Sisyphus Winter ’11
Cover artwork by Sonny Hager Masthead artwork by Stephan Laury Inside back cover by Clayton Petras 3
Waking up inside a car, poetry by James Van Camp 4 watercolor by Conor Gearin 5 Tower Grove, fiction by Luke Hellwig 6 etching by Greg Fister 9 photography by Austin Strifler 10 The Arcade, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer photography by Stephan Laury 11 photography by Phil Nahlik A New City, poetry by Conor Gearin 12 To Dance, fiction by David Farel 13 print by Clayton Petras 14 print by Evan Orf 15 Symphony for a Foster Friend, poetry by Sam Herbig 16 Birdsong, fiction by Michael Blair acrylic by Clayton Petras 17 Nothing’s Good in Chicago, poetry by Conor Fellin 18 Clutch, fiction by Austin Winn 19 print by Evan Orf 21 drawing by Nick Dooling 22 Alice, My Angel, poetry by Sam Herbig print by Evan Orf 23 Fork, poetry by Mike Lumetta 24 91st Street, fiction by Nick Fandos 25 print by Greg Fister 26 watercolor by Nick Dooling 28 print by Greg Fister 31 watercolor by Conor Gearin 32 Draw the Faces On, poetry by Clayton Petras 33 What Changes, poetry by Conor Gearin print by Phil Nahlik 34 Song, poetry by Michael Blair
36 Young Men as Philosophers, poetry by Conor Gearin 37 print by Clayton Petras 38 print by Greg Fister From Under the Table, fiction by Stephen Ludwig 39 Defeat, fiction by Stephen Deves photography by Stephan Laury 40 S, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer photography by Phil Nahlik 41 Jukebox, fiction by Michael Blair 42 design by Perry May 44 design by Perry May 46 design by Mitch Mackowiak 47 Letter, poetry by Mike Lumetta 48 Bargain Lighthouse Sunrise, poetry by Conor Gearin 49 watercolor by Conor Gearin 50 Dawlish Street, fiction by Logan Hayward 52 pleasant companions, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer collograph by Evan Orf 53 Shaded Universe, poetry by Hans Brende print by Evan Orf 54 After Every Dance, fiction by Jack Witthaus watercolor by Nick Dooling 55 Buzzed, fiction by Brian Silvestri 56 Right About Now, fiction by David Farel 57 acrylic by Clayton Petras 58 print by Evan Orf 59 cable car freedom, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer 60 Glass, prose by David Farel 61 photography by Stephan Laury 62 Angels Are Ideas, poetry by Mike Lumetta 63 New Wave, poetry by Michael Blair 64 The Maid, prose by Luke Hellwig 65 photography by Phil Nahlik 67 The Old Carousel, poetry by Clayton Petras print by Clayton Petras 68 November Snow, poetry by Conor Gearin
Waking up inside a car James Van Camp It’s a strange feeling, Waking up inside a car. The air is silent, dark, and cold. A perfect place to freeze in But then you sense the heat Of others around you, Breathing. There’s an urge to speak, But the silence would only drown Anything worth saying. It’s too late for darkness, And yet, still too early for light. This delicate and disorienting state Hides the night’s thoughts from the coming day. Only seconds have passed, But things begin to make sense. Reality rises As if from a wicker basket, And you now know The sun was meant to last.
Tower Grove Luke Hellwig
stand in the shade of the massive oak tree down on the third base side. Out in the field, the runner on first looks up towards second base, shielding his eyes from the red August sun, which hovers above the row of maples on the far side of the field. I switch my can of A&W Root Beer, still wet from its chilling in the Team Bud cooler, into my left hand. I raise my right hand up into the air, first and fourth fingers extended: two outs. “Andy!” I call out, not so loud but with enough bite to get the runner to look over in my direction. He nods back and directs his focus at Carol as she enters the batter’s box. My dad ambles his way over from the Team Bud bench along the first base side. The can in his hand matches the script on the front of his T-shirt jersey. He tells me I’m doing a good job, which is probably true even though I’m only eleven. One of my dad’s friends says that there are three fields in which children can excel: music, mathematics, and chess. He’s never seen me coach third-base, though. Not that I’m any genius. You just gotta see where the runner is and know that the centerfielders of Tower Grove Park’s co-ed softball league are more likely than not to sail the ball over the catcher’s head if given the chance. Carol smacks a short pitch, jumping it over the second basewoman’s head with a golfing swing. Andy makes it easily to second. Two outs, I signal again, first to Andy and then across the diamond to Carol. “Where do you think, Luke?” my dad asks and takes a sip of beer. He got lucky during his last at-bat, hitting it off the top of the first basemen’s glove. “I like the right again,” I tell him. “He plays away from the base when there’s some-
one on first. You just need to keep it down the line.” “Okay. Just watch out, then.” I laugh and watch Tim, the new batter, foul one off over the backstop. My dad likes to juke out the fielders, so he’ll hit the first pitch foul down one of the lines. The fielders will think they’ve got him pegged, but he’ll run around the next good pitch and hit it the other way, catching them off guard. Tim catches another low ball and sends it flying over the pitcher and floating into short center field. Andy comes running by the shortstop. My dad steps back. I wave my arm in a circle as fast as I can, sending Andy around the corner and towards home plate. The centerfielder—a lanky man with a sleeveless T-shirt and worn-out baseball cap—picks up the rolling ball in stride and cocks his arm. His eyes find Andy running down the baseline. He eases up, though, and throws it in to the second baseman. Carol has stopped at that base, and I raise my hand again as she looks down towards third.
y dad walks back towards our team’s bench area. He sets his Budweiser in the cup holder of his camp chair. At the plate, one of my dad’s coworkers, Renee, swings and misses on a high pitch. Dad calls out a word of encouragement and then picks up one of the bats behind the chainlink backstop. He waits until the pitcher tosses the next ball over the plate, and then whips around a stinging practice swing. Renee also swings but catches the top of the ball, sending it weakly into the ground a few feet from the plate. It rolls to the pitcher, who bends down and tosses it to the waiting first baseman. Out number three. I gulp down the last of my A&W and walk back towards our chairs, passing the team as they head out to the field. I stop short next to my chair, raising the empty can
above my head. I take a second to aim, and then throw the can in a soaring arc towards the trashcan behind the backstop. The can hits the inner side and then clunks against the bottom. I take my seat and look out towards the game. My dad is playing first—his feet spread as wide as his battered knees will allow, he gazes towards the batter’s box. I know he’s imagining the batter swinging, the ball hitting the ground hard and bouncing towards him, his glove swooping down and picking it up with a solid smack. The batter steps over the white chalk line, and my dad jumps a couple times (“Gotta get my blood moving”) and then resumes his crouch. I wet my lips, and then get up to get another soda. I open up the bright red cooler and begin to shuffle through the ice and beers. I finally spot another root beer sitting in the icy water at the cooler’s bottom. I reach down to grab it, but a voice on the other side of the cooler’s upended lid gives me pause. “Hi.” It’s a quiet voice, but not timid. My hand stops mid-reach above the root beer, and then I slowly draw it out, standing back up and shutting the cooler. A girl, I think Renee’s daughter, is standing there, looking at me. She’s got long black hair that falls nimbly over her shoulders and onto her bright dress. “Hi,” I reply. Behind me, the softball clanks against a bat’s wooden barrel, and I step to return back to my seat.
“I’m Emelia,” she says, stopping me for a second time. “I’m Luke,” I reply, determined not to turn and engage her gaze. I glance up towards the field and watch as the runner, out at second base, slowly trots towards his bench. I turn back towards my seat, but Emelia interetching by Greg Fister rupts my action for a third time. “Do you want to go play?” she asks, just as quiet, oblivious to my attempts to shrug her off. “Uhh…” I respond, stalling. The crack of the bat and slap of the mitt are more comfortable than the vulnerability of extroversion, yet I say, “Yeah, sure.” Perhaps merely politeness has won, but either way, I follow Emelia down the sideline, motioning back to my dad to explain where I’m going. We walk along the trees that line left field, neither of us talking. There’s a playground near the park’s center circle, but it’s a long walk from the field and we’re headed in the wrong direction. “Emelia?” I ask, slowing. She pushes on ahead of me though, saying nothing. “Emelia?” I ask again, now coming to a complete halt. She gives a half glance back over her shoulder but refuses to slow her pace. I gaze after her for a second and then look back at the softball game. Team Bud is still in the field, waiting as a new player comes to bat. The right fielder kicks the ground with his heel. Ahead of me, Emelia saunters on, running her hand through her long hair. Looking back to the field no more, I run after her.
Walking side by side now, we come to the far corner of the expansive field. Through the trees ahead I can see another softball game being played on the next field, and I watch as the ball seems to hang in the air before suddenly dropping and smacking into the dirt in front of home plate. A small cloud of dust kicks up off the ground, and the catcher lets the ball drop into her glove off the bounce. “What do you like?” Emelia asks frankly, taking my gaze away from the game. I cross my arms in front of me. “Sports, I guess,” I reply. “I mean, I don’t know. I guess hot dogs…” My voice trails off into the growing buzz of cicadas. Emelia gives a half laugh. “I like the feel of grass under my feet,” she says. She smirks a little. “Here, let’s take our shoes off.” Standing with her arm leaning against a tree, she kicks off both of her sandals and places them at the oak’s base. I untie my double-knotted tennies and peel off my lowcut socks, and then begin to follow Emelia again, New Balances in hand. She stops, though, and turns around. “Just leave your shoes there,” she politely orders. “We can get them on the way back.”
melia turns our path perpendicular to Arsenal and the edge of the park, and we move out from under the trees, saving our feet from their fallen nuts and branches. With each long, swinging step, my feet dig slightly into the soft earth of the park. They rub against the grass, and then lift up again, letting the grass spring back into place. We wait for a cyclist to pass by on the park’s outer bike path, and then leap across the asphalt back onto more firm grass. Across Arsenal stands Tower Grove South, a neighborhood whose closely spaced two-story brick houses seemed to hunch over the uneven sidewalk. An elderly man with an
unkempt beard and a long, ragged overcoat walks by, limping slightly. I am careful to avoid his wandering gaze; I turn to Emelia. “Where are we going, exactly?” I ask, direct but not punishingly so. She points down a side street that cuts off from Arsenal across from where we’re standing. This time, she actually starts to explain herself. “There’s a coffee shop like twenty feet that way,” she tells me, looking over. “It’s really cool.” Her excitement hangs between us. “But what about our feet?” I ask, but her determination is not so easily disarmed. “Oh, sorry,” she moans, sarcasm dripping from her words, “I didn’t realize that you’re a baby and don’t want to hurt your soft…little…baby…feet.” She finishes her sentence savoring every word, her head moving back and forth with each excessive adjective. I’ve got some ammo to shoot back, though. “At least I’m not a sissy little girl with—” Her icy glare cuts me off mid-sentence, and I surrender to her gaze. “All right, let’s go.” As Emelia walks out between two parked cars on our side of Arsenal and looks down at a row of westbound traffic, I smile quietly to myself. We race across the street between tides of traffic. I slow down once we reach the other side, but Emelia doesn’t. It’s a race. Her feet pound down the concrete sidewalk, her dress blows in her wake, and I take off after her. The raised lawns of South City fly by us. She’s gotten too much of a head start on me, though, and is still a good ten feet ahead by the time she reaches the alley. I take a quick glance over my shoulder as I too reach the alley and then cut out into the street. As she reaches the corner opposite the coffee shop, she turns around to rub in the embarrassment of her presumed victory. I fly by her, my momentum carrying me all the way up to the corner shop’s steps. I read the sign of the place’s door. It says Hartford Coffee.
melia opens the door for me, and I take a step inside. Cluttered wooden tables with mismatched wooden chairs fill the café, and laptop-equipped coffee hounds are spread out among them. At the nearest table, a nose-ringed college student looks up from her Apple, and we lock eyes. I hastily move my gaze to the wall. Brightly colored paintings almost completely cover the wall’s yellow paint, and I gaze, mesmerized, until Emelia speaks up from behind me. “Luke?” she asks, amused. “Oh, right,” I say, suddenly realizing she’s still in the door waiting for me to go all the way in. I step to the side and let her pass. She walks up to the counter, and I slowly follow, my bare feet tentative on the worn hardwood floors, my nose cautious to the acidic smell of coffee. The counter is high and fronted with glass to display the baked goods. Made from Scratch! reads a markered sign plastered on the display’s top right corner. Above the counter, a young man with gelled hair and a flannel T-shirt chats with a customer about the intricacies of choosing the proper light coffee. Behind him, a huge menu is hung up on the wall. On the far side of the counter is a huge bookshelf full of bags of coffee. Emelia gets in line, and I go up to the counter to inspect the treats. I survey a mountainous slice of Kahlua Coffee Cheesecake and then imagine myself taking a huge bite out of their Chocolate Chip Pecan Muffin. I transfix myself upon a piece of Red Velvet Cheesecake and try to think hard enough to summon it through the glass into my hand. “Hey, kiddo,” says the man behind the counter, stealing away my focus from the cheesecake. “Can I get ya anything?” I look up at him blankly. “The Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake is really something to die for,” he continues, “especially with autumn coming up.”
I have only two dollars in my pocket, though, and I figure that won’t cover it. So I look up to the board behind the man. He turns too. “Not to brag,” he says, still inexplicably friendly, “but we make a pretty mighty latte, if that’s what you’re into, you know.” He grins, and two full rows of white teeth shine out behind his lips. Behind me, cup of coffee already in hand, Emelia nudges me. “Get a mocha,” she whispers. I look back up at the list of drinks. Another customer walks into the store, and the man waiting on me calls out to him. Finally, at the bottom of the last column, I find something I know. “Uh…” I start, and the man looks back over at me, “I think I’d like a orange juice.” The man laughs kindly. “Sure thing, champ.”
melia holds open the door for me again, and I step back into Tower Grove South. The sun has fallen behind the roofs of the houses, and the clear western sky is filled with magenta and violet. We walk back towards Arsenal, our bare feet locked in time, each of us drinking contentedly from our paper cups. When we reach the thoroughfare, no cars are coming in either direction, but we run across anyway and don’t stop until we cross the bike path as well. “How’s your orange juice?” Emelia asks as we continue our walk. The chirping cicadas now seem ubiquitous. Cheers and shouts of softball echo to us from the distant field. “Pretty good,” I say. “Refreshing. And how’s your whatchamacallit?” “Ha. Ha. Ha,” she says, smiling. “It’s good. Great, actually.” I slap my arm. With the cicadas have come the mosquitoes in full biting ferocity. I swing at another fat one on my leg, but it evades my hand. I look over at Emelia, and she looks back knowingly.
“Uh oh,” I say and quicken my pace. She keeps up, twigs cracking under our feet, drinks sloshing dangerously in our paper cups. “Here,” Emelia says. “We better drop our drinks off before we head back to our parents. I’m not sure if my mom would completely approve of our trip to Hartford.” I agree, and we cut back towards the next field over from Team Bud’s. Can of Corn, another long-running member of the Thursday night Tower Grove softball league, is playing. I recognize a couple of the fielders and wave to them as we drop our cups in the trashcan behind the backstop. The left fielder whistles at us, but I ignore it, embarrassed, and quickly turn back in the direction of our field.
melia has timed our excursion perfectly; the players walk in from the bottom of the seventh and final inning just as we reenter the Team Bud camp. I find my dad near the backstop packing up our chairs. “We win?” I ask. “Big time,” he replies, handing me a chair. I sling it over my shoulder. “It looks like we don’t need you after all,” he kids. It’s getting dark now and the mosquitoes are continuing their onslaught, so my dad makes quick work of the second chair and we scamper off to the car. He looks down at
my feet as we slide into the seats. “Luke,” he says, one eyebrow raised, “Where are your shoes?” “Oh, right,” I hiss, throwing open my door to the car. “I’ll be back in a second.”
t seems like Emelia forgot her shoes, too, for she’s leaning against the tree, slipping hers on. “I thought you were in charge of the shoes,” I joke. She laughs and then asks, “Are you going to be here next week?” “Yeah, I think so,” I reply, looking up at her. She takes a step closer. My toes squeeze the dirt underneath them. “Good,” she says and leans forward. Her lips are moist, and after she pulls away from our brief kiss, I can still taste their flavor on my own. She takes a step back, brushing a strand of hair to the side. “Bye,” she says and runs after her mom. “Bye,” I call after her. I pick up my shoes and walk back to the car, savoring the feel of summer grass under my feet. photo by
The Arcade Daniel Hart Lâ€™Ecuyer
little bowling pin puppets on strings pulled up into the mechanical darkness, set to alien war game techno, neon skee ball ping pingpongs and air hockey unvirtual reality capsule spinrides, segments of digital digits spinning in square circles, little strobelit red light races, orange plastic baskets with piped perfect holes, tiered hierarchied and same to the last mote of dust, pastellar carpet oncewild geometricized shards in squares in squares in squiggles in circles in squares in squares, squares, photo booth shrouding no captured companions another pixeled hero lost. photo by
A New City Conor Gearin I want to paint that city today—that sweet, Bright dreamed-up village. Named Aimée, or some Similar French girl’s name. The cobbled street Leads the viewer’s eye down the shops, which come Up sweeping to marbled blue night sky, Awash with deep and brooding indigoes And violets. A dark sky, yes, and why?— To contrast the city’s lights, which pose For this scene fair and mellow on warm stucco. A French town, but no strolling French will do— Too bitter. No, you and the rest I owe The life of this once-impossible dreamscape to Are there. That image flitting in my mind Will now be caught on canvas, dated, signed.
To Dance David Farel
sat at a wrought-iron table on the patio, with Maggie across from me. I was at a party, one of my few. Around us, groups of people sat at tables lit by citronella candles, and music was playing in the background, loudly but not blasting. Aside quick glances up, I didn’t look at her; my eyes had the typical teenage tendency to drift, I loved her, and I felt much more comfortable staring into space. She lifted a glass of punch, sipped it slowly, and I looked up. “So,” I said for the third time in fifteen minutes, “I’m not exactly sure what to talk about. Any ideas?” “Eh,” she said, glancing down, “I don’t know. You?” I felt myself leaning forward in my seat. “Nothing really comes to mind,” I said. I leaned back in my chair, and it slid back a little, grating against the concrete. She leaned back in her chair and looked at the dim canvas canopy across the yard where a few of her friends jumped up and down to the pulse of music. “We could always dance,” she said, and a smile spread across my face. “Yes,” I said, “we definitely could.” She laughed, knowing exactly what I meant because she knew me well—I wasn’t going to—but a second later, she gave an accidental, frustrated sort of yawn, and I knew that she wanted to dance. For a minute we sat there silently, focused on each other, but saying nothing. The next song was a slow one, and half the people on the patio got up, ran to the canopy, and paired up. She looked up at me, as if to say, “It’s a couple’s song,” then quickly glanced away. For a moment, I closed my
eyes then opened them and looked straight at her. “Want to dance?” I asked. She smiled and looked up at me, our eyes met directly for the first time that night, and she said to me softly, “Sure.” A moment later, we stood an arms length apart under the canopy. Her dark brown hair hung down around her neck, stopping near the straps on her long red dress. “So,” I said, “How does this dancing thing work again?” “You really don’t know?” I thought I knew, but didn’t want to seem too knowing. She put her hands lightly on my shoulders, and I put mine lightly around her waist. I was beginning to sway slightly to the music when I heard her say, “Your hands go on my hips.” “Aren’t they?” “No,” she said, “My hips are lower.” I felt the fabric of her dress shift a little as I slid my hands maybe an inch down her waist. She grabbed my hands and pulled them down further than I ever willingly would, and I could feel the little nubs of pelvic bone on her hips. Her hips felt soft, and I rested my hands loosely upon them. She put her hands back on my shoulders. “Better, right?” I shut my eyes and nodded. Together, we swayed back and forth. Once I opened my eyes and saw her looking over my shoulder, more relaxed than I’d ever seen her before, and I realized how calm and close I felt. The music stopped a minute later, and after thinking half a second, I quickly took my hands off her hips. For a second, I stood motionless in front of her, not knowing want to say, then I glanced back to the tables. A few friends of my friends were laughing by the soda coolers.
“Want to go—” I started to say, but stopped and wrapped my arms tightly around her waist, pulling her so close I could hear her heart pulsing faintly against me. For a moment, I didn’t move.
Finally, I turned my head towards her ear and whispered softly, “Thanks.” “No problem,” she said. In the corner of my eye I saw her smiling. print by
Symphony for a Foster Friend Sam Herbig You sit alone in your corner, Your feet bound, Shivering. The crickets set the mood for the evening, And your pulse adjusts itself. The sirens start their slow crescendo, Rising and falling Like the waves you love Under the command Of the Great Crescent In the sky. More and more Rising and falling, Forming their colliding canon. That chorus sings in thirds and fifths. The chirping cricket drums Drown in the shuddering of the helicopters. Their shuddering mimics your shivering. Your pulse quickens to match This new tempo. The men join the chorus, Shouting in sixths and sevenths As the door is kicked open, You scream out, Joining the wailing choir With your own heavenly voice. You, my darling, fill in The root of this dissonant chord With your shrieks and cries For the mother who hates you. Together, the sirens, the men, And you, my precious dear, Fill the night With wailing And gnashing of teeth For your sake:
You are the root of this chord And of this Silent Night. Tonight, you are the star Just as you will be years later In my mind and heart. The men lock you in the car. And as you drive off, You join the ranks of The killers in the police cars, The patients in the helicopter lifts, The insane in the ambulances, The broken child in the father’s arms, The soul in the angel’s chariot. All are going home, And now, my sweet, You are as well. You hear that the shouting men have stopped. The helicopter And the crickets Have stopped, Leaving only the chatter of your teeth, The screaming sirens, And your occasional sobs And your pounding heart, Looking for its lost pint. They drop you at the farm, The place where you got your accent And love of horses. You were adopted And settled into the Victorian Way of Life. You learned to sing In beautiful harmonies— And became a siren yourself. You met all of us. But never forgot Your discordant beginning, And when you grow up And join the army And learn to love, Never forget how beautiful The Sirens sounded When they faded from your world.
Birdsong Michael Blair
walk beside the concrete creek, skipping stones with my friend Jim. It is November and the leaves are starting to fall and I can hear the sounds of our feet come out from the earth. I think we must have been six or seven because back then the creek was still filled with good clean water and Jim’s parents were still married and we hadn’t fought yet about Jenny or how Jim broke my new action figures in pieces and threw them in the creek. It was a dying time, the leaves could tell you that. We walk with our heads down and watch our white shoes move the orange red green brown land back and forth. It amazes me how I can make the world move, how I can move through the world. I am sick of being six or seven and coming home to make old macaroni and cheese for myself because my sister’s out kissing some boy and smoking cigarettes in the backseat of his gray car and my dad’s out hunting and my mom is too sick to sit in the light. But I still like it out here. This place backs up into a reservoir that stretches longer than you can see in one direction. Today Jim and I will try to make a fire and then cross the river by sliding across an old dead tree trunk. The sky is so green. While we are crossing the river Jim tells me to look up. Look at those birds, he says.
Wow, I say, and I mean it because there’s a whole flock of black birds circling around, flying right above us. Think those are crows? Jim asks. Yeah, I think so. My dad told me that if it’s black like that you can’t shoot it. And I know you can’t shoot crows. Man, that’s pretty cool. They’re just circling around us like we’re their prey or something. Yeah. And I know I must be six or seven and that the future is black and with few moments of flight and I know those crows are the same ones that sit outside my window on our telephone wire and I see them every day and their sounds wake me at night and I know they are circling us and we are their black prey and they are unpleasant portentous full-brimmed birds I know all of this but I like to see them circle around me I think it is beautiful. acrylic by
Nothing’s Good in Chicago Conor Fellin I can’t stand life out here in Chicago. Three months on my own and look what I’ve got: The daily shootings in the paper I wake up to each morning, The unfurnished apartments stacked together like rats infesting a basement, The rugged alleys that beat up my car until it just stops In the middle of the street and starts spitting out smoke, The sizzling of scorched Red Baron pizza and the “I don’t give a damn What happens to your car. Your shift starts at eight!” And the drills pounding outside my apartment for hours upon hours Upon hours of the night or, otherwise, the squeaks and groans Of the street below without the hum of a heater to drown them out. Things weren’t like that back in Ballwin. There, you had the schools with spotless silver doors That kept out thugs and bombs. You had the sunny cul-de-sacs With houses painted pastel blue or pink Where a child might, on the average Saturday, Wake up at eleven to find his mom Still keeping his scrambled eggs warm. You had the parks piled with fall leaves Where a father with a coat That smells like a bed sheet fresh out of the dryer Could play tag with his child, Kissing his ear each time he catches him. It’s two a.m. The drill still groans outside. My thoughts escape to Ballwin afternoons When, hearing monstrous thunder, I’d retreat Into a pouch of blankets, warm and snug.
Clutch Austin Winn
“‘We’re not gonna make it,’ He explained how the end will come. You and me were never meant to be part of the future.” —The Flaming Lips he two friends stepped out into the bright sunlight, a little hung over, a sense of profoundness, or perhaps simply of strangeness, hanging over the both of them. It was one of those days where one thinks, Today is different. Things are changing. Things will be different after today. And indeed the two friends, called Cheddar and Dirty, thought this as they walked towards the car across the cracked asphalt of the parking lot littered with fast food wrappers and cigarette butts. Though the sun was bright and they squinted their eyes, everything seemed cast in grays and blues. “So what do you gotta do Wednesday?” Dirty said, opening the car door. “Take another test or something,” Cheddar answered, getting into the car. They had both already taken a test inside the recruiting station. Cheddar had gotten a fifty-seven, Dirty a ninety-four. Dirty rested his arm outside the window, quickly pulling it back as his skin touched hot metal. Cheddar lit up a Marlboro Red. Dirty was scared. Before they left, the recruiter had asked them if they had had any questions. Dirty had a question: “What are the chances of my friend dying on the battlefield?” But he did not ask. “You’re not really gonna enlist, are you,” Cheddar stated more than asked. “Maybe,” Dirty answered. Cheddar started the car, and they drove out of the parking lot in silence, save for the struggle of the engine and squeaking of breaks.
“That would be so tight if you did, though. They have a buddy system thing; we could stick together.” Cheddar sucked on his cigarette and Dirty stared out the window. “But I don’t know if we would, because you’re trying to get on that college shit, and I’m gonna be on the fuckin’ battlefield.” “Yeah,” Dirty answered, thinking but not saying how great that sounded, to travel the world and experience life side by side with his best friend. The desperate side of him wanted this, but the cautious side of him, the side built into him by parents, teachers, school, was scared. They continued to drive slowly, in thoughtful silence. Dirty tried to remember the previous night. The scene played out hazily in his mind and smelled like tequila and weed—Dirty and Cheddar and two of their friends sitting on the couch at some girl’s house, smiling and talking. Dirty was resting his feet on a coffee table littered with empty cups and bottles, the carpet speckled with ash. He heard jazz mingling with bits of conversation. He kept offering drinks to Cheddar, who kept turning them down, saying he had a meeting with his Marines recruiter in the morning. Suddenly Dirty heard himself offering to go with him, just for information—he had thought about joining up. Cheddar had been ecstatic, and they shook hands in that South St. Louis way. But later Dirty saw himself sitting at Cheddar’s house. He heard their friends in the other room drinking, but he sat here with Cheddar watching TV. The room was smoky and dirty, and Cheddar lay on the stained carpet amidst the empty cans and pizza boxes. He heard Cheddar’s voice as if from far away. You shouldn’t do it. You’re too smart for that. Don’t risk your life in the military. Go to college. I probably won’t. That’s what Dirty had told him, and what he still thought, but again he felt that desperate side of him, the side that wanted to join up and follow Cheddar. Dirty was confused, and scared, and thought,
Things are changing. They drove north on Kingshighway, not talking, and every so often a car would drive by thumping some rap music and Cheddar’s whole car would vibrate and rumble with the bass. “I’m thinking about marrying Jackie.” Cheddar said this casually, keeping his eyes on the road, sucking his Marlboro. It took a moment for Dirty to process this sentence. “When?” He responded casually, though his voice wavered. Things are definitely fuckin’ changing, he thought again. “I don’t know. Before I ship out, I guess.” This was too much for Dirty to comprehend. It wasn’t even two p.m. and Cheddar had enlisted in the Marines and was planning marriage. “You wanna get some food?” Dirty suggested hopefully. “I’m so fuckin’ hungry,” Cheddar moaned. Dirty knew it. Cheddar had said this several times on the way to the recruiting station. “But I’m broke for real.” “I’ll get you.” Dirty had a wrinkled twenty in his back pocket. He had been saving it for a bottle of booze, but this seemed more important. Just a couple months before, they had both turned eighteen within a few days of each other. On Dirty’s birthday they had met at the park, mid-afternoon, and sat on the ground under a pavilion behind the playground, smoking cigarettes and talking. It was a cloudy day, and while they sat there a light rain had started, but they had the pavilion and cigarettes and it was Dirty’s birthday, so they stayed.
“So how’s it feel to be eighteen?” Cheddar had said, grinning. “It’s all right,” Dirty said. “I went to buy cigarettes and the lady asked me if I had my ID, and I was just like, ‘Well yes I do!’” He chuckled, crushed his cigarette into the ground, and lit another. “Yeah, my family keeps telling me to vote,” Cheddar remarked, and he exhaled smoke from his nose. He looked up at Dirty. “We can do anything print by Evan Orf now,” he said simply. “Except drink or rent a car.” “We can’t rent a car?” “I don’t think so. Johnny said you had to be twenty-five or something.” “Twenty-five? That’s bullshit!” “Well, it’s not like we really need to rent cars right now.” “That’s true,” Cheddar chuckled, flicking his cigarette. It landed outside the pavilion, and Dirty heard it hiss and go out as it touched the wet concrete. He watched the rain as it fell, trying to follow individual drops, quickly realizing it was futile. “It kind of sucks, though, for real,” Dirty said quietly, looking at Cheddar. “I wish I could get a time machine and go back three years.” Hiding in his voice was something like melancholy. “The last three years sucked,” Cheddar mumbled. “You’re right. I would just freeze time right now.” “But it’s raining right now.” “True. I would wait until it stopped rain-
ing and then I would stop time.” Cheddar did not reply, and looked away, and Dirty looked down. After awhile they picked up a new conversation, and they sat there on the ground under the pavilion awhile longer, talking animatedly, Cheddar at times howling with laughter, as the rain came down all around them. They hadn’t been to Courtesy Diner in a while. They used to go quite often, during the winter, Cheddar and Dirty and their friends. Courtesy was always open: in the late evening after playing football at the park they would hustle in, rowdy and excited, or stumble in at three in the morning, maybe going to the bathroom downstairs to vomit. At dawn after a sleepless stimulant-driven night, or at noon after a drunken one, they would sit in the corner drinking coffee and compare accounts of the night before. In the middle of the day when there was nothing going on they would go there, order slingers, put some old Motown on the jukebox, and smoke and eat and talk. And Courtesy never changed—it was the same at three in the morning as it was at three in the afternoon. A couple of old men perched at the counter, reading the newspaper and smoking Mavericks; a group of college kids lounging at a table, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes but not eating anything at all; and always several people sitting alone, alone with some greasy food and an ashtray. Once again Cheddar and Dirty walked into this smoky timeless bubble, and took seats at the counter. They both ordered slingers, and Dirty bummed a Marlboro off of Cheddar, and they both sat there smoking, the smell of tobacco smoke mixing with the smell of grease, and no music was playing on the jukebox, and they listened to the hiss of the grill and the fragments of conversation that cropped up around them, but they did not talk. The waitress, a short but attractive blonde with round eyes and a curvy mouth
started flirting with Cheddar, and while they talked Dirty looked off, out the window. Through the smoke and smudges he stared out at Kingshighway, his eyes glazing over, unfocused cars passing quickly in front of his eyes, and everything seemed to him battered and fuzzy. The sky, which just minutes before had been bright blue, open and transparent, was starting to fill with gray clouds, which seemed to move in fast forward. As they ate, the dark clouds continued to fill the sky and, swelling past their threshold, they broke and the rain came down in sweeping waves, beating upon the roof and windows of the diner as if asking to be let in. Again Dirty thought about the implications of the day. In less than a year his best friend would be on the other side of the world with a rifle and a wife back home. Ending were the days of driving around the city, playing football at the park, and coming to Courtesy Diner at three in the morning. Gone were the days where their greatest worry was being mugged walking home or evading the cops. Soon, it seemed to Dirty, they would fear for their lives. Dirty shut his eyes tight, burying his face in his hands and trying to push the bad thoughts away, but the sound of the rain drove them back in, and Dirty thought that he wanted to go home. “This is peaceful as fuck,” Cheddar said, awakening Dirty from his tormented reverie. He had already finished eating and was rooting around in his pockets for his cigarettes until, realizing they were still sitting on the counter, he pulled one out and stuck it between his teeth. Dirty pushed his half full plate away; he was no longer hungry. “I’m so excited; you have no idea,” Cheddar said as he lit his cigarette. “Why?” “Because I’m joining the Marines, man!” Cheddar exclaimed, grinning, his eyes beaming.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Dirty said, forcing a little smile, resting his elbows on the counter. “Can I get a smoke?” “Of course, man,” Cheddar said, handing his soft pack to Dirty. Dirty pulled one out, looked at it for a second, contemplating, and stuck it behind his ear. “What do you want?” Dirty said abruptly. “I’m full, man.” “Not food. I mean what do you want.” “I don’t understand.” “Like out of life. What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?” “Man, I want to join the Marines! You know that.” “Sure. But a lot of people want to join the Marines, but each of them is expecting something different; each person joins for different reasons. What do you want?” Cheddar furrowed his eyebrows, and put out his cigarette in the ashtray. “I don’t know, man.” “Do you want to see the world? Do you want to help people? Do you want to just get a gun and kill people?” The rain continued to drum on the roof and windows. “You’re freaking me out, man,” Cheddar said quietly. “What do you want?” Cheddar remained silent for a minute, and lit another cigarette. As he exhaled, he looked Dirty in the eye. “I want to do something with my life. Something signif-
icant. I want to see the world, to have adventures. I want to be a part of something. I want to make some money and marry Jackie. That is what I want.” Dirty nodded solemnly, and Cheddar continued to stare at him, confused, maybe a little scared. “What do you want?” Cheddar asked, his voice a little shaky. “What do I want?” Dirty said, raising his eyebrows. “Yeah. Dirty smiled, took the cigarette from behind his ear, and lit it. “I want to put some Marvin Gaye on the jukebox. I want to talk to that pretty waitress. I want for that fucking rain outside to stop.” “That’s different, man. I meant like long-term shit, like I said. You’re talking about some here and now shit.” “What else is there?” drawing by
Alice, My Angel Sam Herbig
Alice, my angel I saw you in the deep Intricacies of beauty, Innocent and bubbly, Full of life’s little surprises. I saw in you childhood companionship I never had. In a dark room, You were the light. Outside I can hold you, My angel, to the sunlight. But when I take you in my arms And gaze upon your sparkling skin Dents and bruises abound. Your hair isn’t straight. A gap forms between Your yellowing teeth. Your brains are half-dashed Of missing blood. So, my dearest, why do I still See wings on you? They shield my eyes from the sun. I look to the ground To see the ghastly shadow: Full of holes, bent and crooked. Alice, I see now Those are not wings fluttering Out from behind you: They’re just my hands behind Your back, my angel, holding you up Into the light of perfection. If I were to drop you You would fly no longer. With all of your holes, You would pass right Through the looking glass.
Print by Evan Orf
Fork Mike Lumetta I didn’t know how that day would turn out. The world belonged to me, all in my hands, but I ignored my choice; instead I drove to it. I entrusted too much power to careless friends. “Hey bro, she’s hot, so keep your options open.” We rode past the speed limit to bitter ends in a black Jetta roaring down its lane which ran straight west. The golden rays made me blind to the road ahead and the setting sun. At night I looked toward the sky, a sea of purple and orange light swimming above beyond my control. I looked down to see the fire devouring names and crispy leaves— leaves grow on trees and names in the phone book. The songs we played talked about hope and love, but we were only running down the block to the grocery store. We bought chocolate for s’mores and hid from some skeptical looks. I buried my own skepticism in the night, the sable clouds shifting across the sky, the voice, the motto saying, Live the moment. Droplets of hope slipped through my fingers. I— I made my choice, with help from friends and impulses, like Paolo and Francesca. I felt so high, and yet I drowned my doubtful voice in kisses. Then girls were interchangeable. I did. I’ll never know what I suffer in losses of dreams and fragile hopes. Those broke and died.
91st Street Nick Fandos “
xcuse me. Hi, I can’t get this media player to a … download onto my thumb drive. Can you help me?” Why yes, I am proficient at using a computer, but I work at a library, I thought to myself. I quietly followed the round man to the number 7 computer. His worn gray sweatpants, cut off roughly at the knee, just barely showed signs of sweat. His glasses hung onto the edge of a rather small nose. I suggest books or look up titles, I thought, not help some middle-aged man figure out how to steal songs from the Internet. Of course he took the chair, leaving me to awkwardly arch my body around him to reach the keyboard. He smelled like seafood. I grabbed the mouse between my thumb and fourth finger so as not to touch too much of it and opened a few files on his computer. I didn’t really know what I was doing and decided to move the cursor rapidly around the screen, clicking on various icons. That was more than he knew how to do, so at least it would stall whatever conclusion was going to come of this. Before I got too far into my visual tirade, the blond-haired kid about my age sitting at computer number 8 grabbed the grimy mouse. His skinny fingers glided back and forth—the cursor responding in swift precise movements as he muttered a technical explanation. In about twenty seconds the media player was on the man’s thumb drive. “Man, it’s easy to break the law,” I thought to myself. I looked up at the reading room clock. It was 8:43, almost closing time. I took my time walking back to the circulation desk. I tucked in a few chairs and glanced at the headlines on the front page of the New York Times again even though I’d read
most of the paper during my dinner break. The room was mostly empty, just a few discarded magazines and unshelved books plus the usual computer junkies. “Not too busy tonight,” my boss Jean said as I approached the desk. Her eyes were glazed over, probably counting down the seconds until she could make the closing announcement. “Nah, not that bad. There was a little bit of a rush about seven, but even that wasn’t too bad,” I said. I knew she was not listening, but I kept talking anyway. “Well the weather’s nice. Maybe a lot of folks are on vacation? Or maybe the kids are getting back to school. No, wait, they went back a few weeks ago, didn’t they? Hmm?” She nodded, picking at the nails of her thin bony fingers. We were both leaning on the heavy wood desk, elbows firmly dug into the wood top to take the weight off our feet. I thought a little while about herd need and let my eyes lose focus. “The library will be closing in ten minutes. Please bring any books or DVDs you’d like to check out to the desk to do so now. Thank you.” Jean’s announcement jarred me back to attention. No one else even flinched—they never do until we start turning out the lights. Jean cleaned the phone with a disinfectant wipe and walked back to the break room to gather her things. When she got back, coat tucked under her arm and bag in hand, it was my turn. Jean and I worked closing together every Monday and Thursday night. We had a routine, and talking was not a part of it. I made the short walk back to the break room as slowly as possible. The lights were already flipped off when I opened the door, so I had to feel around the wall for a while to find the switch. My tweed coat was the last one hanging in the closet. I’d almost not worn it. A warm front had blown in about lunchtime, but it was still cold enough to
ten out in neat print on the front. I stuffed it deep in my pants pocket, flipped the lightswitch, and walked out of the break room, my coat left hanging all alone in the closet. “A sweater will do tonight,” I muttered.
need a coat when I’d come in at three o’clock. I sat down in one of the stiff wooden chairs around a little table in the center of the room. A car drove by outside, the headlights momentarily flashing through the window and blinding my eyes. I’d only flipped on one switch, so it took a few moments for my eyes to readjust to the dim. The shadow of a small cactus in the middle of the table swung around as the car pulled away and then disappeared. I lazily grabbed the leather logbook beside the cactus and flipped open to my personal timesheet. “Brian Colson: 216-457-8009.” I ran my hand down the page to November 16 and filled in the blank I’d left under “Time Out.” I tucked the worn round-stick into the center of the book and was about to pinch it closed when I noticed a small folded piece of paper paper-clipped to the backside of the timesheet before mine. “Brian” was writ-
leveland Public Library, Lorain Branch, how can I help you?” I switched the phone from my right to my left ear, pinching it between my ear and my shoulder to free both hands. “Yes, sir. Excuse me. Are you there, sir?” “Yes, I’m here, ma’am, what can I do for you?” I glanced up at the small line beginning to form in front of my checkout station. “Ohh yes, sir. Thank you. Now, I was wondering if you could tell me what time it is?” I began to answer, and the woman interrupted me. “And the date also; could you also tell me what day it is?” She now waited silently. I could hear her soft breathing on the other end of the line and decided to make her wait for a few moments to test her patience. “Yes, ma’am; it is 10:43 in the morning on November 20. It’s a Tuesday. Can I get you anything else, ma’am? Make any book reservations for you?” “No, sir, that will be all. I just wanted to make sure my watch was correct. That was all, sir.” “All right then, have a nice day,” I said, but she hung up in the middle of my sentence. I put the receiver back down on its base, took a deep breath and turned to the line now formed in front of me.
I checked out two kids’ books for a young father, and then four Hitchcock DVDs for a boy that I guessed was about fourteen. Too young, in my opinion, to really appreciate Grace Kelly in Rear Window. But he complimented me on my corduroy blazer and seemed halfway earnest, so I decided not to give him trouble. The two women next in line were deep in conversation and didn’t seem intent on quitting any time soon, so I picked up a copy of The New Yorker. It had arrived in the early mail that morning and had yet to be processed, so I took first dibs on it, though quite honestly there wasn’t much competition. I was working with Burt today who was perfectly content updating his Facebook page when he had spare moments. He wore an untucked plaid shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans, and was currently bent down searching for an elderly gentleman’s holds. I stared at him for a few moments and then back down at the magazine. I flipped through a couple
pages, convincing myself I understood the cartoon of a bear and a lion dancing. “There was some smart-sounding caption like “The President’s First Dance,” or something like that. “Ummhmm.” I smelled the breath before I heard the grunt. I had been leaning forward on the desk, and as I raised my eyes, my face was maybe five inches away from the music thief ’s chin. The two women had disappeared and the rest of the line had apparently gotten the body-language memo I was sending and switched lines, but not my friend the computer junkie. “I’m sorry to have burdened you,” he said in a slow, deep, almost condescending voice. I wanted to punch him—surely my face was turning deeply red. “Sir, I am so sorry to have made you wait. I didn’t see you there, and I certainly would not have made you wait had I realized you were there. What can I do for you?” watercolor by
He smiled. He looked a little nicer today—khaki pants and a tight-fitting polo and no undershirt—but still smelled like seafood and had a day-old beard. “Well, I’m having trouble with my computer. I can’t get it to log onto the Internet,” he said very matterof-factly. I followed him into the reading room. From behind, his waist protruded like a hula-hoop, dividing the two opposing triangles that formed his upper and lower body. There was a slight limp in his step, and his breathing was heavy. He kept walking—past computer number 7 and out of the reading room. We came to a stop midway through the stacks in front of a lone work-stall. The old man, breathing heavily now, stared down at an open laptop on the desk. An error page glowed on the screen. “Well, you see it. What’s wrong with it?” the man asked. “What do you mean?” I said. “I mean what are you trying to get it to do?” “I’m trying to get onto the Internet to check my e-mail. What else would I be doing?” His last thought trailed off, but he didn’t apologize. I dragged the laptop to the edge of the desk, held my breath, and opened up his preferences. I’m not a computer geek, but I am an educated individual, so choosing a wireless network was not beyond my scope. I opened a browser to prove my success and suggested he plug in his laptop charger. “All right,” he said. That was all—apparently my cue to leave, and so I did. I thought about standing over his shoulder for a few more seconds to at least make him feel my presence but decided not to. I took the long way back to the desk, picking up a couple stray books and glancing through a few Life magazines just to stretch things out a little bit. My circuitous route took me by the shelving room instead of the reading room. I glanced in to say hello
to Mick, a shelver about my age with whom I swapped movie suggestions from time to time. The room looked empty, though, and I began to walk away, figuring he’d cut out early. I reached my hand in and flipped off the light switch for good measure—people don’t care enough about the environment, I’ve read. “Hey, what’d you do that for,” said a voice from inside the room. It was Abby. I turned bright pink, and for a second it occurred to me that Abby’s voice was really sexy, older and deeper than any girl my age I knew. I started to walk away, hoping she wouldn’t say anything else when she burst through the doorframe. “Brian? I didn’t know you were working today. I thought that was Markus that turned the lights off. He’s practically deaf and all, so I though he just didn’t hear me. Why didn’t you say hello, Brian?” She stood with her shoulder wedged in the doorframe, staring at me with fierce blue eyes. Her cheeks were still red from bringing in the book drop from outside. Her bright red coat picked up the color in her cheeks nicely, I thought. My own cheeks were probably just as red and my tongue was locked in my throat. She was stunning. I hadn’t seen anyone quite so beautiful since Chloe left. “I ....” My voice cracked. “I didn’t realize anyone was in there, Abby. I, um, didn’t realize you were working today or I would have left the light on.” By the end of the sentence I managed to sound rather authoritative, I thought—under control. I’d been avoiding Abby for the last few days since I’d found the note paper-clipped to my timesheet. She hadn’t signed it, but I recognized her handwriting, and after all, she was the only girl my age working at the library. I reasoned it must have been hers. It wasn’t like the love notes I’d gotten before, not that there had been many. But most of those were magazine clippings past-
ed to a piece of computer paper and stuffed in my locker, more like death threats than testaments of affection. Not Abby’s. It had been written out with a cool firm hand, no trace of insecurity in the neat curly letters. It hadn’t been so much a love note, as a profession of feeling—a message of unfiltered emotion, just as raw and vibrant as Abby’s cheeks looked right then. I had read the note alone in the driver’s seat of my old Camry, the only car left in the dim library parking lot. I didn’t know how I should react, so I buried it deep in the glove box and allowed myself to forget it was there. I had been doing pretty well until I had walked past the sorting room. “Well, I guess I should get back to sorting, or Jean’ll be back here to yell at me,” Abby said. We had been staring at one another in silence for what seemed like forever. She had had a puzzling, inquisitive look on her face for a few seconds before she spoke. I had a kind of puzzling, inquisitive feeling in my stomach, but I tried not to let it show. “Yeah, I’d better get back up to the desk. Burt’s probably pretty upset. I was helping someone else before you. I mean ... before I ran into you. Anyway, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you later, I guess.” I was fumbling with my words again. “Okay, see you around.” Abby slowly turned and ducked back into the sorting room but only after glancing back in my direction for a moment or two. I knew she was watching, but I didn’t turn around until I reached the desk. There was a line of
maybe fifteen people waiting to be checked out. Burt was at the other end of the desk juggling four DVD cases and a library card in one hand, hanging on to the phone with his left. I sighed. “I can help whoever’s next.” kay, mom. I’ll be home in about a half “ hour. Yes, I’m leaving the library now, but I’ve got to stop by the watch repair shop to pick up my wristwatch. It’ll only take a print by Greg Fister couple minutes. Yes, they’re still open. Okay, okay. I’ll talk to you later. Goodbye.” I snapped my old Sprint phone shut and let it fall out of my hand onto the passenger seat. It was dinnertime, so the library parking lot was pretty quiet. I turned the key in the ignition and the car came to life with a gentle vibration and the soft sound of Best of George Gershwin. I put the car in reverse, slid out of my spot, and crawled back towards the exit. A car passed on the street in front of me, and as I waited to pull out, I heard someone yelling from behind my car. “Brian! Brian, wait.” There was pounding on my trunk. More like a slap, but I felt it all the way in the front seat. Abby appeared at my window, gesturing for me to roll it down. A purple scarf hung off-kilter from her neck as she bent over, catching her breath. “Brian,” she said, still out of breath. “I’m so glad I caught you. I don’t have a car because I was going to walk home. But it’s really cold, and it’s getting dark. I called my mom and she can’t get up here for a half-
hour. I figured you could give me a ride. I don’t live far—just over on 91st.” I hesitated for a moment. She really looked beautiful. Just as vital as when we’d been together earlier in the hallway, but she looked softer now, too. She parted her lips a bit and her eyes were locked on mine. I said yes, mostly so she would look away. She did and ran around to the passenger side of the car. I managed to quickly turn off Gershwin as she circled around. She opened the door to silence. Abby’s house was only a few blocks up from the library, and with the streets quiet at this time of day the drive only took four minutes. Abby’s voice filled the car. I stared straight ahead in silence, hanging on every word, my cheeks flaming red. She fiddled around as we drove, opening and shutting the the glove box, cracking the passenger window and then rolling it back up. When I heard her open the glove box my heart stopped. I couldn’t dare myself to look over at her. Was she holding the letter? Had she found it? But within a few seconds she’d shut it once again without a word. “It’s 3467,” she said as I turned left onto 91st Street. “That one, that one right there.” It was a two-story brick home with a welcoming front stoop and warm light pouring out. It didn’t match either of the houses that flanked it but seemed to fit right in. I put the car into park and unlocked the doors. Abby didn’t say anything. She stared at me again and lay her hand on top of mine on my thigh. She stretched over the console and grazed my right cheek with a gentle kiss, the weight of her hand now pushing down onto my thigh. “Good night,” she said, pulling back onto her seat and opening the door in one fluid motion. She stepped out onto the curb and gently closed the door. I could feel her stare once more until I heard her turn and start up the steps.
“Good night,” I thought. Only then could I look. I waited a few moments, maybe a minute, before I pulled away. I almost blew through the stop sign at the end of the block and had to stop short. I looked at the clock. 6:27. The watch repair place—whose name I seem to have forgotten all these years later—closed at 6:30, and besides, I knew my mother would throw a small tantrum if I was much later for our “family reunion dinner” she had been planning ever since my sister had phoned long-distance two weeks ago to announce her intentions to visit home for a couple days. It was pretty dark by the time I pulled up to the stoplight at Detroit Avenue. It had been a long time since I’d driven home this way, but the stoplight at that intersection is one of the longest in the city and hard to forget. I put the car in park and settled back into my seat. To my right I could see a line of men streaming out of the basement of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church. St. Mark’s had a soup kitchen in the basement where I’d served dinner to the homeless with my mom a few times when I was younger. My phone vibrated on the passenger seat—my best guess was that Abby just sat on it, by the way. “You ever seen Citizen Kane?” the text read. It was from Mick—a bit out of the blue, but so was Mick. I hit reply. “Nah, but I’ve read about it. Doesn’t seem worth the praise it gets.” I put the phone back down and looked back at the basement door. A group of about five older men were streaming out. One of the five dropped something, stopping to find it in the darkness as the others kept walking. He took out a cell phone and shone the light on the ground. From the car, a small object was just visible as the light flashed momentarily of its surface—I could have sworn it was a jump drive. The old man pocketed it and caught up with the group. “Ummmmm,
that was good fish tonight,” I heard one of them say. My jaw didn’t drop, but my stomach did. Or at least it made me sick. The light turned green, and after a few seconds I pulled away.
few weeks passed before I saw Abby again. The Cleveland Public Library system was closed for Thanksgiving, and I took off the first week of December after my grandfather died. It wasn’t until the middle of the month that our paths finally crossed. December 14 was the coldest day of a cold year that, even though it was almost over, seemed like it would never end. Lakeeffect snow had been hanging over the city for most of the week and was falling pretty heavily as I had set out for work. In any other town—except Chicago and Minneapolis, I’m told—the library would have closed for the day or at least opened late once the roads were cleared. Jerry, our part-time maintenance and landscaping man, had put down salt the night before, but most of the snowmelt refroze overnight, making the library parking lot slick with ice. By the time I rolled in at 8:15 the two spots along the street were already taken, most likely by Jean and Markus. I had to park around the corner and walk back 400 yards to the library in the snow, only to have to wait for another five minutes in the cold while Jean fumbled with the door. “Well, it’s not that cold, and besides, it’ll be quiet today,” she said. Some greeting, I thought, but I nodded in agreement. I stood in the lobby a couple of minutes shaking the snow off my tweed overcoat and banging my loafers against the floor. Jean went on through the second set of doors. Through the glass door I could see Abby approach the desk. She was wearing her red coat but a different scarf. I smiled to see her. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but
her body language looked ticked off. She and Jean did not see eye to eye, but this was the first time I’d ever seen them really get into it. Abby, shouting something about a stack of books and Jean just sitting there, nodding blankly. It went on like this for two, maybe three minutes, until Abby got up and stormed off only to return a few moments later with a cart to push out into the snow and retrieve the book drop. I waited until she went out the back door to step inside myself. It was more than fifteen minutes before Abby reappeared. I wondered if I should have gone out to help her. Jean didn’t care; she went on silently organizing the hold shelf, removing expired items and then straightening the stacks. It was amazing: her breathing was at the same pace now as it had been with Abby—a slow, steady stream in and out, in and out. Abby burst through the back door just as Jean sat down behind the desk. Abby stomped her feet as she moved towards us, snow falling lightly to the ground as if it were straight out of the sky. She stared at me—not like before, but with a kind of vengeance, a call for loyalty. I cast my eyes down and inspected the tight grain of the oak desk, running my index finger back and forth. “Hello, Brian,” she said and slammed a stack of children’s books down in front of me. I began to check them in. Without looking up, I said hello. “Brian, why don’t you run back to the children’s room for me? I think I left a couple transit items back there,” said Jean. She nodded and stood up to take my place. She seemed to think it was part of an agreement we’d made. I did not move. I could feel them looking at me. Abby with her lips slightly parted, her blue eyes visually taking me apart, Jean with her dull brown eyes and pursed lips. “Stay here. Check these in, Brian,” Abby said. She put some more books down and al-
lowed her hand to touch mine. Jean had not moved. “Brian, go get those transit items for me now, please,” said Jean, in a way that insinuated her authority. She was my boss—well, the head of circulation, anyway. She knew she had me. The Christmas garlands had been hung on the windows while I was gone and there were poinsettias clustered on the ends of the desk. The whole library was warm as the artificial heat pushed out of the old vents in every direction. Markus was sitting at the reference desk. He was just out of sight, but I knew he was there. None of these things really explain why I decided to walk, but they just seem important, looking back. I tried to span the hallway as fast as I
could to reach the children’s room, at one point almost in full gait. I dashed in and searched frantically for the transit books. Nowhere. “Christie, where are the transit holds?” “Ohh, hey, Brian. I took them to the staff room a couple minutes ago. Why, were you looking for them?” Christie was behind a tall shelf and couldn’t see my face. I ran back to the circulation desk as fast as I could, nearly running into Markus along the way. I turned the corner, knocked a few books over and she was gone. No one but Jean, quietly and peacefully scanning books, one by one, from the stack Abby had made. I stared for a few moments breathing heavily, and then I joined her.
Draw the Faces On Clayton Petras
The final words on the nightâ€™s homework As the monotone sounds. Pick up your books, Heavy in your arms. Your thoughts drift Down crowded halls Up the stairs. Cross the threshold. Two lines of people, Join the throng. Highways of the hallways. Faces all blank, Thoughts on homework, quizzes, tests. Complementary color, negative space, contrast Are what fill your mind. Excitement grows As you make your way Up the stairs, Past the cubby holes. Entering the room, The familiar aura comes. Peace, creativity, attentiveness to detail, Paper yet to have found its purpose, Stacked next to a broken clock. Drawings, Paintings, Prints, Adorn the walls. A random assortment of objects, The centerpiece of the tables and chairs: A cow skull A blue glass bottle Two metal bells, one yellow and one red
A bronze pitcher A pear here An apple there A brown turkey feather. Interpretive duplication its purpose. You drift away. Thoughts come and go, But the main focus remains At the tip of the pencil in your hand. No boundaries, rules, theorems, or maps. Pure creativity, Ideas translated on paper, Dreams painted on canvas. Soul carved into wood. Forty minutes to remove What has been branded in. To unteach the logical thinking of the brain, Showing it to draw what it truly sees. Reteaching it To make something out of nothing. Giving you the power to reshape ideas. And In turn To reshape others. The bell rings. The euphoria ends. Back to rules. Back to boundaries. Back to the box, Full of blank faces, Without the right pencil yet, To create an expression. Await the day When you can draw the faces on.
What Changes Conor Gearin So what has changed of late that’s let me better See colors contrast? These scenes—of cloud-bleached light Shining on darkened streets, brown bark of tree-trunks Behind leaves, now have stronger push and pull Than they once did just yesterday. But why? For the sky right now is gray, as gray as ever One might expect an autumn sky to be, And as dull. Yet just this morning I saw more shades— More meaningful shades—than I had in whole gray years. Then must those years have been gray not due to the world’s pigments being drained, but from Some blindness of mine—of eye, of mind, or spirit? Yes— I was too weak to see the changes In tone, so slight, but so important: our Entire ability to see our world Is summed in this one skill. And sometimes not So slight, these changes—the way your rings of hair Spool down amber ’round your pale face, And the pink of your thin lips, below dark pupils Ringed blue—had I gone blind until last night? Had I forgot the form of a human face? Well, never again. When his heart cools, an artist’s Eye fades. Today, no Titans or pagan gods brought beauty back to the world, like stolen fire. No, beauty was ever ours! There is no more Than you and I and a way of seeing each other. Print by Phil Nahlik
Song Michael Blair
1. springtime like a song that spreads across the thin wind which carries the small rain like springtime springtime in matted bark matted pack window pane door way dreamed away in springtime springtime for clothesline pins behind the brick garage where she stands waiting for springtime 2. sing to me now of this voice which tells me to be how i was be how you were 3. i wish it i do not wish it 4. sitting beside me on a leather couch my uncle tells me of his night drunk
climbing through the window of a friend’s apartment while my grandfather is dying in the backroom. “this isn’t right,” my uncle says, taps his fingers on his long coat, flicks his watch. “if this was a dog we’d give it a t-bone steak and take it to the vet the next day. this isn’t right. strong men spoonfed apple sauce, taking pills up their asses.” my father is here and nods and i think of them— lost sons of a great american family. i see the picture of my grandfather in 1965 smoking a cigar on a mule shotgun in his hand eyes cocked to the sun. now my grandmother is framed by the red fireplace. her eyes look white. “he was a man who did it the way he wanted to,” she says. i remember a spring break in florida when i ran into his bed and fell on his heavy shoulder. 5. is nothing made new? 6. in between now and then before she drove through illinois to chicago misted car window
blurred cornfield chopped finger windfarm we sat in the same car parked, still. you still thought of tearing your tears in twos cut so many times they might become uncut then i did not know what would be now now i do not know what was then now i see the sun set on tv sets i see the land beneath the sea i see the ceilings as floors, the stripped treetops as roots but is it so bad to fill the skies with highways, to stop at firework superstores or state carnivals to buy tickets to the stars? 7. remember: i saw you crying in the crayon canyon i saw you wearing black shoes on labor day i saw you collecting tears in a bucket i saw you seeing you in a mirror i saw you sewing the hard land back 8. you can always come back but you canâ€™t come back all the way
9. sing again because i want to sing again because i want 10. the prairie needs a last name and a suitable job, a brief case and investments in stalks 11. we might still be unknown 12. in the nighttime we wash our hands of the daytime 13. it is spring and i am calling you 14. sing to me my cold tree memory my tucked ambition my blue mind my rumpled mind my bankrupt mind my orphaned mind in the morning the winds will rise the shadow of our oldest regrets to the annulled moon
Young Men as Philosophers Conor Gearin
Boys what are we talking about today? Boys this is no way to spend our lunch period. Why are we arguing about whether or not pain is relative? What the hell does that matter? I’ll tell you my pain right now is an absolute but also incomparable to your experiences of pain. Also the first minute of this conversation was just as painful as the last but just as painful as the sum total. Right now I’m both the starving masses in the Sudan and the Englishman quite displeased with his tea. That’s what I think of your relativity. I’m getting worried about some of you. You’ve gotten so red in the face. Calm down Clevinger Holden Hamlet. Boys, what’s relativity to you, or you to relativity? Boys this is no way to spend our lunch period senior year. Boys this is no way to spend our senior year. Haven’t you seen Grease? or Footloose? We’re supposed to be dancing on the table or beating each other up over some girl, not arguing about philosophy bullshit. Boys I gotta cut loose. Your unswerving blind faith to your leaders your Ginsbergs your Lennons your Kerouacs is strangling freedom of expression in our conversations. I’m being repressed I say. I move for a vote of no confidence in Mr. Ginsberg. There must be a regime change the people call for it. Today begins the struggle against Beatnik totalitarianism. I shall take up the strophe standard of my enemy. I shall strike him down with his own wicked poetic devices, he who atrophies minds. The engineer shall hoist with his own petard—but wouldn’t that mean I would be the one exploding? Anyway that’s not important— We are to be revolutionaries not academics! We are the Greensboro students! We are the Sons of Liberty! We are the ABC Club! We should be making a red flag out of this tablecloth! damn no tablecloth— We should be dying on a barricade under a red flag somewhere! Dying for our loved ones! For Democracy! For France! We are talking about education reform and why the Democrats suck. Don’t you know there’s still monarchists out there to behead you just have to find them. Forget Congress. No one will respect a revolution against a guy named John Boehner. Come with me. Who will join in my crusade? Well why not? We are just angry young men and there’s always a place for us when the course of history isn’t calling for bravery. And some of us are angry old men already just look at your tie where did you get that? I’m done here. I’m walking away now okay? Hey listen to me, I’m talking now! Boys did I tell you I went out on my first date two weeks ago? I know I didn’t tell you that how could I, you would have picked me to pieces
I’d love for you to meet her. I’ve introduced you to her three times each and you still don’t know her I’m pretty damn sure. I was 17 years 11 months 20 days. Boys is that any way to live? Nearly eighteen on my first date? Tell me damnit. Go ahead pick me to pieces now I’m ready. Boys she doesn’t give half a damn about your poetry, about your bullshit poetry. I’m sorry I said that. It’s not true anyway she tolerates it. But there’s just not time for all this pretension. Boys we’re out of time. The period bell just rang on our childhood did you hear it? Time to go Boys I just spent five minutes shouting at mirror images of myself so I’m a little scared. I think we should stop this—whatever it is we’re doing, it’s not fun anymore. I’m just not ready to be 40 years old. It’s time to be immature again. Whatever that means, I forget do you remember? Print by Clayton Petras
Print by Greg Fister
From Under The Table Stephen Ludwig “
ake, thank God it’s you,” Tom said, sighing with relief. “What are you doing?” I looked around the living room, my collegiate brother perched on the edge of the couch in jeans and a plaid button-down. His hair was brown and wavy, his face clean-shaven for Thanksgiving. Tom hunched over our coffee table laying out solitaire. Extending his body up and stretching his neck, he looked and listened like a muskrat checking for safety. Realizing it was just me, he pulled out from under the
coffee table a white Frisbee holding pre-sorted weed. Seeing the weed, I stumbled around the end table and onto the loveseat directly across from the couch where Tom sat. He didn’t notice my nervousness. His whole body was completely absorbed in prepping the weed so he could roll a joint. He rolled it without dropping any of the green gold. Placing the slim joint behind his ear, Tom got up. Stretching and smiling, he walked over to the back door, turned, and asked, “You coming outside?”
Defeat Stephen Deves
y mom sat across the table. A stack of five or six envelopes rested in front of her as she opened one in her hands. The silver knife pierced the corner and ripped through the thin white flap. I broke the silence. “I need to get a 32. I’m gonna beat him.” “It’s okay if you don’t, Mark. It’s just a test.” “No, Mom, I have to.”
hat bastard beat me in everything. He was two years older, but I trailed him in far more than our age. Since he graduated high school, I haven’t been able to scale up
to his 4.2 GPA. Aside from grades, I challenged him at everything: three-point contests, washer-throwing, cards, darts. Every time he walked away laughing as I cursed at him, kicking anything nearby.
ell, here it is,” she said as she started to pull the paper out. “Wait, Mom…don’t look.” “Don’t you want to know if you beat him?” I replayed the past couple of weeks in my mind: the anxiety, the impatience, the uncertainty. For once, though, I hadn’t lost. “Not yet.” Photo by Stephan Laury
S Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer
down by the river under summer stars i saw him. the tumble wind rolled through the unkempt plain inhabited by unslaughtered herds, and wolves. the sky wound on, the river’s eyes slurred true in ripples, whispering S who was there from the fog like moonlight crept upon the water, risen unseen, the subtle vague. how has your tomorrow been said the specter i’m wondering what yesterday will bring. yes. lovely night. it is who it is said the specter, and the stars said your descendants will number the sand. photo by
Jukebox Michael Blair “
hat do you want?” I thought I might as well so I ordered it. There was something cold and sad, I knew, about eating a diner burger alone on a Tuesday night—some impenetrable bow to the legend of meaning that I had cast around myself, to the sizzle of grill and sugar-cubed coffee cup, but it was cold outside in the middle of December and I felt unwanted and orphaned anyplace else. Beside me an old man buttered a roll. The roll flaked yellow crumbs on his white plate. He used too much butter. Two men were talking at the counter about something. I couldn’t tell what. “No, no, no that’s right. It used to be there,” one said. “I guess so. I remember it being so much bigger then,” the other said. They wore twin brown leather jackets with their backs turned at the counter. I could smell their smoke, and when one turned, he displayed the two lit cigarettes that hung from his lips. I thought about the company I was in. They worked slowly and sadly and I got the impression, thick in the silence and smoke, that nobody here was here for a good time but maybe because the walls were white and the floor was sticky and a cheeseburger never changed and there was nothing wrong about being cheap if it could get you a cup of coffee. The waitress had pale eyes and you could never tell if she was looking at you or not. I read the names of the contacts on my phone and wondered where I was better off. I saw them, alphabetized and glowing in orange letters, the only images left of people I wondered if I cared to know anymore. I remembered getting high in the back of “Tim
G’s” truck, windows open in the late August night. I hadn’t seen “Kate Shockley” since we danced together at eighth-grade graduation in the middle school gym. “Aunt Mimi” got divorced. I hated myself for kissing “Courtney Stevens” in my basement. I hadn’t seen “Claire” for two years though I still thought of her often, and wondered if I’d ever see her again. We met at a summer screenwriting camp in the Bible Belt where we spent all day writing alone and all night sitting under a blanket talking about Woody Allen and John Lennon and the mess we’d made of our lives and the love we thought we believed in. I remember seeing her come in late to orientation, and sighing to myself—dirt-brown hair and a flower dress and a cloth bracelet and blue eyes. We would stare at each other from across the table at breakfast and lunch each day, and I’d see those blue eyes. And I felt as if they were more than just intimations of blooming romance, more than looks of desire or want or wild carnality. There was something behind them—something that held a kind of energy that found in its source a wordless honesty, energy in the beauty of the silence, in the playfulness of the leaves and the setting sun, in the pain and darkness that spread out in a cloud on the horizon because it would show us that we were real and that we’d always wanted to be real. I’d never known a girl like this before—faster than me to name the Beatles album, more experienced than me, funnier than me. She sat with her knees curled up in class while she wrote her screenplay, slowly and deliberately. She was ethereal and without strings pulling toward time and place, and I felt as if she had existed around me and above me. I wanted to let her in. It seemed to me the shapes of the world had taken form in her, and made me wonder if a thin high school girl sitting in a patch of grass under the rising Tulsa moon was all there was to anything. I was shocked to learn later, over breakfast cereal, that we
were from the same city and knew the same people, that we’d both been in Webster on the Fourth of July, both sat on patched quilts on a green hill to see the fireworks. When we had group screenings at night in a dark auditorium, we would sit next to each other and I could smell her hair and, after a few minutes, feel her arm touching mine along the elbow rest. We’d stay like that the whole movie. I was sixteen and struck wild with uncertainty and puffed with clouded ambition and I didn’t know what to do because I’d never done it before and didn’t know what it could mean. Claire, though, was dangerous. In those eyes there lived something I knew I could never hope to contain. She smoked cigarettes and weed every chance she got. She had a tattoo. She had sex. She wore earth-brown dresses and kicked trashcans and swore and sang and made me nervous. I’d spent the last two years living in a boy’s school, stepping out to suburban doorsteps once a month to talk quietly in basements over Will Smith movies with girls’-school girls about volleyball and chemistry. On the last day of camp I saw Claire, hair-wet from showering, packed brown suitcase beside her, stone slate eyes, igloo eyes,
canyon eyes, and I knew bracing and tonic and hard like iron that I was in love with a dark girl I just met, that time would fall like leaves around me and images would change but I would never stop being in love with someone, with anyone for the rest of my life and I felt young, old, Design by Perry May luminous and sad. I haven’t seen her since. We texted and e-mailed—quite passionately—but Claire had a boyfriend and time moved on and our world shaded away gradually, if not completely. I still sent her texts every two months or so, filled with longing or regret or enthusiasm for what might be. I still saw her—matted-hair and purple dress—and she swam through the world around me and her image haunted me. I thought I saw her in shopping malls and ice cream parlors. Whenever I drove through Webster neighborhoods, I’d feel my chest tighten. Sometimes she’d send me Facebook messages. She’d always end them by writing “see you.” And it seemed to me then that I was somehow getting to know Claire from several different sources, that what had happened in Tulsa was real but not complete and that we somehow grew closer in the way we drifted apart. I was confused, though, and I think she was too. It was a shock to me when, one August night, I first thought that she might be as vulnerable
as I was, that she was older and filled with experience and some ethereal spirit that, in my eyes, never put her feet down on the dirt, that existed outside of experience—that this girl was uncertain and tired and lonely and wandering, was just like me. And, somehow, because of this, because we were so similar, we might never meet again. I would never say the things that she made me understand. Would she ever know the things she made me understand? I was getting a headache from the smoke. They all smoked in here, and I loved that when I was sixteen but I was different now. At home, my dad sprayed eucalyptus and talked about a room’s “energy.” He was the son of a great American family, the inheritor of his father’s name and his father’s profession. He played golf and shot ducks and skied in Aspen when the wind pushed the snow through the trees. But he was my dad. And I saw him in a white undershirt singing Beatles songs. I saw him tearing up at the end of sentimental movies. I saw him last week, the night before my grandfather died, with the shadows of sadness and love behind his workman’s glasses, and then he gave me a hug. My grandfather, who at times had placed his stern hands upon my father’s neck but who had also loved my father who loved me. My dad’s eyes watered now—not at the end of a sentimental movie, but at the end of a life, the end of a definition he had, the end of a person he had. I saw a softness in his leather face, one I’d seen tightening as my sister went to college and I went to private high school and the world pushed him from the outside too. I wondered what it was like to have those worries. To know the hard world beyond us, to know such responsibility. All my worries came from my own blurred head, though I took them seriously enough. Maybe too seriously. And I was worried because I’d had headaches for months now and, though
I felt myself warming up and feeling like myself again, I still didn’t feel all the way back. I wanted to go back to those times when I’d walk down the hallway in a green sweater, smiling and thinking and calling the names of my classmates like notes in a great song. Now, I felt like Neil Young singing about rock and roll, “Once you’re gone, you can never come back.” And today I sat in theology class and I heard the tornado sirens pass through the windows from outside and I knew that another month had come and I wondered if I might be made new or just strapped again into my thunder-head, longing for things I couldn’t see through my dulled eyes. I wanted, then, to leave that theology classroom and my friends in the rows and the wooden crucifix and go to some prairie where I would be anonymous among wisped stalks and crow songs and the full, green sky, where I wouldn’t know or feel myself anymore. But I didn’t leave that class. I couldn’t. And so I got home that day and took two aspirin and drove my car to the Diner and sat down alone in a booth in the back near the jukebox. I couldn’t explain to myself how there were so many people around me, but I still felt so alone with my own unsolvable problems. How I could know the sadness and love but not take it or give it back. I remember last year when I’d finish my homework at midnight and go down to the basement to play old folk songs about death and sex and cocaine for a while before I’d go to bed. Or how, for a week, I’d plug headphones in my laptop and listen to Sly and The Family Stone’s “Family Affair.” I liked the quietness of the verse and the way the end blew up, not in making things louder or different but in this short animal voice that Sly let out just as the song faded away. I felt as if now I finally knew what the songs were about and why I loved them so much, why I stayed up playing them over and over again because
Design by Perry May
I couldn’t poke out their mysteries. I knew now not what those mysteries contained but, perhaps, why they were so potent and foggy. But I couldn’t play them. I tried to. I tried as hard as I could to brush away the chords of my jagged brain and in the end I couldn’t. I was alone with myself and failed it too. I wanted to learn, sure. But I wanted to know what I was learning and how I was learning. I wanted to be in control of it, and not close my eyes every night with dim but hard hope that I might wake up with my eyes open and my head clear and my enthusiasm back and the laughter of the world reinstated like a three-note chord played by a jazz band. But I felt as if I had crossed some crossroads and been down to the dark river and had become someone I didn’t know or was scared to know. And so I went to the Diner and ordered coffee and a cheeseburger and listened to the tin clap of the white dishes and heard the black tennis shoes stick on the tiles and saw the black mascara ringed around the waitress’s hollowed hallowed eyes. Because we all had come here to dream the dream and that dream was a bow to the restrictions and limits and boundaries that were there and wouldn’t move for us even though we asked, even though we kept ask-
ing. And right next to me I could smell the cigarettes on the old man’s old wool coat and saw the waitress was missing a tooth and heard the men at the counter cough in unison and then stop talking all together. I heard that silence. And when I heard that silence I felt my phone hum in my pocket and picked it up and saw the orange letters that told me I had a new message from “Queen Jane.” I’d made that contact name up over the summer after the famous Bob Dylan song, though it seemed to me a little strange now that I’d gotten to know Jane so well, and the events that I have to write about now happened, and I really can’t tell you any lies or even stack the stories up in a way to make you think this all is ordered for a reason, a fundamentally happy or sad one, because it never was like that. Because I’d fallen in love with Jane over the summer when I spent long nights in her backyard listening to old records and hearing her keen voice. When the summer began to close and my head began to pop, we spent a few weekends together when I’d stay out past 3 a.m. and we’d sit in my car or in her living room talking about our worlds and our worries and what we thought the rainstorms of the future might hold. Then I’d feel my
phone and see my dad had texted me and wondered where I was in the middle of the night and I’d say goodnight to Jane and tell her we’d do it again the next night. I was always surprised by how delicate she was, how shatteringly human and vulnerable and real she appeared before me. Those weeks all the mirrors seemed crooked and I went back to my high school bankrupt of the assurances I’d built up over the last three years. I dropped out. I knew I was no longer who I used to be, but I wanted to be like him. I wanted to feel like my entire life I had been building something and that something was me and greater than the image of me and I might never stop building and I’d be getting taller instead of digging out a life of junkyard parts and old cobwebs and when you followed one road you eventually burnt out and had to throw it all away and start over with nothing, not even you. At night when I went to see Jane, I saw she was artistic and wise and brilliant and there was something contained inside her that was stronger than I was, though she told me about her worries and fears and had been depressed all summer and hadn’t been sure what was wrong. We’d go out and sit in the August grass and look up at the stars together and I felt so comfortable and both old and new and I wanted to tell her that somewhere in between us I thought I might be saved. Jane went away to college a few weeks later and our life became mismatched text messages and chance phone calls and I read Dante’s Inferno at night but got dizzy and couldn’t concentrate on the words. Jane, too, seemed to get worse and more uncertain and I wondered if this was what growing up meant for us after all. That the world was hard-edged and only opened toward the unknown and the unfair and that we had to treat it like adults and not be worried about everything. When I went to Paris for Thanksgiving and walked along the green
Seine alone and wanting America, I left Jane dry and then the texts turned awry and Jane said she felt pathetic for letting herself get hurt by me and I felt so confused again and I told her to wait until she got home and all would be new or like it used to be and we would have fun and smile and now I found myself again back in my car with Jane sitting next to me and it was December and snowing and we were talking about how uncertain it all was and how the future was thick and layered and how we felt so much but didn’t want to hurt. And I felt so unwise for calling her—someone so real and full of energy—Queen Jane, because the song makes her “Queen Jane (Approximately)” and I was sick of all the calculations that only yielded something near the truth. And for the seventeenth time in my life the snow fell and covered the leaves and grass and made all colors white. And so I put on my scarf and gloves and hat and drove to the Diner where I sat alone in a booth in the back by the jukebox, which now played an old ballad from the fifties. The old man beside me was a few bites from finishing his roll. I saw the waitress close her dark eyes. She leaned up against the white wall. Then she opened her eyes and went over to turn on the fans to blow the smoke away. I thought about whether she was really blowing the smoke away or if she was spreading that smoke on all of us equally because we were here and it was our shared reward. I thought about my family, how my dad was crying now more than ever and my mom had had headaches all month just like me and my sister was images away in Europe studying the environment and I hadn’t seen her in months. What does it all mean? Why is this all mine? Why are they all mine? And the waitress opened up her make-up mirror and softened her black mascara with powder. It started to snow outside and I raised my hand in the smoke-air and asked her for
a vanilla milkshake because my sister and I used to come here in the summers after swim practice to drink milkshakes and hide away from our parents for a few hours. I’d always give her my cherry. Tonight I ate it because I wanted to be like her, but it tasted sour and I made a face and squinted and when I opened my eyes again I saw the old man staring at me. Then he dug around in his elastic pockets, pushed a few coins on the table, stood up and put on his wool coat. I could hear his sneakers on the floor. The floor tiles were black and white squares. The old man moved toward the black window where the
white snow fell outside and I could hear his sneakers now as he walked past me and towards the door. And I heard the bell on the door ring and felt the winter wind flow into the smoky room and then I turned and suddenly I saw them all walking through the Diner doors—in walked Claire and Jane and my dad and his dad and my mom and my sister who was two thousand miles away and all the people I’d stored in my phone but would never see again—in they all walked through the Diner doors and back to the booth in the back near the jukebox and I ordered coffee while they sat down around me. Design by Mitch Mackowiak
Letter Mike Lumetta The paper bends lightly, its white edges unwrinkled, pristine. The uniform black letters rolled off the printer, wet for an instant, and now, dry, form words. Out of its manila envelope, it looks frail and flammable. A match would vaporize it in seconds, and a finger could probe and prod and shift the ash and touch the nothing left behind. Why put yourself into so insubstantial a form? Besides, the Times New Roman text and crisp paper could denote an essay or legal document. No one knows by looking. Words recall a voice, and among a multitude of mysteriesâ€” neurotransmitters and synapses and vibration and frequency and pitchâ€” something erupts from the page.
Bargain Lighthouse Sunrise Conor Gearin
Why did I get that messy little painting? I was looking for a souvenir, a reminder of the trip, but really just something different to put in my room, so where better than the outlet décor store that had filled our vacation condo and every other one like it down a ten-mile stretch of Florida beach lined with cookie-cutter condo skyscrapers. Why not make my room look like those? We plodded down the aisles of the antiqued world maps, the dolphins breaching in the familiar dim red sunset water, reprints—the obligatory hunting heron, the obvious secretive whale— then stacks and stacks of abandoned lighthouse photos. Things to remind people where they are—Paradise, of course. Then I saw a spatter of yellow across a green field, sunlight shown in its true bright grainy brilliance, not distilled in weary sunset gleaming. Only rough oil paint, and only the original canvas, could have that grittiness. I picked up the painting, sized like a newspaper front page, looked down the bumpy dirt pathway— brightening in its ridges with leaping sunrise light. Wide at the bottom of the work, it narrows as it moves up, along the azure bay rimmed by the muddy cliffs, and beside the fence-posts and the grass, spotted with yellow fires. The road ends just left of dead center in the scene, at the reason for this canvas’s being in this outlet store—the tall white lighthouse, the only clean line, the one thing standing straight, shaded seamlessly from stucco white to dun mud-color on the western-facing side, the red cupola slightly off-axis, but looking not so much like a mistake as a jaunty little cap. A little white light-keeper’s cottage nestled under the tower, protected by the tower and the two fresh plume-like evergreens, whose spreading tips too are mustard color. I wondered—why is this painting here? This one painting that has a who attached to it: Who splattered the sunrise mustard color over everything so perfectly imperfectly? Who left the sun out of a sunrise picture? Who made these sloppy strokes that
raised paint bumps I can touch, can scrape off if I want? And who invites me to walk down the path into the painting to his lighthouse?—among so many dead friezes, there is a keeper of this house, there is a painter of this painting, there is a sun rising— out of view, but its effects were everywhere. We bought the painting for the tagged price of fifteen dollars, and it hangs in my room, and I begin every day with the sunrise that asks me why? and who? and how the finest sunrise that week was the one I couldn’t see.
Dawlish Street Logan Hayward
e woke up in a dumpster at the moment when afternoon was descending into twilight. The man dusted off his worn jeans and picked debris off his ragged red sweater. He hopped out of the dumpster which had housed him for a few hours, and began walking out of the tiny alleyway between the tavern and the Elks lodge. The setting sun struck his eyes with a vengeance. His nocturnal habit left him ill-suited for wandering around anytime before eightthirty. He turned onto Dawlish Street: the long, hilly haven for the blue-collar folk of the city—although it was technically in the suburbs. He had seen its hard-working residents many times throughout his life; he once considered himself one of them. However, he was kidding himself if he thought he still bore any resemblance to them. As he tottered down the street, trying to keep his head held high, he saw some boys playing stickball in an abandoned lot, overgrown with weeds. “Some of these guys must be my friends’ sons,” he thought, and grimaced slightly as he thought of how far away he was from fulfilling his desire to have progeny—to have someone who at least had genes in common with him, who looked up to him, who liked to play catch with him, using a tattered leather ball. After he passed the lot, he innocently looked into the windows of the bungalows with well-kept gardens. These homes were tightly-packed and almost identical in design—just like tuna cans, except with dimmer coloring. Yet the busy housewives who kept these homes instilled in them a pride unbecoming of such a bland exterior. They
had hung up flags—either for America or Ireland or, for those gregarious families always looking for something to celebrate, both. The wives of Dawlish Street had heckled their husbands to take the ten minutes to trim the grass after their long days of work. These gregarious ladies most expressed their individuality by planting petunias, tulips, lilies, and whatever other sorts of flowers they could find in their trips to the faraway docks. The man had long thought, “Why should they be proud of such a dump? They have next to nothing.” But they did have something. They had a pride that the man tended to view with guilt: the unshakeable knowledge that thousands of ancestors had toiled in the fields so that they could live, so that someday they might escape serfdom and famine and call something their own. How had he been any different from them? Was not the beginning of his life filled with pride, too? He had gone to all of the parades, and fish fries, and fall festivals. He had played baseball with all of his friends. He had listened to the old-timers sing sea shanties from the sides of their lips, which were usually curled around their military-issue pipes. And he hadn’t been just another part of the crew—just another kid who served funeral masses so he could collect tips, just another kid who “forgot” to take home the food the nuns gave him at Christmas out of shame. He had had his share of recognition on Dawlish Street. The girls widely recognized him as the best dancer at graduation, but that was in the time when most fellows stood nervously by the punch-bowl, mumbling about the weather and baseball. He had been a decent ball-player; he had been a scruffy fighter. And he had always been a perfect angel at school—the nuns had told him he would make a good doctor. He would make Dawlish Street proud. How had he slipped from his former heights?
He could blame the tavern, if he wanted to blame something. It had given him, both through its convivial atmosphere and trademark ale, a steady, friendly-neighborhood acceptance of mediocrity. One of the ancient sailors from the docks had told him that alcohol was the invention of the devil, who didn’t like to see men working hard for their families. But what excuse was that for him? He had barely worked since he dropped out of college. Why did he spend so much of his time drunk if he never felt the need to escape from any problems? “Remember the Garden of Eden, Timmy. Remember that there are always those who grow bored of perfection. There are always those who can’t stand constancy.” That was what Father Brian had told him in one of the monthly confessions the man felt obligated to make. The bitter skeptic in him had resented this piece of advice. “How could Dawlish Street be perfection?” he had thought. As he was repeating this question in his head, a young man bumped into him. “Sorry, about that, sir!” said the youngster. “Hm,” replied the man. “You’re forgiven.” “Say, sir, would you happen to know the way to the Donnellys’ house?” “Who? Frank Donnelly, from the diner?” “Yes, sir! That’s the one.” “Why, he lives just down a block, on the corner of this street and Albatross. You can’t miss it. He paints his mailbox all sorts of colors, depending on the season.” “Thanks, sir!” The youngster went on his cheerful way. “Say, young lad!” called the man. “What is it, sir?” “How is old Frank? And Molly, his wife?”
“Oh, they’re doing just fine, if I may say so. Their restaurant’s one of the only ones doing a good business these days.” “Oh? Is the economy bad?” “Well, it’s not on the bright side in these parts, with the plant closing down last month. But we’ll pull through the whole mess.” “Why’s that?” The youngster thought for a minute, scratching his head. “Well, I suppose it’s because it’s what we always do. People on this street are friends, you know? We tend not to want people to slip through the cracks.” “That’s very good of you, I should say! Now, lad, what would your name be?” “I’m Ted, sir.” “Very good. Now, Ted, what would you say about a man who lived on this street, but didn’t live in a house, and his only friends were the bottle and the man who filled it? Has he fallen through the cracks?” The youngster was on to his game. He knew the man was referring to himself. He replied somewhat nervously: “Well, maybe so, sir, but we’re always willing to throw down a rope, you know?” “Yes, well. I suppose I do. Thank you for your time, Ted, and tell Frank that Timmy from St. Sebastian’s wishes him all of the best.” “I will, sir. And...all the best to you.” After the youngster had made his way, Timmy thought about their conversation. He wondered if he were still a part of Dawlish Street. He wondered if Frank and Molly even remembered him from their days in school. “Well,” he thought, “even if they don’t, they’ve given me some memories.”
pleasant companions Daniel Hart Lâ€™Ecuyer
you sit at a table with hundreds of ghosts, alone at a table for two. the one who threw you in the dirt that day. you called him a spineless cheat. leaning back feet on the table and grinning, and smoking his third cigarette, as the ashes fall down on your unfinished essay on Newtonâ€™s Third Law. and the one who addressed you as faggot. reminded you why you are nothing. leaning across the table in your face, sardonic smile in his hand, mocksexing, spills your coffee in your lap and laughs. and the laughing girl you all liked, who convinced you. leaning there draped naked there, laughing at the faggoterâ€™s joke. collograph by
Shaded Universe Hans Brende
For P.B. and K.K.
The smallest matter most, for they, our kings, Possess us, while we scream But What Are They? Some tiny flecks? Or convoluted strings? Not here nor there, but shrouded in gray.
Our seeming world, deception’s very gate, Delights in twisting out to break our clasp, In tangling chords that once we thought were straight; The more we grab, the more we find to grasp. But Onwards! Onwards through the shades we stride! Surmounting every twisted, tangled bit, Relentless, forward marching, there’s our pride, That closer, closer still, we inch…to It. But what is It? The Map of All, we say. But what is All? Distinct? Or blurred in gray?
After Every Dance Jack Witthaus
e checks his speedometer, sweeps his eyes over the road, and steals a glance at her. She holds her head up; sleepiness, he notes, has swelled under her eyes too. The corsage still wraps around her bony wrist, but the flowers have wilted from the heat of the dance. Perhaps they are sleepy too, the boy wonders. Thumbing the radio on, he flips the station to some teen poppy stuff, recalling how that same music made him feel on the waxed gym floor. The feeling comes back to him, the hope rising above the music and coursing through his body. He feels his hands perspire a little on the steering wheel. She guides him to her house, perking up slightly as they turn into smaller streets. Street lights become less frequent as the car travels deeper into the neighborhood. Illuminated by the electric blue dashboard light, the boy sees his flower neatly pinned on his jacket. He smiles and remembers the dinner at her friend’s house, a girl now forgotten to the boy. From the flower, his brain switches back to his secret hope. Does she think about this too? the boy wonders. Does it matter to her as much as it does to me? Will she…? He pulls up to the small
house and notices it is way past curfew. But he doesn’t worry about that, for the hope has begun to flutter and beat under his breast, faster and faster, like a hummingbird’s wings. Walking to the door, the boy and the girl stain the cold air with their breath. Her heels click up the driveway, and with each click the hope hammers into his head. Again, he notices his hands. The tips of his fingers grow icy, and he draws them into his warm palms. At the door, the hope stifles him to the point where he can barely think. She holds her arms out and says goodbye. Time becomes thick and syrupy as he gently wraps his arms past her wrist, corsage, and around her dark felt coat. She doesn’t have to squeeze. His hope has already escaped. watercolor by
Buzzed Brian Silvestri
rubbed my head as Dad and I walked out of Great Clips. “Feels good, doesn’t it?” “Yeah, I feel so free!” I said, spreading my arms and tilting my head up, basking in the sunlight. I could not help but rub my head, even when we got into the car. Feeling each spike of hair, my hand slowly moved down my freshly buzzed head throughout the whole car ride. Before we were off on our normal Saturday adventures, we headed back to Mom’s house to drop something off. My parents had been divorced ever since I could remember: it was just the way of life for me. As Dad pulled into the driveway, he headed me an envelope. I think it was a check or something. “Here, hurry up and give this to your mom; then we can pick up Claire and then maybe see a movie or something.” As I walked toward the house, I saw Mom in the window busily doing something, probably working on more of her wedding stuff. I wondered what it was like in the house with Claire and me gone. Did Mom invite Larry over all the time? I did see Larry pull onto our street one Saturday after Dad picked us up, but then again it was only every Wednesday and every other weekend. This was one of those weekends. She saw me im-
mediately as I walked through the door. “What did you do!?!” “I got a haircut. Don’t you like it?” “No! Don’t you know that the wedding pictures are this week? Oh my God… Jim!” she screamed for my dad out the door. He was already out of the car and walking up. “What were you thinking?” “Well, he wanted a haircut, so I got him one. He likes it.” I started to get all hot and could feel my face getting red. I hated when they fought, especially about me. “It’s just like you to do this to me, Jim! You know he has to take pictures this week! How dare you!” “It’s the summer, for God sakes! Let him do what he wants.” I left the envelope on the kitchen table and started to walk to Dad’s car. The loudness of the yelling was still in my head, but the words were incomprehensible now. I closed my eyes in the passenger seat of the car, trying to mute the sounds. When the driver’s door opened and Dad got in, I opened my eyes again, not sure how much time had passed. “All right, bud,” he said, running his hand through my hair as I had done hundreds of times on the way over. “You know what movie you wanna see yet?”
Right About Now David Farel
ou coming, Kate?” Through the windshield’s glare, I saw her shake her head. “All right,” I said. Maggie and I turned down the sidewalk, crossed the street, and turned right. Aside from the strong spring breeze rustling through the oaks above us, the street was silent. We were no exception. We walked. I looked up and walked. Down and walked. I exhaled a little loudly. Maggie stared straight ahead, almost ignoring me. We turned left. “Are you going to say something?” I didn’t know what to say. “When you call someone and say you want to talk, you know, you talk to them.” The purr of a passing car rose and faded. I looked down. “I’ve said everything. What should I say?” “I’ve told you a hundred times. I can’t tell you!” She threw up her hands and they fell to her sides. We were walking uphill then, past rows of light brick houses. My neighborhood. I felt sick, then angry, but I pushed the feeling back. “I’ve said everything. I’ve always done what I thought was right for both of us. I’ve been reasonable.” “You’ve been an ass.” Pause. “You lied.” I hadn’t cried in years, but I felt a tear welling up in the corner of my eye. I hated when she said that. We looped around the upper corner of the block and started back down the other side. I looked over at Maggie. She glanced down at her purple Converse sneakers.
I had to ask. “Do you really hate me?” We walked silently. I felt a painful numbness wrap around my head. “Did you really love me?” “Yeah,” I said without hesitation. “Then why aren’t you saying anything?” “I told you.” I saw an older woman limping up the sidewalk towards us. I looked down, hoping to avoid her, but as she approached, she looked up cheerfully. “Hi!” she said, recognizing me. Maggie and I stopped, and I looked up with a vague smile. “How have you been?” I asked. For a few painful minutes, we bounced small talk back and forth. She was great, and I was fine. My parents were great, but since she must have been around seventy, I figured hers were dead, and didn’t ask. This was Maggie. She wasn’t my girlfriend, just a friend, and she went to Cor Jesu. School was great. Grades were great. I was great. Maggie was great. All in all, things were pretty swell. I noticed Maggie shift uncomfortably. “Anyway,” the woman said, “I better let you two go.” She paused as she maneuvered past us: “You really are a wonderful person.” I smiled, aghast, then waved goodbye to her. She started up the block, and we turned down it. With the woman out of earshot, Maggie looked over at me. “Who was that?” “I honestly have no clue.” For a minute, we walked silently. I looked at my feet, and she looked at hers. Once I heard her give a quick exhale, the kind she always gave when she was frustrated. When we reached the bottom of my block, the turn between my house and Kate, we stopped, and I stuck my hands into my pockets. I glanced up at her. With her eyes turned down, I could see pale purple eyelin-
er, the kind one of my friends had noticed the day before I’d asked her out. Maggie and I had been friends for years, best friends, and our friends had, in their sloppy romanticism, pushed us together. I had ruined it. Maggie must have seen me looking at her, because she turned her eyes up at me. For a moment, our eyes met, then I glanced away. “I guess this is it,” she said softly.
A minute of painful silence passed, and finally she sighed and spat out, “All right,” and turned away. “I’m sorry,” I said, even softer, to her back. I watched as she cut across the street to Kate’s car. The engine sputtered a moment then started. As the car pulled past me, I snuck a glance, but in the glare I couldn’t see them. As the car disappeared over the hill, I turned and headed home. acrylic by
cable car freedom Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer the cable car shadow flies ahead & fades into streetlights stoplights headlights deadlights black lights red lights San Francisco nights. it’s funny how free you can be on cable trains, all the levers are brakes. we like lines. that’s why we have so many of them. and chaos, mobs. railway highway onward lines and fence lines, walls & barricades, and where they meet they crumble, fall apart, the massacres of mobs, the riots on the wall. the clinking ground, the city itself pulling us through the night.
Glass David Farel
sat at a stool at the bar by the window. Aside from the patches lit by streetlight, the parking lot was dark, and it was raining, a late winter rain not cold enough to freeze but cold enough I had to rub the warm back into my arms for a minute after sitting down. I had my back to the cafe. Despite having stopped by for an icee every day for the past three months, I couldn’t remember the café’s name, only its location, Target. I looked into the glass, not through it, but at the reflection of the cafe behind me. At the counter, a chubby brownish girl played with her hair, but otherwise, the cafe was empty. It usually was—and that’s probably why I liked it. I was half-looking around at the empty tables carelessly, sucking a straw, when through the glass I heard a dampened scream and saw a man with a puffy, dark blue winter coat pulling at a slender woman’s purse. She was screaming something I couldn’t understand, and the man was slamming her into the side of the car, his face glowing angry in the streetlight’s glow. For a moment, I sat there staring frozen. I’d imagined these sorts of scenes before—standing up for a woman, sometimes stopping a mugger and sometimes getting beaten bloody—but sitting on the stool, my eyes wide, I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, and couldn’t do anything. Outside, the man jerked the purse from her hands and pushed her onto the wet concrete. Snapping up, I ran over to the counter, almost tripped on a table, and yelled to the girl, “Someone’s getting mugged!” She grabbed the red phone beside her, and I sprinted out, past the checkouts, past the clear electric doors, and into the rain.
I stopped at the edge of the curb. Both the man and woman were gone; the streetlight cast an eerie orange glow on the spot where I had seen them, an empty parking spot occupied only by raindrops burning a brilliant orange as they fell through the light. I stood on the curb shivering as icy lines of water trickled down my face. The roar of rain and cars swept over me, and I could hear myself breathing heavily. Behind me, the automatic door purred open and the girl, two security guards, and a manager rushed out. “They’re gone,” I said hollowly, staring out across the parking lot. “I came out and they were gone.” The manager shoved his hands into his pockets. “The police should be here soon.” Somewhere down the road, sirens blared, and I could see faint, flickering red and blue lights approaching. When I turned to the window of the café, my icee and my backpack were exactly where I’d left them.
he next few weeks, I continued my usual routine: I’d come in, grab an icee, sit down on my stool and slurp for half an hour as I thought. Occasionally I’d find myself staring through the glass, carelessly watching people through the glass, and a few times the attack drifted through my mind—the rain, the dark, a pull, a punch, a push, then the parking spot empty before me—and I’d wonder a while what had happened, until someone walking on the sidewalk on the other side of the window would derail my train of thought. I’d glance up at them then look down, forgetting.
ate April Saturday morning I sat hunched over the bar, pushing ice around my cup with a straw. In the window’s reflection, I saw an old couple eating a single pretzel on a table crowded with groceries, and to their left, a youngish woman watched her three kids pass around a soda. I stared
down into my cup, at the neat circle of ice sucked white of flavoring and at my breath, which froze, hovered, then disappeared with each exhale. Everyone seemed to be talking, and I couldn’t hear much. Somewhere behind me, a voice stuck out— the peppy, vaguely annoying voice of a little kid asking his dad for a drink. “Please?” “Please?” “Please please please please please?” I had enough brothers to know the routine well. Turning my head towards the sound up by the checkout, I smiled slightly; the kid was pulling on his dad’s coat, and the dad was saying, “Fine, fine, I’ll get you one,” in a low voice equally annoyed and amused. I stifled a laugh. Then I saw the coat, dark blue and puffy, recognized the father’s face, and felt my own face pale. I turned quickly back around, staring intently at the knots in the bar’s wood as I tapped my fingers nervously then looked up into the reflection. The little kid was reaching up over the counter, handing the cashier a couple of bills and saying “Keep the change,” in a serious, squeaky attempt at sounding adultlike, and the father had a hand on the boy’s back. Outside, the parking lot shone bright in the morning sun. The kid ran behind me with an empty cup, up to the soda fountain in the back of the cafe, and as the father followed behind him, I could hear his coat rustling. I ducked my head, and as the father passed, he brushed against me. Drink in hand, the boy came from behind me and hopped on the stool beside me.
“Guess what?” he said excitedly. For half a second, I thought about ignoring him. “What?” I said, trying to sound cheerful but sounding low and hoarse, almost mad. The boy didn’t seem to notice, and as the dad came up beside him, he continued. “I got a soda! Pepsi, my favorite.” His dad grabbed the boy’s hand and dragged him two stools down from me, saying “For Christ’s sake, leave the poor man alone.” I didn’t say anything. Pretending to look out the window, I looked sideways at them. The boy had perched himself on the stool, sucking at his drink loudly, and his dad sat hunched over, head tilted down. From his face, he looked only a bit older than me, but from his discomforted, tired expression, he looked much older. He turned to the boy. “Quiet,” he hissed, and the boy stopped sucking. I fumbled through my pocket, pulled out my phone, and set it with a woody clunk in front of me. I could hear the boy start sucking again, but I didn’t look over
at him. Somehow, I could hear the father breathing. I spun the phone around on the counter and watched it slow, then stop. I spun it again, thought a second, then picked it up and quietly pressed in three digits: nine, one, then one. I looked over at the father and son, and hit the call button. As I raised the phone to my ear, the boy was spinning on his stool, and as I heard the first ring, the boy slipped and fell facefirst from the stool. He hit the ground with a sound like that of cracking pond ice, but louder, and his soda splattered on the floor. “Shit,” the dad said, scared, and jumped from the stool down to his son. People from the nearby tables knocked aside their chairs as they rushed over to help. I heard a voice in my ear. “911 Emergency Services.”
I looked down at the father bent over his son, at the panicked look on his face. The boy was sobbing on the floor in a puddle of soda, and his forearm was twisted backward at an odd angle. I could see tears dripping down the dad’s face, and the woman with the three kids was telling him his boy would be okay. The voice in my ear came again. “Hello?” A pause, then, “Is anyone there?” “Yeah,” I said softly. “There’s a boy here at Target. He broke his arm, bad.” For a moment, I paused, looked down once more at the father, at the son, and at the people clustered around them, thinking what to say but not saying it. “The ambulance is on its way,” the voice said. I snapped my phone shut and slipped it in my pocket.
Angels Are Ideas Mike Lumetta sitting in a field of finalists, also called
in a world of folded napkins and boardrooms, cars now for driving not
students (also, at one point, people), he tries to envision that behind
sleeping against a cool and comforting window which shows
the soft and as yet untainted faces framed by falling locks function beautiful elastic minds, and
only old roads, but, dreading a final anything,
wonders how he will function
his head droops as the snow outside slowly melts
New Wave Michael Blair In the summer I lived beside four rivers— rainwater mind among my new multicultural friends. All they have in Gambier, Ohio, is a brown hall that serves bruised bananas and day-old risotto. In the nighttime we’d follow a green path to smoke joints and sing Rolling Stones songs. When I got back I ducked in and out of Protzel’s Deli and Vintage Vinyl. I was Lou Reed “looking for soul food and a place to eat” and I said I’d rather stop than go another day light-headed and tired, sick of a thunder-road thunder head. I felt bankrupt, of some orphaned leather generation, “a blank generation, take it or leave it,” where the dust in my room blew in my brain and I couldn’t see the bent, crooked lines folded before me. I loved when it rained in August at night and I drove home in my green car and wiped the water off and tried to feel clean and, for the first time in years, prayed that in the morning I might not feel as I had when I closed my eyes. “The sunshine bored the daylights out of me” because my parents both worked days, days I chose to sleep through wishing my mother might wake me up like she used to. At record stores I started buying vinyl because it made the perfect sounds scratch like old hands and used matchsticks and the New York Dolls were no girls and no toys and I suddenly felt as if I were my father in 1975, barefoot and dry in a canyon, circles of spinning black grooves in his fingertips, quick pop on the brownwood speaker, ready to balance everything on a needle so he might again begin to warm up.
The Maid Luke Hellwig
aria slowly shuffled around the large wooden table that stood in the center of the room, her feet dragging on the dark wood floor. Albert and Elsa had built the house only twenty-five years before, but the floors had already begun to creak, even under Maria’s frail frame. The maid reached Albert’s spot at the table and closed the issue of The Science Times he had left there. Next to the magazine lay a half-eaten piece of jellied toast. Maria took up the plate and continued her walk on toward the kitchen. As she pushed through the swinging wooden door, though, she heard the mail shoot through the slot at the front of the house and smack on the floor. She placed the dirty dish next to the basin sink and pushed back through the kitchen door. Even as Albert had grown old and faded from prominence, the mail he received had not really changed. A letter asking Mr. Einstein to speak at some dingy liberal arts college in the middle of Nebraska: “Compensation for travel will not be provided.” A couple pieces of hate mail from born-again Christians living in Arizona who felt that the photoelectric effect went against God’s plan for creation. A letter from a local junior high student trying to figure out how to travel into the past to make up for all the time he wasted. Maria placed the stack of letters on the small table to the side of the door—she would take them home with her tonight and sort them out. She drew out the last envelope and turned it over in her hands. “Mr. Einstein!” she called upstairs in a slightly German accent, pausing a second before calling again. No response.
Maria shuffled towards the stairs, her worn white apron ruffling with the movement of her legs. She reached the bottom stair and, gripping on to the oak railing with her left hand, lurched onto the first step. She swung her right leg up, and then carefully placed her left foot on the next stair. Her progress was slow, and the letter in her hand became more wrinkled with each step. At the top of the flight, she sucked in a deep breath and then looked down the hall. Einstein’s door was closed. “Mr. Einstein?” Maria asked the door. Glass smashed against a wall. Maria gasped and broke into a quick walk, wobbling dangerously as she went. She stopped outside the door leading into Einstein’s room and turned her better ear towards it. Through the engraved mahogany she could hear a muffled whimper. Maria knocked and then slowly opened the door. Einstein sat cross-legged in the middle of the room. His body heaved with exasperation, his head buried in the crook of his arm. Papers, crumply things covered with heavily slanted writing, radiated out around him. In the corner sat the shards of his ashtray, the ash in a pool around it. “Oh,” Einstein cried, “what’s the point anymore?” “Mr. Einstein!” Maria gasped, dropping the letter and rushing towards him. “No, no,” he said, raising a hand to halt her advance. “It’s not worth it anymore. Whatever we do, whatever we believe, it doesn’t matter, everything is always changing. There’s no unified theory, there’s no unified anything. It’s all relative.” Maria looked at her employer. His gray hair stuck out from his battered head as if magnetically charged. His shoulder blades stuck through the wrinkled Oxford shirt stretched by his hunched back. “Mr. Einstein, I think you need some hot cocoa,” she told him, placing her hand at
the base of his scraggly-haired neck. Einstein slowly turned his head towards his maid. “Cocoa?” he pondered. “Interesting.” He began to shuffle through the papers around him. Maria took her hand off the old scientist’s neck and took a step back. Einstein, his eyes still scanning the papers covering the room’s floors, shakily stood up. “Cocoa…” he muttered again. A cardinal sang on a branch outside the window. Its red throat vibrated intensely as it spouted quick phrases of high-pitched song, its eyes dots of black paint carefully placed upon the canvas
of red feathers. Rotating back and forth about some arbitrary axis, the bird’s head reminded Maria of a glass doll her grandmother had given her before her family left Bohemia. “There!” Einstein shouted, nearly sending Maria tumbling backwards. He was pointing to an especially crumpled piece of yellow legal paper trapped under his maid’s left foot. Maria carefully stepped off of it, and then quickly gathered it up and handed it to Einstein. The old scientist took the sheet and began to read, his weathered finger tracing along the lines of equations and notes. The cardinal outside continued singing, but neither of the room’s occupants noticed. The humid smell of science hung in the room. Einstein grunted and then began to shake his head back and forth. “No, no, no,” he muttered, and then turned to Maria. “This one only talks about Curaçao.” Einstein let the page slide out of his hand, and it floated down to rest on a small pile of tattered note cards. The old man then bent down on his knees and started shifting papers around. “Canada,” he spit out, grabbing one page up for inspection and then tossing it aside. “Concave mirrors, collegiate basketball,” he continued, throwing more and more pages off to the far corners of the room. “It’s got to be in here somewhere.” photo by
Maria glanced around as if checking to make sure no one was watching, and then stepped forward. “Mr. Einstein?” she asked, “Would it help if I looked through those?” Einstein shot his gaze to Maria in apparent surprise at her existence, and then followed her outstretched hand to a spindlylegged coffee table sitting along the opposite wall. A stack of at least fifty sheets of mistreated notebook paper sat precariously on the table’s edge. Einstein smiled at his maid and told her, “Maria, if you would prefer it to standing around watching me, then you may very well look through that pile.” Maria grunted a half laugh and walked over to the table. She picked up the top sheet and began to read. Following the reasoning behind Theorem 53, it can be easily inferred that if x squared times the velocity of the cappuccino machine reaches… Maria looked up at Einstein. He had rolled over onto his back and was inspecting a piece of paper in the light. Even if she did interrupt his study, his explanation of what she was reading would hardly help. So she turned back to the page and continued reading what appeared to be musings about the effects of relativistic speeds on coffee. She had gotten most of the way down the page when her boss’s voice floated up to her from the floor. “Maria?” he asked in a surprisingly humble tone. Maria looked over. He was no longer examining his notes through the ceiling light, but was still lying on his back. Maria smiled. “It looks like the old turtle has gotten stuck on his back,” she chuckled, and then shuffled through the pool of papers to her boss. Einstein had retreated back into his thoughts, and as Maria took his arm and helped lift him back up to his feet, he continued looking down. Maria put her hand on his back.
“Is everything all right, Mr. Einstein?” she asked calmly. He looked blankly up at her face and then down at her other hand. His brow furrowed. “Can I see that page?” he asked. A hint of the fervor of his search had returned to his voice. Maria brought her hand up, and he quickly and delicately took the sheet out of it. As he stood in front of her, poring over the page, Maria saw that despite his intensity, his brow was deeply creased and faded, his nose and cheeks were dented and uneven, and his shoulders seemed slanted to one side. The old scientist reached the bottom of the page and flipped it over. He gasped. “Yes?” Maria blurted out. A thin smile crept across Einstein’s face, which rose to meet Maria gaze. There was a tear in his eye. “In the months before Elsa died,” he began, “she became too weak to cook anymore—that was when we hired you, of course. You might also remember that even when she could hardly get out of bed anymore, she would still stumble into the kitchen every night before I headed upstairs and fix me a cup of hot cocoa from her grandmother’s recipe.” Einstein paused for a moment and reset his feet. “While I knew that I would not take the time to make myself hot cocoa once my wife was gone, I had her write down the recipe for me—in case one day I needed a little chocolate to find comfort in the face of the eternal end.” Einstein stopped, and looked back down at the recipe, tears now falling freely from his eyes. Maria held his shoulder. “Would you like me to fix you some hot cocoa?” she asked, suggesting the chocolate drink for the second time that day. Einstein looked up from the recipe. “Yes,” he said with a clear voice, “Yes, I would.”
The Old Carousel Clayton Petras He watches her go round and round, Smiling and laughing On the old carousel. His little daughter.
Facing new challenges, Marriage and adulthood. It’s not as hard, Guided always by her father.
Smiling and laughing, She knows not what’s ahead. His little daughter, Learning who she is.
Marriage and adulthood and Parenthood will come, Guided always by her father, She will be a guiding mother.
She knows not what’s ahead, The arguments and fights, Learning who she is. Shaping her identity.
Parenthood comes, She loves her little daughter. She’s become a guiding mother, Alongside her daughter.
The arguments and fights, Growing up and changing. Shaping her identity Alongside her father.
She loves her little daughter. She watches her go round and round, Alongside her daughter, On the old carousel.
Growing up and changing, Facing new challenges. Alongside her father, It’s not as hard.
November Snows Conor Gearin As when a household, upon waking, hears the sounds of dripping and flowing water from all sides, for the bleary bright morning sun, uninterested in whatever shimmering crystal coats had formed on the cedars, whatever wonders the night had briefly enwombed, is melting every last flake and icicle that gathered in the dark, so my story dissolved this morning, by that heartless short letter that praised my narrativeâ€™s brevity, yet forgot to mention the narratorâ€™s reach for freedom, the girl I had not even finished falling in love withâ€” people I was just getting to know, moldering in a wastebasket now, proving as impermanent as November snowflakes.
student literary magazine