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Sisyphus Spring ’12 Cover artwork by David Greaves Cover layout by Patrick Conrey Inside cover photo by Austin Strifler Masthead photography by John Kissel Masthead design by Erich Wassilak
3 Nightwalk, poetry by James Boeckmann 4 drawing by Matthew Hennessey 5 The King of Root Beer, fiction by Daniel Schmidt 7 drawing by Jack Milford 9 The Subordinate, poetry by Ethan Valencia 10 photo by John Kissel 10 Führerflies, fiction by Jack Mimlitz 11 Untitled, poetry by Cao Qitong 11 drawing by David Greaves 12 Heavy Rain, fiction by Dominick Freeman 13 Parallel, photo by Carson Monetti 14 drawing by Jack Milford 17 design by David Greaves 18 Without House or Holding, poetry by Gabe Miller 19 To See as God Does, poetry by Wisdom Akpan 19 photo by John Kissel 20 photo by Mark Rieke 20 La Bataille Difficile, poetry by Sam Fentress 22 watercolor by David Greaves 22 The Perfect Choice, fiction by Andrew Palisch 25 watercolor by David Greaves 28 watercolor by David Greaves 30 Checkmate, poetry by Matt Lickenbrock
30 photo by Sam Beckmann 31 Lesson One, fiction by Drew Holtmann 33 photo by Andrew Nguyen 35 photo by Giuseppe Vitellaro 36-37 watercolor by Matei Stefanescu 38 Opium of the People, fiction by Brendan McEnery 39 photo by Gabe Miller 42 photo by Jack Kiehl 43 Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida, poetry by John Bromell 44 Shopping for Zebra at a Zoo, poetry by Kevin Madden 44 photo by Ben Hilker 45 Where Did You Come From? poetry by Matei Stefanescu 46 At the Nursing Home, poetry by Stephen Nelson 47 photo by Ben Banet 48 White: A Blank Page or Canvas. His Favorite, poetry by Sam Herbig 49 A Slice for Amy, fiction by Ben Hilker 50 drawing by Matt Hennessey 53 drawing by Sam Fentress 55 watercolor by David Greaves 56 In a Nutshell, poetry by Ryan Dowd 57 Stretch, poetry by Tom Blood 58 The Unfinished Picture, fiction by David Bubash 58 Dom, photo by Carson Monetti 63 photo by John Kissel 65 photo by Austin Strifler 66 Old Captain Steele, poetry by Adam Holbrook 68 Never Look Back, fiction by Nathaniel Heagney 68 photo by Mark Rieke 71 photo by John Kissel 72 Spring, poetry by Reid Marshall
Nightwalk James Boeckmann Your neighborhood looks different At 3:30 in the morning When you haven’t seen a car in an hour Even though you’ve walked a three-mile lap, And the only way to watch the colors change Is to sit on the sensor in the middle of the road. Your neighborhood sounds different At 3:30 in the morning When shuffle never finds the right song So you take out your headphones And ball up the cord in your pocket, And when the dogs could be barking only at you. Your neighborhood feels different At 3:30 in the morning When your bare feet are sore and callused From the concrete and occasional stick or gumball, And when your patio is much rockier than you thought Now that you’re trying to pretend it’s a bed.
The King of Root Beer Daniel Schmidt
hen I meet a new person (especially someone of the opposite gender), there are certain facts or stories I try to mention because they are guaranteed to produce positive results. Having a Hideki Matsui autographed baseball (worth four figures in Japan), having stumbled across a treasure-trove of Playboy magazines, and having gotten into a car accident with a pregnant woman are all moneymakers, depending on the demographic. The one I use most infrequently, however, is my favorite: I’m a collector of root beer bottles. Falling into a stereotype or generalization is one of my biggest fears in life. This holds true for what I consider to be my hobbies as well. Yes, during the time when all I wanted was to be a kid in the ’60s (thank you Sandlot), I did collect baseball cards, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it was too generic; it wasn’t something that was distinctly mine. So I gave it up and moved on. For several months I searched for a new hobby, one that would impress kids and adults alike. I tried collecting quarters for a while, until I realized it was just like collecting baseball cards, but for retired people. I was a youth at a crossroads, looking to add some meaning to his life. It was during this time my father introduced me to Carl’s Drive In. My sisters did Irish dancing right down the street from Carl’s from 10 to 12 every Saturday morning. My dad would pick them up afterwards, and he routinely asked me to keep him company on the half-hour drive. I disrespectfully declined most of time (because I was still in bed at 11:15), so he started to bribe me with lunch. We’d drive twentyfive minutes to Carl’s, where he’d drop me off and then he’d drive five more minutes to
the dance studio to wait for the girls, saying that Carl’s was quick enough that by the time he got back from picking up the girls I’d be finished. The first time he dropped me off there, I was intimidated. Carl’s seats sixteen people, eight stools on either side of the establishment, and maybe eight people stand behind them, waiting for a stool. The whole place is the size of an upper-middle-class bathroom, and with thirty people in there, things get very loud very quickly. I was an eleven-year-old abandoned by his father without a familiar face in sight, and I was now in charge of feeding myself. After a few minutes, I reluctantly made eye contact with a waitress, who hollered at me, “What’ll it be?” I placed my conservative order of a double burger with a small side of fries. “Anything to drink?” Crap. How did I forget something so basic? Frantic, I whisper yelled, “What do you have?” “Root beer is what we’re known for.” Root beer. If there was anything that could provide me the instant testosterone I needed, it was that herbal cola ending in “beer.” “Yeah, yeah. I’ll have one of those.” The waitress nodded and smacked her gum as she moved on to the next order. Relieved, I took in the place while I waited. The grill had ten burgers on it and was about eight feet and nine people from where I stood propped against the back window. The smell of the burgers being grilled wasn’t especially satisfying to the nostrils, but being able to watch the burgers go through the whole process was captivating. My eyes next moved on to the silent focal point of the diner, a massive barrel of root beer in the direct center of Carl’s. It was the sun around which everyone orbited. The barrel had to be four feet tall, and it rested on an island whose sole purpose was to support
the barrel. Near the top of the barrel was a dulled silver plaque, which read in faded red lettering I.B.C. Root Beer. At least three times a minute, a waitress would hustle over to the barrel and fill up a couple of pre-frosted mugs. The waitress delivered my mug, an icy thirty-two-ounce monster, and I handled it as though it were the crown of foreign royalty, cradling it as I pivoted back to the counter attached to the back window. I tried to lift the mug with one hand to my lips, but my arm started shaking so much that I had to put it back down. Taking special care to turn my back on the rest of the diner for fear of embarrassment, I cupped the mug to my lips with two hands and sipped on it the way most people do hot chocolate. The immediate sensation of cold was quickly overtaken by the abundance of flavor pouring into my mouth. Heavy as the mug was, I wouldn’t allow myself to put it down. By the time I received my food a few minutes later, my mug was nearly empty. The burger itself was delicious, of course, but after the meal the only thing I could taste was that root beer. After that, trips to Carl’s became weekly occurrences. They served as an alarm clock for me, as I genuinely started looking forward to waking up when I went to bed on Friday nights. All other restaurants—regardless of style or specialty—were compared to Carl’s. More importantly, all other soft drinks were compared to their root beer. When my family went out to those after-thought restaurants, my drink choice became a sensitive topic. Selecting a name-brand root beer made me feel dirty, as though I were cheating on Carl’s brand. The only root beer that was permissible was Fitz’s, a locally brewed root beer served in a bottle. The taste wasn’t quite Carl’s, but the bottle triggered that feeling of instant manhood I experienced at Carl’s the first time. Soon after I made my infatuation with root beer known to my family, my dad
once again introduced me to a life-changing institution, the beverage aisle at Straub’s. After I fall in love with something that can’t love me back, I do whatever I can to further the relationship. To an extent it usually involves making a shrine of some sort. Whether it be hanging up articles and pictures of the greatest college basketball shooter of all time (J.J. Redick) or printing out and taping the season previews for each baseball team under my bunk-bed (at the time I thought it would help me become the next Bob Costas), I try to keep physical reminders of the relationship around me at all times. After falling for root beer, hard, it was time for me to take our relationship to the next level. That is where Straub’s came in. Thanks to a lapse in common sense, Straub’s found vintage soft drinks sold in classic bottles a product worth selling. I’m not sure what demographic they were shooting for, but I am forever grateful. They had an entire aisle full of chilled bottled sodas including over a dozen different brands of root beer. After frequenting the aisle for a couple of months, I discovered that they rotated in different brands all the time. Soon I had over twenty root beer bottles in my collection, and my grandfather was kind enough to construct a shelf encircling my whole room so that I might have a place to house them. There was Abita with its pure cane Louisiana sugar, Gale’s with its unique cinnamon blend, and of course Virgil’s whose pretentious (though accurate) slogan read, “So rich and creamy you’ll swear it was made in heaven.” By the summer going into eighth grade, I was up to around fifty root beer bottles. With that many in the collection, the supply had begun to shorten a little bit. As consequence, my trips to Straub’s had decreased as well, because more often than not I would end up spending my $1.39 on a root beer that was already in my collection. One summer day, after picking me up from a friend’s
house, my mom took me grocery shopping with her to Straub’s. Quickly ditching her and the godforsaken job of “cart-pusher,” I made my way to the cold beverage aisle, hoping to get lucky. I did a quick scan and saw only familiar faces: Dad’s, Frosties, Root 66, even Berghoffs. It was an expected bummer, but I still began the selection process reluctantly. I was in the middle of a mental taste test between Point and Barrel Brothers when three giggling, drop-dead cute girls from my grade school stumbled into the aisle. At this point in my bottle collecting career, I wasn’t all that boastful about it. I had told a couple of close friends, who had indifferent reactions to the news. My dad had actually told some of his friends as well, which was fine by me because I have always enjoyed entering conversations with adults that start with them saying, “What’s this I hear about...” Outside of those two groups I was hesitant to even mention it, for fear of negative judgment. I was planning on announcing my new passion to the public on my own terms. But then out of all the beverage aisles in all the grocery stores in the greater St. Louis area, these girls came strolling into mine. I
knew who they were, just as they knew who I was, but I had never really talked to any of them outside of asking to borrow pencils in math class. I was really nervous and stood staring blankly for several seconds. Naturally, though my body and brain were both frozen, my sweat glands were working beautifully. It took the girls a moment to recognize my presence, and when they did, the awkwardness rivaled any season premiere of The Bachelor. “Oh, uh hey, Rob, what’s up?” said Brooklyn in a tone that I interpreted as cautiously friendly. “Nothing, I’m here with my mom,” I responded, cracking what had to have been the goofiest smile of my adolescent life. “Where is she?” asked Marisa in a kind of friendly, kind of overly inquisitive tone of voice. I was completely blind-sided by this question, even though drawing by Jack Milford I had put it on a tee for her. “She’s somewhere around here—you know how they wander,” I said, not believing the quickness or wittiness of my response. Kate laughed audibly, and the other two exchanged subtle looks of pleasant surprise, as I congratulated myself on pulling off the biggest miracle (making a girl laugh) since 1980. I wasn’t in the clear yet, though.
“Is that beer?” asked Brooklyn, pointing to the bottle of Barrel Brothers I forgot I was holding. As dumb a question as it was, I still saw it as my cue to make my hobby public. Gathering myself, and making sure not to expose my arm pits, I responded to her inquiry. “Ha, no it’s actually a bottle of root beer...I collect them.” Their laughter reddened my face multiple shades in seconds, and I turned to walk away, already telling myself what a stupid hobby collecting root beer bottles was. “Wait a second, Rob!” Marisa called after me. “We weren’t laughing at you. We just thought that collecting root beer bottles was kind of weird. But like, weird in a funny cool way, ya know?” Not possible. I was sure I hadn’t heard her correctly. How could one of the cutest girls in my grade find my hobby to be “cool?” I didn’t believe her. “I mean, you really think so? I always thought it was kind of nerdy,” I said and was instantly mad at myself for selling out so quickly. “Absolutely! How many kids collect root beer bottles? I think it’s totally awesome,” said Kate with a smile that felt and looked entirely genuine. I was overjoyed, and sensing acceptance, I began opening up to them about the collection and how hard it was to find new brands, and how I dreamed of one day having 100 brands to my name. The girls ate it up. “Rob, that is so cool! I had no idea,” said Brooklyn. “We came over here looking for
some Mountain Dew, but with a root beer expert like yourself here, I think we should switch. What brand of root beer would you suggest?” Feeling a little bold, I decided to share my plethora of knowledge with the uninformed. I explained to her the subtle differences in flavoring between Sioux City and Boylan’s and how the “head” (to a lay person: the amount of fizz that rises to the top of the bottle when you open it) of a root beer generally indicates the amount of flavor in a particular brew, i.e. more fizz, more flavor. The girls loved it, and each of them selected a different brand under my direction. With their selections made, it was time to part ways. “Well, thanks a lot, Rob. That was great,” said Marisa with the other two nodding in agreement. “Hopefully we uh, see you around soon.” “Yeah, for sure,” I said. “Maybe over a round? Of root beer, I mean.” I felt like that comment might have been a little too much, but the girls giggled anyway and waved goodbye. I stood there for a moment, smiling, letting what had happened start to sink in. Had collecting root beer bottles really just led to my most enjoyable encounter with girls ever? I spent another five minutes in the aisle before picking Natural Brew and leaving in search of my mom. I found her in the checkout line. She was flustered and angry that she’d had to push the cart all by herself. What had I been doing for the past half hour? “Sorry, Mom,” I said with a cocky smile. “I was enjoying a little taste of manhood.”
The Subordinate Ethan Valencia On the lonely baseball field, I met Groundskeeper Donald. His harsh face was too familiar with the sun, and unfaltering as he told his subordinates You’ll be pulling weeds again today. Yes, sir. The man stood before me, no taller than any of us and perpetually stooped, but his words carried command and authority. He instructed us with a strict, stern voice Go get your buckets and get to work. Our troop of four knelt in the grass and labored under the oppressive heat of the sun. Sergeant Donald slowly circled us once, then marched away and inspected our work from a distance. He waved us in for a break in the refuge of the dugout. But not too long, he said. My boss is watching, and it’s my neck on the line if he sees you slacking. And the next day, Just don’t work too slow, Nathan, he said. My boss is watching, and I don’t want to get any trouble from him if you’re slacking. And the next week, Make sure you don’t pull any a-that ivy, he said. My boss is watching, And listen, I don’t want to get in trouble. Kneeling in the dirt, I looked up at him and brought my hand to my forehead like a salute. But it was only to shield my eyes from the sun. A weathered face, but no longer harsh. I’ll be careful, Donald, I assured him. Thanks, Nate.
Führerflies Jack Mimlitz
he smoke irritates my nostrils. “Come on, wussy. You can do it.” The dancing flames are not what frighten me. It’s the bright orange coals glowing underneath. “It’s not hard,” he says as he leaps over the bonfire again. So he says, but his brother didn’t fall face first into a barbeque pit last summer. Tim still wears bandages to cover the wound. A log breaks, sending little embers into the cold night sky and snapping me back into reality. Someone else careens through the smoke. He turns around, looks at me. Everybody’s watching me. Scout camp sucks.
Untitled Cao Qitong Your Countenance, beyond my poor remarks, A strange feeling of mine forces me to limn. Hence I could but make these select attempts And hope it makes your fairness not get dim. That Snow depicts your visage and your shade So pure as to crave care lest it should melt; Your mind and soul are rendered as the Jade, Artistically shaped, yet naturally built. As dulcet you’re as your name guar’nties: The Jade of Snow, ’tis ’pposed to be thus felt. I wonder what could spur intensities That twines me ’round a girl so fast, full-tilt.
Then I look up for def ’nition of Love, Your name’s not there so I add it above.
Heavy Rain Dominick Freeman
he wind on my face made my eyes water and parted my shaggy hair. I took another drag of the cigarette I was holding. I soared in the nicotine’s slow weightlessness but kept my deadpan, inquisitive look. “Enjoying yourself ?” Joe yelled to me over the wind rushing off the convertible’s windshield. I didn’t look at him but ashed to my right, outside the car. My brother Joe had just turned eighteen, and in celebration I came back from my sophomore year at Indiana University to visit. It was a long drive in my janky white ’89 Saturn four-door with its faulty transmission and novelty automatic seat belts. I leaned back: it was nice for someone else to be driving for once, and even nicer that Dad let us borrow his Corvette. He bought it “preowned,” as he liked to call it. I swear he loves it more than us. Mom used to get on his ass about keeping it in the garage and never using it, but the man needed a hobby. With few friends after his retirement, he needed something to distract him so he didn’t get back on the bottle. I looked over to Joe and saw him grinning and nodding his head to the rap music barely audible over the wind. He’d gotten much older since I’d last seen him. I always used to give him shit about his baby-face, but I guess puberty had caught up with him. “God, I forgot how much Belleville sucks ass,” I yelled. He grinned and looked over. “Nothing but meth and hookers. Same ol’, same ol’.” I smiled and looked to the side. Vast flats of brown grass flew past us, with the occasional barn-house. I pressed the top of my iPhone to see if I had gotten any texts from Erika. None. Shit. I smiled as the buzz got stronger, then took one last drag and threw
the cigarette out of the car, where it subsequently caught wind and flew into the back seat. “Damn it!” I scrambled to undo my belt buckle and leaned over the white leather seats. It was lying on the floor mat in the back. Thank God. I settled down back into my original position, heart pounding, and saw Joe laughing. “That’s not funny at all! Dad would kill me. Us.” I punched his shoulder to stop his obnoxious laughter but to no avail. When we were kids, our parents fought a lot. We would just hole up in the small playroom in our basement that was already cluttered with old toys. We had a wordless agreement to ignore the venomous insults being hurled through the thin walls. One time a loud crash was followed by silence, giving me chills. My dad came down into the basement and simply said, “Boys, we’re going out to eat tonight.” On the way to the car I saw Mom, red-faced, bent over, cleaning up bits of a ceramic lamp. When Mom died, the strategy changed, as Dad’s violent moments were unpredictable and there was no safe place in the house. Joe usually went to his friends’, and I to mine. I reflected on these memories from a cold distance. Since college I didn’t think much of my childhood. Hell, I didn’t think much of anything. I just thought of Erika, but I might have screwed that up, too. My head slammed into the side of Joe’s headrest as the car swerved. “What the hell was that?” “Sorry, you just looked too peaceful and tranquil,” Joe said through a smile. By the time we crossed the city line into Springfield, I had calmed down and was even a little excited for tonight. It had been a while since I had had some real fun. We pulled off the highway and into a Hooters parking lot. “Isn’t there going to be food at the party?” I asked.
“I don’t know. George is flaky. We’ll be lucky if there’s even a party.” He was right. George, our cousin, is a flaky fuck. He’s the only cousin we have on our mom’s side, and we first met him when I was ten and Joe was eight. George was nine, so it worked out pretty well. I remember we would take road trips in our Dodge minivan that was originally white but was covered with a layer of dirt and grime we were never able to clean. I have fond memories of those trips: we would leave around sunset, dinner already eaten and bags over-packed by my mom. Every once in a while it would be pouring rain, which made the drive infinitely better. I would curl up in a blanket, comforted by the safety of the car, and stare out the window at the lights reflecting off the wet black pavement. “Jesus Christ, Dave, are you just going to space out or talk to me? I haven’t seen you in like six months.” I snapped out of it. We were seated at a
table and Joe was scanning a menu. “What should I get, hmm?” He thought out loud: “How about a 16-oz. sirloin?” “No, you go right ahead, Joe. Pick the most expensive thing on the menu. Don’t worry about that. I’m paying for it, you cheap bastard.” I smiled. “Oh, I forgot. You’re really broke with that full ride to Indiana and all. You poor thing.” I laughed. “Whatever, so how’s Allie doing?” He laughed and brushed his chin. “Her? She was just a hookup.” “A legit model was just a hookup to you? Aren’t you the shit.” I rolled my eyes. “Well, how’s Erika, then? You fuck her yet?” I hesitated. “You didn’t, did you? Christ, Dave you’re a sophomore in college, and you still haven’t boned her. You guys have been going out for like twenty years.”
Parallel, photo by Carson Monetti
I sighed. “Five, and the time’s not right yet. Her parents are going through a divorce, and believe it or not, there’s more to life than sex and booze.” “You’re right. There’s Lax.” The waitress had come back with two waters. She was pretty; she had long jet-black hair and a dark complexion that didn’t look like the product of thirty spray-tans. She was tall and slender, with a nice face void of much makeup. It sucked that she was stuck working here. “I’ll have the bison burger,” I said, trying to be as polite as possible. “Yeah, I’ll take the twenty-piece wing meal, and throw in some blue-cheese sauce, would ya?” my brother said, not even looking up from the menu. When he handed it to her, he mumbled something inaudible that made her laugh and glance at me for a split second. He turned back toward me with a satisfied look on his face.
“You know you’re a douche, right?” I said to him. “You’ve been saying that for years now, but I just don’t see it.” I ignored the quick comeback and changed the subject. “How’s school treating you?” I asked with a smile, “Are you still the little shit-disturber you were when I left you?” Honestly, that wasn’t far from the truth. Throughout middle school, Joe had established a track record of consistent disruption of class and blatant lack of respect for his teachers. When my dad yelled at him about it, Joe played the victim. He would have you believe that his art teacher was a sadist who burned orphanages in her spare time and singled him out. In reality, she simply wanted him to shut up long enough for her to explain how to clean brushes. High school discipline hit him hard, though, as our dean was a shortly built man with a strong Napoleon
complex. I remember he told us one evening at dinner about how the dean manhandled him, and my dad paused. He put down his fork still full of pork-steak, looked my brother in the eye, said “About damn time someone did,” and continued eating. No one said anything else that dinner. “Not too bad. Second semester senior year, already checked out, ya know?” “How are your grades holding up?” “Not too shabby. It helps that I’m in math topics.” Joe smiled with his signature mischievous grin. “Are you kidding me? Joe, you’re the laziest person I know. You’re easily as smart as me, and you take a class where the only prerequisites are having a 64-pack of Crayolas and being able to sit in one place for fortyfive minutes without shitting your pants.” He busted out laughing and I followed suit, calming down fully only when the waitress came back with our food. We spent the majority of the meal watching the Blues game in silence broken only by Joe’s phone vibrating a text notification every couple minutes. I tried to ignore it by watching the game more intensely, even though it was a blowout in our favor. We finished eating and I paid the bill. We walked out into the twilight, and I looked up and saw storm clouds off in the distance. “We’re probably going to have to put the top on,” I sighed. “No, it’s fine. George’s place is barely ten minutes away. We can do it there.” I shrugged my shoulders and went with it. As we pulled away I could smell the impending rain in the air and feel the cool humidity as the wind whipped against my face. The sky was on fire: the sun broke through the gray storm clouds ahead of us and reflected off the white ones above us. I leaned my head against the headrest and gazed up. Erika and I had indeed been going out forever. A friend had a bonfire and invited a
bunch of kids from his youth group, and it was there that I first talked with Erika. We always had this strange idea throughout high school that, secretly, youth group girls were easy, but not Erika. Throughout high school she never once put out, and I never really had the gall to push her. When we decided to go to the same college, I expected we were far enough into our relationship to up the ante. I brought her to parties and tried to bring her into the spare beds, but she blew off all my advances with “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” always leaving me politely agitated. Eventually she just stopped going with me. Ultimately, she wanted me to stop going to the parties; she started critiquing my life. One night we were talking about it over a few drinks and I had enough. I said some nasty shit and I hadn’t heard from her since, despite the many texts and apology voicemails I sent. I probably deserved it. “We’re here.” Joe got out of the car before I could even respond, and I waited for a couple to pass my car door before I opened it and got out. I jogged across the street to catch up with Joe, and we both walked up to a chipped black plastic screen door under a cheap metal awning. I rang the doorbell and leaned against the railing, looking across to Joe and listening to the bass from the music deep inside of the house. The door squeaked open and a tan head popped out with messy bleach blond hair and a thin goatee. “Dave? Holy shit, it’s been years!” George ran up and bear-hugged me. “How are you doing, man?” I filled him in about my job, grades, and college life. Maybe I exaggerated my party experiences a bit. “The whole thing? Wow, that midget must have been really messed up,” a wideeyed George laughed with his high-pitched, irritating laugh. “Anyway, come on in! My casa is your casa.”
I stepped into the house and into his small living room. Three people were all crammed onto a small leather loveseat situated about five feet from a thirty-inch plasma screen playing a How I Met Your Mother rerun. I watched for a couple minutes then meandered down the hallway to where it opened up to a kitchen. George was pumping drinks from a keg in the middle of the linoleum. I smiled at him, and he thrust a drink into my hand while carrying on a conversation with someone else. I looked around but Joe was nowhere in sight. I did see an old high school classmate that I didn’t particularly care for who would nevertheless make decent conversation. Michael didn’t look too excited to see me either, but we made small talk, and after I had a few drinks we were hitting it off pretty well. “So dude, let’s be real,” I said to him. “How hot are the chicks down at SIU? As good as I hear?” Michael smiled, “Oh yes. And as of yesterday over half of them know what the back seat of a Cadillac MKZ looks like.” “Oh, so that was your car out there. I was wondering who would drive such class to a white trash party like this.” He laughed, “Yeah, this is pretty dumpy isn’t it? But then again, I didn’t peg George as a wine-and-cheese type guy.” “So you do anything crazy for Saint Patty’s Day? See any skin?” “No, believe it or not, this bronco’s been tamed.” Smiling, he shook his head. “Yup I just stayed in with the ol’ girlfriend and we watched a movie. I had to endure a romantic comedy and didn’t even get lucky at the end of the night.” “God, I know what that feels like,” I responded. “But no wild parties? C’mon, Mike, there are mistakes to be made, decisions to regret.” I made a whip-cracking noise. Mike grinned, “Hey, buddy, at least I’m still a bronco. You were never a horse to be-
gin with.” The alcohol amplified the terrible humor in that joke, and we both started laughing. A few minutes later I checked my phone, and I realized we had been talking for fortyfive minutes. Michael and I parted ways and I walked back to the living room where I saw Joe. I nodded to him, and he abruptly broke away from his conversation with a dumpylooking blonde with too much mascara and came over to me. “Thank God you came to get me out of there,” he said with an inebriated grin. “She looked a lot better from behind. C’mon.” I followed him as he slightly staggered through a white door in the hallway with a brass handle and down some creaky wooden stairs into the dimly lit basement. There was a ping-pong table in the center of the room with an intense game of beer pong in progress. I edged my way through the forming crowd to see George arc one into his opponent’s last remaining cup. Several people cried out in excitement. I smiled and surveyed the basement. I was surrounded by the loud, excited chatter of people barely able to stand. A couple was making out on the concrete floor of the basement and a man in a striped polo was on his knees dry heaving in a corner. I watched all of this with a curious disgust that consumed me until a loud yell jarred me back to reality. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I turned around to see a built man in a white V-neck making a bee line for Joe, who, a moment earlier, had evidently been making advances on a short, pretty brunette in a yellow sundress. Joe straightened and stared at the man with a smirk. The room was silent. “That’s my girlfriend, you douche,” the man yelled, his chest rising and falling in anger. “Oh shit!” George yelled, excitedly jumping around. “Joe, you going to take that?”
Joe just stood there and quickly snapped, “Dumbass. C’mon, Joe, you know bet“I feel sorry for you, dude. It took me eight ter,” Mike scolded him. “Show some respect.” beers to find her attractive.” “I don’t need your lectures,” Joe replied. The man swung and punched Joe in We kept on walking, and I put my arm the temple. The dull thud of bone on bone around Joe’s shoulder to steady his wobble. hit echoed around the concrete walls as Joe By the time we reached the car, the full gravstumbled over, but I was ality of what had just happened ready halfway across the room finally sunk in. I walked Joe to before he hit the ground. Sevthe passenger’s side of the car eral people pulled the man and stepped back to look at his back only after he got a few face. kicks on Joe, while I scram“I’m fine,” he mumbled. bled to get over to my broth“Shut up,” I said. “Stop er. I pulled Joe’s arm to help moving.” him up, and he attempted to Swelling had started above lash out immediately upon his right eye, but he was fine getting his footing. It was tofor the time being. I walked tal commotion as I tried to around the front of the car and restrain Joe and others tried heard him heave himself onto to restrain the man as both the passenger’s seat. I sat down cursed at each other. As I held in the driver’s side next to him, back Joe’s arms, I saw George exhausted. standing next to the people I “Why do you have to go saw earlier on the couch, all and do stupid shit like that?” I drunkenly laughing at the enasked him. suing violence. After some ef“Whatever. It wasn’t my fort, I finally pulled Joe next fault. She was shooting me to me. looks and she knew it.” “C’mon, Joe,” I said in his “Imagine how she feels. ear. “Let it go.” You don’t even care, do you?” He reluctantly let me lead I yelled. him up away from the noise “Nope,” Joe said, lighting of the basement, through the up one of my cigarettes. hallway and out the screen We sat there, wordless. I door. Mike was standing outlooked back toward the house side talking on his phone, and waved to Mike before he which he put down when he went inside. Then I glanced saw us. to the right of me and saw a “Holy shit, dude! What bruised Joe, reclined, taking a print by David Greaves happened?” drag of a cigarette he didn’t buy. “I was dripping my swag and a hater “Keep the pack,” I said. He mumbled showed up,” Joe said, half-laughing in a de- something inaudible in reply. Looking up, I lirious voice. saw black clouds in the sky. I sighed and got “He was hitting on this dude’s girlfriend, out of the car to put up the top as I felt the and the dude got pissed,” I explained. first drizzle of rain hit my head.
Without House or Holding Gabe Miller leave the place for it no longer holds no dust on the bench slowly it folds no chairs on the floor no spit on the mirror no marks on the door no broken chandelier no fruit in the bowl no books on the shelf the dumpster is full itâ€™s full of itself you lay down and decided to die
To See as God Does Wisdom Akpan The breeze rustles the sleeves of my windbreaker. Benevolent billows of air cover me as I gaze down at the frantic world below. As a scientist observing an insectarium I inspect the throngs of people moving far beneath my brick perch. Like foraging termites, people move briskly up and down the sidewalks, Walking with purpose as if they have somewhere worthy of rushing to go. If only they knew how short their lives were; And how soon it could all be over, They wouldn’t storm the floors of this brick and steel forest everyday Futilely searching for fulfillment in things that can be touched. If only they knew, then maybe once in a while they would pause and greet someone, just say howdy to the meter maid or the street sweeper. Perhaps they would tell their kids they love them a bit more often. Maybe they’d stop and stand still, so still they could hear the gentle breeze, a breeze strong enough to rustle your jacket, yet soft enough that you’d have to stop thinking about everything for a moment just let it all go and allow nature speak to you. My cell phone begins to beep. And I turn around to the door that will lead me down from the roof. photo by
La Bataille Difficile Sam Fentress Within a ghastly corridor Of grief beyond compare, There lies a tired troubadour Whose sorrows wallow there.
Now of the pallid songs he sings There is not one so real As one he spun of truth that stings, la Bataille Difficile.
He sings a lonely nightingale And sleeps a wintry bear, And though his voice begins to fail, He gives it not a care.
I visited the withered one, and so he said to me, “I’ll tell you all, my boy, my son, if you but sit with me.”
His hands, they tell of apathy, His feet are barely there, But still he grants no sympathy; he has not much to spare.
He tells, in rhymes, of trips and falls, Of petty trickery, His verses trapped within the walls Of human fallacy.
And so within his morbid cell, his lips, now chapped, begin a story of our endless hell, a fight we cannot win.
“So ask yourself,” says lonely bard, “How can we stop ourselves?” And then he grabs the prison guard and breaks a couple shelves.
“The subtle structure of our minds Is set at firing pace— If only we could find the time— To ’liminate the race.”
He grabs my hand, and soft cracked skin is chafed across mine own, and as he runs I see his legs, the growth not fully grown.
“To sit and think and look around would be a luxury, But in a world that’s filled with sound, All life’s a vagary.”
The men, he hits most every one who blocks his angry path, and by the time that we are done he’s settled in his wrath.
And so that tired troubadour, Whose soul is black as gold, Has yet one thing, but one thing more, Of which he has not told.
He takes me out, up to a cliff where winds do whip and wail, and while in tow, I catch a whiff of lonely boat and sail.
“Within my prison, old and bare, there’s naught to do but think. My thoughts with you I ought to share if you will stay a wink.”
A time he spends to gaze and dream upon the salty air, He looks at me, his eyes not mean but starting to despair.
I reason that I’ll stay awhile With he who knows not sleep, but then I glimpse a crooked smile; my trust is not so deep.
“Why must life end, my boy, my son? What difference does it make? And does life change if you’re the one Whose life I now shall take?”
“Our minds are weak, and yet they’re strong, if we can use them well, if not, then we may find us wrong or trapped within a cell.”
And then he says sporadically, “It’s time to meet your end!” His eyes are blazing radically, as life he does expend.
The Perfect Choice
obbie leaned on his elbows and stood beside the railing, staring at the jet of water that thrashed its way out of the fountain. His ears were deadened to the constant roar of the water, and after a while he barely felt the cold mist coating his face. He and Maggie had come here too many times; it had become their place. He remembered the inexplicable anger in his chest that
came every time strangers decided it was their right to be there as well. Once, Maggie was leaning on the railing as Robbie was doing now, and he couldn’t help but stare at her. “This is our ‘wish-pool’,” she said. “Everything I wanted came true right here.” She turned her head and smiled at Robbie; he knew they were both recalling the same night. They had been at the fountain alone with each other, and Robbie had asked her to be his girlfriend. That night was the previous summer, ten months earlier. Now the air was cold: too cold for the
month of May, and much colder than it had been on that perfect night. Robbie spat into the fountain and watched it plop onto the surface. It had been nearly two months since he’d seen Maggie. He wanted to talk things out with her, own up to the fact that he’d screwed up. Some wish-pool, he thought. He had heaved countless coins into the water, trying to get his wish. The fountain had swallowed them and given him nothing in return; he always ended up alone here. He wanted to be alone, but only if he were alone with Maggie. A chill welled in his stomach, and he shivered lightly, shaking the damp hair out of his eyes. This had been their fountain: their place. Its cold spray and constant roar would continue regardless of whether or not they were here to watch it.
obbie rubbed his eyes; they ached and strained as he pulled the bright light of his cell phone into focus. He cleared his throat and squinted at the screen: 3:12 in the morning. Two new messages. He opened them and forced his mind to wake up and recognize the words. ‘hey u.. parents r out for the weekend, wana meet up?’ Maggie had sent it at 1:04. Next message: ‘come outside.’ From 3:12. Robbie coughed and scratched his head. Maggie had been talking about a “late-night adventure” for a couple months; this must be the night. He smiled and swung his feet onto the carpet. The streetlight glowed through the open window, and the warm, summernight breeze snatched at his curtains. He pushed his wispy hair out of his face and made his way to the windowsill. It would make a grinding noise if opened incorrectly; Robbie latched his hands underneath it and pulled toward himself. He grabbed his tennis shoes and held their laces as he climbed out onto the roaring AC unit and leapt barefoot into the grass. His toes sunk into the mushy ground as he walked. Maggie was leaning la-
zily on the wooden fence, swinging her arm back and forth. She saw him and smiled. “Hey!” she whispered. “You made it.” They kissed over the fence. Robbie could feel his toes buried in the chilled ground. Everything in the neighborhood was silent, asleep. Dead, maybe. Not them, though. He pulled back slowly and tucked a few loose stands of hair behind her ear. “I made it,” he said, smiling. His voice sounded distant; his ears were still waking up. “Where are we going?” Maggie propped her head on her hands, staring up at him as he mashed his feet into the worn-out tennis shoes. He could see the streetlight in her eyes. “We own this town, buddy.” She gave his cheek a gentle nuzzle with her fist. “We can go wherever we want.” “Until we run out of gas.” “Sshhhh…” She laid her finger on his lips and smiled. “We won’t worry about that.” She reached over and opened the gate, which swung loosely on its hinges. “After you, sir.” She stretched her arm out, inviting him out of his own backyard and into the silent neighborhood. The gate swung closed behind them as they walked to Maggie’s car. She had parked two houses away from Robbie’s to avoid waking his parents. She grabbed his hand and wove her fingers between his. “So, where are you taking me?” he asked with mock suspicion. She gazed at the glassy sky as she walked. “Hmm…I was thinking somewhere with a view.” Her eyes shifted to meet his. Those beautiful green eyes seemed to produce their own light against the shadows on her face. She arched her eyebrows and gave him her signature smile, revealing a set of small, perfect teeth. “General’s Lookout?” she asked hopefully. General’s Lookout was a steep, rocky bluff overlooking a rolling expanse of fields. It was a “couples spot” where teenagers came to feel the wind on their faces.
Robbie enjoyed keeping her waiting, building the suspense. She leaned her head on his shoulder as they neared her car. “General’s Lookout,” he said, kissing her forehead.
obbie entered Maggie’s house with surprising shyness. An hour earlier, he had been standing in the doorway of his closet, waiting to be dazzled by a shirt that would seem appropriate for a visit to Maggie’s parents. He settled on a red Polo; it was Christmas, after all. No shirt would help distract from his hair, however: it was overgrown, draped onto the bridge of his nose. He sighed and swept it sideways with his palm. Maggie’s house was cleaner than usual. He’d been here often, but tonight it smelled of cinnamon rather than laundry. He was an overwhelmed by a wave of noise: voices, music, plates and silverware. It sounded like a carnival. Maggie’s family was much larger than his own; his family reunions consisted of quiet conversations among ten or fifteen people. Maggie dragged him by the hand into the kitchen and barked to her mother over the commotion. “Mom, Robbie’s here!” Maggie’s mother appeared from around the corner, carrying a half-emptied wine bottle. She wore a flustered expression; there were nearly forty people in her house. “Oh, hello, Robbie! Having a good Christmas?” “Yes, I am! Thanks for having me over,” Robbie said with a smile. She returned his smile. “You’re always welcome, dear. Plenty of food to go around, so help yourself!” She poured wine into the glass of a man with large glasses and disappeared into the next room, humming to herself. Maggie turned to him. “We can go down to the basement.” It sounded like a question, but she took his hand and led him confidently toward the basement door. “Shouldn’t we stay up here for a little bit?
Your whole family’s up here.” She glanced around her. “Nah. They won’t notice if we’re around or not.” He had brought a present for her, though they had agreed that having each other was enough. Robbie slid it out of his coat pocket and handed it to her: a small, framed picture of them, taken near the fountain where they had started dating nearly five months earlier. He had stopped a stranger and asked her to take the picture; he was glad he had, too. It was perfect: Maggie’s arms around his neck, her face nothing but a radiant smile, eyes flashing. It was almost difficult to give it up. Maggie clutched the picture and stared down at it, her caramel hair swinging against her neck. “This is beautiful, Robbie. Thank you.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “I don’t have anything for you, though.” She sounded disappointed, as if he had revealed her failure. “Oh, it’s all right.” Their noses brushed. “Don’t worry about it.” He ran his finger along her nose and kissed her.
hey had been on the couch for about half an hour, Robbie thought. Maybe more. He didn’t know, nor did he want to check the clock above Maggie’s TV. It was never right, anyway. He pressed his lips harder against hers and felt the curvature of her pulsing chest under his fingers. She sank deeper into the couch, pulling him closer to her body. Her fingers were tangled into his hair, racing along his scalp. Robbie could feel her leading him; his lips, his arms, his body. He pulled his head away from hers and sat up slightly, sliding his arms toward himself. He regretted it immediately; there would be no recovering from this. Why had he stopped? Maggie watched him with waiting eyes. Her chest rose and fell quickly, and her shirt jumped with each beat of her heart. She raised her eyebrows as she gathered her hair
into her hands and pulled it behind her neck. “Something wrong?” He rubbed his palms together slowly. “No, I’m fine.” Not fine. He was aware of everything around him once again. “Maggie?” “Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “Is this okay?” Confusion leaked onto her face. “This… All the stuff we do. Is it all right?” He looked around the room, surprised by how difficult it was to look at her. “For me it is.” He could feel her eyes trying to meet his. He stared at the computer desk instead, studying it. The picture he had given her for Christmas was there, beside the keyboard. It hadn’t been moved since it had been placed there nearly two months earlier. He turned to look at her as she leaned up toward him.
“There’s nothing wrong, Robbie,” she whispered. He watched himself in her eyes, dancing with distorted reflections. This was how she saw him. “We’re fine.” She snaked her arms around him and pulled him down into the couch.
att’s house was a disaster; everyone who knew had invited everyone who didn’t know. Robbie looked across the room: Maggie was leaning against the far wall, chattering with a group of girls. Half the kids in the house were drunk, and more were just getting started. Next to Robbie, a girl from the grade below him was sprawled across most of the couch, sleeping with her mouth open. Music blared from the rattling speakers of a boom box atop the TV. A camera flashed somewhere in the other
room; two freshman girls who’d had their share of booze were meandering around, snapping blurry photos with any older boy who would stop to pose. Robbie and Maggie had decided to stay sober tonight after a close call with the parents of a party-host the previous weekend. Maggie caught his eye and blew him a kiss from across the room. He smiled at her, and she returned to her conversation. Someone wrapped his arms around Robbie’s neck and nuzzled his scalp with his fist. “Guess who!” Robbie recognized Jake’s sing-song voice immediately. “Cut it out, Jake!” He ducked out of Jake’s grip and pushed away. Jake laughed. “I’m playin’. You look like a dog, man. Get a haircut!” Robbie shook the hair from his face. “I will, I will. Later.” “Now!” Jake grabbed Robbie and began using finger-scissors on his head until Robbie shoved him away. He couldn’t help his laughter, though; they had grown up together, but Jake had been slow to mature. “How’s the missus?” asked Jake, plopping himself down next to a sleeping girl’s head. He patted her lightly on the back and grinned. “She’ll be just fine in a day or so,” he said in a medical tone. Robbie chuckled. “‘The ‘missus’ is all right, I guess.” “‘All right…I guess?’” Jake spoke slowly and deliberately, as if he were trying to teach a toddler to repeat the phrase. “Yeah, I mean…” Robbie glanced across the room; Maggie had left the girls. She’d probably gone upstairs again. “I don’t know. It’s just getting a little weird, I guess.” Jake frowned and examined the bottom of an empty beer can. “How so, my lad?” “Well, just little things.” Robbie watched the doorway and waited for the next camera flash before continuing. “All she ever wants to do is the physical stuff. I don’t really spend much time with her anymore.” He cleared
his throat. “Quality time, I mean.” Jake motioned frantic scribbling and stroked his chin in mock-thought. “Yes, yes. Do continue, Robert. Do continue.” Robbie folded his arms and rocked on his feet. “She tells me she loves me a lot. Like, all the time. Really. I guess I don’t know whether or not to believe her anymore.” “Well, do you love her?” Jake was abruptly serious. Robbie ran his hand through his hair and felt Jake’s expectant gaze. “Honestly?” “Honestly.” “No, I don’t.” He was surprised by the finality in his own voice. “I don’t feel much anymore, really. All she wants to do is make out and see how far she can push my limits.” He cracked his neck and continued to spill the complaints he didn’t know he had. “We don’t talk much anymore. If I break off a kiss, she gets mad.” Jake cleared his throat. “Not openly mad, though; it’s the ‘whatthe-hell’ kind of thing that makes me feel like the bad guy.” Jake cleared his throat again. “I just haven’t felt much for a while, and I don’t see it going anywhere, honestly. It’s bound to end soon.” Had he said that out loud? Jake cleared his throat once more, unnaturally this time. “Wow.” Robbie heard her and turned rapidly. Maggie stood in front of him with tears brimming in her eyes. He saw something in them: anger? Pain, maybe? He’d never seen it before. “I guess you were just gonna drop me one day? Just like that?” “Maggie. Come on.” What could he say? Nothing would detract from what had already been said. “Nope.” She shook her head and her hair fell, swaying in front of her eyes. “You’re a jerk, Robbie. You know that?” A tear slid
along her nose until she stopped it with her finger. “Maggie, I’m sorry. Can we talk? I didn’t mean that stuff, really.” He moved to hug her and felt his face grow hot when she pushed his arms down. “Either you leave, or I leave.” Robbie suddenly felt stupid, standing there in front of her. He looked away and shrugged. “Can we talk?” “I’m leaving.” She flicked her hair behind her, wiped her eyes, and strode rigidly into the other room. The camera flashed, followed by a burst of laughter. Robbie dug his hands into his pockets and cleared his throat. “Shit.” Of all the things he could have been saying? This. He felt Jake’s arm across his shoulders. “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t want to say anything, but I tried to let you know.” “Where did she even come from?” Robbie’s mind swam with confusion. “She just popped out between those two kids.” Jake motioned over his shoulder. “Terrible timing, too; you were talking about her temper.” Robbie ran his fingers through his hair and tugged on a fistful of it. “What the hell did I do, Jake?” He slumped onto the couch and stared blankly at a red cup on the table in front of him, half-empty. After a minute, he reached.
obbie wouldn’t leave Jake alone until he agreed to drive to Maggie’s house. “Robbie, you’re drunk. Just wait until tomorrow.” He slapped Jake’s shoulder and laughed. “You know it’s not gonna make a difference!” Jake pushed his hand away, and Robbie turned to the couch for support, nearly stumbling onto the sleeping girl. “Okay, Jake. Okay. How ’bout this? You take me there,” he patted Jake’s stomach, “and then you can come back, and you can get pictures with all
those girls in there. You know you want to.” He winked and nudged Jake’s arm. “Robbie, really. You don’t want this. Trust me.” He pushed Robbie’s shoulder down, but his legs wouldn’t give. “Just sit down for a while.” Robbie glanced at the sleeping girl. “Next to her?” He bent down and stared at her face. “Maybe she’ll be good for something, for a change.” “Nothing good is gonna come from this, Robbie. You know that, right?” Robbie wasn’t listening. “Nope.” He shook his head. “Nope. You’re gonna get your car, and we’re gonna go.” He grabbed the couch’s arm to steady himself. Jake heaved a sigh. “This is your choice, not mine.” He reached into his pocket and flipped his keys around his fingers. “So don’t blame me.” He turned and led the way to the door.
en minutes later, Jake’s car coasted to a stop in front of Maggie’s house. “Don’t do this, man. Not tonight.” Robbie shook his head vigorously. “It’s gotta happen, Jake.” He grabbed the handle on the door and pushed it open with his foot. “Robbie, hold on a minute.” Jake turned the key, and the car’s engine sputtered into silence. Robbie leaned against the door and stared past him. “Please don’t do this. The only reason I’m here is because I know you’d be stupid enough to drive yourself. Just let things cool down.” Robbie stood for a moment, examining Jake’s face, then shut the door slowly. He leaned his body against it until it latched closed and made his way to Maggie’s porch, stepping carefully. He steadied himself against the railing and raised his arm to knock, not caring how late it was. The door opened before he could make contact. “I knew you’d be here.” Maggie glared at him. “You’re drunk, aren’t you?”
“No.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I’m fine.” “You’re drunk. I’m done with you.” Her jaw tightened. “I think you should leave.” Something like a grin snaked its way onto Robbie’s face. “Nahhh.” He gripped the railing tighter. “I think you should start caring about me.” “Robbie, I do care. I’m not talking to you about this while you’re drunk.” He moved his hand to the door. “Yes, you are. You’re doing it right now. Why not finish it?” His hair fell into his eyes; he didn’t bother brushing it away this time. There was nothing here that he hadn’t seen before. “Why are you being such a jerk all of a sudden?” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “I didn’t do anything to you.” “Exactly!” He wagged his finger at her. “That’s the point. You’ve never done anything for me.” A tear leaked out of her eye. “That’s not what I said.” “Well, then you should’ve said it, ’cause it’s true.” She wrapped her arms around herself as tears began to fall faster. “Robbie, what’s
wrong? What did I do to deserve this?” He could feel it coming. “I don’t even care about you anymore. All you care about is this”—he pointed to his groin—“and not this,” he said, pointing to his head. “You’ve never given half a shit about who I am. You lead me around like a dog. You push me when I want to stop.” She closed her eyes, fruitlessly trying to block him out. Tears streaked along her shirt. “You never ask me what I wanna do. Never, ‘Oh, Robbie, let’s talk and laugh and care about each other’; it’s always, ‘Oh, Robbie, let’s lay on this couch, here, and suck each other’s faces off.’” He put more of his weight against the door. “I’m done. You hear me?” She bit her bottom lip to prevent it from trembling. “’Cause you’re insensitive. And you never loved me. You don’t even know what that means, I bet.” A biting sting seared his cheek. The sound of her hand against his face seemed to echo against every neighboring house. She disappeared into her house, and the glass door began to creep closed. Robbie’s knuckles ached from gripping the railing. Maggie reappeared and held something out at arm’s length. A picture frame. Their
picture. “You want this?” She blinked tears from her eyes, now swollen from crying. “I don’t.” Robbie stared at her blankly. He couldn’t think. “No?” She waited, her arm outstretched. He didn’t move. She blinked another tear out of her eye and hurled the frame against the concrete beneath her. Robbie felt fragments of glass strike his shoes and cringed as the noise faded from his mind. Maggie pulled the glass door closed and continued to watch him until the wooden door came between them. He heard the deadbolt slide and click. Then, nothing.
hey had wandered away from their friends, making their way slowly toward nowhere in particular. Robbie’s heart hammered against his ribcage; he knew it was coming. They would stop somewhere, and he would face her, talking casually, waiting for the right moment. Then he would ask. He walked with his hands in his pockets, fidgeting nervously with his keys, poking his finger in and out of the key-ring. Maggie had a graceful way of walking. Her head stayed at the same level, regardless of what her feet were doing. He could feel her gradually moving closer to him as they walked, aimlessly placing one foot in front of the other. He turned to look at her. “You wanna check out the fountain?” His face flushed; that was stupid. She brushed against him, and their fingers touched. “Sure,” she said, smiling. Her eyes met his; they were a beautiful shade of olive green, seeming always to catch the light, no matter how dull it was.
They arrived at the railing of the fountain. Robbie felt the chilled vapor from the water-spout settling on his face. Maggie leaned gently on her forearms and stared into the water. She had a hint of a smile on her face; did she know, too? Robbie shifted a bit closer to her and exhaled slowly, then turned to her. “Hey, Maggie?” She turned her head; the vapor on her hair caught the light and formed a bright lining. She waited expectantly, holding him within her gaze. “I’m not very good at this kind of stuff, so I’ll just say it.” She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth slightly, hiding a smile. “I really like you, Maggie.” He pushed his hair back, out of his face. “And I really want to get to know you better.” He saw the eagerness in her eyes as she waited confidently for what he was about to say. “So, will you go out with me?” “Definitely!” Robbie saw her smile grow across her face as she sprung toward him and wrapped her arms around him. He held her and breathed a sigh, feeling his racing heart returning to its normal pace. “I really like you too, Robbie.” She buried her face into his shoulder. Robbie held her tightly and watched the fountain’s vapor dance around in chaos beneath the moon. She brought her face up to his, their noses nearly touching. “This is all I want,” she whispered, staring into his eyes. He studied the colors around her pupils and smiled at her. He had made the perfect choice.
Checkmate Matt Lickenbrock
You tricked me when you made your move And now there is no turning back. As if you’ve something to prove, You play the queen, a slant attack. What I had tried to remedy You’ve trapped, but haven’t destroyed, And I, the pawn, cannot go free Till every piece you have deployed. My ignorance is bound to show, And though I don’t know much, it’s true, I think I’ve learned enough to know There’s many like me, but none like you. So as you go to claim your throne, remember this: when the game ends Don’t think that I’ll end up alone. A queen has tricks, a pawn has friends. photo by
Lesson One Drew Holtmann
kay, sir, your total will be twenty-one dollars.” The man, in about his sixties, looked up from his wallet and stared me in the eye. “Twenty-one dollars?” He rubbed his balding head. “You gotta be kidding me!” His voice shook with both astonishment and age. “Damn!” he turned to his wrinkled wife and, almost shouting, continued, “You’re an expensive date! You better put out tonight.” Without any hesitation, the woman replied, “I always do, don’t I?” She took off her thick glasses and leaned into her husband for a brief kiss. I dropped my mouth a little and stared at them. It was one of those terrible things that you just can’t shut your eyes on—like a fiery explosion or a bloody scene from the Saw series. I noticed the man’s remaining gray hairs plastered around his spotted head as his frail hand flicked a credit card through the hole in my glass window. I left the card there, still staring agape at the woman’s wrinkles that curled around every feature in her face. For less than a second my mind wandered to my grandparents’ outdated bedroom. These two strangers lay motionless on the queen-sized bed on top of the yellow quilt. I forced the thought out of my head before the couple began to move. The woman’s voice croaked without embarrassment, “I think he heard us.” No shit lady. I’m surprised half the lobby didn’t hear you. I kept the thought to myself as I forced a smile and swiped the man’s card. “Heh, sorry, kid,” the man told me, showing off his yellowing teeth. I pushed them their tickets, and they left without another word. I turned off my microphone and threw
my headset on the pink counter. “Son of a bitch,” I said slowly with disbelief. “Add another ’tard to today’s list.” “Did that really just happen?” Jen asked from the drawer next to me, still staring at the spot where the couple stood just a second ago. “That’s... that’s just gross. We don’t need to hear that. Are people just that retarded?” “Unfortunately, yes.” I put my hands up over my eyes as if to wipe the image from my memory. “I don’t know who’s worse tonight: them or the people smoking weed in house five earlier.” “We still have five hours of this shit. There could still be more.” “I don’t think anything could be more gross than that,” I naively replied. That night proved me wrong; a normal shift just wasn’t in my fortune. But then again, no shift at Ronnie’s is “normal.” Just an hour later our manager, Luke, came crashing into the box office with some news. “You guys aren’t going to believe what we just found in game room,” he huffed. “What’s that?” I asked, somewhat interested. “No, I want you to guess,” he said with his arms out wide and a smile on his dull face. I thought to myself, If we aren’t going to believe it, how are we going to be able to guess it? but I played his stupid game anyway. “Another pair of pants or underwear?” I guessed. “No, better.” His grin widened. “Another pregnancy test?” “No, something we actually haven’t seen before.” His face got wider still. “A baggie full of cocaine?” Jen sarcastically guessed. “Ha, come on Jen,” Luke laughed. “Okay, it’s not as good as some coke. But we all know that if I found a bag of cocaine on the floor it would go right into my pocket and that I wouldn’t tell a soul.” I laughed because I knew he wasn’t kidding. “No, so I’m walking into the game room, and I say to Andrea,
‘What smells like shit in here?’ and she’s like, ‘I don’t know,’ and then... ha... then she looks down by where I’m standing and yells, ‘Oh my God! That shit smells like shit!’ And so I look down, and right there by the Wheel of Fortune game is a pile of shit! On the game room floor! It was the funniest thing!” he exclaimed as he slapped the counter. “What made it better, though, is that there was a little kid there who heard it all go down, who looked at us like he’d never heard the ‘s word’ in his life.” After making sure that he was done, I asked, “Well, how’d it get there?” “That’s what makes it even better! We don’t know. It’s just there!” “What’s wrong with people? Is everyone just retarded today?” Jen asked with disbelief. “Hey Jen, people are retarded everyday,” Luke laughed and pulled the door, leaving box in a rush to find a new audience. Jen laughed. “People are retarded everyday. I can’t believe how stupid people can be.” “Ha, I have this plan,” I told her, “that if it ever gets to the point where they let me train a newbie, I’m just going to show him the window and tell him to look at all the people. And he’ll be lookin’ out a crowded line. And after a good amount of time I’ll ask him what he sees.” Jen looked at me, confused. “And whatever answer he tells me, I’m just going to scream wrong! And then I tell him that what he sees is a bunch of retards. That’s lesson one. Everyone who comes into Ronnie’s 20 Cinema is retarded.” “Haha,” Jen cackled. “It’s so true, though!” The night moved on and the seven o’clock rush hit. In a few minutes, Jen and I had a line halfway down the queue. We worked quickly, trying to move the people through the maze as quickly as possible. We worked not so that the people could get to their movie on time, but so that the line
would disappear and we could continue our conversation. Then it happened without warning. “Ma’am, the last window is available.” I raised my hand, trying to get the next woman’s attention, but the lady in a red coat continued to stare into space. “I can help you out down here, ma’am.” I started waving my hand around, stretching myself up on the counter to hail her over to me. “Over here! Last window’s available.” In frustration I turned off my microphone, keeping one arm raised, and turned to Jen who was in the middle of a transaction next to me, “What, is this lady retarded or something? Come on, we have a line.” Jen stayed focused on her customer though, so my complaint went without an audience. As a last resort, I banged my fist against the glass window until I got her attention. She turned her face with a blank look, and began to limp towards me. Every single one of her steps seemed like a struggle, as her right foot stomped while her left dragged behind. As she approached, I noticed her big forehead and brow that pushed down on her eye sockets, giving the woman a forlorn demeanor. She spoke very slowly, enunciating every syllable in her deep monotonic voice, “One tick-et for Cour-age-ous, pl-ease.” I looked at her downcast blue eyes. “Ten-fifty, please.” She opened her coat and pulled out a wad of bills from her pocket and set them on the counter. One by one she took a bill in her thin hands and put it about two inches from her eyes to view its worth. When she had finally found the twenty, she slipped her whole hand through the window and held it in her palm for me to grab. I gingerly plucked the twenty, revealing her impaired hand below. Her thumb seemed to clutch to the palm of her hand while her fingers bundled themselves together.
Then I felt my chin quiver like it usually does when I become nervous or feel guilty. I quickly printed her ticket and retrieved her change from my drawer to find that her hand still rested on the counter. Now it was twitching sporadically, as though she had to concentrate to keep her hand open for me. “Okay, ma’am. Enjoy your show,” I told her as I pressed the bills into her hand over her thumb. “Thank you,” she mumbled as she dumped her change into the coat’s pocket. Jerking to her left, she turned and continued her blank limp to the theater. After she left I took a step back from my
counter even though we had a line. I rubbed my face and leaned on my open cash drawer. Jen finished off a customer and turned toward me. “What was her problem?” she asked me blankly. “Did you see her?” “No, what was wrong with her?” I looked down and paused for a moment. On the outside a tall man in a hood approached Jen’s window. “You got someone,” I said, pointing at the man. Jen turned back towards the glass and began a transaction. I stepped towards my own drawer and waved at the line. “I can help the next person.”
Letters Austin Strifler
He wrote a letter To a broken soul And wanted nothing more than to make it whole. To one more year he made a toast: “Happy Birthday, I love you most.” He wrote a letter To a broken soul That was miles away fighting to float Punctured by hate which then filled the hole “Wish you were here, I miss you the most.” He wrote a letter To a shattered soul A sunken ship with a fractured hull. His hands shook as he marked the grave with a rose. “Out of all that I knew, you knew me the most.” He wrote a letter To his source of life. He prayed she would make it through the dark night. But her rosary was wrapped around a hospice bed post. “Out of all that I loved, you loved me the most.” He wrote a letter To a broken world And let his best-kept secret unfurl. His life turned cold and punches were thrown. “Being hated for love is what really hurts the most.” He wrote a letter To those that spat in his face. They called his love sinful and his life a disgrace, But it’s how he was born, not something he chose. “Being hated for love is what really hurts the most.” He wrote a letter To those who didn’t understand Why he took a knife to his wrists and hands Though he felt no pain when in blood he was soaked “Being hated for struggling is what hurts the most.”
He wrote a letter To those that knew all too well What it’s like to be the devil in your own little hell. They cover the pan with jackets and coats “Seeing you hurt yourself is what really hurts the most.” He wrote a letter To himself Ready for the bloody voyage out of his hell First he swallowed twenty more than the recommended dose. “I deserve to die, it’s what I want the most.”
He wrote a letter To the few that still cared His mind said living in this hell wasn’t fair. As he grasped the ice-cold blade, he wrote “I know this is selfish, and you love me the most.”
Opium of the People Brendan McEnery
t smelled of alcohol. The hand sanitizer dripped from its translucent plastic shell into Isaiah’s hands, and he rubbed the gel into his palms with relish. The excess dribbled down to his wrist, staining his cuffs. After wringing his hands a few more times for precaution’s sake, Isaiah turned off the engine of his Kia and pushed open the door. He surveyed the parking lot with obvious dismay. It was a hot September day, and heat waves roiled off of the black tar. Careful not to scuff his shoes on the pavement, he walked across the lot to the dismal concrete steps that led into the main building. Isaiah was not fond of elementary schools, and he found this one particularly unsavory. Everything about it bred an aura of dinginess. The grass perimeter of the building was unkempt, the bushes dried and yellow, and the lawn itself more dirt and weeds than actual grass. The bricks of the building were chipped and scraped; one of the window screens was missing. The teaching staff was no doubt incompetent. Isaiah curled his lip. He had no idea why Clifford had asked him to drive Bobby. His brother knew very well that Isaiah did not like children, and he also must have known that having to chauffeur his nephew to a soccer game would irritate Isaiah. He had bought Bobby an expensive bike helmet for his birthday a couple months ago; he sent him notes and cards regularly; he even dragged the child through a spectacular exhibition at the History Museum to celebrate the Fourth of July. Did Clifford want him to raise the kid for him? “Oh, come on, Izzy, just go to his soccer game. He likes seeing you there. It’ll be fun. You two will bond.”
He had called him Izzy, too. Isaiah hated that name. Even as a child he preferred Isaiah. He remembered those spring mornings when he was only six or seven, when he would already be busy practicing his addition for the day’s home-schooled math lesson with his mother. Clifford would come running down the stairs, every step a hollow, heavy thump that distracted Isaiah from the tranquility of fourteen and six is twenty. “Mom, the neighbors are starting a soccer game. Can I go out and play?” Their mother kneaded her forehead. “Yes, but be quiet. Isaiah is doing his math.” Clifford giggled. “I get to go play and you have to do stupid school, Izzy!” “My name is Isaiah!” His voice had a slight lisp to it back then. “Clifford,” their mother said, “leave Isaiah alone. In a couple years you’ll be old enough to start lessons, too.” “No, I won’t! I’m gonna be a soccer star when I’m as old as Isaiah and I’m gonna go all over the world and I’m gonna win games and I won’t need any dumb math!” The rest of day saw Isaiah working through his math and spelling with little zest. The usually tranquil metronome provided by their grandfather clock’s quiet ticking was punctuated by the muffled screeches and giggles from outside the house. Even the rattling and clinking of the chain link fence as the boys climbed to retrieve a lost ball pierced through the smothering walls that enclosed Isaiah. The memory left a sour taste in Isaiah’s mouth although he knew it had been foolish to envy Clifford for his antics. Whereas Isaiah’s focus had led him to a prestigious position in a well-renowned architecture firm years later, Clifford’s games had only earned his younger brother the right to live vicariously through Bobby’s youth soccer league. Marx was wrong. Religion was not the opium of the masses; childishness was.
After checking in at the school’s office, and grimly tolerating a shrill-voiced secretary who chewed her bubble gum too noisily, Isaiah made his way into the long main hall. As he passed a porcelain drinking fountain on his way to Bobby’s classroom, he tried not to imagine the dirt and gum and God knows what else that surely covered its bottom rim. Instead he focused his attention to the beige wall—who paints a wall beige? It’s a school, not a prison—and the kindergarten artwork that adorned it. A row of finger paintings served as the central masterpieces. Isaiah almost reached for his hand sanitizer again. What did children find appealing about dipping their hands in paint and smearing it all over rough pulpy paper? What was enjoyable about the squelch of liquid between your fingers when all it provided was a mess and flecks of paint permanently ingrained into your sleeves? Isaiah began to move more briskly down the hallway. He reached Bobby’s classroom. He had arrived a few minutes early, so he contented himself to stand outside the doorway and listen to the muted murmur of the first grade teacher wrapping up the math lesson. “So everyone understands that two times three is the same thing as saying two plus two plus two?” The instructor’s voice was light, melodic, warm. She sounded young and cheerful. Likely just out of college. Perhaps even a student teacher with no certification. These schools were always so poorly staffed. Pitiful, Isaiah thought. After a few more examples and a chorus of agreement from the
students, the teacher ended the lesson and the floodgates opened; the children stormed outside the classroom to retrieve their backpacks from their lockers. Isaiah ducked into the room with the rest of the parents, who were chatting amiably, and noted the paint chipping away from the doorframe.
saiah wouldn’t have minded Clifford’s plea for help if it hadn’t interrupted his work. He had been poring over some important blueprints for a project he was supervising when he heard the vrr of his phone vibrating on his desk. At first he ignored it; it had been an irritating day and Isaiah didn’t like being interrupted at work. Examining the nuances of the building’s structure was frustrating enough without distractions. The only satisfaction Isaiah had managed to squeeze out of the day was his coffee, although it was too bitter for Isaiah’s taste. But it made him alert; it reminded him that he was important, a man of esteem and high rank, and it helped him focus on the task at hand, even if that task was as dull as looking over blueprints. photo by
Well, at least until Clifford called. The second time the phone vibrated, Isaiah swiped it from his desk and pushed it against one ear. “Hello?” “Izzy!” “Jesus, Clifford. Don’t call me that. You know I hate that.” “Whoa, right off the bat you’re yelling at me. Rough day at the office?” “No, no, work’s fine. It’s just—” His voice softened. “Well, remember how I put that guy Russell in charge of the Sauvegarde Court house plans?” “Yeah.” “Yeah, he botched it up. Lots of cheap shortcuts. It’s awful. I have to go back and fix his mistakes. Russell is so childish. He can’t focus long enough to get one project done right. It’s frustrating. This is going to be a long day.” “Yeah, that’s gotta be annoying.” Clifford didn’t sound very invested in the conversation. “Listen, though, I have to ask a big favor of you. I can’t drive Bobby to soccer practice today. I promised Dad I’d visit him at the hospital. Would you mind picking him up from school and driving him there? It’s not far from your office.” Isaiah groaned. “Clifford, I just told you how much I have on my plate today...” Eventually, though, Clifford badgered Isaiah into going to pick up Bobby.
moke puffed out of the Kia as Isaiah started the engine. Through the polished rearview mirror he could see Bobby,donning a bright orange soccer jersey with the school mascot, a tiger, featured on the front. It was a gaudy color, and the tiger itself was cartoonish and, in Isaiah’s opinion, rather poorly drawn. Beside Bobby lay two dirtcaked soccer cleats. Isaiah cleared his throat.“Robert, I told you, don’t put your shoes on the seat. It’s
hard to clean dirt out of this car.” Bobby obediently placed his shoes on his lap instead. “Last week I almost scored a goal, Uncle Izzy.” “Really?” Isaiah said. Fantastic. Clifford had taught his son to use that name too. “But I didn’t kick it hard enough. So the goalie got it. But I was close.” Isaiah nodded absentmindedly. He looked over his shoulder to pull out of the space. “And this other time another kid had the ball and I stole it from him. I kicked it from between his legs. I got really far down the field with it, too! Except it got stolen from me and then I tripped. So that was bad. But we tied the game. So really it was pretty good. Dad says if I keep it up I’ll be a pro really soon.” Isaiah mumbled an agreement and flipped his left blinker on as he pulled out of the parking lot. He didn’t have the heart to tell Bobby that he was actually a fairly mediocre soccer player, or that his accomplishments weren’t exactly impressive. But he went along with it. “Hey, Uncle Izzy?” Bobby said. “Dad gets me a burger if I play really good. Will you take me to McDonalds and get me a Happy Meal if I play really good?” Isaiah glanced at his mirror again, eyeing the eager child. “Robert,” he said, “fast food is disgusting. It’s not good for you. You should know that. Your father should be feeding you more healthily than that. Besides, you’re in first grade. I think you’re getting a little too old to get treats for playing sports, don’t you?” Bobby slumped in his seat. “Yeah, I guess.”
he soccer field was shabbier than the school, Isaiah noted from his vantage point on the wooden bleachers. The four corners doubled as baseball diamonds in the
spring; however, it was nearly impossible to tell where the diamonds ended, because the grass on the rest of the field was sparse. It was almost entirely dirt, with trampled yellow clumps peeking out from under the dust. A bland gray box to the side of the field served as a concession stand, as far as Isaiah could tell. Out on the field, Bobby had managed to push a considerable distance up the field, doing his best to protect the ball from a much taller opponent. He ran as fast as his stubby legs would carry him, but even in a dead sprint he could not match the speed of the ganglier boy, who was gaining ground quickly. As he neared the goal, Bobby whipped his head around and, seeing the other boy tailing him, attempted to surge. But, so close to the net, and with his vision cast over his shoulder, Bobby hurtled straight towards the goaltender without slowing. “Bobby! Look out!” Isaiah cried, almost instinctually. He took no heed to his uncle’s warning. Realizing that Bobby was not going to stop, the goalie sidestepped hastily, and Bobby shot straight past him and into the netting of the goal. Isaiah could see the strain on the net as Bobby threw his whole weight against it, and then, with one leg tangled in the strings, toppled to the ground, sending up a cloud of dust. The ball, long out of Bobby’s control, bounced off one post and back onto the field. The goalie and the boy tailing Bobby laughed uproariously. Isaiah winced. Seeing Bobby’s legs wrapped in the tangled fibers of the net stirred something in his memory. Had that happened to him before? He foggily remembered rough rope cutting into his leg. Yes, now the occasion was rushing into his mind. It was a day when he had probably been no older than Bobby, and his mother had allowed him to go out and play for awhile, since he had finished the afternoon’s work
early. The neighborhood boys, Clifford included, invited him to their soccer game. He had played goalie—the ideal position, he reasoned, since he was older and bigger than the other boys and filled the little plastic net more fully than anyone else. One boy—Barry, Isaiah remembered his name was—had taken a shot at goal, and in his attempt to catch the ball, Isaiah had jumped up into the net itself. He became entangled in the frayed strings, and, limbs flailing wildly, he brought the entire net toppling down on himself. The other kids giggled wildly. The weeds irritatingly tickled his cheek as he lay there in the grass, his right side pressed to the ground while his left side flailed helplessly, the thin ropes of the net wrapping around his limbs and the hollow tubes of the frame weighing down against him. But then Isaiah also remembered how the boys ran over, screeching and giggling, to pull the net off him. He heard no mockery from the neighborhood boys that day, only their chortles and merry shouts as they unwrapped their friend from the net. Isaiah rose on unsteady legs and surveyed the yard. He rubbed his arm, ignoring the grass stain on his shirt. A boy ran to where the ball had fallen and rolled it over to the shaky Isaiah. “Hey, Izzy!” he said, “kick it out!” Isaiah remembered the airy whump of the ball as his foot collided with it. He remembered the gap-toothed grins of the other children as it sailed across the yard. He remembered how it had landed near the opposite goal, bouncing a couple times and then nestling itself in the warm grass. He remembered the boys gasping at the big kick. He remembered the bright glint in Clifford’s eye as he looked over his shoulder to his big brother before running off after the ball. The sun had begun to set, but they carried on anyway, until the chill of the night and the impatient demands of Isaiah’s mother forced them inside.
Isaiah had long forgotten that day, somehow, but it returned to him vividly now as he looked out at Bobby, who had gathered himself up and who was now brushing off clumps of yellow grass and grains of dirt from his uniform. He envied Bobby for being able to feel that grass and the rubber of the ball bouncing against his cleats.
obby slumped in the car. He was caked in dirt, his dark hair dusty and ruffled. His right elbow was skinned, and his bright
uniform was muted by the soil. He threw his cleats onto the seat. His face was twisted into a dark pout. His team had lost the game; in fact, it had been a brutal loss. “Sorry, Uncle Isaiah,” Bobby said. His voice barely rose above a mumble. “You didn’t get to see a good game. We were bad today. I tried my best for you, but we were bad.” Izzy turned around and examined the boy with a sympathetic smile. “So, Bobby,” he said, “How about that Happy Meal?”
Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26) John Bromell My Lord, I’m healed, I am no longer blind! What’s that, Jesus? I cannot tell the town? No problem. I’ll just put it out of my mind. To tell my wife and kids I am inclined To see them (see them!) jumping up and down When I come in and say I am not blind. My friends, as well, so sympathetic and kind— But wait, not of them can know me now— I promised not to say what’s on my mind. What a perplexing problem, a difficult bind: The people I love, the ones I call my own Can’t see me, must believe I’m just as blind. Oh God! Your so-called “cure” has me confined! I curse you, Jesus, and your wretched crown! I cannot, will not, get this off my mind! The solution: there is no contract signed. I’ll disobey, I’ll spread the news around. Being mute is worse than being blind— Now finally I can get some peace of mind.
Shopping for Zebra at a Zoo Kevin Madden
Barcodes flash as they zip past, scanning our faces, with our eyes wide, As the long line extends, moms impatiently tap their feet, and we try to decipher these traces, Of bizarre stripes. The seemingly random patterns, sculpted by a woodcutter with a sharp blade That went dull yet kept on whittling and only paused to sharpen his blade at random places. Staring to see why the stripes seem so confused, we whisper, point and glare, While parents shake their heads, not contemplating the strangeness of this colored bluff. Is this beast black or white? We children wonder why it isn’t gray or even bare. Is it black, trying to mingle with white? Or am I in this black world, trying to be a white cuff On this dark shirt? Or has the world no color, and is it merely a trivial struggle between this pair? This life of prices, ruled over by fear. All of this at a zoo, staring at this creature before me, foul odors streaming from its cage, Which has trapped more than this zebra, making me cringe. Stomping, snorting and shaking its head at the gathered beasts It tries to hide the difference by galloping around, but the black and white won’t blend— Not until the annoying beasts go away to worship at their Sunday obligations; Their savior, whose color was neither like the zebra, nor the beasts, ruled over both. Begging for the scraps of life, the beasts are in a frenzied fight for any rations And find their own bodies in a store, divided by value and not the whole truth.
Where Did You Come From? Matei Stefanescu “My mom and dad?” Wrong. “God.” Closer. Look at the sky. It is so big. The moon is big. The stars are big. The space is big. Do you feel small?
My little brother kneeled on the couch in the living room, peering outside. He happily cried, “The wind is blowing so hard!” as a thick tree branch whipped around in the storm. We came from up there. Someplace Far away. Up there, where a huge sun exploded, beams of fire and chords of colors sent us here. Through the universe. Here we are. Our atoms have drifted a long time. How many miles has my left hand flown? Where has my liver been? What have my eyes seen? I saw a picture on Facebook of Christ bleeding on the cross. He had white skin and he was covered in dirt. I’ve seen other portraits of him. In one, he was a black man. In another I think he was meant to be eastern European. The caption instructed “like” if he died for you. Are you still looking up at the sky? Where did you come from? Do you feel small? You can stop looking at the sky now.
At the Nursing Home Stephen Nelson
The elderly man (who lies on his bed) is lifeless. The elderly man (who slumps in his bed)’s chart says he has two months left. The elderly man (who’s napping in his room) appears dead occasionally, but he’s not as much trouble as the lady who strips nude in the hallway. The elderly man (who sits in the chair)’s name is Michael, although most of the workers frequently forget. They rarely use his name; he wouldn’t understand anyways. The elderly man (who stares at his crumbling ceiling)’s rare form of Parkinson’s tragically disallows him from walking freely, speaking clearly, feeding himself, and showing emotion or any reaction when his wife, Jessica, strolls into his solemn room for her daily visit. The elderly man (whose head tilts sideways as he sits in his inclined chair) always fully supported and defended his only daughter in her artistic and theatrical ventures even though it means she now cannot afford the plane ticket to visit him. The elderly man (whose food trickles down his face) longs to proclaim: “Nurse, you’re scrubbing too violently.” “No, I do not want finely ground pork and corn mush. I want a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza from The Tower of Pizza on the corner of Broadway and 15th.” “Yes! Yes! I recognize you. I know you.” “I’m still here.” “Jess, I remember.” The elderly man (whose family just arrived)’s closest friends are himself and God because they remain the only two he can have complex, fluent, and comprehensible conversations with.
The elderly man (who scored three touchdowns and kicked two field goals for the Tenefly Tigers in the 1951 New Jersey state final to defeat the unbeaten Mackay Eagles) can no longer sprint and juke past the Mackay football players or remember winning that game even with his framed news article and sons’ constant retelling of his triumphant tale. The elderly man who is a husband, father, brother, grandpa, cousin, coach, and teacher, yearns to be embraced or looked upon with loving eyes. The elderly man who lies on his bed wants to be Michael.
White: A Blank Page or Canvas. His Favorite Sam Herbig As I walked to my car this morning, I walked like an old man. The snow made me walk like an old man. All frozen, All cold. The universe still. The world washed white, All things big and small Shrouded by their glittering masks. A fresh canvas Ready for second creation. As I drove my car this morning, I drove like an old man. The snow made me drive like an old man. And as I drove, the sun shone sparkling the streets. Out of the stillness, The wind blew fairy dust Making me believe, for once, that this old man can fly.
The breath of God made seen. The breath of the Artist, Who had started over, Painted over all mistakes of mine, Over all wasted time, Bathed them in white, Sketched the outlines, Showed me this curve and this angle, Drew in a starting place, And gave me the brush. And the snow melted And all came back Clean and freshly painted, Wet, Watered for growth. This old, pondering, Lost-in-thought wise man, Watered for growth. And when the snow melted, I smiled like a child.
A Slice for Amy Ben Hilker
lex was blinded as he looked out the window. Light reflected off the three cars lined up in front of Mike’s Pizzeria. He saw his own Camry nestled between an old Town & Country and a red and white Thunderbird. The Town & Country had a dented bumper and rusting wheel wells, but the T-bird shone like it was on the floor of an auto museum. The sun went back behind a cloud, and the glare off the cars subsided. Alex looked further back over the lot. Amy’s Corolla was nowhere to be seen. The sun came back in full force, and Alex looked away from the glass front of Mike’s. Alex was sitting in one of the two raised sections of booths that stood a foot or two above the main set of tables in the middle of the restaurant. The smell of greasy cheese hung over everything. With only seniors out of school, Alex had hoped Mike’s would be a little more private, and thankfully there were only a few people. An old couple sat in a booth across the restaurant and some parents struggled with their twin toddlers in the middle of Mike’s. One of the twins screamed. Alex turned his attention to the family. The one who had screamed threw his stuffed bear onto the greasy linoleum floor over by the buffet line. The father got out of his chair and stepped over to pick up the toy. He didn’t even bother to clean it off as he gave it back to the twin. The father didn’t look very old—maybe five or six years older than Alex, probably just out of college. Alex watched as the father bit into a slice of cheese pizza and grease dribbled onto his tie. “Damn!” The father quickly grabbed some nap-
kins from the dispenser in front of his wife and tried to soak up the stain that had already spread to his white shirt. Alex couldn’t figure out why he had worn such nice clothes to a pizza place. Mike’s had good food for cheap—especially the lunch buffet—but it’s the grease that made meals and ruins clothes. The father said something to his wife and walked by the buffet toward the bathrooms in the back. The mother stared at him blankly as the door to the bathroom slammed closed behind him. She appeared a lot older than her husband, but it may have only been the worry lines in her face. Her brown hair looked frizzy and disheveled. Either her children loved pulling at her hair, or she just didn’t care enough to fix it. Alex glanced at his phone on the table. 1:05. Amy would be there any minute. Alex heard one of the toddlers whining. One twin was not cooperating. The mother tried to feed him a piece of pizza, but he slapped her hand aside and frowned every time she advanced. She tried yet again, and the child knocked her wrist down forcing the pizza into his lap. Alex watched the child inhale quickly and scream as the pizza slid onto his legs. When the mother picked the twin up, Alex saw the red splotch on the child’s leg where the pizza had hit him. The same thing had happened to Alex once when he was younger. He had been eating a piece of pizza right off the tray. The cheese from the top fell off and landed in his lap. Soon the sauce and grease had soaked through his pants and burned his legs. He had screamed. His mother reacted as the mother was now: soothing him and stroking his head. She had said it would be all right. Those burns had hurt Alex for the rest of that night. The scream had brought back the father. He quickly walked past the buffet and up to the mother. “What happened?” “Some pizza burned his leg.”
“How did it get on his leg?” “Jeez, Arthur! I didn’t do it! He knocked it there himself!” “All right. All right…” The mother’s lower lip was trembling and the father must have noticed. Why would she snap at him for such a simple question? The twin in her arms had started sobbing again and the mother turned her attention back to him. The father walked over and picked up the other twin, who had started to sob. “Let’s go. We need to clean them up before we go to your dad’s.” The father grabbed the mother’s purse and began to walk out. She followed and passed by him as he held the door open. She didn’t even say thank you. Alex listened to the bell over the door die out as the parents loaded up their children into the Town & Country and drove off. Without the sound of the bell or engine, he heard the sliding of metal on metal in the kitchen and a gruff voice calling out delivery orders. Alex checked his phone sitting on the brown table. It was 1:10. Amy was ten minutes late, but he wasn’t too worried. He’d known for years how girls have a different time schedule than guys. His two little sisters had made that fact pretty obvious. Outside of his sisters, Alex didn’t actually have much experience with girls. Then came Amy. She
was one of the girls in his class at St. Joseph’s. Alex liked to think that their relationship had started back in kindergarten when he kissed her on the cheek as they waited in the line for the water fountain. Then they didn’t talk much till high school. The rest of his attempted “relationships” failed miserably for other reasons. Not this time, though. It was going to work out this time. Alex saw a growing beam of light slide across his table. He looked out to the lot to see a silver car pulling in. Nope. Not her. A Prius. The car made a wide circle in the lot and went out the entrance it had come in. Alex glanced down at his phone again: 1:15. He still wasn’t worried. Alex was a patient guy. Actually, his patience had put him in this situation at Mike’s before. Alex’s crush on Amy had started the summer before freshman Drawing by Matthew Hennessey year. It had taken him three years just to string the words together in order to tell her. In that very booth over a year ago, he had hinted that he liked her. He said it in passing. Totally harmless. He waited for her to accept or deny him. She laughed instead. Maybe she just thought the idea of them dating was ridiculous. They had a lot in common, the main thing being a busy schedule. Maybe the time wasn’t there. It also didn’t help that they went to different schools; hers
was co-ed, Alex’s wasn’t. It may have been that Alex just didn’t fit into her plan. Unlike Alex, she had plans for her life, big plans. She wanted to be a pilot in the Navy, had applied for the Naval Academy the fall before and expected to get her reply any day. She was doing something with her life. If she got in. A year ago, Alex would have given anything for her to have made it into the Academy, but things had changed. Alex didn’t have big plans for his life. He was just going into electrical engineering at Rice in Texas. With the Academy in Maryland. Alex might never see Amy again. He had waited too long, but maybe they could still have one summer together. Without anything better to do, Alex started watching the old couple across the restaurant. They were too preoccupied with their pasta and conversation to notice him. Alex wasn’t a big fan of old people. For his senior service project he had volunteered to work at a local hospice. There, the air felt heavy with dread and death. He would go in one day and not know if the person he was playing checkers with would be there when he came back. This couple didn’t seem so bad, though. They were old but seemed full of life and they had to be, eating at Mike’s. Alex’s stomach could take the greasy food, but the man and woman weren’t exactly teenagers. The more he watched the couple, the more they reminded him of his grandparents, the only old people that Alex actually liked being around. His grandparents were always taking trips and throwing parties for their family. They moved. Most of the elderly at the hospice rarely moved their mouths, let alone the rest of their bodies. The couple here was gesturing and eating and laughing. The old man would tell a joke, the woman would counter, and they each would share a good laugh. The man wore a white T-shirt with black lettering that stated “Don’t sass
me, I can’t hear it!” The woman wore a yellow shirt that said “Hunter’s Family Vacation” on the back in dark blue. Alex smiled. What had they figured out? In all their years, they must have gone through rough patches. What hardships had they faced? Had they raised a family? They must have if they had taken family vacations, but hadn’t they seen many horrors played out through the years? Alex didn’t think he could have handled all of that. How could they still be smiling? Alex’s phone lit up and started vibrating on the table. He looked down. Amy had texted him: “here.” He glanced out the front onto the lot. Amy’s car now sat in the spot vacated by the young family only ten minutes before. Alex watched her step out of her car and toss her oversized sunglasses back on the seat before she slammed the door closed. He waved to her and she waved back, smiling. She walked from the bright lot to under the awning that covered the front of Mike’s. Alex watched her come through the door, bell tinkling as she did. Yet again Alex was struck, completely dumbfounded, by her. Amy had dirty blond hair, cut right above her neck; not a blemish on her smiling tan face. She was wearing low cut jeans and an orange T-shirt. Her appearance was so simple and yet he couldn’t stop looking at her Alex glanced at her chest but then thought better of it. The old man across the room had his eyes on him. Alex didn’t look at Amy as some of his friends did. They eyed her body up as they would a slab of beef, ready for eating. They were pretty perverted. Alex wasn’t, even though he did sometimes find himself glancing at her breasts. Other guys considered her good looking, but Alex thought about much more than her looks. He liked how she talked. In grade school they would spend entire lunch periods arguing any topic, usually politics and rights. She would always hold her stance, no matter how
someone who could talk back. He stood up to greet her. “Hey, Amy.” “Hey, Alex.” They hugged each other. He’d been hoping for that. Amy had hugged him only twice: once at his Junior Ring dance and once after a movie. At the dance they had been dancing together to a slow song. He had his hands on her waist. She had hers on his shoulders. He did his best not to step on her feet, but when he did, Amy looked up at him and gave him a little smirk. When the song ended, she slid her arms around him and hugged him hard. She just stood there holding onto him for a good five seconds. Nobody had ever hugged him like that before. The same thing happened after they had seen Jaws at the old Wildey. Right before they started walking away from the bright theater front, she turned around and jumped at him. She gave him the warmest hug he ever had. Not as long as the Junior Ring hug, but it carried something with it. Alex wanted to think that these long warm hugs were signs. This time he hugged her back, hoping for the feeling he remembered so well. They didn’t hug as long as before. She kept smiling as they sat down on opposite sides of the booth. Because Alex had invited her, he thought it only polite that he speak first. “How’ve you been?” Her smile grew a little bigger. “Well, I was down for a while, but it just got better. A lot better. Fantastic, actually.” Alex couldn’t help but share in her smile. “Well, what’s so joyous on this fine day?” This had to be why she showed up late, and Alex already had guessed the answer. “I got in!” Yep. She had gotten into the Academy. “Wow! That’s fantastic! I knew you would.” No. He had been praying just ten minutes earlier for quite a different outcome.
Alex noticed a shadow fall across the table. “Skipping school today?” It was a waitress standing next to them. She clutched a pen and paper in front of her black “Mike’s Pizzeria” T-shirt. “Uhh... no. We’re seniors. We’re out already.” “Okay. Wow, seniors. Any idea where you guys are heading for college?” “I was actually just telling him that I got my acceptance letter from the Naval Academy.” “Really? I hear that’s a hard school to get into. Good for you!” Somebody wanted a big tip. “Well, can I get your drink orders?” “I’ll have a water. Alex?” “Same.” The waitress scribbled down the drinks, holding the pen and paper very close to her face. “Allrighty. Do you guys know what you want to eat yet?” Amy cut in before Alex had the chance to talk. “We’ll have a large half cheese, half pepperoni. And the check goes to me.” Looked like Amy was still against chivalry. Alex was surprised she remembered his usual order. “Come on. Amy, I’ll pay this time.” “I’m not gonna hear it, Alex.” The waitress finished writing down their order and looked over her pad at them. “O.K. I’ll have all that out in a few minutes.” “Thanks.” Amy took a deep breath and turned back to him. “By the way. I’m sorry I was late. I checked the mail before I left and got my letter. I just had to call my mom and dad.” “How’d they feel about it?” Alex knew her parents well. They weren’t too keen on letting Amy go so far away. Their words probably tasted as much like vinegar as Alex’s did
for him. “My dad was ecstatic and my mom... didn’t say too much.” Her smile faltered and her face dropped a little. Instead of looking at Alex she glanced out over the restaurant at the old couple. He knew her well enough to know that this couldn’t be good. “You don’t have to tell me, but I’d like to know. What’s wrong?” Amy turned back towards him. Her face was blank. “My mom’s in the hospital. They think she has cancer. Probably pancreatic.” Alex didn’t say anything. Cancer. That one word could rip people’s lives to pieces. Pancreatic, too. Alex had known too many families visiting at the hospice. Amy had a rough time ahead. Amy was strong: the
strongest girl Alex figured he would ever know. She took weights with a class full of men. She beat the snot out of guys bigger than her in kickboxing and even picked up cross country last fall to fill out her resume. But everybody has limits. Alex started staring at the worn brown table in front of him. “Well ... fuck.” Amy’s mouth dropped. Alex never swore in public. No one had heard him swear for years and he planned on keeping it that way. But he also planned to make Amy as happy as he could. She closed her mouth. Her lips quivered slightly. “Did you just say what I think you said?” “Don’t know. Feels kinda weird.” He winked at her. “Swearing in front of a lady.” The quiver in her lip grew into a smile. “Do not call me a lady.” Alex started laughing. “Think the only other time that’s happened was when I said ‘bitch’ in third grade.” Amy started to laugh with him. Alex kept his eyes on her. He could be a medicine for her troubles. Keep her mind on him for awhile. “So, Mr. Alex, what have you been up to?” “Not much. Ended senior year really well. How was your year, excluding... a little bit of course.” “Great. I aced all my classes.” “Wow. I wish I could say that.” “Shut up. You’re a lot smarter than I am.” “Smart-ass maybe.” The word ass really got her going. She couldn’t stop laughing. Alex joined in for a while. The couple across the room started looking at them. They were smiling too. “Same old Alex. You’ll never admit that you’re really smart.” “Smart? If I was smart I’d have gotten into MIT or CalTech. Smart... let’s just say I’m working on it.”
“All right then.” “Here you guys go.” The waitress had returned with their pizza and drinks. She took the steaming aluminum pan from her tray and set it between them and set pale green plastic glass in front of them. She had forgotten to bring plates. “Enjoy.” They both started to pull apart the pizza. Amy grabbed a piece of pepperoni, her favorite, and Alex grabbed a piece of cheese. There was the grease. As he pulled the pizza from the pan, the grease from the cheese started rolling towards the pointed tip of the piece. Alex held it over the pan and let it drip. Jeez. Even the crust was soaked. In a last effort to get the extra grease off, Alex pressed the piece upside down into a napkin. It was too much. The napkin quickly became transparent as the grease spread and Alex’s hand got covered. He looked over at Amy. She was already on her second piece. She noticed the care he had given to his first piece. “Uhh... I didn’t realize you had gone OCD.” “I can’t believe how much grease there is in this place.” “I didn’t notice. I guess I’m used to it.” They kept eating. Neither of them talked. Alex was hoping for Amy to say something to start up the conversation, but she didn’t. Looking over his own piece, he watched her eat. She folded her pizza in half and turned her head to the side as she ate it. Any extra oil fell onto the table in front of her. Alex didn’t understand how she kept all that grease off her clothes. Even with his extensive work he still had gotten some spots on his cargos.
lex shook his head. “I shouldn’t have let you pay.” “If you say that one more time, I’m going to kick you into that trashcan.” Amy pointed over her shoulder with her thumb to a trashcan in front of Mike’s. Alex
leaned back against his car and folded his arms across his chest. “And this is the person who’ll be protecting America on the high seas. Jeez. They must let anybody in to the Academy these days!” Amy didn’t appreciate the sarcasm. She mimicked Alex in crossing her arms across her chest. “Don’t even try it. It took me months just to get the application in.” “I know. I know. I have another friend who’s going to the Academy. He really had to work for it.” “What’s his name?” “Adam. You met him once at Junior Ring. He’s kinda like you. A big go-getter.” “Yeh. I’ve got a friend who made it too.” “Who?” “His name’s Ryan. He’s a really cool guy.” Great. From how she said that, he had picked up the one thing he didn’t need: competition. Strong competition. Alex wanted to say something. Something big. Somehow he found himself doing his Sean Connery impression instead. “Oh really, Ryan you shay? Whut can you tell meh about thish Ryan?” The accent and flourishing of eyebrows were a cheap trick, but Alex needed to buy a little time to figure this out. At least Amy laughed. “He’s really nice. A lot like you actually. He’s a pretty funny guy. Always keeps me laughing at least. He’s also the only guy I know who won’t take it easy on me in kickboxing.” “Do you like him?” Too quick. Now she was trapped with no telling whether her answer would be truthful. She didn’t speak for a few seconds. Her smile waned a little and she shifted her feet around. “Yeah... I think I do.” Damn it. She always tightened up when
she lied, but she had moved her feet. She was He had been staring for a while. Alex telling the truth. Now he had to tell her that turned back to her, managing only a small he loved her. Yep. Loved. He’d worked out smirk. over the past four years that if a crush lasted “That’s great, Amy. Good luck.” Thankthat long, then he had gone beyond the realm fully his greased-up smile satisfied her. She of a crush. He had no knowledge of real love, smiled back. but he had to be close. He had waited long “Thanks. He’s coming with me to the enough. Alex started to think up a response hospital to meet my parents.” and looked out back into the restaurant to “Good.” buy more time. The couple was now holding hands at the outer edge of the table. They e talked for a few more minutes. I weren’t even talking anymore. They just were told her that I’d call her later to hear looking at each other’s eyes and smiling, as more about her mom. She said goodbye if remembering some time long before. He and she gave me another hug. The hugs had also saw the mess of plates, cups, and nap- never meant anything special. She probably kins that had been hugged everybody that strewn across the way. She got into her car table where the famfirst and I got in mine ily had been sitting. right after. I watched This sight stopped her as she put on her his thoughts. sunglasses and buckled He knew what her seat belt. She turned telling her meant to on the car and waved to him, but he didn’t me. I waved back. Amy know what it meant looked back over her for her. What did shoulder and started to she want? Could he back out of the lot. I push her towards watched her shift up and a future where she drive onto the street. could laugh even This was good for me. I when the days grew needed to get over her at old? Would he force some point and before her into a life that college was probably a only knew struggle? good time. There’d be Who was Alex in her more people: more complans? What would patible people; people happen if Alex threw who would like me back. his emotions into This was good... Bullshit. watercolor by David Greaves this mix where Amy Just more grease. My already had to deal with her mom and Ryan? strength disappeared. I felt myself slide forWould she be torn by the responsibilities ward in the seat and let my head rest on the both real and imagined? Could he live with top of the warm steering wheel. I closed my that? What did she want? What could he do. eyes and I cried. “Uhh... Alex?”
In a Nutshell Ryan Dowd
You’re 15 and thrilled with a girl’s number. You’re 25 and expect more than a number. You’re 16 and don’t know how to invest. You’re 61 and all you have left is your portfolio You’re 12 and getting the sex talk. You’re 48 and giving the sex talk. You’re 13 and obsessed with Blake Lively. You’re 31 and still obsessed with Blake Lively. You’re 19 and wish you were 21 You’re 38 and wish you were 19. You’re 17 and eat home cooked meals. You’re 23 and devouring Kraft instant macaroni You’re 6 and writing to Santa Claus. You’re 42 and you are santa claus. You’re 3 and your Grandpa dies. You’re 63 and your Dad dies. You’re 16 and your girlfriend dumps you. You’re 33 and marry someone far better. You’re 18 and Harry Potter triumphs. You’re 81 and don’t remember who Harry Potter is. You are born. You die.
Stretch Tom Blood stretch Tom Blood a few weeks after christmas i took my evening walk as always setting out as i got hungry the streetlights had not yet come on though the day was mostly dark golden lights like sesame seeds and fried rice sprinkled on rotting chinese food in the fridge still hung around houses encasing every residence in hundreds of tiny bulbs that only partially illuminated my steps i moved past my neighbor who makes ice sculptures and though it was above freezing the temperature still didnâ€™t offer us any comfort yet he carved away at a melting santa claus trying to turn him into karl marx i averted my eyes as i passed but had to look back once more around the corner somehow an oak still clung to a bough of crisp brown leaves i stopped and watched them stick to the branch as the wind surged come on fellas time to move on itâ€™ll make spring come that much quicker soon enough i had rounded the three blocks and had reached my place again but i didnâ€™t go up the steps even though i was still rather famished i waited to go inside around the block once more i said to myself
The Unfinished Picture David Bubash
urt brought the neon pink mug to his lip and back down to the table again. He watched the ripple of black coffee spread to the perimeter of his mug as he did so. He looked up at his sister. “Did you hear me, Kurt? What have you been doing for the past few months?” Whitney said. Kurt looked down at his mug and moved it barely a centimeter so it rested atop the water ring it had left when he first picked it up. He brushed the shaggy blond hair out of his eyes. His jacket sleeve was resting in
a small puddle of water on the table, but he didn’t mind. His sister looked paler and thinner than usual. Even her brown hair looked a little thinner. Why did she insist on bringing him to this coffee shop? He hated this place. It was too brightly lit, and there was too much pink, from the pink leather booths to the pink packets of Sweet-N-Low. Kurt hated too much of any one color. “Kurt?” Whitney said. “I’ve been doing a lot of painting.” “That’s not true, Kurt. You haven’t even tried to sell a painting since June.” “They’re not good enough yet.” “Don’t lie, Kurt.” “I only sell something when I’m happy with it.” “When are you going to be happy with something, Kurt? You can’t live in total seclu-
sion forever. You need to make money.” “I wouldn’t say I need to make money, necessarily.” Whitney rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. Kurt looked around the shop. Pink mugs, pink tables, pink booths, and pink uniforms. Some brown would do this place some good. “Bill and I can’t send you checks forever, you know,” she said. “I never cash those checks, you know,” he said. “I wish you would stop worrying us and get a real job.” “I wish you would stop sending me those checks.” Whitney sighed with obvious disappointment and looked at her watch. “I need to pick up the kids from daycare. I’ll see you in a week or so?” “Might as well,” Kurt said. Whitney looked in her purse, pulled out a couple of bills, and thrust them in front of Kurt. Kurt tried to push them back to her, but she stopped his hands with her own. “Buy yourself a warm hat, at least, Kurt. Winter’s coming.” Whitney left, and Kurt studied how much money had been forced upon him. Three twenties. Kurt neatly folded the money in the palm of his hand and got up. He walked toward the door. As he did so, he passed a young woman. She looked sad. He placed the money on her table, next to her tea, and left.
urt watched his feet as he wandered toward the hardware store. He listened to the crackling of leaves under his feet. He picked up a leaf and looked at it. It was a light shade of brown. He decided that he should buy some brown paint. Brown would round out his picture nicely. He went to the hardware store and bought some paint without looking or saying anything to anybody, as he always did, until he got to the
cashier, who wouldn’t be quiet. “Some weather we’re having, eh?” she said, her plump body jiggling as she swiped the can of paint. Kurt remained silent. “What are you doing with this paint?” Kurt remained silent. “This paint looks great on chairs.” “It’s for a picture,” Kurt said. “Oh. You know, this paint is usually for wood.” “It’s a picture of a chair.” “Nine forty-two. Is it really?” “No,” he said. This seemed to throw the woman off, but not for long. “My name is Mary,” she said as Kurt handed her a ten. “Charmed,” Kurt said. “What’s yours?” she said as she counted coins. “Rasputin.” This is the name he always gave to nosy people. It almost always stopped their prying. “Seriously?” Mary said. “He was a powerful man,” Kurt said. Mary became silent then, giving him the receipt and change, not even wishing him a good day. He left with his paint, pleased with himself. As he stepped outside, he saw a middle-aged man standing on the corner. He looked dirty, as if baths didn’t exist in his world. Kurt approached him. “Hello,” Kurt said. “’ello,” the man said. He was missing a couple teeth. “What’s your name?” “Stencil.” A whistle escaped Stencil’s lips as he pronounced the “S.” “Is that your first or last name?” Kurt asked as he shifted the can of paint from his right to left hand. “Does it really matter?” “No,” Kurt said, and then he gave him his fifty-eight cents.
“Buy yourself some Ramen,” Kurt said. “I have no way to cook Ramen.” “Oh. Just do whatever you want with it then,” Kurt said. “Thank you, kind sir.” “My name is Rasputin,” Kurt said. “Thank you, Rasputin,” Stencil said. “Don’t mention it, Stencil.” And Kurt left.
He drew one brown streak at the corner of the paper. “That’s enough brown, I think. Tomorrow some marigold would be nice.” And Kurt went to bed, having accomplished just what he had thought he wanted to accomplish, and having forgetten that he had left the back door wide open to let in the autumn breeze.
ater that night, Kurt stood in his makeshift art studio. It was actually a spare bedroom, but no one ever cared to stay at Kurt’s overnight, so he put it to real use. The room was small and rather bare. The walls were painted blue. On either side of the door were piles of paint cans. Some were nearly empty. Others were almost completely full, as if Kurt had painted only a single stroke. On the left side of the room was a single window, the only source of light. Most of the light was blocked by a long branch of an oak tree in his yard. On the opposite side was a full-view mirror. At the end were an easel and a neat stack of canvases. Kurt stared at his painting, brush in his hand, the can of paint in the other. He didn’t make any moves to paint, though. He just stared. At one point, he dipped the brush in the can of paint and lifted his hand, but then he brought it back down again and stared some more. He took a step forward, then a step back. The hardwood floor creaked slowly. He lived in an old house. Two stories, although he didn’t really trust the stability of the second floor, so he stayed on the first. He looked down at his basset hound, who lay at his feet, and who was the only one besides him who was allowed inside. “I don’t know if brown was a very good choice, Arnold,” Kurt said. Arnold just lay there, so Kurt returned to looking at the picture. “Ah!” he said, then put brush to paper.
y noon the next day, Kurt found himself strolling through town with a leash clutched in his hand. Arnold had gotten out, and the house felt very quiet without him. The marigold paint would have to wait. Kurt walked through every neighborhood he usually walked Arnold through. Then he searched the town. He walked past the pink coffee place. He looked inside through the display window and shuddered. There was so much pink. Arnold would have most certainly hated it there, so Kurt didn’t bother walking in. But as he walked past, he heard the bell of the door ring and frantic footsteps coming toward him. “Hey, you!” a voice said. Kurt turned around. It was the sad woman from yesterday to whom Kurt had bestowed his financial gift. “Hello,” Kurt said. “You’re the one who left sixty dollars on my table yesterday.” “Yes,” Kurt said. “Why did you do that?” the woman said. “Why not?” Kurt walked on, the woman following. “Do I know you?” she said. “It’s possible.” “What’s your name?” “Rasp . . . Kurt.” Kurt didn’t want to play his Rasputin game with her for some reason, though he couldn’t explain why. “I’m Lyla.” “Charmed,” Kurt said, sincerely this time.
“I can’t keep your sixty dollars.” “It’s not my sixty dollars,” Kurt said. “Then whose is it?” Lyla said. “Yours. I gave it to you.” “I don’t want it.” “You do.” Lyla bit her lower lip in thought. “I do have some IOU’s to repay.” “Problem solved, then.” Lyla hesitated a little more, then put the money in her coat pocket. “Thank you very much,” she said. “Don’t mention it.” They stopped at the corner where the sign on the other side of the street instructed them, “DON’T WALK.” Kurt looked at Lyla. Very dark brown, almost black hair spewed out in spindles beneath her green and purple wool knit cap. Her lips were vibrantly red, and her skin was rather pale, but in a very pretty, Victorian way, not a frightening gothic way. She wore a black coat that went just a little below her waist, and gray leggings clung to her thighs. She had her hands jammed in her coat pockets. “So what are you doing here?” Lyla said. Kurt held out the dog leash in response. “Oh. What kind of dog are you looking for?” “A basset hound. His name’s Arnold.” “Want some help looking?” “Might as well,” Kurt said. At that point, the sign instructed them to walk, and they did so, crossing the street and continuing on the next block. “What do you do for money?” Lyla said. “I paint.” “What do you paint?” “Pictures.” “Oh.” They were silent again. “Would you like to see the one I’m working on?” Kurt said. Lyla shrugged. “Might as well.”
half hour later, Lyla was inside Kurt’s studio. He watched her as she studied the room. She looked in the mirror. “Your mirror’s dirty,” she said. Kurt stood in front of the mirror and looked. There was white paint on the glass, right where the left cheek of Kurt’s reflection was. Then Lyla moved again. She wadered toward the stack of canvases next to the easel. “These are nice,” she said. “They’re not finished yet.” “They look finished,” Lyla said, fingering through them. “What do you think of this one?” Kurt pointed to the one on the easel. Lyla abandoned the stack to look. After a minute, she shrugged. “It’s okay.” “That’s how I feel as well.” “It could use something.” “Marigold,” Kurt said. “Perhaps.” Lyla went back to the stack and continued fingering through them. She pulled one out. It depicted a man with tears running down his face, dripping from his cheeks. There was a window in the background, but it was all black, as if it were late at night. The wall behind the man was blue. The tears on his left cheek were white. “I like this one,” Lyla said. “Do you?” Kurt said. “What does it represent?” “Nothing,” Kurt said. “Aren’t pictures supposed to have a message?” “Generally.” “But yours don’t?” “Not for the most part.” Lyla looked at Kurt. Her forehead was creased with wrinkles, and her right eyebrow raised a little. “Why not? “Because who cares what a painting means?”
“I do,” Lyla said. “I don’t,” Kurt said. “Oh.” Lyla looked disappointed. She didn’t put the picture down, though. She kept looking at it. Then she looked at Kurt again. “Can I have this?” Lyla said. Kurt thought for a moment. “No,” he said. “Why not?” she said. “It’s not finished.” “It looks finished.” “It’s not.” They were silent again. Finally, Lyla set the picture down, on the top of the stack. “I need to find Arnold,” Kurt said. “Oh. Do you want some more help?” Lyla said. “No, you should go home.” Lyla looked at Kurt. He blankly stared back at her, as if there were nothing more to say. “Okay,” she said. Kurt watched as she left the room and soon after, he heard the front door open and close. As she left, her face resembled Arnold’s when Kurt would scold him about eating off the table. Dejected.
fter Lyla left, Kurt thought about looking for Arnold, but he decided against it. It was getting too late and too cold. He ate a fried egg for dinner, then he went to the hardware store, where he bought some marigold paint. He also bought some deep purple on a whim. He went home to his house, then went to his studio, where his painting awaited him. He stared at it, but he didn’t know what to do with it. The tree branch outside scratched at the window. “That is rather bothersome,” Kurt said to himself, but then he focused again on the painting and forgot about it. He then approached his painting with the deep purple in his hand. He dipped the brush in the can
and painted several vertical streaks. “That looks right,” Kurt said, and he set the can down, then went off to bed. He hadn’t used the marigold at all. He didn’t feel that it was right anymore.
urt didn’t leave his house for about a week. Not that anyone minded. No one really noticed aside from Whitney, who sat alone in the coffee twice that week, waiting for Kurt to show up. Then, on a Wednesday morning, Kurt emerged from his house. “Some indigo would really do that picture some good,” Kurt said to himself. He went to the hardware store. Mary was there again, but when she saw Kurt, her chipper attitude disappeared. This pleased Kurt. He was able to buy his paint and leave without saying so much as a whisper. On his way home, he passed the coffee shop. He looked inside at all the pink, and saw Lyla’s black coat. He went inside and sat at a booth on the opposite side of the room from her. He knew that she had seen him, but she did not acknowledge him. As he set the paint can down next to him on the seat, a pink uniformed waitress approached his booth. “Hello! What can I do for you today?” she said. “Nothing at the moment,” Kurt said. “Well, I’ll give you some time to look over the menu and be back in a few minutes, okay?” “There’s really no need for that,” Kurt said. The waitress looked confused by the statement, but she walked away. As she left, Lyla came over. “Hey,” Lyla said. “Hello,” Kurt said. “Is it okay if I sit down?” “Might as well,” Kurt said, gesturing for her to do so with his hand. She sat. “What happened last week?” she said.
“Nothing. I had to find Arnold,” Kurt said. This didn’t seem to satisfy Lyla. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” “I know,” Kurt said. Lyla looked down at her hands. As she did, so did Kurt. Her fingernails were painted turquoise. They were interesting, and not unattractive. “I’m not apologizing,” Lyla said. “I know,” Kurt said again. The waitress came back. “Have you decided what you want yet?” she said to Kurt. Kurt looked at her. The pink uniform. Pink blouse, pink skirt, pink apron, pink shoes. Behind her was the pink counter, the pink-tiled floor, and the pink registers. Kurt rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. “Sir?” “No,” Kurt said. “Okay, a couple more minutes to decide, then?” “No,” Kurt said again. “What?” the waitress said. “Please, just go away,” Kurt said. The waitress stared at him. Her mouth was open a little, clearly shocked and maybe even a little more confused by this statement. “Uh, okay then,” the waitress said, then walked away. Kurt turned back to Lyla. Her mouh was also open a little, but she seemed more appalled then confused or shocked. “You can’t just say that to a person, Kurt,” Lyla said.
“I don’t see why not,” Kurt said, and with that, he slid out of the booth and stood up. He bent down to clutch his indigo paint can and straightened again. He started walking toward the door. “What’s your problem?” Kurt stopped. He didn’t move for a few seconds. Then he turned to Lyla. “What do you think of this place?” he said. “It has good tea.” “But what do you think of the place itself?” Lyla looked around, glancing at various tables and booths, the employees, and the registers. “I don’t know. It’s nice, I guess,” Lyla said. “You have no problems with how it looks?” “Well, it’s a lot of pink.” “Yes. And what color would you add photo by John Kissel if you could?” Kurt took a step towards her as he asked this. “Well, I think some magenta would really complement it.” Kurt stared at her. “Magenta?” “Yeah, I think magenta would really fit right in.” “I have to go.”
And Kurt left, and Lyla watched him go.
half hour later, Kurt was once again leaving the hardware store. He had bought some turquoise this time. Mary had apparently gathered the courage to try to strike up conversation with him this time, commenting how he had just left a couple hours ago, but his silence silenced her almost immediately. As he walked down the block, he watched his feet. He looked at the gray sidewalk, where it connected to the black asphalt of the street. Gray buildings stretched into the sky on his right. He looked up. The sky was dark and cloudy, about to rain. Soon, he was standing next to Stencil at the end of the block again. “Hello, Stencil,” Kurt said. “’ello, Rasputin,” Stencil said. They stood at the curb, waiting for DON’T WALK to become WALK. “That sign sure is something,” Stencil said after a moment of silence. “What?” Kurt said. “That sign. ‘Don’t walk.’ It’s really something.” Kurt could think of nothing to say to this. “That red is just such a good contrast, innit?” Stencil said. Kurt looked at the sign. Immediately, he noticed how among the shades of gray that encompassed the city, there were two bold red words. “Yes. It is,” Kurt said. They were silent then. They just stared at the red. Then it disappeared, transforming into WALK in green. Kurt turned to Stencil. “Thank you, Stencil,” he said. “My name is Harvey,” he said. “Thank you, Harvey,” Kurt said. “Don’t mention it, Rasputin,” Harvey said. “My name is Kurt,” Kurt said.
“Don’t mention it, Kurt,” Harvey said. And Kurt left, and Harvey watched him.
urt spent the rest of the day in his studio. He had skipped lunch and dinner that day. There was no time to fry eggs. Cans were opened and paint was splattered. The sun dropped, and still he painted, ignoring his hunger pains. At three in the morning, he took a step back. “How does that look, Arnold?” he said. He looked down. Arnold wasn’t there. He was still missing. Kurt looked around for a couple seconds, as if to find Arnold hiding behind the easel or to suddenly trot toward him from another room. He walked over to the mirror in the room. The white paint on the mirror made it look like he had paint on his left cheek. “It’s not bad, is it?” he said to himself. “It’s missing something,” he said in answer to himself after a moment. He looked at the picture, then back to himself. “I don’t know what it is, though.” He studied the picture longer. “It’s not bad,” he said. “But it’s not finished.” He stared at himself, seemingly transfixed by the blackness of his pupils. “I could just put it with my other unfinished pictures and get back to it later.” “Then it will never be finished.” Kurt studied the picture longer. “It’s not finished,” he said. “It looks finished.” “It’s not.” He looked back at his painting, then he turned back to the mirror. “But it’s not bad, is it?” he said finally. He licked his palm and tried to wipe the white paint off the mirror. He had been meaning to do that for a while, but it did no good. He would have to scrape that paint off later if he really wanted it gone. He turned to his painting and took a step toward it. As he did so, he kicked a can of paint: the
marigold. He picked it up. He grabbed a mini crowbar and opened the can. He found a clean brush, dipped it, and then brought it to the canvas. He dotted the canvas, making various marigold spots. He stepped back to see what he had done. Marigold leaves now covered ground next to the long purple trees that stretched into the indigo sky with turquoise clouds. Autumn is beautiful, he thought to himself. He stared for a while longer. “It’s finished,” Kurt finally said aloud.
Then his eyes fell upon the pile of unfinished pictures next to the easel. The picture of the sad man that Lyla had wanted was on top. Kurt picked it up and looked at it for a few seconds. Then he shrugged a little, picked up several other canvases and put them on top of the painting. Then he put them all back in the pile, leaving the sad man in the middle of the pile. He looked back at his depiction of autumn. “It’s finished,” Kurt said again.
Old Captain Steele Adam Holbrook
I once knew an Old Captain Steele. Rather, I knew a man as such, though That wasn’t his name, but it should have been As far as I could at that time discern. I met the Captain briefly then Outside of old Shipwreck Café. You might not have heard of the place; It’s a ways away from the goings-on in town. He was a leather man if I ever saw one, Wrinkled and tanned, beaten and weathered, From the bony swells of his cheekbones To the faulting trenches above his brow. A cigarette, billowing smoke in the cold morning’s air, Hung from his parched lips like a white cannon, Smoking from its latest ignition Ready to be reloaded or left in peace. I saw the effect of the wind As it billowed ceaselessly on his gray hair And left it rippling and waving Like water in a storm. No words were exchanged; No stories were shared between us. We just smiled smiles and nodded nods And, ending the moment, he ambled into the café. We went there for breakfast early in the morning. The dawn, though, looked more like dusk; The rising sun looked setting. It looked as if sunlight would never fully return.
Eating breakfast, I asked the waiter if he knew him— The old gray-haired man who had been outside before Taking a smoke-break outside the café. He asked if I was talking about Mike, but I didn’t know. I had a little time to talk to him then; We had a more important destination then and also an early check-in back in the town, Where our visit was meant to occur. I cautiously peered into the kitchen From the porthole in the swinging door. Though it was cloudy, I saw the man, Old Captain Steele, but just Mike in reality. Mike was washing dishes now; He looked to have been doing it for a while. He was very efficient and precise in his work, Leaving the dishes all spotless and clean. He had a white T-shirt, impossibly clean, But for one mark under his left shoulder: A black nametag that said nothing but “Mike,” Which was all it really needed to say. I saw him making a few fleeting glances At the wall in front of him with his sunken eyes, The Employee of the Month wall Which went all the way back to ’68. All the way back was a picture of him, Younger, of course, and optimistic. Mike, October ’68, Employee of the Month.
Never Look Back Nathaniel Heagney “Yo, Owen do you mind if I grab something out of your pantry?” I shut the front door behind me and threw my backpack in the pile of dirty soccer cleats and flipflops strewn beside the coat rack next to my house’s entrance. I turned to face my friend Sean, who, having come over to my house with me after school, was standing in the kitchen lustfully eyeing a box of my mom’s freshly baked cookies, the kind with just the right shade of brown that had chocolate chunks instead of chips. “Yeah man, go for it,” I replied. “I don’t think anyone’s home or I would ask my mom to make you something, but take
whatever you can find in there.” As Sean dug into the box, his hands making a grinding noise as he searched for just the right cookie, I plopped down on the living room couch, kicked my Nikes off, and flipped on the television. Some fat guy wearing a bow tie went on and on about how the Jets new photo by Mark Rieke quarterback was bound to fail. From the kitchen, Sean yelled something fuzzy about finishing up the milk, but I didn’t pay him much attention. Hard to concentrate when your mind 9s occupied with the contrasting haziness of fatigue and excitement—fatigue from the long week of school and excitement for friday night, though neither Sean nor I had any plans at the moment.
Disenchanted by what that evening’s Sportscenter had to offer, I quickly switched off the TV, grabbed an orange from the kitchen counter and went to go join Sean at the dining room table. I pushed aside my dad’s work papers, which as usual covered a good chunk of the table, and pulled forward the mail which my mom must have set down when she came home from work. I began sorting through the mail as Sean devoured the platefull of cookies he had picked out. I quickly tossed aside the boring things, like bills for my parents and some stuff from our great aunt about how she had re-done her kitchen; I can’t believe my dad always took the time to read all that shit. I flipped briefly through the new copy of Sport’s Illustrated and commented to Sean about how an article, which I would most likely never read, from The Atlantic on how Americans are turning more and away from institutions (whatever the hell that meant), seemed interesting. “Dude, Sean, I’m so tired of this college mail,” I said as I tossed a brochure for Missouri S&T in the recycling bin. “I’m not going to go to your school, so just leave me alone.” Truth be told, I actually
enjoyed the mail. It was nice to see a school send me something with my name printed boldly at the top. Nice to hear that I was the perfect fit for their school, not just a good fit but the PERFECT FIT. I guess it made me feel loved. And more the affection from those colleges was consistent. The rolling hills in the brochure for Kentucky Weslyan seemed happy to have me on any day of the week. The high school girls I was used to dealing with proved a little less compliant than that. But all that wasn’t the point. As a senior in high school the cool thing to do, no the mature thing to do was to be tired of college mail. So that’s the pretense I was devoted to maintaining in front of Sean. “Yeah, man, I know. But more importantly, what’re we doing tonight ...” Sean said, his eyebrows raising in that joking yet inquisitive way that only he could quite pull off. “I don’t know, Tyler told me today he wanted to go see that new Denzel movie. I mean it’s kinda lame or whatever but something to do, ya know.” I said the words with as much detachment as I could muster, though the ads for the movie did seem really cool and in
“Yo, Owen do you mind if I grab something out of your pantry?” I shut the front door behind me and threw my backpack in the pile of dirty soccer cleats and flip-flops strewn beside the coat rack next to my house’s entrance. I turned to face my friend Sean, who, having come over to my house with me after school, was standing in the kitchen lustfully eyeing a box of my mom’s freshly baked cookies, the kind with just the right shade of brown that had chocolate chunks instead of chips. “Yeah man, go for it,” I replied. “I don’t think anyone’s home or I would ask my mom to make you something, but take whatever you can find in there.” As Sean dug into the box, his hands making a grinding noise as he searched for just the right cookie, I plopped down on the living room couch, kicked my Nikes off, and flipped on the television. Some fat guy wearing a bow tie went on and on about how the Jets new quarterback was bound to fail. From the kitchen, Sean yelled something fuzzy about finishing up the milk, but I didn’t pay him much attention. Hard to concentrate when your mind 9s occupied with the contrasting haziness of fatigue and
excitement—fatigue from the long week of school and excitement for friday night, though neither Sean nor I had any plans at the moment. Disenchanted by what that evening’s Sportscenter had to offer, I quickly switched off the TV, grabbed an orange from the kitchen counter and went to go join Sean at the dining room table. I pushed aside my dad’s work papers, which as usual covered a good chunk of the table, and pulled forward the mail which my mom must have set down when she came home from work. I began sorting through the mail as Sean devoured the platefull of cookies he had picked out. I quickly tossed aside the boring things, like bills for my parents and some stuff from our great aunt about how she had re-done her kitchen; I can’t believe my dad always took the time to read all that shit. I flipped briefly through the new copy of Sport’s Illustrated and commented to Sean about how an article, which I would most likely never read, from The Atlantic on how Americans are turning more and away from institutions (whatever the hell that meant), seemed interesting. “Dude, Sean, I’m so tired of this college mail,” I said as I tossed a brochure for Missouri S&T in the
recycling bin. “I’m not going to go to your school, so just leave me alone.” Truth be told, I actually enjoyed the mail. It was nice to see a school send me something with my name printed boldly at the top. Nice to hear that I was the perfect fit for their school, not just a good fit but the PERFECT FIT. I guess it made me feel loved. And more the affection from those colleges was consistent. The rolling hills in the brochure for Kentucky Weslyan seemed happy to have me on any day of the week. The high school girls I was used to dealing with proved a little less compliant than that. But all that wasn’t the point. As a senior in high school the cool thing to do, no the mature thing to do was to be tired of college mail.
So that’s the pretense I was devoted to maintaining in front of Sean. “Yeah, man, I know. But more importantly, what’re we doing tonight ...” Sean said, his eyebrows raising in that joking yet inquisitive way that only he could quite pull off. “I don’t know, Tyler told me today he wanted to go see that new Denzel movie. I mean it’s kinda lame or whatever but something to do, ya know.” I said the words with as much detachment as I could muster, though the ads for the movie did seem really cool and in all honesty watching that would be a lot more fun than playing beer pong in some girl’s basement or whatever else Sean had in mind. But I didn’t say that. That’s the
Spring Reid Marshall The jay shouts rude retorts At the whistling songbird, The breeze runs its hand Through the dogwoodâ€™s fur; A snowfall of fragile petals Caresses the damp grass. The wise evergreen sees new life And knows it will not last. If the mighty evergreen pines For perennial death, it does not show; Spring has finally comeâ€” He is no longer alone.