Sisyphus Winter ’13 Cover artwork by Jack Thompson Inside front cover artwork (clockwise starting from top left) by Austin Strifler, David Greaves, Adam Lux, Ben Hutchison, Austin Strifler Inside back cover artwork by David Greaves 3 Why I Said Yes, poetry by Wisdom Akpan 4 solar print by Joel Brumfield 5 The Truth of Tears, fiction by Alex Greubel 6 linoleum print by Josh Bergman 7 linoleum print by Joel Brumfield 8 linoleum print by Jack Thompson 11 linoleum print by Nick Hunsaker 12 linoleum print by Justin Mayfield 14 Circles, poetry by Alden Henderson photo by Ben Banet 15 A Drive Through the Woods, prose by Thomas Hogan watercolor by David Greaves 16 collagraph by Jacob Hopcraft 17 Victory, fiction by Andy Riek print by Greg Huggins 18 Playdate, fiction by John Wilhelm 19 linoleum print by Josh Bergman 21 photo by Austin Strifler 22 Framed in Winter…, poetry by Gabe Miller print by Jacob Hopcraft 23 linoleum print by Greg Huggins 24 Woozy, prose by Noah Weber 25 photo by Austin Strifler 27 Alexi, poetry by Clark DeWoskin
27 solar etching by Jacob Hopcraft 28 Fighting the Darkness, fiction by Brian Dugan 29 photo by Adam Lux 30 photo by Adam Lux 31 photo by Adam Lux 32-33 collagraph by Joel Brumfield 34 20/20 Foresight, prose by Brian Dugan 35 photo by Austin Strifler 39 drawing by David Greaves 40 Tying the Knot, micro-fiction by Rich Moran photo by Ben Banet 41 How My Dad Tells Stories, prose by John Wilhelm 42 linoleum print by Joel Brumfield 43 solar print by Josh Bergman 44 A Night at Home, poetry by August John 45 Duffy’s, fiction by Andrew Quinn photo by Austin Strifler 47 photo by Austin Strifler 48 collagraph by Ben Hutchison 51 photo by Ben Banet 52 Reflection on the Seasons, poetry by Paul Fister 53 collagraph by Josh Bergman 54 The Stare, fiction by Chase Berger 56 drawing by David Greaves 57 Links, narrative by Jacob Hilmes 59 photo by Adam Lux 61 The Ride, fiction by Chase Berger 63 photo by Andrew Nguyen 64 Looking out a bus window near Munich, poetry by Clark DeWoskin
Why I Said Yes Wisdom Akpan So we could spend summer nights picnicking under the moon. So we could question if we were ready or if the baby was too soon. To get the yard, the car, the fence, the place to call our own. To wake up next to someone and still feel so alone. To laugh at tales of your dumb boss and watch you chuckle at mine To shriek as you speed to the game and to lecture when you get the fine To watch your midlife crisis unfold as you question your sense of self To help you when you tune up the car and ignore your work on the shelf. To decorate the lawn through the seasons adding lights, flamingoes, a gnome To miss you when you leave for war and cry if you donâ€™t come home. To battle over the bills and debt and wonder if I was right To finally say yes to you and walk down the aisle in white. To accept the fact that we are one No matter whatâ€™s thought, said, or done.
solar print by
The Truth of Tears Alex Greubel “
e can’t wait here forever, baby,” I told Gabrielle. She always did this. She always did things in the least efficient way, dragging out time and energy to the point where I wanted to collapse wherever we were and just sleep because of my exhaustion. I think that’s why I love her so damn much. “But we can’t go in either,” she argued. “And why not?” A pause. “Because I’m scared.” Jesus. “Scared? Why are you scared, baby?” I chuckled. “I should be the one to be scared! You’re not going to get in any sort of trouble over any of this. Now me, I’d get my shit knocked down. No joke, my mother would probably actually beat my ass.” “I know, but I don’t want her to think any less of me.” “Think any less of you? Come on, honey, this was all my idea. Your suggestion maybe, but my plan. My mother would forget you even exist; she would focus on how she was going to kill me and where she was going to bury the body.” Gabrielle and I had just returned from the movie theater. As we walked out and said goodbye to her friends, she had suggested we spend the night together. I loved the idea. Gabrielle was about 5’2” with a fantastic figure and piercing brown eyes, black hair covered with blonde highlights falling to her chest. Her belly button was pierced, but she never wore cut-off shirts to show it off: she was too classy. Too good. Gabrielle captivated me from our first encounter. A good friend of mine, Kara, had been desperate to find love for me. Probably because Kara already found her partner, a
lovely girl named Melissa, she understood my pleas. She discovered love was not confined to gender. Love didn’t pair black to black, white to white, male to female, Christian to Christian, or Muslim to Muslim. Kara knew love was a fantastic lottery cast daily, even secondly by the mighty guiding hand of the universe. Sometimes the universe willed a black Jewish girl to lock fingers with a tall, strong Indian Baptist. So Kara wanted to give me my taste of the sweet feast. I met Gabrielle at Kara’s high school picnic. Kara tried to set me up with a girl named Elizabeth, but the hand of the universe held us back. It did, however, pick me up and set me in a chair right next to Gabrielle. That was okay with me; her beauty grabbed my interest immediately. God is she beautiful. Gabrielle was beautiful like a storm of meteors is beautiful. You look at her and talk to her and your perception of time and space and history goes awry, causing you to drink and smoke and philosophize and even to pray. You look at a girl like Gabrielle, and you start to ask questions: Why are we here? What happens after death? How did the universe happen? Will she ever love me? Her smile wasn’t necessarily a happy smile. Rather, it simply said, “I feel emotion. I am human.” But her body, let alone her soul, never disclosed that emotion. You could write a thousand Odysseys for her, a million Aeneids, and billions of Gatsbys, but she would never tell you how she felt, and if she did, she didn’t mean it; she said it simply to cover the real thoughts traversing her unfathomable brain. That was Gabrielle’s secret: she alone knew her emotions. And it seemed sometimes even she didn’t know. Her frankness and astuteness captured my desire instantly. It hogtied my desire, interrogated and waterboarded it for hours and hours, whipped it and screamed at it, demanded the truth from it, and after it was finally clear it would never speak, ripped its
being apart and spilled it onto the floor. So I was interested. This high school picnic at St. Lucy’s Academy was a simple school fundraiser. I was in a lonely, single man’s paradise: all these high school girls at the inaugural fall picnic. Yes, inaugural: its newness prevented other suitors from coming. And so I found Gabrielle. But she would not be a simple fleshly pursuit for much longer. No, hers would be a pursuit of the soul itself. “Will you knock it the hell off?” she demanded. She was in charge of the game booth. The object of the game was to stand over a big tub full of water and drop pennies into the tub in the hope they would land in a small glass jar situated at the bottom of the tub. You would toss a penny in with your mighty guiding hand and hope it would land in the jar. It seemed so simple. But as soon as the penny hit the water, it would begin flipping and turning this way and that, swaying linoleum print by
through the coldness of the water, knowing not where to go, what to do, where to end up. Most of the time it hit the bottom of the plastic tub with a barely audible click. But sometimes, rarely but sometimes, it landed in that glass jar, ricocheting off its glass rim with a ting sound. Oh, a most beautiful ting; the kind of ting that told you you had just done something beautiful, magical. That the universe worked. A ting more beautiful than a thousand choruses. Than a million Mozarts and a billion Beethovens. I, on the other hand, took to grabbing a handful of pennies and tossing them into the bucket all at once. I would chuckle at Gabrielle’s dramatized frustration. “Alex,” she would say in a mock exhausted voice, “you’re not supposed to do it like that. Here, try this.” She held out my hand, placed a penny on the tip of my index finger, pressed my thumb down on it, grabbed my wrist, and thrust it over the large tub of water. “Now, let go on the count of three, okay?” She said as if she were speaking to a third grader. I chuckled cheerfully, glad to have her hand around my wrist. “Alrighty.” “One, two, three!” I let the penny drop into the water. A few drops splattered up and landed on the tip of her nose; she looked so precious. The penny fluttered and flipped and turned through the water, its course never straight, randomly changing direction and orientation. But after its uncertain journey, it landed surreally in the little glass jar at the bottom of the tub. Ting. We both turned to each other. Our eyes met. She still held my wrist. I felt fire. I felt ice. I felt the seasons change and supernovas wrap around us. I felt music and tasted sound. Her eyes were brown. As I stared into them, I could see clearly she felt all the same things; the eyes are the gateway to the soul. I only looked briefly, however; Gabrielle was not the eyecontact type.
o we had been dating for a few months now. My favorite thing about Gabrielle was not her sharp black eyebrows which she deemed ugly and unshaped despite my protests, or her piercing brown eyes which only ever pierced for a second, for Gabrielle was not the eye-contact type. My favorite thing about Gabrielle was her fake tooth. She was ashamed of it, deplored it. I loved it. She was hit by a car at the age of five. She told me that it was the scariest moment of her life, that she thought she was going to die. The damage was certainly less than fatal, however: namely a few broken ribs, a pretty heavy concussion, a broken arm, and her fake tooth attached to her upper retainer which filled the gap where her left front tooth had once been. I loved the tooth because it added character to the character that was Gabrielle. It had a history; it showed that she had lived. That she had tasted fear and lingered by death and had prevailed. Her tooth was the ending to a story, a section of her life which she would never forget. I loved that. She just wanted her old tooth back. And so when she suggested spending the night together, I told her that it might involve some sneaking. She said that was okay, though I knew she would not feel the same way when we arrived at my house. I was able to get vital information ahead of time: I texted my little sister. She was thirteen and she approved of my unsavory actions as long as I “didn’t piss Mom off.” I tried my best. I texted her: Raech She responded: Wtf Is mom asleep? No shes downstrs trying to sleep but she hasn’t yet. Y? Can you get her to go to bed? Omg I just had a long day and im rly rly exausted and I rly just wnna go to bed cnt u take care of it urself I grinned. I knew I couldn’t ask anything
else of Raechel; she had already given me a lot. Hell, she had given me her existence, even though that wasn’t really her choice. After my mom and dad conceived Raechel, I prayed that she would be a girl. Honestly, I prayed. That’s how badly I wanted a sister: I had stooped to the level of prayer. But whatever being was out there heard me, I suppose, because he, or she, or it, or whatever the hell is out or up there ignored my mother and father’s wishes for a boy. The day Raechel was born my grandmother came to my house to care for me while my mother and father were at the hospital. The phone rang, my grandma congratulated my father, and she walked over to me and sat me on her lap. “Your mommy had a baby girl,” she told me with a big grandmotherly grin on her face. I think it’s my earliest memory: being informed of Raechel’s existence. I ran around the house I was so damn happy. I had a little baby sister. linoleum print by
So I replied to her text. Fine you lazy little bitch, go to bed K. O and fuck u. I love her. So now getting Gabrielle into the house would be a hassle. Mom had not yet gone to bed, and there was no entrance to our twostory domus where I could sneak Gabrielle in. She may be small, but she sure as hell isn’t graceful. In fact, once when we were walking through a city park, she tripped and fell down some park stairs. She had an incredible gash in her shin. I knelt next to her through her cursing and heavy breathing, urging her to calm down and telling her that it would be okay. I tried to get her up and walking, but she could hardly stand. It broke my heart; I couldn’t stand to see my girl in pain. Suddenly, I remembered the world. The population of this earth feeds and thrives on the linoleum print by
pain of the weak. They will kick and murder you, regardless of your situation, sentiment, spirituality, or color. They will hold a gun to your head and rob you of the life you had left pumping through your young, fruitful veins, and then they’ll pull the trigger, not even allowing for a last farewell to the garbage heap in which you had lived for such short a time. I remembered this as Gabrielle’s eyes met mine, briefly because Gabrielle was not the eye-contact type, so fragile and hurt and broken where once I had seen eyes burning and strong, but only briefly because Gabrielle was not the eye-contact type. I wanted to drive my fist and my being through the core of the earth and shatter its treachery. So I hoisted Gabrielle up into my arms and carried her back to my car. All the while she wrapped her arms around my neck and buried her face in my torso because Gabrielle was the loving type. She just didn’t know yet.
nd so we sat outside of my house, waiting and pondering what to do. I spoke forcefully, “Well baby, I’m going to go in and talk to her and find out what’s going on.” “No, I’m scared.” Scared. You’re seventeen. Jesus Christ. “Look, honey, just duck down and wait until I get back. You’ll be okay.” She whimpered. “Fine.” I walked into the dark two-story house attempting to act as casual and regular as I could. The living room was dimly lit by the television. It was about a quarter after midnight. The neatness of my house suddenly struck me: the tan carpets with their different-sized brown spots, the dustless mantle, the ashless fireplace, the kitchen counter with my parents’ work papers organized into categories, cell phone chargers, their wires neatly wrapped up, tucked away in the corners of the counters, the square kitchen table with its six chairs corralled, and other traits that constituted the average suburban home. The neatness
made me feel warm. The warmth made me feel safe. My mother asked how the movie was. I told her it was fine. I asked what she was still doing up, trying to cover how truly concerned I was with her answer. She said that she had taken a long three-hour nap and was just occupying herself by watching some TV. She’d go up when she felt tired. Damn. I left the neatness of my house for the bitter coldness of the November evening. The cold made the world seem more silent than usual; any slight noise—the rustle of a feeding squirrel or the bark of a dog— seemed amplified by the stillness of the frigid evening. This dying season inspired a reverence into the air, like the reverence of a devotee bowing at a eulogy or kneeling at a grave. The whole world seemed to take note of it. People spent time inside by fires warming themselves, reading books, cradling their crying children, or even making love. The reverence made me feel sacred. The sacredness made me feel alive. I opened my car door, sat at the driver’s seat and closed the door again, protecting Gabrielle from the cold. “She’s up, and she could be up for a while.” Gabrielle just stared ahead and bit her lip. She was thinking. She looked beautiful while she thought. Hell, she looked beautiful while she breathed, beautiful while she smiled, beautiful while she walked, talked, ate, sang, sleep, cried. She looked beautiful when she danced. “What do we do?” she asked. Her beauty suddenly invigorated me. Gabrielle made me want to do astounding things. She made me want to shed some warmth, some blind demand for security. Because the world isn’t safe, and the galaxies and the stars and the planets and the universe swirl about in a chaotic ecstasy, ready to collide and explode and damage and hurt. You have to embrace the danger. You have to go out and climb Everest without a Sherpa,
wrestle a tiger, and jump out of a plane waiting, waiting, waiting to pull the cord that ejects your parachute, taking in the rush of the air and the million-mile sight of the world around you until the maniacal breathing of death whisks into your ear and as it grows louder and heavier you can feel the warmth and the moisture from the breath that settles on your eardrums so you pull the chord and the parachute releases, wrenching you from the evil, warm breath of death while you sail smiling back down to the cold inviting ground. I had seen this skydiving desire in Gabrielle’s eyes and it struck my spirit, but I saw it for only a moment because Gabrielle was not the eye-contact type. So I made a plan—an unsafe, audacious, risky, terrible, magnificent, beautiful plan. “Here’s what we’re going to do, baby. See, if I go in the house straight up to my room, there’s no way she’ll notice. As long as I just walk right in the front door, up the stairs and right into my room, she’ll think nothing of it, and most important, she won’t see me. So you’ll have to jump on my back, I’ll walk into the house, and we’ll go directly into my room.” She would have none of this. “Oh God, there is no way. That is just too much. We’re going to get caught! We cannot do that. No, no way.” I knew she’d say this, so I had a retort ready. “What do you want to do, just sit out here all night? She’s not even going to go to bed for another few hours. We have to do something, Gabrielle. Something has to happen.” She bit her lip and stared ahead. I grabbed her hand with my right hand, and with my left hand I caressed her opposite cheek and turned her head to me. I looked into her eyes. She wanted to jump out of the plane. That was the odd thing about Gabrielle: she spent every moment pining to jump out of that plane, to feel the moisture of death’s breath deep in her eardrum, and she
would get closer to the ground than anyone would dare to before she yanked the cord of life. She would never show how badly she wanted to jump, however. But I always knew. I knew this because I could see it in her eyes, but only briefly, because Gabrielle was not the eye-contact type. I guess she saw something in my eyes too. She blinked and looked at her knees. She sighed. “Fine.” I grinned and laughed excitedly. “Yes! Thanks, baby.” I gave her a kiss on her cheek, and then one on her hand. “Let’s go.” So we got out of the car and paced briskly through the sacred, reverent cold of the dying season. I felt like I could hold her hand and walk through the sacred, reverent cold forever as long as she didn’t let my hand go. For though her fair, beautiful skin would turn red and irritated by the frigid air, I would stay with her to bring her warmth. I wanted to be the autumn air that tickled her blonde-black hair through breeze. I wanted to be the leaves that fell and saw her from above as they fluttered to rest on the ground, and I wanted to be the birds that would sing the sweetest hymns of nature to her precious ears. I wanted to be the poems she read and the sad tears she cried. I wanted to be her safe, secure, neat home. We reached the door of the house. She grinned excitedly with a bit of nervousness blending in, and her teeth chattered slightly from the chill of the air. “Are you ready, baby?” I asked her, sharing the same wide grin. “Yes, just don’t drop me.” I winked at her, and as I did, I said, “Never.” She hopped on my back. God, I could have held her there forever. Her legs wrapped quite intentionally around my waist, her arms hung draped over my shoulders, right arm grabbing left wrist. I could feel her hot breath on my neck. It made me think of having her in her entirety. I had to
focus. “Ready?” I whispered over my shoulder. “Yes,” she breathed back into my ear. I considered how much noise we might make as one two-hundred-fifty-pound mass bounding awkwardly, quickly, carefully up the stairs. I wanted to eliminate all chance of being caught. “Hold your breath,” I advised. She sucked in and shut her mouth. I could see her reflection in the front glass door of the house. I found her cheeks absolutely adorable, puffed up slightly from the air in her mouth, covered by freckles and cross-hatched by stray hairs. She looked like youth. She was looking into her own eyes which did not dart away from themselves but stared intently into their own dark mysterious. I hoped then that Gabrielle was discovering all the perpetual fecundity and bliss that floated whimsically in her eyes. I wanted her to see how poetic she was, how eyes like that could pierce a spirit and bring a soul crashing to the ground, struck so by love and awe. Gabrielle was the thinking type. It was time. I opened the front glass door, swung it past the mass that was me and Gabrielle, and I put us between it and the front wooden door. I turned the handle to the front door casually, normally, and stepped across the threshold. Without waiting, I stepped onto the wooden stairs. I took them one at a time, struggling under the extra hundred pounds of incredibility I had clinging to my back. I wanted to make the moment seem as casual as possible. I spoke to my mother down around the corner in the living room, out of eyesight but not earshot, hoping that she would not hear any extra strain in my voice, the strain of carrying my future and my reason on my back. “Goodnight, Mom,” I said, slightly louder than I should have to dampen the struggling in my vocal chords. As I spoke, I slipped. My right leg slid from underneath me and the Gabrielle-me
mass started to spill rapidly toward the stairs. A demolition button had just been pressed and the charges blown the supports out, and now I could only wait for disaster: the building collapsing to the earth in a broken, defeated heap, the cacophony of glass, metal, concrete and drywall cracking and crumbling under each other’s weight, the dust rising, climbing unceasingly toward the clouds to show the whole world what had just happened, and the final decrepit, twisted heap lying still, eerily still, for onlookers curious in the show of damage and destruction. As the scene flashed through my head, I quickly and automatically extended my arms toward the stairs in front of me in unison with Gabrielle. The single Gabrielle-me mass managed to catch itself swiftly and silently. There was no explosion, no collapse, no ringing cacophony, no broken heap, and no mother discovering my life’s love clinging to my back. My mother responded with a pleasant, sweet goodnight. Gabrielle was still holding her breath. God she was fantastic. I shut the door of my room behind me. We looked at each other, smiling knowingly, both aware of the danger we had just escaped, the consequences we had evaded. We laughed silently together as I climbed on top of her lying on her back on my bed, just laughing at the contingency of life knowing that because we were Gabrielle-me, everything would work out well. We laughed silently and I kissed her forehead and her cheeks and her ears and lips while my right hand held her left and my left hand caressed her side. With Gabrielle, kisses and caresses were natural as a birth. Eventually the laughter died. I climbed off and lay next to her. She turned onto her side and faced me. I took her hands in mine. They were cold. I knew that she then felt mine as warm. I liked it that way. I looked into her eyes while she stared down into my chest, for Gabrielle was not the eye-contact
type. This was how Gabrielle and I communicated. We didn’t need the Language of Man. True, the Language of Man is beautiful and twofold. It first emanates from mouths, stirring the feelings of another being. The words can be medial, formal, and part of social contact: “How are you?” or, “Have a good day.” Or they can be profound and historyaltering: “Give me liberty or give me death!” or, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” or, “Veni, vidi, vici.” But the beauty of words is, again, twofold; for they not only fall, shoot, whisk, rocket, and flow from the mouths of people, but the sounds also take on characters on paper, “A E I O U and sometimes even Y,” or “ Δ Ψ λ Σ ϑ Θ.” The letters dance around the page creating art, poetry, meaning, pertinence, beauty. This is the twofold beauty of the Language of Man. Billions of combinations of sounds, symbols, spacing, letters, words, used by tens of billions of hulinoleum print by
man beings to penetrate and raise and invoke the spirits of Man. Gabrielle and I sometimes spoke the Language of Man. We had to: we lived in the Society of Man. But when we lay together, facing each other, hands in hands, troubles in troubles, chest to chest and cheek to cheek, we spoke the Language of Being. This language did not depend on sound and symbols, posture and delivery, diction and enunciation. You have to breathe yourself into another. Your spirit has to melt out of your body and seep into hers, drenching her in the warm, comforting liquid of your existence. And as you melted, she did too, and the spirits would liquefy and blend homogenously, her red mixing with your yellow to make a brilliant orange, her yellow enveloping your blue to make the green of the autumn grass that blows gently, smiling in the breeze. Together you would swim through the mingling spirits and the liquid would flow smoothly and satisfyingly across your skin. Sometimes you would let it slip into your mouth and you would taste its unfound sweetness, and when linoleum print by
you swallowed it, a marvelous cold would spread through your body, taking its time, wrapping you in all of the joys and intimacy that winter brings. And after swimming for minutes through the River of Spirits you would realize Oh no, I have to breathe, I haven’t breathed, but then you would notice the passage of time and discover that you didn’t have to breathe because the River of Spirits was not like the Mississippi with its mud and alligators and anguish but carried the very essence of life itself, the fourth state of matter, the physical form of the soul through which you could glide, fly, walk, swim, run, frolic, and dance. Often Gabrielle and I tangled through the River of Spirits speaking the Language of Being because we were not like Man but like the Universe. We created senses that transcended smell, sight, touch, taste, and sound; heavenly senses to which the sweetest of smells, the most beautiful music, the most succulent food, the softest furs, and the most magnificent paintings could not testify. With these new senses we would make love and tell stories and hold ceremonies and dance. And after the River of Spirits ran dry and the vocabulary of our Language of Being could create no more words, we would fall into the Cradle of Creation, limblocked and spirit-stained, and let the most wonderful sleep wash gently over our single being like tide. Gabrielle and I could do this because we were the Universe type. I kissed her. She smiled and her eyes flitted onto mine, giving me glimpses of truest beauty. I had to speak. I spoke. “Gabby, what do you think happens after you die?” Her eyes stared at my chest. She blinked. She answered. Her demeanor, her stare, her answer, they all reminded me of a child in the most marvelous, fanciful way. “I think you go to Heaven.” I loved her answer and the innocence that swaddled it, but my logical mind would not have this. I laughed, a very condescend-
ing, pretentious laugh. “I mean, that’s all good and sweet, baby, but come on, you have to give me something a little better.” She considered this, eyes locked on my chest, and then she looked into my eyes and, unblinking, delivered an answer. “I think you get to feel all of the happiness that encompassed your whole life for every moment of the rest of eternity.” Gabrielle was the astounding type.
e lay together for seconds or hours, for when you speak the Language of Being the ramshackle skiff that is time floats through a different dimension than yours. We breathed in the same rhythm. We rocked in and out of the ether of pseudo sleep, that sort of consciousness you feel when you’ve let go every worry and care and you feel a chilly, happy bliss embrace you before sleep finally claims you. “Do you ever think about committing suicide?” Her question struck me. I had never known that such an optimistic, incredible girl could ever be ravaged by such thinking. “I do sometimes.” “How do you get through it?” Her eyes stared into my chest. I knew my answer would be very important. I thought about it for as long as I could before I absolutely had to answer. “Well, honey, I live for people. I want to know them; you know, their faces, their plans, their stories, their souls. That’s why I’ve never ended my life, I guess, because there are so many people to know and change and love, like you.” I smiled weakly, hoping my answer had made some sort of profound, incredible impression on her. “Why do you ask, baby?”
Her lip trembled. “Well…” she trailed off. Her voice sounded strained, weak. “You see… I… Well, I…” Then it happened. She grabbed my shirt with her soft, fragile hands and tears flowed from her eyes and she buried her face in my chest. She breathed heaving, labored breaths, hardly able to speak. “It’s al-all bad, honey. It c-can just b-be all so bad.” And this is when I discovered the Truth of Tears. Up to sixty percent of the human body is water. We were born in the water. We evolved from it. We sail it. We attempt to conquer it. When we come crying into existence the doctor wipes the wet, sticky grime from our bodies. We swim in it. We bathe in it. We drink it so that we may live. We are nourished by it. We die from it. We die in it. We die because of it. We die for it. We need water. We live in water. We are water. When someone grabs your shirt and cries into your chest, you know she loves you more than anything. You know this because she surrenders herself to your being and literally pours her life from her eyes, the gateway to the soul, and drenches your being with hers. We are a people of water, and to cry is to be so swept by the throes of existence, to be so struck by the labor, toil, treachery, love, sentiment, and happiness of living that you actually shed your self to the world. Crying is emotion giving your body to being. And so Gabrielle curled herself up before me, embraced my body, and shed herself into me. I knew she loved me. I knew I loved her. I knew I would never leave her, and she would never leave me. I knew I would never let go of Gabrielle, because Gabrielle was the me type.
Circles Alden Henderson
Snapping and popping in fits of rage, Enveloping all before its eye, Delivering its message without Attention to environment, The fire surveys the world, finding nothing but itself. Lapping and mopping up the flame, Softly smothering the fireâ€™s spleen Until sufficiently soused, The water waxes a martyr who Wanes itself, growing into a liquid ash. Eventually drying to mud, Wrinkling and buckling Under heat from the heavens and To collapse in an ultimate expansion, The stale mud crumbles to finite dust, the crust of Earth. Stroking and nudging through young branches, The wind spins and swirls, Brushing against the breast of the worldâ€” Sweeping the dust into the clouds Where it glistens in sunlight, resting in silence. photo by
A Drive Through the Woods Thomas Hogan
t the park entrance stands the little brown guardhouse, always unmanned except for a hanging flower basket. The faded yellow iron gate next to the guard house is usually unlocked. Beyond it, the park’s driveway slopes down towards the river. My granddad has fixed the potholes in this driveway so many times that asphalt now speckles its surface like patches on an old pair of pants. Below the driveway to the right, past the wooden guardrail and through the trees, the river rushes by, heading back in the direction of the guardhouse. To the left, streams tumble downhill over the rocks before they reach the driveway. In the winter, when the temperature drops low enough, they form magnificent icicles dribbling down the rock faces. The driveway levels out near the bottom of the hill and turns right to cross the bridge over the river. Just a hundred yards to the left sits the massive Croton Dam. On the near side of the valley, water thunders down the spillway, flinging a fine spray into the air. The spray makes a rainbow as it settles onto the trees atop the glistening wet cliff next to the spillway—sometimes the spray lands on me, too. Between the bridge and the dam lies a vast grassy field dotted with trees. In the middle of this field, weeds have overrun the fountain that once served as a spectacle for park visitors. On this side of the bridge, the road turns right and heads between more brown wooden guardrails into the parking lot. On Sunday afternoons, people gather here to walk their dogs on the River Trail, to play on the playground, to have picnics,
or to play soccer. The little parking lot gets pretty full. Once, I came down here alone on Granddad’s snowshoes, crossed the field, and climbed the sledding hill to the trail that runs down from the shoulder of the massive dam, parallel to the river. A gravel service road runs out the other end of the parking lot. It makes a hairpin turn to the right and heads up the hill. A casual visitor would hardly notice the two-rut dirt road that splits off to the right. Upon seeing it, however, I would stretch my neck forward to get a good look at it and then bounce up and down in my car seat, gibbering with excitement, anxious to get to my grandparents’ house. At the fork between the gravel road and the dirt-track driveway stands a signpost. A flower basket, placed by my granddad, hangs from its outstretched metal arm. Past the signpost, the driveway slips watercolor by
through the hushed pine woods. Here a stream makes its way down the hill. In late summer, it often dries up; in winter, a crackly sheet of ice covers its surface. The road hops over the stream on the Troll Bridgeâ€”a name derived from the story of the three billy goats gruff. At night, we often walk down this road with our flashlights and hoot owl calls that reverberate hollowly, and then are swallowed up by the ranks of dark, silent pines, but the owls never reply. On the other side of the pine woods, the driveway turns left and goes uphill through the power cut. When we drive through the power cut, branches of the neighboring bushes smack the sides of the car. At night, the power lines make a buzzing sound over my head. Silhouetted against a star-sprinkled sky, the electrical towers loom blacker than the night, making me anxious to get home. A light shines through the trees, marking the warmth and protection of The House in the Woods, where my grandparents live. Past the clutches of the dark towers, the
driveway turns right and levels out. At the right side of the road, a hill drops off steeply through the trees in the direction of the river, scaring me, but I feel safer knowing that Dad holds the wheel. Uphill from the road squats a rusty old metal outhouse that Uncle Josh said was a rocket in which he was going to send us to Mars. The stone retaining wall below it leans downhill, threatening to fall over, supported only by two metal bands and an objecting cedar. Here the driveway opens out, leading up to the mossy old stone garage on the left and the house right ahead. The River Trail runs invitingly down the hill. After waiting anxiously all the way from the park gate, we pour joyfully out of the car and rush to meet my grandmother, who pops outside to greet us. As we gather our things and head inside, I turn around for one more look around the spacious green woods and down the long driveway before turning to enter the old stone house.
Victory Andy Riek
fter I finished my sandwich, inchesthick with beef, and Jessica finished her salad, I leaned across her to reach the newspaper sitting by the window at the end of our booth. “Wow,” I said, somewhat surprised. “Mizzou actually won, even without Franklin.” “Really?” she said coldly. I brushed off her attitude, knowing that she and her mom had probably gotten into another fight about me, or school, or her nails. “No surprise that LSU blew Idaho away.” “Yep,” she said, even more coldly. “Now what, Jess? What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” “Well, the good news is that Utah almost pulled out the win over BYU.” “Really, John?” “What, Jess?” “Never mind.” As she walked away, I knew what the problem was. Her mom wouldn’t give up on Jessica’s accepting the scholarship to Notre Dame. I knew Jessica didn’t want to go to South Bend because she wanted to stay near me, but the good news was that Notre Dame had pulled out the upset against Michigan State. I think she’d like it there.
Playdate John Wilhelm “
here does Mitchell live?” I asked my mother as I slid down the kitchen bench, situating myself in front of a bowl of Corn Flakes. “Well... I know he used to live in Chesterfield.” She started wiping the counter. I had started a word search on the back of the cereal box. “You’ll have fun,” my mother continued. “Mitchell’s a nice boy.” I had seen Mitchell a few times when our moms met and we’d played together at school, but he never struck me as a friend.
s I opened the back left door of the rusted Chevy Lumina, I noticed a large crank on the inside of the door. “What is this?” I asked, joining Mitchell in the back seat. “You use it to roll down the windows.” “Oh,” I said, still curious. I wanted to try it, but Mitchell’s mother seemed to be in a bad mood, and whenever I asked to roll the windows down in my family’s Dodge Durango, the answer was always an irritated no. “You can crank it if you want,” Mitchell said, catching on to my fascination with it. “That’s fine—I don’t need to,” I said hurriedly, laughing. As we drove down the street, I searched for things to talk about. “What’s this?” I asked, pointing to a cloth that stuck out from the middle seat. Mitchell shrugged. I nodded then looked out the window and away from Mitchell. As we pulled up to Mitchell’s house, I noticed something peculiar about the front. There were two doors, both with gold-plated numbers on them. I was about to point out that my house had only one door but was
stopped by the loud and painfully friendly “Here we are!” from Mitchell’s mom. Mitchell and I hopped over the uneven sidewalk and trudged through the overgrown grass. We arrived at the door on the right. I turned around and saw Mitchell’s mother fiddling with her console. She looked exhausted as she drove away. I was a little perplexed by that, too, but again decided to keep my mouth shut. Mitchell knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked once more and was halfway through a third windup when a large man who I presumed was Mitchell’s father answered the door. He was wearing a robe and smelled heavily of cigarette smoke. He looked tired, just like my father in the morning. “Mitchell!” the man said, looking a bit overexcited. “Your mother brought your things by earlier, and I made up your bed with the Buzz Lightyear sheets.” Mitchell looked down, embarrassed. The man turned to me, expectant. “And you are?” “John,” I said, extending a hand as was customary in my household. The man seemed impressed, and he shook my considerably smaller hand briskly, then invited us both inside. verything was dim. A small kitchen emanated fluorescent light into the main area, but no other lights were on. The little sliver of light shining through the singular window simply illuminated the small particles of dust in the air. A TV across from a couch was on CNN. “You boys hungry?” a voice came from the kitchen. I was hungry. “No,” Mitchell said. “We’re just gonna go to my room.” Mitchell’s room was just as depressing as the rest of the house. There was a chest of drawers on the left wall that greeted me as I walked in, and a bed directly across from it. I took note of the sheets on Mitchell’s bed and
followed Mitchell in throwing my backpack and lunchbox down in the corner. Neither of us had talked for a long while. “Nice room,” I said, unable to think of anything else to say. “Yeah. Wanna play Legos?” I was thoroughly proficient at Legos and gratefully accepted the invitation. The Lego spread was rather bland. He had one Indiana Jones set and maybe one or two Harry Potters, but it was a relatively small amount compared to the drawers’ worth I had stockpiled back at home. After about a half hour of playing with Legos, I noticed something. There was a door behind the chest of drawers. My curiosity spoke for me. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing at the dresser. “That’s my clothes and stuff—or at least where I keep my clothes and stuff when I’m here.” “No, no… I mean the door.” “Oh.” Mitchell adjusted from kneeling into the more story-friendly cross-legged position. “That’s a closet.” I raised an eyebrow but otherwise remained motionless. “My Grandma died not too long ago,” Mitchell continued, “and my Dad went to get a bunch of stuff from her house... It’s mostly his stuff from when he was a kid—clothes, I think. But there are boxes and boxes of other stuff, too.” I sat back against the bed and nodded in acknowledgment. “Gotcha.” Mitchell looked down at the Lego creation which he had been trying to equip with headlights for the last fifteen minutes. You needed a specific piece for that, and we both knew that he didn’t have it. Mitchell let an impostor piece roll out of his hand and onto the floor. “We should go in there.” He let his head fall towards the door.
“Let’s do it,” I said. We pushed the dresser back from the wall. The lock on the door had been painted over several times, and the knob was loose and loud, just barely turning far enough to unlatch the door. “Wow.” I was amazed at the tower of stuff in the closet. “I know...Here, look.” Mitchell slid a box out from under a heavy coat that was covered in plastic. He sat down next to the box, opened it, and pulled out several records. “Some of these are awesome.” Mitchell said, holding The Beatles’ Rubber Soul at arm’s length so we could both see it. I helped myself to a stack of ten or so records. There was Styx, Journey, Foreigner, and plenty of Elton John. As we sorted through them, we held certain ones up for the other to look at, and each of us would linoleum print
offer an over-excited “That’s awesome” or “Sweet.” “I see you found my records.” A deep voice came from the doorway. I smiled weakly and looked up at Mitchell’s father; I did not know whether or not the records were off-limits to us. Mitchell, reading the back of Billy Joel’s Innocent Man, took a long time to look up. Mitchell didn’t smile—his face was completely expressionless. He actually looked a lot like Phil Collins on a nearby record. “Find anything you like?” “I mean, I haven’t heard any of them, so I don’t know.” Mitchell’s voice was swift and sharp; he was trying hard to end the conversation. I decided to put my social skills to work. “These are all really cool,” I said, turning away to look for an example. “We have records at home, but my dad never lets me look through them.” Mitchell’s father nodded and muttered something in acknowledgment but stayed fixed on Mitchell, who had taken to looking through a different, heavier-looking box of records. “Those are my 78s,” he said, pointing to the box Mitchell had just opened. “They’re pretty heavy and brittle, so if you drop ‘em, they’ll shatter.” He paused to see if Mitchell would respond. “Found that out the hard way.” Mitchell went on flipping through them without even acknowledging what his father had said. “I remember one time in college, a buddy of mine found all of his dad’s—” “Why are you here?” Mitchell said loudly, now focused directly on his father, who was still standing there, fiddling with the end of one of his robe drawstrings. I froze. “I was just checking in,” Mitchell’s fa-
ther said, his expression changing from playful and reminiscent to sober and dry. “It sounded like you were telling a story,” Mitchell said. “Mitchell.” Mitchell stood. I looked at his knees, then worked my way up. His face was stoic, his eyes empty and tired. He bit one side of his lower lip. “What?” Mitchell’s father hesitated but persevered. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” Mitchell’s father tilted his head to the side and put one of his hands on the doorframe. “Please leave.” I had never heard someone talk to a parent this way. Mitchell’s father slowly turned around and walked out of the room. I tried to think of something to say that would return us to idle conversation. I opened my mouth to speak. “He’s the worst,” Mitchell said flatly. I shut my mouth. “He’s just—the worst.” I wanted to say, “He seemed nice,” but couldn’t muster the courage. What came out was a squeaky beginning to the word “he.” “You know what?” Mitchell said. I was silent. Mitchell took a record out of the sleeve and flapped it around. He laughed maniacally at the wobbling noise it made, and his face took on an eerie childlike innocence. “What?” I mumbled, almost inaudibly. I pushed myself back behind a large olive green coat and hid my face as the record shattered into a shower of black material and dust. “Why?” was the first word that came out of my mouth. Mitchell stared at the remains. Without hesitation, he slid another box in front of
him. Photos. He pulled stacks of nine or ten photos out at once and ripped them, sometimes shaking with the effort it required. He let the debris fall in the same pile. I was horrified. All I could think to do was sit and ignore the situation, as was customary in my household when someone was doing something inappropriate. “Here.” Mitchell broke through my attempt to tune the situation out and offered me a stack of pictures. “Shred ’em.” “Uhh... I’m good. I think my mom’s picking me up soon.” Mitchell kept the stack extended. The one on top was an underdeveloped picture of a smiling infant—Mitchell as a baby, I assumed, sandwiched and held up between his mother and a very fresh-faced, happy version of his father. His mother was laughing in the picture; her face was frozen in elation. I looked at the smiling picture of Mitchell and then up at Mitchell’s empty face. “What time is it? I think I need to go.” Mitchell ripped the photos in a swift motion when it was clear to him that I wouldn’t. I was almost sad to see this version
of Mitchell go. Mitchell stepped out into the room. “6:12,” he said loudly. “Yeah…” I said. “My mom should be here.” I got myself up slowly and left the closet, then grabbed my stuff and walked out of the room. I heard Mitchell push the dresser back in front of the door. Mitchell’s father had changed into sweatpants and a white shirt and was lying on the couch in front of the baseball game. Normally I would’ve made a comment on the score of the game or whether or not the Cardinals were winning, but I was silent. I offered a weak “Thanks for having m—” before realizing he was asleep. I walked down the blue hallway and out the door, trudged back through the overgrown grass, and stepped over the uneven sidewalk. I got into the back seat of the Durango and flung my backpack into the seat next to me. “How was it?” All I could see were my mother’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “Good,” I said. “It was—good.” photo by
Framed in Winter: Spectacles, Perspectives, Seeing What’s Real Gabe Miller
It’s been three weeks now, And I don’t see the bars anymore.
What have I got, a new look? sharper, clearer maybe cleaner I’ve had time to think about the mud and it’s Real— I see it now The hues pop and maybe it’s not so dirty either They told me it’s just a new frame and you’ve got time to think about the decision Well you don’t get it—I was confident but now I’m not so sure It isn’t the time—I said I don’t even notice the bars anymore I told you it’s just when i look outside all i see is white print by
linoleum print by
Woozy Noah Weber
y grandma should have been a boy. Well, not physically or anything. The doctors didn’t confuse her with some other baby at the hospital, and ultrasounds didn’t exist in twenties so it’s not as though they misread one either. She never expressed any kind of desire to be a boy. It’s just that a lot of people, perhaps given the time in which she grew up, felt she behaved boyishly as a child. Sure, thinking of her behavior in those terms is sexist—so went the twenties. But with more modern thinking, I find myself recognizing at least the merits of these opinions despite the otherwise kind and gentle ninety-year-old she has become. Take the famous Ted Drewes incident of last June, for example. Grandma had insisted that all she wanted for her birthday was a nice big bowl of custard. We hadn’t gotten out of the car yet before Grandma was trying to pay, and mom was trying to insist that she didn’t have to buy her own custard on her birthday. “Really, it’s fine. It’s your birthday!” Mom said, and Grandma’s hand still hung limply over her purse as her expression, once exuberant, quickly turned into a frown. “Well, damn you!” she shouted, slapping my mom on the arm as hard as she could, which admittedly wasn’t all that hard. Grandma’s ability to shelve her cheeriness in an instant always comes as a surprise, but it never scares me. Despite how angry and intimidating she may act, I find it difficult to see past her harmless appearance. But her outbursts, as laughable as they now seem given her old age, do make me seek some explanation. Has she always been this way? Once when I was sitting in her apartment building—one of those senior centers that
never has any kids around—flipping through a yearbook of hers from second grade. The yearbook was pink, cotton candy pink, with big silver script all across the cover that read “Mountain Grove Elementary School.” I was reading the hardly legible notes that her friends had written to her that told her what a wonderful person she was. Grandma was yelling at the Cardinals on television. “Grandma,” I said, a bit perplexed at a common theme I had found in the yearbook messages. She turned her head to me and smiled and said, “Yes?” “Who’s Bunky?” I asked. “Oh!” She laughed a little and started nodding her head slowly as she spoke, as though she were affirming the truth in her words. “That’s what they used to call me. In elementary school.” She paused for a moment before continuing, “I have a funny story you might like to hear about elementary school.”
nd then Bunky was sitting in her small second grade classroom biting a few of her nails and bobbing one of her legs up and down in anxious frustration as yet another small, prickly pinch landed on her left shoulder courtesy of the boy, Julius Lefler, behind her. She sighed, unable to imagine the number of times she’d asked him—told him—that he really shouldn’t do that. That she hated being pinched. She hated being pinched. The teacher, Miss Johnson, was going on about silly little fractions and decimals and percentages, but Bunky was never really interested in silly little fractions or decimals or percentages, so instead she occupied herself by faintly doodling crisscrossed lines, tennis racket–style, all over an otherwise vacant page of her little red notebook. In her mind there were very few things going on in that room. A few mechanical sounds reminded
her of her location: her teacher’s wordless drone, the clock’s dull tick, a scattered cough or sneeze or whisper from someone else in the class. But in her mind, she was someplace wholly other than there. Some place that didn’t smell like dust mites and chalkboard smoke. Some place that didn’t feel so enclosed, so constrained. And then he pinched her again, and this time she slammed her pencil down hard as she wheeled around and— But she knew she shouldn’t do anything. Lunchtime came and Miss Johnson had the children walk over to the side of the room nearest to the front door and pick out their lunch pails. She led them out in two lines: one for boys and one for girls. They were in a dark, narrow corridor, the only glow from the tiny naked light bulb swinging from the low ceiling. Outside, though, was a burst of color and warmth and freedom. A few people walked home for lunch. Bunky did most days, but today she followed Miss Johnson in line to a little wooden picnic bench covered with rogue nails and splinters, slowly taking her sandwich out of her tin lunch pail as she sat. The Lefler boy was there, too, a few seats down. Out of arm’s reach. “It was a hot day,” Grandma recalled,
looking out the window as she spoke. “Right at the end of August.” I didn’t say anything, but Grandma’s ability to remember certain details amazes me. She can remember the name of a Venetian hotel she stayed in fifty years ago, or the meal she had in Germany the day she saw the Wartburg (“Some stupid piece of meat that your grandfather ordered because it was the only thing he knew how to ask for in German.”) My grandma is connected to her past. Those details are still a part of her: they still animate her. And I think that’s a big reason behind her feistiness: in her mind, at least some of the time, she still is that little kid. That little boy. unky had finished her sandwich by then, so she ran over to join her friend Marjorie by the seesaw, kicking off her little lacy black shoes as she ran because a girl could never run in those ill-fitting, prissyprissy goodfornothings anyway. The grass was dry and patchy and it crunched under her feet, giving off the impression she was running on corn flakes rather than earth. “I saw he kept pinching you again today, Bunks,” Marjorie said as Bunky arrived. “Oh c’mon, Marge!” Bunky yelled, only a little out of breath. She wiped some sweat
off her forehead, inadvertently adjusting some of the black curls that had stuck there in heat. “Don’t you even get me started on that big dumb palooka. He’s just a pill! And if he even comes close to touching me again, you know I’m just gonna knock him crazy!” “And how!” said Marjorie, smiling. She could tell Bunky was really riled up, and it was always funny when Bunky got really riled up because her face would get Radio Flyer–red and she’d start breathing marathon runner– heavy. Bunky, on the other hand, just wished Marjorie wouldn’t have brought up the subject, because she could feel herself getting angry and it wasn’t worth getting angry over a twerpy little pill like Julius Lefler. “Boy, it’s a nice day for tennis,” Bunky said. She started walking slowly as she spoke, the crunch of grass under her feet a little more muted now with her slower, cooler steps. Marjorie walked beside her, holding onto the sides of her little white skirt so as not to trip over it and risk getting it covered in dirt. Bunky had on the same skirt: it was school dress code. She kept her hands at her sides. Marjorie never really cared for tennis, but she nodded her head slightly in agreement with Bunky’s sentiments. Then all of a sudden the sound of obnoxious, boyish giggling came from behind the two girls, accompanied by the hard crunching of the grass and the smell of sweat and unwashed hair. The Lefler boy. Bunky sensed he was coming just a little too late, because already he reached out his grimy hands covered in scrapes and five-day-old mud, and squeezed a little piece of skin on Bunky’s exposed right arm. “Dammit, Lefler, I swear!” Bunky screamed as she turned around fast enough to see the goofy smile on Lefler’s dirty face become a look of apprehension. With her left hand, Bunky grabbed one of the braces of his overalls and a fistful of his dirty white
shirt underneath. He started moving his feet as if to run but was unable to flee her tight, adrenaline-fueled grasp. “Please!” he shouted, terrified now, but it was too late. This time Bunky raised her right hand in a fist. “I really knocked him woozy!” Grandma said, laughing at the memory. “I mean we were just in second grade so it kind of scared me because I think he was—you know, he was out for a bit.” I couldn’t help but laugh, because all I had for any frame of reference on the ordeal was my grandmother as she is now: old and gentle. Well, mostly gentle, but always old. I’d heard the story loads of times from my mom and aunt, but never from her. And now she seems a completely different person, and it’s difficult imagining her to be someone other than this old woman that I have known. But I’m able to imagine that younger version of her because in lots of ways she hasn’t really changed: she’s still that girl who always wishes she could play tennis and run around barefoot on hot, late August days. It’s just that she can’t now: she physically can’t. And so her youthful tendencies manifest themselves differently. It’s sad, sure, but at least she has those glorious days of girlhood (or boyhood, if you’d like) to reflect on. “Grandma,” I said, feeling that a little of the story had gone unresolved. “Yes?” “What was your punishment for doing that to Julius?” “My punishment?” she repeated, smiling and nodding again. “Yes, my punishment was that I had to walk in the boys’ line for three weeks.” “That’s all?” “That’s all,” she said, looking down at the carpet. But then she looked right at me, and her smile had faded just a little. “But that was bad enough.”
Alexi Clark DeWoskin The scar starts at the tip of his finger. He canâ€™t tell where it came from. Or how it happened. Or who did it. All he knows is That itâ€™s white against his dark skin. That as he grows so it grows. It wends its way up Along his sinewy finger and Across the bone that edges Out of his dark skinny hand. And stops halfway to his wrist As if pinched off where a pale thumb Squeezes it tight. solar etching by
Fighting the Darkness Brian Dugan
let go of the cold handle and lowered my hood as the door swung closed behind me. I took a seat on a red barstool under a buzzing neon sign and leaned against the wood-panel wall. Bippie’s: Sh kes and Burge s ar und the clock, the sign read. The only other lights were eight regular bulbs over the grill and the bar, two of which were dead. The only TV in the place, a boxy one from the ’90s, sat on a shelf above the grill. The owner always had it on mute. As I stripped off my hoodie, I took in the delicious smell of greasy burgers around me. Nothing like a good burger after a disappointing night where all my plans fell through. I sat on a bar stool against the wall, and next to me a man with a loosened tie and rolled-up sleeves fiddled with the morning’s newspaper between his sips of beer. Against the far wall at the other end of the bar, a college kid had his arm around a cute brown-haired girl. He looked proud to have her, but she didn’t lean in towards him or even relax in his embrace. “A triple with cheese and ketchup, Kev? Root beer, too?” The grillman knew my order from the summer, when my buddy Joey and I went to Bippie’s a couple times a week. “Yes, sir,” I said eagerly. I didn’t know whether to call him Frank or Mr. Lankowitz, so I’d just decided to act like he didn’t have a name. He knew I wasn’t in college yet, but he treated me like I was. He’d even offered me a beer a couple weeks back. “You got any chili, too? I could go for some of that.” “You got it.” He scribbled my order down and threw three meat pucks onto the
flatiron grill. Steak ’n’ Shake had nothing on this place. As Frank grilled my patties, another man walked in and sat down next to Necktie. The restaurant didn’t have much room anyway, so whenever five people sat down on the same side, it felt a little claustrophobic. Even the area behind the counter lacked space: the register, beer tap, plates, and ingredients took up the center island and back counter, leaving little room for Frank to move around back there. And the appearance and smell of the new guy made it feel only more cramped. He looked and smelled like he’d just been bowling, with sweat-stains and the smell of tobacco still on his short-sleeve buttondown. Bowler began talking to Necktie, but I didn’t want to listen. All I know is Necktie didn’t sound too patient with whatever Bowler had to say. I leaned against the wall and listened to the radio above me. Way too soon for Christmas tunes. Not a thing I could do about that, though. The man next to me finished his beer and called for another one as Bowler ranted about outrageous tobacco taxes. How was a man, he asked, supposed to work and relax with the government hounding his ass for his hard-earned money? Necktie either had no interest in pursuing the topic or just wasn’t listening. He seemed exhausted: he had bags beneath his eyes, a heavy five o’clock shadow, and hair that looked too gray for his young age. I hadn’t seen him here before. The place was silent for a few minutes, save for the sizzle of the meat, the radio, and everyone’s chewing. I watched Frank at the grill for a few minutes as he flipped the patties, then focused my attention on the TV. Just another ad about shoes that could shave thirty seconds off your mile time because of a new Martian fabric. Who actually listens to that shit? I thought. Bowler, on the other hand, found the advertisement riveting.
Next to me, Necktie watched the young couple through the mirror behind the bar. He shook his head each time he set his drink down, keeping his gaze fixed on the mirror. The boy didn’t notice him as he stared at his food. Neither did the girl, for that matter. She had her phone out in the open, seemingly unconcerned about what her boyfriend might think of the tweets and texts she must be sending. He still had his right arm on her side, leaving the full boat of fries in front of him untouched. Frank slid me my root beer and steaming cup of chili before squeezing extra ketchup onto my burger. The root beer here was sweeter than most, and they served it in frosted mugs. The chili had too many beans, but the burgers were ideal: greasy as hell and perfectly seasoned. “What got you here tonight, Kev?” Frank asked me. I chewed slowly before answering. “I really don’t know. Not much going on, I guess.” “Seems to be what everyone says,” he grumbled. He recovered quickly, though, asking, “How’s school going? Ready for college yet?” “God, you don’t even know. I’ve been waiting to leave this place for the past year and a half. Now it’s only like nine months away.” Frank laughed as he handed me a napkin. “Kev, they all say that when I ask them. Trust me, you ain’t the first one to pass through here looking to get out.” I took a few more glorious bites before asking, “How’d you land the night shift, anyway?” “Ahh, you know, just scraping some extra cash together. The lady wants to go to the beach after Christmas, so I’ve gotta find a way to make that happen. “ Bowler grumbled inaudibly. “Well, that’d be fun,” I said. “I could go
for a trip with a girl right about now.” “Don’t say that yet; girls aren’t the fun you think when you’re young,” Frank said. “Sorry, young lady.” He raised a hand toward the girl on the other end. She didn’t look up until Frank had turned back to me and she’d finished her text, utterly confused as to why she’d been motioned for. Her boyfriend rubbed her arm as he glared over at me. As Necktie stood up to put his black overcoat on, he tucked his cap under his elbow and reached to his back pocket for his wallet. But before he could pull it, Bowler grabbed him by the arm. “You seemed like a little bitch pissed at the world tonight. You’re too rich to be acting like that.” Necktie turned around, baffled. “Uhh…” Bowler slammed his fist on the counter, shaking my glass and his. “You can’t be acting that way when there’s guys like me working all day to live in the goddam middle class. Why the hell do you think that’s okay?” “I don’t know; guess I’m a little stressed.” A bead of sweat accelerated towards his brow. “Oh, this guy’s stressing out about what car he’ll drive tomorrow!” Bowler yelled to us. Now standing, he pointed down at Necktie’s head and looked around at Frank, the couple, and me. He had a deranged, exaggerated smile. “You think you’ve got the right photo by
to be stressed ’cause you wear a suit, bastard?” “What are you talking about?” Necktie took a step back toward his stool as his eyes widened. “You rich son of a bitch, you think you got worse problems than me? All you bastards think that your problems are the entire fucking world’s.” Necktie backed into the wall next to me. Looking directly ahead at Bowler, he started to stammer, but no real words came out. After a few more tense moments, he stood straight up. The girl now leaned in against her boyfriend, her face pale. This time he held her shoulder with one hand and rubbed her arm with the other as he looked across the bar at Necktie. As if stepping out of a daze, Necktie stepped forward and sat back on his red stool as he reached into his jacket pocket for his wallet. Just in case Frank had been looking elsewhere, he signaled him with his free hand and gave him two fives. “Thanks, sir. Keep the change,” he said. Pulling his jacket around his shoulders, he stood up and turned on his heels to leave. A bell rang from the top of the doorway as he walked swiftly out of the cozy building, and the girl at the other end of the bar watched him walk to his car parked across the lot. She looked distraught, but her boyfriend released his grip on her photo by
shoulder and seemed to have lost interest in her again. Bowler slammed a ten-dollar bill onto the counter and hurried out the door when he heard Necktie start his car. “I swear to God, I’ll fight that son of a bitch! Rich guys ain’t nothing!” he yelled as he zipped up his hoodie. Although Necktie drove away quickly, Bowler still began running after him, swaying drunkenly. He didn’t come back. I stared blankly at the girl at the other end as Frank wiped down the two spots to my left. Her forehead glistened with a few beads of sweat, and her lips curved to a slight frown. She crossed her arms across her chest and her right leg over her left; it wasn’t tough to tell that she was upset. But for whatever reason, her boyfriend noticed only the sunbleached baseball cards of the Whiteyball Era tacked on the corkboard above his shoulder. I wanted to invite her to the seat next to me, but I didn’t have the guts. Instead, I asked Frank about what had just happened. “The fat guy’s been in here before. Usually shows up drunk and drinks some more,” Frank told me. “He’s never blown up like that, though.” “What about that guy in the suit?” “Never seen him. Guess his regular bar was closed tonight. Said he’s a doctor, though. Fairly new one, too.” Frank wiped out the beer mugs one by one before putting each one in a bus tub. “He had a rough night by the sound of it.” “Meaning he was out late, or what?” “More that he isn’t quite used to the death part of his job. He told me when he came in here that one of the first patients he’d been assigned after his residency died tonight.” “He had to have seen people die before that, though.” “Yeah, he did. But have you ever lost someone you care for, Kevin?” I looked down at my hands. “Not really.”
“Well, it’s a bitch. Every time. And that doctor there told me how tough it was for him tonight. I thought he’d be more used to it, too. Guess not, though. Seeing it all the time only magnifies it when someone he really knows dies, he said.” “Jesus.” I leaned back against the wall again and sighed. I’d always wanted to be a doctor. I’d grown up poorer than all my friends, but I was smarter. I’d be able to come out ahead of them in the end, I told myself. But I didn’t know if I could deal with all that death. I could barely even deal with the drama that came with high school. “How’s he gonna deal with that when it happens again?” “I don’t know if he will. He said tonight that he might have to quit. I doubt he will, though. He’s got time to get back to normal. I’m not letting that big guy back in here, though. He has no clue how to behave without scaring the shit out of everybody.” “Yeah, he was crazy,” I said flatly. I slowly stood up from my stool and kept my gaze at the ground as I pulled out my brown leather
wallet and placed twelve bucks on the table. Looking up, I saw the girl leading her boyfriend to her car. He stared at her butt, now very interested. But she looked as bored and sad as she had all night. I wanted to stop her and hug her, but I stood rooted at my stool. Who knew why she stayed with him, or why he didn’t really care about her? But I couldn’t do much about that. I thanked Frank and walked out. I’d gone to Bippie’s to get my mind off a disappointing night, but now I just felt confused and upset. I didn’t know if I could still chase my dream of being a doctor, and even though I didn’t really have a major crush on anyone, I had no idea how I could find someone who would go for me if that beautiful girl settled for that mindless guy. It’s almost like she wanted to be pitied. Same with the doctor, really. And maybe I have the same problem, I thought as I sat in the driver’s seat and watched my breath fog up the windshield before finally turning the car on. photo by
20/20 Foresight Brian Dugan
ncle Vince used to be my favorite uncle, the crazy one whom everyone loved to be around, the one who wasn’t sure his family actually did love him at all. He told all the jokes when I was little, gave me the fun presents my parents hated, and even jumped on the trampoline with all my cousins and me until he lost two teeth on it, at which point my grandparents got rid of it. Too many kids could get hurt, they decided. I grew up in a very Catholic family; my grandpa and all of his brothers had entered the seminary at one point. So sacraments were always a pretty big deal to us, especially Confirmation. None of us took the process of selecting a sponsor lightly, but as the deadline crept up, I had no clue whom I’d ask. But then I started to notice how Vince had changed in the previous five years. He’d moved back to St. Louis and shaved his wispy goatee. He voluntarily sat at the big kids’ table now. He got us books for Christmas, not air soft guns. He stopped bringing random women to dinner, and within a few years he’d settled down and married Helen, the first girl he’d never identified as “the one.” Instead of telling us all how perfect she was a few too many times to sound honest, he spoke softly about her and didn’t smother her. Uncle Vince’s transformation from child to adult had seemingly skipped the psychological part of puberty, but it had convinced me nonetheless that I had to ask him to be my sponsor. Vince and I strolled through Sunset Park at the end of a private retreat my parish required Vince and me to do together as one of
the final steps before the Confirmation. We stopped under an oak tree and leaned on the edge of a bridge. The sun sat just below the line of trees ahead of us, and its glare poked through the trunks and hit the murky water. I could see only the surface of the murky pond, but I tossed some saltines in anyway. I watched them sink slowly and hoped they’d feed some fish below. “I’m proud of you, Jack.” Uncle Vince smiled. The glare coming from his glasses blinded me until I looked back at the lake. “You’re a good kid, you know that?” “Thanks.” “No, I mean it. I was insane when I was going into high school. You probably barely even know those stories.” I threw another saltine into the lake. Above, the golden hue of the evening sky shined an orange light on the budding flowers and sparse leaves of the trees. I took solace in the light and silence. “You ever heard about that time I went streaking with a buddy of mine and his girlfriend?” Apparently Vince planned to tell this story whether he had my attention or not. “That was crazy, man.” I continued to stare at the water. What a story for a retreat. God, I might have been wrong about him, I realized. “It was fall of senior year. Wait, junior year. Yeah, junior. I had the party after homecoming at my house, since your grandparents were visiting your Uncle Luke at TCU.” Vince leaned next to me against the railing and smiled as he spoke. His tongue poked through his lips when he paused. “Your Aunt Cathy had some friends over too, but they left us alone in the basement. Well, me and my buddy Chris may or may not have helped drain a keg, and we felt like having fun after that. “We thought it’d be a good idea to go for a run on the golf course. Eventually we decided it’d be more fun to go naked. And
with girls.” His smile became a smirk as he reminisced. “Chris talked his girlfriend Maria into joining us, but my date blew us off. I actually think she might’ve left the party early. “So we got outside and went over to the garage, where we stripped down. That night was pretty chilly, which makes streaking a bit less enjoyable.” As I listened to Vince on the bridge, he laughed and held his hands in front of his chest. “Anyway, we started at the tee box on number five and ran through a few fairways. Chris and I flanked Maria. Of course we both had to get a decent view of her. “But as we kept running up the hill on the way to the green, we saw headlights on a cart path pretty far away. Chris kept running to the flagpin, but me and Maria bailed. We collapsed and crawled into a nearby sand trap, shaking as we hid behind its walls. I felt my heart pounding at my ribs, and, sure enough, I looked over to see Maria’s breasts leaping forward and falling back with each beat of her own. Luckily for us, we were fine. Chris, on the other hand, was forced onto the cart by the security and driven to the pro shop. He was naked when his parents picked him up. “By the time I woke up the next morn-
ing, Chris’s mom had told your grandma, and I was fried when she came home. Wow, she let my dad unleash. Brutal.” Vince winced and shook his head, but quickly regained his composure. He stood straight up now and ran his hand through his buzzcut as if he still had his high school mullet. “That’s scary,” I said, not quite sure what else to say. “At least you didn’t get arrested.” “Yeah, bud, at photo by Austin Strifler least that didn’t happen. But who knows, maybe I could’ve grown up a little earlier then. But then again, I wouldn’t have so many stories if that had been the case.” “Yeah, that’d be a bummer.” I forced a laugh but diverted my eyes toward a V of geese above Vince’s shoulder. “Definitely not the only time I’d disappointed your grandma. You’ve heard the story about when I had a pack of chewing tobacco, right?” I had, but Uncle Vince didn’t wait for my response. He started to tell it again. I already knew the gist: he’d brought some Big Chief chewing tobacco to school when he was in seventh grade, only to swallow it and then vomit it all up. As Uncle Vince kept talking, I kept looking above the tree tops. Even what I didn’t know well, I’d already heard before. Something about his friend daring him to chew some of the Big
Chief, and then his crush saying how badass it’d be. Then of course came how he discreetly snuck a handful of it in at the back of the room. About the size of a ping pong ball, he said. Pretty soon, he realized he had no place to spit the tobacco out, so he decided to man up and swallow it. He went home after he threw it all up. Since his old babysitter picked him up from school, his parents didn’t even find out at first; they just thought he had the stomach flu. They found out three days later when his teacher found the package in his cubby. He took a verbal beating after that. But the vomit was far worse than being grounded for two weeks anyway, he said. As Vince finished his story, he leaned over the rail with me, cracking himself up with the memory and patting me mightily on the back. Not expecting the contact, I jumped. I had already been sweating lightly while seeing Vince revel in these stories, and now his proximity made me only more nervous. We stood shoulder to shoulder for a few minutes. Although I could tell he just wanted to be buddies with me, I just wanted to be alone for a while. At this point I thought I’d selected the wrong sponsor. A good sponsor would’ve known I needed some personal space to be with the birds and fish and trees. But each time my Vince noticed the growing gap between us, he took one larger step back toward me. “Hey Jack, why don’t we go for a walk?” Vince said, breaking the few minutes of silence. “You’ll love the trails they have here. They’re beautiful.” I did love the trails at the park. I used to walk them with my grandma, and sometimes Vince even went with us. I guess he remembered only the fun parts of his past, though. Anyway, I followed him along a natural dirt path. Our steps crunched the leaves and twigs that had fallen months ago. Squirrels
dashed away from the noise. Then, before I knew it, we stopped at a bench on top of a hill with only a few bald trees around it. “What a view.” Vince looked from the skyline, to me, and back to the horizon. Some buildings lay in the distance, now just silhouettes in the orange evening sky. “If you cut down some of these trees in front of us, I think you’d see Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Pretty neat, huh?” “How do you know that?” The mention of my grandparents’ house distracted me from my misgivings about Vince. “Before these trees got this big, your uncles, your dad, and me would sled down some of these hills. The trees were still here; they just weren’t as big.” He paused and shook his head as his laugh became louder with each breath; his laughter didn’t bother me anymore. “God, those days were the best. You think the golf course is good for sledding? Well, this place used to give it one hell of a competition. That’s not to say I didn’t break an arm or two when I ran into some of these trees.” Now I couldn’t help but laugh, and my snorts joined Vince’s nasal laugh to create a discord that angered the birds. Before I could help it, I felt tears trickle down the side of my nose and into my mouth. Next to me, Vince had to pull away his glasses as he wiped his eyes on his sleeve. I let myself hide my animosity toward Vince as I momentarily forgot about the stories on the bridge. For a while, we sat on that bench and told stories we both knew well. Old family secrets popped up, and we retold the stories of the antics of my little cousins at family parties. Before long, the sun had nearly set. Simultaneously, Vince and I stood up. I stretched my arms toward the sky, revealing a crescent of my hairless stomach. When I dropped my arms back down to my side, Vince had already started the hike back.
I jogged to catch up, trying to shorten my steps as I moved downhill. When we made it back to Vince’s Pontiac Gran Prix, the sun had fallen completely below the horizon. The sky now a navy blue and getting darker with each moment, I could only make out Vince’s shape as he swung himself into the driver’s seat and moved his left hand from the car roof to the door handle before shutting his door. Taking a deep breath, I smiled as I looked out over the peaceful sky one last time before sliding into the passenger seat. We pulled out of the parking lot and onto Lindbergh. A few cars sped past us as we coasted past the Sunset Hills police station and toward my grandparents’ house on Golfinhurst. By now everyone had their headlights on, and the streetlights buzzed overhead. Inside the car we listened to Sublime’s “What I Got.” I started to sing the second verse under my breath, and when Vince heard me, he belted out the lyrics. “Let the lovin’, let the lovin’ come back to me!” We screamed the final words of the verse together as we passed the house with a covered wagon replica on its mailbox and turned onto Golfinhurst. “Did you know there used to be two stone gargoyles at the entrance there?” Vince pointed to the curb as we entered the street. “Wait, at Golfinhurst?” “Yeah. They were scary as hell.” Vince laughed and glanced at me as we passed the number four tee box of Sunset Country Club. “One of my buddies actually took them down one night.” “As in he carried them away?” “Oh man, I wish. No, he crashed into one of them.” “How’d he do that?” I feared I already knew the answer, and although I had no desire to hear it, I couldn’t keep myself from asking. “It was after senior prom. I had the
after-party at my house, and we were low on supplies, if you know what I’m talking about.” Uncle Vince had reverted to talking to me like one of his buddies again. “So my buddy Greg left to get some more beer. Keep in mind, this is before the cops started caring about driving drunk. Well, Greg made it to the liquor store just fine. But when he came back over, he misjudged the turn onto Golfinhurst and hit one of the stone walls with the gargoyles on top. Turns out, he managed to topple the gargoyle, and it smashed his hood. His car was destroyed, so he sprinted back to my house to get me, and we ran back to his car. When we got back there, probably ten minutes after the crash, the cops were there, checking out the car and its ruined hood. Like I said, they didn’t care much about the drunk driving part. But they did get pretty worked up about the destroying property part.” Vince parked the car in the circle driveway in front of the courtyard and waited a moment before slowing down his speech. “I ended up having to call your grandma and grandpa at their lake house in the Ozarks and explain the whole situation to them. Your grandpa yelled at me for a solid fifteen minutes. Told me I wasn’t really worth anything. I think he was drunk, too.” Instead of smiling, he now pursed his lips as his chin quivered. Instead of turning toward me, he looked straight ahead, over the yard and toward the golf course. I had no idea what to say to him. A few more silent minutes passed before Vince gathered himself. Readjusting his glasses, he forced a smile that infected his entire face, making even the redness in his cheeks fade. “Why don’t we go inside? We don’t have to wait for everyone to come back from Mass. It’ll be over pretty soon anyway.” We stepped out of the car and into the brisk air. It had dropped a few degrees since our hike, but I didn’t mind. We went to the
right side of the house, where the kitchen door, instead of the front door near Vince’s car, served as the family entrance. I entered the alarm code, and Vince retrieved the spare key from the faux bird feeder hanging from the support beam of the porch roof. I held the door open for my uncle, looking back out toward the road. I’d always found a certain solace at my grandparents’ home. It was tucked away in a neighborhood of only four houses, with each one more impressive until my grandparents’ hidden gem at the end of the circle. It stood out with its white body, blue shutters, faded-red roof, and the fountain in the courtyard. My cousins and I always explored the five acres of land it sat on, and it truly felt like home to us. I just hoped Vince wouldn’t manage to take away its homeyness. I finally went inside when Vince asked if I wanted a soda and snapped me out of my daze. I closed the screen door and declined. As he left the room to head to the minibar and get a Sprite, I took my seat at the head of the island. When my grandpa was home, only he got to sit there, but it had become instinctive over time for me to take the seat when he was gone. I spun around in the cushioned black leather chair. Above the sink on the other side of the kitchen, I could see the wind chime gently shake under the faint floodlight. I had left the main door open to the sink’s right, and the screen door allowed in a light breeze. When Vince came back a minute later with his Sprite, he flicked on the lights. The recently polished stove and the mirrors around the room lit the space up well. “We took a big step today, Jack.” Vince cracked his can open, looking me in the eye all the while. I didn’t know how to respond. Initially, I kept my head down and acknowledged him with a passive grunt and jerk of the head. But after a few more seconds passed, I looked up and focused on the mi-
crowave clock above his head, not his eyes. “Yeah, it was nice.” “Yeah, at times. But I saw your reaction to some of those stories, bud. I wanted to stop myself from saying them and enjoying them, but I just couldn’t. I know how shitty those events made my life for a while. I used to have nothing. These days make me realize how far I’ve come and how lucky I am. But are still a part of me, and it’s not easy to look back on them without a certain fondness, without missing them just a little bit.” I gulped loudly and ran my hand through my hair. I still didn’t look at him. “You need to know I’m not proud of those moments, Jack. I hate what happened because of them just as much as you surely hate hearing them. I lived through hell because of those things. Remember when I lived in Dallas for a few years and you only saw me over the holidays? That’s because I was too ashamed to look at you, your cousins, my siblings, my parents. I convinced myself I’d rather be at a bar than with my family. I didn’t want any help. I lost myself, Jack. I know you don’t wanna hear any of this, bud. But it’s important that you do. I’m not that person anymore. I don’t ever want to be. Grandma and Grandpa and Helen know that; they’ll help me make sure I’m not.” I finally looked up after Vince stopped speaking for a short time. His tears surprised me. “Uncle Vince, you’re an awesome guy. That’s why I asked you to be my sponsor.” He grabbed my hand with one of his and wiped his face with his free hand. “Thank you.” Neither of us spoke for a few moments, but we maintained eye contact. Finally, Vince spoke again. “I’ve got some big news. Helen and I haven’t told anyone, but we’re having a kid.” “Nuh uh. No way. That’s awesome, Uncle Vince! When’d you find out? When’s it due? God, you’re gonna be an awesome dad.”
Vince’s smile exposed not only his teeth now, but also the base of his gums. “We just found out this week, and it’s due in November. “My God, that’s incredible.” “Isn’t it though? I lived those stories I told you over and over, and for whatever reason I thought they made me happy. But really, I had nothing. And now, this.” He paused to wipe the corners of his eyes. “Thank God I gave that shit up. And I don’t think I could’ve without this family loving me so much. Look what can happen, Jack.” Outside, a door slammed. I heard my five-year-old cousin Grace complaining to
her mom about how boring Mass was, how she just wanted to be home watching Dora. “Looks like they’re home,” I said. “Seriously, Uncle Vince, you’ll be such a good dad. I mean it.” He grabbed my shoulder and shook me with excitement. “Thanks, Jack. You’ll be the best cousin that baby could have; you’re a terrific kid.” Smiling, I nodded in gratitude. For a moment, nothing moved around us, and even the footsteps of my approaching family disappeared. When time returned, I turned my head toward the kitchen door and smiled even wider than before as I saw Grace lead the family inside.
Tying the Knot Rich Moran
orky Kozlov, a package of Marlboros tucked in the sleeve of his white tee shirt, pressed the flat side of the knife to the soft flesh under Tommy Valenti’s chin. “Tie my shoestring, asshole.” We were in the field behind Bill Gerst’s house, a semi-circle of us around Porky and his intended. “Come on, Porky,” Tommy whimpered. “They’re already tied.” “I don’t know. It’s a little slack, cocksucker.” Porky pressed harder. The flesh pillowed over the edges. I prayed someone, someone else, would speak up. Then Tommy knelt down on the August-gold grass, his fingers fumbling with the laces. Porky snorted and slipped the knife back into his pants.
How My Dad Tells Stories John Wilhelm
t was a cold brisk evening in Canada (where we lived for two months one summer because my dad was offered the presidency of his company), and I was watching television. My dad was out on the deck grilling burgers for the family, and my mom sat in the kitchen reading a book. My dog George napped under the table, as usual. He had energy but no outlet for it. My dad walked in and rubbed his hands together. “Wow—you forget it’s summer up here.” You really did. It wasn’t the temperature either—when the sun was out it was actually quite pleasant. It was the wind. Every time I would walk outside after six, all I could think of was the video I had seen of two men climbing Mt. Everest. The wind was biting and relentless. There was a crappy suburban screen door that had caused us problems the whole time in the house. Dad usually pauses the story here to stress just how much he hates the cheap and “convenient” products that run rampant in most modern suburban homes. “Do people have no taste?” he’d ask, bashing gas fireplaces and ranting about renovated ’70s ranch houses. Anyway, this door is important because it was through this door that my dog ran out, right then, at the worst possible time. The house backed up to a wildlife reserve, and before my dad could return to the door and do the intense handle algorithm to get it to shut, George was gone. “Bob, get the—” My mom jumped up from the kitchen stool and darted toward the door. She stopped. “Oh, God.... What’s that?”
It was no housecat. It was massive. George was nowhere in sight, and even if we wanted to look for him we couldn’t, thanks to the giant, devious-looking feline that sat on the back porch. My dad looked at it and backed slowly away, tiptoeing out of the kitchen. He must have thought the beast would pounce through the glass if he made any sudden moves. “Bob,” my mother yelled to my father, who had gone back into the house to grab something. “It’s gonna get into the burgers.” This phrase summoned my father in an instant. He rushed out of the door with a spatula, pointing it at the beast. The story continues only if the nearly unavoidable “Who’s better at grilling?” conversation doesn’t erupt between my father and my uncle. “So I’m standing there,” he usually starts off loudly and broken by contagious laughter. “Freezing my ass off….” I can even hear him lowering his voice when he says the word “ass” if my little brother or cousins are around. “Literally sparring—no—dueling with this thing, protecting the burgers with my life.” Sometimes I take my dad down off his pedestal. “It wasn’t a ‘duel,’ Dad. A duel implies that both parties know what’s going on.” “The thing wanted my blood, John,” Dad laughs. “I think the thing wanted your burgers,” my mother chimes in. Here’s what really happened. My dad stood just in front of the door and used the spatula to knock the large grill cover shut. There was a jarring metal clang which made the mysterious beast retreat, but not far enough away to free us from the “imminent danger” that my dad speaks of. As the rest of the family watched on in amazement (Pe-
ter was standing in his underwear, but no one was paying attention to him at the moment), my dad fumbled with the screen door and closed it, uttering obscenities under his breath. “Where’s George?!?” Peter, who, much to the rest of the family’s embarrassment, had probably logged the most time with that God-forsaken animal, had just realized George was gone. My mom was now on the phone with Animal Control. My dad had gone to find a suitable weapon with which to “slay the beast” (his words, not mine), and I remained motionless on the couch. Everyone stopped what they were doing when the cheap plastic smack of the screen door sounded through the house. “My first thought was that the lynx— that’s what the wildlife guy called it, at least—had actually come in the house,” my
dad says, “but, lo and behold, as I looked out of the door, there was Peter, almost naked, running into this wildlife reserve.” He usually gets a laugh at the lynx-in-the-house thing, and the story only gets louder from there. At this point, enough had happened to successfully rip me from the couch. I walked into the kitchen, and, at risk of getting myself involved, feigned ignorance. “What is going on?” “John!” my mother yelled. I could always tell when she was about to ask me to do something. “Go find your brother.” “Mom, there’s a huge bobcat thing on the—” “Just GO.” “I’m not about to risk my—” “GO OUT THE FRONT.” My mom was flustered, moving around the kitchen as people do when they’ve lost their keys and are late for something.
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“Okay. Calm down.” I grabbed my coat, put shoes on, and headed towards the door. What did happen to that huge bobcat thing? I walked around the house, through the narrow side yard and into the back. As I walked past the lynx, I saw my dad emerge with an old fishing rod. He held it like a sword, pointing it at the massive cat, which had now taken to laying in the middle of the yard. On the way past, he turned down the heat on the grill. I walked to the edge of the nature reserve and yelled my brother’s name. “The poor kid musta been freezing,” Dad continues, “and we can’t find him anywhere.” My dad makes sure to reaffirm himself as the hero. “I mean—I fended off the lynx until Animal Control got there.” I always am sure to say that Peter was the real hero. “Dad, Peter laughed in the face of danger,” I say. “You stood there with a fishing rod. A limp old fishing rod.” By now I was deep in the forest, looking for my brother, the dog, or any other sign of life. Nothing. I called for Peter and George to no avail, and eventually gave up. It was so cold. When I got home, Peter was shivering in a chair, wrapped in several blankets. George was in his lap. “You found him?” I joined the circle of family members huddled around Peter. Peter nodded. “So thank God, really,” my dad says as he starts wrapping up. At this point the liveliness of the story has diminished, and my dad’s out of energy. The overblown, sitcomesque part of Dad’s narration has ended, and everyone who was there recalls the vivid image of Peter, holding the dog, teeth chattering. “It coulda been way worse.”
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A Night at Home August John Honey, how are you? Baby, how was your day? Sweety, why are you so dressed up? Love, is everything okay? Sugar, whatâ€™s new? Darling, would you like to know what happened with me? Sweetheart, whatâ€™s happening with you? Soulmate, are you hungry? Pumpkin, why are you giving me that look? Dearest, did you have a meeting? Peanut, when was the last time we went out? Partner, where are you going? What are we doing?
Duffy’s Andrew Quinn
ou can expect the dinner rush at Duffy’s to come around 6:00 to 6:30 in the evening on most nights, and you can expect the rush of people to consist mostly of elderly folks. We like to think of the elders as our regulars, since on any given night, I would guess that more than fifty percent of our customers are above the age of fifty. That doesn’t make my job as a busboy so bad, though. Most of the people are very nice and respectful, and after a couple of days they’ll start to remember your name and tip you pretty well. Of course, there are a couple people who the waiters warned me to keep my distance from. One guy in particular always sits in one of the booths and reads a newspaper from 4:00 to 5:30 every single Tuesday. We’re told never to ask him if he’s finished with his plate, even if there’s only the ketchup left on it, never to ask him how his day has been, or anything like that; just get him a refill of sweet tea, no lemon, if and when he asks us. One of the waiters, Cam, told me on my first Tuesday shift to “Let him take charge: you don’t take charge of him.” He never tips either, so I don’t like him very
much … actually, I don’t really like him at all. Like I was saying, a lot of the people who come in here are older than fifty. I like talking with a lot of them, especially during baseball season: I’m an avid fan. I remember one night in particular very well, because it was one of the only times I had the opportunity to impress my manager outside of working on the floor.
n Monday nights, once everyone finishes eating dinner (normally around 10:30), the busser in charge of the main dining room has to empty out all of the salt, pepper, red pepper, and Parmesan cheese shakers into individual pitchers so that all of the shakers can get cleaned in the dishwasher. Normally, the salt and pepper take up two large pitchers each, and the red pepper takes up a large plastic cup. I don’t keep track of the cheese because we’re supposed to throw it away so that we don’t serve the same Parmesan cheese each week. One night, I was emptying all of the salt and pepper shakers into their respective pitchers when I overheard a couple of the photo by Austin Strifler guys sitting at the bar talking about the 2004 Houston Astros roster. “Okay, so I know Biggio was their catcher, but where did Bagwell play?” “No, Biggio played short and Bagwell caught, I think.” “Are you sure? I think Ausmus caught.”
I couldn’t help but get interested at that point. Once I heard Bagwell’s name, I stopped cleaning out the saltshakers. Jeff Bagwell is my favorite baseball player ever, and I knew the Astros roster up and down from every year that he played. I also knew that he played first, never catcher. And Biggio used to play catcher, but he played centerfield in ’04. I walked over towards the bar, pretending that I had to clean something near where they were sitting. “You guys talking about the 2004 Astros?” I asked this question like a bartender would ask it, kind of nonchalantly, like I was part of the conversation the whole time. “Yeah, we are,” one of the guys at the bar said. “You have any idea who played short for them that year?” My manager was cleaning glasses, and he looked up to observe my bar-talking skills. “Yeah, I do. Well, I hope you don’t mind me correcting you guys from earlier on, since I heard you all talking about it while I was cleaning off the floor. Bagwell played first for them, and Biggio played center field.” The four guys all looked at each other in surprise, and one of them let out, “Oh … yeah, that’s right! I told you guys.” I chuckled for a second and then continued on. “So you guys know they had Hidalgo in left, Biggio in center, and Berkman in right?” They nodded. “And then Ensberg played third, Kent played second, Bagwell was at first, and Ausmus caught.” I wanted to have a little bit of suspense for when I announced that Adam Everett played shortstop. My manager, Kirk, looked over at me, and I noticed him smirk in surprise out of the corner of my eye. “Oh yeah, Everett! That’s right…that guy couldn’t hit for shit, could he?” “No,” I said, “I know that he batted eighth pretty much the whole season. He was a really solid defensive player, though.”
“Yeah, makes sense. All right, well, thanks for your help.” One of the guys handed me a five-dollar bill, but I shook my head and said, “No thanks, man. Buy your friends another round with it.” They all laughed, and he proceeded to take my advice. Kirk looked over at me after he handed them the beer and gave me a little head nod; I’d done well. I went back to my salt shakers and kept on cleaning the floor.
ussing tables is a job with a lot of cleaning, moving things, and being told what to do all the time. My parents think that it “builds character and promotes responsibility.” It does, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the work really burns out my energy. It has the same result on some of my co-workers. Cam, the waiter I mentioned earlier, is one of those guys who gets really worked up when he’s waiting tables, regardless of what day of the week it is or what the rush is like. Every time he comes in to work, he wears his TCU trucker hat to hide his quickly-balding blond hair and brings a big bottle of PowerAde with him. All the regulars request him as their server, and I figure it’s because he’s been here the longest. Cam always asks them how they’re doing, takes their drink orders, and then goes to the computer to punch everything in. I can never figure out how the computers work. Cam never does any of the work after that normally. He always seems to ask me to “fill up drinks for everyone,” or “take drink orders for my tables while I take a smoke break.” And since I don’t know how to use the computers, I guess that if you get stuck with me as your waiter while Cam is on break, you get free drinks. Most of the time I get yelled at for not being around to clean off the tables when I have to cover for Cam. Cam’s also a pretty big ass to the cooks, not just to me. The cooks are really friendly guys: they like to mess around with each oth-
while I choke on my fries and try to swallow them before a manager walks in the kitchen, they’ll laugh at me, because most of the time Kirk doesn’t show up until 10:00 to count the money from that day. The cooks also know where everything goes in the kitchen, and that’s really helpful for the new bussers. When I washed dishes for the first time, I had no idea where to put anything. One of the cooks, Jeff, helped me out with everything on my first day, and he taught me where everything goes. Jeff ’s a really fun-loving cook, and he likes to do tricks whenever he flips burgers or cuts up pieces of steak. But whenever Cameron comes in to check on his food, the cooks lose some of their camaraderie. “Where’s my damn chipotle sandwich?” “It’ll be up in a sec, Cam. Just chill.” “You want me to chill? photo by Austin Strifler Huh? Why don’t you ‘chill’ er and steal the bussers plates of fries for a and make me my sandwich. I’m trying to get break during our shifts. We have to be careful paid over here!” about when we shove mouthfuls of fries in, “Yeah? Well why the hell you think I though, because if the manager sees us eating have this job? You think my momma wanted on the job, we can get fired. I’ve never seen me to grow up and cook in a restaurant?” it happen before, but it’s a rumor that runs Larry’s one of the funny cooks. He’s a around the kitchen. Sometimes if I’m sneak- big black guy who’s been working here for ing a couple fries in when business is slow, the past five or six years, and he’s the only some of the cooks might call out, “Hey, Kirk! one that doesn’t take any of Cam’s attitude. We need you back in the kitchen!” Then Larry claims to “rep the North side.” I’m still
not entirely sure if I should be worried about what he means, but I feel like if I ever wander up to the “North side,” Larry will have my back. He loves basketball, and he loves talking about basketball with me since I played in high school. I always brag about playing against Bradley Beal my sophomore year, and Larry laughs at me. Whenever we talk about any player, he always says, “Trust me, son, that nigga’s got game.” And to him, Brad Beal’s got the most game. “Boy, he’s gonna be better than Jordan someday!” “Are you kidding me, Larry? Jordan won six titles. SIX! If Beal wins one it’d be remarkable.” “Just quote me on that. Beal’s gonna be better than Jordan was. I know that, I just got a feeling. That nigga’s got game; you know it, I know it, his momma knows it, your momma knows it—” “Let’s leave the moms out of this, Larry.” He laughed, shook his head, and said, “All right, my man, I’m going back to work.” After we talk, Larry walks back behind the grills and starts flipping burgers behind his back. One of the things I hate about my job is cleaning up at night after customers leave. Normally I get the 4:00 shift, which means I’m in charge of cleaning the back room once people leave. Most people prefer to eat in the front, so normally the back room gets emptied
out about two hours after the dinner rush ends. I normally like to start cleaning off things at 10:00 if people are still finishing up in the back, just to give them the idea that they should finish up. When I clean the back room, I start by taking apart the soda machine and washing that off. I twist the nozzles on the soda machines where the soda sputters out and put those in a pitcher full of hot water. Then I wipe down the soda machine with a towel and clean off all the sticky residue left behind from errant spurts of soda. After that is finished, I wipe off the rest of the counter collagraph by
and empty the trashcans in the back. When I empty the trashcans, I have to lug them outside through the kitchen, take them back to the dumpster, take out the bag and toss it in the dumpster. We also have to leave the trashcan outside so it can get cleaned off in the morning. Next comes the cleaning of the floor. To start, I have to move all the tables and the chairs over to one side of the back room. The tables are pretty heavy, and they don’t move well on the carpeted floor unless you pick them up, so it’s a lot of work. I normally have to move ten tables and forty chairs to vacuum the right side of the room, then move all twenty tables and eighty chairs to the right side so that I can vacuum the left side. To finish up, I have to lug all the tables and chairs back to their original spots for the next day. The moving by itself takes me about twenty minutes, and it leaves me pretty tired once I’m done. I like to get everything started as early as possible because after the tables I just need to turn off the lights and empty a couple more trash cans before I can leave, and that doesn’t take more than five minutes. That doesn’t always work out, though.
n the last day before school started this past summer, I was working the 4:00 shift. It wasn’t that busy a night, because most people were getting ready for their kids to go back to school the next morning. I remember it was slow enough that I was able to watch TV for most of the night while checking on tables every once in a while, and I saw Felix Hernandez throw a perfect game. I was anticipating that everyone would be out of the back room by 9:00 at the absolute latest and that I could be home by 10:30 to finish my summer reading book that I had put off reading until that night. On a slow day, the managers let the hostess leave earlier than normal, so Katie,
our hostess, left at 8:30 that night. I had to stand in for her, and only one or two parties showed up after I took over. Being a hostess is one of the easiest jobs in the world: all you do is ask people where they’d like to sit. Katie complains that, “Sometimes people might say, ‘We want a booth,’ but there aren’t any booths open so that makes things hard.” It’s honestly the biggest joke. Once 9:00 came around, I noticed that the back room was empty. I went to ask Kirk if I could start cleaning, but then I noticed a couple in their late thirties walk in. “Hi, are you still serving food right now?” “Yes, ma’am, we are. The kitchen doesn’t close for another hour. Can I help you find a seat?” “Yes, is there room in the back right now?” I very well could have said no and sat them in a booth in the front room, but I spoke before I thought about the possibility of getting home early. “Sure, right this way.” As I lead them to the already-empty back room, I kept thinking to myself, God, I’m an idiot. I sat them down at one of the tables and started to wait. There wasn’t much else I could do: the front room was almost empty, but it wasn’t empty enough to start cleaning anything. I just continually walked around the restaurant and tried to see if there were any customers who I could help. An hour went by, and the couple in the back was still sitting there. I didn’t know what to do. I asked Kirk if I could start cleaning the back while they were there. He told me no. Then Mel, the other busser working with me, gave me an idea. “You know what you should do?” “Tell them to hurry their asses up so I can leave?” “No, you should go ahead and start moving everything around so that they get the idea.”
“I did that already, but they’re still sitting there.” “No, you cleaned stuff; I’m saying move the tables. You should move all the tables to one side EXCEPT for theirs so that they feel creeped out and decide to leave.” I figure that was a foolproof plan. I mean, the only downside I could see was that I wouldn’t get as good a tip from them because I was pretty much kicking them out. So I walked to the back room and started pushing tables to the left wall. When you work at a restaurant, you walk past people having strange conversations. Sometimes the glimpses that you get from them are funny, other times they are somber, and other times they are just flatout weird. I’ve walked past tables of grown men talking about how they’re going to have sex with their wives as soon as they get home, old women talking about Obama even though they probably won’t live to see him finish his second term, and young teenagers yelling “Penis!” to see who can say it the loudest before getting scolded by a parent. When I walked past the table of this couple, though, I was creeped out more than I’d ever been before. “So how’s your husband?” “He’s fine I guess. He’s been working way too hard lately.” The man took a sip of his rum and Coke on the rocks. “You should really rethink my proposition from earlier.” I assumed that they were talking business, but the next thing I knew she was kissing him; she was kissing him passionately, like she had been wanting to the whole night. And he was kissing her back. She wasn’t his wife; she was married to another man! And she was cheating on her husband! I didn’t know what to do: I was partially in shock because of what happened, but I also still wanted them to leave. Next thing I knew, they got up from the table and started walk-
ing out the door in the back room. The man wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and walked behind her with his crotch welded to her rear end. When they walked out, I just started laughing. I don’t know why. I finished moving the tables to one side and walked back to “Quinn, did the people in the back leave?” “Yeah, they just walked out, Kirk. You wouldn’t believe what—” “Did they pay?” Something inside of my chest dropped. I didn’t remember the people paying for their drinks. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, I think they did.” I ran into the back room to check before Kirk came back to grab the bill. I looked inside the little folder and looked for any cash they might have left … there was nothing. I had let them walk out without paying. I was screwed: if I didn’t do something, Kirk could fire me on the spot. I quickly decided to whip out a $20 bill and put it in the envelope, easily covering the $18 drinks and appetizers. I ran the check over to Kirk, then went back to cleaning the back room.
s I was driving home, I lit a cigarette in my car. Smoking is a great stress reliever for me after a long shift at Duffy’s. I looked back at the things that had happened during work and some of the weird people who came in to eat. There was, of course, that family of six who needed three high chairs for their triplets; the entire time their babies didn’t stop crying. I also thought about the man and the woman who came in for a late-night drink. I couldn’t help but wonder what they were doing while I was in my car. Were they having sex in his car or his bedroom? Or did she drive home and try to forget about that man? What was she going to say to her husband? Then I started to realize something. Why did the man ask her about her husband
right after I walked into the room? Wouldn’t that be something that they would talk about in private? And why was it that they had started kissing right in front of me? If anything, that should have been private also. I started thinking, and my brain started to shout at me, “They fooled you! They had it
all planned out! They got a free meal, some drinks, and drove home because they were already together. It was all a test, and you failed!” I threw the cigarette butt out of my car window and said to myself, “That kind of stuff doesn’t happen at a restaurant.”
Reflection on the Seasons Paul Fister
In the crippling cold of winter Where bones are stiff and lungs are weak, Where hands are dry and cracked And chilly noses form icicles, In no way can I imagine A Summer too hot to stand. But in the insufferable heat of summer Where water is precious and fire is feared, Where sweat plasters hair to temples And parched flowers wilt, I cannot possibly recall A Winter too cold to endure. And every Autumn is more beautiful than the last, Because after the long heat of summer The cool leaves of red and yellow and orange Greet me with a gust of fresh outdoorsy air. And surely this Spring will be more beautiful than last yearâ€™s, For after enduring months of paralyzing cold The warm young leaves of green and colorful flowers bright Beckon me outside to an embrace of sweet-scented warmth.
Each season welcomes me kindly And I afterward depart it aching for the next.
The Stare Chase Berger
arl was crunching on his cereal at the breakfast table with my mom and me when Diane Walker barged through the front door. “Did you read the Post? Did you?” she screamed as she headed towards the kitchen. “Haven’t gotten it yet. Why?” my mom puzzled, blocking Mrs. Walker from the kitchen door. She pushed the paper into my mother’s nose. “Here. Read it.” The front-page article was about a woman in the suburbs who’d been robbed by the man who cared for her lawn. He pulled a gun on her and took everything. “This—this is terrible.” My mother spoke softly, still standing between the kitchen and Mrs. Walker. “God damn nigger took everything. You can’t trust ’em.” She snatched the paper back from my mother in disgust. I looked at Carl. His face had aged so much since he had first started working at our house; wrinkles and scars now covered his cheeks. He lowered his head toward his Raisin Bran. I put my hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him. He looked up at me and smiled. He touched his fist to my cheek and then patted the top of my head. Pushing back his chair and standing up, Carl grabbed his tattered hat and headed out the door. Mrs. Walker saw his head as he limped out the back door. I knew that stare too well. The wrinkles on her forehead multiplied and her mouth opened up slightly. She glared without blinking. “He’s capable of the same thing,” Mrs. Walker said, pointing towards Carl.
“Stop it. Carl is harmless. He’s been helping us out for years,” my mom whispered as she placed her hand on top of Diane’s. “Consider yourself warned.” Mrs. Walker plopped the paper back into my mother’s hands and scurried out the door. Mother let out a long sigh as she walked back to the table. “Did he hear?” she asked, knowing the answer. “What do you think?” I snarled at the front door where Diane had come in. Carl really was harmless. When he first started cutting our lawn, he was very fit. He worked out whenever he got the chance and wasn’t afraid of anything. About six years ago, though, he had a major stroke. I remember visiting him at the hospital. My mom and I showed up with a big cookie and a balloon for him. I pushed the door open, expecting to be greeted by all of Carl’s friends, but instead I found a dimly lit room that seemed vacant. Carl was in the corner, plugged into a few machines. I gave him the cookie and told him to get better. He gave me that same smile I saw when Mrs. Walker barged in. Pressing his fist against my left cheek, he quietly said, “I could use some real food. They keep givin’ me this saltless crap that tastes like my left shoe.” I tied the balloon to his bed frame as we walked out later to let him rest. After the stroke, Carl ended up partially paralyzed on the left side of his body. He could still function, but everything came much harder to him. He walked with a limp and his left hand couldn’t do any physical labor. The first year after the stroke, Carl couldn’t work. He lost his apartment and started living out of his car. At that point, Carl became more than just some guy who cut our lawn; he was family. Eventually he got back to being able to work again and has been struggling to survive ever since. I was too naïve to realize the complications of Carl’s always being at my house until
Jeff Samson came over. Carl had just finished the lawn and gone inside to get a glass of lemonade. Jeff and I were going to watch the White Sox game I had taped the night before. Wanting a snack before we started the game, Jeff and I went to the kitchen to fix up some popcorn. As I was digging for the bag, Carl walked in and opened the freezer, grabbing some ice. “Cam. Cam. There’s someone here,” Jeff whispered as he poked my back. I looked back and saw Carl reaching for a glass in the cabinet, and then I saw Jeff. He had that stare. His nose scrunched up and his eyebrows dipped down as he stared at Carl. He glanced back to me and swallowed. So I could see his Adam’s apple slide up then back down. Sweat started to appear on his forehead as he casually stepped back behind me. “Oh, that’s Carl. Don’t mind him. He’s just grabbing a drink,” I responded, unsure of the issue. The next day, Jeff told everybody about Carl. School was stranger than anything I had ever been through. I walked into class and was greeted by 15 students staring at me. It was the same stare Jeff gave me, and the same one I saw Carl receive almost every time we were together. The motionless glare was mixed with confusion, disbelief, and hatred all at once. Trying to shake it off as Carl would, I pretended like everything was normal. It wasn’t normal, though. Those stares lingered in my mind. That prejudiced, judgmental glare brought a feeling of helplessness to everything I did. I don’t know how Carl was able to deal with it. Despite all his misfortune, he found a way to always keep a smile. Nobody could get Carl down, but I was much weaker than he was. About six months later, my mom received a call from Carl early in the morning. I tried to listen, but all I could hear was Carl sniffling, his words mumbled. Carl’s wife had died that night while she was at work. She
had a heart attack. I won’t forget the way my mom’s face looked when she heard the news. She didn’t burst into tears nor was she perfectly calm. The moment Carl told her, she pressed the phone against her chest and closed her eyes. She tilted her head up towards the sky as a single tear shimmered on her left cheek. My mom and I got lost on the way to the funeral, so we arrived a little late. When we walked in, I saw about four small rooms that each had a place for a casket and speaking podium in them. We found the room labeled “Janice Flint” and walked in. As we entered, everyone turned and examined us. We were the only white people there. The room was small, but it was crowded. We nudged our way up to a place on the side where we could see. Carl was on his way up to the podium when we finally got a good view. He was wearing the suit we gave him after my father passed away. “I wan—.” Carl stopped in order to calm his quivering voice. “I want to thank everyone for coming…. Janice and I were married for over thirty years. She made me laugh. She made me cry. But wh… but what made her so special was her peaceful nature. I remember a time a few years back, when Janice came home and told me she didn’t think she was getting a raise because of her color. I was about to storm down to Walgreens and bust someone’s nose, but she stopped me. She … she told me that she would just work harder. That it was no big deal, because if she showed her anger, then they would win.” Carl bent his head down and started to gently sob. He looked up again. “What I am trying to say is that Janice was able to turn her cheek on the evils around her. And now that she’s gone, her faith and courage has to live in us.” Carl stepped back from the microphone and kissed Janice’s casket. He had tears pouring down his face. He grasped the wooden
corner of the box that would now hold Janice forever. I saw him look upwards as his tears splashed against the wood. I knew the look too well. That stare, filled with anger, confusion, and disbelief sat on Carlâ€™s face. He looked back down, and then smiled. Â Carl limped over to my mom and me. Not saying a word, he walked by and touched his right fist to my cheek and winked.
Links Jacob Hilmes
hey were on the Steps, a neon pink glow reflecting on their faces from Cameron’s Ice Cream Shop across the street. Corpus Christi High School loomed behind them, its dormant hallways empty from the Class of ’56’s departure two months earlier. Pete and the others leaned and arched against the sun-warmed, dark stone handrails bordering the steps. Smoke twisted and spun from their fingers and parted lips. Don watched the ash trail downward, not bothering to fake inhalation anymore; he knew the smoke made him sick. The clear wisps blended into the night as the stubs dropped, slipping one after the other from the rough fingertips. Pete backed off the wall with a soft jerk. “You guys ready?” He started down the stairs, the rest following and scuffing down the steps, their heels clapping the stone. Pete slid into the driver’s seat, naturally, slamming the smooth, rounded edges of the coupe’s door. Mike hopped in the passenger side while Don and the other two squeezed in the back. “Hey, Pete, we heading down to Weber’s tonight?” “Yeah, we’ve got enough time, don’t worry.” The Chevy rolled forward with the movement of Pete’s arms, onwards into the streets, the night still opening as the sunset closed. The frayed traces of purple diminished on the horizon as light drained away. Streetlamps stood rougher, more distinguished in their yellow pools as heavy shadows swarmed. Don thought he saw a Riverview High School jacket peek in the outside blackness of brick building walls, almost
heard the voices, the shouting, and felt the rising cold in his fist. e remembered walking back to the other parking lot, that time a Steak ‘n’ Shake. Rob and Mike were behind him, boasting, gesturing, and laughing about the prides and prizes of nineteen-year-old boys. Don could hardly glimpse Pete’s coarse outline against the black coupe’s shadow that melted into the snaking automobile labyrinth. Two other figures were revealed by the diner’s window-framed spill of light. One stood between Pete and the coupe, the other retracting into a tight-curved feminine outline. Expression and action leaped violently from the teenager facing Pete. Shadow-cut light revealed a face of sculpted features, polished with athleticism and pride, with eyes conscious and all-observing; a face with a smooth transition from skin to bristled hair that was flawless, a face twisted now into hate. But Don remained calm. “What’s going on?” The face turned to Don, the eyes wild and mouth almost spilling with heated spit. “You can’t talk to me, talkin’ about my friends ....” Pete’s lips slipped momentarily. The eyes were back to him, and the other boy shouted. “You can’t say that about my girlfriend!” Don shifted, preparing. The fire in the other boy’s eyes discharged to his limbs, arms reacting with a swift pull back. Don’s fist hit first, the rough-haired knuckles cracking cartilage with a gush of red seeping through the fingers. His left hand gripped Pete’s shoulder for support, his body already in motion across the lot. Recoil shuddered up his arm as it glided past the mangled nose, a stiff piston locked in combat with a streak of red. Mike and Rob arrived in a stumbled sprint, but car doors busted open all around. A dozen of the Riverview boys closed in, and
time hardly halted before shoves against firm muscle flew throughout the lot. Blood and bruises littered the asphalt darkness, while limbs swung and pounded to a violent, offtune rhythm. Dust refused to settle as the boys fought on, but as injuries halted further action, the cars cleared. The fight was quick, rough, but Don still felt the soreness weeks later, deep in his shoulder, as the Chevy bumped along in search for bars.
hey were nearing West Florissant now, Don’s street. “You know,” Don stretched, slightly exaggerated, “I’m beat, guys. Why don’t you take me home, Pete?” Skepticism crossed Pete’s face in the mirror. “You sure?” The cold was still rising in his fist. “Come on.” “No, no, I ... I’ve gotta go, really.” The collective body of the Chevy sighed, but nonetheless Pete took a right, rolling up a few blocks to Don’s house. The air silent in slight confusion, Don exited the Chevy in a staggered step. Walking across cracked concrete, he turned to give a wave of thanks and the coupe rolled on, but not without a flash of teenage slander escaping from the back. Don stood stiffly in the streaming night breeze, hairs rising from goosebumped skin even in the gentle summer air. His right hand still gripped for an elusive ghost of a weapon, and the cold was reaching within the fingertips, arcing across the back of his hand and reminding him of what lay in Peter’s trunk.
t had been on that same sidewalk, that same entrance to his home, that Pete had shown it to him. Pete had been waiting for Don outside the car, arm stretched against the slick top, their eventual destination irrelevant that night. Nearly a week had passed since the fight, tensions had almost
settled, but a heat like that never seemed to die. Don strolled down concrete overrun by infectious weeds, shooting the usual greeting to Pete. But Pete merely turned to the trunk, rolled with his back facing Don, the rims of his shirt lined with summer sweat. Led by a gesture and pull of Pete’s fingers, Don followed him around to the trunk. He noticed the slight sag of metal on stressed tires. He noticed Pete’s uneasy but cautious survey of the neighborhood life. Feelings began to stir. It was clear the trunk harbored something sacred, something secret. Pete’s fingers, clasped on the trunk lid’s edge, still held deep-blue bruises swelling at the knuckles. Don’s pace slowed not only with confusion but with gripping hesitation. Pete’s muscles and body still moved gingerly, slowly, reluctantly against the pain. Don could see and feel that the night at the parking lot had never ended. Pete’s trunk was large enough to hold a body. The lid lifted, and the darkness spilled out, now illuminated by a distant streetlight. Dark stripes rested on the insides, thin shadows of Pete’s still extended arms. The hands dropped, one plunging into the black mass, followed by a hard rustling and a quiet stirring. Peter’s hand returned. “What is it?” Don stood beside, almost over Pete. Pete grinned. “You just wrap it around, and then, well....” Curled around his hand, trailing to the street was a cold length of chain. Each link was nearly an inch thick, shining with a clear twinkling, reflecting faraway light and distant intentions. Pete’s grin lingered, even in Don’s remaining hesitation. Metal rested in the sagging cloth interior, curious. Don counted at least four lengths, with a quick glance away. Pete smiled on, power in his
fist, constricting skin tugged by the heavy connections. The chain swung, anxiously, and Pete followed readily, eyes glazed with instantaneous thought and possibilities outside reality, better than reality. So his face gathered in orchestration, in the chain’s rhythm. And in that face Don saw the other boy, a spark, the spark of anger, but more. Revenge.
he doorknob felt chilled in his grip, even in the warm bar-life. With a laugh still lingering from before, Pete opened the door and released the cold metal knob, happy warmth seeping to his outside palms. The thick inside air crept sluggishly and mingled with the July night breeze. Between the isolated streetlights, Pete squinted through the darkness, looking for the car, Mike following his lead. His feet found the ground at a brisk pace, the thick night bringing shadows and looks over the shoulder. He rubbed
his bottom lip before biting down, chewing excess skin while rummaging through his pocket for a smoke. Finding only loose threads and disappointment, Pete walked onward past the brick-faced shops and advertisements lined in a neon haze. His eyes jumped from the cracks in the sidewalk, his pace quickening to match each indented break. Mike struggled behind but kept the stride in a shambling sort of way. Each swift slap on the concrete sounded like a slammed door, twelve open doors. Maybe it was a smack, something playful, maybe the clap of knuckles on cheek. But that was more of a solid, pounding sound. Repetition, again and again, not until it flows, not until the pounding echoes with the asphalt. Not until— “Hey!” Pete looked up, there were two men walking his way. “Get off the street!”
Their courses were destined for impact, a collision. Mike was slowing, Pete had stopped. “Get outta here!” A pounding resounded in Pete’s head, heat pushing a rising cold to his fists, now clenched. Mike was backing away, eyes darting across the street. “Pete! Pete, the car!” Pete saw it also, its slick black frame sliding to the trunk. He ran to the trunk now, not taking precautions or even a second to pause. Jamming in the key with a scrape of its metal teeth, he found the lid’s rim, and it quickly flew up. There they were, still waiting, weighing down the car, the heavy chains locked and frozen even now when summer warmth spilled so deep that the heart was swollen. Pete reached as he had with Don, drawing the chains out, each small curve clacking like an ascending roller coaster against the trunk rim. Industrialized pain wrapped around his fist, and now the pounding was matched with a rhythmic rattle. The other boys were leaning against an ugly composition of brick and bordered stone, bathed in the streetlight they had taken from Pete. A spiked chill was running down Pete’s arm, the metallic subzero spreading with each iron vein. The cold made the arm stiff, strong, locked and linked to the swaying chain. The boys were looking past Pete; they must not have seen the chain; Mike must have stayed back, but they looked past to the car. They were innocent only in this moment, ignorant of their fate, but still responsible. They might as well have wrapped the chains on his fists, given that gentle push that teetered between action and thought. Pete would walk with redemption, and they would shout, holler again, think that they could take him on, that they could take him on. That’s when the chain would flash, now, even in the night, flash crimson. The first one would take a stagger back, Pete
would let him, and the other would try to hit him, maybe an uppercut, followed by a roll to the side, leaving the fist with nothing but shattered air. Two whips of the chain, three, and he’d be down. He’d be writhing on the sidewalk, reduced to his infantile beginning. The other returns and he tries something new, a kick, enough force to knock out. The foot catches in the chain, becomes wrapped, because Peter is already out of the way. Because these two never know what hit them, that his leg will be shattered in seconds. Because they would remember the day they fucked with a guy like Pete. “Pete!” The cold was everywhere, blinding. The boys, the teenagers were gone. Down a trail of slapping shoes were two men running away, chasing the sidewalk’s end. “They’re gone. C’mon, we gotta get outta here.” Scraping on the concrete was a short chain, leading up to a loosened grip. The chain clinched the grip, hugged the hand that guided it, but all it brought was a chill in the summer breeze. he paper was dusty, true, but its message still persisted through the years. Don could feel the heavy age in each broad page, in every word that grasped for the reader’s attention. And the boldest words of them all, right under the little Star Times title, in thick stamped letters, announced the arrival of a “Chain Gang” in Jennings, Missouri. There were Pete, Mike, all of them, lined up like crooks, Pete still raising his fist like a James Dean rebel. In his eyes was that false determination, that brilliant foolishness, fierce and unafraid of the world. Don looked over the paper to the Pete he knew now. In his eyes he saw that same determination, that same chill, but now he knew that it wasn’t revenge or hate. Pete smiled. “You should have been there...” It was youth.
The Ride Chase Berger “
e’re closing up in fifteen. You want anything?” The waitress looked impatient. “Coffee’s fine,” I whispered as I looked away from the window. It wasn’t particularly cold, but I was in the mood for coffee. I was in the mood for anything other than water, really. I peered around at the few people remaining at Kayak’s Coffee this late. An old man sat right next to me with a paper in his hands, though it seemed he was more interested in the waitress than the crinkled New Jersey Post. The only other people there looked like they were from out of town. They bickered back and forth, passing the GPS from hand to hand as they argued. Lost, I assumed. I knew the feeling. Outside the window, I saw slush begin to pile up on the side of the street. The road itself was empty, though. “Drink up.” The waitress sat the coffee in front of me and gave me a fake smile. I examined the cup for spit, but it seemed like all the other lifeless coffees I’d drunk. I got my phone out but wasn’t able to dial her number. I set it on the table and looked back out the window. Across the street I saw a woman walking her tiny dog. It seemed like a queer time to walk a dog. The puppy was biting the brown leash with all its might as its tail swayed back and forth with excitement. They began to cross the street as the light turned red. The streetlights glistened off the sleet that was accumulating, forming sparkles all over the woman’s coat. “You guys still open?” The woman now stood in the doorway with her puppy. “For a few minutes. Dog’s gotta stay out-
side, though.” She pointed to the yellow Lab. The woman tied the dog’s leash to the bike stand right outside the window and then walked in. She was a pretty woman, with short brown hair up in a ponytail. She was dressed in black spandex with a furry white coat on top. “I’ll take a mango smoothie, please,” she told the waitress as she moved up to an empty table for two. The man next to me had found a new target. He held the paper close to his face, but his eyes busily examined the fresh meat that had just walked in the door. He smiled and unsuccessfully tried to spark a conversation with her. He went back to nibbling on the small muffin that had been sitting in front of him for the last two hours. Glancing out the window, I noticed the puppy trying to amuse himself as he waited for his owner. He pawed at the slush that was accumulating on the sidewalk. It looked messy and impractical from the window, but the dog wagged its tail in delight. It stuck its nose into the half-frozen water and began to lick it. A car whizzed through the stoplight and splattered watery mush all over the puppy’s bright fur. The dog popped up from the ground and attempted to shake the moisture from his mane, but it couldn’t. “You done here?” The waitress tapped her foot impatiently on the ground. “One second.” I gulped down the final swig then handed the mug to the waitress. The blank case of my iPhone gave me a haunting stare. I grabbed the phone and started to dial. I stared at the number but couldn’t bring myself to hit the call button. “Girl troubles?” The woman who came in with the puppy had pulled up a seat next to me. “How’d you know?” I blushed with embarrassment and shock. “How? I’m a girl, we pick up on that stuff.” She gave me a warm smile.
“Name’s Dean. What about you?” I said as I reached my hand out for a shake. “I’m Elaine. Nice to meet you.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes, then accepted my handshake. “Do you always question strangers in dimly lit coffee shops, or is this a first?” I dragged my frown to a friendly smirk. “It’s a first.” She laughed quietly. “Truth is, I just know that look on your face. Sad, swollen eyes drifting out the window. Hair yanked every which way. My husband gets the same way when we fight.” “That obvious, huh?” I looked back out the window. The puppy had taken a liking to the slush that covered his little body. He chased his tail, slipping and sliding across the sidewalk. It wore itself out and scratched its ear, trying to get the dirt off. “That little guy is a warrior.” I pointed at the dog and smiled. “His owner abandoned him when he was born. Left him and about four other pups on the side of the road in a big cardboard box. My husband found them a few months ago. We’re keeping this one, but we’re gonna give the rest away.” She waved to the dog as it looked over. “He certainly knows how to have a good time.” I looked back down at my phone, just now realizing it was still on the call screen. I put it back in my pocket. “What happened?” She stared down at my phone, then back at me. “I walked out. For the last couple of weeks we’ve been fighting. You can’t do this, why do that, pull your weight.... I just couldn’t take it any more.” I massaged my head with my fingers, trying to release some stress. “Well, do you love her?” Elaine tilted her head to the side and waited for my response. Rachel and I had met a little over a year ago and just moved in together last month. This was the most serious relationship I had
ever been in, but love hadn’t come up just yet. As a kid, you are always being told, “You don’t know what love is” constantly, so when do you finally know? “Well....” I looked into her bright eyes and paused. “How do you define love?” I was eager to hear her answer. “When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me that love was messy. No matter how hard you try, you are going to have your ups and downs, but if it is love you fasten your seat belt for the whole ride. You don’t throw your hands in the air at the top then jump off on the way down.” She leaned her elbows on the table as she scooted up closer to me. “Love is defined by determination, and that is what you have to decide if you want. You can give up now and get on another ride, or strap yourself in because you know she’s worth it.” Elaine spoke so softly, so wisely. I felt like a student staying after class for extra help. I smiled and thought about the good times Rachel and I had been through. Our first date when I took her to see the musical Dancing in the Rain. I hate musicals but thought she would like it, so I spent a hundred and thirty dollars on great seats. She seemed excited as the show was about to start, but it didn’t last. I remember the tickle her warm breath brought to my ear when she turned to me at intermission and said, “If we leave now we can still catch the fourth quarter of the Pats game.” She knew I didn’t want to be there; she always knows. The dog was now pawing at the window of the coffee shop. Its nose was splotched with dirt, as was the rest of its body. His body squirmed from side to side as its tail wagged in every direction. “It’s amazing isn’t it? The thing is drenched in muddy water, freezing its ass off, and it still wants to play,” I said. “He’s just happy I brought him along with me on the walk. He used to hate the
rain. If he felt a drop, he would howl and race for shelter. He started to cope with it when he figured out my walks don’t come too often.” She turned to the waitress and handed her a five-dollar bill, then started to get up from her seat. “Good luck.” She brushed past me and headed out the door. I watched the dog jump
up to the woman on its hind legs and then began to prance down the sidewalk again. I grabbed my phone and began dialing Rachel’s number. She let it go to voicemail, but I knew she’d call back. I gently pushed my chair back and walked out the door. The rain pounded on my jacket as I started my long walk home.
Looking out a bus window near Munich Clark DeWoskin
Work makes you free, As free as the field of red poppies. We passed them by on the highway. I was transfixed. By the black wrought-iron gates Bearing their infamous slogan proudly still. While the poppies danced red in the half light That slanted through the clouds. By the long white barracks With its wooden bunks And the trees that were black with rain. And the red poppies turned All along. By the showers. Their white floors, their white walls. And their black vents. Black drains. By the incinerators with Their black iron doors. Their smoke that rises Black and white in a field of red. Red.
Published on Feb 7, 2013