty deed?” “I’m doing it, Steve,” Donna said. She readied the syringe and nodded to him. The two took a testing step toward Satan. The dog didn’t draw his attention away from sniffing the blood and scum-coated ground beef, but
the dark hair on the mounds of his muscled shoulders raised up as though by electricity. A growl, as quiet as a whisper but as low as a truck engine, built up in his throat. “Kids,” Eugene said, “hold ’im.” Eugene fell to the floor and wrapped his arms fast around Satan’s neck so his children could approach the dog, all except little Trisha, who clung to her mother in the corner. Satan had the humans’ full attention now, his body turned toward the family, but his dark eyes turning quickly from them to the slowly approaching veterinarians and back. His growling was getting louder. Tom and his brothers and sisters were crouched now, their arms outstretched around the dog. Now that the children had a hold on him, Eugene let go, and with his thumbs still in his pockets, circled around between Satan and the veterinarians, getting ready to take a bite so they wouldn’t have to. Krajiek and Donna closed in, Krajiek in front, Donna behind him, one hand clasped on his shoulder, the other brandishing the syringe pointed in the air. Every step the two blue-clad vets took, the louder Satan’s growl became and the wider he opened his mouth. The rumbling of his growls caused a string of bloody saliva connecting his upper and lower canines to vibrate like a guitar string. Krajiek took one further step that brought him within lunging distance of Satan, and the dog bellowed a single, resounding bark like a cannon shot. The sound rumbled in Tom’s ribs, and he and his siblings held fast and got hold of whatever part of the dog they could grip: arms wrapping around his legs, hands grabbing the hair of his back and his tail. If he had been younger and not so injured, the dog could have shrugged them all off and bit into Krajiek’s hip within a thunderbolt’s passing, but the kids managed to hold him until Eugene could wrap his arms around Satan’s thick neck again and press his head against the side of Satan’s so
the dog couldn’t turn and maul him. Togeth- muscles twisting against Tom’s cheek softer, Eugene and his three sons and two of his ened and then melted away. The dog’s head daughters held Satan immobile. Enraged at bowed down, and Eugene moved his face his imprisonment, Satan barked like a ma- away and set Satan’s head on his knee, gripchine gun, never seeming to stop for breath. ping him at the neck. Krajiek and Donna rushed forward. Tom moved his face away from Satan too Krajiek’s gloved hands brushed Eugene’s and looked at his siblings and father. Most of hair and the fur of Satan’s neck, spreading a them had blood on their hands where they stretch of skin so Donna had a good enough touched Satan or on their faces. Tom tried to injection site. She jammed the needle into wipe the blood and dog sweat off his cheek, the skin of Satan’s neck and ran back with but he was sure he merely smeared it over Krajiek. The dog didn’t even whimper as she more of his face. pulled the bloody neeThe dog was still, dle from his neck. He but he was breathing. only got angrier, bark“He’s out,” Kraing with even shorter jiek said, wiping a hand quarter-second interacross his mouth. vals and knocking EuDonna walked gene’s head against his toward Satan and own face. kneeled down to the Eugene started to dog, petting its dark get angry, too. face while talking to “You goddamn Eugene and his childog,” he snarled while dren. against Satan’s face, Her thumb blood smearing on his stroked Satan’s brow. cheeks and chin. “You He looked at her with stupid fucking mutt!” black, bloodshot eyes. Tom held his face “He’s kind of cute photograph by Andrew Gilkerson to Satan’s fur and hugged when he’s not trying to the dog’s hind leg tightly, kill you,” she said. Her smelling the hard stench of mud, sweat, and other hand reached toward Satan’s scored dog musk. Powerful muscles coursed under back and felt at the mats of hair and stillhis touch. bleeding cuts and lesions. Without hesitat“Hold him still for just a bit longer,” ing, she pulled a pair of tweezers from her Donna said. pocket and picked off several ticks stuck to Satan continued to strain against his Satan’s haunches. captors, trying to jump off Tom and Jim and “So, what happened to him?” she asked. kicking into their chests with each surge. The Tom looked at Jim and John, and they looked angry barks become longer, with less time toward Eugene, who stuffed his hands into in between them, changing into distraught his pockets and knitted his thick brows. howls. The howls stuttered between fits of There was some sort of click from his throat. coughing blood, then gargled wheezing. The “I don’t even know,” he whispered. hairs on Satan’s neck flattened out, and his “Can you lift him?” kicks became less frequent and painful. The Eugene shook his head. “Never could.”
“Then we’ll have to work on him here,” Steve said. “Great!” Kay said, smiling. “I finally get to hold his paws and—” Eugene’s hand silenced her. He turned to Trisha and Kay. “Get out of here,” he said. Then he turned to Tom and the twins, and they felt the coldness in his eyes. “You too.”
voice. He spoke as though he were stating that the sky was blue. “He could have taken ’em, if he were younger,” Eugene continued, “if he didn’t have those gray hairs at the ears.” “So,” Tom said, “he’s dying.” All of his family turned to him. Kay turned, red-faced. “That’s not what he’s saying!” she said angrily. “He’s been hurt before!” Eugene shook his head again, still start was probably three hours until sunrise. ing at the linoleum floor. The veterinarian’s office contrasted into “Not like this, Kay,” he said. “Lost too blue from the early morning moon and or- much blood this time. You didn’t see under ange from the light streaming from the lone his fur. Bite marks everywhere. They showed parking lot street light outside. Dorothy. me one that cut to the bone.” The girl Tom’s mother, sat on the paper-covered choked at the last sentence, and little tears table where dogs were operated on, holding glittered on her eyelashes. Dorothy shifted the sleeping Trisha in her lap, running her and wrapped her arm around her, hugging fingers through her golden curls. Kay sat her close. against her, not quite asleep but well on her “So what’re we going to do?” John asked. way. Jim and John sat in the two chairs pro“They’re getting a needle ready, and vided. Tom had nowhere to sit, so he leaned when they’re done, we’re going to walk into in the room’s corner near the door. that room. And then we’ll send him off.” They waited. Trisha spoke up. “Send him off ?” “They’re going to kill him, Trish,” John he door to the office slammed open and answered hotly. woke the sleeping children with blaring The little girl grew angry. “They can’t light. Eugene shut the door and laid against do that!” she said in a cracking high-pitched it, his arms crossed, his cheeks puffing as scream. he gasped asthmatic breaths, the drying “Quiet!” Eugene barked at her. The blood on his face cracking off and sloughing room was silent. off with his sweat. He raised his head and And then they waited some more, waitlooked into his children’s questioning faces. ing for their dog to die. Is he okay? The family of seven stood around the He shook his head no. dog. The veterinarians had washed him as “How bad is it, Dad?” Jim asked. well as they could, but even then thick blood The father was silent, staring at the floor. still oozed like lava out of his punctured “How bad is it, huh?” Kay asked. body. Satan raised his head shakily, as though “Gene,” Dorothy said. it were a heavy weight, staring at them under Still silence. half-lidded eyes. Eugene’s eyebrows knit toDorothy shook her head, hugging Trisha gether, and he crouched close, his nose nudgclose to her. ing Satan’s. “Hey, champ,” he said, caressing “They say a wolf got to him, by the teeth his ear. He looked up at the kids. “It’s okay marks,” Eugene said. “Done tore him up, like to touch him, he’s so doped. Let’s send him he was meat.” There was no emotion in his off proper.”
tired. It was far past his night shift, as the veterinarian’s clinic was technically closed. “Thank you,” Tom said to the man who was going to kill his dog. Krajiek nodded.
photograph by Andrew Gilkerson
The family all knelt and put their hands to his greasy fur. Eugene cupped Satan’s face in his hands and held him close. “Still smells like shit,” he said, “Always has. One of the things we’ll remember you for.” He laughed. Satan’s face twitched and mouth slipped open, and his limp tongue touched his callused hand. “Good dog,” he said, smiling. “Good dog.” Tom put his hand to Satan’s belly. He had always wanted to feel what Satan’s belly felt like. It was softer than the hair on his back, and it wasn’t as oily. But it wasn’t the same as it would be if Satan were well. With the dog drugged, it was like massaging a piled up electric blanket, unfeeling and unnatural. They knelt there petting him for a long time. Krajiek’s voice shook them out of their reverie. “Listen guys,” he said as well as he could, “if we don’t stick him soon, you might as well not let him come here at all. That sedative isn’t going to keep him down much longer.” Eugene, still cupping Satan’s face, said, “Please. Not yet, man. Give us time.” Krajiek nodded. “All right.” Tom looked at Krajiek. He looked
he light in the room began to grow a brighter blue. Morning was coming. “Remember this?” Eugene asked, holding Satan’s pierced ear. He grinned at John, who shrunk back. “You tried to take him hunting, right? You shot at the fox, but you didn’t care to notice this fella trying to take him on for ya.” John blushed dark red, more tears forming from the guilt of harming his own dog that was now dying in front of him. “But he didn’t care,” Eugene said giddily. “He didn’t mind. Why would he? He just caught a fox. Nothing a dog could want more.” Satan’s tongue lolled onto his hand again, gliding along to his wrist and closing back into his mouth. Donna cleared her throat and gained the family’s attention. “Sir? Miss? Time’s up. He’s about to wake up, and then he’ll be in a hell of a lot of pain. We’ve got to get this going. I’m sorry.” Eugene stammered. “All right,” he whispered. Donna went out and came back with Krajiek, who held in his hand a single syringe. He stood before the family. Donna handed him another. The two walked into the circle, and they knelt by Tom near Satan’s outstretched leg. The large dog raised his head out of Eugene’s hands and stared at them, blinking. Donna stuck her syringe into his foreleg. “What is this?” Tom asked cautiously, afraid of the answer. “Just a final sedative. Short-term.” She stood up. “Krajiek will take care of you from here.” The family gave her their thanks, and she walked out of their lives. Steve Krajiek nodded to them. “You ready to go?” They nodded. He turned to Sa-
tan, his brown eyes studying him. “Are you ready?” He smiled and petted his head. “Here we go.” All of the children felt screams rising in their throats, final pleas for one more minute, one more hour, one more lifetime. But they remained in silence. Krajiek held the syringe in two careful hands and put the syringe into Satan’s foreleg as gently as he would guide a thread through a needle eye. Satan whined quietly, without fuss. “Good dog, good dog,” he said. He depressed the plunger, and the fluid drained into the dog’s body to steal his life. Krajiek pulled the needle out and stood up. “See you later, folks,” he said. And after the family said their thank-yous and goodbyes and let their attention focus back on their dog, Krajiek disappeared from the room. Tom bit his tongue, looking from his dog to his family. Was that it? Was he gone? Satan sprang suddenly, jolting them. His dark legs stretched out, his tail wagged wildly and hit against Kay and Trisha, and his face stretched in Eugene’s hands to touch him once more on the nose. A final groan escaped Satan, and he relaxed. His eyes were wide open. There was nothing left. “It’s over,” Jim said. “Oh, Satan,” Eugene whispered, “The champion. My fucking champion.” Eugene hid his face in his hands, and for the first time in his life Tom heard his father cry. “I should put him to the shotgun back there when I had the chance,” Eugene said in a choked voice, “He didn’t deserve this. It should have been quick, it should have been easy, it should have…” He looked at them with red eyes. “It should have been worthy of him, you know?” They knelt there, staring at the corpse of their dog. Eugene would try to close Satan’s
eyelids, but they would always open back up and stare at them. There wasn’t anything to say, but for the next few minutes the family members said what they could to themselves. “So that’s that.” “It’s done.” “It’s over.” “Nothing else.”
ugene stood first. “It’s time to go,” he said. He wiped his arm against his nose. He walked out. One by one the family members trickled out of the room to meet him, but Tom remained. They would wait for him in the car. Tom sat there with Satan, watching him. He knew this was the last time he would see him. He looked hard at Satan, trying to get a picture of him in his mind to last until he too died in a room just like this one, where the ceiling and walls were clean and white and where it smelled of formaldehyde and shit. He wondered where the body would go, what they would do with the hunk of meat that was his dog. They would probably put in in a plastic bag on a conveyor belt to be burnt in a furnace. They would destroy him, erase all trace of him like he was garbage. Tom looked into Satan’s eyes, wondering what he was seeing now, where was now, since he wasn’t in the room with him anymore. Tom tried to touch Satan on more time, but he couldn’t help but touch him again and again afterward. He was still warm. He was still soft. His eyes were still as bright as they were in life. It was done. It was over. There was nothing else.
om stood, looked at Satan lying on the floor, and he turned and walked away.
Mama Bird Jack Kiehl Veiled pompousness and self-exoneration do not permit your glorified façade. I feel no aid as you stand in front of a mirror, viewing yourself as a saintly mother bird feeding her young. You don’t realize they are eating the regurgitated remains of what you ate. “My vomit will help you survive. I’m giving you life.” I would rather die than swallow that abdominal regurgitation. I know I’ll grow on the food I cannot ingest by myself. But then you will say, “That’s mine. You wouldn’t be here without me.” And I’d rather starve than hear you say that. I’d rather die than have your help.
photograph by Casey Chura
Brakes Kevin Thomas
he tires shudder and screech beneath me. My head is jerked down in between my knees, and I clench my eyes shut as the car comes to a startling, abrupt halt. There was no thud. That’s good. There was no thud. Everything is fine. I mean, there was no thud, so how could anything bad have happened? I slowly crack open one eye. The hard, tannish-grey plastic mat at my feet comes into focus. Somehow my glasses didn’t fall (and land there like they did the last time a car stopped like that—when I rear ended that minivan last year). I think I stopped time when I stopped the car. It feels like I’ve been motionless for hours. I should look up. I should look up and check to make sure everything’s okay, but I don’t want to. I’m scared. I do it anyway. I slowly raise my head, like a guilty dog does to his owner after he’s torn up a few cushions on the sofa. I hope I’m not guilty. What would I be guilty of any-
way? It was completely by accident. The kid just ran into the middle of the road. I barely had time to stop and I tried to and I did. There was no thud so everything is probably fine. No one’s hurt. But what if I didn’t stop in time? That would be manslaughter. Manslaughter. What a disgusting word for a disgusting thing. I didn’t do it. But what if I did? I can’t have done it. But if I did? Oh God. I can’t do it. My eyes are at the same level as the steering wheel, but I’m too terrified to look over it. What will I see, a broken, bloody pile of a little brown-haired boy and a shattered remote-controlled helicopter? Or the same little boy, without a scratch on him, peering at me with his whatever-colored eyes while he cradles his little red R.C. helicopter in his pale, tiny arms? I do it. I finally manage to make it over the steering wheel and I see him. He’s fine. Thank God. Thank God there was no thud.
photograph by Adam Lux
Ralph’s Anti-Diner Noah Weber
he name of the place is Ralph’s AntiDiner and it’s so well staffed that if you were a regular there you might never see the same waiter or waitress twice in a week and you’d never know one of their names especially well, but there aren’t any regulars there, so nobody notices anyway. You know the name of the place is Ralph’s Anti-Diner because all the lights in the sign shine perfectly bright, but it closes at 11 PM so they don’t have to shine too long, 11 PM being a perfectly reasonable time for a business to close. There is an actual man named Ralph and he’s a tall, relatively handsome fellow with short, unspectacular hair but glowing green eyes. He doesn’t smell anything like cigarettes or cheap cologne and he doesn’t wear a nametag so no one knows it’s he who owns the place. Consequentially he never shouts, “Hey, look what the cat dragged in!” as you walk in the door and you don’t say back, “Hey, Ralph!” and he’s not chuckling or hand washing dishes as he doesn’t say that. You go to Ralph’s Anti-Diner every once in a while on a weeknight around 6 o’clock, which is a sensible time for your balanced dinner of a small salad, medium-sized BLT, and large Coca-Cola. They do sell cheeseburgers, fries, milkshakes, and coffee, but you know you really shouldn’t have that stuff and it’s better at other places anyway. Of course they sell cheeseburgers, fries, milkshakes, and coffee. This isn’t Cuba, for God’s sake.
s you sit, you look around at the happy people in their happy booths having
interesting conversations in the not flickering and bright lights of the Anti-Diner main floor. Someone is playing Santana on the jukebox, which is probably Ralph because there is no jukebox with a slot for quarters for you to go over and idly flip through albums like The Best of Elvis Presley or Party Hits of the 1960s. So you don’t do that and instead sit at your comfortable booth and look out your well-washed window into the bright but fading light of another passing day. You don’t feel melancholy as a waitress you’ve never seen before comes up to you and welcomes you and asks what you would like to drink. She smiles at you and seems perfectly content with her job, which you won’t fool yourself into thinking is true, but at least she doesn’t look world-weary or tired and doesn’t ask gruffly, and she doesn’t call you “baby” or “honey,” either. She just looks at you with her big grey eyes and you tell her about the large Coca-Cola but decide against ordering everything all at once. Imperceptibly indivisible ophthalmological infinities form floral fireflies flowing in angelic circles around your unmoving head as you smile and think about your Tuesday. No girlfriend of three years dumped you today. No best friend has started hanging out with douchier guys and drinking more on the weekends. So you don’t think back to playing on the playground with old friends and the innocence you felt then, and you don’t flip through your cellphone and your stomach doesn’t churn when you see the nonexistent pet name of your not ex-girlfriend. The waitress comes back with your Coke and you see her name is Cindy. She doesn’t chew gum and is pretty, but her prettiness doesn’t pour over you like a waterfall and you aren’t struck by her beauty at once and she doesn’t have wavy hair and she isn’t fat and she has fine white teeth and no distinguishing smell.
Cindy doesn’t ask you about how things have been as she sets down your large Coca-Cola and pulls out her pad of paper for your order. You ask for your small salad and your medium-sized BLT, but you just call them a salad and a BLT. Cindy does not linger around or give you any knowing look, and she doesn’t say “You got it!” or “Coming right up!” but instead just repeats the order and says “Okay.” Ralph’s Anti-Diner is the kind of place where business people who have no trench coats or hats to hang come in and don’t hang them on coat racks that aren’t there. The menu includes Chinese fried rice and baked Atlantic cod, and you’ve never been in there when there weren’t at least a few other parties in there as well. The natural and unforced cheeriness of the place pulsates electric in the cold, clear light of day. Your mother knows that every week or so you like to just go out and get something to eat alone after practice before coming home. Coach was not getting on you particularly hard today. You did not regret the
late-night drinking you did over the weekend while running sprints today, because you didn’t do any late-night drinking over the weekend, and sprints are sprints regardless of how your Saturday was spent. The food comes out all at once maybe fifteen minutes after you ordered it. You eat. The food flows like kilogramatic barrels of California dripping naked rainbows onto substantial, fine-quality porcelain plates. Harmonizing phantom steamboat fantasies masquerade as smoky bacon pouring through your brain. Moonlight ramblers gambling down Highway 80 float below a lighted exit sign, stopping in only for the new Moody Blues jazz tune celebration of San Francisco. Rings of whole wheat wrap your heart and you’ll be in love for the rest of eternity. You’ll be in love for the rest of eternity. The meal costs you $10.87, a reasonable price for the food you received, but nothing especially cheap. You pay your bill, tipping Cindy 15%, and you leave.
photograph by Thomas Williams
The Postcard Adam Lux
very knelt on cracked pleather and hard stuffing, trying to pray in front of her mother’s casket, but she was too angry. With a hard sigh she sprang up and approached her two sisters, Hannah, who was feeding her baby a bottle, and Rachel, the tomboy, sitting backwards in a chair. Avery pulled out the bent postcard and dropped it on the coffee table between them. “Look what Dad sent us,” Avery said. Both took a moment to read it then looked up toward Avery. “He was married to her for 30 years and he can’t come to her fucking funeral. I don’t give a shit if you got divorced or not.” “Avery!” scolded Hannah and covered her newborn’s ears. Avery grumbled an apology and then continued, “There is no way Andrew and I are going to Florida.” This time Rachel chimed in. “I know you’re angry with Dad for not coming to your wedding, but that was six months ago. He’s reaching out to us now, and I think we should give him a chance.” Rachel always knew how to make Avery cry. She snatched up the card and stormed to the kitchen and cried over a cup of coffee. She read and re-read the card, and after the fifth time she stared at the last line. “P.S. This postcard reminded me of the 3 of you.” She flipped over the card and smiled through tears at the three silly little girls having a pillow fight on their parents’ bed.
photograph by Ben Banet
Red Devil Ben DuMont
ireworks were rumbling and popping outside when I pulled Bridget from the bathtub and carried her to bed. Faint and pale, she was so limp that she felt nearly lifeless. Her legs were unable to support her weight, and she sobbed, exhausted. The poison had been assaulting her body for several months, and the cumulative effect had now become unbearable. “I can’t take it,” Bridget spewed, naked and utterly helpless. “I can’t take it. I can’t take it.” As I helped her into bed, a thunderous boom shook the house. The Fourth of July celebration outside was another dim reminder that the world was still rotating and rejoicing in its sparkling splendor despite our misery. The day before, Bridget had received another powerful round of chemotherapy. It was a regimen that consisted of three toxic drugs—fluorouracil, epirubicin, and cyclophosphamide. The doctors called it FEC for short, though patients resentfully referred to it as the “red devil” because of its reddish hue and evil side effects. It was the most punishing type of chemo, destructive to the cancer as well as the body. Typically Bridget did not feel the full impact of a chemo treatment until a couple days after, but the agony would last for a couple days then taper off into a more tolerable pain, nausea, and fatigue. Though I had never experienced chemotherapy, I imagined it as a marathon hangover, which had only one cure: time. Similarly, I learned that the only way for Bridget to endure the pain of chemotherapy was also
to will time away. Now, as she lay shivering in bed uncontrollably, it was clear she was no longer able to tolerate the pain or wait until the time passed. As I pulled the covers over her, I felt nearly as helpless as she. “I can call the doctor,” I said, “or take you to the hospital.” An earth-shaking bang rattled the windowpanes. It sounded like a war zone. “I don’t know,” she replied, moaning like a poor helpless child. “I just don’t know.” I placed a cool washcloth on her forehead. “Let’s see how you feel in a little while.” Times like this I envisioned Bridget’s diagnosis as a shipwreck, and we were all floating in the rough sea totally exposed to the merciless sun and hungry sharks while struggling with an insatiable thirst. The boys had life jackets but were scared and needed attention, and Bridget was in pain, having endured a broken leg in the wreck, moaning and wailing in her own private hell, and I forgot about everything else for all that time, totally focused on keeping her calm and afloat and doing my best to stay positive and hopeful, never knowing what lay ahead or how much time we had left together. I had faith, but it was not easy. In survival mode, nothing else mattered but the singular focus of taking care of my poor lovely wife. My heart sank as I stepped outside for some fresh air while Bridget rested. The humidity was stifling, but it felt good to be outside. Sandy and Dave had taken the boys to my aunt and uncle’s house nearby to watch the fireworks. The fact that the boys were
in good hands was the only ounce of reassurance. Watching Bridget endure this tore at me. Her suffering seemed inhumane, yet it was the only avenue for hope. I felt totally useless. The doctors had no formula, no magical pill to make the pain disappear. The Fourth of July, once a symbol of hope and freedom, now fizzled in my mind like a gigantic dud. The fireworks that occasionally appeared through the pines had lost their luster, and the festive pops and booms that once danced in the airwaves now rang in raucous discord. Nothing stung more than watching Bridget in pain, fighting for her life. She was my best friend, my partner in life, and a lifeline for our boys. Something banged on the upstairs window. I thought it was an errant bottle rocket, but the banging continued. There were no fireworks or anything making contact from
the outside. Then I heard Bridget’s voice, desperate, barely distinguishable over the explosions. I bolted inside. Upstairs, she was lying on the bathroom floor, surrounded by a pool of vomit. The red devil was ravaging her body. It had robbed her of her appetite, leaving her severely dehydrated, malnourished, and nauseated. Now she had reached her threshold and could not deal with the pain and nausea anymore. “Let’s go to the hospital,” I said.
Excerpted from A Pathway to Peace: The Journey of a Cancer Co-Survivor More information can be found at www.apathwaytopeace.com
pastel by Jack MacDonald
Primus Dies Ludi Mark Robinson
ERRARE HUMANUM EST is the first note that I ever took How often I forgot these words Perhaps since they weren’t in the book But time and time again I’ve learned that it’s not just the lines what means the most are lessons that I learned that first day in the Shrine I made a pledge my first day here whose terms I cannot now remember but one phrase lingers with me dear from August then to this December. A promise made is a promise kept though the words I swore weren’t even mine It sounded strange “…the Old U. High…” To call it that at such a time Old to him but new to me Tradition means little to the new Nevertheless we persuade ourselves and act like we might have a clue So a phalanx of timid students stood with right hands darting towards their teacher I kept up with his rush of words and made an oath to my Magister “…to enjoy my day at the Old U. High…”
Wingdings Kevin Thomas in Wingdings no one can hear you scream. Help (help)
design by Patrick Conrey
killing blow of a firm hand. The competitors were nothing to him. “I mean, my God, this is an international competition, not some stupid joke. Thirty million people. It’s TV, for God’s sake,” Alex whispered to himself as he waded through Tristan Finazzo the dinner crowd. He knew his mother wouldn’t have liked it. He knew that it wasn’t normal; he knew that he needed to stop. Alex had tried not to make a habit of talklex was standing in the darkness be- ing to himself, but even the quack in the fake hind the thin curtain as he fought to white lab coat saw through his efforts. “Shut up,” he said, and carried on hide his smile. Carmen stood on stage, fumbling her words, her face blushing as make- through the crowd of zeroes. They looked around and pretended not up struggled to cling to her pale cheeks. The cracks in her voice only made it easier for to notice him. They saw him walk in and Alex to feel no pity towards her despera- glanced down at their feet. They knew they tion. The whole world stared at Carmen, were jealous. And Alex knew they knew. He her dreams a pile of dust before him, but all was used to conducting himself with a posAlex could recall was his own throaty purr tured arrogance. He wore a too-tight suit that of impatience. He remembered the fire he hugged each ridge and curve of his muscular had sparked the night before. He recalled chest and torso. Alex had thought it would the flame, curling up Carmen’s speech like look good on stage, and he was right. He wildfire racing across China’s arid grain looked around the room with a fake smile, fields, devouring the black ink. Like mon- forcing his lips apart into a weak grin, a perarchs to the southern skies, thousands of functory display of his over-brushed teeth. spectators swarmed into the seats to see the Alex would normally force it upon himself two of them perform. She broke down in to interact with his peers. Competition. But tonight was the night that he was to meet tears. “Oh this is too easy,” he whispered to his assigned partner for the upcoming event, and he was nervous. Team America. himself. “I win.” Then he saw her by the table of catered hrust into the international limelight, fried chicken and fortune cookies. Carmen Alex had had little time to cultivate any was talking amongst the competition. Her preparations for his chance to shine. It was black hair fell as straight as pins down and the night before the performances, and all around her slim shoulders. They were both of the teams from each competing country exhausted from the past twenty-four hours, filed into the cold hotel dining hall for the spent alone in their rooms, studying until nightly roar of bitter chatter. Germany was the dawn light permeated the hotel’s useless over by the meats articulating something window shades. The chatter faded, and their about Judaism. The Japanese were poking at parched eyes met as Alex made up in his each other with their chopsticks and sharp mind their roles as partners in competition looks. The mindless banter tickled his ear and enemies in judgment. After all, there the way an annoying mosquito buzzes could only be one winner, and it had to be around the neck, only to be crushed by the Alex.
“Hi, I’m Carmen! I’m from LA!” She had surprised him with the random conversation, but he knew he would have had to talk to her eventually. “Oh, uh, hi. I’m Alex,” he replied. “So I’ve been studying, like, a lot!” Her exuberance was already annoying the shit out of him. “Um, so if you wanna get together later and practice some speaking, just hit me up!” “Well, I’m probably going to head to bed in about an hour or so,” he said with the most sincere tone of disappointment he could force out. “I mean, a good rest before the big day is important, you know?” She ignored his question and jumped right in, almost cutting him off, “Perfect! We can go to my room right now and practice!” She grabbed his arm and dragged him along with her for what felt like an eternity. “Ugh. What the hell is her problem? I don’t have time for this.” He was whispering
again. Alex wrestled with himself to erase his thoughts. Carmen led him up four flights to her room, where she swiped her key card and let them in. As she flopped down onto the bed across from his chair, Carmen pulled out what he assumed to be her speech for tomorrow and furrowed her brow in a way that gave her quite the studious facade. She sat across from him, slack-jawed as she licked her lower lip in subconscious concentration. But Alex underestimated her talent. Every now and then she would whisper to herself too, reciting her speech to the ground. “Wo de Zhong Guo meng shi... Wo de Zhong Guo meng shi...” My Chinese dream is... My Chinese dream is… He was stunned. He struggled to piece together the odd amalgamation of her charisma and proficiency. The paper on which she had written her speech nearly doubled
photograph by Sam Beckmann
the length of his. He peered across the small gap that separated them and strained to read her paper, shaking from earnest exhaustion as she held it in her hands between her knees. Her words connected more fluidly than his; her characters were more sophisticated. He could not stop thinking about that sheet in her hands. She could not win. He had to make sure of it. So many wishes of good fortune from relatives back in America, and so much tireless construction of the figure he had become, now aimed to go to waste; his dreams were following a trajectory to oblivion. Shame. Alex was conscious of her soft breath; it harmonized with the gentle breezes from the open window. He could hear the brush of her eyelashes across smooth skin as she scanned her speech for errors he knew she wouldn’t find. As he sat with Carmen in the dimming candlelight, wax dripping onto his own paper, ideas seeped into his subconscious. “Oops,” she scared him out of his pensiveness. “I’m gonna go use the bathroom real quick. Be right back!” The darkness that descended upon the room became that which flowed out from inside him. Team America was gone. The contingent was dead. Carmen was a shadow. She would lose, and he would win. Hadn’t that been the plan all along? He quietly snickered, but was cut short by a sharp gasp. He inhaled, breathing in the dusty scent of the room; cold air from the open windows stung his damp nostrils. Even Alex was taken by the unstoppable force that his sinister desires produced from within. It amazed him how quickly ideas entered the mind when the perfect confluence of chance and motivation materialized. He sat there dreaming, staring through his paper, and searching for an answer. It was almost as if the matchbox had emerged from thin air; he reached for it, feeling each groove of the clotty red phosphorus on the side of the box. Now was the time.
The flame crept up thin stationery as Alex watched with quenched eyes. Her speech burned right before his eyes, the ink evaporated into ashy air as he took in a deep breath. Release. There was something alluring about the blaze that held him in a long, captivated stare. He heard the bathroom door start to open and quickly snapped back to reality, blowing the hot embers from the remains of her paper and dumping the ashes out the open window and into the wind. Carmen sat down beside him and exhaled a deep breath before the fear washed over her face. Eyes wide, she leaped around sporadically, her hands jumping from surface to surface in a feeble attempt to recall where she might have left her paper. Alex could sense her panic by the rapid breaths he heard, but he battled the urge to look up, and Alex always won. He stared down at his speech; a smile crept across his face.
photograph by Ben Banet
Hannibal Jacob Hilmes
e didn’t know that the flash of orange and red would last only seconds. The boomerang, in a lame toss, had disappeared, swallowed by the big oak into a bushy mass of green. Nick leaned against the wind, head in the air, mouth open and eyes expecting, pretending that the boomerang might fall out, that we might not condemn him. Through the dense patches of branches and shadows, our eyes glossed over the limbs and leaves in search of the foamish wedge. Titters of other kids rose and fell behind us, the Francis Park playground a newly built hotspot, both for spinning and sliding as well as getting your stuff stuck in trees. Or having Nick get it stuck. Danny hurled a stick into the mess above. “You see it?” I hollered at the base. I tried to work some logistics out, some way to run up and catch a branch, or get my foot caught in a crook at the bottom, or maybe even get on the bathroom roof when no one was looking. Nick and Danny continued snaking bits of twig or log out of the grass. I bent for a non-substantial branch in the tree’s roots, near a drier patch, and got ready to throw, elbow in the sky. “You see it?” hollered Danny. “Nah.” I pitched the stick into the branches, with a twig-fizzle of cracks and pops but no return on the projectile. We kept at it for at least an hour, each throw less enthusiastic than the last, each stab deflating our sunken hearts. There was a competition to it, each of us three kids intent on proving that not
only were we best at throwing, but we had gotten the boomerang out, we were top dog and the boomerang was now our birthright, despite the fact that it was mine, that my mother had bought it while buying a birthday present for my cousin, though we’d gotten it at Party City, where even the wooden blocks were off-brand, even though it wasn’t a bona fide Australian hand-carved artifact, it was a boomerang. It was my boomerang and my arm was getting sore. By now we all knew where it was pinned, as well as how severely the branches pinned it, how four branches caught it at several angles. We lost track of the boomerang every third throw or so, our eyes pecking and scouring and the sticks getting thinner until we tossed fistfulls of twig. Nick ran at the grey oak and scuffed himself up the side, going nowhere. “We could climb it,” he said. “Like Alex’s. I’ve climbed Alex’s all the time.” His hands were mottled and sticky, scratched from the bark. “It’s right on January. It hangs over the street and you can see cars go under.” He looked at his hands. “One time a truck went under.” I knew Alex’s tree well, the sycamore with the sweet branch swinging over the sidewalk. You needed to hook your hands over it with a running start, a leap and a twist to catch your feet on the second highest branch. Next was all abdominal pull, then the world was low, and we chatted and read, put a bucket up there and watched the cars go under like clouds. “This is different,” I said.
Nick scrabbled at the oak’s base, unable to hug much less grip the lowest limb. His shorts built up with grime as he leapt against it, eventually calling Danny over for support. My neck stuck with dried sweat, green summer heat tossing around, rustling the fields and whistling in the pistons and metal of the playground. The tree moved softly, little oscillations of leaves and cicadas whirring against the wind. It furled and unfolded, breathing in gasps and draws through its foliaged head, borrowing from the ferns and lending to the shrubs. The oak rattled in sputters, spitting and coughing, angry with fleshy splinters inside, wood flaking and warping in the deep center. In the seconds of craned necks, in our silence, the boomerang hung above. “Should we ask someone?” I said. “Um,” Danny dusted his jeans then rubbed his hands. He squinted across the
photograph by Sam Beckmann
playground. “Do you guys know Steve Hannibal?” Danny pointed across to the swingsets. Nick followed his finger. “He’s on my select team—plays for some others, too—and I bet he could try and get it out,” he said. “Yeah, I bet he could throw pretty good. You wanna ask him?” We looked up to the boomerang, the clot. “Sure,” I said. “Sure. You want me to ask him?” Danny nodded and tossed a branch aside, snapping it in threes before letting go. The regular gypsies of the playground were circulating, jumping and slipping and throttling the bars like some sort of tilt-awhirl panic. Kids baked on the inside of a closed tube, the heat coming from everywhere, especially the yellow sides, sticky with a kind of film, a coat of germs. Static built on each slide ride and sent shocks at the end, feelings of sparks. One girl’s hair rose and snapped together before she crunched against the gravel of the jungle gym, running up a series of squares before twirling down another twisty slide. I passed the first row of swingsets, past splashes of pebbles from kids leaping off. Steve sat on the edge of the playground’s border, a rotten wooden beam. He was alone. His shaved head rose, and his eyes seemed wide with his blond eyebrows. I remembered Hannibal as some sort of historical guy, a conqueror of the Alps or something. That or a cannibal. For a while, we said nothing. Steve squinted. A boy behind us spun, hooked on a rotating seat, a disk attached to a pole with a handle at the top. “Hey,” Steve said, still squinting. “Hey.” The boy continued spinning. “What’d you want?” “We were throwing a boomerang over by
the tree. It got stuck in the tree. We’re trying to get it out, but we can’t, and we tried throwing stuff and I don’t think we can climb it.” Steve wavered, left eye crunched in the sunlight. “So?” The other kid rattled on the bar, turning and blurring dizzy, the plastic humming low and faster. “We’ve tried throwing stuff,” I said. “Could you help us get it out?” Still whirling, the kid became a mess of color. “No,” said Steve. The word escaped, breathed rather than spoken. The kid continued spinning, and Steve looked down at his feet, squeezing his dirty toes in the gravel, saying nothing. “Okay,” I said. “All right.” The bright spectrum of the playground faded as the sun closed and more mothers
took hold of their children. The oak twisted and bobbed, Danny and Nick trickling against it and throwing themselves from the grass. “What’d he say?” asked Danny. “No,” I said. Nothing. I threw something into the tree, but it didn’t help. “No shit?” asked Nick. “No shit.”
anny and I later added Steve to our arch-enemies list, a list ultimately comprising only Steve and some kid named Leo, whose major offence had been having a stupid face or something insignificant and powerful like that. Despite Hannibal’s disinclination, a large Bosnian man eventually arrived at our aid, shot-putting a log the size of a small child into the tree, and when the log collided, the boomerang dropped, catching the sunset in a half-million different ways.
photograph by Joseph Mueller
Alliterated Life Lesson Joe Salamon
64 A poem is a process, a primped proposition. It lets a mind muse while maintaining its munition. One wondrous word can will the wishful wise towards construction of conclusionsâ€” complex and concise. To trifling thinkers that trammel twisted theory, said script shouldnâ€™t satisfy shallow souls, and I say so sincerely. Onward over ominous obstacles, life may leave you livid. Just read, reflect, romanticize and keep your voices vivid.
“Why Are There Holes in the Table?” Wisdom Akpan
he basement lights flickered again without cause. Ignoring the distraction, I dug my jack-knife into the lock once more. But even with all my ferocious tinkering, the gun box wouldn’t open. “Seriously, Dan, why can’t we just hunt with my shotgun?” “Because you sawed off the barrel’s end, and that’s illegal pretty much everywhere.” “Fine then. Explain to me how we’re going to pen this without the key.” “Let’s try this,” Dan started as he pulled out a pistol from his camo bag. “Put the box on the counter.” I put the box down and backed away as he aimed.
Beautiful World Hap Burke
ou know it’s spring when the breeze whispers. In the fall it rustles, in the winter it moans, but in the spring it whispers, dancing and tumbling over new buds. And underneath a spangling of stars you haven’t seen since last June when you had to let the dog out and happened to gaze into the heavens, there’s nothing better than slowing down and breathing in the lightened air and smelling the opening rosebuds fading across the doorstep of summer. Well, that’s what I was thinking as I stepped across the doorstep of Andrea Flynn’s tidy, unremarkable house. The backyard was pretty nice, though. It was one of those unbounded, new suburb-type yards where fences are as sparse as stone foundations and ceiling plaster. The grass faded into birches and oaks after a short spread. I could smell the forest drifting across the tamed lawn with forbidden yet tantalizing touch. The party had been something of a bust, but I guess I never was a partier-type guy. I preferred moonlight solace to loud music and unwelcome sweat—thus, I was outside. The moon skimmed through a cloud. I heard a bird of some sort off in the grove, breaking—no, completing—the symphony of springtime night. And I was sitting on the porch steps entirely alone.
t was five months earlier and I had to get a job. For whatever reason, my mom’s hours were getting cut a bit and things weren’t looking as sunny as they had when
we moved here two years earlier. Admittedly, there wasn’t too much pressure on me—I just had to come up with gas and phone money—but the sudden downturn in events still troubled me a bit. I figured that’s just the nature of life. You can never better life’s situations—one movement in any direction tends to unbalance the whole universe for the worst, or at least it had in my experience. I still had to get a job. In a small dose of luck, I managed to find that the art museum had an opening in the coat room, which seemed to be the perfect choice. Art always got to me, because art is the sad attempt humanity makes at perfection, an inadequate shadow of happiness that man delights in. It mostly amused me in a sense to drift among painted happiness and sculpted perfection because I knew that the actual world lacked such creation. I liked feeling aloof, and thus I applied. I got the job and managed to align weekend-only hours. I was all set. My first day came as gently as the snowfall that managed to close my school the week before, and I feared nothing. Fear, like all other emotions, is worthless—after all, what correspondence do hormones and impulses have with the real world? So I stepped in the Art Museum on a cold Saturday afternoon, feeling about as much as the marble statue right behind the welcome desk, and asked the receptionist where I needed to report. She obliged. The first thing to strike me as I passed through the peeling door stenciled “Employees Only” was the girl. I thought I would be working alone. I wasn’t. She looked about my age, and she was pretty in the gentlest sense of the word. But that didn’t matter. Life had no happy endings. I knew that first hand. I must have been staring. I wasn’t really sure why. So I looked around at my new confinement. A desk and register lay at the open front of the room, and rows of lockers and racks were stacked behind in a simple dou-
ble-hallway arrangement. The girl pulled me out of my observations. “You’re the new guy?” She sounded moderately annoyed, like I had just disturbed her from a gripping novel. “Yeah,” I replied. “I’m not really sure what I need to do.” “I figured,” said the girl. “I can show you.” She walked towards the register, and I followed. “Three dollars for a locker, one dollar for a coat,” she told me as she pointed out the corresponding register keys. I was beginning
and we were relieved of our post as the museum closed at nine. She had to wait for her ride that night. I passed her sitting on the steps and bathed in winter starlight. There was something about her just sitting there. I couldn’t tell you what it was for a million dollars, but I knew it was something. She had no phone; no notebook; no novel out to keep her company in the fresh winter’s evening. I almost stopped. I almost spoke. But she quickly glanced up and I quickly glanced down. I figured I had nothing in common with her beyond a shared wall cubby for five hours a weekend. What wasphotograph by Casey Chura
to get the feeling she didn’t care for my being around, which was fine with me. Time passed. The shift was uneventful. Abby—that was her name, as I had learned from a work schedule by the register—spent most of the shift reading what appeared indeed to be a gripping novel on BC Calculus. I spent most of the shift staring at the nearest wall and regretting my lack of foresight to bring homework. It never occurred to me to strike up a conversation. Apparently, it never occurred to Abby, either, as was evident from the pressing silence that surrounded us. Before I cared to admit it, the night was over,
Abby to me other than a speck in the hurricane of my life? So I walked on.
didn’t overhear a worrying talk between my parents that night, mostly because I don’t have a father. I suppose you could say that physically, I do indeed have a father, just as all saplings have seeds and all books have a front cover, but that’s about as far as my dad ever got. He left right after I was born—or at least that’s what my mom told me on the rare moments I could induce her divulgence. I never knew him, but I suspect he was a product of the life that
slanders, breaks, and buffets all men into weakly-opposed submission. When life gave him a son, he gave his son the middle finger and abandoned him to a twisted world. Admittedly, I wasn’t entirely abandoned—I had my mother. But often her best was not enough. So I never heard a worrying talk between my parents that night, but I might as well have. My mom struggled through jobs. We moved a lot. In fact, we had never lived in a town for more than three years. That was fine with me: I never burdened too many friends with my acquaintance. But where we lived currently was different. We moved there when I was fifteen, and I had managed to find a small group. That was all right, but my mom’s job was not. I knew the bills were piling up and the business was slipping down. But it didn’t bother me too much. I was adaptable.
ne week later I was back in the coat room, this time armed with a notebook and fourteen pages of European History. Abby was already clocked in. This time she was accompanied by a large, loosebound Dickens book. The art museum was sparsely attended, and our socializing with Napoleon, George III, Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton was largely uninterrupted. She had this really funny way of turning the pages. She’d curl an edge in her forefinger while she read a page and then toss it gently across the exhausted chapter. I had only read five or so pages from my own when she caught my eye drifting over the page tip curled across her finger. “The Napoleonic Wars?” she asked, glancing at my forgotten history book. “Yeah,” I replied. She nodded slowly. “I’ve always preferred the classical age,” she said. “More culture, weirder names, better art.” I almost smiled.
Then a group of four or five sauntered up to our closet and requested a coat check. And as I stashed a leather jacket in cubby 44-A, I figured that I shouldn’t have been surprised.
y mom rarely talked to me about finances, so I knew I was in for quite the spell when she sat me down at the kitchen table a few weeks later armed with a grim look and a bank statement. “Look, James,” she began. That was never a good way to begin. “I’ve been doing the best I can at the shop, but I can only do so much.” Really, I had seen this coming for about two months. “I know you’re finally getting settled in and you’ve got graduation in three months, but I can’t say how much longer we can keep up with my job.” She sighed and looked at her hands clasped together on the table. I maintained the peace, counting the beats of my heart like I always did until she would look up and smile and say we’d figure it out in the end. “I’m looking for jobs over in Springfield,” she continued. Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five… “They’ve got a new shop opening up in the summer that’ll be looking to hire.” Forty-six, forty-seven… “It’s only a three-hour drive from here.” Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fiftyfour… And then that was all. She looked up. “But let’s not worry about that right now,” she said, though her eyes betrayed her. She tried a smile. “We’ll figure it out in the end.” She managed to take sixty-eight heartbeats to tell me what I already knew.
bby looked up and closed her book the next time I reported for closet duty at
the museum. By now I had been working there for nearly three months. The sunlight dappled in her hair from the large windows across the hall as she smiled. “Hey, James,” she said as I set my English homework on the ground next to my chair. We had talked quite a few times since she had mentioned her historical preferences months before. I suddenly noticed that I was feeling pretty happy, so I smiled back at her. “How’s it going, Abby?” I said. She had been reading Shakespeare, I noted. For conversation’s sake, I inquired further. “Are you reading Much Ado About Nothing for school?” She sheepishly looked down. “Actually,” she began, “I’m just reading it. I’m weird like that, I guess.” That was funny, because I myself had read The Tempest the prior week for pleasure. “I’ve been reading some Shakespeare for fun, too. I guess we’re both weird,” I admitted to her. Not that I wanted to talk to her— really. I’m certain. I just—wanted to avoid awkward silence. That was it. She laughed and tossed her hair over her shoulder. Her hair looked really nice in the sunlight. But that had nothing to do with anything, I chided myself. “Okay, then,” she said, “how about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” And I had read that the week before I began The Tempest. As the sun dipped past the horizon, we continued to talk about Shakespeare, then books, then artists, then picture frames, then city parks, then summertime, then vacations, our conversations interrupted only by the intermittent flow of coat-laden customers. With the shift over, the museum closed, and the car door ajar, I realized I didn’t feel so great anymore. To make matters worse, I hadn’t even done a single page of my English homework.
t was the following week that I found out about the school dance, from my friend Derek the demigod: Derek because that was his name, demigod because he had a girlfriend. He was royalty because a girl finally submitted to a date with him, and he never let you forget it. “Yo, James,” he said as I was trudging out of Statistics. “You planning on going to the spring dance?” Until then, I wasn’t. “No,” I said. “No, I really don’t think I can make it.” “Aw, c’mon,” Derek wheedled as he fell into step next to me. “Everyone’s going.” That always got me. Herd mentality. Quite the argument. “Are you taking Rebecca?” I asked. Rebecca was Derek’s girlfriend. “Yeah, I am,” Derek proudly proclaimed, shaking his coarse, dark brown hair out of his eyes. “Dude. We’re dating now.” He was grinning like an idiot. “I heard,” I replied. “Mostly from you.” “Yeah, man!” He was really digging the whole situation. “So you’ve gotta go!” His attempt at persuasion was pretty appealing, but I wasn’t sold. “When is it?” “Saturday!” “This Saturday?” “No, man, April 21st!” And then I realized my counter-argument. “I can’t go,” I said. “I’ve got my job.” Derek stopped and laughed. “You’re going to skip a dance so you can work at some dumb museum?” Apparently, I was. “C’mon, man,” Derek continued, softpunching my arm. “Call a sub. Go to the dance. It’s your last shot with the ladies for our entire high school career.” Maybe he did have a point. It was the last dance, and I hadn’t been very active with
the opposing gender—at least not by Derek’s to fill perspectives of perfection.” standards. I looked at the van Gogh in the centerWhat was one less day at work? fold of a brochure for the traveling exhibit. “Okay,” I said. “Okay. I’ll go.” “But art is fake,” I maintained. “Art is a And I had no date. sad reminder of what we can’t achieve in our worldly lives. I don’t find that too beautiful.” rt is fluid beauty,” Abby said as she We didn’t always talk art philosophy pointed to the spread pamphlet on the during our shifts. Today was just one of those counter. Her eyes sparkled, as they were days where the oceans of worldliness were accustomed to when she got excited. “It too obvious to ignore—thus, we acknowldoesn’t need a certain form. It just changes edged them.
photograph by Ben Banet
“Oh, come on, James,” Abby said, exasperated as if I were an errant little boy. “It’s not like that.” “How do you see it, then?” “Well…” She paused and bit her lip a tiny bit. She always did her best thinking like that. “I think that art is intrinsic to the world,” she said. “Art might be an optimistic shot at times, but what would it be based upon if the true beauty existed nowhere?” She had a point. She knew she did. I relinquished. But as I reveled in thoughts of beauty, I remembered an ugly detail that was demanding of attention. That dumb dance.
“Great,” I said, perhaps with too little gusto. “I’ll get back to you with details.” “All right,” Andrea said as she readied to resume walking. “I can’t wait.” And the strangest part was that all I could think about was how I would be missing my shift at the Art Museum.
heard my mom on the phone one evening the week before the dance. Once she hung up, she called me into the room. I already knew what was coming. “I’ve got great news, James!” she said with a smile that seemed a little forced. I said nothing. Five, six, seven... “I got the Springfield job all worked out! y best shot was Andrea Flynn, who I start in June.” Predictable. was a girl. I supposed you could also “You’re okay with moving, aren’t you?” say she was my friend, but you couldn’t say both terms juxtaposed, because that would she asked. “It’s not too far away.” Thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six... be awkward. She wore makeup in copious “When do we leave?” I said at last. amounts—in truth, her face was nearly “The start of summer, right after gradupainted with commercialized social necessity. I had seen her a few times on weekends, ation.” It was settled in record heartbeat. But which was a few more times than I had seen every other girl I could think of at the time. what got me the most was that I knew On a scale of general interest she had in me, Springfield didn’t even have an art museum. I’d score her at a “probably not.” Needless was back at our museum later that day, to say, her marks far outshone every other and it was closing time. Abby was just female’s “not a chance,” so my dance decilocking the register when I remembered sion was fairly obvious. I approached her after school two weeks about the dance. “Hey, Abby,” I said as she readied to before the dance. “Hey, Andrea,” I started, catching up to leave. She looked up, and I realized that I her. She turned around, her face illuminated had never seen her in makeup. She didn’t renone too flatteringly by an overhead fluores- ally need it. “Yeah?” cent. “I’m not going to be here next week,” “Yeah?” I said. I faltered for a moment. “I’ve got a I decided to skip formalities. “Would you be able to go to the dance school dance.” “Oh,” she said lightly. “Are you taking with me?” She didn’t laugh, which seemed to be a anyone?” “Yeah,” I went on. “Someone named Angood sign. drea Flynn.” “Okay,” she replied. “Yeah, I can.”
photograph by Sam Beckmann
This time she didn’t say anything—instead, she just looked at the ground. After a moment, she nodded. “Well, I’m sure you’ll have fun,” she said with a weak smile. But I wasn’t smiling at all.
he dance happened. It was everything I thought it would be, and I had nearly as much fun as the time I went to the dentist with canker sores on both sides of my mouth. But it had passed, and summer was just weeks away. Then suddenly the breeze lightened, the rosebuds opened, and the planet spun relentlessly towards the day I had to leave town. My friends arranged a going away party at Andrea’s house scheduled for the first night of summer and my last night in town. And then came my last shift at the Art Museum. I didn’t say anything about it to Abby. I didn’t think it would do any good. But the
shift drew to a close, and Abby locked the register like she had done every shift for five months for the last time. We walked outside together, the soft wind kissing our bare arms. I realized that it was probably the last time I would see Abby. I looked at her. She didn’t know anything. “I need to tell you something,” I said at last. Abby stopped. I must have looked worried or maybe even sad, because Abby turned to me with slight concern. In a weird way, I guess I sort of did feel sad. “What is it?” she asked. “I’m leaving. Next week. My mom’s job fell through, and we have to move to Springfield.” Abby really looked crestfallen. “So that means…?” “I won’t be seeing you after tonight,” I finished for her. The words sounded hollow and bitter to me. Abby looked like she got something in
her eye for a quick second, and she looked down. “James,” she said. “James, it could’ve been different.” And in the strangest way, I think I knew what she meant. We parted. The nudge to the eternal scale of life had proved its malice, as usual. And driving home, I don’t think I ever felt emptier. ou know it’s spring when the breeze whispers. In the fall it rustles, in the winter it moans, but in the spring it whispers, dancing and tumbling over new buds. And I sat alone underneath a spangling of
stars I hadn’t seen since last June when I let the dog out and happened to gaze into the heavens. I knew that I should be thinking about how I had disrupted the great balance of life and that I was paying the price. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about how stunning a night it was. The brilliant stars accentuated each leaf, each bud, each blade of grass. Flowers blossomed, trees budded, and the gentle breeze of nearly-summer swept over me like the brushwork of the finest painter of any museum. I had never realized how beautiful the world is.
photograph by Casey Chura
The Treasure Stephen Baumgartner
first discovered the treasure in a cluttered corner of my grandmother’s basement while searching for a toy car she had occasionally brought up for me. When I carried the treasure upstairs, no one seemed to notice but my grandmother’s Dachshund, Logos, who only raised his eyebrows slightly and flicked his tail as I walked by with the object. I made a quick entrance into my room and slammed the door. My grandmother was in the kitchen; I was certain she’d heard the noises and was moving in to investigate. I slid the box quickly beneath my bed and left the room. Later that day around sunset, my grandmother and I sat across from each other, each of us picking away at angel hair pasta she had made earlier in the day. As I whisked the bowl, the red sauce bled into the noodles, and the fork clanked against the sides of the ceramic bowl. I stirred my bowl simultaneously, concerned more about what was under my bed than the fresh pasta that rested steaming on the table. She looked up, holding her fork like a scalpel above her bowl, and adjusted her rounded bifocals with her opposite hand. “Did you find what you were looking for?” She stuck her fork into the bowl, twirling as she finished her question. My stomach flushed, and I left my fork resting in the bowl as I reached for my glass of cola. The ice clinked the sides of the glass as I slowly raised and sipped it. My grandmother’s curious stare pierced the bottom of the glass as I lowered the cup. “It was really messy. I couldn’t even find a way to walk.” She smiled, examining the dish as she
twirled the ever-growing knot of pasta around the tines of her fork. Below the table, Logos began his routine of growling and huffing in frustration as the scent of the dinner eventually pierced his aged nose. I looked over the edge, seeing his dull eyes and rusted face staring blandly up at me. His tail fluttered back and forth. “So what did you find down there? Something had to have caught your eye.” Her eyes glimpsed into my own, knowingly, and her smile diminished as she raised the knot to her mouth and clamped down on the noodles. I had to tell her something, or she’d start to prod around in my room. If there was one thing I was touchy about, it was my personal privacy. I couldn’t let her breach it. “I found a toy plane and some old tool boxes, but that’s about it.” “Did you borrow anything? It’s all right if you did; I would just like to know.” She wiped her lips with the napkin that had been neatly folded next to her cup, a single crease diagonally down the center. “No, I just looked around a bit. To be honest, it was dusty down there… really hard to breathe. When was the last time you cleaned down there, Grandma?” She plunged the fork into the mesh of red and white, twirling methodically. “Oh, at least fifteen years or so. Last time anyone went down there to clean, it was your father, and he hasn’t bothered with the mess since.” Logos had slumped down near the fridge adjacent to Grandma’s chair, his leg twitching suddenly as Grandma dropped her fork into the bowl, clanking as she reached meticulously for her napkin again.
Later on that night, after Grandma had fallen asleep on the arm of her sofa chair, I decided to finally take a peek. I squatted down slowly onto the tangled floor and reached under the bed to retrieve the box. I groped around, clawing my fingers out as I searched for the box. I felt a hollow edge and began pulling as soon as I got my grip. As I pulled the box into the lamplight from under the bed, the bed curtains rose and fell quickly, and I moved it out completely. I simply stared for a few moments, taking in
everything. The air conditioner vent slowly whished over in the corner of the room, a news anchor went on about a recent spree of car break-ins with no apparent stolen goods, and then I heard Logosâ€™ collar jingle out in the hall, methodically ringing and remaining at the crack of the door. I exhaled and flipped open the top of the old cardboard box, forcing both top flaps out. Inside, a stack of paper rested in the pit of the box, held down by an old tin container. The lid, blackened and faded with
photograph by Ben Banet
deep scratches over the top, held firm as I attempted to wrench it off. I abandoned hope, realizing that there couldn’t be much of value in the tin container. I set the container on my bed sheets and gingerly pinched the old sheets between my thumb and pointer finger in both hands. The handwriting was faded in spots, a deep maroon blotted out some of the edges, and an old dulled paperclip held the thin stack together. I adjusted my direction towards the lamp, rested my head on one hand, and I began to study the first page. The words in the letters were hastily scribbled, and I couldn’t even begin to decipher what was being said. I did know, however, that this was my grandfather’s handwriting. The date on the stationery was printed neatly and clearly in the top right hand corner. “August 31, 1942.” I rubbed my thumb over the date. The paper felt aged and thin. I took off the paper clip and began to dismantle the stack carefully, taking off one paper at a time from the surface. At the third sheet or so, I noted a couple small white flaps of paper near the top edge of the letter. I flipped them over and winced at the image on the opposite side. My skull began to pulsate, and I brought the pictures closer to the light. On it, a few men stood posing around some kind of platform. A black-haired man stood gripping his bayonet into a dead man’s scalp. The wood board underneath the head was coated in a thin swath of blood. Heat began radiating out from my face, and I stared at the other two men. One was shirtless and wore sunglasses; the other had an exhausted and dirtied face with a tight monotone expression across his jaw line. This was the figure that resembled my own father. The white of his eyes determined the mood of the entire photograph.. He seemed aware of the carnage to his side, yet apathetic at the same
the time. The black-haired man stood with his arm arched over the display, his teeth clearly clenched and grinning as he eyed the camera. Crow’s feet framed the dark craters above his grin. My eyes continued to drift towards the focus of the picture, and I couldn’t avoid it any longer; I finally took in the severed head. The eye sockets were much thinner than the black-haired man’s, and his mouth had been extended to his ears brutally, with streaks of black ink dripping down the cheeks in the photograph. The eyes, though barely visible, seemed content as if just resting. The Adam’s apple on the throat jutted out slightly before giving way to the frayed incision around his neck, descending into the pool below. My abdomen began to flash and sputter. I tossed the photo to the floor, and I allowed gravity to pull my head down into the bed. I couldn’t help it; soon the bed sheets were soaked in tears and I gasped, sputtering for air between sobs. After a time, I grew exhausted from this and kicked the box off the bed, too tired and drained to have the courtesy to put the letters and photographs back in. I could feel my lips and cheeks tingling as I collapsed into a deep, peacemaking sleep. The next morning, the left side of my bed was still damp, and sun pierced through the holes running down the curtain. I sat up frantically. “Crap.” I looked down over the side of the bed to find the photos. They were gone. I pounced over to the opposite side of the bed and looked to see where I had kicked the box off before falling to sleep. Nothing. I sat upright and just took everything in. A soft rustle whisked outside as a breeze combed past, and Logos’ collar methodically jingled in the hallway. I flopped back down into the bed and lay there staring up at the ceiling fan, the center hinge swinging slightly as it whirled.
Then We Reach the Top Noah Weber
’d never climbed a mountain before and we reach the top and I’m looking out over rows and rows and rows and rows of green brown blue black brown white green bottled up below us like little winding piles of cracker jack toys strewn out all around the endless Honduran valley. We woke up down there this morning. “Let’s mark our territory,” you say. There’s no time for fooling around. In this moment of victory we are no friends of the earth. We are barbarians, sweating against the heat of an enemy sun. We are conquerors, pillaging the grey tombstone rock-covered mountainside, grabbing the whole world by our hands and choking it in our grip. So we turn away from each other and I look out into the rest of the universe everywhere around me, like I’m staring into the center of the cosmos itself and I won’t look away until it blinks first. As I do it, as I wrestle with the earth below and knock the wind itself off course with my strength, I drop my pants down slightly. Smiling now, laughing now, I push hard for a while to no avail, before out drops a tiny, dark yellow, dehydrated drip of a devastating and utterly emasculating piss.
Mating Call Gabe Miller “
’m stuck between a cock and a hard place.” “Ron, please, not in front of the kids!” “No, no, Claire,” he said and unveiled a cheeky grin, exposing his bloodied, sparsely toothed gums, “that’s what the chickens say.” “What’s a cock?” Rita said as she hopped off the hospital bed where her father lay. “Mommy, Mommy,” James said, “Rita said ‘cock,’ she said—” Claire squeezed James’s hand. “Rita! James! Please be quiet…” A shout turned to a whisper. “Sweethearts, your father…” she turned to his bed where he was furiously crayoning away on his sketchpad, “at least, if he were in a better…” Her voice trailed off into tears. “Your father would have wanted me to explain… “A cock,” she said between sobs, “is a rooster. It’s just…a rooster…” “Cockle-doodle-doo!”
Fore! Mark Robinson “
hat do you think?” I asked, turning to my brother. “Par four to the Lesches’ picnic bench?” “Nah, it’s three strokes at most,” he responded, tipping his bat towards the wrought-iron bench and measuring up the pin. Baseball golf was an eternal staple of our grade school summers, driving dirty baseballs we had dug out of the woods towards various landmarks in the common grounds and neighboring back yards. Tree trunks, posts, and benches were our landmarks, anything we could hit without having to pay for it. “Fair enough. Give me the 33 inch, caddy,” I joked. My brother slapped the grimy, taped-up handle of the burnished maple bat into my hand. I could feel the slight burn of the tape at the raw-skinned base of my fingers. Blisters would make their way there in no time, but for now the only thing that mattered was setting the new neighborhood course record. I snapped the ball up in the air between my thumb and middle finger and watched the crimson seams spiral every which way. The ball felt solid, well broken in. Like it wanted to be part of this grand moment. I lifted the bat to my shoulder, shrugged, and savored a deep breath. With my left hand I lofted the ball up into the air, reconnected with the bat with my hands, and uncoiled in a tight snap of hips and shoulders. The moment the wood-burned labels drove through the ball, something crossed into my plane of vision. A boy from down the street, affectionately nicknamed “Fat Josh” (much to the dismay of my mother), came plowing around the Lesches’ patio, being hauled on a rickety
bike by his mammoth St. Bernard. A painfully beautiful synchronization of ball and boy hurrying to this fated checkpoint. Then came impact. The pitch of the baseball against his helmet matched the pitch of the ball off the bat. Instantly, equipment went flying everywhere as if all bonding forces in the world had ceased for a split second. Bats dropped, the ball landed, and the dog scampered towards the woods. Josh’s heavy frame flailed one way while his bike lurched toward the other. His helmet lay in a patch of grass twenty feet from his training wheels. The little beads on the spokes scattered like spilled Skittles. It was a pitiful yard sale laid out before my eyes.
pastel by Dan Mudd
Burn Austin Strifler With every exhalation, You breathe smoky death into the air And fiery anger into my veins And as you tap the rim of that ashtray, You beat on my brain And the hot ashes fall into my stomach And burn. They burn like “Your mother has been diagnosed With leukemia.” They burn like “The chemo isn’t working.” They burn like “She’s been moved to hospice care.” They burn like “I’m sorry.” They burn like “Everything happens for a reason.” They burn like Seeing her shrink to nothing And like the tongue of God As he uttered “Let there be tobacco, Let there be nicotine.” You say I’m overreacting I fire back, “I refuse to see Another person I love Slowly drown themself In ash.”
Fallout Matt Whalen
on’t you dare talk to her, or I’ll kill her.” Courtney talked through her teeth and nudged me on my shoulder. “I would never. She ain’t got nothin’ on you. We’re not even friends anymore,” I laughed. I looked away from Liz at the counter, forced to try to forget the friendship we once had. We never dated, but she had been my first best friend. But female best friends don’t last in high school. The guys said by junior year it was time to get a real girlfriend. Liz ordered her food and turned to see Courtney and me sitting in the Penn Station booth. “Hey, Dan!” I glanced up from my lemonade. “Hey.” I forced away a smile and gave a quick twitch of my head as I looked away. “Let’s show that bitch how cute we are.” Courtney giggled loudly and I fed her a fry as Liz sat in the booth behind us, her back to mine.
Secret Agent Timmy Alex Peraud “
’m going downstairs to do the laundry if you need me for anything.” “Okay,” I said. The basement door closed with a click and I sprang off the couch and headed for the kitchen, slipping and sliding in my socks across the hardwood floor. There it was, on top of the refrigerator. I noiselessly glided the kitchen stool across the floor, and I climbed. The top of the fridge wasn’t visible even on my tippy-toes, but I didn’t need my eyes as my hand felt around. My fingers popped open the zip-lock bag and I could smell them almost instantly: snickerdoodles.