All illustrations and cover art by Richard Sampson Comic by Marie Poncelet (www.marieponcelet.com)
www.inkspillmagazine.com Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @inkspillmag Read submissions guidelines at www.inkspillmagazine.com/submissions before sending material. All work is copyright ÂŠ the authors/artists 2011
Contents 04 07 61
Notes from the Editors Writing Exercises Write for Us
08 26 57
FEATURES In The Zone - Charles Christian Riddles and Riddling in Fiction - James Paz Syntax: Crafting a Powerful Sentence - Sophie Playle
12 21 30 36 40 50
SHORT STORIES Garbage Picker of Memory, Letter from Aunt Rita - Meg Tuite Dan Quixote - Simon Kewin Second Skin - Jen Campbell Crack - Kate Kimball The Road to Shimla - Amita Murray The Last Turtle - Daniel Trask
POETRY Drinks With Umbrellas - R. D. Kimball Fall - Patrick Sugrue The Year We Did Not Get Married - Cassidy Hodges In Which a Lady Scientist is Touched by the Primal (Webbed) Hand - Jamieson Ridenhour Vulture - William Hurst Anniversary - Danielle Pieratti
ART Puppet Woman - Sam Mardon
11 20 24 35
Notes from the Editors
ello! And welcome to issue 5 of Inkspill Magazine.
I know you’ve had to wait a little longer than expected for this issue — once again I seem to have overestimated my capacity. I’ve just finished off my Creative Writing MA and so have been writing frantically for the past few weeks. It really did suck up all my time, but now I am free and planning my next steps in life. As I hinted at over on my blog (www.sophieplayle.com) a few weeks ago, there are some changes on the horizon for Inkspill Magazine. Last issue, I talked about adaptation and evolution. I have decided to make the magazine triannual instead of quarterly, simply because of time and money constraints. The printon-demand edition of the zine will cease. It simply isn’t cost effective. So Inkspill Magazine will be going 100% digital. Since I won’t have to keep the magazine black and white to reduce print costs, future issues will be in full colour. I’ll also be looking for some permanent volunteer staff members to help with submissions, promotion, and possibly even design. So if you’d like to help out and can make a commitment to the magazine, please feel free to get in touch. This is a very special issue for several reasons. Two guest editors have had their pick of the submissions, and we’ve had an illustrator on board. A big thank you to our illustrator Richard Sampson, guest fiction editor Eleanor Perry, and guest poetry editor Barry Napier. This issue wouldn’t exist without your hard work.
Sophie Playle Editor-in-Chief
4 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
Eleanor Perry Guest Fiction Editor Eleanor is a writer and poet living in Folkestone. She is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Kent. In 2011, she was shortlisted for the UKC’s T.S Eliot Poetry Prize, and has just finished working on a short collection of prose poems.
t has been a rich and fascinating experience — and a mighty challenge — to pick just a handful of stories from the vast number of diverse pieces submitted. I did not expect the entries to be of such a soaring standard, and although I did encounter the odd hackneyed cliché along the way, there were many examples of beautiful writing and vivid ideas to choose from. It took a great deal of deliberation in order for me to narrow it down to just six. In making my selection, I was chiefly looking for inventiveness, style and a brilliant use of language. I wanted to be dazzled, and indeed I was. The stories I chose were those that shone just that little bit brighter among so many glittering gems. I was captivated by unique and imaginative ideas, as in ‘Second Skin’, the quirky tale of a mysterious woman who runs marathons covered in Sellotape. ‘Dan Quixote’ however, charmed me with its splendid simplicity; the pithy tale of a man seeking order in a
chaotic world. I was thrilled by some of the exquisitely-crafted narratives on offer. ‘The Last Turtle’, is a poignant and compelling story about loss and grief that haunted me for days after reading it. Similarly, ‘Crack’ — an elegant depiction of a critical point within a rather pitiful life — is carefully threaded together like a series of delicate vignettes. ‘The Road to Shimla’ is a delicately-crafted snapshot of cultural displacement, capturing by turns both the caustic and the tender moments in the disintegration of a marriage. Finally, ‘Garbage Picker of Memory’ is a tragic retrospective tale of breakdown and bereavement, told with a devastating frankness that resonates right through to its conclusion. It has been a pleasure and a privilege working as guest editor for this month’s issue. My hope is that Inkspill readers will enjoy the variety of original and well-crafted stories as much as I did.
Barry Napier Guest Poetry Editor Barry Napier has had more than 40 short stories and poems published in print and online publications. He is the author of the poetry collection A Mouth for Picket Fences, published by Belfire Press/Needfire Poetry. His novel The Masks of Our Fathers is currently available through Kindle/Amazon and his second novel, The Bleeding Room, is currently available through Graveside Tales. He is currently at work on editing a poetry anthology. www.barrynapierwriting.wordpress.com
Poetry, when she comes respects nothing. —Ferreira Gullar
he above quote is likely one of the most honest statements I’ve ever read about poetry. In addition, poetry is also incredibly subjective, something that makes it an extremely interesting form when the scope of its audience is considered. Being that poetry is indeed so subjective, it made it much harder than I had imagined to fulfill the role as gust poetry editor for this issue of Inkspill Magazine. In my own personal life, I will give any sort of poetry a chance, but there are certain kinds that I prefer more than others. In selecting the poems for this issue, I approached the process the same way. Poems with an abstract feeling to them always speak to me. I also enjoy having the gut punch sensation that a single line can deliver. I enjoy clever plays on words and unique approaches to subject matter. I love poems that feel witty, beautiful and
dangerous at the same time. While reading through the mounds of exceptional poetry for this issue, it occurred to me that I am by no means more qualified to judge someone’s poetry than any putz off the street. But I was delighted and honored to read these glimpses into the inner thoughts of the authors. My short list was nearly twenty poems (I had been tasked to choose only six) and it literally pained me to reject some of them. Seeing so much talent come in for this single small press magazine filled me with a sense of awe; I had no idea that there was so much interest and brilliance out there. It was both refreshing and exciting to see proof that the desire for poetry is alive and well. I am incredibly happy with the selections I have made. Quite honestly, I expect to see these names in other publications in the future. I hope you, the readers, enjoy these poems and that you will revisit Inkspill Magazine for your future poetry fixes.
Writing Exercises • Write down ten different ways of describing the colour ‘yellow’ (e.g. canary, golden...) • Pick a random household object. Describe it in less than two hundred words. Don’t mention what it is. See if a friend can guess what you are describing. • Write a three-paragraph story in reverse chronological order: end, middle, beginning. End with a revelation that makes everything else fall into place. • Write a scene in which two characters are lying to each other, without stating that this is the case. The reader must be able to figure out that both are lying through your use of language alone.
Marie Poncelet www.marieponcelet.com
• Write a story that is told through the senses: smell, sound, touch, taste – but not sight.
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” “Spotting the Monologue”
- Ray Bradbury
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 7
| Short Story
o how do you get started in creative writing? I mean really get started in writing, whether with a new short story, a novel or a poem? You can go on all the creative writing courses under the sun, read every book about the topic and study the technical issues, such as plotting, voice, pointof-view, rhyme schemes etc etc etc, but eventually there comes a day when you have to start putting ink down onto paper – and that includes virtual ink on the virtual page of a wordprocessing program. When that day comes, it can be a very lonely experience – just you and your imagination staring at a blank, white empty space. In terms of the practicalities of writing, I’m assuming you are already familiar with such things as deadlines, formatting documents and files for submission, and ensuring you have properly 8 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
researched the markets and publications you plan to approach. Likewise, I’m taking it as read you have considered how you are going to write (handwritten draft first or straight to screen), where you are going to write and when you are going to write (morning lark versus night owl). However along with these ‘practical’ considerations, there is the psychological concept of needing to be ‘in the writing zone’.
DON’T WAIT FOR INSPIRATION
or non-writers, this is probably the hardest concept to grasp, not least because the stereotypical image of the writer is of some obsessed individual burning with creativity and scribbling or typing away in the throes of inspiration. The reality is rather different. Creativity (to paraphrase the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison) is one percent
inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. You may have a brilliant idea for a story or a poem but you then need to spend time crafting, refining and editing it – and to do that you must be ‘in the zone’. And by zone I mean in the right frame of mind. For example, if you have had a bad day at work or have had a blazing family row, you are going to be unsettled and unable to focus as well as you should. The importance of being ‘in the zone’ is already widely recognised as a key element of sports psychology, motivational coaching, performance arts preparation and neural linguistic programming. It acknowledges the fact that no matter how fit or well prepared someone may be, if they cannot block out distractions, memories of poor performance in the past, stage fright and a whole raft of other factors (everything and anything the human mind can dredge up) they will not deliver the goods in the way they know they could and should.
USE YOUR DISTRACTIONS
o now back to writing... You know the scenario: if you have had a bad day, instead of concentrating on your writing, you are replaying the events of the day over and over again in your head and running through all the what-ifs of how you could have handled the situation differently. The only consolation (albeit a cynical one but some writers do verge on the sociopathic) is that family strife and daily traumas may actually provide you with raw material for your writing. In her well known book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron identifies ‘crazymakers’ (primarily people but it can also be events or just the general ‘stuff ’ that goes on in our lives) as one of the biggest challenges to the creative process, particularly when it also sows seeds of self-doubt and distraction. However sometimes it can be something far less substantial than a person or an event. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 9
| Article MONITOR DISPLACEMENT ACTIVITIES
atch out for displacement activities that can all too easily swallow up the time you have set aside for your writing. Things like dealing with emails, posting on Twitter and reading Facebook, as well as making yourself endless cups of tea or even reorganising all the books on your shelves. If you have hit a block with your writing (no disgrace, it happens to everyone at some time) it is very easy to find displacement activities to fill in your time rather than concentrating on the difficult task at hand and getting yourself back into the writing zone. And, of course, if you are one of those people who has set themselves a target of writing a specific number of words each day, then as the time drifts by and it becomes increasingly evident you will not hit your target, so this becomes a further stress inducing factor to keep you out of the zone.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!
s there a magic formula for flipping in and out of the zone? Sadly, no. Sometimes the crazy-making stuff in our lives is too much to block out, so you may as well just accept, leave your writing space and go have a drink, watch TV, go for a walk or go to bed – anything but continue to stare in increasing desperation at a blank screen or sheet of paper.
10 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
owever, when the stuff isn’t flying, personally I’ve found the best way to get into the creative writing zone is to ask yourself these questions: Are you a <insert your job or occupation here> who writes for a hobby? Or are you a writer who just so also happens to be <insert your job or occupation here>? t is a question of priorities. If you see yourself first and foremost as a writer, then being in the zone is where you belong and should be the rule rather the exception. The same scenario in fact as with you day-job! You’d never dream of telling your boss you can’t concentrate on your work because you are not in the mood. When you are a writer, you are your own boss, so don’t tolerate similar excuses with your own writing activities.
Charles Christian is becoming a regualar contributor to Inkspill Magazine. He is a barrister turned long-time technology journalist, editor, blogger and writer. He is also the publisher and editor of the Ink Sweat & Tears poetry and prose webzine http://www.ink-sweat-and-tears.com He lives in a bat-infested house in rural Norfolk and is prone to diva-like hissy fits on Twitter @ChristianUncut
Drinks With Umbrellas
R.D. Kimball she left me a note on the kitchen counter. ‘forget the children’ it warned like a sailor announcing a cruel twist of once-fair weather ‘forget the children they’ll only wind up dead anyway so i’m going off to market to possibly never return’ she left me a note on the kitchen counter. i left it for her to clean after and drove a thousand miles to mexico to chase after barely clad brown girls fourteen years later the phone rings and it’s a man claiming to be my son but he and his sister have changed into tropical drinks with umbrellas in them i tell him he must be mistaken, as no son of mine could wind up a daiquiri and his mother was a note on the kitchen counter which informed me my children were dead. and they said that life in the suburbs would be easy
R.D. Kimball is a religious scholar, a Hawaiian shirt enthusiast, and one hell of a model American. His short stories and poems have appeared online and in print, in places like decomP, Phantom Kangaroo, Yellow Mama, and The Red Cedar Review. He enjoys fishing, black coffee, well-stocked haberdasheries, vinyl records, and a good cigar. Originally from Michigan, he has lived in Florida and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. Online, you can find him at http://curiousorthodoxy.wordpress.com
| Short Story
GARBAGE PICKER OF MEMORY Letter from Aunt Rita Meg Tuite
, too, am a murderer. My daughter, Beth, was twenty. Yes, it was true that none of you saw me cry, not even at the funeral, but why would tears travel in public streams when what we see of the world’s bodies of water are nothing more than flat blue blots on paper or shorelines that whisper a mere spittle spray of the vast rivers, lakes, oceans and seas? The doctors found malignant tumors under Beth’s right arm, which they cut out and viciously attacked with radiation and chemotherapy over and over again. I knew those lumps would never disappear and would instead take up residence and destroy other parts of her body, because they were lumps in my throat that I’d swallowed my entire life, contracted from my mother, who’d carried them like a totem pole in her spine until one day she’d sat down in a chair, never to rise again. One long continuous wailing NO that unleashed its deadly poison from out of us into the silent chambers of my daughter’s blood. You see, I have always been a 12 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
coward. It is only at night in my bed, in my dreams, that I have fought and screamed, kicked and swore, the dryeyed arrested battles of the nocturnal, which served to raise me, like a tree, with the sun. I married your uncle Sherman, blinded by a love that turned out to be a corrective astigmatism. We chose not to see each other clearly until after we’d crossed the threshold. He came to detest me as quickly as I did him. I sucked in his abuse and commandments and swallowed them along with my fear, my tongue and myself. I’d hear over and over, ‘Why don’t you get off your fat ass and do something, Rita?’ when I hardly had an ass to speak of. ‘Look at this pig-sty! How can we possibly invite anyone into this house?’ I would sing that song in my head to drown him out, ‘Hush little baby, don’t you cry. Mama’s going to buy you a piece of pie.’ I made up my own lyrics. I couldn’t remember them, but one time
when I got to the ‘Momma’s going to buy you a mocking bird’ part, this blue bird just appeared on the windowsill. Sherman didn’t see it. He was too busy ranting. ‘What the hell do you do all day? I work all day long…blah, blah, blah.’ There it was, blue as sky and magnificent. I swear it looked right inside me and I was transfixed. I thought for the first time that I could escape. Start a whole new life somewhere far away, where no one knew me. I’ll never forget that bird. As soon as it flew off, I felt rage building up inside me and I stared at his globular, reddened face blathering on in front of me, and almost spat in it. I hated Sherman, but I was afraid. He’d hit me a few times. My daughter, Beth, was the only thing that gushed out of me from this coupled inferno. She grew up watching and waiting for the volcano bubbling in my throat to erupt, but it never did. Instead it ruptured out of Beth in short, fevered spurts of hatred toward me when her father was out. ‘All you do is pick up and cook for that asshole. You’re nothing but his slave. He doesn’t give a damn about you!’ She feared her father’s chronic manic episodes as much as I, knowing he could turn on her as quickly as he did on me. Sherman was a horror film. I’d come home and test the atmosphere in the room, searching for undertones of rage in his bone-chilling stare. His fabricated face, pliable in its chilling meteorological leaps and depths ravaged over his features like a typhoon blasting through a village built on sticks.
Sometimes the churning volcano threatened to swallow Beth up. When she was a teenager, she discovered it could be tempered and held beneath the surface with liquor and pills, leaving her with a tongue as fat as a bible and eyes as vacant as glass. She slammed and locked her door every night, communicating what her thickened tongue did not, until the day she discovered those lumps of mine lodged under her arm in a tight little ghetto of clustered family heirlooms. How was she murdered? Like memory. A car crash would have proved no more sudden than her prolonged illness, where the deathbed was just another vehicle that bore the domestic appearance of the everyday. I stationed myself by my daughter’s bed, feeding her, changing her and cleaning up the scattered eruptions of fluids that drained from her body, while the deadly settlements of cancer spread themselves out for two long years inside her. Clocked revolutions of meals, bathing, dressing, laundry and medications must have been seen by the world as loving acts by a devoted mother, when in reality these were my weapons. Clean sheets were snapped down to cover her, tucked in with fingers raw with apology, sealing her in, tight as a drum in a family compression that feet would never be strong enough to kick out of. Pillows, pounded and puffed up, bore the bruises never raised from my sagging cheeks of repression. Milkshakes, whipped out of life’s resignation, were my pride sucked by my daughter in lumps through a Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 13
| Short Story straw. The days moved on, taking her from me until one day I stood before a corpse in horror, while my hands, remaining unconvinced, groped their way desperately around her sheets, creasing and tucking with an inconsolable hysteria of muteness.
ita, I’m your sister. Talk to me. Please.’ ‘I’ve got all these people over, Lucy. I’ve got to feed them. I’ve always hated those parties when there’s never enough food to go around, haven’t you? Would make us look cheap, and I won’t have it.’ I picked up a tray of meatballs and started to make my way out of the kitchen, past Lucy, with that empty stare I now owned. ‘Rita, I’m dying along with you, here! I loved Beth like she was my one of my daughters. You’ve held up the front long enough.’ Lucy grabbed me by the shoulders. ‘Forget the goddamn food and the guests. This is your daughter’s goddamn funeral!’ Lucy dropped her arms and started to cry. ‘You did everything for that girl. Always so strong, Rita. She was lucky to have you for a mother.’ Lucy put her arms out to hug me, but I pushed past her with the tray in my hand. ‘It’s okay, Lucy. I’ll be right back.’ I patted Lucy on the head like I was petting a dog. ‘Food’s getting cold.’ And I slipped out of the kitchen with Lucy now staring at the door, tears sliding down her face without a sound. It was said that my silence became impossible to talk over. It carried the 14 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
wailing hands and tearing hair of a multitude locked up inside it. They called it shock, and then it was depression —this grief where words have always been stones, and the body, a traitor—and so voltage with its immediate answer to dark rooms was the only prescription to tear up these crypts. A shock for a shock, though none of the doctors, nurses, my husband or sister knew that while they electrocuted my brain, attacking and destroying synapses, assuring each other that these violent convulsions were necessary to successfully implode all disruptive memory into irretrievable waters, this vision of Beth’s murder was doubled up in ten shrieking digits, five on either side of me, crouching inside my two, bloodless fists.
nd the other murderer? It was my sister Lucy, mother to all you heathens. You never got to know what a genius she was. That was the crime. She taught herself to read and devoured every book she could get her hands on. ‘What you reading now, Lucy?’ I asked, tapping my foot on the stack of books leaning against the couch Lucy was stretched out on. ‘Gone With the Wind,’ said Lucy, without looking up. ‘But that’s a movie, stupid. We already saw it,’ I said, wanting Lucy to play some hopscotch with me outside. Lucy put her massive book down and rolled her eyes at me. ‘It was a book long before it became a movie, stupid.’ She picked up the book. ‘And by the way, it’s
by a woman author, and that’s what I’m going to be someday.’ I was jealous that Lucy had something I didn’t have. Ambition. I never thought of what I’d be. I just wanted to get outside and play. The sick part was that Lucy never found a place to feed that knowledge. It was the fifties and everyone was getting married. Your mom dropped out of school and married Peter with his platinum teeth and reliable job. None of us knew what kind of idiot we got married to until after we tied that deadbolt of a knot. Your father, Peter, was just like the rest of them, riding your mother like a racehorse each night until she was rotting in a suburb with four screaming babies. Evil clutters through the species and no one with an eye toward humanity could keep from tripping over it for long. Humans will destroy each other under the guise of lust, religion, nation, possessions or boredom, when it really goes no further than the length of an arm or the downward slope of the spine. I watched a man cross a street
Humans will destroy each other under the guise of lust, religion, nation, possessions or boredom, when it really goes no further than the length of an arm or the downward slope of the spine.
and viciously beat another guy with a lead pipe, with nothing more than a few grimaces and some staggered posturing exchanged. Not a word passed between them. If you forget for a minute that you’re a mammal, then you had better watch your back. I wish I’d taken a stick to Sherman. Hell, even Peter, your father. But no, that would have been the sane thing to do. Lucy and I slaughtered ourselves instead with the slow, agonizing paper cuts of day-to-day existence. Lucy wanted to be a writer, but there she was for four damn years, swollen up like the world’s pride. She could have been great. She put pen to page for a few years in college and then gave up on both when she got married. All four of you kids blame Peter for Lucy’s depression, but your mother didn’t fight for her life. Neither did I. One day, when you were a pack of toddlers crying for something, Lucy just started screaming along with you. ‘Rita?’ ‘Peter, are you okay?’ ‘It’s Lucy. She’s lost it! I mean really gone. She’s howling like a raving maniac and I can’t get her to stop. Can you get over here, please! I need your help! She’s gone and I can’t get her back! Help me, Rita, I can’t do this.’ And so, I came over, of course, and took care of you kids. Your mother had lost it. Lucy carried on for seven days and seven nights, rising and falling within a deranged river of grief no matter what Peter or I said. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 15
| Short Story This abominable overkill of hers could have raised her to star billing had she been placed in my house. I didn’t scream, nor beat Sherman, nor throw dishes when my daughter died, though for this there would have been no penalty. Lucy, Peter, you kids watched instead while I did nothing. I found no respite from the piteous, elongated faces with their eyebrows up, waiting for what? What had been a whole life of one thing suddenly became another. Lucy said I was in shock for three months, and then it was depression, and what was different? The house was vacuumed and meals were made. I ran errands and bought groceries. There wasn’t a light bulb burned out in the house. Sherman continued to work. He may have wailed in public, I don’t know, but no one followed him around. He was under no suspicion. This non-performance of mine proved as lethal as your mum’s over-performance, and yet there were no dramatic battles here and no one dragged me off the stage. Lucy and Sherman had said, ‘look, maybe...’ and then I found myself sitting three times a week with a psychiatrist who smiled and called shock therapy a ‘clearing out.’ I smiled back, like an imbecile, and said, ‘Nobody would mind if they opened the drapes a little wider and lightened up the room.’ Lucy held my hand while Sherman signed papers. My brain was electrocuted for three weeks/two-a-day sessions and I was bathed and fed. I know you’re all wondering how Lucy and I sold each other out. It was 16 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
easy. We had died long before the shock therapy annihilated us. Your mom never told you this one, but I’m going to. It explains a lot. Lucy was nine-years-old and I was seven when it really started. ‘Little chicklins, come out here and meet your new uncle Alexander. He’s just married your aunt Theresa. Alexander this here’s, Lucy, and the littler one is Rita. Go on girls, give him a peck on the cheek,’ our mother said. Uncle Alex leaned down and we girls complied. ‘Well, you’re just as cute as buttons, aren’t you?’ Uncle Alex looked up at our mum. ‘I’m hoping Theresa and I can make some of our own real soon, ma’m.’ Aunt Theresa and Uncle Alex moved in to the house with our family. That was the time of the depression, Uncle Alex was unemployed and became our babysitter because he just loved children and said he’d rather stay home with us and let the adults go off to run their errands and work. ‘Lucy, come on in here,’ Uncle Alex yelled out at us while we were playing outside. ‘Rita, you stay outside. I’ll send Lucy back out directly,’ he’d say. There was no playing with Uncle Alex. He was an evil man when the adults were gone. He made us promise never to tell or he’d do worse to us than he was already doing. I knew what he did to me in the kitchen pantry, and figured he was doing the same to Lucy, but the two of us never talked about it with each other. ‘Now Agnes, you know what ole Uncle Alex wants, so let’s just get on with this.’ Uncle Alex would have his
pants at his ankles. ‘I want you to hold on to it and stroke it real nice, honey, like one of your dolls.’ I had been yanked around by him once when I didn’t do what he said, so I always listened now and tried to get it over with as quickly as possible. Our mother found him with me after at least a year of this going on. I was clutching the shelves of the cupboard with Uncle Alex thrusting in me from behind when the door opened and I remember this brilliant light illuminating the rows of canned beans, tomatoes, sauces and jams that surrounded me. Mother started screaming and beating on Uncle Alex while my dad grabbed the shovel and knocked him right over the head. Mother cried all the time after that and would call us in and hug us tight for hours sometimes. She barely left us alone. That was the end of that chapter, but it changed Lucy and me forever. We learned to comply and accept anything that came our way. I have to say I got some pleasure in Lucy screaming on and on for a whole week. Your father, Peter, asked me to stay with you kids and he dragged Lucy into the psychiatric ward of a hospital near your home. One swift injection of a tranquilizer by an able nurse and the perverse cradle of a straitjacket delivered, within moments, an abrupt salvation of silence and the return of the woman whom Peter had married, but not before he’d signed some papers as well. He drove back home an exhausted, saddled man. Lucy drowned into a flightless slumber that night. I remember. I
left Peter with all of you and drove to the hospital, slept in the bed next to Lucy that night. Lucy was put out to pasture for a month of electroconvulsive therapy, (as they called it at that time) two times a day and puddled meals. She used to talk in those days. She told me about Peter’s mistress. She overheard him lusting on the phone one night with a younger woman. It was some girl he’d met somewhere or another. It didn’t matter. Their marriage had long been over but, amazingly, Lucy hadn’t seen it coming. She was deeply depressed and accepted the prototype of what a marriage was supposed to be, even though Peter confessed to me one day that they hadn’t had sex in years. I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t had sex with Sherman since the early years. I can’t speak for your mum, but it was no day in the park to have Sherman huffing and grunting on top of me. Once Lucy was sent back home, we lost touch for a while. I had my own life to work out. Sherman and I barely spoke to each other, but carried on with the usual tasks in what looked to the world to be a civil marriage. He screamed at me, but only in the privacy of our home. He kept working and brought in the money, but whatever love had been between us was a flicker of a memory. I came to visit Lucy when she first got home from the hospital. She sat on the lawn chair out on your front porch while you kids were at school and stared at the same trees, pedestrians, and passing cars. Her face was bland. The sound Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 17
| Short Story of footsteps frightened her. She never looked toward them. Her features froze and her head trembled until they passed. I bit my nails. I know I didn’t come to visit much, but our love for each other was intact because we had survived something as horrible as a war. At that time we were two middleaged women sitting up on a porch. In summer you would not be able to pass more than a few streets without spotting a pair of us. Little did we shift our direction as we would the world of words. Lucy used to love to talk. Now she barely spoke.
nd then came the divorce that Peter was blamed for. He had money and he used it. He got an excellent lawyer. Lucy was broke. A friend of the family felt sorry for her and represented her in court. Your father excelled in the courtroom, pontificating with the language of an insider repeating the words, ‘nevertheless,’ ‘above all,’ and ‘furthermore,’ while his lawyer handed over the hospital documents to the judge. Peter easily won all the money, but left the house to Lucy. At least none of you were left out on the street. He had to give you that, the bastard.
n life there is never one set version of history, just as there are multitudes of roads that lead to the same destination. Lucy screamed and I did not, and yet we ended up in the same place: the psych ward getting nuked with electric shock. Yes, Peter left your mother behind to 18 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
fend for herself and all four of you, but certainly many men have paved that particular road.
o, now I live alone. I’m an old lady and Sherman is dead. You know that. What you probably don’t know is that I spend most of my time riding buses these days. I have traveled the city from line to line with a transfer and followed the threads of history as they are picked up at one corner and dropped off at another. Some of the blindest old women have knitted the rattiest snarls of yarn into masterful canvases of scarves and sweaters, so why shouldn’t I be capable of bleeding together a few fragmented stories out of the downpour of discarded babble that never ceases. With my monthly bus pass I follow an endless trail of saliva from stranger’s mouths—set my bucket under it, so to
speak, and guess what I find? Murderers in every one of them. I call myself the garbage picker of memory. It situates me with the species. History is a web of stories that have been locked up in textbooks and museums, lined up single file by chronology. Civilization, colonization, war, famine, and all those kingdoms march before us, yet we need only put our ear up close to any of those textbooks to hear the silent screams of millions buried alive by that print. They reach out from those iron bars of words, pounding in futile agitation from the buried cells of the past, and yet look at these ridiculous beasts parading their costumes and stuffed with their facts that call themselves history when they are no more representative of the truth than the sacred beasts we line up on our own private mantels in the guise of memory. Are we not all trash collectors of the past? Time and memory can only be murdered by fear. We destroyed our younger selves, but to hell with those old photographs. We have all found a way to create our own beginnings and endings to make up for a life the world never gave us. Just get on the next bus and listen. My daughter, Beth, is dead, but she comes alive every time I speak or write. Now, I open up my damn mouth and say whatever the hell I feel. So, how do I end this? With Lucy and I, of course. She has cancer. She’s not long for this world. We all know that, but your mother and I have come to an understanding. She lets me write the stories she never did. I sit next to her
and read them when I visit. She listens and laughs. That is enough for both of us. Two, old women sitting up on a porch. In summer you won’t pass more than a few streets without spotting a pair of us. We are as dismissed and as old as the trees, but we still hold an ocean of history inside us. The last story I read to your mum began with, ‘I, too, am a murderer.’ Damn, did she get a kick out of that one! The story she’d been waiting to write forever. When I got to the part about Uncle Alex, she clutched my hand and tears welled up in her eyes. But when I got to the part about her losing it, screeching and roaring like an orangutan, Lucy let out a howl and started beating her chest. This tiny little blue bird in her robe and nightgown was roaring so loud and slapping her thighs she almost fell out of her chair.
Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, 34th Parallel, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle, Hawaii Review and Boston Literary Magazine. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. Her novel Domestic Apparition (2011) is now available through San Francisco Bay Press (www. sanfranciscobaypress.com). She has a monthly column ‘Exquisite Quartet’ up at Used Furniture Review. Blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com Website: www.megtuite.com
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 19
| Short Story
Patrick Sugrue lives in New Orleans where he writes, paints, and is attending Loyola University. He has been published in the Rio Grande Review, the New Plains Review, A Capella Zoo and elsewhere. 20hopes | Inkspill | Issue 5 He to beMagazine a professor.
Dan Quixote Simon Kewin
an worked a slit in the mesh of the fence using the rusty wirecutters he’d unearthed in his shed. Alarms would be sounding in control rooms down in Manchester or Sheffield. Cameras relaying jerky, black-and-white video of a masked intruder. He reckoned he had twenty minutes, thirty tops. He couldn’t hang about. When the slit was tall enough he slid through, snagging his balaclava on a sharp prong of the steel. He plucked it off. It was ruined; an ugly tear gashed right up the side. He placed it on the ground by the fence. It had itched anyway. Inside it was just him and the windturbines : vast, beautiful machines, glowing white, like a line of towering aliens or angels spelling out confused messages in semaphore. He allowed himself a moment to admire them. The wind hissed through the hummocky grass of the moor. The great blades wound and wound, slow and stately. He couldn’t grasp their scale. He walked
towards them. They grew bigger, their whooshing blades louder and louder. Still, they didn’t appear to get any closer. His mobile rang. He should have switched it off. It hadn’t taken them long to triangulate him. ‘Hello?’ Politeness cost nothing. He talked as he jogged towards the square hut at the foot of the nearest turbine. ‘You are trespassing on private property, sir.’ The voice was firm, clear, in control. A voice to talk you down from the ledge or make you put the gun away. ‘The police are on their way. You must leave the compound immediately.’ ‘I’m afraid I can’t do that,’ he said, trying to explain. ‘I have to fix the turbines you see.’ ‘They don’t need fixing, sir. They are working perfectly.’ The voice had a sharp edge to it now. They could see the satchel he carried, slung over one shoulder. ‘No. I drive by here every day you see,’ he said. ‘Over the top into Manchester. I couldn’t stand it any more, Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 21
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see?’ He reached the hut and set down his satchel. He knew what he had to do, he had it all planned out, dry-runs in his bedroom. ‘Sir, leave the area immediately.’ ‘Sorry.’ He switched off his phone and slid the laptop from his satchel. The blade of the nearby turbine scythed through the air above his head now, its speed alarming. He tried to ignore it and set to work. The wire-cutters snapped through the padlock easily. He plugged a USB cable from his laptop into the control machinery and began to type, uploading the script he had crafted to reconfigure the resistances on the blades. It was easy, so easy. It had taken him, what, five or six hours development, tops? Why hadn’t they done it in the first place? 22 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
He executed the script. The controlling computer only had to consider for a few moments before replying, simply, OK, like it was delighted to be asked, bored all alone up there on the moors. The police arrived as he was halfway back to the fence. Six cars roared up, scrunching to a halt on the gravel, blue lights strobing. Behind them, a van that said Armed Response Vehicle on its side. He knew he would never get away of course. Still. Officers took up position behind their car doors. He imagined the sights of rifles focussed on his chest. He’d seen it on TV. Other police, the black-uniformed combat sort, pushed their way through the slit in the fence and, fanning out, walked their way towards him in military formation. He turned away to look at the turbines. It was working already.
Beautiful. The hands grasping his arms were unforgiving. ‘Don’t move. What’s in the bag?’ ‘Nothing. Just my laptop, officer.’ They slid it off his shoulder and took it away, as if it was really to blame for everything. Others searched him, smacking and stroking him all over, looking for weapons. ‘What did you do?’ a female officer demanded of him, standing very close to his face but almost shouting. ‘Are there explosive? What did you do?’ He shook his head. They wouldn’t understand. ‘No, no. Look. I’ve fixed them, that’s all. Look at them.’ They all turned to look at the blades, Dan and four or five police officers, standing in a line facing the line of turbines. One of the officer’s radios squawked. He muttered into it for a few moments. ‘Control are saying no damage done, sir. Turbines all still generating.’ The woman officer looked at Dan. Her face was flushed. Dan felt sorry for putting her to all the trouble. He glanced back at the blades, the sun flashing off each of them at precisely the same moment. ‘Take him away,’ she said. ‘Arrest him for … something.’ A hand on his head pushed him inside and the police-car whisked him away. Handcuffs chafed his wrists. Dan sighed and looked out of his window at the familiar sight of the blades on the top of the hill. Finally, finally, they
rotated perfectly in synch, each blade swinging to the same beat, their disturbing, confused arrhythmia gone. Beautiful. He settled back into his seat as they sped him down off the moor, humming a quiet tune to himself.
Simon Kewin writes fantasy, SF, mainstream and some stories that can’t make their mind up. His work has appeared in numerous magazines. He lives in the UK with Alison and their daughters Eleanor and Rose. He is currently learning to play the electric guitar. He blogs about writing at http://spellmaking.blogspot.com.
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 23
The Year We Did Not Get Married Cassidy J. Hodges I wished you into the dock over the lake on the day I was born. Cities blinking back told me that fall was a season I could count on. Like your lips on my shoulder, my hands in your hair. I put roasts into the oven of you, Scrubbed clean and safe and new My brain spinning birds nests of songs. Banjo Sunday sun ripe and worn, my hands Stoking something warm. Something I deserved. Drunk on dirt roads and piled under blankets we slept closer to the headboard. Pushed our barnacled, spindled posts toward the salt spray of the wintered city through the burning blue of your eyes and mine.
Blooming, thunderous, and green never getting over it, Sheet music and four stanzaâ€™d feet keeping time. I wished you into the summer time Placed mason jars full of lemonade lightning bug promises into your sock drawer. You used your teeth and your lips and your spit To stain me, proud and glorious on the back porch of our bellies stretching. You put on your earrings in the hallway and I put on my jacket on the stairs and we walked down the street holding hands. Magazines full of white dresses next to open windows sailed into something that lake wasnâ€™t large enough to hold.
Cassidy J. Hodges is a queer writer and teacher in Seattle, WA where he can be found flirting with spicy food and pretending to go jogging. His work is also available in The Saltwater Quarterly.
Riddles & Riddling in Fiction James Paz
ere’s one for you. What do riddles have to do with ‘serious’ fiction?
Aren’t they mere guessing games, intended for the amusement of schoolchildren? We’ve all heard one somewhere before. What’s brown and sticky? Answer: A stick. Surely their effect is humorous, at best. And yet some of the finest literature in recent times—works by Joyce, Borges, Wolfe, and others—can only be described as puzzling or, to put it another way, ‘riddlic’. A lot of the best fiction asks to be unravelled, decoded, figured out. This suggests that all works of fiction are, in some sense, games; maybe some games are more serious than others. It’s an odd paradox. Pageturners might be entertaining enough but they lack literary seriousness precisely because they fail to engage us in the riddling game. 26 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
Learning to read is like solving a riddle
lthough the riddle, as a genre in and of itself, may have lost some of its prestige, relegated, perhaps, to the Victorian nursery, it seems that we’ve been unable to divorce riddling from the act of reading. Why? There are clues within the English language that still cling to the connection between the two processes. Our Modern English word ‘riddle’ derives from the Old English rædan. The latter may look strangely familiar. That’s because it is. Rædan was a verb meaning to counsel, advise, guide, explain... or to read. It’s easy to understand how, even in the most basic way, learning to read is a lot like solving a riddle. For a culture or individual uninitiated into the act, those spidery black marks on white paper need to be
deciphered. A teacher needs to explain them. A wise guide must show the novice how to make those alien glyphs yield meaning.
Such riddling puts us in a childlike position, whereby we learn how to see the world anew. There’s a poetic beauty to this process, but it’s relevant to stories and other forms of fiction as well. For me, most fiction—wherever it stands on Riddles are used to re-imagine the continuum of the fantastic—is an the world attempt to imagine alternate worlds by reimagining the everyday world. In order ven when we move beyond this to do so, we need to loosen those mindinitial learning stage, reading is still forged manacles decried by Blake. To bound up with riddling. How common construct a new world, maybe even an is it to hear a student in an advanced improved world, you must first learn to literature class bemoan the difficulty of a deconstruct the world we text—a poem, a play, a inhabit. This can be story, a novel—that won’t most fiction is an challenging. But with the offer up its secrets? best riddles, it’s not the attempt to imagine Presumably they’ve learnt answer that matters but the alternate worlds to read and yet cannot ‘read’ the literary work by reimagining the search for an answer. The Anglo-Saxons knew this. before them. Nevertheless, everyday world That’s why most of their these frustrated readers are riddles have no solutions. learning something. Riddles
do teach us—not always in the overtly moral sense, not by delivering some hidden message, but they do help to explain the world by taking it apart and defamiliarizing it. Riddles, for instance, can reveal the nature of a thing by describing it in terms of other things:
I watched four curious creatures travelling together; their tracks were swart, each imprint very black. The birds’ support moved swiftly; it flew in the air, dived under the wave. The toiling warrior worked without pause, pointing the paths to all four over the beaten gold.
What does this mean for the practising fiction writer?
here’s an element of playfulness in most writers. We like to engage our readers in a sort of game. Mystery writers will lead their reader down the wrong avenue, or divert their attention away from the murder weapon. Romance writers might want you to think that their heroine’s falling for one man, when in truth she’s destined to marry another. Science fiction writers may describe an idyllic, beautiful utopia, one in which the reader would happily dwell, only to have it descend into a dystopia. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 27
| Article Writers are riddlers. It’s commonly said that fiction writers are liars. But, as riddlers, we only lie in the hope of revealing some small truth. Again, there’s usually a serious intent behind the game. How Writers are much can we get away with, though? Solving a riddle entails intellectual agility, mental exercise. Exercise is good, but there comes a stage when even the fittest of us will begin to tire. A reader is more likely to work through the aches and pains when reading a literary classic. It’s harder for aspiring or obscure writers. We can only frustrate our reader so much. We don’t want to give the game away, to reveal everything at once, and yet too much concealment will shut the reader out. They’ll turn to another story, or throw the book away. A tension exists between writer and reader, riddler and solver.
Writers can be an egotistical breed. For this reason, it’s worth thinking back to those riddles you may have heard as a child. What sort of riddles delighted you, and why? My guess is that you’ll remember the riddlers ones that rewarded your efforts, the ones that made you feel clever. This is not to say that the ingenuity of the riddler is irrelevant, especially when you recall that it’s not really about the answer but the search for an answer. Riddling is truth-telling and the truths worth knowing are hard-earned. That’s why such games ought to be taken seriously.
James Paz is a Ph.D. student at King’s College London, where he is researching the role of nonhuman ‘things’ in medieval literature. Alongside his academic work, he likes to read and write speculative fiction and to attempt creative translations of Old English poetry.
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“Puppet Woman” by Sam Mardon
| Short Story
Second Skin Jen Campbell
here was a girl who ran marathons wearing nothing but sellotape. She’d wrap it around herself, mummified and anonymous. She was the talk of the Press. The journalists called her Runningkhamen, and her sweat gleamed white. She used thick packaging tape, wrapping it several times around her feet to act as shoes. She creaked when she ran. I used to have nightmares about her pulling off that tape, ripping the hair off her arms, and her legs; a Medusa strand of hair shedding its coat. I sneaked into my father’s study and stole some gaffa tape, lined a long piece right down my arm and pulled. I assumed she wore underwear underneath it all, or at least hoped she did. Each run would be like a full body wax. Some said she was an attention seeker, some said she did it for art. I think she did it because no one could decide why she did. My parents thought her ridiculous, which only heightened my intrigue. I collected all of her newspaper 30 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
clippings and stuck them to the back of my bedroom door, spent every weekend rearranging them into different shapes. Whenever my mother came into my room, she looked at my door, coughed, and hung a coat over the top of it. When she left, I threw the coat back into my wardrobe. It was our silent war. She thought I was too interested for my own good. I’d had things for girls who ran before, you see. I’m sure a psychologist would have something to say about that: about why I go after girls who are running in the opposite direction. If I wanted to catch her up, I decided I’d better train, so I joined the cross country team at college, taking hills in my stride and wondering if she’d run over them before me. I wondered how her skin breathed if, underneath, she became a shrivelled prune, like when you sit in the bath too long and your skin wrinkles against the damp. But something told me that underneath it all she was beautiful. As if she didn’t want to be known for her beauty,
but for the way she ran, thick skinned and hand made, wearing a bumpy streamline. I wanted to be just like her. In history I learned her about her past. Studying the classics, spending time after college in the library in town, I read about Pheidippides. How, in 490BC, he ran all the way from Marathon to Athens to bring news of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians. I thought of his sandals and his robes, pieces of material snaking around his body, like strips of tape, like strips of skin, running the distance that has now become twenty six miles and two hundred and eighty five yards. I wondered what message she was trying to give to this world. From then on, I called her Pheids. I was certain it was her name, and I was thrilled to have solved a mystery that the journalists hadn’t. She was a running Banksy, art haring through the streets, and I was her Herodotus – her Hero – boasting her success. I would talk about her to anyone who would listen. My family quickly tired of hearing my modern renditions of the classics; they preferred to think of her as a running corpse, a mummy falling apart at the seams who used tape to tie her limbs together. I decided I wanted to meet her. I signed up for the London marathon in February, nervous beyond belief, worried that Pheids would take
one look at me and hate me. I wanted to run alongside her, turn my head to the side and see her through the gap in the tape where her eyes peered out over the tarmac. I wanted to say ‘Hey, I understand what you’re doing, and I like it.’ I wanted to say ‘I know who you are, and all I want to do is run along with you.’ To tell her I wanted to help her take her message to the people, whatever that message happened to be. In the end I went for masking tape, because it doesn’t hurt so much. I practised wrapping the tape up both arms, wearing a jumper over the top, walking around town with no one knowing I had two skins. I wrapped it around my stomach, my hips, my legs, my torso. It was a white string corset. It was
[My skin burned where the two rubbed together. I had war wounds as brush strokes]
| Short Story magnificent. In the course of three weeks, I spent twenty six pounds and twenty eight pence on masking tape, peeling and unpeeling, cocooned and flying. My skin burned where the two rubbed together. I had war wounds as brush strokes.
n the day of the run, I slipped out of my bedroom window and took the tube, masked in the masking tape. No one said a word to me; it was if I didn’t exist, yet that I was also the only thing in existence. I could feel their eyes through their newspapers. There is something about anonymity that has a gravitational pull, and, for that twenty six minute train journey, I was the centre of the universe. If it weren’t for the police and the huge amounts of security, I know I would have started at the finishing line and run towards her. I wanted to spy her on the horizon and pelt down the road, note her reaction when she saw a reflection of herself running straight towards her. But I couldn’t; I would be stopped, taken away by men in uniforms and I would never get to see her. And so, I had to start from the beginning, within the crowds. We all have our beginnings. This was mine. It started with a gun. I don’t think that anything can really prepare you for a marathon, for the way your legs hit the tarmac and bounce back off and your whole body shakes with it. The tape didn’t stop the shaking. After 32 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
seven miles, the sweat started to loosen the binds on my palms and I had to clench my hands into fists so as not to unravel, watching my feet to make sure that I didn’t start to trail huge laces. At the beginning, I didn’t know if Pheids was even there. I ran the first twelve miles next to a man dressed as Superman, but he suddenly began to stride off ahead of me and no matter how hard I tried to run, I couldn’t catch up. He disappeared and people kept on passing. At the eighteenth mile, I hit the Wall. Some idiot on the side lines threw a bottle of water over me to try and cool me down. It was so hot that the water dried before I fell apart but I walked carefully for a mile, just to make sure. They say seventy percent of the body is water, and I was beginning to feel it. Under the second skin, I was a running river, a water spirit caged in bandages: each time my legs hit the floor a new tidal wave began and ended in a head rush. I was blood and sweat and water. Just after the sign for the twenty second mile, I saw her. She was jogging, slowly, in the centre of the road, with people watching and cheering. There wasn’t one strand of her that was coming undone; her skin running round her body in circles. She was the centre of a tree, and I tried to count the number of times it wrapped round her, to guess her age, but sweat kept clouding my vision and she bobbed in and out of the crowd. At first she didn’t notice me, fixated on some imagined horizon. I tried to picture my parents’ faces, turning on
the TV to see their daughter running alongside the woman they believed to be so ridiculous. But who knows if a parent recognises their child when they are wrapped from head to toe in masking tape. I supposed they would call me names too. I supposed they would laugh. I found these thoughts empowering. Pheids was about an inch taller than me, broader at the shoulders but slimmer at the waist. We fell in step together, pounding the road as two bandaged, frameless pieces of art. Her outer skin was shiny, like some kind of limbed fish. She breathed in and out in the shape of a zero. At first she tried to outrun me. But the tape didn’t allow her to run must faster than I could and, as I pushed myself, willing my body to keep up, she
became more curious. As we approached St. James’s Park and the finishing line, we were running together, our tape occasionally catching on each other’s hands, scratching the surface. My thigh muscles kept afloat by the tape, my knees ricocheting off my calves. We were Pheids and Herodotus, side by side, taking news of a war we had both won to some people over the horizon. But I didn’t know what the war was, or which side we were fighting for. Some people, somewhere, were taking our photograph. We crossed the finishing line but didn’t stop running. She showed no sign of slowing down, and so I let her lead. We headed over the green and through the crowds, escaping onto the main road we headed down a side street to where Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 33
| Short Story the skyscrapers parted and we could see the horizon. She looked at me sideways, as if to ask if I was game. I managed to nod, my head swimming. And so we ran, and ran, and ran. Until our outer skin had had enough of the journey, and began to shed. We sprinted down the side streets, which took us down to the river, following the Thames, our second skins twisting and turning in imitation. We kept on unravelling, leaving reams streaming out behind us until, suddenly, the tape stopped. And we just were: skin and bone. Pheidippides and Herodotus. She stopped first. Red lines hooped our backs, our legs, our arms, and we saw each other, right in front and side by side, all fragile muscles and weathered skin. All arms and legs and birthmarks. She smiled, out of breath, her skin gleaming. She managed to say a breathless: ‘Hi.’ After that, there was no where else for us to run. Jen Campbell is a writer and bookseller living in London. Her poetry and prose have been published in a variety of places including Short FICTION, Poetry London, Gutter Magazine and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. She has just finished writing my first short story collection, The Aeroplane Girl and ‘Second Skin’ is from this collection. ‘Jen also writes the ‘Weird ThingsCustomers Say in Bookshops’ series, the book of which is to bepublished April 2012. She blogs at jen-campbell.blogspot.com
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In Which a Lady Scientist is Touched by the Primal (Webbed) Hand: A Sonnet Jamieson Ridenhour Kay’s a modern woman. She knows biology and smokes Virginia Slims. With a quick flip of a filterless butt into the lagoon, she can metaphorize ecological horror with the best of them. But she can also strip off all that modern like terrycloth and dive into the Darwinian depths, pale in the black black water. Her breasts are two tail fins from a ’57 Bel Air, or the jutting prow of the Beagle bound out. Underneath is a world fringed with ferns and fronds, darker than Kay’s khakis and silky with silt and spawn. A million years from Mark’s spear-gun she strokes solo until he joins her unbeknownst. It’s an ancient dance, a parallel rippling that thrusts them through the shadows in tandem. Though he’s new to the ways of modern women, he knows all the moves when the subject is swimmin’. Jamieson Ridenhour (www.jamiesonridenhour.com) is the author of the werewolf murdermystery Barking Mad (Typecast, 2011) and creator of the award-winning fairy-tale horror short film Cornerboys. His poetry and fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, The Lumberyard, and Pseudopod. His new film The House of the Yaga will be released in October.
Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 35
| Short Story
Crack Kate Kimball
hen Greg came home from Africa, the first thing he noticed was that his garage door was covered in eggs. The white shells were scattered all over the driveway and the empty cartons were twisted between wisteria. The door looked like a Pollock piece, and Greg half expected to see a plaque with the details below, nailed into the concrete. Neighbours slowed down as they drove by, shaking their heads with that look of enjoyed annoyance. Some even whistled out the windows, and to them, Greg whistled back. The door was a complete eyesore—and everyone knew it. They got him and they got him good. Greg had been gone for months traveling up the east coast of Eritrea. Eritrea. The name of a jigsaw puzzle. The answer he missed on The Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword. He stayed in a one room flat, hanging his sheets outside on a line, drinking what his neighbours called rum, and smoking thickly wrapped cigarettes. There, eggs were eaten raw for breakfast 36 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
and the shells were thrown outside windows, piling on the ground. He thought he’d find something there. But, under every pile of shells was another. There was no stopping it. In Eritrea he slept on his back, even though he’d never slept on his back a day in his life, and watched the stars through the window. He didn’t see what was so spectacular about them. Stephanie complained that you couldn’t see anything in California—the smog made everything dark. It’s even gotten to you, she said. You’re covered in it. He had told people he went to Africa to work on his freelance picture-taking. To Stephanie, he said that he went to get rid of the smell of her. She had thrown whiskey in his face. He had licked it off his hand. After, he had painted the garage door blue and bought twenty ducks on Heifer.com to send to dirty-faced kids in Cambodia. Later, he had stood on her patio smoking Camels that his son would pick up and put in a jar and keep on his bureau. He’ll do
anything to have a piece of you, she had said. Your garbage is the only thing he has to hold onto.
reg didn’t understand Beja, but the man hadn’t cared. The man had worn a turban and a tunic and he had a staff, which he used to beat his goats. He had wide desert feet. It’s desert, not dessert, the man had said, telling Greg to focus and count his goats and understand words in To Bedawie. Greg couldn’t. There were four and then there were thirty-four. The goats had seemed to change from blue to gold to lime to burgundy under the heat. Don’t let them get away, the man had warned. I can’t help it, Greg told him. I have to get back to my blue door. The Beja man had told him that he was a disgrace to his entire community and that he should go south. Get lost in the Indian sea.
hen Greg awoke on the lawn, all he saw was the old man. Pitiful, the old man said, nodding to his door. It’s sad enough that you paint it blue. Now—this. Greg squinted, stood up, running his hand through his hair. The old man stepped closer to the door. He was wearing blue drawstring pants and an open brown collared shirt and had a scruffy beard. His bald head shined under the sun like a neon orb. Don’t touch it, Greg warned. The old man stepped back, glancing at Greg. Yer in trouble, the old man said. You got no idea how precious time is.
Greg yawned wide. He needed coffee. The weak stuff the Beja had given him at the corner shop in Eritrea. Eritrea. The scent he wanted to drown Stephanie in. He wanted to bottle it and give it to her as a gift, wrapped in empty egg cartons. First the hose, then you gots to wipe the shells off. Don’t you know anything about being egged? Greg didn’t. Don’t you know that you gots to have someone stay in yer house when ya leave it? Greg didn’t. Yer hose? The old man waved his finger at the door. I ain’t got all day. Greg motioned to the side of the house where the rubber hose lay like a coiled snake. I ate one of those in Africa, he told the old man. One of what? Greg shrugged, and went inside to the bathroom. He ran water over his face and thought about all the lakes he had photographed. Were they lakes or rain puddles? It never rains, the Beja man had said. Don’t you know anything about deserts? The water on the garage sounded like an engine. Greg ate salty pieces of SPAM while the kitchen sink ran. He rolled the pieces around drips of halfdried ketchup, licking off the side of the bottle, remembering the Beja man who had eaten the inside of his goat’s mouth.
ow old are you? Greg asked the old man, who scrubbed the door and threw flecks of shells into the lawn, leaving patches of white on the door. Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 37
| Short Story A hundred and two, the old man said. Or seventy-two. Doors rotten. Ain’t nothing going to get this off but a pressure washer, maybe. I bet you ain’t got one of those, though. You don’t know anything about home improvement, do ya? There were many things Greg didn’t know. He didn’t know why the Beja man had stuck a pole into the sand, sucking the end. We’re going to rot out here, he had warned. After, they had cut another goat and drank the salt of his blood, wiping their fingers off on the sand. At night, the Beja man had licked the dirt, begging for moisture. The land hates us, he told Greg. You’re not even supposed to be here.
You have nothing. Greg continued hosing the door, uncovering the crack. After he stopped, he placed his hand on top of it, feeling the grainy split of wood and remembering what he had. He had his divorce papers in a folder with his son’s birth certificate with a name that Greg hated. I didn’t know you didn’t like it, Stephanie had said. Greg wanted the squiggles of Arabic on the certificate, laying out his son’s destiny inside the cracks to which he had been born, underneath piles and piles of shells.
reg saw Stephanie’s silhouette in the spray from the rented pressure washer. It billowed around him, and whispered to go faster. He watched the spray of gold fall from the door, the blue fading into an off-shade of white, the color of his son’s eyes. Then, he saw it—the crack. What happened? The old man asked. It was a fault line in the blue door— below the San Fernando Valley. It was a crease in the newspaper from the corner deli in Eritrea, a column of muddled Arabic words that Greg couldn’t say. It was the line creased by Stephanie’s eyes when she smiled. Hot like the desert. Wide like the ocean between. Nothing to lose. The twenty ducks feet that went to dirty Cambodian children. You’ll never get it back, Stephanie said. You can’t fix this, the old man said. 38 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
Kate Kimball received her MFA from Virginia Tech. Her work has appeared in the Midwest Literary Magazine, Weber, Ellipsis, and Kestrel, among others. She lives in Salt Lake City.
‘O Vulture, cry, in a land of scarce wood your belly is a holy fire’ —‘The Cycles’, Robert Pinsky A moving thing becomes a carcass faster than the flap of a wing. My daily ritual: dodging the beaming eyes of death, serving my time as the Charon of flesh. I carry the fire across thousands of ribs– not food for the belly, but the belly for food. Monks take a cowl when they enter the service; Living as an anchorite, withdrawn and withdrawing, one foot in the earth and one foot buried in the steaming, digesting bits of heaven.
William Hurst received his B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from Lee University (2011). His poetry emphasizes the place of the natural in unnatural circumstances, and is influenced primarily by the work of Kay Ryan, Matsuo Basho, and Charles Simic. He has been published in The Rectangle–the literary journal of the International English Honors Society–The Penwood Review, Full Armor Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, and other online literary publications. He is in the process of applying to Masters of Fine Arts programs across the country.
| Short Story
The Road to Shimla Amita Murray
he first time you saw me, you handed me a glass of bubbly and punched me in the face,’ Alice says. She turns to study her husband – if he is still her husband – then peels her eyes back to the road. Jacob pauses in the act of doing nothing at all, surprised at the attempt at nostalgia, but decides to go along. ‘I did not punch you in the face. You took one sip and only bloody choked on it. I was trying to reach your back and give you a neighbourly thump.’ ‘More like a neighbourly hump, if I’d only known,’ Alice says virtuously. Jacob reaches out a hand, then thinks better of it, seeing her jerk forward in her seat. She clenches the steering wheel, and stares out at Kalka, the last town in the plains before the narrow road climbs up to the Himalayas. Life presses in hungrily on both sides, clamouring to get into the car. The rain has formed gullies, and there is garbage swimming its way down, onion peel, soggy cabbage, a packet of Band-aid, a plastic bag that 40 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
says Amul milk, a half-dead lizard, assorted hair scrunchies, a dirty sock. A child with one sock and gaps in his teeth is running down the street with a skinny branch on his shoulder, a bunch of used ice-lolly sticks tied to it, trailing behind him. ‘You could let me drive sometimes,’ Jacob says, studying Alice’s set jaw, mouth held too tight. The tips of her hair are blood-red. A few things have changed in the eight months since he has seen her. She rubs her neck and an Oxfam price-tag pops out of her t-shirt like a socialist placard. Perhaps things haven’t changed that much. ‘You don’t know these roads,’ Alice says. ‘You just read the map.’ ‘There is no map, it’s a straight fucking road. Or at least, it’s the least straight road in the world, but there is only one direction you can go. Anyway, what makes you a fucking expert?’ ‘Language, darling, lang…’ She stops abruptly, peers at a roadsign, pretends she didn’t call her husband
darling. Though Jacob is right. All roads lead to Shimla. ‘It never changes, does it?’ Jacob says. He looks at her left hand clutching spasmodically at the steering wheel, with its faint imprint of a missing wedding ring. Alice catches his stare. ‘We did agree…’ she says. ‘Chocolate?’ he asks. ‘Let’s get some!’ The car brakes suddenly, and then stalls. Alice, struggling with the clutch of the rented car, narrowly misses a man selling coconuts who slaps the bonnet to advertise his specialty Kerala-imported hairy nuts, cut neatly into a flower shape, brown on the outside, dehydrated all around. ‘Not bangles again.’ Alice curses, bringing the car to an undignified stop, next to a cart laden with row upon row of glass bangles, red, green, yellow, silver. But Jacob neatly side-steps it. The bangle-seller, eating a plate of Maggi noodles and chick-peas, jerks his head towards Alice. She signals no. If she sees another glass bangle in her life, she will have a fit. Her flat was full of them last summer, when Jacob was going through one of his I-aman-undiscovered-genius phases and building a bangle tree for a tabloid art competition. You couldn’t walk in the flat without treading on a splinter of glass and the tree chimed all through the night. When I’m famous, Alice, he’d said, they’ll say you’re married to the man who made his first million on glass bangles. Who knows, thinks Alice, the ghastly thing might even have won if Jacob had bothered to finish it.
‘Imported, Madam, imported,’ says the bangle-seller, grinning and spitting, as if he doesn’t really believe himself either. Alice says in broken Hindi, ‘You’re asking the wrong one, woh hain,’ she says, nodding towards Jacob who is standing at Himalaya Mountain Chemist, buying pills for motion sickness. He never needs them, so these will join the growing pile in his pants drawer in London. ‘Would Madam like a little mithai?’ asks the bangle-seller, pointing at the sugary spirals spitting in an enormous pan of hot oil next to him. He takes a bite of the raw green chili in his hand. ‘Best in the country.’ It is a tall claim, though Alice’s grumbling stomach is not completely unconvinced. ‘You are Indian?’ he asks. Indian, born in England, she responds. ‘Brown face is best face,’ says bangleman in English, joining his index finger to his thumb. Jacob returns. ‘As soon as the proper winding begins,’ he says, holding up the motionsickness pills. He sticks a long finger in his mouth and gags on it. Alice nods. ‘Good idea,’ she says. The road is dark as they head up out of Kalka, their headlights and the lights of the valley around them the only foggy beacons of life. Visibility is fifteen feet, but Alice likes it this way. Now and again around the curve ahead, she sees approaching headlights and creeps closer Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 41
| Short Story to the mountain side. The approaching truckers can steer nearer to the valley, to the sheer, mile-long drop; she’s safer nudged up to the spooky mountains. There is a traffic jam, truckers lined up, honking because they can, not in a rush to get anywhere. There is a bawdy exchange of jokes. An orange-turbaned trucker shouts something rude to another driver who laughs into his beard. Alice catches that it is something about the bearded man’s mother. Beard-man responds with a comment about the turbaned man’s testicles. She inches forward, her foot aching on the brake. The road climbs, curving sharply, with no visibility ahead. They pass a large banner advertising hotel rooms at Mountain Dawn View, where the rooms come with a double-bed, clean towels, Star television, and tandoori chicken with Kingfisher beer in the bar. ‘For the Customer That Know’s,’ it says. Alice mentally erases the delinquent apostrophe. ‘I am more of an expert than you, anyway,’ she blurts out. ‘Huh?’ Jacob says, meticulously peeling apart his rows of Kit-Kat and breaking open the silver foil. ‘Oh, driving. We’re still talking about that, are we? How are you more of an expert? Indian blood in your veins, is that it?’ He pops chocolate into his mouth. ‘Or do you just always do everything better than everyone else?’ Alice grinds her teeth. Jacob munches on his Kit-Kat. ‘Can we stop at Morning Dew juice 42 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
bar, and pick up guava juice?’ he says. ‘And we could get some of that pickle for Mum. And maybe—’ ‘Oh, yes! We must,’ Alice cries. ‘We must get some garlic pickle for darling old Mummy. How could we go back to her empty-handed! Poor Jacob won’t get his lovely goodnight kiss if we do, will he?!’ Jacob pops the rest of the Kit-Kat in his mouth. ‘Feeling a little hormonal, dear?’ he says, through the chocolate. ‘At least my Mum gives me a goodnight kiss.’ Alice curses under her breath, then jams the old Honda to a lower gear as they climb higher and clear the trucks. Behind them lies the overnight plane journey from London. Ahead, an old cottage full of books and Victorian furniture that belongs to Alice’s mother Rita. Rita wants nothing to do with the cottage left to her by an old Uncle, or with Shimla where she grew up. She is, as always, helpless. And Alice, as usual, steps in. ‘You always take care of me, Alisha,’ Rita had said, counting her own pulse and taking her temperature. ‘I think I’m having palpitations again.’ ‘My name is not Alisha,’ Alice had said. ‘Oh ho, beta, just because your father named you that.’ She paused. ‘And – and he left us when you were no more than a girl of ten.’ Her lips trembled. ‘Left us with no money, or – or – a roof over our – our head, or – what would I have done without you? You always know what to
do. Even as a child, you always knew…’ ‘Thanks for coming with me,’ Alice says to Jacob, forcing the words out. ‘I couldn’t have handled it on my own.’ ‘Look at those police horses, wow!’ Jacob says. ‘They came out of nowhere. Maybe they’re from colonial times, emerging through the Fogs of Time.’ He says fogs of time like a Hollywood trailer. Alice pulls up and takes a picture on her Blackberry, as the fringed horses trot by with khaki-coated policemen on their backs. ‘You got a Blackberry?’ Jacob says. ‘When did you get it?’ ‘A few months ago,’ says Alice. ‘Why?’ ‘Just don’t know anything about you anymore,’ he says. He whistles a faceless tune. ‘Alic—’ he says abruptly. ‘Not now, Jacob. Let’s not talk about it now. Please.’ ‘Sorry,’ he says. Alice is quiet. ‘Why do you just do everything I say?’ she blurts out. ‘Here we go again.’ Jacob shakes his head. ‘I was wondering how long it would be. Why don’t you just tell me what to say?’ ‘You could say what you want. Actually, you could start by knowing what you want.’ Alice kicks the car into a faster gear and the Honda jumps forward, though the engine quickly begins to sound laboured. Jacob looks ahead, keeping his eyes on the road that winds left and
right, left and right. ‘Why don’t you say something now!’ Alice says. ‘Whatever I say is going to be the wrong fucking thing. Eat some chocolate. It’ll help with your PMS, I’m sure.’ They drive in silence. ‘Did you ever finish that installation?’ Alice says abruptly. ‘With the bangles?’ ‘Nope,’ Jacob says. ‘Uh huh.’ Alice stops the car so that Jacob can get guava juice. She steps out and leans her head against the car. The loud chirruping of the crickets is punctuated by truck horns and the distant thumping of a large water pump. A Langurmonkey, with its long, white body and soot-black face, clutches its baby on its back and swirls a bendy straw in an empty glass bottle of coca-cola. Its wise, dilated pupils swim in the fog before it scampers away.
[A Langur-monkey, with its
long, white body and sootblack face, clutches its baby on its back and swirls a bendy straw in an empty glass bottle of coca-cola] ‘Are you sick?’ Jacob says, returning with eight one-litre cartons of Lehberry guava juice. As usual, his mood changes quickly. ‘Do you need a pill?’ Alice snorts, doesn’t reply. ‘What are we going to do with all this Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 43
| Short Story juice? Power up the car?’ she says. ‘It’s a clunky old thing, isn’t it?’ He glances at her. ‘All donkey shit leads to Shimla,’ he says, tentatively. It’s an old joke. Alice laughs. Jacob puts a cautious hand on her right scapula, where she gets stiff when she drives. She relaxes for a moment under his hand. She puts her head on the roof of the car again. ‘Tell me now,’ she whispers. ‘What you were saying before.’ He leans against her back. ‘Just wondered if you’d thought about it any more,’ he says. ‘You, me. Us.’ ‘Have you?’ she asks. ‘You know what I want, Alice,’ he says. He slides a thumb into the waistband of her jeans, in the depression next to her hip bone. ‘I hate this. Is this what you want?’ She closes her eyes. The fog around them smells like wood pine and exhaust fumes. By this part of the drive, her stomach is hollow and churning, and she can anticipate the old, leathery, dank smell of the car. ‘Not really, but—’ Jacob sighs, turns her towards him, kisses her on her forehead, then the corner of her eye. ‘Thank God, thank God. I thought – maybe you would. It was a mistake, Alice. It never needed to be like this…’ He presses his mouth to hers and she yields. He inches closer, and moves a hand up her t-shirt, tracing her ribs. ‘Look,’ she says, stepping away. ‘Let’s just go a bit slower. I haven’t seen you in 44 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
how long.’ He nods acquiescently. She grinds her teeth, then turns abruptly to the car. He follows. They drive in silence. She pulls open the glove compartment to see about music. A purple Cadburys wrapper falls out. ‘Look, isn’t that one from the deal they’re doing?’ Jacob inspects the chocolate wrapper. ‘Yeah, dinner for two at a Himalaya Tourism hotel!’ he says. ‘I think you’re right!’ He’s excited. It’s a sign. He leans over and sweeps a stray hair from Alice’s face. ‘Maybe we could get a room there, after our free dinner. We don’t have to get to Shimla tonight’ ‘Can’t wait to get me back in the sack,’ Alice says. ‘You’re the one who has the hots for me. You’re not wearing a bra.’ Alice looks down at her chest and shakes her head. ‘Or your wedding ring,’ he says softly. ‘I have it somewhere,’ she says. ‘It’s fine,’ he says, ‘Whatever you need.’ ‘God, I’m starving. My stomach is churning like mad!’ Jacob pulls out a bag of crisps, green chutney flavoured Walkers. ‘I hate eating at this time of the night, especially when I’m so jet-lagged,’ she says. She dives into the bag. A statetransport bus chugs along in front of them, lurching wildly at the turns and belching exhaust fumes. The painted
letters on its boot curse anyone giving the bus an evil eye, and advocate two children per family. A woman leans her head out of the window and vomits. ‘Oh,’ Alice says, ‘oh, that’s just beautiful.’ She shifts gears, goes a little faster. ‘Did you ever get that grant?’ she says, after a while. ‘Wow, you do remember absolutely everything, don’t you?’ He fills his mouth with crisps. He licks the salt off his fingers. ‘I did get it, I turned it down.’ ‘You what?’ she says, turning to look at him, narrowly avoiding a passing car that creeps up suddenly in the fog. ‘Careful!’ Jacob says. ‘I don’t know, I lost the original idea.’ ‘You could have used that money, paid off some debt,’ Alice says. ‘People would kill to get one of those grants.’ Jacob shrugs. ‘I don’t understand,’ she says, after five minutes. ‘I don’t bloody get it. It took you so long to get around to putting that application in. You stayed up two nights doing it, though I didn’t get why you had to leave it so last minute like everything el—’ ‘You do fucking remember every little detail about everything, don’t you. It must come in very handy, I’m sure,’ Jacob says, ‘with your steady banking job with its regular pay check. Superstar Alice. Rent payer extraordinaire. That actually rhymes.’ He stuffs half a chocolate bar in his mouth. The car stalls again, and Alice almost yanks the old-fashioned stick out of its socket. The car splutters forward.
Her nostrils flare. ‘What are you doing now?’ she asks. ‘This and that. Hanging out with some of the old St. Martin’s crowd. Living back at the parents again. Working on some sketches.’ Alice is silent. ‘You could do whatever you wanted with your life, you know,’ she says. ‘You’ve got talent.’ ‘Yes, and maybe, just maybe, this is what I want,’ he says. Alice suddenly pulls up to the side of the road. ‘Jacob, let’s not make the same mistakes again,’ she says, staring into his eyes. He lays a soothing hand on her shoulder. She pushes the hair savagely from her forehead. ‘Let’s not!’ she says. He nods. ‘Let’s not,’ he says. ‘Then don’t fucking agree with everything I’m saying!’ ‘Oh, come on, Alisha, don’t start—’ ‘My name. Is not Alisha,’ she says through gritted teeth. Jacob sighs. ‘Yes, it fucking is. Your name is Alisha. Named after Goddess Alisha by your lovely dad.’ ‘Who the fuck is Goddess Alisha?’ Alice spits out. ‘There is no Goddess Alisha.’ ‘There may as well be,’ he says. ‘You just want me to be religious because your mum is religious. Poor Jacob, no one drags him to church any more. How can he feel like a true fucking atheist?’ ‘Mum didn’t drag me to church.’ Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 45
| Short Story ‘Oh, come off it. You’re Jacob, father of the twelve sons of Israel.’ ‘I’m named after Jacob Grimm.’ ‘Yeah, Mummy was really into fairytales,’ she says. ‘Ha,’ says Jacob. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Jacob is quiet. ‘Jacob?’ she says. He stares into the distance. ‘What the fuck does ha mean, and why do you go so quiet?’ she says. ‘I don’t want to fight,’ he says. ‘No, you never do,’ she says. ‘You know, you’re just like your mother,’ Jacob says. There are tears in Alice’s eyes. ‘That’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me,’ she says. ‘Oh, come on, I didn’t mean it.’ She looks at him for a second, then pulls the car into gear. The car jerks forward. ‘You didn’t, did you?’ she says. ‘You never do.’ Half an hour later, she drives past the Himalaya Tourism hotel at great speed.
Amita Murray is a London-based writer and dancer. She writes for Writing Raw, London Fringe, Radia magazine, and others. Her fiction has been published in Asia Writes, and Brand literary magazine. She has lived in London, California, and Delhi, and her writing often explores the comedy and tragedy of personal and cultural relationships.
46 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
What is possible: astonishing chamber of birds. We live in our vegetable future, hinged with thunder, slightly apart. Mint rises between us. Our pain drifts to cedar. A doe wades the meadow like a lady in low water. I feel like a tree—every part of me skyward and reaching. Or like the Killdeer—feigning injury for your distraction. You’re more Meadowink. You build your nest in new hay with abandon. You come to grey water a grey shadow at dusk. I come to learn birds, but I learn other things. The fledgling eye is on me. I am made weaker by its liquid dark.
| Poetry II. What you find: one moth wing in the dish drain, round as August and reasonable. And there are Waxwings, whirligigs. The mudstained sky. And everything is reasonable compared to you. Even the surveyor’s tattoo. Even burdock, milkweed, your husband’s steady breathing. The bull calf ’s labored, phlegmy cry against the night. You are safer than you thought. You are almost sleeping. And your body is shaped like cloth and sounds like a century. 48 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
III. What you wanted: this strange, unyielding adulthood. This paddock of killed grass. Endless autumn, its circle retreating inward. And what you take for wild turkeys, orange kites, wicked shots of the city’s tight, fueled ironies. The hours flatten out to one creaseless pinstriped pant. Or worse— a series of desperate acts, gold flashes of mammal just on the periphery. The room is an orchard, pony-bright. There are artichokes. Your red bandana still flits through that childhood.
Danielle Pieratti’s poems have appeared in a number of journals including The Paris Review, Boston Review, Gulf Stream, Absent Magazine, Watchword Press, & Rhino.
| Short Story
heryl has worked at the New England aquarium for nearly eight years now, but she often drifts back in time to her college days at UMass Boston, and as she stares at the water in the massive, cylindrical fish tank in front of her desk the bubbles and light refractions replay her past in front of her, and she is there, in an aqua theater where past completely overpowers present. Daydreaming she calls it, but it is much more than that—she’s manipulating time, moving hands on clocks forward and backward as she pleases. It is this time-travel ability she resorts to whenever she contemplates the task ahead of her, whenever she thinks about releasing Mildred back into the wild in the future—and no matter what time Cheryl’s currently occupying, the same bus is slamming into the same car over and over again. She has to think about Mildred, think about her job. She’s in charge of the logistics of the operation. Mustache is really the one in charge though, the one 50 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
who came up with the idea, the one who knows nothing about sea turtles but rose through the ranks due to his interpersonal skills, his natural leadership tendencies, his ability to match his ties to his socks. It is his deep voice, from behind her, that too often pulls her out of her time travel. ‘Cheryl. What are you doing?’ the voice always says. Daydreaming. It’s what she always says, and although he’s never satisfied with this answer (‘I am paying you after all’), he believes it and never wonders if something more is going on, if secret plans are being made as Cheryl travels in every direction through time, never wonders if his authority is being questioned, if his plan isn’t the best for everyone, every turtle, concerned. ‘Cheryl. What are you doing?’ The hook pulling her back into the present, the one point in time she can’t understand at all—somewhere in between the past and the future, but somehow never static, never here, something intangible and impossible to stab with a time-stamped pushpin. The return
to the past as the sounds of his footsteps walk away from her, then the pull back to the present, away from the bus slamming into her, moments or hours later. ‘Cheryl. What are you doing?’ And then the future, Mildred swimming by over and over, swimming round the 10,000,000-gallon tank full of seawater pumped in from the Atlantic, from just beyond the wall of Cheryl’s office, Mildred’s tank, the tank that Mildred has swum around over 10,000,000 times in the last five years, since she was captured, always searchsmelling for her mate. The Dermochelys aliciata is primarily a monogamous animal, mating for life after finding a suitable partner. This is what Cheryl tells guests visiting the aquarium, going on tours, being led through her office and lab, seeing Mildred swim past. Guests always like hearing this information about Mildred. And it’s true, for the most part. There are recorded instances where D. aliciata has mated with more than one partner in its lifetime. Twice this has been observed in the wild. The first time this observation was made, it was made by Charles Darwin, who tracked turtles with more interest than he observed finches on his third, fourth and fifth trips to the Galapagos, after his reputation had already been well established. On his third voyage, with sea-proof paint, Darwin painted each couple’s carapace with a different symbol, a different symbol for every pair of turtles. On his fourth voyage, he
observed these same couples, and noted that two individuals were single, their spouses having met with some sort of untimely death in the intervening years, probably struck while passing through shipping lanes. Over many weeks Darwin observed that these two individuals did not interact at all—both of them remained solitary the entire season. On his fifth visit to the Galapagos, aboard a new vessel, also named the Beagle, Darwin noted in his journal, and in the academic paper he would later write, that the two single turtles were now a couple. Their symbols remained, but the symbol on each one’s back no longer matched the symbol on its partner’s back. The second time this phenomenon was observed was in the twentieth century, in the late seventies, when turtles had begun to be tracked by electronic radio tags, computers and satellites. Every single member of D. aliciata was tagged and tracked, their whereabouts known at all times. A male named Slo-mo and a female named Ethyl died in a boating accident in 1974. Five years later, their surviving partners coupled for the first time. A scientist, also named Charles but not related to Darwin, working the overnight in Tampa, monitoring the turtles’ migratory progress, wrote in his notebook that two of the dots on his tracking screen converged on an island beach, the one dot brighter than the two had been separately. He didn’t know what the convergence meant until the single dot separated into two again several minutes Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 51
| Short Story later. Not only has this phenomenon not been observed since that late night, but hardly any phenomena have been observed since then. The turtles’ numbers have been declining since Darwin’s time, perhaps earlier, perhaps since the first large ships were pushed from land out into the ocean and began hitting giant sea turtles, knocking them unconscious and sending them spiraling down into the abyss, so deep they can’t make it back to the surface for air before they drown. In 1993 there were only three left, Mildred, her partner Stanley and their single friend Roberta. In 2005, Mildred was captured along with Roberta, and though she’s not aware of it, Stanley died shortly after her capture, in a subsequent capture attempt designed to reunite them at the New England Aquarium for a mating program. Stanley got caught in the net, panicked and drowned. His movements in the days leading up to the botched capture attempt were erratic, not following the normal migration pattern, and scientists theorize he was frantically searchsmelling for Mildred. This search left him in a weakened state, and this was probably one of the factors that led to his death. Mustache oversaw the botched capture attempt, and Cheryl still blames him for the tragic event, though she’d never say this to his face. The D. aliciata turtle, in addition to being primarily monogamous, is a species strongly inclined to avoid solitude. Before she died, Roberta was 52 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
constantly at Mildred’s side in the New England aquarium tank. They slept next to each other on a small ledge about halfway up the tank, and they swam around in endless circles together— Roberta searchsmelling for a possible mate, Mildred searchsmelling for Stanley only. She will continue smelling for Stanley, swimming in endless circles, until the day she dies—this is the D. aliciata way. When alone, they search endlessly for another of their kind—but there is no other of Mildred’s kind now, and Cheryl is very aware of this fact, reminded every time Mildred swims past. In Cheryl’s watery future, in the revolutions of the turtle, lies a dreaded event that Cheryl has been postponing since she was given the assignment months ago, and in her mind this future event is inextricably linked to the sound of a bus hitting a car. Fluid projections of light out of the past from a time when there were still three turtles left, and deeper more turbid projections, immersions, of a time long before that, when there were more turtles than people, a better time existing only in Cheryl’s mind, form a place to escape to as often as possible, in the back of her mind, behind her right ear. She can tuck in there and feel her turtle flippers growing and the water making the ponderous weight of her shell-covered abdomen manageable—pounds of light cutting through water, displacing it, physical tactile things penetrating her, releasing even more of her 450 pounds, the high salt content making it
impossible to sink, keeping her close enough to the surface so she can breathe oxygenated air every half hour. ‘Cheryl. What are you doing?’ Destroyed by mustache, who knows nothing of Cheryl’s past, looking over her shoulder, wondering why her computer screen is turned off, looking into the tank at the same drab scene he’s seen a million times, the images he has become tired of. She’s working on the Mildred Release Project, she assures him, the project now advertised in poster form next to the aquarium entrance, in the area adjacent the outdoor harbor seal tank, where Cheryl comes sometimes late at night when she can’t sleep, to watch the seals sleep while floating on their backs, their handflippers crossed across their slowly rising and falling chests in the cool water. ‘We need this plan soon, Cheryl.’ She knows this, that’s why she’s working so hard, why she’s been working hard for many weeks. It has to be done right. Does he remember what happened when the capture of Stanley was botched? When they damaged Roberta’s left foot, the injury that allowed the infection in, the infection that eventually weakened her and left her Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 53
| Short Story vulnerable to the fungus that slowly covered every part of her body but her shell and killed her? The fungus that left her cloudy eyes dried out and propped open, sightless? The blindness that caused her to bump into the side of the tank as she circled around it in her final days though Mildred tried to stay between Roberta and the side of the tank, tried to guide her ever-slowing gyre? The situation that made the young and old visitors to the aquarium cry and donate money to the Mildred Release Project? Yes, he remembers this. And he walks away, another glance at the big fish tank, the boring scene of overlapping concentric circles of futility. Back to Cheryl’s theater, the past/ future, a thickness that fills eyes and ears and lungs, that floats one away from the weight of one’s present. Back to college at UMass Boston, set on the ocean, Fox Point, next to the JFK library, where class times are measured in rising and falling tides. To the spot where the road leading in from Morrissey Boulevard meets with the bus route, the road from the library, the section where the incoming cars meet the exiting buses, where they pass sometimes within inches of each other, and where they crash into each other over and over again in the past and the future, but never in the present, always the same car, always the same bus, the same careless bus driver, the one with the mustache, texting on his cell phone. And there goes Mildred, through it 54 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
all, circling, a cog in a giant timepiece, searching forever in an ignorance that floats one like water, keeps us all bobbing. Mildred soon to be released, but to what? An empty ocean full of fish but no turtles, none like her at least, and certainly not Stanley, the love of her life. But the plan is set, it’s finished, it’s happening soon, and there’s nothing Cheryl can do to stop it. Nothing she can do to save her best friend from an endless search that will end in nothing but deep, cold and dense water stripped of light—robbed of her buoyancy. Cheryl can’t stop the bus from crashing into the car, killing her oceanography professor in the driver’s seat next to her, killing her secret lover, the most intelligent and beautiful man she’s ever known—she can’t stop this from happening over and over again. And as the bus is crashing into the car Mildred is being pushed into the ocean by the incredible percussive force of the accident, a physical force felt through time. ‘Cheryl. What are you doing?’ The hook pulling her back, the hook sounding like the screeching of static tires on moving pavement. It’s time, the day of the release. That’s why Cheryl brought her big yellow boots to work today. See the boots, mustache? He sees them, he’s nodding, glancing at the tank again, indifferent, as Mildred takes her last spin around the giant tank. The divers are in there with her now, coaxing her to the surface, onto the mobile lift that will
transport her to the ship waiting just outside in the harbor, behind the seal tank. They’re on the boat now, Cheryl next to Mildred’s container, stroking the back of her massive head, Mildred smelling the ocean, excitement filling her. Cheryl stares into the ocean moving past them, a more unsettling sort of aqua theater than the one she’s accustomed to—the bus is slamming into the car more frequently. Many times a second the bus is crashing into the car and Cheryl’s lifelong mate is destroyed, and there is no point in looking for him in the ocean because he’s not there, but she stares at the theater, hoping to see him alive, really alive, not just a moving image, not just a smile four seconds before a bus crushes the smile into something unrecognizable, something dead and sickeningly edible, devoid of emotion, images of hollow light on a two dimensional screen of white cloth. The bus is crashing over and over and every time she hopes it will veer off in another direction—but it never does.
[The bus is crashing over
and over and every time she hopes it will veer off in another direction—but it never does] The boat lurches to a slow stop and Mildred’s container slides a few feet across the deck and she’s nervous for a moment, but then she sees Cheryl and she’s filled with a buoyant trust, and her
eager anticipation returns. Stanley! Her thoughts turn to Stanley seachsmelling in the ocean below them, the ocean she can feel lifting the entire ship. Cheryl waves to the 20 passengers watching from chairs outside Mildred’s roped-off area, the 20 lucky people who won the opportunity to be a part of the Mildred Release Project. Cheryl waves and smiles and pulls out her medical bag, to give Mildred her last batch of vitamins before the release. Mustache is watching Cheryl do this, but he doesn’t notice that there’s a new bottle in Cheryl’s hand, that it’s not the bottle she’s been using to give Mildred her vitamins for the last five years. He doesn’t notice that written in small letters on the bottle are the words Sodium Azide, words written so small they’re an underwater whisper. He doesn’t know what Sodium Azide is, that even a small amount saps the body of all energy, and quickly kills anything living. He doesn’t know that if Cheryl ever decided to kill herself, this is the method she would use. Mildred slowly flipper scoots out of the container that Cheryl has opened for her. She looks at Cheryl and heads down the ramp, and when Cheryl looks back at Mildred she sees busses crashing into cars in Mildred’s great big dark eyes. The sound of Mildred slipping into the ocean is the sound of screeching breaks, and the sound of the applause beyond the roped-off area is the sound of metal crunching faces. The tag affixed to Mildred’s shell has a new battery in it and scientists will be Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 55
| Short Story able to monitor Mildred’s searchsmelling for many many years, as many as 40 if Mildred avoids sickness and manages to dodge the many boats aimed at her from all over the Atlantic. Mustache explains this to the crowd, his socks matching his tie matching his un-crunched smile. Mildred is swimming as fast as she can, swiveling her outstretched head from side to side, searchsmelling for Stanley, knowing in her giant 18-pound heart that he’s searchsmelling for her somewhere out in the Atlantic, that it’s just a matter of time before they find each other, that it doesn’t matter how long it takes because their species can live to be 200 years old if they avoid the underwater buses. But then Mildred’s eyesight fails, and she’s navigating by scent alone, but she smells nothing familiar, no other D. aliciata within scent. And now her flippers are failing, and she can’t seem to lift them, and her lungs are letting out the air, the air needed to oxygenate her cells, needed to keep her buoyant. But the nerves in her stomach and the ones in her skin are still working, just barely, and she can feel herself spinning ever lower, ever deeper, and she can feel that the water is getting colder, that there is no light dissolved in it. But now the last of her sensory nerves are failing and she can feel only her heart—and she can feel it slowing, and though her ears aren’t working she can hear the sound of things mechanical screeching to a stop, a smash, and her last thought is of Stanley searchsmelling for her for the next 180 years, not understanding what has 56 | Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5
happened, and she thinks of him spiraling down into the depths after searchsmelling for more than a couple of Cheryl’s livetimes, for nothing, and Mildred’s heart breaks just before it stops. The monitor on the ship tracking Mildred’s radio tag stops beeping. And mustache assures the worried crowd that the tag must’ve fallen off, that Mildred would never go deep enough for the radio waves to be quenched by the Atlantic’s miles of depth. Cheryl is lying facedown on the deck, her turtle fins too exhausted to prop her up, and she feels the present for the first time since the day Henry died, the day Mildred was released, the only day, and it’s slamming into her like a bus into a car on a stretch of road that ends in the ocean.
Daniel Trask’s writing has appeared in a few small journals including Mass Media, Skive, Blue Crow, Air In The Paragraph Line, Zingology, Zygote In My Coffee, and Publishing Genius. He was also the first runner up in JMWW’s “What I Did Last Summer” flash fiction competition.
Syntax: Crafting a Powerful Sentence Sophie Playle
yntax changes everything. It’s not just about what we put in a sentence – the words we choose, the punctuation – but how we put that sentence together. A well-crafted sentence can make all the difference to a reader. It can convey the writer’s message more clearly, more effectively. Careful syntax is the difference between a messy, meandering piece of writing, and a crisp, powerful piece of writing. It’s something that writers don’t (and shouldn’t) pay attention to in the first drafts of their writing. Though you may find a lot of your sentences are constructed efficiently first time around, the instinct for good syntax comes with practice and knowledge. It is definitely something a writer should think about when it comes to editing their work.Things to think about include :
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| Short Story Is this sentence clear in meaning?
hough you might want to use ambiguity as an effect, more often than not it appears in work by accident. Sometimes, when an idea is clear in your own head, you might not be able to recognise that it could be confusing for the reader. This is occasionally due to word choice (e.g. ‘The witch stared at him. He was petrified.’ – Does this mean she turned him to stone, or that he was frightened?). Other times, confusion arises due to incorrect or absent punctuation. The famous example that the panda ‘eats, shoots, and leaves’ comes to mind. (The comma turns ‘shoots’ into an action rather than a leafy food substance.)
Is this sentence repetitious?
ave you said the same thing twice in your sentence, but in a different way? For example, ‘Jimmy was only a toddler, so he had to reach up to the table because he was so small.’ Here, ‘because he was so small’ is redundant, because we already know that from the use of the word ‘toddler’. We often over-write in this way in our first drafts, as we’re eager to purge the information. Yet when we read our work back, we can hopefully see where repetitious words and phrases can be cut, as we view the work from a reader’s perspective.
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Does this sentence end on the right word?
e’re more aware of this device in poetry: using certain words at the end of lines or stanzas for impact. It’s the same for prose. For example, ‘In a rage, Mike threw the soap that he’d washed the blood from his hands with.’ Ending the sentence with the word ‘with’ creates no sense of impact. Instead, try: ‘Mike washed the blood from his hands, and threw the soap in a rage.’
Does this paragraph end with the right sentence?
yntax is more than just looking at isolated sentences. You have to look at the writing as a whole, building it up piece by piece. Ending with emphasis doesn’t just apply to sentences, but also to paragraphs. A paragraph should contain one idea or encapsulate one part of the action. The sentences should build up this idea, beginning with its seed and finishing in a blossom. This is something we think about when writing academic work, but it also applies to fiction.
| Article Is this sentence passive?
assivity in writing is dull. It suggests to the reader that the writer is unsure of themselves, and also gives the impression that the action is happening at arm’s length (although, this can sometimes be a deliberate device). The passive voice is initiated when an object becomes the focus of the sentence, instead of the force that is acting upon the object. For example ‘The cake was eaten by Sophie’ is passive, because ‘The cake was eaten’ becomes the main clause, excluding the greedy perpetrator from the action. ‘Sophie ate the cake’ is in the active voice, and is much more immediate.
Does this sentence create the effect I want?
here are many syntactical techniques a writer can use to invoke a response in the reader. For example. To create a sense of fear. Or foreboding. Or tension. The writer can use short, fragmented sentences. Or they could create long and winding sentences, with many sub-clauses, such as this sub-clause here, or the one before, in order to create a sense of confusion, or drawn-out pace, or similar. Or perhaps a comma here, and here, and here, creates a sense of rhythm. You get the idea. It’s a matter of making sure the syntax matches the idea behind the sentence.
t’s useful to be aware of syntax when we read. Studying published work in this way will hopefully make us more aware of syntax as writers. As an exercise, try copying out passages from books in order to really get a feel for the way an author writes. The more aware and knowledgeable we are about the micro structure of writing, the more able we are to make our writing stronger. Sophie Playle is the Editor-in-Chief of Inkspill Magazine. You can find out more about her at www.sophieplayle.com
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Please visit the website for more information and details on how to submit. www.inkspillmagazine.com Inkspill Magazine | Issue 5 | 61