the art and literature magazine of saint louis u. high literary editors
Michael Blair Conor Fellin Conor Gearin Greg Fister Nate Heagney Brendan McEnery Alex Greubel Alex Tarter Gabe Miller
Andrew Beckerle Nick Dooling Patrick Oâ€™Leary Greg Fister Erich Wassilak Patrick Conrey Paul Fister David Greaves
layout editors Conor Gearin Nate Heagney
Frank Kovarik Rich Moran Manuscripts are considered anonymously. Thanks to all who offered their artwork and writing for consideration. Special thanks to John Mueller, Joan Bugnitz, Matt Sciuto, Jeanne Gearin, Laura Fister, and Kieran Connolly.
Sisyphus Spring ’11 Cover artwork by Raymund Foronda Inside front cover by Conor Gearin Masthead artwork by Joseph Murray Inside back cover by Greg Fister, Sonny Hager, and Evan Orf 3 the fabric between us, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer 4 print by Michael Rose 5 The Globe, fiction by Conor Gearin 6 print by Patrick O’Leary 9 photo by Nick Fandos 11 watercolor by Raymund Foronda 12 Love You, fiction by Ben Luczak 13 acrylic by Clayton Petras 14 Through a New Pair of Glasses, poetry by Conor Fellin photo by Austin Strifler 15 Chuck, fiction by Michael Blair 17 Cigarette, fiction by Patrick Quinlan acrylic by Sonny Hager 18 park bench, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer 19 watercolor by Raymund Foronda 20 Death Watchers, fiction by Ralph Scozzafava 21 drawing by Jon Barber 23 On the Giant’s Knee, fiction by David Farel 24 photo by Ben Banet 25 Genesis 3:19, poetry by Sam Herbig 26 The Fence Jumper, fiction by Joe Murray 27 drawing by David Greaves 28 print by Eddie Harris 30 International Institute, poetry by Michael Blair 31 print by Michael Rose
32 Scattered Pencils, fiction by Luke Hellwig 34 print by Greg Fister 35 birds in the street, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer 36 In the House of Amandine, fiction by Tim Wilhelm 36-37 print by Raymund Foronda 39-44 designs by Evan Orf 48 The Little Actor, poetry by Conor Fellin design by Gabe Newsham 49 Sleeping on the Roof, fiction by Austin Winn 50 collograph by Patrick O’Leary 52 collograph by Eddie Harris 55 acrylic by Sonny Hager 56 Time for a Change, prose by Nick Fandos 57 photo by Nick Fandos 58 Kleinman, fiction by Michael Blair 61 print by Patrick O’Leary 62 Within a Busy Hallway, poetry by Conor Fellin 63 an American image, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer drawing by Jacob Daugherty 64 Invite, fiction by Conor Gearin 65 photo by Nick Fandos 66 The Vigil, fiction by David Farel 67 pastel by Erich Wassilak 68 Amateur Lovers, fiction by Patrick Quinlan 69 etching by Eddie Harris 71 660-1954, fiction by Ben Luczak photo by Austin Strifler 72 out in that midwest night, poetry by Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer
the fabric between us Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer we tried to sit next to each other on the swing like next-door neighbors, or established friends i said i’d bring her watermelon like she said they didn’t have where she was from & she said she’d bring her great-grandfather’s army helmet & we sat together on the playground swing —you can’t sit separate so we sat skin & bone on top of each other separated only by the sweaty spring time fabric between us but i didn’t bring the watermelon because they weren’t in season here then & she didn’t bring the army helmet because her mother sold it & by the time the watermelons came back in season again & her father bought the army helmet back she had to leave here for some other out of season place & i had the swing to myself
The Globe Conor Gearin “
aniel?” Alex said as he sat down next to the man in the wheelchair at the cafeteria table. “How are you?” The man continued staring out at the highway three stories below. Alex followed his gaze, watching the traffic, thinking of childhood games of counting cars. One red car. One trailertruck. Alex shook himself back into focus and tried again. “Daniel?” Daniel turned his head and nodded, then looked down. What Alex really wanted to ask was, “Anyone there?” Alex was completing service-hour requirements for his high school at the local nursing home, and his main duty was keeping the elderly residents company. He spent much of his time with Daniel—he probably had a last name, but Alex didn’t know it. Daniel’s activities consisted primarily of two things—swearing at the nurses in shockingly creative ways and talking to the air, telling it long, winding stories that never really seemed to end. Occasionally, Alex would try to talk to Daniel, and Daniel’s eyes would lose their glassy look, taking on a certain consciousness. He would sometimes have a sarcastic smile on his face while berating an imaginary incompetent carpenter or disobedient dog, but he never smiled, not at anything in the real world. Today Daniel had been completely, entirely silent. Alex sat there waiting for Daniel to do something, even though he could have already left by now. He fiddled with his nametag and watched himself become later and later on the clock across the room. “The Globe, that’s what they called it,” Daniel said suddenly. Alex turned towards him. “The shingle they hung had a globe on it because that’s what their business was—
the world. That’s what my father told me, anyway.” One of those stories, thought Alex. He had heard countless stories from the seniors at the nursing home, and the majority were foggily rendered, mostly forgotten, or completely made up. But he’d have to work with what he had. “The Globe? What was it exactly?” asked Alex quietly. Daniel’s memory may have been confused and idiosyncratic, but he had decent hearing, unlike most of the others here. Daniel looked towards him, his eyes a pale, rheumy blue. “Well, it was a place in Boston. Do you know the city Boston?” “I’ve visited there,” Alex mumbled. “It’s nice. Historic.” “There’s ice in the forest?” Daniel asked gravely. His hearing wasn’t always perfect. Having been misunderstood this way many times before, Alex wasn’t tempted to laugh. “No, no. I said Boston is historic. But what’s this Globe that you were talking about?” “I told you before, don’t you remember? It’s the place in Boston where Dad used to go.” Alex realized Daniel now thought he was talking to a sibling, perhaps the sister he had mentioned once. “Where he used to meet all the writers, when he was a young man. It was a beautiful place…huge black building on the corner of the street, four stories high, and the corner was a sort of tower topped with a huge glass dome. And on top of that were four nymphs on a pedestal…damned if I know what a nymph is anymore, but they were holding up a globe, a wire frame of one…beautiful building. But that’s not why it was famous. It was famous because everyone knew that The Globe was where the great writers came. That was where they talked about words, and life, and God, and things as big as God, and things they thought were bigger than God, and who knows what else.
Writers are strange folks.” “Your father went there?” asked Alex, leaning closer so he could hear. This story was much different than the other ones Daniel told when he was staring off into space as he was now—much more coherent, and something more, too. “He’s your father too, Betty Jean,” said Daniel. He chuckled with surprising vigor. “Yes, he went there. He said he’d always see them in a circle, and he saw Whitman there, and Emerson, and Longfellow. And Dad would sit in a table close enough to hear them but far enough away not to be noticed.” The names of the famous dead writers had given Alex’s stomach a jolt. He was anxious to find out whether this story was true. He felt it had to be, somehow. “One day he was feeling like he wasn’t worth half a damn. Maybe his book got rejected, I don’t remember. But he sat there drinking black coffee and barely listening to them and scribbling in his notebook and then got sick of it all and walked out. As he went out someone caught his arm. It was Whitman. He said, ‘Young man, you’ve been sitting here watching us for weeks. If you want to join us, you should just go ahead. It looks like you’re on your way out now. Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk.’ Dad always… always remembered about Whitman’s smile, and how his eyes looked like they had seen the entire world. Dad said he threw his notebook into the bay and started a new book.
That was the book he always talked about, the one he really wanted to write but had never been able to start.” “What book?” Alex asked. “What book? Which book?” Daniel exhaled, frustrated. “You threw me a curveball there. It was the one he said he really wanted to write, I don’t remember what it was called.” “Why don’t you remember if it was so important to him?” “It was important to him, but I don’t know that he ever published it. It was just an important story. An important story to write, I guess.” “I see,” said Alex. He looked at the clock—he should have left fifteen minutes ago. He would be late for dinner. He desperately wanted to ask Daniel more questions about the story—he hoped Daniel would still remember it tomorrow. “I have to go, Daniel. It was very nice talking to you, though. I’ll see you tomorrow.” “You have to go?” Daniel asked. His face finally turned towards Alex’s, his eyes wide,
looking surprised. Alex noticed the white wisps of hair around the edges of the top of his head and the way his chin shook up and down when he wasn’t talking, like he was chewing something. He felt guilty for leaving him. “I have to go, yes.” “Well, I’ll let ya, I’ll let ya,” said Daniel, reaching out a shaky arm and patting Alex’s elbow. He was smiling—Alex was amazed. “Bye, Daniel.” When he got home, Alex rushed upstairs to his laptop and typed “globe cafe boston” and a dozen other variants into Google and Wikipedia. All that came up were a hip international grill in Copley Square and a dying newspaper. The Globe had never existed. “
ut if you look at the story in terms of what Sammy sees as possible at the beginning of the story and what he sees as possible at the end, I think you have to see it as comic,” said Sara. Alex hung on each word she said. His English class was discussing— arguing with their teacher, really—John Updike’s short story “A & P,” and Sara was leading the students that thought the story was comic. Alex hadn’t taken part in the discussion, just listened. Sara began, “And what’s more—” “Interesting perspective, but if you look closer at the details, I think you’ll see no possibilities have really been created, at least in the real world, and the position he’s put himself in effectively nullifies whatever he has successfully done to broaden his horizons,” said Mr. Benson, glancing at his watch, talking quickly, assuredly. “I’m not saying it’s typical irony, but irony nonetheless.” The bell rang. “Remember your project is due the day before spring break,” he said. The classroom came alive with scuffling noises as students stood up and gathered books. “You have no other homework, so your time tonight should be spent editing your narratives.”
Alex slid his books off the desk. He thought about his own project, which he hadn’t even started yet, even though it was due on Friday. It was already Wednesday. The assignment was to write a story about a time when one of his ancestors witnessed a significant event in history or met a historically significant person. He had heard every one of his grandparents’ stories that could apply to this assignment, and he didn’t want to write about any of them. He didn’t want to write about how his grandmother was changing diapers while men walked on the moon, or about how his grandfather didn’t remember his own father telling him any stories about the Spanish-American War. The Midwest had a strange way of living outside of everything really significant in history, it seemed. He wasn’t sure why it mattered to him that the story be one that he found worthwhile, meaningful. He had put off the assignment far too long to worry about that sort of thing, anyway. It was just that he had been writing the same sorts of essays about his relatives since fifth grade. Nothing much had changed besides his vocabulary and the frequency of his semicolon use. This was the last thing he’d write in high school about his ancestors, where he came from. It had to be something great. It had been a few days since Daniel told him the story about the writers’ café. It occurred to him now that Daniel’s story would work well for this assignment. The moment he thought of it, though, he felt guilty. He would betray his relatives if he didn’t write truthfully about his own ancestors, he thought. But there were other thoughts fighting back, too. Again and again, he remembered the time he had given his grandparents the essay about how they raised his mother and how much they had loved it. That was their story, and it had already been told. In their
lives, they hadn’t been interested in the things that were happening in the rest of the world. They had cared about raising their children and fixing up their house. They simply didn’t have a story for this assignment, but he had found someone who did. Anyway, the story seemed now to have been made up anyway. What was the harm in using it? Still, he didn’t feel confident in that choice. He was desperate to ask Sara what she thought about the idea. He had almost always agreed with what she said in English class, and he greatly respected her courage to disagree with teachers to their face—Alex lacked the chutzpah to be that confident with his opinions. In fact, he was desperate to talk to Sara about anything at all. He had watched her from a distance for three years, admiring her bright blue eyes, curly brown hair, and unselfconscious sense of style— there was something mysteriously winning about someone who wore camouflage capri pants with sneakers. She seemed forever beyond anyone’s classification—not hipster, not punk, but somehow not straight-laced either, though she never caused real trouble. This year in English class, Alex’s admiration for her had deepened when he heard her talk about the stories they read—she had a bold intelligence, not always the cleverest but definitely the bravest in expressing her opinions, opinions often counter to their teacher’s. Yet Alex had yet to talk to her. In fact, he had occasionally made efforts to avoid her, even when fate seemed determined to force an encounter. When he had left the dance in the gym last year to get a drink and had found her in his way, he stared at her awkwardly for a moment and then said, “Excuse me.” Two years ago on spring break, he discovered that both their families had timeshare properties on Plum Island, north of Boston, and that both of them traditionally visited there on spring break. When he saw her going into a
cottage just around the curve of the island from his beach, the elation he had felt vanished almost immediately when he realized he could never approach her. He even saw her in a restaurant in town there, but he had carefully avoided eye contact. He was certain she did not want anything to do with him. He had the idea that girls detested shyness above all other traits. He was getting tired of thinking that, though. He watched her walk out the door of the English classroom and realized it was March of his senior year, too late in his life to be thinking that way. He shuffled under a heavy load of books to catch up with her in the hallway. He followed her for a few moments, rehearsing what he would say, then rushed forward. “Sara?” She turned around, a half smile on her face that neither emboldened nor discouraged Alex. “I just wanted to say I agreed with what you said about ‘A & P.’ Mr. Benson’s a jerk,” he said. “Yeah, he’s an asshole, isn’t he,” said Sara. “Cutting me off like that.” They stopped in front of a window by an old radiator. The window was bright even though it was overcast outside, a sort of painful white light pervading the hallway. “Yep, he is,” said Alex, a little surprised at her language. He considered whether to launch this discussion during the five-minute walking period, then thought, what the hell. “I was just curious, how’s your ancestral essay going? I’m having some trouble with mine.” “Um, it’s going fine,” she said. “I’m writing about my great-grandmother coming on a boat from Ireland during the potato famine. I don’t even know that she did that. I just know that my mom’s side is Irish. I had to fabricate a lot.” “Did you? Huh.” “So what are you having trouble with?”
she asked. “Well, I haven’t exactly started. Um—” She laughed, half-closing her eyes and leaning to the side. “Sorry, it’s just funny.” “I just know that none of my relatives’ stories are any good, and I don’t want to use them. But this guy at the nursing home I work at told me this incredible story about his father going to a coffee house in Boston that he made up where all these famous writers used to meet—” She laughed and leaned again. “But I don’t feel good about using that story. I don’t know what to do now. Plus none of it matters anyway,” he mumbled. She smiled and looked him right in the eyes. “You’ve been a good kid for four years. Do something crazy like stealing an old guy’s made-up story.” He wondered how she knew that— whether she had actually been observing him for four years or she had just inferred it from this conversation. “You really think so?” “Why not?” “I don’t know, I just…” He forgot what his moral objection was, and his voice trailed off. He found himself staring down at the radiator and hating that he had run out of things to say. “That’s the bell,” she said, flouncing away. Alex hadn’t heard it. “Okay, bye,” he said, but she was already walking away briskly and did not look back.
lex began typing out the story the moment he got home. He named the ancestor Edward—he thought that sounded like the right name—and referred to him as his great-great-grandfather. He described Edward’s helpless attempts to emulate the Transcendentalists, the thrill of discovering them meeting in the coffee shop downtown, miserably hanging around them and trying to eavesdrop, the meeting with Whitman, Whitman looking into his eyes—and that smile—throwing his old notebook into the Charles River and watching it float into photo by Nick Fandos the bay— Alex’s own touch—and finally starting a story, his own story. He never published it, Alex wrote. It was enough to have it out of him, to have it down on paper. That was the last of his fiction career—he went back to his job working for the newspaper. At least he didn’t end that part of his life in shame, holding something back. He printed and stapled it. The hell with editing. He thought of the vacation his family was leaving for in two days, the ocean dark blue and the sky with a few cirrus wisps of cloud. He was almost free. Then he remembered that Sara would probably be going there too. He was both hopeful and terrified. The way their conversation had ended today hadn’t seemed right. She probably had no interest in him. It was awfully nice of her to listen to him and give
him that advice, though. When he read over the essay, admiring it, ignoring a few grammatical mistakes, he felt a stab of guilt. He should have at least asked Daniel if he could use the story. He most likely wouldn’t even remember it. He drove to the nursing home after school on Thursday. He went into the cafeteria and found Daniel waiting for his dinner at a table with another old lady. Neither seemed conscious of the other. “Hello, Daniel,” said Alex, as warmly as he could. “Why, hello there,” said Daniel distantly. It was always unclear to what degree he remembered Alex. Often there was recognition evident in his eyes, but he never said Alex’s name. “Do you mind I use the story you told me about your father in an essay?” “Well now, what story would you be talking about?” “The Globe.” “The Globe. The Globe.” He squinted, pausing. “Oh, course you can. Course you can. That’s a good story. It’s one of the only ones I can remember these days,” said Daniel. He tapped the bald, mottled top of his skull. “Things are real busy in here, mostly I’m just trying to…mostly trying to figure things out.” “Okay. Well thank you,” said Alex, relieved. “You’re welcome. Just remember one thing about it, what my father said. He said that for some people, the world is still flat, and they spend their whole lives living on the edges. That the rest of the world is on the other side of a curtain. They just never…they never…push through it.” Alex, amazed at the sudden reappearance of Daniel’s memory, tried to work out what exactly he meant. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “Well, I hadn’t told it to you!” said Dan-
“You’re right. Well, thank you, Daniel.” “You’re welcome, son.”
riving back home, Alex berated himself for not asking Daniel about the story before he wrote it. Not only had Daniel said yes—and shouldn’t he have known he would anyway—he had also given him what seemed to be the whole point of the story, the moral. He started to plan where he’d work that bit in. It would be complicated—it was a sort of overarching theme, not just a throwaway line. But then Alex realized that maybe it didn’t matter if he included it in the essay. Maybe this was never about the essay. “You’ve been a good kid for four years. Do something crazy,” she had said.
e carefully closed the front door, slowly turning the handle to avoid making a click, and easing the screen door onto the frame so the spring didn’t slap the door shut. He undid the chain that held his tenspeed to the fencepost, walked it out into the street, and took off down the slow slope towards the beach. He passed A-frame chalets and traditional squarish beach cottages, painted with pale pastels. The sky was still dark, spotted with iron gray clouds. He had to drag the bike through the dry sand path leading to the beach until he could ride the bike on the wet sand near the breakers. The clouds were huge, but they were all in the east. It had rained the previous night, and the clouds were on their way out. Dark blue sky showed itself in every other direction. There was still no hint of sun, even through the clouds. He passed through the dunes, reached the wet beach sand, and mounted his bike. He felt momentarily disconnected from his body as he pedaled—his legs were shoving the bike forward, making the tires hum softly on the wet packed sand, and his mind was
a powerless observer. Then he felt more connected to it than ever—had a distinct feeling of choosing to continue pumping the pedals, holding the handlebar straight—and he had a feeling of inexhaustible strength. He swung close to the water when a wave receded and then dashed back up the beach when a breaking wave thundered in. He was heading quickly towards that point of the island he had stared at for years. It came closer, closer, and then he realized it wasn’t nearly as sharp of a contour as it had seemed, that it slowly curved, and a new stretch of beach revealed itself along the tall, cliff-like dunes covered with dark green weeds. Thousands of yards away, almost beyond his sight, he could see people—bright tall moving flecks. He couldn’t concentrate enough to count them, but he could tell there were just a few.
What made him think that Sara would get up for the sunrise? It was just something about her, something about the way she talked. This was something she did, he knew. She was one of those people out there, already resolving themselves into baseball caps and windbreakers. He was close enough to distinguish profiles. He could see one with curly brown hair tied back in a ponytail. It was Sara, he knew. He saw the figure’s face turn towards him. He had a brief jolt of fear about what Sara would think when he got there. But he realized then that he didn’t much care if she wanted to see him or not. He had arrived, he had escaped and he had arrived, and that was all that really mattered, and she could make of it what she would. watercolor by
“Love You” Ben Luczak
t had been a terrible week. The advanced geometry homework had been particularly brutal—who wants to do geometry on a plane that looks like a freakin’ Pringle?— and rehearsal for the upcoming play was as long as ever. But We had a plan. We were going to see Her. That Plan kept us going through the scene changes, activity periods, water breaks, and guilt trips. Every atom of us ached to drive down the highway. The Guitar no longer helped. The Music fell on deaf ears. We were going to see Her. Finally the time came. The last line was said with an oddly appropriate finality, and we all sat around the director as he gave his stirring anti-climatic speech which amounted to: “If you don’t want to look stupid, you might as well try.” My foot kept counting down the milliseconds to the end: tap, tap, tap, tap. He finished and We were gone. The hike down to the parking lot became a mere stroll. Merging onto Highway 44 produced the sweetest sound I had ever heard: a calm rolling of expectancy. Jazz blasted through the radio and the light of the day took a quick exit, stage left. We pulled into Nerinx’s parking lot and She was waiting. He had parked his car already (He was a pretty fast driver) and was about to hug Her, while I, forgetting that I was driving, stared at Her. Something was different about Her. She looked…beautiful. All previous memories of Her ceased to exist. Had She changed? Had I changed? When was the last time I had seen Her? Meanwhile, I almost collided with a parked Ford pickup. I heard laughter. Goddammit, why was parking so hard? Eventually, I got my turquoise Intrepid parked haphazardly between the lines and I flew out of the car. We hugged one of those borderline-
awkward hugs. My chest started to tighten as it felt something it had never felt before: a longing, an ache. Then I realized that, of the three of us, it was I that had changed, not Her. I looked at Him. Had He noticed as well? I couldn’t tell. For a second, I wished He wasn’t here, so it could just be She and I at the restaurant. Scratch that, I wished that it was just She and I together for life. Reality flooded into my world of flowers and meadows when I recognized a SLUH story He was telling Her. I joined in and the two of Us worked as a duo. I added the epic similes, and He responded with the verbal rimshots. It was a pretty good story and produced a laugh in unison. I had trouble finding words, though. It took enough effort trying not to stare at Her all the time. Some time later, He had to go to the bathroom. I panicked for a second. Crap, what am I going to say? I thought. Should I tell her how I was madly in love with Her? Her eyes looked so inviting. She started talking about the two plays She was in, and I inwardly sighed before I started showering Her with compliments. Sometime later, She had to go. At first, it didn’t affect Us much. Oh, We’ll see You soon, We said. Yeah, no problem. As We walked Her back to Her car in the now gloomy darkness, I realized She was leaving. No, I can’t let you go, I thought. No, don’t leave Us here at Webster at 9:30 on a Friday night. I worked hard for this. I sat up late doing freakin’ Pringle geometry Thursday night and now you’re leaving? She was about to get into Her car. Don’t go, I thought, I think I’m in—“Love you, guys!” She called from her car. Something seized the both of Us at that moment. The breath left my lungs as I tried to process the fact that this Girl, whom I had fallen hopelessly in love with, loves Me too. She loves Me, too? Isn’t that what She just said? In that instant, two guys thought as one: Should We tell her We love Her? Should
We tell Her We want to drive away from this stupid town and this demanding school and hold Her under the stars? “Love you, too!” We responded stupidly and in unison. I yelled back in a whiny voice and He yelled back in a high voice. She laughed, which was our one insignificant victory, and drove away. The silence was deafening, but it was punctured by two identical soulshattering sighs. I looked at Him. If I had any doubts about whether He thought She was beautiful, they were dispelled now. “Are you feelin’ it, too?” I asked. “Yeah.” We decided to walk to the record store to dispel our loneliness. She was gone, and that was it. Nothing could be done about it, and all We could do was drown our tears with Music. The record store was closed. We beat our fists on the door, but if a bystander had seen Us he wouldn’t be able to tell whether We were joking or not. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I’m a man, I thought. So I groaned instead. Again, in that strange bond of unison, He started groaning, on cue. We walked down the side streets of Old Orchard under the trees with a soul-aching self-conscious looking at the full moon. I suddenly felt the despair in a poem I had read recently. I tried reciting it and failed, getting stuck somewhere between melons and Garcia Lorcas. We wandered on, but there was nowhere to go.
We started talking about Her again. I told Him about how I needed a woman, and She, my friend, was a Woman. He said how He needed a woman, too, and He thought He had a chance with Her. I scowled with envy and didn’t respond. I have a chance with Her, I thought. I’m special. Then I remembered how I just acrylic by Clayton Petras stared in rapt admiration at Her at the restaurant. I remembered how I had trouble saying what I wanted to say. My despair deepened. Somehow, We ended up back at the parking lot. So We did whatever independent, rebellious teen do normally: We talked about music. Eventually that conversation lost air and shriveled up, ending in sighs that gradually trailed off into silence. We decided to call it quits. He went to Somebody’s house, and I went home. Once I was locked in my room, I tried to listen to some Grizzly Bear to console myself, but I ended up thinking only about Her. Thoughts drifted through my head: Is this what love feels like? A tightening of the chest? A shortness of breath? Maybe I’m having a heart attack, I thought cynically. How do I even tell I’m in love? I didn’t see any bow and arrows and I certainly didn’t see a fat baby with wings drawing a bead on me. I didn’t hear any sentimental music. Is this it? I slowly fell into a fitful sleep with none of my questions answered.
Through a New Pair of Glasses Conor Fellin
Those globs of green now gain a new allure. I always knew the grays and goldenrods— And greens, sun-bathed St. Louis suburb greens— Of Euclid, but I never saw such shade, And each once hidden ball of shade adds brilliance To every band of green surrounding it. The trees along the Euclid sidewalk once Were modest (still are modest), yet unmatched When eyes that knew mere roadside plants discover How at its black and bulky body’s end, A leaf petitely furls its sparkling tip.
Chuck Michael Blair “
wanna be a woman,” Chuck said to his buddies in the bar in between chews of his cheeseburger. “I want to dress myself up, and put on all the makeup and lipstick, you know. I wanna curl my hair and click my heels and be whistled at. I’ve always loved lederhosen. It’s a texture thing. And I want to sing, too. See my name in lights. Wear velvet. Wear pearls…” Obviously this came as a shock to Chuck’s friends. They were used to the Chuck that slammed down beers on Thursdays after work at the steel mill, the one that curled his biceps at the YMCA and, after, showered off with the rest of the gang in a standard display of masculine assurance. Chuck’s friends thought uncomfortably of those showers now—the horseplay while they dried when Chuck would roll his wet towel up and whip his friends, letting out a quavering, quick giggle. Maybe there were signs after all. Chuck drank only Heineken— other, thicker beers made him hot and gave him headaches—and all his friends knew Chuck to be a great admirer of David Bowie and other progressive rock bands that populated the upper boroughs of Manhattan in the early 1970s. What was strange was that Chuck had decided to let his friends know at this very moment and with a remark filled with such energy and longing and, Chuck’s friends thought, real sincerity. By all accounts, Chuck was a quiet and honest man who chipped and fused his steel in a battered tank-top without ever filing much complaint. He lived alone in an old white-walled apartment on Colonel Thomson Plaza where he had invested in a nice stereo and TV system which he sometimes used on Sundays when he’d have the
boys over for beer and football. Chuck wore his white button-down shirt and his favorite jeans on those football days, and combed his black hair into a tight part. He looked ruggedly masculine and, in secret amidst a beery haze of corn nuts and baby-back ribs, Chuck’s friends often wished they possessed such natural class and handsomeness. They liked the way Chuck’s grandfather’s watch hung on his wrist—the worn brown leather strap faded into his tanned skin. Chuck had a way about him—something more controlled than bashfulness, some sweet honest secret he held in his smile that his friends, though they may not have known it, cherished with their lives. When Chuck was absent from Tuesday night poker at Jerry’s or playoff games and beer at McNally’s, the group would sag somber and stale, often telling tales of last year’s Christmas party at Chuck’s, the new Bruce Springsteen CD that Chuck had burned for them, the doughnut shop Chuck had suggested, the sitcom Chuck quoted on Thursday morning smoke breaks outside under the November sky. Though Chuck would have never known it, he had become the idol of his friends and their makeshift leader. Chuck’s quiet nature and unassuming manners only added to the power of his mystery, and though Chuck never mentioned the content of his jaunts with women, his friends inferred a great template of unknown territories conquered and wild carnal triumphs. After all, what could Chuck be doing those Tuesday nights when he failed to show at Jerry’s condominium? Surely not teaching himself to bake teacakes. Surely not taking salsa-dancing lessons. Surely not drinking wine and reading The New Yorker. No, he’d stamped upon some hard-luck queen with droopy eyes and full lips down at the truckstop at the edge of town and thrown her in his own truck and taken her back to the white-walled apartment on Colonel Thom-
son Plaza to show her the dance of dances, to draw circles in the ancient sands, to make her real. So, out of respect and good faith, Chuck’s admission that night at McNally’s went unanswered and unchallenged. The conversation halted slightly and Tommy Johansen from the melting room raised his eyebrows a bit, but after a brief silence the conversation turned again to the correct way to barbeque chicken breast. Privately, though, Chuck’s emasculation was a blow to his friends. Jerry went back to his condo and burned the notebook of signed and dated Polaroids he had of the two of them in swimsuits on their float trip in North Dakota that summer. When Jimmy Padburg reached out to hug his wife, he couldn’t help but see in her sharp and rigid cheekbones the image of Chuck himself, laughing and dancing in the light. Others rationalized the development. After all, thought Dick from the incinerator room, Chuck’s appeal lay in his ability to remain quick and mysterious. Perhaps, he thought, Chuck had learned all he needed to know of the masculine experience, perhaps he was setting off on some other new wild adventure and breaking ground to boldly go where no man had gone before: womanhood. He was quite a man to become a woman, Dick thought. Steve, too, who worked on the assembly line on the ground floor, couldn’t help but see the potency and potential of Chuck’s new project. When he got home that night, Steve dug out an old New York Dolls record and snuck off to his bathroom where he dug through his wife’s makeup kit and found that right rouge he was looking for. It certainly was thrilling, Steve thought. As for Chuck, no one can really say what
happened after that night of thick smoke and Heineken Light in the back of McNally’s. He didn’t show up the next day at the steel plant or the day after that or the day after that. Jerry drove by Colonel Thomson Plaza one rainy afternoon and found nothing inside the old apartment except those white walls. A few months later, Tommy Johansen claimed to have seen Chuck’s Chevy pickup in the parking lot of Borrowed And Shared, the gay and transgender bar in town (it just happened to be right across from the hardware store, Tommy clarified, and he had seen it glowing across the dark lot). Its once bright red paint job had chipped away and there were paint buckets now instead of power tools in the back, but Tommy would have known that truck anywhere. He remembered the night he spent, drunk on a weeknight, driving through the high cornfields in the passenger seat, eyes wide and uncertain, singing with Chuck the old show tunes their fathers had taught them when they were kids while the autumn sun set below the stalks. A few weeks after that incident, Jim Kirn from the upstairs management was eating his Reuben next to a woman with long black hair and a nice white button down shirt which hung around an enchanting leather wristwatch. Jim had never known Chuck well—he didn’t usually have time to make it to the floor of the mill—but he could have sworn that woman in all her innocent and mystifying translucence was Chuck himself. Jim finished his sandwich and left the deli quietly. He never told anyone of the woman he’d bumped into. After all, he was getting old, and his eyesight was really starting to go. These days, the lines just blurred together.
Cigarette Patrick Quinlan
felt out of place when she lit the thin, feminine cigarette. It’s not that I have any problem with smoking. It’s just she’s sixteen. She held it like it was dirty, pinched between her middle and index fingers. Her vibrant green eyes laughed at me under her arched, pitch-black eyebrows. And then she seemed out of place when she stepped closer to me, with the dirty, brute graffiti slashed onto the crumbling wall behind her. The cigarette died with a fizzle under the tip of her tall white heel and she put her hands on mine, warm and soothing.
park bench Daniel Hart Lâ€™Ecuyer
do you ever see a girl somewhere eyes flicking, waiting drawing birds with her eyes & not know what sex but say to yourself what a beautiful person & did you ever see an old man strumming his guitar at a park bench & wonder what roads he was singing about & do you ever look at her mildly expensive shirt & watch the raindrops fall & not know what lies beneath you are seeing facades of & wonder what her skin & shape do not hide & did you ever look at his eyes staring through so many windows & so many days over so many rooftops & faces & say to yourself he should be the one
& do you ever see her looking at some cutout boy & look away & look at him & adjust her raindropped shirt & shift at her vacant park bench & say to yourself she should do it & did you ever see him sitting there next to an empty place & the way the strings & curves of his guitar sit softly in his old hands & wonder who it was who wasnâ€™t there anymore & did you ever wonder if she ever did it & do you ever say to yourself where did that old man go
Death Watchers Ralph Scozzafava
y brother Nick and I used to be so close, inseparable really. We were one year apart, but were in the same grade throughout school (my birthday being August 29th, his July 23rd). We both played soccer and ran in the same social circles. We had our own ’80s cover band (Wham Stand) that we toured the city with. I played lead guitar, Nick the drums. But after high school, we didn’t talk much, maybe a two-minute phone call once a year or so concerning Grandma Mary’s health. And we came together only over a deathbed or some unfilled hole in the earth. We didn’t give thanks together on Thanksgiving or sing “Silent Night” on Christmas; all we did together was watch death. It had been that way since the summer after our senior year in high school and the divorce. My mom, remarried to some money-guy that wears $4000 suits with a vowel at the end, moved into the city, and my dad was still “playing the field” in Philly. I had gone out East to NYU, and Nick had stayed home at Northwestern. It had come down to choices; I chose the East and innocence, and Nick chose the Midwest and that cheating bitch. This trip was the first time since our parents split up almost three years ago that Nick and I hadn’t awkwardly half hugged, half shook hands and mumbled something along the lines of “How’s the weather in New York?” and “Good, it’s good” before disengaging and sheepishly making some excuse or other to break away and ignore each other. It was the first time that we did more than keep up appearances. The only reason we were together, then, had been Uncle Bill’s funeral. Neither of us
really had known him (he was our Grandma’s brother), and those who did know him disliked him. Uncle Bill was a cheap bastard. When he died, he wasn’t on speaking terms with his kids and had remarried four times. According to Grandma Net, he had screwed his siblings and friends out of the family business, and nobody had forgiven him in the fifty years since. But all of us, including Nick and me, were there nonetheless. Familial duty, I suppose. Or maybe it was an excuse to see each other, to get a glimpse of the past. Either way, it had gotten us into the same room.
he funeral was in some Irish church, St. Bridget’s, I think, on the South Side. Stained glass sparkled in every window, depicting saints banishing demons, choirs of singing angels, and Christ lording over all. White-robed, arms outstretched, he watched over the saints, the parish, and the lacquered double-doors in front of his arched window. He beckoned to the flocks of mourners, ushering them into the church’s cramped and rundown interior. According to my watch, I got in at around 10:13, late (the clocks had fallen back an hour the night before), so I leaned against the wall in the back, behind one of two sections of dark pews. I was surprised by the turnout; the church was filled. I looked out over the din. Uncle Robert (my namesake) was in the third row with Cousin Rudy and Grandma Net and relatives that I hadn’t seen in years or at all. Nick slipped through the double-doors, out of breath. His solid-black tie lay untied around his neck, and his normally tame brown hair stood on end. He had just woken up. I watched Nick glance towards the altar and make a quick sign of the cross before eyeing the crowd for an empty seat. He took a spot along the wall, close to the rooms that were meant for confessions, and quietly
knotted his tie. He saw me looking at him and met my gaze. He nodded, curt and solemn, and looked away. An old man in a three-button black suit, a mourning suit, and freshly-shined black shoes, rose from his seat and stepped up to the podium. He pulled a small leather-bound notebook out of his pants pocket, leafed through it until he found the right page, and cleared his voice. “William Arthur Olsen was a great man. He lived a full life…” His voice was rough and strained, like something was squeezing his vocal cords. He articulated every word, giving each one more meaning than it merited. It was the right tone for a funeral: proper and grave. The man (one of Uncle Bill’s brothers-
in-law) gracefully narrated William Olsen’s life, skipping over the suit against the family and the fight between Uncle Bill and his son. He instead began with his days running the floor at Georgetown as a guard, working his way to Uncle Bill’s engagement to Abigail Roberts, his sixth wife, and concluding with his final days. I’d heard it all before. Eulogies never change. Eulogies attempt to revive the dead and give them one last hurrah and an “attaboy!” before sending them off to whatever awaited them. Eulogies paint and emboss lives with words. And words never change. Words don’t mean anything. They only mask mediocrity and disgrace, wrapping them both in stenciled purple wrapping paper finished with a drawing by Jon Barber bright green bow. Words can cut like razors, but can also stitch scars.
bout an hour later, I waded through the herd of haggard, familiar faces on the steps in front of St. Bridget’s. The funeral service was over. There hadn’t been any tears. There hadn’t been a vacant plot of land surround by fresh grass or stacks of red roses or an ornate tombstone lettered with “Here lies William Arthur Olsen, a loving
father, a loyal husband, and a great man.” There hadn’t been a lacquered, mahogany coffin. Uncle Bill had been cremated. Burned away. Gone. As if he had never been alive at all. Only an unpolished brass urn sitting on a faded white tablecloth before the altar remained of him. I spotted Nick through the crowd waiting by the curb for a taxi and thought back to the service: no one had been crying. I pictured Nick standing over me wearing the same suit he wore to Uncle Bill’s funeral. He was far away, but crisp and clean. I could make out every detail. The toes of his own shined black shoes protruding over the edge. The tan bottoms. The skinny laces hanging off the sides. Nick was rimmed in brown earth and wet, gray clouds. He dropped a single red rose into the hole, and it spun as it fell, twirling end over end before landing on my chest. His sun green eyes were dry. No. That’s not right. That’s not how it’s supposed to be! He’s the one that’s supposed to get choked up and cry over me. It’s supposed to be him—I need the tears! I want there to be something more than specks of dust and hard brass on white left of me when I’m gone. I want to be remembered and full of life long after death! I want to be resurrected with words and stories, but not the packaged ones with the bows. I want words with real meaning and truth and feeling and color, long after I’m six under. I want a varicose-veined, drooling Nick to blow out his pink birthday candles and to sit back and tell his grandchildren about me without glossing over the bad with black paint as if it was never there because it was there and it’s a part of me and there is more to me than that because I am whole and had seen Uncle Bill
in his final days, bedridden and comatose, his body crumpled, his hair thin and wily, his skin transparent. I had seen him sparkless and lifeless, an empty body attached to a clear feeding tube and a heart monitor like a car in the shop for an oil change. But this body wasn’t coming out new. It was dying and smelled of death but was living and pulsing with every breath! It was full and beautiful! It was alive and innocent and perfect! And it was Nick alive and beautiful. And innocent. Innocent even after the blue bruises and the fractured knuckles from that May fight in ’07. Innocent because he was me and I was him and we’re all connected because we’re living and dying and cuts scar over and broken bones set and heal.
sprinted towards Nick, muttering “excuse me’s” and “pardon me’s” as I shouldered through the mob. Nick had found a taxi and was stepping into the cab. I grabbed him by the shoulder as he opened the door and started to lower himself into the backseat. He didn’t turn around. “Nick, I don’t want to watch death with you anymore. I don’t want to be Uncle Bill with the cremating and the dry eyes! I want it to be like it was. Before the divorce. Back when we talked and laughed and played covers of Talking Heads in the garage!” Nick turned around, and my hand fell back to my side. He bored into me with his hard eyes, piercing them, breaking through, and embracing the regret rimming the black in my own. He smiled and clapped both hands against my elbows as he pulled me into a bear of a hug. “That’s all I’ve been wanting for the past three years.”
On the Giant’s Knee David Farel
slammed the car door shut behind me as Cole, Monica, and I stepped out into the darkened field. “Well,” Cole said, “here it is. The statue.” We stood staring for a moment at the statue until Monica broke the silence. “What is it?” “I’m not sure,” Cole said. It was a giant, something mythic, an enormous concrete man frozen half-submerged in the field, as if Atlas had broken under the weight of the world and fallen into quicksand. “I guess,” he said, “some sort of giant?” “Sounds right to me,” I said. The statue was grotesque, really; a Grecian head gasping up for air, two arms flailing up wildly at contorted angles, a knee protruding up, and a foot breaking barely out of the earth. Cole ran over to the head and jumped onto the face, and Monica and I followed behind him. Cole sat on the nose, and Monica sat beside him just far enough that no one but I could have known they were dating. I slipped my hands into my pockets, tilted my head down a bit, and yawned discreetly. Cole gestured out further in the field, at some construction site he had said was near its edge. “Want to go?” “Sure,” Monica said, but I said no thanks. I owed them that much. From the giant’s chin, I watched as they went out into the darker regions of the field. They were walking a couple feet apart, sideby-side, into a world I probably would never know. I felt a painful pang of envy rush through my chest that lingered a minute before melting into emptiness. Eventually, they
reached the furthest, darkest fringes of the field and disappeared. I looked around at the statue, at the colossal limbs towering over me. Most stuck straight up, but the knee ramped up gradually. I sized it up, and after backing up for a running start, I sprinted up the shin. Threefourths of my way up, I lost my momentum and slid back down, and though the concrete scraped against my back, I didn’t mind. When I ran up and lost my momentum again, instead of giving in to gravity I threw my arms around the kneecap and pulled myself up on top of it. Folding my legs beneath me, I found my balance. Looking down at the darkened grass twelve feet below me, I felt a momentary rush of panic, but soon the feeling passed. Thoughts crept across my mind, about Monica, Cole, and life. I thought about the priesthood, about my future, about the many different, tricky types of love that could not be categorized, about duty, about concrete abstractions and about the abstract concrete. Then I folded my hands into a ball, bowed my head, and took in the warm night air, the sound of crickets, and the sound of cars rumbling by on a distant road. I looked up at the sky, and the countless stars remarkably clear, and at the faint white drifting wisps of clouds, and I breathed in deeply. I prayed. At first I prayed about myself, for my own strength, and when the bitterness remained, I prayed for Cole, for Monica, that they’d be happy and in love regardless of me. I sat on the knee for half an hour, thinking and praying, and eventually I realized what life would be: my friends all deep in love just out of sight as I sat up on a rock, looking at the sky, in prayer. The thought has haunted me since. When I saw Cole and Monica step out of the darkness towards me, I smiled slightly, slipped down the shin, and stood down in the grass, waiting.
Genesis 3:19 Sam Herbig You’ve made your cupcakes To share And now you have the leftover batter On the spoon. The smell itself reminds you of a time When your mom would help you with the batter And you would lick the spoon And be happy And the world would be happy with you And for you. And you wouldn’t be trying to figure out What your mother sang to you Or remember how the song went, But you would be listening to her voice As you fall asleep And dream of licking the batter Off the spoon. And Mickey loved Minnie, And Mr. Mickey would give her flowers And a little kiss, And she would be happy, And he would be happy. And you would giggle, And you would be happy, And Mr. Daddy would get flowers for Mrs. Mommy To tell her he loves her. And Grandpa would get flowers for Grandma To tell her he misses her, But now Mr. Daddy misses Mrs. Mommy, And the flowers don’t help. And Donald would dance the day away with Daisy In the hazy, golden afternoon, And you would giggle In the hazy, lazy, golden, Perfect afternoon And sleep And dream. You look at the batter— The batter of your own creation— You wake up And you wash the spoon off in the sink.
The Fence Jumper Joe Murray
felt as if I were falling and jolted in my bed, waking up to find myself on my back. “One of these nights, I just want to know what it feels like to hit the bottom,” I thought as I lay under covers, trying to catch my breath. I dreamt of falling often. I guess I got some sort of rush out of it. My older brother Kemp usually appeared in my falling dreams as well, falling a hundred feet or so below me. He would reach his hand up to me, beckoning for help, but not once did I ever attempt to reach for him. I looked down at him in pity, as if I wasn’t falling to the same fate he was. Above him was where I remained. I always awoke as my brother hit the ground. I remained asleep long enough to hear the deep thud of his body slam against the dirt, but I never saw it. I always woke up right after I heard him hit. A film of sweat clung to my whole body when I woke up. The ceiling fan above failed to keep me cool as it wobbled, dizzy from its years of use. On the wall to the right of my bed, the clock read 2:46 a.m. From the open window next to the clock, a warm breeze blew in, carrying with it the sound of shaking metal. The sound was nothing new to my ears, but I sat up in bed, pulled the covers off, and crept over to the window. I knelt in front of it and brought my eyes just above the windowsill so that I would not be seen. The rusted chain-link fence that encompassed my family’s backyard was shaking violently. Kemp was on the other side of the fence, sprinting down the hill our house was built on. I watched from my second story window in disgust. When I was bored with watching Kemp run, I looked back to the fence. There were
holes where chains had turned to rust and disappeared. The horizontal rod that held the chains up was bent towards the ground. Years of fighting gravity had worn it down. The fence was weak, but I wished for it to be weaker. I hoped that one of those nights that Kemp hopped over it, it would just give out beneath his feet. Maybe he would be injured, or at least get caught for once. He needed to be caught, because I knew what he did when he was gone. It was obvious. His face was that of a dead man, yet he was only sixteen. I looked back at the clock, now reading 3:03 a.m. I stood up and crept silently back over to my bed. Turning my back to the window, I lay down and pulled the covers up to my mouth. The wobbling fan above me began to squeak, but I ignored it and fell quickly asleep.
he next morning was my birthday. Kemp slept through it.
ears passed, and Kemp was in and out of my life. The six-year age difference between us seemed to grow larger every day. As we both got older, he spent more and more time on the other side of the fence. One night, though, the fence finally gave up on him, and this time I saw him hit the bottom. Here is how I imagine Kemp’s fall: It was a Tuesday night. Kemp was in pain. He needed a hit badly, but all his money was invested in the hits he had already had. He was weak, yet he still walked six long blocks in the rain to the closest store, a Target. He called on all his strength as he pushed the doors open. After they were open, he had to pause for a second because of the pain ringing through him. When he returned to a fragile state of numbness, he grabbed one of the bright red carts and slowly journeyed to the back of the store. The fluorescent lighting hid his brow, forming shadows over his already dark eyes.
He stared down at the white tile floor beneath him, ignoring everyone he passed. An employee approached him and asked: “Do ya need any help, sir?” Kemp just swung his head back and forth silently like a pendulum and kept on walking. The employee smiled at him and turned the other way. Kemp trudged to the electronics section of the store, and upon arrival, looked up for the first time. To Kemp’s right was a man and his daughter. They were in the doll section a few aisles down, the little girl giggling as her father pretended to hold one of the dolls like a baby. Beneath the shadows, Kemp’s eyes filled with tears, and he pushed his cart forward and out of the family’s sight. Anything that wasn’t locked behind glass, Kemp put in his cart. CDs, clothes, books, and even a couple cheap digital cameras. Once he was pleased, he pushed the cart back to the front of the store. There were very few people in the store, and Kemp was okay with that. As he reached the front of the store, he stopped the cart and pulled his wallet out. He tried to make it seem as though he was counting his money, when really he was just flipping through empty gift cards and old cigarette receipts. He put his wallet back into his right pocket and began to walk again. His eyes were pointed down more than ever now. The pain he was already in seemed to get worse. The number
two checkout lane was closed, so he chose to walk through that one. No one seemed to notice him. He thought he could get away, but he was not in his right mind. He reached the tall gray sensors in front of the door and the alarms sounded. Kemp took off, running as fast as his weak body would carry him. The doors burst open as Kemp rammed his cart into them. “Stop! Stop!” the security guard yelled as he sprinted after Kemp. Kemp made it to the parking lot out in front of the store. He noticed it was raining harder than before. Then he noticed how hard the concrete was drawing by David Greaves as the security guard tackled him from behind. Kemp’s face had hit the ground, and his nose began bleeding onto the ground. The cart tipped over as well, spilling the contents out over the asphalt. The pain was unbearable for Kemp. Paralyzed, he lay there, face down on the ground, screaming into the wet concrete as security called the police. The fence had finally snapped.
emp spent the next three months in jail. I could only imagine the pain he must have been going through from being completely shut off from his heroin addiction. Looking back, I was just as much of a monster as my brother. I found joy in his pain. My brother was sitting in jail; and for
some reason it made me happy. After he had been released from jail, he had nowhere to go. Luckily, my parents had a love for him that I did not, or at least I did not know I had at the time. He came to live with us.
was sitting in the old gray recliner that had been in my family’s house for years. An old episode of Cheers was on TV. I heard the eerie sound of a key sliding into its place within the door, and the turning open of the door. I looked to my right and wished that the door would just remain closed. My wish was denied, and my dad came walking in, Kemp following behind him. “Hey, bud” was all Kemp seemed to be able to say to me. I could tell he was ashamed. I acted interested in what was on the TV, not bringing my eyes up to meet his. “Hey, Kemp” was all I could say to him. Fear kept me from making eye contact with him. I lifted my eyes for a second, hoping he would not see me. He looked the same as always, half dead. The bags under his eyes just seemed a little heavier than before. Kemp spent a lot of time in the basement. I spent most of my time two stories up from him in my room. At night I listened for the same clinking of the fence I had heard for years, but not once did I hear it. He had been at our house for a couple of weeks, and we still only gave each other a quick glance when we saw each other. We remained silent. One night I sat in the same gray recliner and listened as Kemp and my dad talked in the kitchen down the hall from me. Kemp asked my dad, “Is he mad at me?” I knew he was asking about me. I had to ask myself the same question. Was I mad at him? No, I was scared for him. More than anything, I was angry at myself for letting this happen to him. If I could have just told someone about his hopping over the fence years ago, maybe this could all have been prevented. A couple months after Kemp came to live
with us, I finally decided to end the silence. It was a Saturday night and my family decided to go out to dinner. We went to Francesco’s Italian restaurant. There was a forty-five minute wait. Huge parties passed in and out of the swinging door, so the front of the restaurant remained cold from the outside air. Kemp just sat in a daze, staring at the tiles on the floor. He was idle. The hostess called our name, and we squeezed our way out of the small foyer and into the room of tables. We sat in between two large parties and could barely even hear each other talking, not that much talking took place. We had been waiting for food for a while in silence as the people around us laughed and joked incessantly. I noticed Kemp’s eyes were pink, and he was holding back tears. I tried to look away at some other table, where a happy family sat laughing, enjoying their dinner. I looked back at him, and a tear had escaped from the corner of his eye. He dried his face with the back of his hand and composed himself before my dad could see him. The moment I saw Kemp cry, I saw all the pain that was trapped inside of him. I saw the loneliness, and the depression that resided within him. I saw his baby girl’s eyes, crying for her daddy to be with her, even though he couldn’t. This was what Kemp looked like when he hit the bottom. For the first time, he was human to me. That was not a screw-up sitting across from me, that was my brother, and I was just letting him suffer. I felt as if all this time I was the criminal for letting him get this way. We went home after our bleak dinner, and Kemp walked in the door and straight to the basement without even saying a word. I followed behind him. “Kemp, wait.” I grabbed his shoulder as he reached the last step. He turned around and looked shocked. He had been crying more, his face shiny from the wetness on his cheeks. Lines of fatigue were cut deep into his forehead.
Exhaling, I said,“I love you.” Smiling, he looked back at me and saw all the years of sorrow in my eyes. “Thanks, bud. I love you too.” He turned around and fell onto the couch and turned on the TV. I walked back upstairs into my room, finally hoping that Kemp was going to resurrect himself from his past.
he next morning I woke up to the sound of clinking metal again. I panicked and ran to my window. Down below in my yard Kemp was outside hammering a new fence post into the ground. When he was finished, he shook the fence to make sure it was sturdy. It was.
International Institute Michael Blair
In the afternoons we’d go to Literacy Tutorial and teach seventy-year-old African women the colors on the page. “Yellow was not red,” I’d say, “these tools are hammers, Thanksgiving is in November, there are fifty states, the largest one is California— you see it’s that big one on the left, it’s where movies and wine are made, it’s where people go surfing, where the abstract sun shines without end, where the senators wear sandals, where the ocean forgets it has land below it too, it’s where—” We’re just eighteen but we’re talking of taking lunch breaks at the fashionable International restaurants of the South Grand area, our pea coats are hanging, stout and double breasted in the education office, waiting for us to sign out and end our hard day’s night working like a dog for the betterment of this town that we talk so much about over hummus at lunch—Mayor Slay’s seventeenth term, how garish Washington Avenue has become— too proud to admit we live in Kirkwood and our mothers made these turkey-swiss sandwiches, packed pita chips in plastic bags to our specifications, because our lives are elaborate constructions of comfort, more than mere illusion because we know now (I guess we have known for some time) that the world is cold and hard and when you stare at it long enough you lose yourself, or your sense of yourself and then you start over—homeless and alone, but mainly just tired—why did I always feel so tired? Yesterday I found a week-old brownbag in my backpack and tossed it before it’s molded-banana contents poked out, and now my coat button is about to fall off and I only wish
I might go back to that white classroom and ask again the color of the blue ocean—the one they’ve flown over to get here—the blue that circles their bruised lips which part now with the subtlety of whole seas, the blue that allows me to ask, finally, What colors have you seen? Did you make that flowery dress? What was breakfast today? Blueberry jam on toast? What do you think of my green shirt? If everything’s moving how come we always wake up in the same place? When’s the moon ever hung as low as it does tonight? Are we ready to let our hearts be broken? print by
Scattered Pencils Luke Hellwig
he light turned on with a defiant click, illuminating his sister’s room. Alsace glanced back downstairs but heard nothing. Elise, three years his elder, had been sitting on the couch reading when Al had padded by the living room, the hallway’s thick white carpet masking his steps. She was in the middle of another story about teenage wizards or the like—the typical book by which she would transport herself away from flowered couch to some distant world, to be brought back only after their mother’s repeated calling of her name. She wouldn’t hear Al upstairs. He stepped over a discarded t-shirt and slowly shut the door behind him. The room was stuffy and still warm from the day’s long rays, and the boy stood a moment surveying the both familiar and distant landscape before him. He knew the general formula for his sister’s room—clothes piled in the middle of the small space, her bed partially made in the far corner, and the clutter of a seventh-grade girl spread throughout. A small platform of candles and trinkets presided over one corner; a couple Smashmouth CDs stood on the top of a pile of boxes in the other. However, without his sister there for Al to talk to or bother, her possessions lost the ethereal importance she placed on them, and Al saw them as things he could neither understand nor use. Al carefully shuffled his way around the pile, careful not to move anything. Despite his conscientious walk, he clipped a pair of shorts with his foot, throwing them under Elise’s cluttered desk. Al knelt down, fished the shorts out from under the desk, and threw them back onto a pile of clothing.
Downstairs, a door slammed shut. Al leapt to his feet, bumping into his sister’s desk. A pile of pencils, already sitting on the desk’s edge, tumbled towards the floor. They clashed against the ground, splaying out towards the pile of clothing and under Elise’s desk. Through the door, he heard the creak of the bottom stair. He stood petrified. The next stair moaned under his sister’s foot, and Al flew into action, his fingers scrambling to recapture the yellow wooden rods. His sister continued her way up the stairs. “Elise!” Al straightened up, still kneeling with a half-handful of sharpened yellow pencils. Outside the door, his sister had stopped climbing. “Elise,” their mother called again, “You’re going to be late for ballet!” Elise’s feet retreated back down the stairs. Her brother’s face returned to its normal olive shade, and he bent back down to retrieve the final few pencils that remained scattered on the floor. The shadows of trees cast through the windows and played at his feet. Waving slowly in the afternoon breeze of late summer, the extended twigs seemed poised to enclose Al in their grasp. One of the pencils had rolled under Elise’s desk through to the low space beneath her futon bed. Lying on his stomach, Al pulled the final pencil out from the small gap between the bed and the floor. He took a rubber band off of the desk and triumphantly snapped it around the now-complete bundle of pencils. Instead of retreating through the door, though, he knelt back down next to Elise’s bed. There was something else under there. Al tilted his head down to see under the bed. Glossy paper reflected a little light back at him. His right hand floated silently over the dusty floors; his left hand spread below him, keeping balance. The tip of his right in-
dex finger played with the edge of the photograph, trying to catch its corner. Alsace breathed in, leaned in farther towards the bed, and pulled out the discarded photo between his second and third finger. The photo was from their family’s summer vacation to Colorado a couple years before: Great Sand Dune National Monument—Al recognized the skeletal trees that had surrounded their campsite. In the picture, Al was perched on his father’s shoulders, his small hands gripping the top of his dad’s balding head. Dad was smiling foolishly at the camera, one arm holding onto Al’s knee, the other wrapped around Elise standing next to him. Elise was looking up at her father. Both of the kids had put plastic buckets on their head, but Al’s had slid down so that only his chin was showing. They hadn’t gone anywhere this summer, and Al had forgotten about their trip out West. A slow smile spread across his face, and he turned towards the door. “Mom!” No answer. Al ran towards the door, threw it open, and stood at the top of the stairs. “Mom!” he called again. “Mom!” He ran down the stairs, leaping two at a time. He held the photo clasped tight in between his index finger and thumb, swinging it back and forth in time with his long stride. As Al landed with a grunt at the bottom of the stairs, his mother came bustling around the corner, one ballet shoe held out in front of her. She was calling out to Elise. “Do you have any idea where you put the other one?” She yelled toward the kitchen, throwing the ballet shoe in that general direction and then disappearing back into the living room. “Mom?” Al asked, but his mother had already begun to half-yell her next sentence, and so he followed her around the corner. “I’ve got to run back by the office before
they lock down,” she called out to Elise from beneath an uprooted sofa cushion. “So you’re just going to have to walk down to—” “Mom!” Al snapped at his mother’s back. The flowery cushion flew off to the side, and his mother shifted herself around to face her interrupter. Her arms rested against the frame of the sofa; her black jacket had slipped off her shoulder. “Mom,” Al continued earnestly. “Look what I found under—” “Alsace, how many times do I have to tell you to not to interrupt me?” “But Mom—” “I don’t have time for this, Al,” his mother swore, only intensifying the strain that spread across her son’s face. “Look, Al, you’ve got to start listening to what I say. If your father was still around...” Alsace could no longer maintain his military posture. He turned and ran back towards the stairs. His felt his eyes swell up. Warm tears began to run down the cheeks still plump with youth as he leapt up the first steps. “Oh, Al,” Mother cried, rising to her feet, “Al, I’m so sorry Al.” She ran after him, but her day truly had been long and by the time her aging body reached the door of the living room, Al had already disappeared around from the top of the stairs. “Oh, Mary Claire, what have you done?” She took a deep breath, and turned softly to the couch.
e sat on his bed meditatively—tears no longer fell from his cheeks. The room was dark and cool. In his hands he cradled the photo, studying his father’s face. He got up and carried the photo out in front of him through the door and into the bathroom. Laying it carefully next to his sister’s toothbrush, he pulled a tissue out of the box and slowly wiped over the glossy surface of the picture, drying the fallen tears that remained. Downstairs, the front door
slammed shut. Al threw away the tissue, grasped the photo’s edge in his left hand, and shuffled back to his still-dark room. He placed the photo on his dresser and fished his role of Scotch tape out of the Office Depot bag of his school supplies. With the photo he walked back next to his bed and held the picture firm against the wall. He took the Scotch tape with the same hand
that held the photo and pulled out a couple of strips. He placed them along the photo, sealing it against his green wallpaper. “It’s a beautiful photo,” Mother said, leaning in the doorframe. Alsace nodded back at her and then turned to look at his father, mimicking his foolish grin.
birds in the street Daniel Hart Lâ€™Ecuyer
street a truck drives over them one crushed under the weight of the wheel scattering the birds everywhere in the rearview mirror blank city-split blue sky and the cars go by go by go by and the birds come back to where the bird was in the street
In the House of Amandine Tim Wilhelm
t’s been awhile since I last set foot in Amandine’s, but I regard my time there as a sort of transition in my adolescence. The place was beautiful, a small cafe on the corner of Aberdeen and University Avenue. Windows gave views out onto the busy streets and traffic (both human and automobile) during the day, but on the most memorable evenings when it rained just before nightfall, I could look up from busing tables and see a Parisian avenue in the 1920s: the tarmac, by then nearly vacant, would glisten and reflect the hazy orbs of streetlights as though made of aluminum foil. I came to see the tiny place as a protective embryo of quiet where the intellectual
and cultured came to dine, read, and sip their expensive coffee amid the jazz music and slanting light. Those same sounds, that same burst of color and light, had initiated me the day I met Amandine for my interview. She stood in the middle of her cafe with a stack of menus in her arms, lunch hour just beginning to gather its strength. Immediately the corners of her eyes and lips were pulled back in a vibrant, contagious smile. We shook hands and sat at a table against the window. “It’s nice to meet you, Preston,” she had said with an accent I could tell she was trying hard to stifle. I returned the sentiment. She pulled my application off the pile of menus she had set on the seat beside her. She glanced over it as I assembled some professionalsounding responses in my head. My potential boss, I noticed, was deeply thoughtful, had a rigid posture when she sat, and dressed well. Her fingernails were painted turquoise and a diamond necklace graced her neck, a twin-
kling pendulum as she studied the testament of my abilities, my identity, my academic background. I realized this woman simultaneously intimidated and transfixed me, and that it was more than likely she understood this effect she had on people: look what I can afford, look what I’m capable of—oh, and keep in mind I sign your paycheck. “No prior felonies, that’s good,” she muttered, tossing a sly smile at me to my disbelief. I laughed and breathed out all the pent-up nervousness. “To be honest, I see no indication why I shouldn’t hire you.” She got up abruptly and retrieved the looming menus. “You can start right now, if you like.” I was still firmly in my chair, trying to formulate what had just happened. I think I just got the job. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure I just sat down for five minutes and got a job without speaking. “Are—aren’t you going to ask me a question or something?” She smirked and gave a lofty impression
of a woman in thought. “Hmm. Could you stand up and make yourself useful? I could really use your help about now.” She gestured to the steady flow of people coming in through the glass doors and those seated and talking animatedly over lunch. “What should I do?” “Grab a tray and take it to the proper table. Can you manage that?” I decided to soften up my demeanor and play along with her sarcasm. “I think so. We’ll find out either way.” Somehow that had counted as a job interview, and I unexpectedly spent the rest of my afternoon serving food and busing tables. It was a steady and surprisingly enjoyable procedure, arranging the plates set out by the quick-tempered chef Thomas then gliding to their respective tables. The heavy-laden tray rested securely on my upturned palm, my arms gaining a familiar balance with the weight more quickly than I would have expected. I established a reliable synchroniza-
tion from the spirited music and Amandine’s piercing voice giving orders in the hectic kitchen (where, I called to mind, Mary Ellen could be found, the friend who had pushed me to apply for the job.) Several times I would turn to find Amandine standing in the doorway with a look of distinct approval; her observation spurred me to preserve that approval for as long as possible. I was a spectacle in this system that didn’t initially make sense, slaving for people whose satisfaction was received as a sort of secondary factor. Faces, personalities, and comments were not as indelible then as they were after several months at Amandine’s: for me, the allure was in the movement. It was everywhere—my maneuvering between tables and chairs, my posture as I navigated the cafe, the multi-hued sea of chattering mouths and bobbing heads, even the perpetual rush of vehicles and pedestrians outside. It all functioned as the business of conveyance, my fatigue offered up for the sake of strangers’ nourishment, with minimum wage as my compensation. Nine o’clock found me busing the last few tables before closing, strains of light from the streetlamps seeping into the bright interior where all had gone mostly quiet. I listened to Amandine and the chefs converse in rapid French as I moved a washcloth over each tabletop. Sounds of clicking footsteps gave me ample knowledge of Amandine’s whereabouts, supervising and directing the upkeep of her place with cordial solemnity. Mary Ellen sat in one of the few chairs that hadn’t yet been put up for the night, watching my progress with glazed eyes and occasionally tossing glances out toward the nocturnal cityscape. She wore a headband around the circumference of her head, a worn pair of jeans, and an olive-green trench coat. I looked quickly down at my own clothes— slacks and a blue collared shirt—and smiled at how outlandish Mary Ellen looked next to
me, giving me the impression she was prepared at any moment to flash the peace sign and say something about flower power. “You can skip the last few tables; she won’t notice,” she mumbled tiredly. “I doubt that,” I countered, that aspiration for first-day approval still coursing through me in my worn state. “Well, she won’t notice, I can guarantee you that. Just a hint: Don’t take her dictatorial demeanor seriously. She’s only like that to put you in your place.” Mary Ellen had been working under Amandine’s “ultra-European culinary regime,” as she fervently described it, for a week before she implored me to take a job with her under the threat of her all-out quitting. “Amandine’s nice. A real character, you know?” “Nice? Great, you’re a lost cause already. And what do you know, she approaches....” Those tell-tale claps on the floor grew steadily closer until I could sense Amandine beside me. “You were excellent, Preston. Thank you.” She extended a slender hand toward me, and, wiping my hands hastily, I shook it. “Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure.” I vaguely heard Mary Ellen make a gagging noise behind me. Amandine and I turned to stare at her, making her blush and dart her gaze back outside. “Well, as pleasurable as work can be, I should say,” I added. “And we should be seeing you again soon?” “Tomorrow, definitely.” Amandine grinned brilliantly. “Good. I will see you then. I’ll just ask you to finish the last few tables, and then you both are free to go.” As she turned to head back to the kitchen, her eyes, I noticed, grazed momentarily over Mary Ellen, but lingered longer upon me. Having seen an approving Amandine, I could now fully distinguish between that and the subtle, disapproving look she
gave Mary Ellen. There was a mere fragment of contempt in it—whether at her clothing, her attitude, or some undisclosed hostility between them, I wasn’t sure—yet when I glanced back at her to see if she noticed anything, Mary Ellen appeared unequivocally exultant. I shook my head in fascination at her audacity. “And that, my friend, is how it’s done,” she proclaimed. I followed through as Amandine had asked, cleaning the last of the tables and hoisting the chairs on top of them for the night. I snatched my jacket and we left without much ceremony, raising our hands in farewell to Thomas, the imposing head chef, and Charlotte and Isaac, his young, enthusiastic underlings. I threw in an “Au revoir” for good measure, giving Mary Ellen more incentive to laugh at me. We plunged through the darkened city streets, commenting on what few stars were visible and laughing as we passed the park where the two of us had played in the summers during our grade school years. I felt thoroughly satisfied the entire way home, convinced that I had finally found some place where I could prove myself and establish my own standards of success. ontrary to expectations, I didn’t come to hate the job at all, even as weeks and months steadily compounded; I willingly worked hours after school and on weekends amid the dim echoes of conversation, walls covered in Cezanne prints, and the chiming of silverware on plates—it got me away from home, and that was the most
uplifting aspect. I would do homework at a table when my shift ended to avoid having to listen to my parents’ arguments, their irritatingly loud laughter at some stupid sitcom, or my father’s belching after dinner without any apparent concern for decency or courtesy. Whatever interested me, whatever hopes fed my voracious, future-minded consciousness, had but slight impact on my parents. I had no interest in following in their footsteps as hardware store managers. Salvert Hardware was a dismal place where my mother and father sold parts that fixed things and accomplished things; their labor was saturated with the irony that they found neither the means nor the initiative to fix their own deteriorating relationship. Somehow I would seize the reins of the world and make something of myself. So I fled into the pulsing vivacity of Amandine’s, where design by Evan Orf well-dressed college students talked philosophy and politics over espresso; where old ladies gathered for Sunday lunch and twittered away about the memories of their youth; where writers would spend hours on their work, casting pensive glances toward the turbulent city; and where I convinced myself that there was such a thing as integrity in the inherent composition of human beings. And every two weeks I valiantly returned home with the envelope of my recompense in hand.
here was no one quite like Amandine. She was an inexhaustible specimen of French wit and intensity, a native of Lyons who had graduated from Harvard with a
master’s in business and who also spoke fluent Italian. I don’t think I fell in love with her so much as I fell in love with the way she solidified my most ardent perceptions of what lay beyond the constraints of my world: she told me in my early days on the staff that her high school years were spent sweating in her parents’ bakery, and that one night she swore to herself she would never find herself dusted with flour at thirty years old. She had ground her way through college and graduate school, and at twenty-five owned a popular bistro in a young, budding district of Bridgeport. Her brown hair was always braided neatly between her shoulder blades, and her green eyes shifted from piercing ferocity to a friendly softness according to the demands of a particular situation: the former for calling out orders in the kitchen and spurring me to a specific table, and the latter for our conversations at one of the window tables during the slower hours of the day. I was always struck by her angular features when the light caught them, chiseling sharp notches of shadow and giving real form to the imperial image I had of her. We’d talk about books and music—the dynamics of the Beatles and Serge Gainsbourg, the genius of Moliere against Shakespeare, the merits of American versus French culture—and I came to think of her as brilliant and more genuine than any other person I knew, sitting cross-armed before me, silently emboldened by the inherent confidence behind everything she had accomplished. “So have you been accepted to any col-
leges yet?” she asked me on a Thursday in March toward the end of my shift. I wanted to respond with Yale or Brown—maybe just lie for the hell of it—but the earnest friendliness of her question bent me to be real with her. “University of Connecticut,” I replied simply. “I probably’ll just end up going there.” I surveyed the way she stared at me, as though every nuance of expression were an object of fascination for her. “That’s great! I know you’ll be brilliant in whatever you do. And you sound so thrilled, too.” She winked and jokingly kicked me under the table. She fished her phone out of her pocket and glanced at the time, taking stock of the empty tables with a graceful turn of the head. “Preston, you might as well head home. I think it’s officially slowed down for the night. I’ll go find Mellen.” We rose and I hung around at the window as Amandine sauntered into the back, calling design by Evan Orf for Mary Ellen with that nickname she detested, the heels of her boots clicking sharply as she moved. There was a pause, shattered by a metallic clanging noise. I heard Mary Ellen scream and yell “Dammit!” I decided to stay where I was and not get involved in whatever mess she’d made this time. The two of them emerged a moment later, Amandine obviously holding back the urge to laugh and Mary Ellen fuming at her own wet shirt, face, and hair. “What happened to you?” I ventured to ask. Mary Ellen looked like she very much wanted to slap me.
“I dropped the stupid sprayer for the dishwasher.” “Hmm. Couldn’t tell,” I muttered, smirking. She gave a marvelous eye-roll but chose not to retort, stepping aside instead to snatch her coat off the rack. I did the same, the three of us standing idly in awkward silence, Amandine statuesque with her hands on her hips, examining Mary Ellen and me. “Well, I guess we’ll see you tomorrow,” Mary Ellen interrupted, flustered. “Of course!” trilled Amandine as I opened the door, letting in the perfume of the blustery March evening. “A demain, Preston! Bye, Mellen!” “Bye!” called Mary Ellen, an exaggerated smile on her face and eyes rolling again. “Get my name right, Frenchie,” she muttered under her breath as she glanced into the sunset. We stood amid the straggling pedestrians as they navigated the darkening street. When Amandine let the door ease shut, I noted the way the watery reflections in the windows made everything inside invisible; it made me aware that we’d left my sanctuary. We starting walking along Aberdeen, our hands buried in our pockets against the spreading chill, but I heard Amandine’s voice, frail in the open air, tossed in our direction. I turned around to see her jogging over to us, ungainly in her effort. She skidded to a halt in front of us, rosy-cheeked and panting. “Sorry, but I meant to ask you earlier if you would be interested in joining some of the staff for a late dinner tomorrow, at Olympia’s on Maurice Street?” Mary Ellen and I looked at each other in silent collaboration. She nodded her consent and I said, “Sure.” Amandine smiled brightly and began her way back to the cafe. “Excellent. Come around nine thirty, okay?” We waved before she turned and, as she climbed the steps back inside, I yelled lightheartedly, “Hey, are you sure eating at other res-
taurants is allowed?” I grinned when I heard her laughing as she disappeared inside, giving one last flurried wave. I looked appreciatively at the sky, a blend of violent red and orange. Traffic hummed like the telling whisper of the ocean in a conch shell. My gaze eventually fell on Mary Ellen, standing there shaking her head with a dull, bemused look in her eyes. “Dork,” she laughed. The streetlights blinked on as we resumed our journey home.
t least once a week Mary Ellen reminded me it was unnecessary, but every day I walked her home when our shifts ended. Once she went inside I would drive home, having made a habit of parking in front of her house. She repeatedly reminded me that we could easily drive to work instead of walking, but I told her three blocks wasn’t much, and that I liked getting the chance to talk to her. And the trek was remarkably enjoyable during the dawn of spring. “So you seemed ecstatic at the prospect of dinner with the Queen of France,” she muttered, staring down at her shoes as they scraped softly on the sidewalk. By then the sky was a deep indigo and we were moving from curtain to curtain of soft, yellow orbs of lights from the lamps ranked along the pavement, swallowed by shadow one moment and the next borne into the glare again. “Well, yeah, it should be fun, don’t you think?” “Eh. I’m personally fine with the amount of time I spend with her already.” “Why are you so hostile to her anyway?” We eased to a stop in front of her house, a natural reflex after so many treks from Amandine’s. “I don’t know, she’s just so...full of herself. And she constantly flirts with you. Any breathing male, actually.” Her eyebrows gave a judgmental twitch. I balked at that. “That’s not true. You can’t call an innocent conversation flirting.
She’s more...genuine than you give her credit for.” She laughed outright at that. “Yeah, genuine’s a great compliment from the guy who worships the ground she walks on.” She started getting fidgety at the sight of lighted windows, but I kept breaching the subject. Some subconscious voice murmured, It’s your job to defend your employer. I shook my head, incredulous. “I diagnose a case of jealousy, Mellen.” Her eyes flashed maliciously at the despised nickname—more so for hearing it beyond the walls of Amandine’s—while something else hardened her jaw at what I said. “What is that supposed to mean?” Stupidly staring at her—damp black hair in strings down her cheeks, lips pursed—I regretted immediately what I’d said, its innuendo and how it affirmed what she had argued. I really felt like an idiot when a bus grumbled by, NEED A MOMENT? CHEW IT OVER WITH A TWIX advertised along its side. “Nothing, I—I wasn’t thinking, it was just a joke—,” I babbled. “Right,” she pronounced stiffly, marching up the stairs toward the front door. But she froze and then turned, staring me down critically. “Do you know why I can’t stand Amandine, Preston? It’s because of how you feel about her. It’s like you’re her freaking kid or something, and the worst thing is that you have no idea how pathetic it is. She’s your boss, for God’s sake. Your boss, that’s it. Pretty soon she’ll have a cute little nickname for you like she does with me. And every time she calls you by it, it’ll be to remind you of whenever you messed up. That time I dropped that humongous tray of drinks and the woman who got wine all over her yelled at Amandine in front of everyone? She called me ‘Mellen’ out of nowhere and has called me it ever since. To remind me. Just wait, you’ll mess up too and upset her totalitarian balance and find out just how easy it is for
her to stop liking you.” Mary Ellen climbed the rest of the stairs and unlocked the door. Half-concealed by the door, she called out venomously: “Please do explain my absence tomorrow night and give my regards to your beloved.” She slammed the door, taking a golden shaft of light with her. I remained fuming on the sidewalk before getting into my car. The journey home was one of resolute silence in the greedy darkness.
nly four hours’ sleep separated my miserable night from Friday’s pale, roaming daylight. I caught only faraway glimpses of Mary Ellen in and between classes, and when I pulled up in front of her house and honked in announcement, nothing stirred. I nonetheless parked there as usual and reluctantly walked to Amandine’s alone. I was desperately tired but had never been so awake to the wrongness of everything. There was a beer can in one of the topiaries at the base of the stairs. Whoever wrote the specials on the chalkboard had scrawled TODAY’S SPECIAL’S, and below that SPINAGE SALAD. I made sure no one was looking and fixed the errors. As the dinner hour approached, my lack of enthusiasm and attention produced two incorrect orders and an unbalanced Caesar salad that shattered on the floor beside a table full of the usual college philosophers, who glared at me with unnerving, disdainful self-importance. The pitch of conversation nearly died in that instant, half of the people in the echoing atrium of the cafe having stopped midsentence to stare at me. Eyes bored into me with wavering expectation, as though the axis of the earth hinged on my correcting what I had done, the havoc I had wreaked on their relative peace. Trombone music warbled, permeating the moment with unnecessary compunction. I cleaned up and stormed back to the
staff lunchroom, swinging the door shut behind me with more force than I intended. I relished the dim isolation. My forehead pressed against the wall, the thinnest coating of sweat on my arms and cheeks, my heart beating fervently beneath the button-down shirt I wore to fit in with these people, make myself presentable. I realized with unparalleled astonishment—as though I found myself walking on the sky and looking up into celestial cityscapes—that my conception of Amandine’s creation was a farce. Sure, she and some of the student patrons read bricks like Middlemarch and Bleak House in the windowafforded radiance, but there were also many who read People magazine and ordered “expresso” or gossiped or remarked at the prints by “that Spanish guy, what’s-his-name.” I willed my lungs to take it slow and sedate my body with numbness. The sounds of clattering dishes and conversational murmur (now returned to full force) breached the closed door, and the barely audible jazz reached my ears like a taunt. More than anything, I wanted Mary Ellen to barge in and tell me I was being stupid, that there was nothing to worry about, or that the stupidest people are those who wasted their breath passing judgments and clamoring for superiority. That was what I wanted, but what I knew she would say was that I didn’t need her or Amandine or anyone else to figure that out for myself. After a moment with my eyes squeezed tight, I lifted my head from the wall and paced the room. I had made only four revolutions when Amandine herself turned the doorknob,
peeked her head inside, saw me, and smiled. She slipped in fluidly and joined me, giving louder lives to those noises before shutting the door behind her. “Hey, Preston, you disappeared on me.” She looked me over more fully. “Is something wrong?” She paused to absorb the embarrassment still fresh on my face. With a wave of her hand, she said, “Don’t dwell on that stuff. It happens all the time. Believe me, all the time. And even though you feel dumb afterwards, that’s really how you learn to deal with messing up like that.” I shrugged and tried to compose myself to what I considered her standards, her satisfaction. She flicked her eyes up to mine and lingered there, tilting her head childishly, trying to elicit some response from me. After a few seconds she patted my knee genially. “Come out in a minute, okay? The crowd’s redesign by Evan Orf ally thinned out so we’re going to close up shop at nine-thirty and head to Olympia’s. You still up for it?” “Sure,” I said. She smiled again and got up. Before she left I thought of something to say, to at least prevent her from having wasted her time looking for me. “Why did you leave France?” I pleaded the question, starving for an answer. She came back inside and rested her hands on her hips, somewhat taken aback. “What do you mean? I was unhappy. I knew there were things out there that I couldn’t find at home. Leaving was inevitable.” “But why here? You bring everything you remember from home and display it here for people to gawk at and misinterpret.” I was feeling lightheaded at the same time Aman-
dine started appraising me as though I were crazy. “Preston, I don’t really know what you’re trying to say, but I’m perfectly happy where I am. I’ve been successful. I don’t see what the problem is. I don’t recall ever having judged your life. And maybe misinterpretation isn’t always a bad thing.” She added that last part with the accompaniment of eyes that bored right into mine. I had no notion of how to respond to that last comment: I hardly caught it at all. But I could tell her misunderstanding was translating into an ember of anger, and my disappointment for upsetting her was scorching. “Amandine, I’m really sorry, I’m just out of it. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, either. Let’s go, I’ll help you close up.” We both filed out. Amandine went ahead of me, walking abnormally fast as though wary of my odd behavior. Thomas was doing some last-minute cleaning of his cherished kitchen as Charlotte and Isaac were putting on their coats by the door. Evening was painted on the expansive windows; headlights dashed in the twilight in relief to the stationary squares of light in the various businesses and apartments. I stood stupidly in the doorway as I had with Mary Ellen the previous night, watching Amandine’s staff joke around in their incomprehensible French as they trailed outside and started down the sidewalk. Amandine herself fumbled with her coat and her purse next to the door, laughing at her own difficulty. She looked up at me expectantly, her timidity in response to my brief show of
peculiarity apparently dissolved. “Coming?” “I’ll be a minute, I’m just going to run to the bathroom,” I said, pointing behind me. “Okay, but I locked the doors already, so make sure you don’t forget anything when you come outside.” “Right.” I moved down the short hall towards the bathrooms and hid behind a corner until I heard the soft, metallic click of the door coming to rest— after Amandine called a friendly “See you in a bit” to the shadowy recesses that concealed me. I emerged tentatively, with the nervousness of a young child who knows he is exactly where he shouldn’t be. Quickly I switched off the one light Amandine had left on, submerging myself in darkness within the empty cafe. Interplays of design by Evan Orf shadow and light twisted along the walls; reflective prisms of goldenblue stretched laboriously on the tiled floor. I walked, encapsulated in my solitude, to one of the cushioned booths and lay down on it, scared that for the first time I wasn’t afraid, that maybe things had some semblance of connectivity and togetherness which simply required my discovery of them. I was a fixture among fixtures, but I had form and definition nonetheless. Amandine had built herself up apart from her foundations and away from her origins. I could add that to my meager inventory of Things I Knew About Amandine. But what about everything I could not say about her with any conviction? Did my caring about it in the first place make me foolish, an advocate of the counterproductive? I gave myself a break from all thought
and closed my eyes, relaxing to the conch shell whisper of the light traffic outside. After dozing for ten minutes I pulled out my cell phone. Maybe Mary Ellen only wanted an apology. That may have been only half of it, but she was going to get one anyway. She deserved it. I considered the possibility that maybe she wanted something else, but what that could be was unclear. If I had learned anything from Mary Ellen during the ten years we had been friends, it was that she remained quiet and kept to herself unless you talked to her up front. Initiative had never been Mary Ellen’s forte. I called her. She answered. The tone of her voice made it clear that simply being called “Mellen” hadn’t been the reason behind her reaction, and that whatever was the reason behind it would have to be learned in person. I explained that I had a dark, empty cafe on my hands that would be better shared with someone else. She chuckled and promised she would be over soon. And I believed her. Three blocks wasn’t much.
wenty minutes later I heard a light tapping on the door. I ambled over to the sound in the dark, catching a glimpse of her face cupped against the glass thanks to the supple light shed by streetlights and the buildings across the street. I swung the door wide and let her in. The door was left to close on its own as we stood across from each other in the shadows. “I’m sorry.” My voice traveled as though emitted from oblivion. From that same oblivion I was kissed delicately on the mouth; Mary Ellen’s voice, within an inch from my face, whispered, “I know.” The two syllables were layered with her quintessential awkwardness, and I understood that she was just as grateful as I was for
the lack of light. Her hand took light hold of mine, and she pulled me toward the back of the building. “I want you to see something,” she muttered. We shuffled without speaking into the lunchroom, a box of impenetrable dark, where she flicked the light switch and immediately moved to the kitchenette against the far wall. I noticed for the first time that she wore a flowing skirt that went to her ankles, sandals, and a simple t-shirt. She looked different day after day, I thought. She was rummaging in a small tin cylinder labeled SUGAR. She pulled out a sheet of paper and held it up for me to see, exclaiming, “That container has been there as long as I can remember, and not one person has touched it!” She came to my side; I could tell it was a letter, written in fluid French script. “I found this when Amandine told me to take the trash out. She no doubt didn’t want anyone to see it, but I read it anyway. It was written by her mother back in January, and the gist of it is that her father passed away and her mother is pleading with her to speak to her. I guess they aren’t on speaking terms. But since it was in the trash, I doubt the snob even replied to her own widowed mother. And listen to this.” That Mary Ellen could have read and understood the letter did not shock me: she excelled in our high school French class and often could be heard chatting in the back with the kitchen staff in their native tongue. She never spoke it in front of Amandine. She traced a particular line with her finger. “‘I know your father was angry in light of your decision to move to America, and that your final decision hurt your relationship, but he loved you, my darling. He truly did. He missed you terribly and wished to hear from you after so long. He wept in your old bedroom each Christmas.’“ When she stopped, there was a heavy
pause in which I heard my heartbeats and felt them in my temples. Mary Ellen hesitantly broke the silence: “It’s not like it’s any of my business, but I couldn’t help but get pissed off after reading that, you know?” I nodded, blanching at the idea of not just Amandine, but any human being, putting a letter of that gravity into the trash. Even worse, I knew that there was no convincing myself of the possibility of Amandine having written back to her mother. Somehow I recalled a law my physics teacher had explained once. It meant nothing to me when I first heard it, but its shrieking truth made my heart beat faster. “An object is only as strong as its weakest point.” From the periphery of my vision I saw Mary Ellen turn to look at me. She didn’t look away until she said clearly in the stillness: “That is exactly right.” She gave a brief exhale of laughter to emphasize how right she thought that was. She turned and left the room, and I followed without question. I initially thought she meant to throw the letter away, but instead she led me farther down the hall and up a staircase. As we ascended to the second floor, I figured out where she was heading. Amandine’s office was a secluded space I had only visited to retrieve my paycheck every two weeks. The door was locked, but Mary Ellen slid the letter through the crack under the door nevertheless. We stood side-by-side staring at the door. “Exactly right,” whispered Mary Ellen. I didn’t know where exactly it came from, but an unquenchable disappointment in Amandine came anyway. Mary Ellen and I wordlessly left Amandine’s. It was a pleasure to abandon it to its own sepulchral desolation.
he two of us ambled through the city without any destination in mind. There was no conversation between us as we passed restaurants, shops, and empty offices whose windows gave us a good look inside. We could hear the drone of voices from the sidewalk. At some point during our walk Mary Ellen sidled up close to me and rested her head on my shoulder, maintaining a good enough rhythm to stay that way. For me, being in the outside world was vaguely agitating. The only difference between the chatting passers-by and the patrons at Amandine’s was that the passersby weren’t seated and eating: a saxophone player on a street corner reminded me I’d heard enough jazz to last me a while. I sighed. “Why is it that my damn job occupies every other thought I have? I think I’d like to join the unemployed world again.” Mary Ellen chuckled. “Get used to it.” We walked farther along, deeper into the heart of Friday’s nightlife. Abruptly, I felt Mary Ellen raise her head from my shoulder. I had taken a few steps before realizing she stood frozen in the middle of the sidewalk. “Look who it is,” she remarked sourly. I rejoined her and followed the direction of her stare. Amandine, Thomas, Isaac, and Charlotte all stood in front of Olympia’s across the street, its facade unassuming save some lights wrapped around its wrought-iron patio railing. Thomas, I saw, wasted no time with conversation and bade his farewells before starting off in the direction we had come. Charlotte was next to leave. She did the elaborate kiss customary to the French on each of Amandine’s and Isaac’s cheeks, waving as she departed. Amandine and Isaac were left together. They leaned against the patio railing and shared a few words before Amandine brought herself much closer to Isaac. Her advances were unabashedly flirtatious, and it
didn’t take much to convince me that Amandine was drunk. She had a distinct looseness about her movements, and her head kept extending toward Isaac’s ear; there was little left to the imagination as to what was passing from her mouth. One hand settled on his thigh, the other grasping the side of his face and alternately tousling his hair, pulling him towards her whenever he pulled away to protest. Isaac got up from the railing and began speaking to Amandine as she clung to him. When his point failed to get across her incessant pleas, he settled both hands upon her arms, holding her in place as he aimed his words at her directly, a father reprimanding a ten-year-old. His expression was soft and kind, but when he finished talking and gave an apologetic smile, Amandine nudged furiously out of his grasp and shoved him backward. “Screw you!” she yelled, now more than loud enough for Mary Ellen and me to hear. “I am not drunk. I’m perfectly aware of what I’m talking about!” Isaac’s impatience was evident as he retorted: “You are too drunk, you crazy...” “Crazy what? Huh? Spit it out. I know you want to say it!” He kept his mouth shut, but shook his head at the sky in exasperation. “Amandine, look, let me drive you home, all right? Just calm down.” She gave him the finger and turned on her heels down the sidewalk. “I don’t need you or anyone else holding my hand all the time!” She tore down the street, Isaac in tow and spewing out plea after plea for her to stop and listen. Their quarrel continued down the street that way until words faded to echoes and then silence, as though the confrontation had never occurred. My eyes remained almost mournfully on the balcony
they had leaned against. Mary Ellen started laughing in awe. “What a mess. She is crazy.” She paused and glanced at me as I gazed further down to the point where Amandine and Isaac had disappeared. “Preston, it’s no use going after her. Trust me.” She put a hand on my arm. “Come on, let’s go,” she beckoned. I complied without hesitation, not bothering with a parting glance to the dark, undistinguishable horizon that had enveloped Amandine and Isaac. I felt sorry for her, but at the same time I looked forward to Monday and the opportunity to witness her reaction to the mysteriously reappearing letter. Before I laid the whole matter to rest for the night, I told myself that there was no correlation between Amandine’s and the woman whose name gave it a title. It was but a convenient replica of things uprooted—things uprooted and not grown back properly. Mary Ellen flung her arm around my neck and trod lazily beside me, tilting her head back to stare directly into the night sky, with its faint aurora of city lights. I draped my arm just the same over her shoulders, and we walked that way in silence all the way to her house. Warm light illuminated the windows as we stood on the barren street. “Would you like to come over to my place, maybe watch a movie or something?” I said. “I’d love to. But I thought you couldn’t stand your parents, or something along those lines.” I shrugged and replied jokingly as we got into my car: “I’ll try to be civil.” “Ah, a change of heart, perhaps?” she suggested with amusement. I pulled out from the curb and accelerated in the direction of my house. “Why not?” I answered. Some things had come up.
The Little Actor 48
Conor Fellin The little actor bellows lines As his audience of two reclines— His mother and his neighbor’s share A pair of folding metal chairs. The neighbor girl arrives on scene (It’s Hogwarts on a Halloween) And mutters threats at Harry Potter. The actor frowns; he thought he’d taught her To shout her lines so Mom, recording For video, picks up her wording. Though his basement makes a modest stage, He seeks perfection for his age. design by
Sleeping on the Roof Austin Winn
irty and Johnny sat on an old brick ledge in the alley behind Cheddar’s house. Dirty’s leg hurt, and between drags of his cigarette he reached his fingers down under his sock and massaged his ankle. Johnny sat there next to him, rubbing his hands together and wincing. Dirty thought that it was a good thing that they had found this ledge to sit on. The bricks were old, and some cracked and had begun to crumble, but it was a solid ledge and Dirty thought that the two of them probably looked pretty cool sitting on it. The sun had set long ago, and it was cold, and a breeze came down the alley and chilled them. Dirty wished he had thought to grab his coat. “We shouldn’t have done that,” Johnny muttered. Dirty looked sideways at him. Johnny grimaced, leaned forward, and spit on the ground. “That was a stupid thing to do.” Dirty started, “I thought that—” “That was bullshit. He didn’t do anything. Dude was in the wrong fuckin’ place at the wrong fuckin’ time.” “But they said that—” “That was bullshit. They just wanted to see somethin’ go down.” Johnny leaned forward again and spit, pulled a half pint out of his jacket and took a sip. “Dumb sluts.” Dirty looked away. He felt something prod his shoulder. He looked. Johnny was offering him the bottle, though he was looking away. Dirty took it—there was not much left. He put it to his lips, leaned back and let it all run down, and handed it back to Johnny, who, after turning it over in his hands and inspecting it, threw it at the garage in front
of them. It shattered, and Dirty shielded his face with his arms. But he didn’t feel anything. They sat another minute, Dirty smoking and rubbing his ankle, Johnny grimacing and rubbing his hands together. “You wanna go back?” Dirty offered. “Why?” “For Cheddar. They’re probably gone by now.” “Let’s just go back to my house. Cheddar don’t need us.” “I doubt he wants to spend the rest of the night alone. We can’t leave him there by himself.” “He’ll be fine.” “I know. But I don’t wanna leave him there by himself.” “OK.” hey walked up the stairs to the front door of Cheddar’s shotgun house, and Dirty knocked on the door. “Who is it?” Cheddar’s voice came from inside. “Us.” “Well then get on in here.” The door was unlocked, and Dirty pushed it open and he and Johnny went inside. It was quiet, but not much warmer inside. Dirty saw Cheddar sitting at the kitchen table, wearing a thin jacket and shorts, a cigarette in his mouth. Looking around, Dirty found his coat on the floor, picked it up, and went to take a seat at the table next to Cheddar and Johnny, who had already sat down. The three of them sat there for a minute without talking. Dirty lit a cigarette, and Cheddar stood up, pulled a bottle of liquor out of a cabinet, and set it down on the table next to the ashtray. He twisted the cap off and, nodding to Dirty and Johnny, threw it in the corner and drank from the bottle. “You’re sweating,” Dirty observed. Cheddar put the bottle back on the ta-
ble, took a drag on his cigarette. “OK.” “It’s freezing in here.” “I feel fine,” Johnny spoke up, taking the bottle. “How can you be fine? It’s freezing in here!” “No, it’s not. It’s fuckin’ room temperature,” Johnny spat back after taking a drink from the bottle. “It is not room temperature!” “We’re in a fuckin’ room!” Johnny screamed. Dirty opened his mouth to yell back but Cheddar said, “Chill out” quietly, putting his cigarette out in the ashtray, and slid another out of his pack and lit it. “My bad,” Dirty whispered. Johnny handed him the bottle and nodded. Dirty shivered as he drank. Cheddar stood up to get a pizza out of the freezer and put it in the oven. He sat back down, looked straight at Dirty and said, “So what happened?” Dirty took a short sip from the bottle, put a cigarette between his teeth and lit it. “I don’t know, man.” “Did that guy really hit her?” “Apparently.” “No,” Johnny interjected. He was still grimacing and rubbing his hands together. “That was bullshit.” Dirty drank again and passed the bottle to Cheddar, who looked at it, frowning, and took a drink. “So what happened?” he asked Dirty.
“I don’t know—” “This motherfucker drank too much and took it upon himself to right a wrong that never even happened,” Johnny broke in. He grabbed the bottle from Cheddar and took a long drink. “Gimme a cigarette.” Dirty pulled two Marlboros from his pack, gave one to Johnny, and looked down. “So that’s what happened?” Cheddar asked Dirty. “That’s what happened,” Johnny answered. Cheddar kept looking at Dirty. “Is that what happened?” “I mean, I’m not sure…” “You shouldn’t drink so much,” Johnny said, handing Dirty the bottle. “I know,” collograph by Patrick O’Leary Dirty said, and took a drink. “I guess, Cheddar, when everyone was yellin’ and you told that guy to leave,” “Yeah,” “I thought I saw him start to raise his hands on you, and I just said fuck that.” Dirty took another sip and passed the bottle to Cheddar. Cheddar put out his cigarette and took a sip. “Thanks, man,” he said, and Dirty nodded. “Thanks?” Johnny said. “Thanks for what? We just bloodied this dude up for no reason!” “So we’ll apologize!” Cheddar yelled back. “Apologize? That motherfucker is not about to take any apology from us.”
“You underestimate people’s capacity “So tell us a story!” Cheddar said. His for kindness,” Dirty said. eyes were bright and alive and his face was “And you’re a real moron,” Johnny said frozen in a smile. back, taking the bottle from Cheddar and “I think I’ve told you all my stories,” drinking from it. “Capacity for kindness? Dirty said, putting out his cigarette. Apologize? Where do you two think we are?” “So tell us an old one! One with us in it. All three of us.” few minutes of silence persisted, and “Why would you want to hear it if you the three friends continued to pass the already lived it?” bottle around and smoke cigarettes and put “I just want to hear a story!” At this point them out and light new ones. The creaking the front door opened. Cheddar froze, and of branches, gusts of wind, the occasional Johnny slowly stood up. Dirty’s heart started car driving down the street—all of these to beat quickly. Mary, Cheddar’s girlfriend, night sounds bothered Dirty, but he was too walked into the kitchen, and they all relaxed tired to get up to put on some music. They and Johnny sat back down. were all tired. Finally the alarm for the pizza “Hey! Hey, Mary’s here! She hasn’t heard went off and Cheddar got up and took it out the story!” Cheddar said excitedly, turning of the oven. Once it had cooled down he around in his seat. cut it into squares and put the whole tray “How much have you guys been drinkon the table. ing?” Mary asked. The concerned look on her “My dude,” Johnny said, moving the ash- face made it look even prettier. tray out of the way as Cheddar set the pizza “Come listen to this story! It’s a great on the table, then putting it back on top of story, and this dude is such a good storytellthe pizza. er.” Cheddar reached out and grabbed Mary’s “Good shit,” said Dirty, ashing his ciga- hand and pulled her towards him. She sat rette, some of it going into the ashtray and a down on his lap and looked gently at Dirty. good deal of it going onto the pizza. “I love this story,” Cheddar said. “Watch that shit!” Cheddar said. He “What story?” Dirty asked. “I didn’t picked up the ashtray, but there was no room pick out a story yet.” left on the table, and he shrugged and set it “Just tell the damn story!” Johnny yelled back down where it was. Johnny stood up, through a mouth full of pizza. set the bottle on the counter and went to the “I want to hear a story,” Mary said softly, fridge. He came back with a six-pack and set brushing her dark hair out of her face. it on the ground by the table. “Pizza needs “Fuck that. I need to hear a story,” said beer,” he said as he sat down. He handed Cheddar, and he finished his beer and opened Dirty and Cheddar each a beer, cracked another one. one open for himself, and took a long drink. Dirty and Cheddar both smiled and drank “ o one night, about a year ago, Johnny, and took slices of pizza. our boy Mikey, and Cheddar and I had “Tell us a story,” Cheddar said to Dirty. a party at the Greens,” Dirty started, as he “Why?” lit a cigarette. “Because I want to hear a story! You’re “Fuck this story!” Johnny yelled, slama great storyteller. This dude is such a good ming his empty beer onto the table. storyteller,” he told Johnny. “Yes, yes, tell this story!” Cheddar said. “I know,” Johnny said indignantly. “This is so funny,” he said to Mary.
“So anyway,” Dirty continued, “it was summer and nobody was having a party, so we decided to have a party at the Greens.” “What’s the Greens?” Mary asked. “It’s this little park off of River Des Peres. There’s a parking lot, a big open field with a little playground on the other side, and a baseball field with a dugout. “So we go get some booze, make a few calls, and head up there and start drinking. Some people start to show up, and before too long there’s a bunch of us up there, drinking and having a good time.” “And you fell out of that tree!” Cheddar yelled, laughing. Mary looked at Dirty incredulously. “I did. I climbed this tree to talk on the phone with somebody, and I was lying on this branch talking on the phone. And when the time came to get out of the tree, I was too tired—” “Too drunk,” Johnny corrected him. “Yeah, too drunk, to bother climbing down, so I just rolled.” Cheddar roared with laughter and Mary gasped. “Off of the branch?” “Yup. But that’s not the story. All you need to know about that night is that we all got very drunk, too drunk to drive home, so the four of us slept in our cars in the parking lot.” “This dude passed out!” Cheddar told Mary. “In his car. He was lying there in the seat and we kept hitting him, trying to wake him up, but he wouldn’t wake up!” He
laughed, but Mary just looked concerned. “So anyway,” Dirty went on, “Cheddar wakes me up about the crack of dawn, and we’re still a little bit drunk, all dazed and shit. And I get out of the car and we stand there, leaning against the car, smoking cigarettes. And then Johnny wakes up, gets out of the car and walks over.” At this point Cheddar, who had been trying—though not very well—not to laugh, broke. He laughed and laughed, burying his face into Mary’s shoulder. Johnny was grimacing again and he grabbed another piece of pizza. “What? Why are you laughing?” Mary asked Cheddar, then turned to Dirty. “What happened?” “Well, Johnny walks over, also a little bit drunk, unsure of his footing, not looking so hot. He’s covered in blood.” At this Mary gave a little scream and clapped her hands over her mouth. Cheddar roared with laughter, and Johnny just sat there eating pizza and drinking beer. Dirty grinned as he went on. “So over walks Johnny, blood smeared all over his shirt, his shorts, a little on his shoes. None on his collograph by
hands or face or anything, though. And me and Cheddar just stand there, mouths gaping. We don’t know what to think. Finally Cheddar just goes, ‘What the fuck?’ Johnny doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so we both point at his shirt. And slowly, Johnny looks down, and we see his eyes grow wide as he sees it. And he slowly looks back up at us, and says, ‘What the fuck?’ “So of course our first reaction was that Johnny was bleeding. So he strips down, but he’s not bleeding anywhere at all. And after he put his clothes back on—” “You put them back on?” Mary asked in horror. “I couldn’t walk around in my underwear. I’d look like a crazy person,” Johnny responded. Mary just stared at him in disbelief. “So anyway,” Dirty continued, lighting another cigarette, “after we realize it’s not Johnny’s blood, we start to wonder whose it is. And then we all think, ‘Where is Mikey?’ We were all sure that he stayed the night with us. So we go running around, looking in the cars, but he’s not there. So we run across the field, to the playground, the dugout and the baseball diamond, but Mikey’s gone! We try calling his phone, but he won’t answer. And me and Cheddar just look at Johnny and go, ‘You killed Mikey!’” Dirty cracked open another beer, giggling, Cheddar roared with laughter, and Johnny reached over to Dirty’s pack of Marlboros and took a cigarette. Mary looked back and forth between them all, horrified. “And then what?” Mary asked. “I don’t know. We went to Courtesy and had breakfast,” Dirty said. “No, I mean what happened to Mikey!” “Oh, that asshole got a ride home the night before and didn’t tell us.” “So where did the blood come from?” Dirty shrugged. “Don’t know. We never found out.” “So what exactly happened?”
“We don’t know.” Cheddar settled down and finished his beer. “Gimme another,” he said to Johnny, waving his empty can in the air. “All gone,” Johnny said. Cheddar turned around as much as he could without knocking Mary off his lap and grabbed the bottle off of the counter. He took a long drink, coughed, and offered the bottle to Mary. She pushed it away and slid off of Cheddar’s lap. “I’m going to bed,” she said, and she and Cheddar kissed and closed their eyes. Then she walked over to Dirty, took his hand in hers and squeezed it, and bent over and kissed him on the forehead. “Goodnight,” she said again, and went upstairs. Dirty closed his eyes, and sank into the chair. He felt something cold touch his face. He opened his eyes. Cheddar was poking him with the bottle and giggling. Dirty grabbed it, and drank with his eyes closed, and a little ran down his chin. Johnny was rolling a blunt on the table, trying to be careful. Dirty offered him the bottle, but Johnny just slowly shook his head, concentrating. Dirty put the bottle back to his lips and took a sip. He looked at the bottle. It was almost empty. He furrowed his eyebrows, squinted, as if his eyes might be mistaken. He swirled the bottle, and set it down on the table. Cheddar snatched it up and drank the rest of it down. “Let’s go smoke,” Johnny said, sliding the blunt behind his ear. Cheddar nodded, and stood up, steadying himself on the table. Dirty didn’t move. “You coming?” Johnny asked. “Where?” Dirty looked at the empty bottle. “The roof.” Johnny swayed back and forth on his feet like it was windy. Dirty shook his head. “No. Just come back down when you’re done.” Johnny rolled his eyes and started up the stairs. Cheddar followed him but turned
around at the foot of the stairs and looked at Johnny. “Don’t fuck anything up,” he said, smiling. Dirty laughed and saluted him.
irty stared at the empty bottle. He could hear his friends’ footsteps on the roof, and he hoped they wouldn’t fall off. He knew they wouldn’t. He grabbed the bottle and put it to his lips, but it was empty and he set it back down. It was absolutely quiet now, and Dirty fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes then saw them on the table. He knocked them off the table as he reached for them, bent down and picked them up, pulled one out, lit it. He sat there, smoking and starting at the bottle, and ashing in it. There was a pressure in his chest and in his head. He dropped his half-smoked cigarette into the bottle, watching as it filled up with smoke, a thin trail coming out of the top. Suddenly, without knowing why, Dirty swatted the bottle off the table, and it landed in the corner and shattered and let the smoke out. Dirty felt like he was choking and stood up, with difficulty, and went to the liquor cabinet. A bottle of tequila caught his eye and he grabbed it, twisting off the cap and taking a long drink. He looked into the corner, at the ashy broken glass. He dropped to his knees and crawled towards it, grabbing a trash bag from under the sink, and started to pick up the shards of glass with his hands and put them in the bag. When he had done all he could, Dirty stood up, bracing himself against the countertop, grabbed the new bottle, and sat down at the table. He lit a cigarette and started to drink from the bottle. The pressure was back in his chest, squeezing around his lungs. Dirty took a quick drink from the bottle and when he set it down there was blood on the label. He looked at his hands; they were cut and bleeding. He couldn’t remember how they had gotten like that, and then he
remembered throwing the bottle and picking up the shards. A dull ache started in his hands and in his chest and then in his forehead, and Dirty went to the sink and rinsed the blood off his hands. They burned and kept bleeding, but Dirty shut the water off and grabbed the bottle from the table, not drying his hands. He took another drink, and started up the stairs, leaning against the wall. He stopped at the top of the stairs and looked into Cheddar’s room. Mary was asleep, in Cheddar’s bed, the thin sheets not entirely covering her. Dirty watched her breathe, and slowly entered the room. It was warmer in here. Dirty walked over to the bed and sat down on the ground, his head against the mattress. He stared at the blank walls, the floor. He tried to breathe slowly and deeply but it was difficult. He lit a cigarette and took a sip from the bottle. “Hey,” Mary whispered above him. “I thought you were sleeping,” Dirty said. “What are you doing on the ground?” “Nothing.” Dirty reached up and grabbed the ashtray off the bedside table, setting it between his legs. Mary was sitting on the edge of the bed. Dirty looked straight ahead, but he could see her legs dangling down to his left. “Have you been asleep?” she asked, yawning. “No.” “What happened tonight?” “Nothing.” “You guys seemed upset.” She spoke calmly and evenly. “We had some people over and it got a little out of hand, that’s all.” “I see.” They both sat there for a minute. Dirty put out his cigarette and took a drink from the bottle. “You really should stop that,” said Mary. “I’m surprised you’re still conscious. It’s six a.m., you know.”
Dirty was surprised to hear this. He looked outside. It was starting to look like morning, but it still felt like night. “Where are they?” asked Mary. Dirty pointed to the ceiling. Mary sighed. “One of these times one of them is going to fall off and we’ll have to take care of them.” Dirty interrupted her. “Do you ever feel like you’re just going to cave in, or else tear in half and fall down? Or that you’re just going to scream until you run out of breath and then suffocate?” Mary didn’t say anything, just dropped her hand down and stroked Dirty’s head. “I feel like that,” he continued. “I feel like screaming and falling down.” Mary pulled his head into her knee and he lay there against her, not moving and hardly breathing. “You’re okay,” she said, stroking his face. Dirty kept staring straight ahead and didn’t respond. Suddenly she grabbed his wrist. “What did you do?” she said sternly. She reached over and grabbed his other wrist and looked at his hands, still bleeding freely but not too much. “What happened?” Dirty pulled his hands away and stood up, taking the bottle in one hand. “Where are you going? Leave that here!” Her voice quivered, and Dirty felt his insides twist. He walked to the window, took a long drink, and lit a cigarette. He opened the window. “You’re not going up there,” Mary said, getting up from the bed. Dirty started climb-
ing out onto the roof, but Mary grabbed his arm. He turned around and pushed her onto the ground, where she lay looking at him with wide eyes. He climbed out onto the roof, and looked up and saw Cheddar and Johnny asleep, up higher where the roof was flatter. He slowly climbed up the roof, but it was steep; he had finally accepted that he was drunk and it was difficult. But he made it to the top, and fell down in between his friends and rolled over on his back. He set the bottle down next to him and puffed on his cigarette, watching the horizon. The sun was just starting to come up. Dirty smoked his cigarette down to the butt and flicked it over the edge of the roof. He realized he was very tired, and he closed his eyes. The sun rose on the three friends, but they were asleep and did not feel it. On the street, houses began to light up and people began to walk out of doors and drive away in cars. Some of them looked up at the boys on the roof and wondered why, but only for a second before they thought about something else. Mary stood at the open window, looking out over the street and smoking a cigarette. She could feel them on the roof. She feared they would collapse the entire house with their weight. The sun continued to rise but they kept sleeping, and Mary too went back to bed, hoping to sleep it away, and she left the window open so that they could get back in when they awoke. acrylic by
Time for a Change Nick Fandos
ara, I knew from the start. That night when you were in my house. As you sat at my kitchen table gently folding my napkin in your pale hands. Looking at my childhood photographs, my talent-less art. You said they were beautiful. I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. Yes, it was my house, and my napkins, my pictures and my art. But they were yours the way that only you can make everything you touch yours. In the way that you made me yours with just a look—one of no consequence for you it seemed. It’s a good house, mine. Sturdy, well-furnished, full of warmth and love, but never have I found comfort there. Not really. It’s strange to say it now, but I’ve never felt much comfort anywhere. Life, if anything, is uncomfortable. It was cold outside, do you remember? There was snow on the ground—snow: fallen, melted, and frozen once more. For days this cycle had gone on. For weeks. Winter was ending, but there was still ice on which to slip. You took the front steps, I the back. Yes, it was cold that night. So many nights are. Inside we listened to John Fogerty. A friend of mine once observed that other than Bruce Springsteen, Fogerty might be the only white man to have soul. Sara, you have soul. You have so much of it, and I often have so little. We sat around my kitchen table, six of us, I think, though you were the one that really mattered. You talked assuredly of religion and death and life. I have never been sure on these subjects. Not a day goes by when I don’t suspect that maybe life isn’t worth living, that maybe everything is a sham. You would argue, though you don’t know it, that everything is illuminated. Sometimes I won-
der if that is the difference between men and women. Men kill and women birth. Is it that easy? I ramble about meaning and theory but just the same end up with facts. You feel and intuit—poetry of the heart. You were the first girl I ever thought I cared for, and you had no idea. I did not know how to show it. I still don’t. Perhaps that’s another difference between you and me. Us and them. We talked, kind of. You were gone, then I was gone. It occurs to me every day that very soon we will both be gone, and maybe this isn’t worth it at all. I hope I’m wrong, Sara. I was gone, then you were gone. I came to your house. It was late, but it was crowded so I slipped in. I took a seat opposite you, across the room. (A room, by the way, in a house I was immediately comfortable in.) Tin ceilings, yes, those are tin ceilings! You crossed the room and sat down next to me, and I crossed my legs. My fiction, I think, is coming true. You said you liked the story. But you don’t know how scary it is to live. I’ve spent my whole life being busy. Busy studying, busy running, busy eating, busy reading, busy writing, busy watching, busy tying, busy crossing, busy driving, busy worrying, busy calculating, busy recalculating, busy navigating, busy getting lost. He not busy being born is busy dying, Dylan said. Which am I? When my grandmother would ask if I had a girlfriend—no, too busy, I would say. Even when I wasn’t busy I was waiting, hoping for busyness to return, hoping for something to hide behind. I was scared, Sara. I was so scared. Caring for another person is a scary thing—the scariest in the world—and I was not ready to be scared. I’ve never cared for birthdays. I told you as much. I turned eighteen on the only day of the year that says something, and I told you that, too. I was doing calculus alone in bed as my clock flashed midnight. A flurry of happy birthday messages later, I was still alone.
My friends like to joke that I act like I’m eighteen going on sixty. To a sixty-year-old man, eighteen is nothing. But to an eighteenyear-old who likes to think he’s sixty, there is nothing more frightening than knowing you finally are what you have always said. Adulthood does not scare me; my own inability to relate does. So there we were, you and I, sitting beneath a tin ceiling, a couple to none of the world but me. You reaching out. I reaching within to try to feel. Oh, how I felt. I gave you a story much like this that I had brought for you to read. You gave me a hug that I’m sure flushed my cheeks a brighter red than ever before. Your body pressed against mine for only a moment, but that’s all it took. It felt like the whole room had lowered its eyes on me as you rushed out to put the story away for safekeeping. I did my best to do the same with your warmth. Perhaps we both took them out to ponder for a while on that cold snowy March day that followed. Spring is slow in coming this year, it seems. Yes, the eyes of my friends and yours were on me—forced to wear the front of your emotion. Never before had I felt such curious attention, and never before had I cared so little what they thought. Still, I sat there. You stayed a while and then moved about the room. A fine hostess, I should say.
Don’t ever think that’s below you—making others feel your warmth. Nothing is more important in this life. The crowd thinned out. I got up to leave and you walked me to the door and gave me a hug, this time as a friend. I started to say something and stopped. You were gone. I swallowed my words and their meaning. I sat in my car as it heated up—a clipper had blown through. The soft late-winter photo by Nick Fandos moonlight fell on your house: a colonial—proud and tall. Nothing more American. That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: what is American? Sara, if you care to know it, I think you are. Fiercely idealistic and unbashfully pragmatic. Never afraid to share an opinion, but never too abrupt as to let it intrude on others too much. Even in your weakest moments, you radiate hope. Difficult though it may be to see sometimes, the flame is always present. Neil Young is Canadian, but his music has a uniquely American quality. I listened to his famous album as I drove home. The stoplights were flashing red. The lights in my house were darkened. I unlocked and then locked the door, brushed, changed, unfolded, sighed. Finding that what you once thought was real is gone, and changing? Oh, Sara, I believe in you. Whether you agree or not, maybe life is changing.
Kleinman Michael Blair
leinman was an amateur magician of sorts, and his magic followed him everywhere—in the ruffled deck of cards he slid out of his jeans pocket every Thanksgiving and Christmas and the dimes he pulled out of his nephews’ ears, sure, but also in the breezy way he danced around, head cocked left, fingers pedaling back and forth as if they were running in place. It was in his eyes, too—at times wild with discovery, at others hollow, stretching beyond the dinner table and macaroni and cheese and how-was your-day into lands unpopulated by reason and expectation. There was mystery there but also profound sadness, a drooping downward with age, a sense that all that had been promised, all that had been dreamed, all the wondering, wiggling, squeezing had been for nothing, had been an illusion. When he turned twenty-six, his mom put trick candles on the chocolate cake. Kleinman couldn’t blow them out. He tried for minutes before he acknowledged he’d been duped with a half shrug, stuffing his hands in his pockets while he gripped the brown shag carpet with his toes. They hadn’t changed a thing. Even down to the Navajo wicker basket that stored car keys and the old tin toaster that rattled when it popped out bagels, the house had been exactly the same way since he was a kid. Kleinman liked this. He liked old things. When he was small and visited his grandparents’ house on long weekend afternoons, he’d spend hours in the upstairs attic, among the old crates and leather furniture, dusty and dignified, assigning the items names to reflect their wealth and taste—Charles the chair, William the window. Now, he snuck into the back of the 12th Street Cinema on
Tuesday afternoons, when they showed classics—sitting, sipping, alone on velvet seats. Kleinman liked the romance of those old films—the swoosh of the score, the adventures in exotic lands. He liked getting away. Away from his hot apartment where pipes clanked and wallpaper peeled and Alice sat around all day and slept. It was always dark in there. She was always dark in there, or at least she had been for months now. He saw it in her eyes—a pale blue dimming like small hollow moons. She said she had migraines, and wore the same blue sweatpants every day. Kleinman had been hot with her and she’d been cold back. They didn’t have friends anymore and he wondered if they ever would again. He wondered how it all got to be like this. He remembered how they’d met. It was winter on campus and they’d draped white bulbs on all the trees around the main quad. He remembered how beautiful the night looked when the lights came off the ground and shined up to meet the stars, how he’d grabbed his corduroy jacket and scraped along the salty sidewalk toward the Coffehaus where he knew he’d find people talking and an orange fire stoked. She sat in the back corner, barely in the light, which made it hard to see anything except the thick blue scarf that grabbed around her neck. Kleinman had seen that scarf before, in his 20th Century Surrealism course, hung on a soft girl with tight lips and blonde curls that curved down like bent blades of grass. She never said much. He’d only heard her speak once in class. “Do you suppose Rimbaud really lived all those things he wrote about?” she had asked without raising her hand in the middle of a lecture on Breton’s Anthology of Black Humor. Her voice came out slow and low, and lingered on the French vowels—Ram-Bow. Kleinman turned to see her tying and untying knots in her scarf as she spoke. The im-
age stuck with him—her sweet mixture of softness and confidence trickling through syllables, the way she bowed her head and worked and unworked at the blue cloth. She moved and spoke with something beyond confidence, something more natural—a state of supreme ease that Kleinman had been working at for years in magic shows but had never mastered. He was too awkward and uncertain, never quite sure if the rabbit would come out of the hat after all. That night, though, as he stumbled in cold and alone and stood in line for a tall hot chocolate, something inside him seemed to bubble up and shift. He looked at Alice propped back in the dark corner and suddenly felt warm and cold all at once and the world sloped downward like the seats of a cinema and he couldn’t grip the floor with his boots or fumble in his pockets for coins or read or speak without starting to smile. Kleinman didn’t believe in God—only illusion—but somebody seemed to be smiling that night. Gears had locked in. The audience would soon clap. He paid two bucks and slid into the dark booth where Alice sat. She was reading—a torn-up copy of Camus’s Stranger—and didn’t look up to acknowledge Kleinman for a few minutes. She finished her chapter and stuffed her coffee sleeve inside a yellow page. “Look, Wheeler,” she said while she dug her head into her purse. “I’ve told you before to stay away, but if you’re not going to—oh.” “Hi,” Kleinman said as their eyes finally met and Alice realized that Kleinman was not Wheeler. “Oh. Hi.” Alice glowed with surprise, and her eyes fell back down to her shoes beneath the table. Then she looked back up and smiled. Kleinman remembered that night like he remembered his tricks—with clinical clarity of beginnings and endings but murkiness in the little ticks in between. He preferred it
that way. Surprisingly, he found that the less he remembered the better he performed. There was a kind of wild passion to his work when he wasn’t quite sure if he knew what he was doing. Similarly, Kleinman remembered this night as a smattering of images and phrases. He remembered how they talked for hours, how Alice undid her scarf and let her hair hang across the front of her face. And how she laughed. Kleinman made her laugh when he blew warm air on a spoon and hung it on his nose. Or when he pulled two old fortune cookies out of his jacket pocket. Kleinman’s read: “The problems of today will soon be buried by the sands of time.” Alice never shared hers, but she smiled as she read it and then turned, blue eyes fluttering, to look up at Kleinman. She wanted to talk about dreams, the ones that had stuck to her like a black dog in the night. Kleinman talked about card tricks and illusion, but Alice said that what she had seen was real. The images blurred and moved and mixed until she had concocted out of her own imagination something completely foreign, something that skipped into the sky. She seemed worried, Kleinman remembered that, but she also spoke with passion that fit around his body like an old pajama shirt. She was alive and constantly in question of the world, bouncing from idea to idea too quickly for Kleinman to keep up. Instead, he followed her hands as they moved in and out of the dim light. They spun and turned with dizzying speed, but also with soft grace in the way she sometimes slowed down, palms turned outward and up—stretching. He’d fallen in love by the time the Coffeehaus blackened for good and kicked them into the snowy street. Kleinman came home that Christmas with freshness in his eyes, eager to tell his parents about Alice. They were Jewish—
and proud of it—but insisted on celebrating Christmas. The holiday was warm and packed with tradition—the old songs, the picking of the tree, the Christmas Kosher Ham—and Kleinman preferred it to spinning a dreidel that always toppled before it could gather any speed. He was the last of his friends to give up belief in Santa Claus. Kleinman didn’t care too much about the facts his friends spouted out about unreasonable travel times and the duplicity of shopping center imposters. He loved the idea of some secret man spreading joy across the world until finally stopping to tap toes on his rooftop while he lay curled in bed. When he was in high school, Christmas was the only time he allowed himself to smash through the thick layer of cynicism he had constructed around himself. He wore argyle sweaters and brewed cocoa and adorned the tree with the small figurines of reindeer that his Aunt had spun out of yarn. He laughed. And there was something particularly special about that Christmas—his last as a college student—about confessing his love for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl under a tinseled tree with an angel on top. His annual Christmas Eve magic show turned eyes that year when he decided to disappear himself in a wooden box. His nephews gasped when they opened the box and found it empty inside, and then applauded when Kleinman eventually jumped back out, hands swirling in circles. These days, no one ever clapped at the end of movies. This week the 12th Street Cinema had shown City Lights. Kleinman cried at the end when the Flower Girl finally sees the Tramp, finally looks him in the eye. And when the screen faded to black and the dim house lights pushed back up, Kleinman stood up and clapped. The teenage theatre custodians looked at him strangely, maybe even suspiciously, and perhaps with good rea-
son. This was a grown man, alone on a weeknight in a stuffy theatre, crying and clapping to a silent movie. Kleinman caught their glances and suddenly realized that something had happened to him and he hadn’t realized it. He was no longer cool, no longer young. To those kids, he was no different than their dads—big-boned old men in white tennis shoes and elastic slacks. What was he doing here? Wasting time and money and energy in a dark room to gaze at some fake fable of love. He was still crying when he chucked his popcorn bag in the trash and walked outside into lonely cold. He needed to clear his head and decided to walk the few miles back to his apartment. The city was dead. Country music buzzed out of corporate bars and oversized cars grinded past. There used to be a candy store on this street and Kleinman remembered going there with his grandmother to get ice cream on summer afternoons. They’d find a bench to sit in the shade and talk about the future. She’d tell him he could be whoever he wanted to be. That if he dreamed it, he could do it. Kleinman felt his dreams slipping away from him now. He felt he had more in common with that little boy licking ice cream in the shade than he did with who he was— some drifter sliding down a sidewalk—or whatever wobbly shade he was becoming. He turned onto Bleecker Street and shoved his hands into his pockets. An old homeless man in a brown suit spoke to him. “Hey, someone’s just stolen my wallet and I’ve got nothing to get me home.” Kleinman shrugged and kept walking. “Sorry, man. I’ve got no way of knowing if that’s true or not.” The man nodded gently, as if in strange approval of Kleinman’s rejection, and fell back into the shadows toward the East River. Kleinman had been brushing off the homeless for years—it was part of living in
the city—but something about this encounter clung to him like a sweaty sweater. He painted that man’s sad stretched face on each passerby’s face and thought of him—alone, swallowed up by night and fog. Kleinman had been right. There was no telling what was real and what wasn’t, and he didn’t want to be duped. But somehow he felt like he had allowed for some great cosmic wrong to occur, that he’d broken some poor old man in two. He felt like going back to find the man, but instead he balled up his hands inside his pockets and walked faster in the cold towards the apartment. When he walked inside, the lights were
turned on and a few candles were lit across the kitchen. A Gershwin record hummed in the background. Alice came sweeping from the back and met him at the door. She was wearing a yellow polka dot dress that looked like a hundred little suns. Her old scarf hung around her neck and she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. He had never her seen her eyes so blue. “I know how much you like Chinese, so I’ve ordered in for us.” Alice pointed to a brown bag sitting on the kitchen counter. Kleinman smiled and thanked her, and rushed to crack his fortune cookie in two.
Within a Busy Hallway Conor Fellin
In the lunch rush, with its swift, low ripple of heads bobbing in their hurried stride, with the melodic clatter of classmatesâ€™ jokes about the weekend, with the class and me within the class so one in pace we all might be still and the halls moving, I see the face of the boy to whom I once shouted with a chuckle, â€œHey Nick, go long!â€? after I noticed he had not joined us in catch but rather whispered long with the smiling girl with long red hair and who, without hesitating, bolted after the whizzing football when I shot it some twenty feet away from her, and, remembering what torrents had hid beneath my chuckling, I slowed for a moment (a short moment since others soon bumped into me) and stared at pairs of hustling feet.
an American image Daniel Hart Lâ€™Ecuyer telephone poles an American image still trees spread their roots in the sky birds flock across the strokes of clouds
kay, let’s go over the plan one more time, just to be sure,” said Joe, looking away from the road. “Daryl, you ready?” He looked significantly at Daryl in the passenger’s seat, who read his grin as a challenge and nodded vigorously. The four of them were driving to an allgirls school to perform the complex ritual of asking someone to prom. The ritual was further complicated because Daryl, the one asking the girl to prom, did not know her very well at all. Joe and the rest of Daryl’s friends had quickly pulled together a daring plan after Daryl’s girlfriend broke up with him because of some misunderstood text messages and a few unfortunate remarks about her favorite teacher that coincidentally bore an uncanny resemblance to a sex offender currently talked about on cable news shows. Joe masterminded the plan to ask a girl that Daryl had met in passing only once but whom Joe had known really well in grade school, where she had been “a really good, nice girl,” he reassured Daryl. The steps leading up to today were all overseen by Joe—the explanation to Daryl of the girl’s appearance and characteristics (which included many common interests), the probing and questioning of the girl’s friends to make sure she would be willing to say yes, the friending on Facebook. And today was Joe’s D-Day, planned extensively a week beforehand. They would arrive at her school at 4:45 to catch her in the thirty-minute window between student government and play practice. According to her friends, she could be found in the back corner of the school library on her laptop doing homework at this time. “So, I’ll go up to her and give her the note,” said Joe, staring straight ahead at the
road while addressing them. “She’ll open the note. The note will tell her to proceed outside the library for a big surprise. Outside the library will be Matt with the poster. He will have the poster turned to the blank side. When she comes out of the library, he’ll smile and turn over the poster, which will look like a prom invite, but instead will say ‘PARK?’ After a moment of confusion, she’ll go to the park next to the school, and will walk down the main sidewalk towards the center of the park. She’ll pass under the tree that Jim is concealed in. Jim will throw a bucket of confetti over her, which will once again lead her to think that this is the real thing, but then Jim will tell her to keep going down the sidewalk to the parking lot ahead. Then she’ll finally get to the parking lot, where Daryl is waiting in his suit, with ‘PROM,’ question mark, written in large letters on the very vehicle we currently occupy. Got it?” “Yes,” said Daryl. His part was easy enough, anyway. Matt and Jim nodded. They were silent, and Daryl started thinking about how he was not at his most confident today. He had been late for school. He had run into a teacher carrying coffee, spilling his books on the teacher and the teacher’s coffee on himself. He had done badly on his European History test, remembering terms and movements and political parties but always forgetting or confusing all those weird-sounding names, no matter how many times he read the chapter. He knew he had missed a bunch of multiple choice questions because of that; one because he had forgotten the name of that assassin that tipped off the whole chain reaction that began World War I. But their teacher had even told them that the assassin wasn’t that important, Daryl thought bitterly. He was just what was called a “catalyst,” a mechanism to jumpstart much larger forces that were already prepared to mobilize. They pulled into a spot in the little
park’s parking lot. Daryl jumped out the door, feeling ridiculous wearing the suit in a park where everyone else wore t-shirts and jeans. “All right, here you go,” said Joe, handing Daryl the paint pen. “Good luck.” Daryl watched them walk away and observed the spectacle of Jim hoisting himself into the predetermined tree a hundred yards away. Then he shook the paint pen, uncapped it, and scrawled the word on the rear window of the Jeep. Though Daryl was, essentially, the most important part of this chain, he had the least distance to travel and the least to do, and also the most time to wait—and therefore the most time to think and get scared. He tried to remember this girl he had met two months ago after a play at another school. He tried to focus on how cute she was—she
was, wasn’t she? Joe had certainly told him many times that she was. He started losing control of his thoughts, though, and he began to be overwhelmed by the otherness of this place. He had never been in this park, never seen the inside of that school that it sat near. He didn’t recognize the little league team practicing in the field to his right. He thought once, wildly, of driving off when the confetti came down on a distant figure, then remembered that Joe had taken the keys. And as she walked towards him, smiling broadly and saying his name, Daryl’s mouth opened helplessly as he realized that even though Joe had told him the girl’s name many times, even though he had looked at her Facebook account and even chatted with her online, when he looked into her face and saw just how vivid green her eyes were, he had completely forgotten her name. photo by
The Vigil David Farel
y little brother and I stood at the edge of our group, looking warily up through the razor-wire fence at the prison, a concrete box that shone a sterile white in its own blinding brightness. A spotlight atop the prison swept across the yard. As it passed over the unsettlingly short and even grass, it banished the nearly imperceptible shadow cast by the grass itself. My brother rubbed his eyes as the spotlight stopped near us, shook a bit, then darted away, leaving us silent in night. I turned from the prison, towards the dark group behind me. My sandals kicked water as I padded through the overgrown grass, and I could feel tiny drops of dew running down my legs. I saw my aunt standing at the edge of the circle. She was praying, head down and beads in hand, between a wrinkly woman and a priest dressed all in black. Fifteen or so people prayed loosely in their circle, some silently, some aloud, but I heard not a prayer but a jumbled mumbling. No one sat in the several rusted, cheap lawn chairs scattered around the circle. I thought about plopping into one, but I didn’t. Instead, I stared intently at my feet, and my brother followed suit. Behind the prison, a line of trees stood dark against the cloudless August sky. Above them, the moon was a thin, sharp crescent, and I could see more stars than I’d ever seen before. The air felt lukewarm against my cheek until a cool breeze passed over me. My brother shivered. Faint barking drifted out of the woods, and I looked down again. A mosquito had landed on my brother’s neck. “Hold still,” I whispered, then, with a loud smack, obliterated the mosquito. I looked down satisfied at the blood smeared
on my hand. After a moment, I realized the blood was my brother’s, and wiped it on my shorts, leaving a long faint stain. My brother scratched his neck and looked up at me. “There was a mosquito,” I whispered loudly. He stuck his thumb in his mouth, and turned towards the fence, a mix of curiosity and fear plastered across his face. I sat down on my feet and dropped my head down to his level. “Don’t worry,” I said into his ear, “We’re going home soon.” He was four and clueless, for the best. I glanced over at the circle. They were praying together, murmuring somber chants in unison, and my aunt was turned away from me. I looked down, up, at the chair and back again, then yanked my brother to the nearest lawn chair. It sagged under our weight. Rust had gnawed away its frame, and as our weight bore fully upon it, the chair creaked, clunked as the frame collapsed upon itself, and hit the grass with an earthy thud. My aunt abandoned the circle and ran over to us, her chest heaving. “Are you okay?” she gasped breathlessly. I nodded, but my brother cried and she scooped him up. She patted his back reassuringly, and after a moment he quieted to a soft whimper. “You’ll be okay,” she whispered. She paused for a moment then glanced back at the group. “We’ll be leaving soon,” she said and swallowed slightly. I followed behind my aunt as she trudged back to the circle, and when she reached it, I hid behind her skirt, avoiding glances from the group. Besides a slight nod from the priest, no one acknowledged us; almost all had their heads down solemnly. I peeked around my aunt and saw tears running down the face of a middle-aged woman across the circle. I looked away, ashamed. My eyes caught the prison, and I jerked my head up and away at the sky. A solitary cloud loomed over the prison, a black ominous region void of stars and light, and I stared up listlessly
until my eyes began to tire. I looked down, squeezing my eyes shut. Everything became dark, and I could hear only murmuring and crickets. I stood there for a minute, breathing deeply, with my head low and my hands shoved down into my pockets. A loud, clear voice cut through the silence. “It’s almost time.” The priest. I squeezed my eyes tighter. Silence fell, and I squirmed. I pulled my hands from my pockets and wrapped my arms around myself. My aunt, right in front of me, had her head bowed. I shifted closer to her, not enough to touch her, but enough to block the scene. I could smell her faint perfume of roses. Crickets chirped erratically. In the silence, I could hear the people breathing, but never evenly. Someone shifted, rustling the grass. For a moment, the sound of crickets stopped and began again. I opened my eyes. Across the circle, an old woman had wrapped her arms around the woman with tears in her eyes. She patted her back tenderly. “Shhh,” she whispered reassuringly. Shadows hid the woman’s face. I closed my eyes again. I heard a watch alarm begin to beep. The high and steady squeaky pulse was horrible, soft but somehow cutting through the humid summer air. No one stopped it.
The woman sniffled, her chest heaved, then a sob escaped, breaking but not overcoming the watch’s scratching tones. Several people began to sniffle, and I could hear the old woman patting her back. “Don’t cry,” she said, her voice unsteady. The woman broke, weeping, and her sobs echoed out across the field. Several nearby women, near tears themselves, gathered around to console her. No one said that things would be all right, because they wouldn’t be. The spotlight swept across the yard, darting toward us. For a moment, it washed over us, bathing us in lifeless light. The grass shone bright, but its tiny shadows remained. The light swept away, back towards the yard. I could see my brother above me, sleeping in my aunt’s arms. He sucked his thumb peacefully. I looked up at the prison, tentatively at first, then stared intently at its lights. One floodlight flickered a moment, blinked, and died. I looked down and saw a mosquito perching on my hand. Carefully, I raised it to my face. In the faint light of the stars, it looked dark and tiny against my hand, totally helpless. With a single breath, I blew it away, and dropped my hand to my side. I looked up at the stars, feeling small.
Amateur Lovers “
o no no, you’re gonna mash it that way,” I said as I took the banana from her. Amy raised her eyebrow at me in annoyance. “That’s how everybody opens a banana,” she responded, exasperated. I took it in my hands and held it up. “Look. If you open it with the tab thing on the top, it’s gonna mush all of the top of the banana. But if you take it like this”—I turned it upside down—“and pick at the top here…” I dramatically peeled away the banana, revealing the fresh, perfect fruit. Amy stared at me like I was ridiculous. “That’s ridiculous. Where on earth did you learn that?” “Russia. You pick up some really useful things…” I winked; she just giggled. We stood there at the island in my kitchen for a minute or so. Then I walked over to the freezer. “So if we’re gonna make the best smoothies possible, we need lots of ice.” I hefted the ice bag out of the freezer, trying to make it look easy. Amy was fingering the bottom of another banana with her eyebrow raised as she always does and her lips pressed together. I ripped open a hole in the bag and tipped its contents into a metal bowl near the sink. Some of the cyndrical pieces clanged in the sink. They reminded me of the smacks and cracks coming from the construction on the road outside. They’d been working on the road out of my subdivision for like a year. They’re gone on the nice days and there on the crappy ones. Figure that. Anyway, I brought the bowl over and placed it across from Amy, as she totally mangled an orange while opening it. I took
it as she plopped it down disgustedly into my outstretched hand. She sighed and put a strand of golden hair behind her ear. “Hey, I just…well, I’d like to thank you for helping me. You know, she can only eat things that you don’t have to chew, and these are fantastic. Just fantastic. So thanks.” I smiled and began crushing up the ice. “Hey, it’s my pleasure to help a friend. You know my grandpa had throat cancer too, so I totally get it.” I tried not to put too much emphasis on friend. I probably put too much on pleasure though. Amy smiled a little mysteriously and looked down at another orange. I held her wrist as she attempted to pick it up. “No way, babe. The last one is still in the hospital.” She let out an awkward yet pleased laugh. I realized I was still holding her wrist, and looked at her. She didn’t seem bothered by it, but she seemed a little tense. As if something might happen at any moment and she was excited but a little scared. I let go and put the orange back on the island. “So, what kind of fruit does your mom like best?” “Oh, you know, the berries and stuff. She’s so unoriginal.” “Well, what kind of fruit do you like best?” I bent down to get the blender from the cabinet built into the island. I noticed Amy’s yellow Spongebob socks because she always curls up her toes when she thinks. I came back up and plopped the blender down heavily. She gave me a sly glance. “You know, berries and stuff.” I gave her a faux-disgusted look and shook my head. Then I started laughing too because hers was contagious. Amy waved her hand over the cornucopia of fruit set out neatly in china bowls on the island. “So what do we do first?” I plugged the blender in on the side of the island and raised my eyebrow.
“Well, it depends. We can do something “Okay, so you can do the ice now.” adventurous or we can just do something She reached across me and picked up the simple so you can figure out the basics of bowl with both hands. Her hair smelled like Smoothie Production.” coconut. It’s funny; I hated coconut until I She snorted. “Figure out? I’ve got it all smelled it on her hair. She struggled a bit as down! You’re just falling behind.” she tipped the weighty bowl on its side, shakI nodded vigorously and slid the banana ing out little pieces of ice with soft scrapes bowl nearer to me. and clinks. I steadied the bowl with my right “Oh yes, undoubtedly, indubitably, most hand. She gave the weight of the bowl to me, etching by Eddie Harris wiping her forehead with the back certainly. I apologize most sincerely and wholeheartedly for of her delicate hand. Then she my lack of proper…” tossed her head back and ran her I shook my head as she gigfingers through her shining hair to gled viciously at my inability to clear strands from her face. “Okay, come up with the right word. I so what do we do now?” slapped my forehead, making a I laughed. “I thought you loud smacking sound. were the expert.” “Ah…you know what? I’m She squinted her eyes and gonna remember the right word folded her hands across her stomwhen I’m just about to go to ach. sleep.” “Oh, of course. I’m just test“And by then it’ll be too late,” ing you to make sure you actually she said gravely. I closed my eyes. know how to do this.” “Oh…theater girls. Why, I scratched the back of my God, why?” head. Amy reached up to place her “Let’s see…okay. So we hand on my forehead. have to put sugar in now.” “Wow, you have a big red As we finished putting the final mark there. You shouldn’t hit ingredients into the blender, I yourself so hard.” couldn’t help but think about sugHer hand was soft and cool. I ar. And calling Amy “sugar.” God, could have stood there, letting her I came close. While I was thinkhand sooth my unconscious woring that, I had obviously forgot to ries and the little butterflies that put the black rubber top on the bounced in my stomach when she touched blender, because when Amy pressed “on”, litme. I abruptly cracked a smirk and put a half tle shards of ice and droplets of fruit juice exof a banana into the blender. ploded from the blender. Amy jumped back “Okay, so first we’re going to make the and bumped into the gas stove, accidentally ‘Jetty Punch.’” turning the knob on the forward left burner. “What’s that?” She slid her hand off my I scrambled around in the cabinet under the head. island for the blender top, bashed my head “Well, basically, it’s just a banana and on the ledge getting up, and slammed the some strawberries.” plug onto the blender cup. I used the cup scoop and loaded two I massaged the back of my head, listenscoops of strawberries into the blender. ing to the soft hum of the machine. Then I
turned to Amy, an eyebrow raised. She was sitting on the stove, her legs crossed and her arms folded, with that same eyebrow raised. The left corner of her mouth lifted a little bit. She opened her mouth, but before either of us could say anything, her white skirt caught fire from the stove. Well, we put it out, but I had to pick her up and pretty much throw her into the sink, so her skirt was sopping afterwards. It was a little awkward too when she went into my room to pick out a pair of pants to wear. I just sat downstairs after stopping the blender, softly pouring the smoothie into a lime green cup. It’s hard to describe the motion; like a slide I guess, because it all sticks together, but not in clumps. And it’s a lot heavier than water or any other liquid. I pulled out one of the homely, wooden chairs from the kitchen table and sat down, placing the green cup on the table beside a spoon and straw. I turned my head to the wide glass deck door. I could see the road and the obnoxious orange-clad workers smoking fat cigars and guffawing. The trees swayed to the left as the wind tickled their fluttering green leaves. The stairs creaked, and Amy walked into the room. She had my red sweatpants on, and made them look fashionable. She gave me a crafty look and practiced a heavy Mexican accent. “You like?” I got up quickly and pulled out her chair for her before she could. She seemed surprised but impressed. She sat in a lady-like fashion, and I pushed her chair into the head of the table. I scooted mine in to her right. She paused for a minute, twirling her finger on the lightly-stained wood of the table. “Hey, um…when your grandpa had it…I mean…did he…” She was looking for hope in my eyes. I tilted my head. “He’s okay. It was tough while it happened. The radiation made his throat all
screwed up. But he’s okay now.” She twirled a strand of hair in her finger as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “You know. It’s just…I’m a little scared.” She didn’t say it with fear; she said it with trust. I scratched my arm. “Hey, don’t worry. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. I’m just saying it’s gonna work out. I mean that.” We sat there, heads lowered for an uncomfortable length of time. She wrung her hands. “Well…it’s good to know that someone knows what it’s like…and can help me.” Another silence. I was smiling inside. Then I pushed the lime green cup towards her. “Okay, so, the judge’s verdict?” She grinned excitedly. I breathed theatrically as she tasted the Jetty Punch with the blue-striped straw. “Well?” She nodded quickly with a grin on her face before she swallowed. “Oh, God, this is awesome!” “Yeah. That’s what I told you.” “You should try this!” “That’s okay, I know what it tastes like.” “No, I’m serious,” she insisted as she forced the straw to my lips. I nodded. “Okay.” It was good; I don’t have enough humility to think it wasn’t the best darn smoothie I ever tasted. I watched her the entire time. She had her hands folded beneath her chin, watching me intently. Then I stopped. She had dark green eyes. Little flecks of earthy brown bloomed out. Depth. I gently pushed the lime green cup to the side as she leaned in. I leaned in too. My hand found hers, cool and smooth. Our foreheads softly lay against each other. Her hair tickled my face. Her lips tasted like strawberries.
e played it out in his head: The repetitive, soothing song of the dialing, the sudden click of the connecting call, a point of no return, and her “Hello?” a perfect blend of surprise and just the smallest bit of acknowledgment as if she knew, in some hidden room of her heart, that it was he on the line, calling for her. He drew breath in, and then out, letting the oxygen smooth the nerves that he had frayed himself. It was a Wednesday and the time was 6:45, both of which he had taken into careful consideration. Wednesday, he gathered, was the down time for the summer. The day in which you recuperated for more exploits to come. A quarter to seven was also a down time, he reasoned, because it was the time after dinner but before you made a decision on what to do with your night. So this was the opportune time to call. He went over his explanation to himself on why he was calling on this day and time. He went through the data, the presentation. He guarded himself against any rebuttal. It seemed right. He drew in another breath and picked up the phone. He had already dialed in the number. He didn’t know why he did it; the sight of her number that she had playfully written on the back of his hand with a green Sharpie looked so ominous on the backlit screen of
the cell. He thought it would reassure him, calm him, give him resolve like the way soldiers hold pictures of their loved ones before going into battle. Instead it became a warning to him that he could screw it up and make a complete idiot of himself. His finger hovered over the Call button, ready to make the jump, like a sky diver poised to fall. A brief vision of embarrassment flashed across his eyes. His finger wavered. “Who cares?” he voiced aloud and forcibly pressed the button. The dialing commenced, not soothing as he imagined it but tense and drawn. He realized, in answer to his cosmic question to the void, that he cared. He cared about not screwing up. The hairs on the back of his neck stood stock still. He felt photo by Austin Strifler lightheaded and his breath stopped in anticipation. The dialing continued. It seemed too long, he thought. She wasn’t going to pick up, she wasn’t there, she was out on the town and he was stuck at home, she was—. There was silence, a calm in the middle of the storm, where the wind blows softly on the face and then—Click. “Hello?” Life, and with it breath, comes rushing out of his lungs with a “Hey, Sara. It’s me...you know...that one guy with the weird hair...” Sara laughed. It the lighthearted laugh of surprise. It was a laugh that told him many things, one of which was, “Don’t worry. She likes you. You like her. And it’ll all work out.” He sat back in his chair and relaxed.
out in that midwest night Daniel Hart L’Ecuyer somebody lives out in that house in the fields off the highway somebody farms those fields and through the after sunset midwest night you see his yellow kitchen light and the shadows flutter at the window and his son attends the local school and his daughter, his city wife’s sister says, is challenged and yesterday he said son you up for fishing tomorrow and his son said no thanks, not today and the farmer’s father died eight days ago and they are still dealing with it and his mother died years ago and when his mother died he watched her go and he held his father’s hand when it happened she’s with God now he said and there were tears and they carried the casket together it will be all right son she’s with God now and his father died eight days ago in the night and they found him like that in his bed and as the farmhouse receded in the haze of night i realized the small flecks of shadows at the window were my own flesh and fathers receding into the night