Editor in Chief Sopphey Vance Literary Editor Lily Fleur Poetry Editor Nathan Alan Schwartz E-Pub Editor Matthew Guerruckey
Letters From the Editors I hope you enjoy the selections in this magazine as much as I enjoyed reading them. It was a difficult decision, trying to narrow down all of the wonderful submissions we received. To our contributors, thank you for sharing with us your beautiful works of art, captured in such a variety of ways. Enjoy.
Dear Readers and Writers of Enhance, You have made it. Congratulations. Now, what you should do is yell it proudly off the top of your lungs, be all like “I GOT PUBLISHED” and then people will be all like “that’s awesome” anyhow. Every single one of you did a great job and we are proud of you.
Reconnecting by Janet Foster
The Coy Jordan Thacker
Aperture by De Jackson X-ed Out by Sidney Green
The Seeds of Acting by Ernest Williamson Scent Leslie Popp
Wrist Watch Samantha Harpel
The Jessica Tyner
Go to sleep, Gretel by Khara House
NA Schwartz Thank you for reading Enhance No 8. This issue marks the beginning of Enhance’s third year. Three years and 8 issues later, I’m still convinced that publishing is a great journey. I want to thank all the editors, contributors, and readers for making this journey magical.
The Tree that Said Goodbye J. Aboulafia
Mother Nature’s Concert by Kristin Kobayashi
Flatiron Building by Christopher Woods
The Girl in the White Culottes by Joseph Peacock
The Trick is to Find my way in the forest by John Grey Twitching in Release by A.J. Huffman
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If the world has no meaning all that is left is fiction by
Questions we ask before we die by K arissa Hultgren
Flatiron Building by Christopher Woods
The Tree that Said Goodbye by J. Aboulafia He stood there for years, in the corner, behind the hedge and in front of the grass. No one in the neighborhood could recall when exactly he had been planted or what kind of tree he was. Its leaves were nondescript and no one had bothered to mark him when it had been planted by a gardener since forgotten. And as he stood, he watched. People had come and gone in the building in whose front garden he had been planted. There was a tall palm tree towering over him that drew most of the attention and so our tree, which, incidentally, was an almond tree, unassuming as he was, observed. When he was young, as young as the building itself, he’d been curious about people. Trees and people go a long way and he had even been glad to be a city tree, where life was exciting. But now, after a life of seeing people come and go, with their dogs and cats and kids, he was no longer curious. There wasn’t a dog he would welcome the marking of the territory. Life is boring, then you become firewood. Then came Zoë. Not alone, of course, but for all he cared, she was alone. She must have been six or seven when she passed by him for the first time, with her arms full of toys, her toothless grin and the dark blond halo that was her hair. From that moment, the tree stopped watching with bored eyes a world that was in constant motion but never changed. He took a renewed interest in the comings and goings of the people in the building, especially when Zoë’s giggle could be heard from across the glass door that barred the entrance, three steps up from the ground. He soon learned that Zoë’s father, a serious looking man with receding hair and a fondness for khaki pants, worked for a “hitech” company, that her mother was a teacher and that her brother was a pest. Their dog, “Pavlov”, a mongrel if he ever saw one, gave him the courtesy of a good sniff and a welcoming pee, but had not bothered him much afterwards, but the clumsiness of Ariel (Zoë’s older brother) had, and the many balls that had landed in his branches had been usually followed by a savage shaking or rummaging between his bruised branches with various objects. Even the cats had stopped sleeping on its branches,
which was a shame because the crook of his trunk and main branch was a perfect spot for a cat to curl up. Zoë liked the outdoors and he watched her change from a giggly, toothless girl into an awkward teen and eventually a woman. Her favorite spot for playing was by the tall palm tree, affording him a good view of her games, games he had seen a thousand times being played by other kids, but which had never interested him as much as hers did. The dolls, the prams, the tea parties, he watched them all with an amused look that contrasted with his grimness before she came. When she played with other children, she was always the “queen”, the “princess” just plain leader. And she never had to fight for it, it was always granted gracefully by the other kids. He did not know the reasons why he took such a fancy to that particular girl. Perhaps it was her way of looking at the world, as if it was such a wonderful place and what an adventure she was having. She was never bitchy or haughty when she played with the other kids in the garden. Other trees were saying the same thing and the palm tree that had the best firsthand knowledge of her activities swore by her. The almond tree was a loner. Apart from the palm tree, all other trees in the vicinity were fruitless. They were the pretty boys of the tree world. He, a fruit tree, well, potentially a fruit tree, resented being reduced to a mere ornament, and that was the main reason why he had never bothered to bloom. What for? Zoë started dating and he followed her movements in and out of the building, watching the parades of suitors, in their fancy cars and motor bikes; some even on bicycles and others afoot. Zoë had a way with people but boys in particular fell in droves in front of her. He knew she was in school, and not just by the pretty dress and bag pack he noticed on her way to the bus. A gaggle of friends followed her home now, all giggles and repressed laughter, and the palm tree was now the scene of her love plays, much as she had done when she was a little girl. Now the grass at the feet of the big palm was used for intertwined bodies and meetings of lips. She still giggled, but this one had a different connotation. Being a tree in human environment as intensive as a modern city, made him often wish the setting was
different. It would have been nicer if he lived in Zoë’s garden rather than the building’s, but he was a tree and trees stayed where they were planted. Besides, the reverse of the medal was that his limbs were not being chopped for firewood or lumber. He was therefore content to watch Zoë grow. Her blonde halo had darkened with age and reminded him the dark honey his friends, the bees, made. She had turned into what in human taste was considered beautiful. She still came at odd times and looked at him with these eyes that reminded him of a stormy sky, and he wondered what kind of thoughts were passing through her mind when she looked at him this way. The eyes seemed to ponder. The years were passing by. His interest in Zoë had not waned. He felt the sap stir in his branches every time she stepped out of the door and as often from cars. Then the cortege of cars stopped and became just one: a small two-sitter. He watched with interest how at first the boy—he had learned the name later—was escorting Zoë to the stair, exchanging quick kisses before a hasty departure; as if the pain of parting with her was too excruciating and the sooner he left the place the better. The next meeting, they lingered more under the light of the entrance, the kisses were longer, less furtive, and the hands were involved. It wasn’t long before in summer nights they would alight from the little two-sitter and stroll on the grass, she often barefoot, her shoes slung over her shoulder and her teeth gleaming in the darkness, he, Liam, his protecting arm around her shoulders, walking towards the palm tree and lay on the cool grass. Sometimes, when the wind was right he could hear their whispered giggles and floating words that spoke of mutual devotion. He was ambivalent about her, because it was the human way of leaving the nest once one could fly on one’s own wings, and Zoë was a capable human, even a tree could see that. When he saw her leave the house with a funny hat (square with a tassel!) on her head and a cape around her shoulders, he sensed that she just had made a big step in life. It was strange to think of steps for a tree that hasn’t moved an inch in over thirty years.
When she left for higher education and her visits home became more scarce—it took three whole rings before she returned home, he sank again into his brooding thoughts, wishing he had not been a tree altogether. A bird, a bee, even a dog would have been better. He often looked with contempt at his neighbor, the palm tree, whose fruit, the golden date, was now food for the crows. That tree, that once ruled the desert, was now an eye candy for stupid people who did not have the decency to leave well enough alone. He himself, a glorious but sterile tree, planted in the wrong soil, overshadowed by a giant palm, was useless. There were times when trees were free and grew where they wanted. They had ruled the planet, providing shelter, heat and food for many species, and now he was here, in a place that could have been anywhere. There had been a time, so the tree lore said, when humans worshipped trees. How the mighty have fallen, he reflected sadly, when the subjects of worship of yore became subjects of daily torture. The systematic destruction of trees for human use was akin to a giant slaughterhouse. Paper, timber, firewood, were all words justifying the systematic genocide of his species, the reason trees were being daily sacrificed instead of being sacrificed to. Shade, shelter for animals were nothing against the axe that felled many of his peers. He was in this dark mood when a police car, lights flashing in the night, stopped by the building and two officers rushed past him, coming shortly back followed by Ariel, his face all scrunched up. The next day Zoë appeared. Although she had lost none of her beauty, as much as the tree could ascertain, she was pale, withdrawn and teary. The tree could guess what was happening. When police cars and teary people showed up together, it was a tragedy. Then he recalled that Zoë’s parents had left the previous day in the fully loaded company car. The tree had never given much attention to Zoë’s family and now wished he had. Breaking a long habit, he asked around what was going on. “You won’t like it,” said the palm tree, obviously unaware of the almond’s contempt towards him. “Zoë’s parents were killed in a car crash yesterday.”
The tree knew about death. It hadn’t been the first time death struck one of the building’s dwellers. There had been Dr. Levine, who had a smile as bright as Zoë’s, who had collapsed in front of him, there, just over the hedge; there had been the little boy in the wheelchair, for whom the building’s association had built a ramp to get access; there had been old Mrs. Stark who died peacefully in bed. All had attracted the same crowd of long faced people, in dark clothes and moods. This time was not different. Zoë appeared in a black dress and her honey colored hair was covered in a black cloth. Her puffy eyes were hidden behind dark glasses and only Liam’s supporting arm held her straight. Ariel, the brother, was weeping silently, and for the first time the tree noticed the resemblance between the siblings. He pondered about the future. After Dr. Levine had died, his family left the building and another one moved in; after the little boy’s death, his family moved out; and after Mrs. Stark’s death, no one left but someone moved in. That was the way of the world for species that had legs to move. No roots, he thought sarcastically. Would Zoë disappear from his life again? The last three rings had not been easy for him. The cortege left the building with a wake of mourning people following and it wasn’t until later that day that they returned. They filed into the building and later in the evening, the tree watched as they left in small hushed groups, whispering among themselves, leaving Zoë and Ariel to their grief. Days and months passed, and Zoë was still there. One spring morning—the crocuses had started blooming; he saw her smiling for the first time since her parent’s death. Her step was springier and her hair seemed to float. Zoë was living alone now. Sometimes she’d come home with a friend, usually a small woman with dark hair and complexion who stayed a couple of hours then left. There was also a skinny girl with braids that came and left, and Liam had disappeared from view. The trees around him were whispering that Zoë had not recovered from her parent’s death and that Ariel had left to marry far away. The tree pondered. Her demeanor hadn’t been the one of a stricken daughter. Dr. Levine’s daughter, when she had been stricken, had cried her eyes out.
When he saw her next, Zoë was on the phone, laughing, sauntering past the hedge, her hair shimmering in the morning sun. The tree felt good seeing Zoë happy. A hummingbird was doing its aerial acrobatics and bees were buzzing about. For the first time in a long time, he was happy to be a tree. Zoë was happy and all was fine in the world. Two weeks later Zoë appeared with a bicycle which she chained to the metal rack outside the building. She was wearing tight fitting nylon and the cutest pink helmet, and even an old tree like him could see a picture of beauty and health. The day before, she had given him one of her enigmatic looks, as if asking him the meaning of life. Then another bike appeared, a white machine ridden by a young man with a mop of red hair and the bluest eyes you could imagine. The tree had heard enough stories, told by thousands of parents and kids at the feet of the palm tree, not to recognize a young knight on a white horse when he saw one. For it was love. When he compared the glint in her eyes when she flew to her knight’s, her arms outstretched and her smile eclipsing the sun, to her meetings with Liam, he could not avoid the conclusion that this was a different thing. They rode almost every day, and in the evenings he would often come, sometimes staying over, other times both of them going out, only to return much later. One day, and the summer was at its fiercest heat, when trees and plants yearned for the daily ration of water the—now automatic—sprinklers provided, a van stopped next to the building and started unloading crates and cables and boxes. Zoë met them and showed them the way. And in her tight jeans and checked shirt, her hair in a pony tail, she attracted the men’s stares. A gardener was busy slicing unruly weeds—a young, unfamiliar face, and one in the dozens if not the hundreds that had served the small garden over the years. He knew that some trees had gardeners for life, people who begat other people to tend to them, generation after generation, until those trees returned their atoms. Trees in farms, trees in oases, productive trees that had respect, he thought longingly. Ah, to be an olive tree in some warm place, with a view of fields and farms. But as much as he tried, the tree could not really imagine living elsewhere. It was only images that every tree knew.
Eventually the van left. That evening people came in, wearing their best outfits—there was a lot of black and women wore high heels—in couples and singles and groups. The name “Zoë” was flying about and it was the general consensus among the neighboring trees and bushes that there was a “bomb” of a party. Zoë had turned twenty five. White Knight—his name was Ethan, the tree had heard Zoë more than once whisper his name on the phone—appeared, wearing a short sleeved shirt and long slacks and carrying a bunch of flowers in his tanned hands. That night, while the party boomed on the top floor, the tree brooded. He felt that Zoë’s happiness was a harbinger of things to come. As expert on the weather as any tree, he could not see where the wind was blowing. Was she staying? Was she going? Everything was possible. Many a girl had left the building, only to return a couple of rings later for a visit with a baby in their arms. Would Zoë follow the path? White Knight could be the one, he felt it. Zoë didn’t leave. Neither did Ethan. The party lasted long into the night and culminated in a modest display of fireworks. Twenty six rockets shot for the stars, one for each year and an extra one for next year. The tree watched the trails of fire zigzagging in the night sky and he knew Zoë was happy. The next day, the buzz around the trees said that what had started as a birthday party had ended in an engagement party as Ethan had proposed to Zoë just after the fireworks. A poetic hedge even added that the stone he’d given her, reflecting in her eyes, was brighter than the display of fireworks. The tree entered a waiting mode. He knew something was bound to happen, but he knew not what. Women married and left their home. That was human tradition. “Not so,” said a newly planted cypress, “she owns the place.” And indeed she did. If trees could giggle, the tree would have giggled now. But what tree in front of a building hasn’t seen enough of landlord-tenant scenes, not to grasp the concept of ownership. Without comprehending the legal ramifications, he knew that she could stay if she wanted as she was an owner. Reality seemed to prove the cypress’ point as Ethan made her home his. The tree would see him leave in the morning, mounted on his white bike and
disappear at the next corner; return every evening and park the bike next to Zoë’s. They went out at night and the tree could see that long after they returned, the light shone bright in her—their—bedroom. By late fall, when the palm tree had spread its golden fruits on the yellowing grass and other trees shed their leaves, a horse drawn carriage entered the street and stopped next to the tree’s building. And through the glass door he saw Zoë, wearing all white, with a veil covering her hair and two maids behind her. Ariel and his wife were there and Zoë and her maids climbed into the open carriage. The others followed by car. Zoë didn’t return for a month, and when she did, she was tanned and looking glorious. Ethan was with her, looking proprietarily at the building. It’s not that the tree didn’t like Ethan; it was more that Ethan wasn’t Zoë. Now they’d traded their bikes for a street car, a tiny thing easy to maneuver in a congested city, and they left together in the morning, while Zoë returned early in the afternoon. On warm days, she would bring a blanket and lean against the palm tree and read. The almond tree could see her hair spilling from the elastic band shimmering in the afternoon sun, dangling from her shoulder when she bent over, concentrated in her reading. Winter came with it the rains and winds and he hardly saw Zoë or Ethan, except when they rushed under umbrellas to their car across the street. But these glimpses were enough. Life seemed to return to a familiar pattern, like before Zoë had left. It lasted for another year. Zoë and Ethan were inseparable. The left together every morning and went out most nights. Friends came and left and often he could see the lights blazing on the top floor, when she gave a party on the large verandah. One day, as she returned from the grocery store, her arms were laden with plastic bags brimming with groceries, and as she passed by him across the hedge, he saw something unsettling. Her stomach was bulging. Of course, had he bothered to listen to the young cypress, a fount of useless information, he would have known that Zoë was expecting a child. A child! The tree could not believe that the skinny girl, her arms hugging her toys that had appeared in his life twenty odd rings ago was now expecting a child of her own. A boy or a girl? The tree preferred girls as a rule, but that was Zoë. He could not decide which he preferred.
Her pregnancy was spectacular. She shone all throughout it as she was carrying the messiah in her bulging belly that did not diminish an ounce of her regal composure. Her white smile was like a balm for his old branches and her expectancy made it all the brighter. It was a girl. Amalia. He saw Zoë and Amalia every day. First prams then push chairs, then tricycles. Mother and daughter would sit by the palm tree and play. Zoë would sing to her or tell her stories the tree had heard thousands of times before but when it came to Zoë or her daughter, he had never enough. Contrary to his neutral feelings towards Ethan—who often joined them on the grass, the tree felt a deep attachment to Amalia, just like he had for her mother all those years ago The child was going to preschool now, and she talked with her mother or father when, small hand tucked in big hand, they would leave the building, her small voice piping like the trill of a bird. The cypress, now fully grown and looking important, often talked about the almond’s feeling for those humans. The almond never replied, but the questions were pertinent. He didn’t have any more an answer than the cypress did, but the questions still gnawed at him. If a tree could shrug, he would have, for the answers to those questions were elusive. But even if he didn’t know the reason why, he was happy. And then Zoë and Ethan started showing up with strange people, escorting them in and out and talking excitedly on the pavement. Know-it-all cypress delivered the news: “She is moving out,” he said laconically. The shock was terrible. It had been rings since he thought of the future. Zoë was living in the building and raising her child, so there was nothing to fear, but this! This move was as devastating as a lightning strike, a fate he would have preferred for himself. Eventually, the flat was sold and soon after boxes and furniture started leaving the house. Friends came and helped themselves, and finally a big van came and movers started carting furniture from the apartment into the van. Spring was in the air, but for the almond tree, if was like winter forever.
Next morning the van came again and on their second pass, the movers emptied the apartment. Zoë was watching them with a wary eye. These were her last moments in the house she had grown up in and had returned to upon the demise of her parents. Most of her memories were set within these walls. Amalia, her eyes wide open in wonder explored the empty shell that had been her house. She tugged at her mother’s sleeve. “Come on, Mummy, come on, let’s go.” In the elevator they fidgeted in silence until its doors swished silently and let them out. While Zoë, in a gesture that was completely automatic, checked the mailbox, Amalia ran out to the garden. Zoë tucked the mail in her bag and looked around the lobby for the last time. , In front of that pillar she had been kissed for the first time, she thought wistfully. “Mummy, Mummy, come look! Come look!” the voice sounded wondrous, rather than afraid or panicked. She opened the door that led to the small garden. Amalia was standing, her head half raised, her doll forgotten and trailing on the ground, her finger pointing up. “Look Mummy! The tree is full of flowers!” Zoë looked at the old almond tree in full bloom. She had often noticed that it had never flowered, not in the twenty years she had lived here, and now it was covered in small white flowers. She took the three steps down, took her daughter by the hand and bent on one knee. “That’s right, honey. The tree is saying good bye.”
Mother Natureâ€™s Concert by Kristin Kobayashi I prefer a storm over a symphony. The clasping of lightning is a lot brighter than any collision of two cymbals. The tremolo of thunder overpowers any beating on a tympani as it calls to the gander. The vibrato from a bullfrog is rather rounder than any glissando from a viola. The fluttering of a dragonfly as it skirts the rain outshines any crescendo sung by a cello. The pluming of a mallard as it bathes in puddles mocks any pizzicato picked on a violin. But watch out for the gander its blats bite stronger than any trumpet as it calls to the thunder. I prefer a trumpet over a gander.
Reconnecting By Janet Foster The space between trees, solid is met by blue air, bending leafy arms branching like soft arbor seaweed, they interlace between day and night, sway between dreams and torments where my skin is peeled away, revealed, exposing every cut and bruise, every naked thing stolen broken is touched with gentle cloth as Spirit covers me. The space between brave child and damaged woman is met by Magdalene and Christos, taking me back to the beginningâ€” when human sand blew over the rocks of Godâ€™s mind and I felt her life murmur beneath me as I listened, back to where animus and anima intertwine their hands inside me, carrying me between them, I am whole
The Coy By Jordan Thacker Safe in a womb of crystal The Coy dreams and thrives, Unbeknownst to us Growing like an angel in the sun.
Like a brick in the ocean Our Coy sinks, And now that weâ€™re apart Iâ€™ve never felt so alone.
With my eyes And her nose Our muse Not yet brought to light.
For the life of myself I stole your heartbeat What was supposed to be your ballad Became your elegy.
Her world of wonder, Ours of despondency and fear, Brings doubt about the angel Before her eyes can ever see. Conceived by love Fighting detriment and spite Wings clipped with haste By unsuitable knives. The Coy is found writhing in the shattered glass Of a broken womb, Dying by the second If not already gone. The warmth of blood And the piety of soul Replaced by the inanimacy of darkness Lost in the clutches of obscenity. A gift from God Pulled from his breast By a man in a mask And five weeks of paychecks. Clear tears fall on red cheeks As brown wilted rose petals fall underneath Neglected, forgotten Stiff as our tiny Angel. Stolen from the fervor of the body, Pushed out by artificial means Our own little creation Lies in the sanctity of abandon.
Aperture by De Jackson She collects the bottles as if these fragile vessels might hold some secret, some tiny liquefied vestige of hope way down deep some fully steeped and savage alchemy of change and right and reason. This season of her soul knows no fill, as wonder and will wrangle tangled tongues and tired lungs exhale words unspent. Now unsent, faith unfeathers, unfetters abandoned cage until there is nothing left but hollowed heart spilled out over empty page.
X-ed Out by Sidney Green Test me a cross and a dash between curvy-looking figures equal out to the color black unsure, uncertain nothingness a line covers the pain a house that holds everything divisible by three the scribe is ready to pounce and test me I fail
The Seeds of Acting By Dr. Ernest Williamson III
Scent By Leslie Popp I wonder how long the smell of your cologne will linger on the cream hued sheets. My nose enjoys the spicy reminder that you were lying beside me just this morning, sleeping soundly and seemingly without a care in the world. Will it dissipate with the first wash of the pillow cases…or is the fabric bathed so heavily in the scent that it will continue to haunt my senses for many more weeks? It’s well past five in the afternoon, but I can’t convince myself to get out of bed. Every time I close my eyes, your smile and strong chin come rushing back, making my body quiver in excitement. How long was it? For 4 years, 11 months and 13 days we were happy…or so I thought. I wonder why you finally told me about her on the 1808th day of our relationship. I wonder why she didn’t decline your advances and insist that best friends would never do something so cruel to one another. What is it you said that captivated her curious mind? Perhaps she made the first move. The little tramp! You started seeing her two years ago! All the while, you said, “I love you Amy,” on a daily basis and each time I obediently replied, “I love you too.” You didn’t mean it and you certainly didn’t care about my feelings. We went through the motions of being happy, but all along you were just pretending. Who knows why good men make bad decisions. I stretch my arms out to the side and lift my leg high into the air, pointing my toes towards the ceiling. The fan overhead rotates lazily, swinging soft shadows around the room. It barely stirs the dry, Autumn air, which floats sweetly through the open window, gently billowing the sheer, white curtains. The carnations on the bedside table are still blooming gaily, giving the room a feeling of serenity. You gave them to me six days ago for my birthday…how sweet. Were you two ever together in this bed? I do hope not and I doubt it. You wouldn’t be so bold as to bring her here. After all, the whole relationship centered around secrecy and deception. Was that what made it so exciting…the fear of being discovered? Rolling over, I rest my head on your pillow and breathe in deeply. How many days did I breathe in that scent? I even bought you a bottle for Christmas. It was just this past year when you proposed to me.
Maybe you thought it wasn’t going anywhere with Jeanie and you planned on ending it. Maybe you two had a fight and you figured that at least you still have me. Was I really just the backup plan? For the last nine months, I’ve been planning our wedding. Every intricate detail was labored over because I wanted it to be the perfect day…one we would cherish forever. The long awaited event would have taken place on New Year’s day had you not been so careless with your affair. How could you let it go so far? Foolish man! I scoot across the satin sheets and drape my arm over the edge of the bed. Karma will teach you a lesson one day and then you’ll be sorry you dared to spite me after receiving so many years of my devoted love. “You’ll never leave me though will you honey?” I ask, gently stroking your cheek. The wind tousles your hair and you sleep so peacefully on the Oriental rug we picked out at the craft festival a few years back. You have such a handsome face and I have often remarked that it should be smiling between the glossy pages of a magazine. The red tie you’re wearing is twisted under the rich, brown jacket I gave you for our anniversary. Jeanie helped me pick it out. “Let me just fix that for you,” I say, pulling back the edge of the jacket and reaching for the tangled fabric. But wait… it’s not a tie at all. It’s wet and sticky…like blood. My dear are you bleeding? Yes…I suppose you are. Rolling onto my back, I stare up at the ceiling. You’re dead…in fact, I seem to remember killing you just a moment ago…yes, I believe I did. It was not so unwarranted as you might think, for now we both have broken hearts. A car door slams and I feel a sudden rush of energy course through my slender frame. Smiling, I calmly rise to my feet and smooth my hair in the mirror. “Guess who’s here my love?” I question softly. The knife I killed you with is resting obediently upon the bedside table. Grasping the handle firmly, I stroll downstairs, humming the song we would have danced to at our wedding, and casually unlock the front door. I wander down the hall towards the living room, as a loud knock resonates through the empty hallway.
Turning the corner and exiting the foyer, I press myself against the wall. “It’s unlocked,” I call sweetly. Someone opens the door and heels click against the tile. The funny thing is my darling, you called her and asked for help to remove your things from our house. You didn’t know I was home. In fact, I wasn’t home…no…I am...I was. “Amy?” she asks, hesitating in the doorway. “I didn’t think you were here.” “Well, I wanted to have a word with both of you. He’s getting the last few things together right now and if you’ll listen, I want to tell you that I’m disappointed and angry, but I would never want him to be unhappy. If this is what he needs, then so be it,” I answer calmly, almost believing myself. “Please come sit down for a minute, it’ll just take a second.” “Really? I can’t believe you’re taking this so well. It’s not what I expected at all,” she replies hesitantly. “That’s what you do when you love someone more than yourself,” I answer sweetly. “You do what’s best for them.” The sincerity of my words seems to reassure her and the “clack” of her heels begins heading toward the living room. The noise is ten feet…seven feet… five feet…three feet…one foot away from turning the corner. My hand tightens around the handle and I smile to myself. She’ll never be able to take you away now my love and her blood won’t even stain the tan carpet in the living room. It can be easily mopped up in the foyer…how convenient.
Wrist Watch By Samantha Harpel I awake to the vibration of my wrist watch alarm. I don’t have to look, I know what time it is, 5:00 a.m. Another day in this nightmare I have been thrown into. I roll over onto my side, the bars holding up the thin fabric cot under me squeaks at the movement. I can hear the vibrations of all the other watches around me. I know I’m somewhere in my third trimester and shouldn’t be sleeping on my back anymore, not that I know why, just read it in that baby book, but it’s impossible to sleep any other way on this stupid canvas cot. I clamp my eyes shut as I cradle my swollen belly, a little nudge reminds me that at least I’m not in this alone. It’s not long before I hear the squeaking of the others rising from their beds. The old man two cots down begins his incessant coughing. I know I need to get up soon if I want any chance at getting some breakfast. I glance at the hideous rubber black and orange watch that has been shackled to my left wrist, 5:16 a.m. I look at the day counter under the time. It started that first day we found ourselves here. It now reads 31 days. Thirty-one days? Panic rises in my chest as I look down at my belly. How long is he going to keep us in here? Whoever kidnapped us can’t expect me to have my baby in here. But it’s been thirty-one days, will he ever let us go or keep us locked up for his own sick entertainment? Why hadn’t anyone found us yet? I long for my old life; my family, my boyfriend Brian, my job, and all my friends. All of that had been ripped away from me overnight when I woke up in this Hellhole with twenty-nine other strangers having to share all my personal space with fourteen of them in this ridiculous cement barracks of a room. The other 15 were kept in a similar confinement opposite of us. Between our two nightly cells was a massive domelike jungle that we were forced to survive in from 6:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. every day. The only contact we had with our kidnapper was through cameras that he had placed all over our prison so that he could watch our every move, a loud speaker system that had only sounded a half dozen times to state simple things like the rules of our watches or reprimands and punishments for “ingratitude” as he called it, and the dumbwaiter door at the back of our fridge where food
would be given twice daily, like feeding animals from a trough. I hadn’t interacted much with my fellow inmates. I had heard their names in the beginning but I really hadn’t taken the time to go much farther then that. I never would have thought I would have been here so long. It’s not like anyone took the time to get to know me either, we were all just waiting to be rescued. In the beginning some had tried to find a way out. The only door to the outside world was the dumbwaiter at the back of our fridge. Others had tried to pry it open receiving ‘reprimand shocks’, as the voice from the loud speaker called them, from their watch. After a few days everyone had given up on escape attempts and just went about their business waiting to be rescued. From the little I had overheard of the others the only thing we had in common was our wealth. Some were bankers, lawyers, the old man who coughs a lot was some kind of doctor, but most, like me, inherited their money from rich parents. Some clicks had formed, but no really solid friendships. Every day was just a waiting game till we were found. I look at my watch again, 5:26 a.m. and now I really have to pee. I rock back and forth a few times to lift myself out of bed. I scan the room quickly, everyone else has already gotten out of their beds and are most likely raiding our morning rations. I should go straight to the fridge, but my bladder wins out in the end. I head for the simple bathroom stall at the opposite corner of our square cell. We weren’t even given a decent bathroom. Just three toilets with metal walls and doors. That first week we found ourselves here one of the older women would not stop blabbing about how inhumane the bathrooms are. She wouldn’t shut up about how embarrassing it was to ‘go’ and have everyone hear it. It was more embarrassing that she would bringing it up constantly, usually after someone ‘went’. After a few days of her relentless complaining we woke up to find the locks had been removed from the stalls. That was the second time we heard the man on the loud speaker. He lectured us on how we should be grateful for the things we have been given and to appreciate the simple joys in life. That shut her right up, next he could take down the walls or the toilets all together. Most of us kept our mouth shut about our surroundings after that, we learned our lesson. Occasionally, someone would get fed up and complain again, I dreaded those days, they always
were followed with negative results for all of us. After doing my business I make my way across the room to the fridge. Everyone moved on over to the grey door, silently chewing their food. Every meal we receive is always divided into fifteen even portions but it’s been survival of the fittest from day one. I open the fridge to find an empty pop-tart box and a mostly empty jug of milk. I’m grateful for the days we get milk, at least half of my cellmates are lactoseintolerant. I quickly chug what’s left. I’d give anything for one more home cooked breakfast at my parent’s house. Our cook, Channel, would always make my favorites when I stopped by for brunch; baked French toast sprinkled with walnuts and bananas, savory grit cakes smothered in white sausage gravy, waffles and fried chicken, peach fried pies, and sweet tea to wash it all down. Since I had moved out of the house I had stopped eating such outrageous foods but Channel wouldn’t hear of making anything less then my favorites when I came to visit. My stomach grumbles unsatisfied with the little milk and the baby kicks in agreement. The rustling of foil wrappers and the silent sound of chewing only heightened my hunger. I looked at my watch 5:52 a.m. At least in a few minutes we would be out the door. I could scavenge for something to eat or try to fill my belly up on the water from the stream. “Blueberry? You have got to be kidding me!” I rolled my eyes, Todd was throwing another fit. If there was one name I could remember out of my fellow inmates it was Todd. I don’t think he ever stopped talking about himself even if no one was listening. He was a stock broker in New York City. He was middle aged with grey frosting his temples. We all painstakingly listened to the story of how he had tried to dye the grey out but his scalp had a chemical reaction to the color. He was currently suing his hairstylist for all his pain and suffering. I can’t see how it was really the hairstylist’s fault; he seemed to be allergic to almost everything. Todd spit out the bit of his blueberry pop-tart that he had just taken into the small tin trash can nearby. I guess we can add blueberries to the list. My heart quickened as I watched him throw the rest of his poptart in the trash after his half masticated bite. Was I really going to go dumpster diving over a pop-tart? A growl of my stomach answers my thought. “First you give us milk to drink now this blueberry crap for food.” Todd was looking into the camera in the
corner and yelling now. “Maybe you should call my dietitian if you’re planning to keep me here. With all this crap you’re feeding me I won’t live much longer.” We all try to ignore his ranting. My eyes are focusing on the tin can and my mouth waters in anticipation of the food. “Hey, shut your trap before you make it worse for the rest of us.” It was the big muscle guy yelling at Todd. He was from New Jersey, very beefy and when he first got here was spray tanned a golden orange. His muscle mass had gone down quite a bit, no doubt from lack of steroids. I called him the Hulk. I could see at least three wrappers in his left hand and he was finishing off another in his right. No one got in Hulks way. The first day we found ourselves here his snapped a cot in half. “I guess I’ll just have to starve for another day,” Todd whimpered to himself. “We better get something edible for dinner.” All of our watches began to vibrate simultaneously and we heard the click of the grey door unlocking. I didn’t have to look, 5:59 a.m., we had one minute to be on the other side of that door and into the dome jungle. Wrappers are carelessly tossed towards the trash as zombie like feet file in line to get through the door. I can hear the musical beep of each watch being scanned before a person opens the door letting it close behind them, the next person following the same routine. With each opening of the door I could hear the chirping of the tropical birds and feel bursts of humid air. It’s slightly refreshing compared to the stagnate air in our cement cell. I filed in at the back of the line all the while eyeing the trash. I couldn’t imagine anyone stooping so low as to dig half eaten food out of the trash, I can’t believe I’m doing it. Like a wild cat I lick my lips as I stalk closer to the trash. I look down at my watch, its face is flashing red and ticking by the second now, 5:59:36 a.m. Less than thirty-seconds to get through the door or receive a warning shock. There is only two more people in front of me. I can’t bring myself to dig through the trash in front of the others. I held back and stood by the tin can. Once the last person goes through the door, I bent down riffling through the few wrappers that have made it in. I find Todd’s pop-tart at the bottom still half way in its wrapper. That makes me feel a little better, at least it isn’t completely exposed to all the crap in there. I look again at my watch 5:59:49 a.m. I
need to hurry now. Getting up from squatting over the trash is no easy feat. It takes a loud grunt and some good rocking to hoist myself from my squatting position on the ground. I waddle to the door as fast as I can holding my watch up to the scanner just as it flashes 6:00:00 a.m. That was way too close. I’ve never received a shock before, but I have seen it happen to a few of the others, usually when someone is trying to break out or just generally freaking out. It looked like they were being shot with a Taser, twisting and jerking and even releasing their body fluids sometimes. I let out a big breath and push the metal bar across the door and step into the tropical jungle ahead of me.
The by Jessica Tyner First time i tasted you I suffocated in your cologne flailing desperate over your nicotine laced tongue, second time around you kneaded my thighs white as unbaked croissants until I slapped your hand, three months together bred nothing but teeth marks and swollen eyes, last year before I left we pretended everything could keep going on like it was, final night together you cried between my legs while I finger combed your hair and told myself it was worth it.
Go to sleep, Gretel by Khara House I cannot sleep. My mind is pooling like breadcrumbs under boughs— wandering the forest is not wise alone, not when landscapes can so easily blend and fold to wrap me in this whirl of imagination, where I lose myself in pins and pine needles. I cannot sleep. Stepping further into woodlands I fear wolves—I fear cabins and cloaks, shimmering white teeth brighter than the moon, glimmering against my own night skin. I have seen this place before— I know it well—I cannot sleep.
The Girl in the White Culottes By Joseph Peacock She was standing in the piazza looking at David. Her eyes traveled up and down the height of him, stopping mid-body each time, lingering there before repeating the visual loop. She seemed consumed by the sculpture, taken by the pouty lips, the musculature of chest and arms, stomach and pelvis, the dainty tuft of hair curling above the stubby little thumb of a penis, the strong, beautiful legs set on the pedestal, just so. Turning to her three girlfriends—all Americans, I knew, by their dress and pieces of chitchat I’d been able to catch—she said something I couldn’t make out, though only eight or ten feet away. Several smiled at her comment, but one cackled, a startling sound from such a rounded, ample frame, and a half dozen pigeons rose up on their legs and fluttered into the air—the furious flapping of wings raising dust from the cobbles—before settling again. When she turned my way once more I thought we connected for an instant, and during that tingling moment I felt sure I saw interest in her eyes before she looked away. I elbowed Jim. “Do you see that?” “The ogler?” I chuckled. “Gorgeous,” he said and smiled at the girls in his friendly way. A fellow teacher at Glenville High in Cleveland, Jim had suggested this trip to a couple of us one afternoon in early spring as we drank away our teaching woes at the Pepper Pot on Coventry. I jumped at the offer. What could be better? Art. Adventure. Romance. “But I don’t like the odds,” Jim said. “They look like a pretty tight team.” As if on cue, the quartet turned and began to glide across the Piazza della Signoria amid the rising heat waves. I could only stare after them, my eye fixed on the glistening dark hair and the pert backside of the girl in the white culottes. “Bad luck, Dave,” he said. “She was checking you out.” “You think?” But I grew doubtful. “We were standing here together, man. It could’ve been you.” “Impossible, dude. No spark, no electricity. Capiche?” I did. “Damnit.”
“Next stop, the Ponte Vecchio.” He squared my shoulders toward a new direction and gave me a fraternal pat on the back. “Come on, Romeo. That was only Rosaline. We’re in Italy. Lots of beautiful women.” I watched the girl evanescing in the distance and wondered if my friend was right about her. It was conceivable. I’d felt a spark. Jim led the way south to the Arno and then west until we arrived at the ancient bridge. I’d never seen anything like it, the shops on top of one another like tenement flats, customers everywhere. Artwork, leather goods, souvenirs. The jewelry, especially the silver bracelets, I found exquisite. I browsed but bought nothing, wondering what the girl in the white culottes would choose if we were a couple and I was treating. Though hampered by a teacher’s salary, I’d be generous. She would smile, protest a bit, and hug me, planting a kiss on my jaw just under my ear. A promise, perhaps. Jim and I grabbed a light lunch and headed back to our room. It was our first full day in Italy and we were seriously jet-lagged. After a siesta and shower, we headed out from our little student-filled pensione. Just that morning I’d discovered my traveling companion was a genius with maps, and now, after two brief glances—down at the map, up to reconnoiter at the corner where we stood, down once more—he folded Firenze neatly into his back pocket and off we went toward our new destination, the Uffizi. Ten minutes later we found the long ticket line, made inquiry, and decided against the two-hour wait. “Where to, compadre?” Jim said. “Want to find a bottle of Tuscany’s finest?” “Hell yes. And dinner. This town has jacked up my appetite.” He looked my way, I suppose, to see if I was on the same page. My nod seemed to satisfy him and he continued. “There’s a little caffe I saw in Frommer’s. Great food, cheap prices. Zuppa Toscana, cacciatore, parmigiana. Fresh-baked bread.” He smiled and opened his arms wide, as if the feast were spread out in front of us on a checkered tablecloth. Of course the David we’d seen that morning was a copy, Jim explained on our walk, the original safely
under roof in the Accademia for the past hundred years. I hadn’t known that. The sculpture seemed so imposing, so real. “Copies,” I said. “Good grief, everything’s fake anymore. I thought in Europe we’d find originals.” The girl in the white culottes, for example. She was the real deal, I would bet on it. “It’s the way of the world, amigo. True beauty is always spirited away from the lowly bourgeoisie.” He laughed. “Actually, it’s the pigeon shit that bothered them. Bad for David’s complexion.” As we made our way through the streets, Jim never reached for the fold-up map, and after fifteen minutes of maddening cul-de-sacs and cut-throughs that couldn’t possibly be right, I grew dubious. Sixty seconds later, he spotted the place he’d been searching for. Or so he said. I never knew with him. A genius, true, but sometimes he just got lucky. The universe liked Jimmy B. The restaurant was almost deserted when we arrived, but it had every dish a person could hope for and a primo Chianti at three bucks a bottle. For two hours we feasted, toasting Italian cuisine the while. We discussed the girls from our morning in the piazza, the ongoing war in Vietnam, the difficulty of our teaching jobs on the edge of Cleveland’s ghetto, the nature of good and evil, the meaning of life. We ordered a second bottle. At one point, either half drunk on wine or enlightened by sudden epiphany, I thought of Dante’s Divine Comedy, at which point I noticed the name of the place on the menu: Caffe Paradiso. I envisioned the girl in the white culottes. The caffe got busier, then crowded, and by nine o’clock, surrounded by the lush musical embroidery of foreign languages and exotic accents, I became restless. When I rose to see what there was to see in the place—an old, sprawling affair with numerous rooms—Jim waved me on, smiling at the world around our table. What I was looking for I wasn’t sure. On a trip to the loo, I discovered that the Paradiso opened onto a large courtyard out back that was pleasantly cool in the dwindling twilight and quietly festive with its colored lights draped from the trees. Most of the tables were taken, but if we hurried we could find something. I returned inside to tell Jim, but my chair was taken by a comely blonde who was drinking wine with my fellow traveler, their heads together as if sharing a
secret. Back in the courtyard, I grabbed a table for two near the entrance. As a waiter hurried by, I shouted Chianti to his back, and though he never broke stride, two minutes later I had a half carafe of the house red in front of me. I settled into my chair, almost content, and sipped the wine while I breathed in all of it—the voices and laughter, the reds and yellows and blues of the lights, the aroma of perfumes and lotions, baked cheeses and sauces, the musk of mingling bodies—on this summer evening suddenly full of all things enchanting and profound. The voice came from behind me, a melody, light and airy. “Bueno sera. Come sta?” I looked up. “Sorry, my Italian’s terrible. Do you speak English?” She smiled at me. “May I sit with you?” I stood and pulled the second chair from the table. “Dave,” I said to her. As she shook my hand with her fingers, I noticed Jim and his blonde strolling toward us. When he saw me he smiled crookedly and waved, whereupon they pirouetted in perfect unison for the front exit. Incredible, that guy. I refocused on my new friend. “I am called Fortunata,” the woman said. She sat and crossed her legs. She placed a small beaded purse on the table and pulled a Dunhill Fine from a pack while pushing a Bic across to me. Lighting the cigarette for her felt innocent enough, but she took my hand in hers as I held the lighter and did something magically sensual to my palm. Full evening was upon us and images took on a chiaroscuro effect of subtle light and shadow, akin, I imagined, to the look of an ancient da Vinci oil hidden away in a forgotten Firenze attic. Fortunata smiled again in the flickering light of the flame. “Do you come to the Paradiso often?” she said. I almost laughed out loud. She’d used a standard pickup line from the States. Did she know that? “My first time,” I said. She leaned toward me and nodded. “May I taste your wine?” As she reached for my glass, her eyes sparked, something I saw but could not feel. That puzzled me. Had I simply seen a reflection from the lights? “Help yourself,” I told her. “I’ll be right back.” In half a minute I returned with a clean goblet. “Voila.” I poured myself a healthy splash from the
carafe. “Aahhh.” Positioning her head just so and pursing her lips into a pout, she placed her hand on my shoulder. “I was afraid you would not return.” She trailed her perfect red fingernails up and down my arm. Obviously she was trying to pick me up. Why was I resisting? She was sexy, available, and willing. How can I describe her? In her twenties. Brown eyes and short, dark hair. Silver ankle-length gown with matching high heels. Rings on her forefingers and thumbs. Sterling bracelets like those in the shops on the Ponte Vecchio. An elegant neck that reached down to a slender, boyish torso. Sultry and seductive, I suppose: I was still goose-fleshy from her trick with my hand and her nails caressing my arm. In some cultures I was sure she would be considered . . . well, alluring. Even attractive. But for a reason I couldn’t grasp, she wasn’t my type. Too angular and shallow cheeked. Eyebrows too arched and plucked. Everything manicured and coiffed and styled. Not my type at all. I couldn’t put a name to it, but she . . . she . . . oh my God, she wasn’t . . . a she. I looked away, a sudden heat of confusion rising up my neck. At that moment the beautiful girl from the Piazza della Signoria walked past my table. When she paused to adjust her blouse, I noticed Frommer’s guidebook poking from the top of her shoulder bag. Our eyes touched for the second time that day, and for the second time a spark, a tiny frisson on the trembling air between us. Her attention moved to my tablemate, then immediately back to me, her head tilting as if in surprise. There was no judgment, only a slight bemusement and an almost imperceptible shrug. “Darling,” my tablemate said to me. The girl in the white culottes turned toward the doorway. I stared after her, mute and powerless to move, admiring her shoulder-length hair and pert little backside one last time as she disappeared through the caffe, out into the perfect Italian evening.
The Trick is to Find My Way in the Forest by John Grey Having found my way at last, I kneel beneath a maple tree to pray, to draw a blue-eyed breath, to smoke the long-haired forest like a cigarette. Two thoughts arise: life waving at me like people with far-off smiles; death and its panicked hands breaking the surface before drowning. But communing with lichen, floating leaves, last year’s pine needles, has its moments. The forest lives up to my ancient pledge. Always be one with nature or you’ll be two with the devil. And so it is that knowing where I am at last becomes its own sermon. Wildflowers are my altar. Oaks stand tall like temple columns. Willows are the perfect bent and ancient priests. I have my reason and I have the gospel according to the dragonflies. Somewhere, in the chills, colors begin their bonfire. Fall is on the march but summer is my discourse. We are both in the bloom, in the full flush of our naivety. Long live life with its ribald intensity. Long live death in its inhuman haste.
Twitching In Release by A.J. Huffman The razor will get you in the end. Opening your soul like a rose. Such a delicate prize. For completing the maze. Of your mind. Not your skin. Though that too must be broken. To finish the rainbow’s fall. Watch the scene. Set in constant red. I am told it’s for spite. But I think it just swallows easier. Fading -quickly -into night.
If the world has no meaning all that is left is fiction By Peter Fraser “It’s just that you do it on your own. You know, it’s like secretive. Hey, come on, I know all about personal space and stuff. But, say why do you need so much space. No. Listen. It’s like you have to have about 5000 acres around you. With me? I mean, that’s space enough for anyone. I mean it could be a small country somewhere. And it’s such an endless excuse. You play it again and again. You can’t make dinner, or you’ll only make it when you need a break. You can’t go down to the supermarket, you know, it’ll spoil what ya doin’. Is it like havin’ sex with yourself? Isn’t it? Say self abuse. Or self love. Or it’s like bein’ a druggo, now that’s for sure. Eh? Your own precious little universe. I know you can’t talk, it might interrupt a, you know, metaphor or poxy image. Now that would ruin your night. Right? Well we couldn’t have that. We only want the best for you. Don’t we? No need to worry about me. I’ll watch T.V. Yeah I’ll turn the volume down. You listening to this? Well someone’s gotta say it. I know you’d never think of it. Are you writing down what I’m saying? You are. Don’t you have any imagination?” I first noticed it when I’d sit for hours on the tractor. If you were turning over a fifty acre paddock, your mind can wander. I’d imagine the word sequence as a 3D puzzle, one where you could have infinite variation. I saw it dangling like those pictures of a DNA spiral. And each individual block was just like a leggo piece, you could take it out, move it around, substitute one colour for another, one shape for another. I would sit and judder along, musing on a sentence. I’d take the conclusion and put it at the beginning, change the middle, scrap the start, take the lead and put it at the end, adding description, then take it away, intensifying the emotion, then take it away, make it specific, leave it open, add allusion, take it away. Change the intention, change the energy, change the outcome. Add new words, and take them away. Then return it to how it all began. Then change it again. I’d fondle the meaning. Put my hands around its neck, squeeze firmly, and indicate I was ready to bash its head against the rocks, unless it delivered. Crude threats. But I left no doubt, I would do it. Just two sentences, as if they were going to be carved into
rock, the meaning never to be confused for a thousand years. Is that too simple? Does that lack reason? Perhaps. All I had to do was assemble them. No real instructions, no diagrams, just contrive a sequence. It was the rubbing of two words together that provided the crude fission. And then it was the architecture of that sequence. This seemed to be the puzzle. Squeezing the fabrication, adjusting the anatomy. I could muse over two configurations for almost twelve hours. Then at the end of the day, exhausted, clarified, stabilised, there were the two sentences, on a piece of white paper. I filled the tractor with diesel after the hours in the paddock. I’d shot a brown snake and took the twelve gauge into the house. I opened the fridge and took out a beer, then removed my boots. I washed my hands and face, then turned the television on. I shouted for the dog. Where the hell was he? Two sentences. Was that real work? Was that what an adult should achieve in a day? “I mean who cares what you’ve got to say? Why do you think they want to know? I don’t understand. Everyone’s skull is full of all sorts of undigested stuff. And you want to put yours in there as well? I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve got some kind of disease. You know, bacteria, or a crazy virus? You should see a specialist, they’re discovering new things all the time. Someone who’s up to date on that kind of thing. You shoulda become a pop star. You used to like music. That’s the only way you’ll get groupies. Writin’ all that stuff’ll never get you laid. I’m assuming that’s one of the main reasons? Ha. Not far wrong am I? Can you make me a coffee? I mean a proper one, in the Italian machine. I don’t want instant.” Can I make a coffee? I think that’s what she said. I stared at my screen. Beauty and pleasure. I like old fashioned problems. Is it worth all this introspection? All the time that is needed to support it. Why the abnormal? Why do we pursue a deviation? They are both off the scale. Could it be that beauty is a deformity, falling way outside the standard Bell curve? Is it really a disfigurement, an imperfection so grotesque that we cannot help being attracted, by its grisly appearance? And is pleasure the same. If you medicate for depression, why not medicate for
excessive pleasure? Aren’t they the same extremes? If depression can lead to self harm, why isn’t pleasure analysed and then medicated in the same manner? Should there be warnings about people enjoying themselves? Like on cigarette packets. “I’ve gotta have a coffee or I’ll fall asleep. What the hell are you doin’ that’s so important? What’s all that noise? You becomin’ a piano player? Eh? Or are there rats in the ceiling? What’s goin’ on. Are you giving a recital? Are you like, you know, Fredrick Chopin, knocking out a Nocturne or whatever? What the hell are you doin’ to that computer? Look, give it a rest. Go round the neighbourhood to-morrow morning and steal what you need. Isn’t that what you call imagination? The streets are an open cut mine where you can find whatever you need. You’re like a junk collector, or a peeping tom, just stop, you’ll find something to-morrow. Or you could look for a job. That’s an idea. I bet you never thought of that.” “Alright, I’ll make it in a minute.” Should I change into my waiters gear? Always ready to please. She seems rather hostile to-night. Can someone impose a character on you? Is your identity fixed, cemented forever into a finite world? Your experience, your memory is impossible to alter. You can become an actor with a quality script, but when the action ceases, you are left deflated with your real self. Is your character the goo that binds your world together? Or are you the sum of these infinite tiny roles? Or did it come down to the mystery of blood? I made the coffee and presented it to her in front of the television. The news seemed to be on, it looked like an interview with car crash victims, to me. I poured a red wine for myself and returned to the computer to contemplate blood. “So just out of interest, who’s going to read all that stuff? The publisher’s mistress, the Editor’s daughter? Is there really enough consumers out there? I don’t think there’s enough to go round. And we’re moving into a recession, there’ll be less publishers and editors. The best marketing plan for you is suicide. Going too far, you think? Well perhaps not yet, It’s probably best to have a book out, although it can be used as an aid to publication. No? Not ready to think about it just yet? Although the coffee’s no bad. At least you’re getting better at that.” There was a background noise. I think she was talking to the television. She seems to do a lot of that lately. She should get a hobby. And she drank
way too much coffee. But. Imagine all that blood coursing through a body. Through those arteries, veins and capillaries. One hundred thousand miles of the stuff. Forty billion individual capillaries. An impossible journey. Diligently driving it through the organism. Think of the pump, that pushed it through that system. What a gadget. Just beating away, hour after hour. Year after year. Through decades, through seventy, eighty, ninety years of life. It started well before we were born. It worked non- stop, all through our lives. Not one day off, not one idle public holiday, not one sickie in all that time. It just exists to push blood around our bodies. It beats about one hundred thousand times a day. “Do you think you can impose yourself on us, like a sad arsed television personality? We can resist, you know. There must be some other skill that would satisfy you? You do not have to start. Say it again. You do not have to start.” She was still awake. She should be in bed by now, to-morrow is a workday. “Get a job. Start a business. Think about using more drugs. Consider tobacco smoke. Even sex. Even love. You can delay it. You can think of an alternative. Become a gardener, or bouncer, or a chef, or a greyhound trainer. There is no end of possibility. You do not have to write. Silence is just as clever.” Silence. If only there was silence. I would wrap it around myself and plunge into its icy indifference. All this information I don’t need to know. It was bloating my mind. I felt the unwanted shards of reality. There was too much distraction in the room. The endless accompaniment. We were not a duet and she insisted on commentary. Please stop, just let me write one sentence. I have to consult my phrenologist. I was sitting in a leather chair, the room lit with oil lamps, his thick clumsy fingers probing my skull. He had a unique body odour, pungent, feral, a gamey smell of fox or snake. An oily head closed its eyes, ready to announce the diagnosis. He was breathing through his mouth. A septic odour of human waste filled the room. A new gutter between anxiety and hope, a mild depression around ambition, love had a slight fall, intuition mounting, sexuality, a slight swelling. Hearing is deteriorating. Publication was inevitable. You must keep writing. Responsibility stable, although minimally depressed, ripples around melancholia, the humours out of balance, yes, always out of balance.
Questions We Ask Before We Die By Karissa Hultgren Who the hell cares that Brittany what’s her face is getting married again? My breath was slow and deep as I read the magazine headline on the table. In and out, in and out. My wrinkled hands shook as I lifted them towards my face to brush off loose ends of my graying hair. “Mrs. Parker,” the nurse said. I must have missed it when she called me the first time, she said “Mrs. Parker” in the frustrated way people do when they have to repeat themselves. I looked towards the nurse as I slowly stood up, my legs feeling tight. My hand trembled as I grabbed the arms. My son grabbed my arm in an attempt to assist me in my ascent. It was painful; it was painful lifting and painful knowing that I was unable to lift myself. I was losing independence; I was losing the little things. For Christ sake, I was losing the big things. I moved up and motioned towards the door. The faces disappeared around me. I was walking in a tunnel towards the door. I noticed my feet were moving steady. “Mrs. Parker... Mrs. Parker... Mom!” I snapped to attention and realized I was in the office. The nurse had turned into a man. Wait, that wasn’t a nurse, it was a doctor. It had to be. How did I get here so suddenly? I was just in the waiting room. My heart pounded with confusion, I wanted to throw up. Voices blurred around me, “Mrs. Parker you.... tes... Alzheimer or... tumo... your mom... home.” What was that they were saying? I was being lifted again. I knew this because my legs were lifting. I knew my legs were lifting because I was in pain. Again the man beside, my son, me was helping me to my feet. My son, who had only come because... “Mrs. Parker, we need to talk about your options.” What options, options for what? And who was this man behind the desk in front of me? Why was there a desk here? It was not there before. He surely was not the doctor. Surely a man could not grow a mustache in such a short time. Was it that short? “Mrs. Parker, we can choose to fight a memory disorder...” What memory disorder? “Mrs. Parker, like I was saying, Sunnybrook has wonderful...” My confusion was growing with each syllable that my ears managed to catch. My heart was fluttering. I wanted to punch someone... I wanted to smack the strange man... wait, where was the desk? Why was there no
fucking desk? Why was there a large white woman holding my arm? “This is where you will have your meals. The rest of the guests...” Wait, guests? Was I at a hotel? If this was a hotel, it had to be one of the shittiest, well I had seen worse. One time in Cuba, when Rodrigo and I were married, we were so damn broke after the shot gun wedding, we figured we wouldn’t give a shit if we stayed in a crap heap-hotel if we were shit drunk off of tequila. So we rented a room at EL Bien Casa... El dog casa was more like it. Well, at least we had tequila.. “And this, Mrs. Parker, is where you will have your choice of many activities that Sunnybrook has to...” Sunnybrook? Was that where I was? I couldn’t be. Sunnybrook was for old people. I WAS NOT OLD! Was I old? “Mrs. Parker, do you want pudding or applesauce with your lunch to...” Today? What was today? My mouth was moving, “applesauce”. Did I want applesauce? Why was I having applesauce? Where was I having applesauce? My heart was fluttering... My lunch came. Why was there pudding? Didn’t I say applesauce? Frustration was building. My hands were lifting the tray in front of me. I knew this because my hands were holding something. That’s right, they were holding a tray. My hands were letting go of the tray and I was yelling. “Applesauce dammit, applesauce! Gaaaaaaaa raaaa!” Who was yelling? Who was crazy? I was? Why was a large black man coming towards me? Why was he saying my name? Why was he grabbing my.... “Your mother appears... have....breakdown....last steps....level three.” Voices were speaking. Why was I in bed? It was just lunchtime, wasn’t it? “sedatives were required.” For who? Who were sedatives required for? Me? Was the man talking to my son talking about me? Why wasn’t he talking to me? I wanted to scream. My voice didn’t work. Why didn’t my voice work? “Mom, I just want you to know... we will all...Jack and....visit... we will...” Why was the woman next to the bed calling me mom? Who was she? Was she my daughter? Had to be, she was calling me mom? Was I a mom? Why were the people leaving? Why are they shutting off the lights? Don’t shut off the lights. It is dark. Hold me. Why didn’t my voice work? I’m lonely
dammit. Don’t leave me alone. I’m lonely. God, why didn’t my voice work? “Mrs. Parker has been moved.... due to outbursts we will... supervision... level 4” I was catching only vague glimpses into the conversation surrounding me. But where was around me? Who were they talking about? Who was the bastard in the coat talking about outbursts? What outbursts? I don’t remember outbursts. Who needed “supervision”? Did I? It could not be me. I was a grown woman. I had raised two... or was it three children... I had been able to supervise myself mighty frickin’ fine for the past... how long has it been. My heart fluttered and I felt wetness towards my bottom. Why was I wet? My hands shifted to my bottom. I knew they were shifting because I felt the sliding of cotton under my arms. I was wet. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. A tear ran down my cheek. Why was the woman in flowered scrubs coming towards me? “Ohhhh, Mrs. Parker don’t cry. We’ll just get this cleaned up and then I’ll set up a puzzle for you to do.” Cleaned what up? Was the wetness pee? Why was she lifting the blanket off of me? I wanted to scream at her. Don’t touch me, I can do it myself. Dammit, why could my voice not make noise? Why didn’t my mouth move? Why was she touching me with a cloth? I do not want to be touched. I needed to scream. I needed to tell everyone I was not old. I could do it myself. I lifted my hand and hit the woman. I kept hitting, and hitting, and pulling, and punching. “AAAAAAA RRRRRAAAAAA GAAAAAAAA” was all that would come out of my mouth. “Mrs. Parker we need to be nice now... Mrs. Parker!” Why were they holding me? It was the woman in the scrub’s fault. Didn’t they see that? Didn’t they see her violate me? Couldn’t they tell I was frustrated? I had been asleep. I knew this because I had just imagined that I was back on the beach in Jamaica with my I think third husband. I had to be asleep. Bobby was dead. We were with my son Jacky, or was it John, and Sally. I remembered we had left the children with my sister for a few hours that day so we could get our names tattooed on our bodies. Boy was that the stupidest thing I did. I had to be asleep because my children were no longer children. “Mrs. Par.... your mother is... she...dying...heart cannot... ventilator at night... assisted feed....” I was pushed outside of the last bit of pleasure I had remaining from what I had concluded was a dream by the voices around me. Who
was dying? Why were they dying? Was it me? Was I in need of a ventilator at night? Was I the one who needed to be assisted? I was not dying. Couldn’t they tell I was perfectly fine? I had just been at the beach. That was a dream though, right? Was I dying? I felt again the warm tear run down my cheek. A woman was coming towards me. She must not have noticed my tear. Thank god, I had retained that dignity. Why was she lifting me?.... A spoon was coming towards my face. What the hell was that green substance it was carrying? How did I get in this chair? Oh, right, the lifting. Was that what the assisted meant? Was that food she was giving me? My mouth was opening. Why was it opening? I didn’t want that shit. Didn’t she hear me? Why wasn’t my body listening? I felt the liquid fall into my mouth. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? It was slimy, salty, and sweet. It reminded me of peas with the texture of vomit. It filled me with nausea but I could not repel it from my mouth. Had I had this liquid before? I don’t remember it. I must have. My mouth opened very robotically to the rhythm of her spoon. I must have ingested twenty or thirty more bites before she put the spoon down. “I’m done feeding Mrs. Parker her dinner.” Was that dinner? Was it night time already? What day was it? Who was done feeding me? Where was I? Not in the same room I was before? I couldn’t be? The walls in that room were pink. Here they were white. How did I get here? Was I still in Sunnybrook? Everyone was leaving the room. Where were they going? Don’t go. I do not want to be alone. Why can’t anyone hear me? “I have looked... brain scan... only... few weeks... Mrs. Parker...EKG... negative results...” The light in the room made me uneasy. Perhaps it was the sounds of the voices in the background. I had given up asking questions about what was being said around me. I knew that I would be the one cleverly disguised as a food cart pushed passed the other patients so that they could be fooled into thinking that they were alive, that they weren’t waiting in the line to catch the great white light. A slight beeping went off in the machine next to my bed. The room had again changed color, this time it was blue. The beeping got louder. “Code Blu....Code Blue... Dr. Richards to the main.... to the main floor.... rm. 32...” My eyes were closing. I was drifting “Mrs. Parker, are you with us? Mrs. Parke......”
About the Authors Janet Foster studied literature at Scripps College in Claremont, California and French literature at La Sorbonne, Paris, France. She has published articles and book reviews in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The San Francisco Review of Books and Furious Fictions, among other publications. Her poetry has appeared in The San Diego Poetry Annual and on the Bluestocking Books website. She currently resides in San Diego, California.
Although this is her first published work, she has been writing all of her life.
Peter Fraser is a mature author who lives in Australia. He is over educated and single but still enjoys coffee and wine. This is the fifth short story he has recently published. Although he is a pleasant enough person, he still has unresolved issues that irritate him... the use of the comma, the meaning of the ending and typefaces.
Kristin Kobayashi was raised in Springfield, Illinois and is currently attending Southeast Missouri State University where she is majoring in English and minoring in Mass Communications. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in journalism and write stories on the side. Jodi Picoult is her favorite author and inspiration.
Sidney Green is currently a Junior in high school in South Riding, Virginia. Writing poetry has been one of her passions for two years now, ever since her previous English teacher inspired her to write more often. She’s have been featured in her school’s Art and Literary Magazine as well as an online literary magazine. She loves writing about nature and free spirit; her writing often reflects how she is feeling at the point in time that she’s writing said piece. Other hobbies include soccer, golf, reading, and running.
A few of Joseph Peacock’s recent writing credits include a short story, “Barn Cats,” published in Trajectory and co-winner of that magazine’s First Place Prize for Fiction (Fall 2010); a book review of Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life, published by Southern Humanities Review (Fall 2011); and a short story, “Raking Miss Hannah’s Leaves,” forthcoming in 94 Creations (Summer 2012). He holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University.
John Grey is an Australian born poet and works as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Poem, Caveat Lector, Prism International and the horror anthology, “What Fears Become” with work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Pinyon. Samantha Harpel is a stay at home mom of two beautiful children with aspirations that my random thoughts keeping me up at night will have meaning to someone else. They have traveled the world through the United States Navy and she has been inspired by all the people they’ve met and homes they have made. She writes to inspire others to see the beauty of all life, cultures, and experiences. Khara House is a poet from Harrisburg, PA who lives and works in Flagstaff, AZ. She received her Master’s in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University, where she currently works as a First-Year Composition and Poetry instructor. A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published three collections of poetry: The Difference Between Shadows and Stars, Carrying Yesterday, and Cognitive Distortion. She has also published her work in national and international literary journals such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Writer’s Gazette, and The Penwood Review. Karissa Hultgren grew up all over the United States but now lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She takes her inspiration from people she meets and their experiences as well as her own. She is currently studying to get her masters at Wheelock College in educational studies.
De Jackson is a parent, a poet and a Pro Crastinator of the highest order who is happiest with salty, sea-soaked toes. She writes ad copy, runs gleefully with scissors, and plays well with poems, when she can coax her mermaid muse onto dry land.
Leslie Popp is a nineteen-year-old finance major at the University of Maryland, who has always been fascinated by the power of the written word and greatly admires the works of Jane Austen. In addition to writing, she is an avid figure skater and enjoy volunteering at the local animal shelter. Jordan T. Thacker is a student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Jessica Tyner is originally from Oregon, USA, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and has been a writer and editor for ten years. Currently, she is a senior copy writer for Word Jones, a travel writer with Mucha Costa Rica, a copy editor at the London-based Flaneur Arts Journal, and a contributing editor at New York’s Thalo Magazine. She has recently published short fiction in India’s Out of Print Magazine, and poetry in Slow Trains Literary Journal, Straylight Magazine, Solo Press, and Glint Literary Journal. Her first novel has been picked up by Swift Publishing House. She lives in San José, Costa Rica. Dr. Ernest Williamson III has published poetry and art in over 380 international online and print journals. Some of Dr. Williamson’s visual art and/or poetry has been published in journals representing over 30 colleges and universities around the world. Visit his website. www. yessy.com/budicegenius Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Texas. His books include a prose collection, Under a Riverbed Sky, and a book of stage monologues for actors, Heart Speak. His photo essays have appeared in Glascow Review, Public Republic, Deep South, and Narrative Magazine.