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Spittoon 2.4


Spittoon

Volume Three Issue Two Woman with Papa

Spring 2013

www.spittoonmag.com

ISSN: 2166-0840


Spittoon 3.2

Fiction Editor Matt VanderMeulen

Poetry Editor Kristin Abraham

Creative Nonfiction Editor Berly Fields

Front cover art by Dr. Ernest Williamson III: “After The Ballet” (20 x 40). Mixed media (acrylic, ink) on paper.


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Spittoon 3.2

Table of Contents 1

Special Section: The “Woman with Papa” Collection Bradford K. Wolfenden II

Woman with Papa

3

Laura Madeline Wiseman

Woman with Papa

4

Vallie Lynn Watson

Woman with Papa

7

Ethel Morgan Smith

Woman with Papa

8

Ken Poyner

Woman with Papa

12

Steve Oberlechner

Woman with Papa

14

William Haas

Woman with Papa

15

Maggie Glover

Woman with Papa

16

Nancy Devine

Woman with Papa

17

Seth Berg

Woman with Papa

18

Theresa Sotto

anterior cingulate cortex — we let our understanding of rooms hinder understanding a room hippocampus — for etching in and retrieving long-term memories

poetry

19

poetry

20

nucleus acumbens — why candy, why loot, why ride with arms outside the vehicle

poetry

21

Michael J. Pagan

Electric Children

poetry

22

Matt Paczkowski

Lost Objects

nonfiction

24

Sara Lippmann

Caretakers

fiction

32


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Special Section: Featuring Art by Dr. Ernest Williamson III Artist Delving Into Her Craft 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink)

44

In Conversation With My Art 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink)

45

Somebody Watches Over Me 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink)

46

I Know Exactly What I’m Doing 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink)

47

Cory Johnston

The Way the World Will End

nonfiction

48

Rich Ives

Both Ends at the Middle

poetry

59

A Stairway Searching for a Young Girl in a Nightgown

poetry

61

Valerie Hsiung

three, dancer

poetry

62

John M. Gist

The Assassin Redeemed

nonfiction

64

Matthew Fee

Local Prophecy

poetry

75

In My Nightmare

poetry

76

from LOVE, AN ACCOUNT

poetry

77

Adam Deutsch

Paving Day

poetry

80

Trish Cook

The Kinsey Scale

nonfiction

81

Cindy Clem

Man. Woman. Iamb.

nonfiction

85

Sarah Carson

Where We Are

poetry

92


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C Dylan Bassett

Contributors

Grief Theory

poetry

93

“Death is not final. Only parking lots.”

poetry

94 95


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Special Section:

The “Woman with Papa” Collection


Spittoon 3.2

The Woman with Papa Collection

Writers were solicited and asked to compose a piece of flash fiction, non-fiction, or prose poetry titled “Woman with Papa.” They were asked to include the line “I could swear I heard him calling out” somewhere in the piece. Beyond that, the guidelines were very loose, basically non-existent. What follows are ten different artistic interpretations of “Woman with Papa” from ten amazing authors. We are sincerely grateful for the overwhelming response from the authors, who set aside a portion of their invaluable creative time to produce some truly wonderful work.

--Matt VanderMeulen, Fiction Editor

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Woman with Papa Bradford K. Wolfenden II

At the shit show carnival and the woman with Papa is all grapefruit cotton candy and he’s lapping her up. I’m in the funhouse with Momma and the man whose shape is not affected by the many mirrors. From the Godzilla Ferris wheel I can see Papa above whipping the snakes of her hair back. Momma and the man are a bench next to me and I could swear I heard him calling out. I gnash on my hushpuppy and await the colossal dragon closing its many mouths. Back home Momma’s waving as she’s changing. Papa’s on his way home falsifying a bowling scorecard, the pleather of his Grand Am soaking up the honeysuckle body spray.

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Woman with Papa Laura Madeline Wiseman

Step into the hot-tub. Your glasses hide, folded on a chipped paint table. Your bikini darkens where the magenta and white stripes submerge into the chlorinated bubbles. Beside you, a rusted pool shed. On the fence, the aluminum stem and scoop of a pool net, a sign that warns NO LIFE GUARD ON DUTY, and two faded red inner-tubes with white ropes. Your little sister climbs the cold, then hot, metal ladder in the deep-end of the swimming pool to the rough concrete, pads over to you on the balls of her feet, and descends into the roiling purr. Chatter. Chortle. Papa this. Papa’s woman that. The fish and oil scent of the marina blows up from blanched boardwalks, over the fishing boats, the sun-bleached blue plastic paddle boats, and across the green-black surface, slick with rainbows of oil. Inhale. Exhale. Let your lids shut. It’s August and you’re thirteen, a boy will notice. * Hi, he says, entering the hot-tub in his knee-length blue and white swim trunks—a white string knots below his navel. Snug around his throat, blue and white beads hug the hollow above his clavicle. Words exchange. Titters. Sentences. Your sister, silent for the duration, swings her gaze from his face to yours and says, There’s Papa. You say, He’ll kill us if we’re talking to boys, like you’re a girl on a sitcom, like this is TV, and you’re quirky Blossom with her black hat with a pink peony, or disgruntled Darlene Conner with long, curly locks that glint in the sun, or brooding Brenda with her pouty lips on Beverly Hills 90210. You’re the one with the Papa who does not have a woman, the Papa who protects his daughters from the boys, but you—your strawberry blond curls, your oceanic blue eyes, your ample milk-white breasts—keep them coming. Never mind the glasses, they arrive in droves. They leave daises at your door. They toss pebbles at your window so you have to lean out like Juliette, O Romeo. Never mind that over the lake, thunderheads grow. The boy rises. Water rushes down his lap. He leaps into

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Spittoon 3.2 Wiseman, Woman with Papa

the pool and tackles another boy. They cavort and hoot. They splash. Great clear arcs flash through the humid air, reflect the uneven blue of a sky blackening with clouds that will soon rumble. * Your Papa slams the pool gate, stands over you and your sister in the agitated water. He says, Your granddad wants to go out on the boat. He thinks he knows where the fish are biting. I can’t talk him out of it. You coming, the last phrase a statement, a command. His face is a blob, two black smudges for eyes, a fuzz around his ears for hair, a line of dark where his mouth would be. His body shifts away from you. You wonder to where: the boat gassing up? the one zigzag of lightning? the hard body of the boy slamming into his friend? Then you see the woman walking toward the pool across the grass. Papa, we’re swimming now and look, you say and nod toward the wall of black. Your sister chimes in. Papa this. Please. Please. Your Papa transfers his weight from boot to boot. His head swivels to follow the movement of the woman, the clouds, the four boats pulling into the marina. An engine roars, spurts, and then chokes. Grumbles. Two curse words. He turns, walks across the concrete, opens and shuts the metal gate with a clang, and jogs across the grass to the boat churning the water. The pier jostles as the woman shimmies after him in her too tight red capris. * After dark, Papa chases you outside the cabin. With beer in hand, the woman smokes inside the kitchen, a silhouette backlit by florescent light. You stand in the drizzle in a yellow fisherman’s rain slicker, ten feet between you and him. He yells. You step back. You put things between you—the corner of the cabin, the tent over the picnic table, a blue spruce. You walk backwards toward the tennis courts. Gawddammit. Stay by the cabin, he calls. No, you call back. You’re thirteen, he’s thirtyfive, and these are your roles: you’re to loath Papa’s woman and he’s to cringe at your becoming a woman. Everywhere, bouncing across the marina, are the sounds of post-storm. Plates and sliver clink against sink basins. Talk erupts and floats through

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Spittoon 3.2 Wiseman, Woman with Papa

the metal screens of windows and the mesh fabric of tents. A damp, feral, muddy odor lifts from the cattails and duckweed. It coils around your ankles and calves. For you, the storm has only just begun. I want you on the boat with me, he says. No, you say. I hate fishing, Papa. I want to be in the pool. Take her with you, not me. * You stand in the darkness of the blue spruce in your slicker and wait until the screen door slams and then, slams again, as he holds her hand and they walk toward the lodge where they will join the other couples in a room with taxidermied walleye and perch mounted to the wall, TVs wedged in ceiling corners, tables with red baskets of salted popcorn. From where they will sit, they will hear the rack of the pool balls, the whistle and ding of the pinball machine, and the clatter of whoosle ball downstairs. She will hold his arm, his thumb caressing her knee, her throat exposed as she tilts her head back and laughs. And all of this will be visible to everyone in the marina, the large glass window bright like a TV, spinning glitter on the black water. Going back into the cabin, you leave the slicker on the porch with the poles and tackle boxes. Your sister lays belly-down on the couch, her feet stirring the air as she thumbs the glassy pages of a magazine. You say, He’s with her at the lodge. You stare at the back of her head, the slightly swaying ponytail, but she doesn’t look up. She says, I could swear I heard him calling out. You ask, Who? Papa or the boy? thinking again of the knot of his blue and white swim trunks, about the arc of his body as it rose from the water, the slow wet lashes of his eyes. She says, I think it was both. I think they were talking.

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Woman with Papa Vallie Lynn Watson

On day eighty-six, my father died. I emailed him—him, first—and said I was fine, not to respond, I knew his thoughts were nice. He composed a response and added it to the eighty-six long emails he’d written but not sent. I sat for two hours in the hospice courtyard, watched my father’s covered body wheeled out the back door. I said the Lord’s Prayer, looked at my phone every few minutes, praying for a response that never arrived. Finally I reached into the waterfall-fed small pond and palmed a smooth stone, then another. Slipped them in my pocket. I could swear I heard him calling out.

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Woman with Papa Ethel Morgan Smith

After Grandpa died Big Mama moved in with us, giving our pretty mama, Beauty the courage and means to kick Mr. Tex out of the house and out of our lives. Mr. Tex was Beauty’s third husband, my sister’s father, and everybody’s disappointment. A tiny man with processed hair and copper-colored skin that shaded more red in the summer. He never had much to say except on the weekends when he had been drinking. After Friday’s payday, we often didn’t see him again until late Sunday night; he’d stumble home without money or food, and the bickering would begin. Soon after Big Mama moved in, Beauty put Mr. Tex’s clothes on the front porch in five brown paper bags. She told Mr. Pig Walker to go by the sawmill to tell Mr. Tex that if he didn’t come and pick them up by Saturday, she was going to give them away. I was six and my sister Ruby was four.

When I went shopping for my prom dress I had saved $25 from work and Mr. Tex had given me $10 from his last visit. Ruby always got twice as much as me since Mr. Tex was her real papa. Although he wanted me to call him papa too; but I never did. It just didn’t seem right since my real daddy was dead; and ought to be remembered. Even though, I didn’t remember him, only the faded picture above the fireplace in his army uniform. But I figured if Mr. Tex wanted me to call him Papa he’d start giving me as much money as Ruby. Mr. Tex would often pop in and paid us a visit when he was low on love and had a few dollars to spare. Beauty sat in the corner of her room and threw mean insults at him. When he left, she would storm through the kitchen yelling, ‘No good nigger.’

Whenever Big Pearl had trouble getting students to be quiet, she just started in on her favorite sermon: “White folks is probably right in thinkin’ the coloreds is crazy and dumb. Here I got your no good lives in the palm of my hand. Lord, Lord, I just don’t know. Any given second all this racket could make me so nervous, and I could run off the road and kill ever body in less than one minute flat.” She always snapped her fingers when she got to that part. “My question is this: do you ever use them big heads for thinkin’? You’re in school to get a education, and here you are

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Spittoon 3.2 Smith, Woman with Papa

not usin’ your heads. I just wish I had the opportunity like ya’ll. You don’t have to work in the fields. You get three squares ever day. And I know, ‘cause I know your folks. Most of you don’t never have to work nowhere ‘cept ‘round your houses a little. Lord. Lord. Just once prove the white folks wrong. Think! Think! One of these days, Imam gonna write a book and call it Niggers is Crazy. I bet I’ll make so much money that I won’t ever have to think about drivin’ this here bus again. The white folks will buy it just to say ‘see I told you the niggers is crazy!” Her sermon always worked. Most students were asleep by the time she got to the ‘proving the white folks wrong’ part.

“How’re your finances?” I asked Ruby, as we prepared supper. “Well, I got Daddy’s little piece of a house. I rent it out. That and my settlement check keep me from being on welfare. As long I stay here I’ll be okay, I reckon.” “You deserved that house. I know how hard it was for you to take care of Mr. Tex.” “Well, he was my daddy. I know Beauty called him no good, but he didn’t have nobody else to take care of him. He had a hard death. Eaten up with cancer everywhere—lungs, stomach and bones. His drinkin’ and hard life just caught up with him.” “What about his other children?” I asked. “Live by the sword, die by the sword. Maybe he was the start of me being hooked up with irresponsible men. Lord. Lordy.” Ruby clapped her hands. “Men can be so crazy.” “I know some crazy women, too.” “Why do you insist on holding yourself accountable for all of the no good men in the world?” I asked my sister. “Who is responsible then?” “They are. Plain and simple.” “The Bible tells us to obey the man.”

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Spittoon 3.2 Smith, Woman with Papa

“A good reason to dismiss it, if you ask me. But I think the assumption is that the man has his act together. How stupid to obey an idiot?” “Please Gracie Mae. I was just thinking about the time Daddy took us to the county fair.” “I remember that too.” I put the roast in a pan on the table. “I can’t believe you remember that. What you puttin’ on that roast?” “Just a dry rub, some herbs to give it flavor. Then I’ll put some carrots and potatoes in it. Any celery?” I asked. “Yeah, I was going to make some potato salad with it,” Ruby said “I’ll pick up some more tomorrow.” “That’s the last time Daddy lived with us. We sure had one good time.” Ruby chopped the celery. “That’s who Mr. Tex was. He wasn’t a mean person, or bad, he just couldn’t hold on to a dime.” I rubbed the herbs over the roast. “That was the first time I rode a Ferris wheel. Beauty wouldn’t have let us have no fun.” “We ate too much cotton candy and got sick.” I reminded her. “Don’t be so hard on him. He’s dead.” “Yeah, right.” “I always thought you was so hard on men, hard on everybody.” “Trust me, I’m a lot harder on myself.” I opened the oven to put the roast in. “That was the most fun I ever had in my life with my daddy.” “Does the fair still come to town?”

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Spittoon 3.2 Smith, Woman with Papa

“Child, ain’t nothin’ special no more. Everybody got cars. They can go to Dothan or Montgomery anytime they want, even during the week sometimes.” “We had so little that almost anything was special. Remember how Friday night was the coloreds’ night at the fair? Black folks came out of the woods to go to the county fair. Their eyes had that emptiness about them. Crazy as bats.” Ruby stretched her eyes back and we laughed until we cried. “Sometimes I think those were the best days.” “Well we didn’t know anything else; we were kids.” “I won a big brown teddy bear at the fair. After Daddy left, well, after Beauty put him out I slept with that bear until I married.” Ruby sipped her ice tea. “I won that clock,” I pointed to the wall over the refrigerator. “Still ticking.” “I wonder what happened to that teddy bear. I wish I had it now. I need the company.” “Ruby, Beauty was right to put him out.” “I reckon so.” “I know he was your daddy and all, but that night he took us to the fair he spent every penny of his paycheck. And then there was no grocery money. He did stuff like that all the time.” “It’s so hard, Gracie Mae.” “Who did he end up with?” “Big Pearl.” “Get outta here. Where’s the timer?” “If I’m lying’ I’m flyin’. In the cabinet above the sink.” Ruby pointed. “Her, I remember well. That explains why Beauty never had anything to do with her when she used to come to our house.”

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Spittoon 3.2 Smith, Woman with Papa

“You remember that?” “Yeah girl. For a long time I could swear I heard him hearing calling me,” ‘Hey, Big Sugar. Come and give your papa some love.’”

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Woman with Papa Ken Poyner

I get exiled to the front porch. I don’t mind: I get the oversized wooden porchrocker all to myself, and I rock as through I were operating a huge wood sawing machine, cutting through the porch boards. My game is to guess when the boards will finally crack and I will fall screaming through to the packed under-porch earth beneath. When the weather is right, I can hear the woman rummaging around in her clumsy bag, or moving items on the kitchen table, rearranging the dinette’s chairs. Organizing space, making room. Even as I am listening, I stare fiercely out at stray neighbors passing, sometimes jutting my face forward into the shrinking luster of their idle curiosity. Porches in this part of town are open affairs, where people sit to stick-pin fix nearby common residents, to call out the news and shared suspicions. But I am a boy, in a big rocking chair, sawing away at the front porch: so I am an anomaly, and they look, imagine this is what boys do, glance over at the strange car parked on the double dash of concrete runners that passes for our driveway, shuffle on. Hear it or not, I understand soon the shuffling in the kitchen settles, and I know Papa drops like gravity’s favorite child into his usual head-of-our-two-person family kitchen chair. The first time this happened, I could swear I heard him calling out: transitioning from customer to victim, surrendering his control, weakened by the mere part he had to play in this ordinary occurrence and seeking a way back from his stupidly simple predicament. I almost stopped rocking, almost ran in to affect some unknowable heroic rescue. But now I know this is the beginning. This is where the act actually starts. This is the sly balancing point between preparation and execution. This is expected. I rock in a greater arc. My speed lessons, but the distance grows. I am sawing boards slower, but deep with each draw. Surprising how one thing alters another. I will never have a woman cut my hair. Papa chides my irrepressibly growing locks now with simply house clippers, and I know somewhere in my self-image that I look hacked and sheep-shorn; but for now, cutting hair is simply a means of keeping hair out of the way, away from the senses, back in its place. When I get older, I will go across town to where men gather, and sit properly in a reclining vinyl chair; and I will graciously take my shearing like the socializing event it is meant to be. I am going to be one of the crowd, wrapped up in the ordinary, tipped with a more common expected.

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Spittoon 3.2 Poyner, Woman with Papa

Twenty minutes, and the woman is back at the door frame, looking at me as though I were fair prey. Or as through I were insensitive now, but not forever, to her clippers and the dull electric hum of her instruments; my boy’s heart unimpressed by the crease of her stiff gown where she pulls men’s heads softly back until they rest on the ridge of her torso while she plays with the hair that wriggles on their front sides, before coyly pushing them away to tend to the hair that lurks on their heads’ dull backsides. I slip in a few half strokes with my saw blade, catch the chair in an unnatural arc, use my weight to force the fall of it to be an unexpected allegory. Then behind: there is Papa smiling, hair cocked to one side and marginally thinner, marginally shorter, with the smile of a man who can find a good sexual thrill in even the most ordinary of needs. I say that, even with his bum leg, he should drive across town, hobble in to where men talk sports and women and politics and all sorts of things they have no understanding of, and dutifully watch his excess hair fall to the floor vice into a pan. But I would miss the rocking. And just one day I might saw through this porch floor, yet.

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Woman with Papa Steve Oberlechner

My purse hits the sidewalk, like her insult, forgotten, as her heels scuttle backwards and she stumbles and falls, closed fists from my shoulders, no windmilling slaps, my solitaire garnet tearing cheek, lip, and scalp, my breathing still calm, I am instinct and action, doing all papa taught me, doing all that I learned while I watched in the gym, school books zipped in my pack, in the sweat stink and sounds, steady drumming of speed bags, rising whistle of ropes, barked out combinations as fists cracked on mitts, what I saw from his ringside, how he circled and jabbed, crowd pressed at my back, all strangers to papa, knew only his name, robe color and trunks, weight, reach, wins and losses, his mind only tactics, just attack and retreat, body only a weapon, age softened and broken, piled low in his corner, knots rising, cuts leaking, his lungs heaving breaths and I could swear I heard him calling out look away, afraid I should know him, afraid of all he can share, my own calls at school with every punch I let fly, each hair lock ripped free, shouting for him to forget about Charleston, those hospital nights, to remember his daughter, my calls still today as dark blood stains my knuckles, streaks my skirt pleats and blouse, I cry for my family, still whole in the past, to be young like the girl, sun-burned, pig-tailed, and small, in the steam-curled school photo he had taped to his locker, the girl at his ringside, mama’s hand clasping mine, wanting only to grow, to be glamorous, tall, like the swim-suited ring girl, strutting, arms lifted high, when I thrilled in my knowing that her card showed a 6, thrilled in my knowing that the next would be 7.

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Woman with Papa William Haas

I learned what my sister looked like at her funeral. I couldn’t yet speak when she’d been plucked from our lives like a rotten tooth. By the time she died, I was an adult, so Mom and Dad couldn’t stop me from attending, though I did go alone. Before the casket, dead center in a collage of photos, was her face, smile flashing like a pageant princess’s. Immediately, I recalled that face. It’s not like we were spiritually connected. She would not have known my name if I saw her in heaven. No, I recognized the face from a photograph. It was cold in the garage, but puberty rose in me like blistering blood as I ferreted about Dad’s stash of girlie magazines. I found one wrapped in a plastic bag. The cover featured a topless woman licking a banana, but it was the plastic bag that jarred me. I stored comics in such bags, and one day I expected them to finance a one-way ticket out of that stifling household. I slid the magazine from the plastic, and it opened to a spread of a young woman, reclined amid schoolbooks on a canopy bed, mind as blank as her body was naked. Picture after picture, she thrust out her chest, caressed her curves, and raised her tail, arching her back like a feline. But I was still young; the school girl thing did nothing for me yet. What I remember was the Polaroid, stuck like a bookmark on the final page. It featured my father, naked but for a pelt of beastlike hair. Opposite the Polaroid was a closeup of the girl’s face, chin in hand, her smile one part come hither and one part apology. It was a piteous look as individual as a snowflake, thoroughly out of place among those interchangeable mounds of female flesh. And I saw that face again at my sister’s funeral, gazing out from a collage of photos. The spread was titled “For Daddy: I Could Swear I Heard Him Calling Out.”

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Woman with Papa Maggie Glover

we were fourteen when we took your bus home to watch your dad’s porno waiting in the woods for two hours until your parents left to go bowling pre-gaming with playboys and surge cola taking turns with the tattered mags splitting a cigarette that we buried shallowly in the earth like a dead pet you went in to check if they were gone you yelled coast is clear man you waved me into the house and snuck me into the basement and popped in the tape woman with papa the screen was fuzzy but we could still see a girl a few years older than us with giant tits bent over an older man’s lap bad girl he said bad girl as he spanked her with a flat palm until he pushed her to the floor and when he fucked her from behind I could barely watch I felt myself growing closer to letting go I shut my eyes as tight as I could I could still see the look on the old man’s face don’t nut in your pants I swear I could hear him calling out to me don’t embarrass yourself I won’t I thought I held on I held on for another hour my dad picked me up and he never had any idea

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Woman with Papa Nancy Devine

The sunlight pushed on Richie like a fat hand. He lay on the kitchen linoleum, a tea towel draped over his eyes. He wore wool Army pants and a plaid shirt that strained against his stomach, and dark socks. Nightly, he slept here, a jacket rolled into a bolster pillow for the crook of his neck, a Bemidji Woolen mills shawl for a blanket. Richie never did this during the day. And he never refused my meals: bacon for breakfast; tuna macaroni salad for lunch; a thick hamburger on a soft white Cloverdale bun for supper. But it was noon, the plated food on the counter untouched. Richie's brother and I had been friends. Sparingly he'd introduced me to Richie and his strange behavior. After my friend disappeared, I got one text from him: keep on eye on my brother. I didn't know if Richie had more family. And no one ever showed up. When Richie was delusional, he commanded the refrigerator to be quiet, swore at his own viscera, insisted I was his daughter. At first I railed against this, but he'd become so agitated that he wept and shook, which I couldn't bear. So I began responding, “Yes, father,” which quieted him every time. That day in the kitchen, he was barely breathing, interminable pauses between in and out that sent me crying to the sofa. But then, I could swear I heard him calling out, his voice so thin I thought he was dying. “Papa,” I said, running to the kitchen, using that word I'd only used with my father who'd run off years ago. “Papa, are you okay?” I surprised myself. Richie said nothing. When I got to him, I think he was moving, but I couldn't be sure.

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Woman with Papa Seth Berg

During Psylocybin tea time on this tender back porch, Papa peels a grapefruit with a Kalashnikov pocket knife, drops the rind bits on the weathered wood near his gnarled feet. He hoists a wedge of grapefruit toward his tangled beard, opens his ornery mouth, and bites a juicy universe into existence, little citrus missiles bomb-dropping this tender back porch on which he melts. The Psylocybin tea is the color of pond water and pine sap, holds its aroma like lilacs in a trance, drips down Papa’s tangled beard into a messy nest of fur and things twig-like. Papa reaches clumsily downward, fondles the rind bits, shapes them into a frail, lady-like silhouette, and grins like a maniac with a burlap sack. While I watch Papa’s insipid lips sink ships and clap happenstance, his fingers resting lightly on the lady–likeness, I swear I heard him calling out, “you are cotton candy in my abdomen; I have loved you since intestines.”

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anterior cingulate cortex — we let our understanding of rooms hinder understanding a room Theresa Sotto

if article 1 is true and article 2 is true and articles 3 and 4 are basically true then the contents are preposterous according to my mother subjectivity can be applied to an equals sign like an ointment when certain constants are factored in constant 1: that there is seeping constant 2: religion, the weft she warps into constant 3: the clinging of bias as a second skin my constant: a marring of question marks the speaker is to the speaker’s mother as plane is to runway a way of needing one another in order to detach If I extract personal narratives from gummed up equations what’s left is sticky without a surface to rub against how science is the claim we turn to when reclaiming sense from nonsense dislodges a series of nons—non-singing, non-verbal hey, nonny nonny oh hey nonny nonny if I could be blithe and bonny I would

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hippocampus — for etching in and retrieving long-term memories Theresa Sotto

then creeps up with our sorrow | rubs its back upon the window pane | four laden paws | from smoke my anterior superior temporal gyrus modeled a sudden guest without a knock | negative shapes root where the soot couldn't settle | meanwhile I am telescopic across the room from his white coat | his moving mouth | my family's faces twisted into five kinds of dying | shut down | anguish | remorse | pillar | wail song | a mouth blubbering from the deep | silence littered with fricatives | Fisher scale | stupor | vasospasm and six words lingered upon the pool molds we made | drained | status quo takes leave of its connotations | she will not be the same | sameness is bludgeoned to a hypothetical | her singing cuts through

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nucleus acumbens — why candy, why loot, why ride with arms outside the vehicle Theresa Sotto

rewards are one kind of damage. The way walls are cemeteries for achievements Sinister insistences trigger a repetition of desires crinkle, undo crinkle, undo unwrap, and satisfaction rushes through pathways I learned what distinguishes like and want is a brain circuit so my little longings rest in the crook of inaction In the morning I felt warmth declaring space on my back in the shape of your fingers because I dreamt it how grief and pleasure are linked as a fickle mouth, easily tilting

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Spittoon 3.2

Electric Children Michael J. Pagan

Where the only thing, still, is gravity. There’s gossiping in the concrete steps; drowsy gossiping like cardboard. The light blushes then yawns and turns to gray in your hands: Let us go outside, it says, breathless, sympathizing. Translation is low-cost, back-fence talk whose hooves grandstand and piss into corners where little children finger inside the dirt: Look, they write. Look just behind the low buildings dangling like extension cords impersonating clotheslines, slanting from one wall to the next, a wound. Block above block, each story smaller than the one below, until at their feet they lay into the windless air and were lost by its amputated geometry. “And do you know what a home was?” they asked of the children. They shook their heads. And sometimes, just before the night bends and turns, you can still see dark clouds, like mountains: awkward shadow murals looking away from the avenues—the closest we get to having the things we can only dream about, like lost bullets.

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Spittoon 3.2

Lost Objects Matt Paczkowski

I listen to my father’s voice. He is reading Frog and Toad All Year, the chapter with the snow. My dad always chooses books topically. I’m in bed. It’s early January, 1996, and the blizzard is hitting Woodside full force. “One more?” I ask. He smiles and rubs my hair. “You have to go to sleep. School wasn’t cancelled yet.” He flips the lights off, and I pull the covers close. I think about the story – about Toad not wanting to go out into the storm and ultimately choosing to stay in bed: “Winter may be beautiful, but bed is much better.” I look out the window, at the red light on the top of the Big Six blinking in the distance. The wind looks strong, as dead tree branches sway. I want to read one more story. Just one more. But Dad is gone. The door is shut. *** Once a year, right after the holidays, Barnes & Noble holds its clearance event. For the last three years, I have driven to the store in Manhasset at five a.m. on the day after Christmas. Last year was no exception. I arrived with a cup of coffee and took a string of red dot stickers from the receiving desk. I marked the books, flagging their spines in red, like a scarlet letter, and I threw them into a huge box, which customers would rummage through in the weeks that followed. The clearance event maintained its usual pattern: three weeks of 50% off, followed by two weeks of 75% off, followed by everything marked down at two dollars. These books were publishing failures: the ones that nobody talked about, that nobody wanted. They were the last remnants of the store – to be sold or donated at the end of the clearance event, and they would not return unless reprinted in a revised format. When I first started at Barnes & Noble, nearly seven years prior (it’s hard to believe I’ve been working there so long) we were known as booksellers. Now, the job description is more akin to: bookseller/nookseller/magazineseller/toyseller/elec-

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tronicseller/candleseller/receiver/barista/slave. The clearance event was adapted to fit this changing infrastructure. In other words, you can find a whole range of oddities in the clearance boxes now: coffee mugs, tabletop tennis, a 2013 Justin Bieber calendar, Batman figurines, a haunted 3D Victorian mansion jigsaw puzzle that glows in the dark (couldn’t make that one up), nook cases, pens, Hello Kitty stationary… oh, and some books, too. On the day that clearance went down to two dollars, I decided to refill the tables with all the excess merchandise kept in the receiving room. As I filled a flatbed cart, I stumbled across a strange little object sitting beneath a pile of Edgar Allan Poe tote bags: a 35mm camera originally priced at seventy-five dollars. I scanned the camera – yep, now two dollars – slapped on a red sticker, and purchased it. *** Click. My mother snaps a picture of us in the backyard. “See… youuu… in September,” she sings, referencing a ‘60s hit by The Happenings. I was waiting for that song. She sang it to Mark and Christine last summer. It’s June, 1996. My brother, Mark and I have just graduated. I made it through Kindergarten, through the storm, through my first cycle of a nineteen-year education. Mark’s upset about leaving third grade, but he’s excited for the summer. We’re on the swing set, and the sticky sun feels just right. My older sister, Christine, is at the park just up the block with her friends. They’re marking the completion of fifth grade with a celebratory dog walk. Christine, Amanda, and Erin talk teachers, beaches, and boys while their dogs play with one another. “Rockaway or Jones Beach?” Christine asks, planning their next outing. Princess, our feisty West-Highland terrier, bites Snowball whenever she gets close. Christine and Erin have to separate them at times. They don’t realize that these dogs will be children one day, and that they’ll be in the same context only with different conversations. Teachers will be bosses. Beaches will be bars. Boys will be boys. Mark and I own the backyard. It’s our territory. There’s a familiar smell in the air something covering the odor of our neighbor, Bobby’s, garden. It’s a clean, fresh scent. It’s the trail of linen, hanging from a clothesline that divides the backyard like a battlefield.

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The swing set – fully loaded with two swings, a set of handlebars, and a slide – begins to warm with the radiant heat. Mark and I remain on the swings, in a quiet moment before the war. We get up, grab our swords – sticks fashioned to a blade – and duel. We have one rule: no hand attacks. Mark breaks it, but I know it’s unintentional. I drop my sword and rub my knuckles, feeling the fresh sting. The first wound. Fresh blood. The spoils of summer. “Sorry. I’m sorry!” Mark drops his sword and comes over to inspect the wound, seemingly upset for defying the one decree. I grab my sword off the floor and hold it to his neck. He raises his hands in admitted defeat. We laugh and get back on the swings. Later that afternoon, in a moment of brilliance, Mark pulls our shallow, inflatable pool beneath the base of the four-foot slide. Why had no one thought of it before? He splashes the slide with hose water, and we have a homemade waterslide. I strip down to a bathing suit and take it for a test drive. Just like Splish Splash. *** The camera was called La Sardina, and it was apparently modeled after a sardine can, which seemed odd to me. I took La Sardina home with me that night in an Edgar Allan Poe tote bag (I couldn’t resist; it was two dollars, after all). I tore open the box, admiring that seventy-five dollar price tag one last time. I was beginning to understand the symptoms Christine exhibits whenever she leaves Loehmann’s with six or seven shopping bags. I looked La Sardina over; it was most certainly shaped like a sardine can. It had blue leathery skin across the surface and was codenamed the Sapphire Serpent. La Sardina had a wide-angle lens, two knobs (one to wind the film forward and one to wind the film back, allowing the user to take multiple exposure shots) and even an attachable flash. The camera was fun to hold, but it felt light and cheap. I read the entire instruction manual that night. I love reading instruction manuals. I sometimes view them as an underappreciated literary art, which uses structural steps to get you excited about the products you buy – to somehow strip away any buyer’s guilt – and guarantee you that your purchase was worth the price. Yet, at other times, I toss them away. It depends on my frame of mind and how guilty I feel about my purchase.

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If instruction manuals can be likened to literary works, then the manual for La Sardina was the Moby-Dick of instruction manuals. It was huge and incredibly satisfying to read. There were personal essays, diagrams, illustrations, and numerous fishing photographs to coincide with the sardine can theme. All bound in a fifty-page booklet. I suppose for this seventy-five dollar camera, which used a dead technology (35mm film), they really needed to convince you that purchasing the crappy plastic thing in your hands was the best decision you ever made. The fiftypage booklet was just missing a “PS: Please don’t return me! I’m worth it” on the back cover. Included in this massive manual was an entire history of lomography, the cultural movement that sparked the invention of La Sardina. Lomography was an artistic movement based around analogue photography. The manual explained that a group of Viennese students found and obsessed over a Russian camera called the Lomo LC-A back in the 90s. They started a movement of taking and developing photographs using this outdated camera and film. Apparently, the old looking pictures felt artistic, nostalgic, and somehow authentic. I loaded the camera that night. It felt very retro, putting in the 35mm film and winding it up. *** “Summer is a time to unwind,” my mother says. “Why are you giving yourselves work?” Mark is pulling chairs from the living room into the dining room. “Because it’s fun,” he says. I watch, uncertain what is going on. “Okay, but don’t make too big a mess.” My mom points a finger to emphasize the statement. He takes a stack of sheets from the linen closet and pulls them over the carefully situated chairs, one at a time. He crawls underneath the stretched linen, and I wonder why. “Come under,” he says, motioning with his hands. “It’s a fort. We did this in Miss Massari’s class.” We sit together. It’s silent. I feel my eyes dilating… adjusting to the darkness.

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After dinner, Christine asks to help. She usually doesn’t interfere with our projects, but she explains that the fort needs a kitchen. I suggest a bathroom, but they laugh at me. That’s why I don’t like it when she gets involved. As dusk falls, our fort becomes a fortress. There are three hallways, a main living room, a side bedroom, and a kitchen. You have to crawl through them all, but it’s nice knowing that our parents can’t break in. Every chair in the house has been used, and a couple of broomsticks were necessary, as well. The kitchen is cramped because Christine brought in all her old Easy Bake Oven accessories. Mark and I ask our mom if we can sleep in the fortress tonight. To our surprise, she agrees. Dad takes me up to his bedroom, and he opens his nightstand. He hands me a flashlight. “So you can see in your fort tonight. If you have to get up to use the bathroom.” “Can I have it?” I ask, turning it over in my hands. I play with the yellow switch. “Sure.” Later that night, Mom and Dad set up a movie: Jurassic Park on the new VCR. Mom lays out a beach towel so we can watch the movie while eating popcorn. As the credits roll, we crawl into the fortress and go to sleep. Mark wakes me up in the middle of the night. “I’m scared. I’m going to go upstairs. Will you come with me?” I rub my eyes and follow him up the long, dark staircase, which creaks beneath our feet. I lead the way with my flashlight. The next morning, we tear down the fortress. *** La Sardina became a pain in the ass almost immediately. The click of the camera was neither loud nor satisfying. Half of the time, I didn’t even know if the picture had been taken at all, and that’s when I actually remembered to remove the plastic lens cap. The provided flash required a rare battery that had to be ordered on eBay, and winding the film to the next picture required you to turn the knob counterclockwise, which somehow felt unintuitive. La Sardina also had three different capture modes and two focus settings, which I almost always forgot to check before taking a picture. And never mind about seeing the photograph on an LCD screen to

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know if the settings were applied correctly. That was a luxury La Sardina could only dream of. That fancy instruction manual only needed one sentence: cross your fingers and snap the damn picture. Thirty-six pictures was a lot to get through. A chore to get through. Since the photographs could only be taken outdoors, I was limited to a few hours a day. January on Long Island is not the brightest – or most appealing – scenery, after all. I also refused to be seen with that bulky thing in public, so the pictures became mostly vacant images of my own backyard. I thought, on more than one occasion, that I should throw the thing in my closet and wait for the spring, when Long Island would start to resemble Planet Earth again, changing from grey to green. But I wanted those pictures developed, and I was getting impatient. I kept thinking of the retro, nostalgic photographs displayed in the instruction manual. I wanted mine to look that way. Sure, they wouldn’t be of boats or fishing equipment, but the nostalgic effect would still apply, right? I brought La Sardina everywhere I went for a week, and – like a man with a restraining order – took pictures whenever nobody was looking. They were always of landscapes, never of people. I took at least nine while driving (which is quite dangerous and not recommended). I finished my final shot while traveling with Mark to the Barclays Center to see a Nets vs. Lakers game (my Christmas present to him). As the train rolled in to New Hyde Park, the platform was oddly deserted. I reached into my bag and took out La Sardina. Click. Time to unwind. *** The LIRR passes by the Woodside train station. It’s visible from our backyard. It travels backwards, from right to left, providing that familiar vibratory sensation all across our property. The skies appear grey, overcast. It’s the last day of summer. I sit on the back stoop – in the same location where my mother photographed us back in June – and I stare at the vacant swing set. The swings sway in the wind, and I imagine two ghosts sitting on them, swinging back and forth carefree, living forever.

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There’s an emptiness I feel; it’s the same sensation as when my grandmother passed away. A stinging hollowness. My mother opens the porch door, and I hear that familiar squeak. “There you are,” she says. “It’s dinnertime. Come inside.” She knows something is wrong and her voice softens. “It’ll be nice to go back to school. First grade is a big year. You’ll make friends, you’ll have fun, and it’ll be summer again before you know it.” “But it won’t be this one,” I say. She rubs my back. “No.” I know she is also looking at the empty swing set, perhaps imagining those same ghosts. “It won’t.” There’s silence, and I feel her hand withdraw. “Come inside before dinner gets cold.” *** I turned up the heat in my car on the drive to Walgreens (finding a 35mm film developer was just one Google search away). I smiled at the old-timey “ONE HOUR PHOTO” sign on the side of the building. I waited behind an elderly woman who had photos stored on a microSD card inside her phone. She wanted them printed, but she didn’t quite know the lingo. Regardless, she got her pictures, thanked the Walgreens employee, gave me an apologetic nod for the delay, and left. The employee flashed a knowing smile at me, as if to shrug and say, “old people.” I rubbed my forehead and handed her my roll of 35mm film. I imagined she’d say something like, “Haven’t seen one of these in years!” but she didn’t. Instead, the young woman filled out a form and asked me a question that immediately brought me back a decade-and-a-half: “Singles or doubles?” I had not heard that since those trips to Pathmark with my mom in the late 90s. “Singles.” “Okay, they’ll be ready tomorrow after two p.m.”

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One-hour photo, my ass. I learned that the one-hour photo signs are actually for the digital prints, which leads to a follow-up question: what printer takes an hour to print off a digital memory stick? At two o’clock the following afternoon, I arrived home with a Walgreens envelope. I wanted to look at them in the car, but I delayed my own enjoyment, wishing to provide the photographs appropriate time. After all, since I’d waited eighteen hours to have them developed, I could wait another five minutes. I sat at the kitchen table, set the negatives aside and began to flip through them. One… two… three… four… I let the pictures fall to the table after a while. Each photograph (at least on the ones I remembered to remove the lens cap) displayed empty landscapes of places I pass on a daily basis: home, work, school. Twenty-one… Twenty-two… Twenty-three. They were all vacant. A tree. Some rocks. An empty road. No people. No faces. No smiles. Thirty-four… Thirty-five… Thirty-six. The photographed landscapes had been seemingly pushed away by the wide-angle lens and stretched about. They were distorted and displayed an inherent loneliness – a sense of isolation and alienation. I slid my chair away from the table and glanced out the window at my backyard. I picked up one of the backyard photos and compared it to the image outside. The washed-out colors on the photograph did not match what was out there. The retro effect was just that: an effect designed to date a new photograph. A magic trick. An illusion. Smoke and mirrors. It didn’t make these places feel nostalgic or significant in any way whatsoever. Applying the washed out sentiments of an old photograph just made these pictures feel dishonest in a way, like I was forcing the places in my life to mean something they didn’t. *** I look out the window from my desk. The leaves sway as a great September wind sweeps through the schoolyard. Miss Cerritto, my first grade teacher asks me what I did over the summer. “I had fun,” I say, turning back to look at her. “A lot of fun.”

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Later that day, we begin the new curriculum. *** I’ve retired La Sardina. It’s in the trunk of my Jeep, and I suspect it’ll remain there for the foreseeable future. When I need to photograph a person or a place, I’ll just use my cell phone; that’s how it’s done in the twenty-first century, after all. But, the pictures… I wasn’t sure what to do with those thirty-six prints. I came close to throwing them away on several occasions, but instead, I put them in my closet. They’re resting atop other trinkets, toys, and objects from the past: Frog and Toad All Year, my summer journals, an old stick, a flashlight, report cards, you name it. The envelope of La Sardina photographs now rests among these lost objects, but the pictures don’t hold any nostalgic sentiments… at least, not yet. But perhaps they’ll be a mid-winter’s night sometime – maybe fifteen or twenty years from now – when I’ll recall my first year in graduate school, working part time at a bookstore, dividing up my time between school and work and writing, while making time for friends and family. And, maybe then, I won’t remember the broken flash, or the frustrating focus settings, or the vexing wind-up dial on that cheap little camera. No, those minor qualms, and the daily frustrations of work and life will be smoothed over, like a pebble at Jones Beach, and I’ll feel a longing to look back at the photographs of the places I no longer know. The pictures are safe – in my closet – for when that day comes.

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Spittoon 3.2

Caretakers Sara Lippmann

Jim Ferguson stands in the foyer with his gift for Mary. She was his last goodbye. Most people had left straight from the funeral. Claire’s friends from childhood, from college, medical school. Claire’s father, Noel, retreated from his daughter’s gravesite on the arm of a woman nearly Claire’s age. Only a few had followed him back to his apartment. Jim’s parents, Susan and Don would stay on until Jim got settled, readjusted to his routine as widower, as if this were something that required a mere tinkering, as if his parents’ quarrelsome presence could possibly make him feel less alone. The other guests had long dispersed. At the brink of Chloe’s no-nap meltdown - an hour ago? how he’d lost sense of the day - Mary had scooped up his toddler with her usual efficiency, and somebody glanced at the tail of Jim’s shirt blousing out from his pants and said, “You must be wiped,” triggering the leaving, mostly in pairs, everyone a couple, a hushed steady shuffle of twos. The lacquered sideboard teamed with cellophaned platters and casseroles and large bouquets of fruit. He could hear his mother slamming kitchen cabinets; his father, already pestering her with his crossword, their marital rhythm resumed: a harsh, bitter whisper. *** For two years Jim had said goodbye to Claire. She left them as a favorite destination retreats from view – voices and color merged first, blurring slowly to shadow, impression, halo and then she was gone – his wife, Claire, his lifeline to Mary. *** From day one the decision was set, unanimous: Mary would commit till the end of Claire’s illness and then go. It could be weeks, months. Two years. Now, it was time. Mary was heading back to St. Lucia, white stucco tucked into the hills of Forestière fragrant with jasmine and scarlet chenille. Zaida needed her mama, her sister Adelaide said. Addie with that mobile on her ear yapping all day thanks to some island deal with AT&T. Zaida fresh, Zaida lazy. Zaida with her chigger legs set to fold tight round a banana tree. Zaida come on the phone, she have a different story. Zaida say Auntie grinding me to the bone. Fingers pricked from demanding: stitch this. Hem that. Auntie think all she need a man come along and poof, she Kimora

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Lee Simmons. How you doing in school? Mary asks her twelve-year-old, knowing that’s the ticket. The answer always fine, mama. When that lady gonna die? *** Everything was temporary. Susan knows this. She is Jim’s mother. A time will come when she’ll feel underfoot. But, for now, the arrangement, silently agreed upon, leaves no questions. This is what mothers do: Lift up their child, brush off the knee, dot with the amber of iodine and send along with a kiss. As if it was easy. When a life has been wrenched. When there is no mother. When there is no mother you stand in, you do your best, you fill up the crock pot and change diapers and run hot baths, you rub knotted shoulders and listen and love all you want, there was a desperate gnawing need, but even Susan knows a mother cannot take the place of a wife. *** Down the dark hall of their apartment Chloe sits in her toddler bed talking to Abby. Hush little baby don’t say a worm. She tightens her doll’s pigtails woven from pink and purple yarn, cheerful and round as pompoms. Abby lives on Sesame Street and has a magic wand because she is a fairy just like her mama, only Abby’s mama is invisible whereas Chloe’s is asleep beneath cookie crumbs. In your heart, Mary has told her, looping thumbs to form wings she’d imprint on Chloe’s chest, with all people larger than life. Chloe stuffs Abby down her shirt. They are best friends. Chloe even has a special miniature Abby solely for outings in the stroller. Mary bought it for Chloe’s 2nd birthday. The smaller one, too, burrows in the child’s shirt then slides out the bottom. Red polka dots. Poof. Hello, baby. *** Don Ferguson buries into his crossword puzzle. Hobbies got you through. At the least they occupied his hands, ruddy and useless with arthritis. No wonder Noel West took to a hotel and upgraded his lovers like cars. Who doesn’t hope to elude death? What did you call a father who lost a child? There was no word for it. It was not supposed to happen. His vision smears up like Vaseline, baseline before last month’s cataract surgery granted him renewed faith; one blink and all is clear. Over his newsprint Don sees Susan’s body in motion, her once pert bottom slackened by age, her elbows lost in the basin, whipping the water to a sudsy froth. She scrubs, rinses, shakes off the excess drops and dries the rest with towels brightened by cherries; she files plates into a machine. His wife was always doing, the first to volunteer, to walk the neighbor’s poodle; she was such a good helper, indispensable,

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everyone said, that when it came to her children, their only child, Jim, blood being thickest, she’d drop everything. Everything, Don thinks, scratching letters into boxes. Petulantly: including him. *** “Well,” Jim says. Despite all the months funneling toward this moment he feels unprepared. He clears his throat. The gift brushes against his trousers, forming a thick awkward curtain between them. It is a coat. A fur coat, he has planned to give her – as what? A goody bag? A parting gift? The ridiculous choice irritates his skin, reddening the pale undersides of his forearms skin like a child’s face against a father’s unshaved beard. Jim looks long and Mary meets him, holding him up with her gaze. If only he could stop the clock. Her eyes glisten. For the thousandth time Jim wants to say it and for the thousandth time he won’t: Stay. He wants to say, forever. Mary, Mary, Mary who he never would have found if it hadn’t been for Claire. But he will not say these things. He will not say them not because he is afraid although yes that is part of it but because deep down he knows if he asks her she would stay and he would worry if she conceded out of obligation or pity. Instead he will say goodbye. Loss washes over him. But it is more than loss. It is everything he’s known, every constant and familiar, cast violently to sea. He must gather up the flotsam, drop anchor, consult maps; first he must let her go. *** With Claire it was cut and dry, and for that he is grateful. They met in Yosemite, tracing the ropes of each other’s independence straight to their hearts, fingertips chalky and split, her fear of bears disproportionate – comedic, even – to the peril she overcame scaling the face of El Capitan. As if those hermetic bear lockers held the key to safety. Don’t worry, he whispered in the tent at night as she tensed to the slightest rustle; Lord knows why, she listened. Maybe they were both tired of being alone, sick of the sight of young couples eating each other like new fruits along every scenic lookout on the trails. What did he know? He curved himself around her like a fiddlehead fern. He loved her; they married. Together, they cheered up the clapboard house in Rochester where she studied medicine and Jim took that job at GPS Engineering, caulked out the drafts and repainted the banister, slapped barnyard decals in the former study and furnished it with a second hand crib. As her body stretched, first over her ribs and then outward, and the life inside of her responded, Jim would press his hands on her belly and the world would silence inside her. This disappointed him. He felt shut out from an intimacy he would never access, a mother carrying a child. Claire coveted her pregnancy but remained kind, claiming the stillness within ensued from his

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palliative touch, a touch which, when making love to her full body, stumbled upon something hard in her chest. Fibroids, she had dismissed it, covering her skin pitted like rind. A known side effect of pregnancy. How long had she suspected? Denial was strange for a medical student, they often gravitated to the other end of the spectrum, becoming hypochondriacs instead, convinced of the worst, but it was typical of Claire to try to protect him from the fate hacking through her family tree, stealing her own mother from her at age nine: Aggressive. Inflammatory. Breast. *** “Well,” Mary echoes Jim. She was a sounding board, a master of mirrors; when employers turned to her as they did she served as their totem of capability. Last night she cradled Claire’s husband’s clammy forehead in her lap. On the bathroom floor with cloths once more salving: You alright, now. You still young. Mary smoothed the creases in his brow with the warm pads of her fingers. Roger she treat the same when he come home all hours, and before that her own daddy, an officer who seen too much, what can think of no better path than the drink. Most of all she remember Zachariah, his lean body crumpled by the road crusted in blood and dust. First thing she going to do when she land home in her country, visit her son grave. Zaida waiting until she arrive then no more, Zaida would not spend her life waiting on white people, that for sure. Jim moaning in her lap like a sick puppy. Pick up and go on, now. Don’t fret that Chloe. She’s a good girl. You both gonna be just fine. Her watch ticks off the seconds. *** In the kitchen a chair scrapes the tile floor. Jim’s parents return him to age-old patterns: “Five-letter-word for trout basket?” “Creel, Don. Is this really appropriate?” *** For the birth of Chloe and everything that followed they moved to the City for Sloan Kettering. Claire insisted upon carrying her child – that restless, spirited foot – until it was no longer safe. Cut from her mother in her eighth month, Chloe was carted to the NICU and hooked up to a ventilator so her lungs could continue to

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bloom; the vessels of her retinas stretch out like thirsty roots. Claire was wheeled to another floor. There was no nursing or co-sleeping or skin-to-skin contact. No dreamy journey of birth photography, no immortal glossies in black and white, only a timed morphine drip, a button that could not be pushed fast enough. Her postCesarean body was pummeled with poison, rapidly bald. Inviting baby jokes that were never funny. *** There would be no wood, tin, crystal anniversaries. His parents had endured forty years for better or worse and here he was at 35: clutching the sewn hides of dead animal. Mary watches Jim’s chin quiver like Chloe’s breakfast of eggs. She goes to touch him but withdraws her heat from his shoulder. Wherever she look people begging beak wide as a hungry bird. What make him think he the only one what got lonely? *** “You get the idea?” “What?” “C’mon, Sue. It’s a clue—” “Can’t you do anything for yourself, Don?” “Eight letters. E-blank-C-blank-blank- “ “Has it ever crossed your mind, Don that someday I may not be around for your every beck and call?” Silence from the other room. *** Claire’s therapy was a ruthless boxing match: eight rounds of chemo, three of radiation, one experimental treatment involving ingestible magnets that landed her in ICU for a week. Claire came through it all, a fighter. That’s who she was: rational, determined, adept at placing one foot in front of the other. Only everything inside her had been stripped.

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*** “E-t-c-e-t-e-r-a.” *** In the hospital lounge Jim chewed coffee stirrers to flat slimy strands. Mary worked the night shift and Jim couldn’t go home, with a newborn in the NICU and a wife in the ward, to a dark hospital-owned sublet the lease of which he would take over once the prognosis became clear. It started as a routine: she’d bring him fresh herbal tea, a chocolate from the nurse’s station. Afterward, they’d crinkle brown wrappers and check on Claire. Mary was good, Mary kept the lights dim when checking vitals, Mary never tugged at Claire’s central line or expressed impatience, Mary scrounged up extra pillows to help Claire get comfortable. Jim was struck by her compassion, by contained, able Mary. Soon he was tagging along on her break listening to stories: she had children but she’d lost her son, hit by a rum truck, her island lilt turning the saddest news into song. You never know what the day bring, she’d hum, popping a locket from her chest with thumbprints of Zaida and Zachariah. Before becoming a nurse Mary had worked as a nanny; visas lapsed, gaps gouged her timeline, she smelled like coconut oil, there was so much she could teach that when Chloe was ready to come home from the hospital Jim and Claire all but bowed at her feet. *** Halfway out the door Mary feels him like a turtleneck in summer. Be a man, she prays. A spider crack breaches the plaster of the ceiling. *** Chloe presses Abby to her ear. Oh, Abby. What do you like more, rainbow or chocolate? Both? Me too, hungee bunny! Here, have a tookie. One for you and me. *** Of course, it was all wrong. A fur coat! Didn’t he realize the Caribbean was a tropical climate? Why this only occurs to him now was typical; awareness often arrived too late. The pelt, meant to feel rich, had an oily and mangy texture. It

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smelled hunted, slightly rotten, like a camping blanket kept in a hot car for too long. When Claire purchased it at a vintage shop their first winter in Rochester, the coat shimmered on her shoulders, and together they imagined the lives of previous owners. Now it told another story. As if a mascot had abandoned a sweaty costume in its dressing room. The stupidest gift on earth, but what could he do? Chuck the foolish thing into a corner? Pass it off to his mother? His mother would embarrass him more. There was no time to run out for something else, to do anything but maintain appearances. He would pretend the coat possessed its own internal logic. Jim leans against the naked rack. It almost tips over. “Do you have someone picking you up from the airport?” “Yes,” Mary answers – remembering to resist adding, at his insistence – Mr. Jim. *** She’d seen it before: Fight to the drop and Claire needed a prayer to stand on. How they looked at her, lost, adrift, Mary who arranged her life in accordance to other people’s needs. Jim before her all nervous and bent, glasses smudged, khakis fit for his pastor – how could this man-child be expected to swaddle? Yes, Mary said, when the young couple had asked and they collapsed into damp, relieved hugs. She would care for everything. Once her shift ended she marched to the pharmacy to fill up on necessities: diapers, burpies, silicone nipples. Yes, she said in the stiff visitor’s chair and it was the sound of air escaping a balloon. She would stay until Claire regained her strength, until Claire could do for herself and for her family but even then anyone could tell – just ‘cause it’s His plan don’t make it less cruel – self-reliance would never come. *** “All right, Don. Tear off a scrap.” “Susan, I am in the middle of it.” “Are you listening? Grab a pen. Here’s what we need, for starters:” “How to shoot ducks at an alley? Blank-blank-blank-” *** Gratitude. How did one express it? Flowers, scarves, financial bonuses all felt hollow. This woman had created a world in which Jim could breathe, moving in and

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seeing to his child so he could stay by Claire. Mary bathed Chloe and dressed her and rocked her and fed her, and as she grew, Mary rolled her the ball and took her to sing-a-longs and arranged playdates with other nannies. Snack bowls brimmed with peeled apple wedges. Chloe sang “Mr. Golden Sun” at the top of her two-yearold lungs all because of Mary. Mary cared for him, too, changing his sheets and swapping out towels and coiling fresh socks into bales. The apartment brightened from her cooking: salt fish, pepper pot stew. And in the hopeful months when Claire joined them, dipping her bread crust into hot condensed milk, Mary stood poised with poultices of grated malanga and gently pressured hands to work into the angular blades of Claire’s back. At a round table, as a family: This was how they lived. *** Okay, Abby. Les skidoo. Don’t worry. Mama come right back. Oh, Abby. I miss you too. See you soon, promise, okay? Chloe hurls Abby Cadabby, lifeless lump of a doll, on the floor. *** The night Jim understood Claire would die he fell into Mary. In a late conversation at Kettering the oncologist shut out Claire from clinical trials, her body shriveled save for one arm puffed with lymphedema; plied Jim with hospice material and bromides about comfort and time. The doctor suggested an elastic sleeve for the swelling. Jim came home to Mary padding around in her warm bare feet, the hug of her jeans taunting with life, filling him with such ache that he fell, grief-stricken in the hallway and she held him, Mary, as she would a child, his mucus pooling on her shoulder, and when he opened up her blouse she let him suck her round, healthy breasts. Mary knew about the needs of men, but there was little fulfillment, sprung as it was, and not something, she believed, he would ever choose. Since that night, there had been a few more nights following scotch, Mary provided and Jim shook and wept, Jim full of shame, Jim without uttering a word. *** They’d gone over it a thousand times. “Chloe has ballet on Wednesday.”

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“Right. Music on Mondays, Water babies on Tuesday. I’ll check the schedule on the corkboard. Can I pack you leftovers for the plane?” *** Claire had bowed out early. To love like that took a certain woman, who poured everything she had into spaces for absence, for healing and grace. Chloe clung to Mary and when Claire unfolded her frail arms Chloe feared her. Shrunk even deeper into Mary and it was all Mary could do to pry free her hold. “Go, now. Go to your mama,” Mary would say and Claire would think: what me is left. Chloe would whimper and fuss and Claire would watch and not fight it. Her lips cracked like asphalt, her hair a few brittle feathers, overnight she had become an old woman. Claire remembered losing her own mother – much later, but still as a child – and as much as she wanted to climb the bars and curl into her daughter’s crib with her she knew it would not change anything. Chloe pressed her fat cheeks through Mary’s strong legs. “Peek-a-boo,” Claire would answer, thin fingers spread over her face, each hand a footprint, retreating as wounded prey to her sterilized bed. *** In the symbiosis of marriage Don registers everything Susan says before the lists begin: “Chicken breasts, Bon Ami, trash bags, scented candles, someone should check on the child.” *** Jim is stalling, pleading for Chloe, maybe we should wake her, she would want another goodbye hug, but Mary equates leaving to tearing off a strip. It’s what she done with her own daughter. Zaida. Clip one hibiscus, they everywhere, each one a remembrance, a glass in a window, private gardens await, the smell of mama, coming home. “Please, I’m just -” he starts, blinks, trails off. Eyes closed it is Claire on his lids that first spring in the Sierras, laced boots to rock, rappelling El Capitan without looking down. Never has he felt more like a coward. The coat itches in his grip. He opens his eyes and hands over the gift. “For you,” he says, choking back tears. Mary takes it.

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*** “Okay, here’s one. Classic Peanuts’ phrase: ‘Good – blank.” “Five letters. Charles Schulz. Susan?” “Sue –?” *** Chloe has moved on to Penelope. Penelope is hard plastic unlike the puppet mush of Abby; Chloe brushes her stiff yellow hair. Penelope is a new doll, a gift brought today by one of the mourners, a former colleague of Claire’s. In the corner of Chloe’s room sits a tower of presents decorated in curly bows and grosgrain ribbons. Earlier, Chloe asked if there would be cupcakes. *** “Why, it’s just what I always wanted!” *** Oh, Nelope, I like pink and purple. *** “Susie Q?” *** “You don’t have to say that.” But Mary has already put the coat on. “I know it may not be practical.” “It’s perfect.” She is gushing. Jim wants to believe it. “Claire would want you to have it,” he stumbles. It’s a lie. He hasn’t a clue what Claire would have wanted only that undoubtedly she would have known better,

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chosen thoughtfully, more appropriately. Mary caresses the sleeves that have drowned her arms. “It suits you.” “Doesn’t it?” Mary gives herself a girlish twirl and he notices the fur, freshly combed, no longer is dingy but bright white against her skin, the bodies of a thousand rabbits wrapped around her like happy new teeth. “Wear it in good health!” She rights her suitcase. “Look at you! A movie star! Off you go, snug as a bug on a rug!” At this she bursts into laughter. Her head back, eyes closed, throat warm and graceful, he is overcome; she is all mouth, filling him with the want of a child. He does not know if she is laughing at him or with him, was there a difference, it does not matter, he wants, she goes on like that until eventually he joins her, laughing, he is clinging to the sound of Mary, unbridled, and now he is crying too, fierce heavy sobs that erupt from him recklessly, as if they’d been bottled and forgotten. She smiles and he finds the strength to breathe close and ask her for forgiveness. It is as if she does not hear him. “There are holidays, you know,” she answers. They are back to charades. “That’s right,” Jim says, only he doesn’t know, what is right, does not know a thing beyond this wooden knob, Mary sweeping the ground with her fur. Take care, now. Empty-handed his arms loose at his sides him like severed ropes. “Hot dog! I solved it! It’s Grief! Good Grief!” He hears his father hollering to no one, his mother already halfway down the hall, inside a bedroom, punch in that time card, soon Jim would follow, lift Chloe in arms, Mama gonna buy you a mocky dird.

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Spittoon 3.2

Special Section: Featuring Art by Dr. Ernest Williamson III


Spittoon 3.2

“Artist Delving Into Her Craft” 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink) Dr. Ernest Williamson III

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Spittoon 3.2

“In Conversation With My Art” 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink) Dr. Ernest Williamson III

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Spittoon 3.2

“Somebody Watches Over Me” 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink) Dr. Ernest Williamson III

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Spittoon 3.2

“I Know Exactly What I’m Doing” 20” x 40” on paper: Mixed Media (acrylic, ink) Dr. Ernest Williamson III

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Spittoon 3.2

The Way the World Will End Cory Johnston

“I just keep thinking about how easy it would be,” Jeremy says as the light on the vaporizer switches from orange to green. His dirty brown hair is pushed up into a shaggy mess as he runs one hand through it, from forehead to the top of his spine. “I would be out for a run on Main Street, and as some random truck zipped by me, I would just jump. Nothing fancy, nothing dramatic. I would just jump into the grill headfirst. Easy. Done.” Jeremy attaches a clear plastic bag to the top of the vaporizer, a small silver machine in the shape of a volcano. When he turns it on, the bag begins to inflate with what we call “clear smoke,” a mostly invisible vapor that contains a concentrated dose of THC. He unhooks it from the machine and takes a long drag. I watch the bag deflate with a loud crinkling sound until it is just a shriveled piece of plastic sitting on the floor between us in my cramped apartment bathroom. It’s about 12:30 in the afternoon. “Easy and done,” I say as I reattach the bag and take my turn. “I don’t even think it would hurt if I went head first.” He thinks it with his hands, holding them up above his head. Two fingers become Stick Figure Jeremy, which he then crushes with the truck of his left fist. A clapping sound cuts through the tiny bathroom like thunder. “And maybe my family could convince themselves that it had been a freak accident. That would be easier for them.” “How considerate of you,” I say, unsure of how best to respond when your friend tells you he wishes he were dead. “I hear that all the good sons and brothers kill themselves that way.” He forces a smile but his gaze is focused on the shaggy green bathmat at his feet. He’s seeing it happen: the oncoming truck, the few casual steps toward the street, the sudden lunge. He takes another long drag. The bag shrinks down again. *** It was two months ago that Jeremy showed up at my door with an eighth of weed and a broken heart. Kara was gone, he told me. Something about graduate school or ambition. New places. Shit, he didn’t know, she was just gone. I was out of the

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country when it happened, wandering around small towns in rural England just to use up my vacation days. When I returned home, Jeremy had been single for all of three days. He walked into my apartment, the sandwich bag full of weed clutched in his palm, before my suitcases had even been emptied. He didn’t ask me how my trip was, and I didn’t tell him how jetlagged I was. I was happy for his company, though, and was glad to provide some kind of companionship as he dealt with his own dramatic version of grief. And since I hadn’t smoked in months, I was even happier for his weed, which was strong and dense. Although I wasn’t a regular smoker anymore, taking a couple of weeks to relax, indulge, and help Jeremy rebuild seemed like as fine a plan as any other. *** There was a strange kind of energy about him during that first week. His feet were too bouncy; the speed with which he zipped around my kitchen so completely at odds with the dark, sagging pockets under his eyes. “I need all hands on deck,” he told me, just desperate to be somewhere with someone doing something. So we got high, shook up some Manhattans with the bottle of Evan Williams I had bought at the Duty Free stand, and pretended that this was an appropriate way to deal with life’s major turning points. At first I didn’t push him to talk about Kara. I didn’t know what to say, anyway. I guess I could have said I was sorry, but that seemed silly—it wasn’t me that had forced her to leave. So it wouldn’t have been the “I’m sorry it’s my fault” kind of apology, but rather the “I’m sorry that sometimes bad things happen to some people and not other people, and that this time around it happened to you” kind. And is that really anything at all? What kind of person would take consolation in that? So instead I just let him wander the apartment and use my bathroom to get high. The drugs didn’t exactly promote lengthy discourse. *** “I’m gonna grow a mustache,” he told me. It was a couple weeks after my return and we were in my apartment again with a feast of Chinese take-out. Lo mein, General Tso’s, pork fried rice. “It would be so easy,” he said. “All I have to do is sit around and wait for it to grow in. Just wait. And not shave. Then if I want to shave it, I can. And it will grow back!” “Easy and done,” I said.

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He was sitting in my green reclining chair, stroking one finger slowly across his upper lip. There were no hairs there yet, so he must have been thinking about how it would feel once there were. The hair on top of his head was the usual electrified mess. He wore his standard gear: New York Giants t-shirt, New York Giants jacket, corduroy pants. I don’t watch football so we never talked about it. “Do you think I’d look good with a mustache?” he asked me. I was caught off guard. We spent so much time avoiding personal talk like this. Was he looking for consolation? A friendly compliment? Personally I didn’t much care for mustaches. “It would be…interesting,” I said. He nodded his head up and down, over and over again, but said nothing. “Like a science experiment,” I continued blindly. “We can develop a working hypothesis of whether or not Jeremy would look good with a mustache, then run controlled experiments to determine the validity of our claims.” We were stoned again. “And what would your hypothesis be?” he asked. I was caught, forced to say what I knew was appropriate: “I think that you would look good with a mustache.” “And what would the ladies think?” he went on, still stroking his upper lip. He always called them “the ladies” when he generalized, but this time I didn’t think he was speaking generally at all. We hadn’t talked much about Kara. “Depends on the girl,” I said. “I’m sure some would like it and some wouldn’t.” “Kara would have hated it. That makes me want to try.” He spoke with growing energy now, cresting a wave of schizophrenic passion that had come and gone in unpredictable patterns ever since she left. His smile was ravenous, as if he might start foaming at the mouth. I tried to create some kind of energy feedback loop that might keep him stable. “Do it!” I exclaimed. “That’ll show her!” “I’m doing it! I’m definitely doing it!” He jumped out of his seat, as if growing a mustache was something he had to start work on immediately. But rather than run

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out the door, he just paced three times across the living room. Then he turned to me and asked, “Smoke?” Before I could answer he turned and headed for the bathroom. I got up from the couch, still blind, and followed in behind him. *** “Let’s go for a run!” Jeremy told me. He was pumped. It was a month after Kara left. The eighth of weed had been replaced by a fresh quarter a few days before. A full month in, this was way more smoking than I could reasonably allow. But Jeremy insisted. He was still over every day, lunging desperately from one thing to the next—the mustache was coming in nicely, and he was considering upgrading to a goatee—as he tried to satisfy the void left by Kara. It was time for me to say no, to tell him to ease up and settle down, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. “Come on! I’ve been going every day this week. It’s fun. It’s not that hard. You get less fat!” I can only imagine the look he saw on my face. “I’m not big on movement,” I said. “It’ll be fun,” he repeated. “Cold air in your face. Blood pumping through your body. The whoosh of oncoming traffic as it zips by you. It’s freedom, baby!” We went once. Just a quick loop around town: down to the library, cut up to Lum field, around Washington Ave and Fairmount. Maybe two miles in total. Back at my apartment I collapsed onto the leather couch. Jeremy was sparked. He couldn’t stand still, just bopped around the living room as if his mind was still running down toward the bustling intersection with Main Street. I let him do his thing. He seemed happy, after all. “I need a shower,” he told me. “You have any beer?” “Yes, but I recommend soap and water.” “Best part of running,” he said. “As soon as you’re done you hop in a scalding hot shower and chug a beer, straight down. Hydration levels. Open pores. I don’t know. Some shit like that. It just hits you hard and fast. Easy. Done.” I didn’t say anything. Just pointed him toward the fridge, where he took two cans of Budweiser.

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Fifteen minutes later he was out, dried off, and watching another bag fill to capacity. But the spark was gone, swallowed by the drain at the bottom of my bathtub. His eyes sagged; his hair hung over his forehead. I tried some general encouragement. I had to start somewhere. “Thanks for making me run. I actually liked it. And maybe my legs will thank me once they’re done screaming in pain.” He just shrugged and watched the bag. “Well, you know,” he said. “If the world ends tomorrow then we can at least be in good physical shape for it, right? We’ll be the best looking corpses on the block.” “I like those priorities. I’m curious, though. How exactly is the world going to end?” He narrowed his eyes, as if deep in thought. It was a look I associated with high school, back when we first became friends and spent each summer weekend in my backyard shooting the shit. It was reassuring to know that, for a moment at least, that version of Jeremy was still alive somewhere inside him. He exhaled a full lung of clear smoke with an overly dramatic sigh. “Nuclear annihilation would be my guess. We’d be on the brink of world war, with lots of political instability. Then some hothead just goes for it and blows everything to hell. Radiation. Nuclear winter. That’s all there is to it. End of story.” “Bleak,” I said, and couldn’t contain a laugh. Jeremy just reattached the bag and flipped the switch. “I laugh too,” he said. “But it’s not actually funny.” The thought lingered on the air around us as we watched the bag fill. “I don’t think that would be the end of the world,” I said. “Some people would survive and rebuild. We could do it, little by little.” “After something like that? You’re crazy. Besides, would it even be worth it? It would be centuries before the radiation levels dropped.” “You want to know how the world actually ends?” I asked. He bowed his head a couple of inches to entreat an explanation. For a moment he let the bag rest and just listened. “With the sun. Five billion years—that’s all we’ve got before the sun

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explodes and incinerates the whole solar system. All the planets, the cosmic dust, asteroids. And us, of course.” “Badass!” Jeremy said. He grinned at the violent totality of this new vision for the apocalypse. “Now that is the end of the story. I can dig it.” “Not really.” I climbed on top of the toilet to push open the bathroom window. Lingering clear smoke scattered on the fresh air. “After the explosion is over, all the pieces of the planets, and of us, will still be there. Just floating around. Eventually, all those particles that used to be us will reform into new planets and stars that will have new forms of life. And I say that is badass.” We were quiet for a moment and I worried that I went a step too far, made it too obvious that I was saying all this for his sake. It was one thing to talk about the end of the world, but another entirely to console a heartbroken friend. Jeremy didn’t notice, or else didn’t care. “Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Circle of life. Etcetera. That’s all so far off anyway. It might never even happen.” The cold fresh air from the window stirred us as if from a daze. Jeremy didn’t reattach the bag. We sat there for a few more minutes without speaking, our minds occupied with the death of nearby stars. *** “Let’s cook something! I never cook. I need to learn how to cook.” It was the next day. Jeremy had arrived early with a new bottle of whisky. He said he owed me for drinking so much of mine, and demanded that we finish the entire bottle that day. Since we were succeeding admirably, cooking dinner was a great way to balance out the booze and keep Jeremy busy. We made pasta. “It’s good for beginners because it’s hard to screw up,” I told him. “Easy and done.” He chopped up some onion to add to the sauce and sliced a zucchini while I sautéed some frozen shrimp in butter and garlic. In the kitchen, all of his erratic energy was converted to intense concentration; he was slow and deliberate with every stroke of the knife. I had mentioned that each piece of squash needed to be a similar thickness or else they wouldn’t cook evenly, and he interpreted this as religious doctrine. Halfway through the first zuke, I saw him drop down to his knees in front

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of the cutting board and hoist two slices above his head. He squinted at them and clenched his eyebrows together to determine if they were of approximate size. They looked fine to me, but failed Jeremy’s standards. He tossed one piece into the nearby trash can, and the other into his mouth. I was steeling myself for an eventual all-hands-on-deck talk with him about Kara. His dramatic, brooding silence had gone on long enough, and enough clear smoke had been dispersed out my bathroom window to get all the local wildlife feeling goofy. More importantly, both of us knew that cooking wasn’t going to stick any better than running or facial hair. There were only so many thoughts you could cram into your brain before your tolerance for distraction got too high. But Jeremy had really believed that what he had with Kara would go the distance—the picket fence in the suburbs, two kids and a friendly dog, barbecues on long holiday weekends. Neither of us were the romantic type, but now that Kara was gone it was easier to see just how important that idealized vision of their future had been to Jeremy. To lose sight of it so suddenly took its toll, as though he didn’t believe that another similar vision would ever come together to replace the one he lost. The pasta was finished boiling but the zucchini needed five more minutes. I crossed one ankle over the other and leaned against the wall beside the oven. Jeremy was deep in thought. He held my filet knife by the black handle and rotated it in his hands. “Cooking is silly,” he said. “Cooking is so silly. That this is what a person does. This is what I have to look forward to in my life. What does that mean? Think about how many Goddamn meals we’ll have to cook for ourselves before we die.” “I have measured my life in roasted zucchini slices,” I said. “Right? And I mean, humans used to eat raw meat, right? And buried roots and all that crap.” He scoffed. “Cooking.” In his hands, the knife twirled faster now, stopping every few rotations to be thrown toward the countertop in an exaggerated chopping motion. Then he held it up and examined the tip of the blade. “Hey, that thing is brand new,” I said. “Be careful.” “Seriously. I bet it could cut clean through my stomach and chop me in half!” He grabbed his belly and laughed at me with a bizarre grin that I immediately hated.

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“Two pieces, same thickness. Wouldn’t I roast up all nice and even?” He poured another inch of bourbon and went into the living room. All in all it wasn’t a bad meal. The pasta was al dente, the shrimp well seasoned, the zucchini evenly cooked. But Jeremy didn’t care. He barely touched it, just sunk himself into the recliner and pushed one hand through his hair, forehead to spine. “I don’t know,” he said, though I hadn’t asked a question. “I don’t know.” *** As he filled my bathroom with more and more clear smoke, I thought about when we had first met—back in middle school science class. I was shy, bordering on catatonic, and Jeremy was aggressively social. Neither of us had a lot of friends. He started inviting himself over to my house. “I’m coming over today,” he would say during class. When I offered my usual parry of lazy disinterest, his riposte was swift and effective: “I’m coming over today.” Easy and done. So we had become friends simply because Jeremy had refused to let us not become friends. I was grateful for that effort, but had never said so. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing a couple of guys talked about. We used to talk about plenty else, though. Still did, when the occasion was right or the weed particularly loopy. But back in high school, we would lie on my old trampoline, sagging down and rising back up, and talk through the long nights of summer vacation. We talked big and bold about all kinds of things that we knew nothing about: blue school buses, the nature of the universe, which girls smell like what. “What do you think about kids?” he asked me once, some time in August before sophomore year of high school. It was dusk. The sun hung on the horizon and a handful of eager stars popped up across the sky. We were spread out on the trampoline like rag dolls, arms and legs spread wide as we dared life to punish our grandiose self conceptions. Jeremy was chewing a long piece of grass that he had plucked from my neighbor’s yard. He grinded it between his teeth, stopping every few minutes to spit out the little pieces that broke off or stuck to his tongue. Eventually the grass was chewed down to the stub and his teeth were the color of soil. He flattened his palm towards the darkening sky and let the next gust of wind carry it off. We both watched as it drifted aimlessly to another part of my yard.

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“I don’t know,” I said. “It seems so far off. I can’t imagine all that responsibility. So much can go wrong. Besides, babies are expensive, and they drool.” He picked at the dirt on his teeth with the nail of his index finger, then held up his hand to the fading sunlight to inspect it. Apparently satisfied, he flicked the dirt clump off into the grass. “I think I want kids,” he said, enlivened by the strength of his conviction. “It seems like the right thing to do.” “The right thing to do?” “Yeah. You know. Isn’t the whole point of life to pass on your DNA? To leave your mark somehow? People have done it for thousands of years. We live for a while, then we find some other person who has lived for a while, and we have kids. Then they live for a while and do the same. It’s the one big thing you have to do before you die. If you don’t keep the chain going then it’s like you’re failing as a human being. You’re not doing your share.” “I guess,” I said. “Yeah, I see what you mean. But it’s not like everyone has kids. What about people who die young? Or get castrated? Or turn out to be gay? They’re not all failed humans.” “No, that’s true.” His eyes narrowed as he adapted his life philosophy to these new constructs. “I don’t think it’s possible to fail as a human being,” I went on. “Even if you’re old and lonely and miserable. You’re still seeing things, right? And experiencing things. There will always be more things to look at and touch.” He was nodding his head to this. “Yeah that’s true, that’s true. I’m all for the touching and seeing. But I stand by my claim. I will have kids as long as none of those things happen to me. Especially the castration one.” This, on a lazy summer evening, for a couple of teenagers drunk on nothing but the darkening expansive sky, was as grand an insight as we could imagine. We got down from the trampoline and looked for more pieces of grass to chew. ***

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The demise of Stick Figure Jeremy rings in my ear as Real Life Jeremy exhales slowly and tosses the bag back to me. His mood seems different now that he’s revealed his master plan to end his own life, as though his mind has been cleared of some terrible clutter. Easy and done. As I attach the bag one more time, a wide smile breaks across his face for apparently no reason. He doesn’t say anything else. We just sit and smoke. It doesn’t feel wrong this time, but cathartic, as if the semi-invisible vapor all around us were entirely invisible, allowing us to actually see each other. The window is cracked. The air keeps moving. “That sounds like bullshit,” I say after a moment, matching his goofy grin with one of my own. “Getting hit by a truck would hurt like all hell. Especially head-first! Broken neck. Broken jaw. Eyeballs popping out of their sockets.” “Man! Don’t say that. You know I have a thing about eyes. Ever since you told me that sneezing with your eyes open makes them pop out. Shit.” And for the first time in two months, we both genuinely laugh. Real over-the-top pothead giggles. I feel like a kid whose friend has just announced himself with an epic belch. The tension diffuses a little. I take a long, slow hit off the bag and hold the smoke inside for as long as I can. Right before I exhale, Jeremy flashes one hand out from his body and jabs me in the stomach. It feels like hours before my gigglecoughs subside. Then he asks: “Oh hey, how was England?” His voice sounds stable and sincere, like he actually wants to know, like he has room enough for it. But it’s been two months since my trip and most of the details have faded away from me. Really, I had just been filling up the time over there, same as we were doing now, same as we did on the trampoline during high school summers. Maybe there isn’t a whole lot else to do in life besides hold down the fort until the world ends, and keeping those hotheads from blowing themselves to hell. So I just say, in as grandiose a tone as I can: “I saw a pheasant.” “Oh?” “There was a small lake behind an old abbey I visited. When I went out for a walk one morning I heard this squawking sound I didn’t recognize. I looked up into the trees just in time to see this pheasant—beautiful, full feathers, that badass tail like

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a sword—swoop down from a branch, glide across the lake only a couple inches above the water, and land on the other side.” I imitate the motion: hold my flattened palm above my head and slowly bring it down in a gentle arch, then level off in a straight line below shoulder height. “I sat down next to the water and just waited for the ripples from his landing to reach my side of the lake. It took a few minutes, but they did.” Jeremy holds his hand up and performs the same gesture: a gentle swoop from up above his head down to shoulder height, leveling off at the end. “I’ve never seen a pheasant before,” he tells me. “Neither had I,” I say. “Until that one.” I stand up and toss the bag into his lap. It’s cashed. I turn around and go out to get a glass of water and throw some leftovers in the microwave. As I leave the room, I see Jeremy sitting there on the rim of my bathtub, staring at somewhere that isn’t quite in front of him. He holds his hand up above his head for almost a moment, then lets it swoop down to his shoulders and level off. I close my eyes and imagine a tiny puff of feathers landing softly on a dark and quiet lake.

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Spittoon 3.2

Both Ends at the Middle Rich Ives

1. A rope is not as subtle as a glass of lemonade, but both collect sweat in relation to what they hold to. A breeze is merely a whisper without its secret, which can work harder by hiding first. If you drop the glass, the rope may pick it up slower than you can imagine and remind you how small the pieces of pleasure were that entered your body. You probably didn’t know you had so many mouths. Quit talking about it says the lemon, hitching a ride on the tiniest part of its journey as you begin to feel the urge to let the lemonade out of its cage.

2. A tail is a rope, but there’s an end to it. Unless you’ve already gone the wrong direction, which is a little like a tale that ends before anything like you gets a hold of it. A rope is always further away. A rope is always. Because a rope never really ends, there are two of us. One end is in your hand, and the other is in your hand when the knot has already known you.

3. If it’s really your rope, there could be a dance at the end. Pretty soon your partner’s not even a whisper. The air’s so full of this affair you can’t even live there. You’ve arrived at the end, and Everywhere’s not there, as some expected, but then neither are you unless it takes more of you to finish than it did to begin.

4. A rope has a door, but it’s impossible to knock. It’s always open when you offer to undress, which a rope can’t do, not even inside the secret of the wrong whisper.

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The rope inside the arm pulls you out. What’s so innocent about falling behind and reaching or so brave about leading us away? A rope has a window, but it can’t see. You have to forget it to know what’s on the other side. Then you can tie the rope to something that doesn’t have another side.

5. A rope is beyond a long thin whisper the wind can’t quite understand. A pulley is the same rope repeating the rope in a foreign language. The weight of the whisper increases but doesn’t arrive clearly. If we knew what it meant, we’d have to do it again. No matter how clearly you know what to do, the rope stays beyond you, but if you ever do arrive at the whisper, it’s not the rope that is finished. Ropes are not safe, which is why we like them. Whispers too put us in peril and always leave unexpectedly. Run a whisper through a pulley and it squeaks like a wet mouse. Is that only the surprise of knowing the wrong secret?

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A Stairway Searching for a Young Girl in a Nightgown Rich Ives

The son’s mind hadn’t agreed to decimals, but his body let them slowly enlarge his viewpoint. He got older, and then perhaps his mother became the bird she was going to be in her youth. Not the distant skittery thing in the yard that followed her son when he carried the shovel, intending to accomplish something different than what the bird anticipated. Thinking about it stretched him, and he reached around himself to encompass it. Often he felt like a female child, but no one else could see it anymore, and nothing this small and fat had ever seen him open like that. Is this a test or an ending? How accurate we are about confusion. We all know the mother’s body is a bird leaving itself behind. To follow is merely the dream of a lazy cat or a dutiful son. When she flies this way, one of them is the wind beneath her optimism, which is possible in the folded air. There’s a polite thing to estimate us. And a right thing. The right thing has somewhere to be before we get there. The wrong thing is already there. We hope we can’t find it. The stairway is tired. And lonely. It had already happened in its youth. The bird doesn’t need the stairway because the bird is the stairway.

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three, dancer Valerie Hsiung

gravity This tap-dancer’s negative The maples the maples their syrup for lesser Wrists of the legs follow body and soul’s sweet water To many too cuffed lightly This embryonic cell’s the likely already future This tap dancer’s negative transfixed the sound with the ground police underneath This embryonic glow banks on out of the booth with the instrument even Tipping up each the honey bees out of business honey maple gravity is violent the children’s religion. balm balm balm balm balm balms away The children wipe the sauce from their prayers and refuse help from their tears Herds of none in the tent refuse help surprise balm by balm the children’s religion is barren

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Spittoon 3.2 Hsiung, three, dancer

peep peep peep The ever-changing line of abyss and no-show Ever-changing line of ocean and slow slope Where does the radar peep peep peep towards Which continental feed Ever-changing population of helix and hypochondria, we freed your hogs from the gutters they’re with the mud now Where the ever-changing dregs plummet spur full life-spins and helix a bit again

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The Assassin Redeemed John M. Gist

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live. --Martin Luther King Jr.

The nineteen-year-old aimed the gun at my chest and pulled the trigger. The grin stretching the young man’s weather-checked lips, wide and wild, big teeth tobacco stained, entered my vision to permanently alter the gray matter of my brain. I can see it clearly, recall the image at will: hot desire in eyes the windy color of springtime blue skies peculiar to the high plains of Wyoming, the flaring nostrils, the buck-tooth grin. If a single memory accompanies a dying man into the world next, I had been designated my place in hell. A land of lies. A netherworld where commitment ends in betrayal. *** Writing about spirituality feels strange these days, like publicizing a secret. The topic is avoided at the workplace more often than not. If one claims this or that spiritual affiliation, they run the risk of alienating themselves from the neural network of the hive, creating doubt in those who otherwise might consider them stalwart and pragmatic, and possibly even jeopardizing their opportunity to advance. Better to leave it alone. And if spirituality isn’t suitable at work or school, best to bury it from the public in general, hide it from strangers who might take offense and hold grudges. But is it wise to disregard our innermost longings and in doing so invoke the sniggers and silent doubt lurking at the perimeters of our sense of self? Minus the seed there can be no possibility of germination, no process of growth. If there is more to life than dust to dust, and I think there is, do we honor it by keeping it hidden? Neglecting the grape spoils the wine. *** It took more than two weeks to agree upon the rules of the game. Roy, one of the seventeen year old redheaded identical twins who resembled leprechauns, typed up a four page, single-spaced pamphlet of statutes, made copies and distributed them.

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We had twenty-four hours to suggest modifications. Then, just before the launch party on the eve of the game, we adopted or rejected the offered amendments and retractions and ratified the rules. We drew dossiers from a beat-up straw cowboy hat and were ready to play. We drank beer and wine and were merry in the starry night. The game attracted an eclectic bunch—jocks and yuppies, criminals, nerds, geeks— interconnected through a complex sequence of circumstance and acquaintance, all either in high school or just out. Jenny’s mother (Jenny saw herself as an Earth goddess) was best friends with Javier’s aunt (Javier was the go-to guy when it came to purchasing weed) and, when the kids were young, they all got together for picnics on the banks of the Platte River. Tim, a self-ordained intellectual who quoted Cicero and Heraclitus, learned of the game from Rob, a eurotrash wannabe who failed to see traipsing around Great Britain for a summer as cliché. Kyle played football and, without fail, covertly engaged in all-night sessions of Dungeons and Dragons with Larry, Kimberly, Lauren (an unlikely combination of friends: computer geek, cheerleader, and eccentric drawn together by who knows what strange gravitational force), and Brent (Roy’s twin brother) every other Wednesday night. Then there was Culley, who would later be sentenced to 25 to Life for murdering a man, stuffing his body in a fifty-five gallon barrel and burying it behind his old man’s machine shop on the outskirts of the City of Casper. A childhood friend of Larry, Culley popped into the picture unannounced and no one had the courage or foresight to tell him to get lost. Finally there was Dan and myself, two outsiders living on the edge of the edge of town. Dan had the gift of fixing and was popular across social boundaries for his ability to repair cars, motorcycles and small engines. I was a social chameleon of sorts and, because my birthday fell in October and I was legal to drive earlier than most, I had gained access to a number of social cliques during my sophomore year of high school. With Dan’s mechanical ingenuity and my insider knowledge of the various groups, we (alliances among players did not violate the rules of the game) would coax them into our web one-by-one. The traps would spring. We would emerge victorious. I was certain of it. *** There are many stores in the Supermall of Spirituality. The staples—Catholic, Methodist, mainstream Baptist and the like—akin to their retail cousins JC Penny’s, Sears, and Dillard’s, maintain a respectable following due to familiarity. Tradition, a highly effective branding mechanism, serves them well. Then there are the Big Box Churches, those with an average weekly attendance of 2000 or more

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(some Calvary Chapels claim 15,000 members), which have been on the rise in the U.S. since the 1950s. Critics of these mega-churches charge the administrators with employing tactics similar to those used by Wal-Mart and other large corporations: market research, reliance upon opinion polls, targeted advertising, etc. Then there are the boutiques and anomalies: New Age nuances stirred into traditional practices, The Church of the Cosmic Christ; Westernized notions of Zen Buddhism and Taoism that, all too often, mimic Eastern spiritual practices without a care for context, the transmission of the teachings descending into political farce; rip-offs of Native American practices that smack comic or absurd: the vortex seekers of Sedona, sweat lodge ceremonies presided over by white men claiming ancestry to mysterious tribal elders long dead, anything goes. And the list goes on and on— Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Bahá'í, Druids, Witches, Rastafarians, Gnostics, Scientologists—for the mall is, by nature and design, without bounds. One can even find, in the darker, less trodden corridors, suicide cults and circles of Satanism. Seek and ye shall find. But beware those who would enter this place, for, as Marx pointed out, the foundation of capitalism is to sell goods for more than they are worth, in other words, sanctioned robbery. In the Supermall of Spirituality the same rules apply: caveat emptor. The game is fixed: for if all gods, angels, devils and demons are possible, and, according to quantum physicists, they are because all things are, then the contradictions which arise when they meet on the playing field cancel each other out, the one and the other. Viability through possibility leads, it would seem, to impossibility from absurdity. Maybe this is why, last I heard, atheism was on the rise. *** The competition began at midnight on a Saturday. I remember tossing and turning on the narrow bed in the laundry room of the house. Missiles of wind torpedoed over the prairie from the west. Each time one of the invisible bombs crashed into the side of the house, the window above my bed shook and shimmied. When I did manage to nod off, another angry orb of air exploded into the wall and rattled the window. The old dog Malcolm whimpered outside the back door. The Old Man wouldn’t allow the dog to sleep inside. I had no choice but to listen, so I huddled under a wool blanket dyed red and blue and attempted to decipher the semantics of wind.

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*** Gray morning. Air damp and chill. An absence of wind. I felt a forlornness known only by those who have walked deep into the wilderness. I opened the dossier that I had drawn from the cowboy hat the previous evening. Though by rule I could have opened it at midnight or anytime in the darkness thereafter, I chose to wait for the light of day. I slit the top of the envelope with my pocket knife, drew out the sheet of paper and unfolded it. Roy, the angry leprechaun, had gone above and beyond in his preparation of the dossiers. Name, DOB, address, year in school and/or place of employment, make and model of vehicle. It even had a black and white photograph of the person I was assigned to assassinate: Brent, Roy’s identical twin, the happy leprechaun. *** Dan and I first met when he shot my dog Malcolm with a .22 rifle. My cousin Darryl and I were walking the prairie stretching to the northern horizon, as was our habit on summer days when the work was done at the greenhouse and nursery owned and operated by our fathers. Little did we know that Dan was trailing us, stalking us more like, with his friend Slinky Dink, a gangly twelve year old with hair the color of scorched milk and watery gray eyes. Rumor had it Slinky Dink’s father lashed him with a belt three days per week, need it or not, and it was because of this that he couldn’t look anything, people or animals, in the eye. Dan had taken Slinky Dink under his wing and taught him to renovate bicycles and sell them at a profit. Dink later ended up in prison for turning the keys to a locked position in the steering column while riding as a passenger in a car. The steering wheel locked and the car careened into oncoming traffic on a two lane highway. Head-on collision. Slaughter of innocents. Dink died from inhaling paint in his prison cell. We had no clue we were being followed until the dog yelped. A collie/black lab mix, Malcolm limped toward me. The day was bright. Wind wound out of the southwest, torpid and luxurious, swallowing the report of the rifle. At first I thought the dog was snake bit, as the prairie provided a haven for bull snakes and the rumor of rattlers. Blood oozed from a spot on the dog’s front foreleg, the red wink of a puncture wound. I couldn’t make sense of it. I stood up and looked for clues. I caught sight of them out of the corner of my eye, two shadows wavering on the horizon. The wind stung my vision, and, for a moment, I thought they were columns of black smoke. “It’s Dan Henny,” snarled my cousin. “He’s got a gun.”

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I knew of Dan Henny but had never met him. He was a couple of years older than me, thirteen or fourteen at the time. He waved from the distance, and, rifle in hand, dodged at a trot through sagebrush and greasewood. We stood our ground, not knowing what else to do. When they got to us (Slinky Dink always just behind Dan staring at the dirt), Dan apologized profusely, claimed it was an accident (he had been looking through the rifle scope, hair trigger, etc.), promised to pay the vet bill. He offered to carry Malcolm home. My cousin refused the advances and told Dan it was serious business, shooting a man’s dog. He warned Dan that my stepfather (who was known to throw tire chains and shovel handles at kids who motored two-cycle engine dirt bikes up and down our dirt road) loved that dog more than his own kin. I didn’t say a word. Kneeling next to Malcolm, I listened to the wind. That same evening, as our family of five sat around the dining room table eating oxtail soup, a knocking came to the back door. With a nod from the Old Man, I jumped up to answer it. It was Dan. He had come to make formal apology for shooting the family dog. He offered oatmeal and raisin cookies baked special for the occasion by his mother, and old woman who stood 5’-2” with thick gray hair cropped close to her skull. The Old Man liked the cookies and excused me from the table. I walked with Dan through a field of crisp wild western wheat to his house a quarter mile to the south. I told him he was damn lucky my old man hadn’t killed him, that he had taken a great risk. He agreed. Lucky Dan it was. *** We named the game An Assassin’s Prayer. Not one of the players was particularly religious, so the word “prayer” stumbled out of our mouths like a drunk from a bar. Tim, his hair a wild-reddish brown, the looping curls always just on the verge of graying, prided himself on being able to quote from the Old and New Testaments, the Koran and the Upanishads. He was a professed atheist. Javier talked about Rastafarians but was quite unaware that they were racist in origin. Jenny and Kimberly, though belonging to radically different cliques, Earth goddess and cheerleader respectively, worshiped their own images. The rest of us went to church when and if our parents demanded it. Even then, it wasn’t so much to worship or transcend as it was secular ritual, a marking of time, nothing more. In short, and like so many, we were, for the most part, a bunch of godless teens who sensed the divine only through tragedy or in the throes of madness brought on by

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hormone-induced love. We had grown up under the specter of the war in Vietnam, carried blurry baby memories of black and white television screens and reporters ducking in killing fields, body counts, body bags, bombs and helicopters. God seemed too far away to make much of a difference. To top it off, the Supermall of Spirituality had desensitized us to the sacred. Glimpses into the realm of revelation were exceptionally rare, too rare for a troupe of Gen-X kids who, out of necessity, sought solace in human relationships, conversation that would trail them through the years. *** Brent worked the night shift at the Arby’s on the east side of town. He parked his compact pickup, a rust-red Datsun with a hole in the muffler, at the back of the building next to the garbage dumpsters. Dan and I (we had made a solemn pact before the game started: one would not kill the other) drove across town in the ’48 GMC pickup (complete with opera windows) he had restored over the past year. We parked in front of the neighborhood grocery store two blocks from the Arby’s and prepared to blow Brent, along with his pickup, into smithereens. Dan designed an explosive device out of two M80 firecrackers and some smoke bombs which, when attached to an engine, would trigger with a turn of the ignition. Right out of The Godfather. Lucky Dan could have gone far, a civil engineer perhaps, lots of money traveling the world building bridges and roads and canals, but he had no taste for school. Instead he would spend the preponderance of his working years underground as a mechanic in a bentonite mine. He didn’t know it then, but he would also become an alcoholic with a taste for amphetamines. That night he plied his trade. We walked two blocks to the strip mall that hosted the Arby’s on one corner of its massive parking lot and ducked into the shadows behind Brent’s place of employment. A fair amount of traffic hummed along the four lane streets running on two sides of the building. Headlights glanced rhythmically from the sides of the green garbage dumpsters near the back exit. We crouched next to the dumpsters waiting for who knows what. My heart thumped in my chest. The odor of used cooking oil and rotting roast beef. Looking up, I could see no stars. No moon. Only a puffy black, the lights of the city acting as an emollient to ward off the inevitable. When I looked down, Dan was gone. I found him jimmying the lock on the driver’s side door of Brent’s truck. He had produced a Slim Jim from somewhere and had it inserted into the doorframe (Dan would have made a great thief, banks and jewel heists, but he had a great fear of

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cages). In the next instant, the door was open, the hood popped. I kept watch as Dan rigged the explosives. A clean operation. Glitchless.

We returned to the old ’48, drove back to the strip mall, and parked behind the Arby’s some twenty yards from Brent’s Datsun. A clause in the rulebook dictated that one could not enter a target’s place of employment. The rulebook also made clear that bombings had to be witnessed by a minimum of two players other than the target. So we waited in the truck for the better part of an hour for Brent’s shift to end. If Brent happened to notice Dan’s truck when he walked out of the building, he would probably make a run for his own truck to make a getaway. At any rate, we refused to crouch by the stinking dumpster for that long. We listed to an 8-track tape, probably The Eagles, and talked about who knows what. We smoked a joint and sipped from cans of Squirt. Maybe we talked about God, as the subject was not uncommon, a private conversation trailing us quietly through the years. Brent didn’t notice the old ’48. He walked out of the back of the building, made a beeline to his Datsun, and climbed in. Dan and I, taut as set bear traps, watched the scene unfold. The Datsun engine turned over, but, instead of an explosion, white smoke seeped through the seams of the hood. Brent climbed out of the truck with a flashlight in hand. He opened the hood, waved off the rising smoke, and peered inside. Without a word, I jumped out of the GMC, grabbed the plastic pistol from the dash, and charged. It was just a game. Even so, as I closed the distance to the Datsun, time slowed. The sound of flowing street traffic faded to a hiss. The light streaming from the windows of the Arby’s curled on invisible currents. Footfalls on asphalt, my own, struck my ears as alien. Brent noticed too late. He stood erect and turned toward me, and, for a moment that stretched like a lonely howl, terror ballooned out of his eye sockets. A jolt of energy tensed his frame. And then he recognized me and smiled, relaxed, realized I was no stranger in the dark. And then he remembered the game and his defenselessness position. I pulled the trigger again and again. Yellow pellets bounced off his cheeks and chest, left tiny welts just under his eyes. It was over in seconds. *** Head hung low, Brent stood next to me as Dan worked under the hood of the Datsun in an attempt to get it started. When the engine finally did fire up, Brent climbed behind the wheel and drove into the night. But not before handing over the

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dossier of his target, my prize for eliminating him from the game. I could not bring myself to unfold the paper to uncover the name of my next victim, not yet, even though Dan urged me to do so as we stood in a cloud of the Datsun’s exhaust. It would wait until morning. Wind battered the house through the night, shook and shimmied the window above my bed. The look in Brent’s eyes, the horror, palpable as blood from a puncture wound, formed over and again in my mind. I tossed and turned in my bed in the laundry room. Malcolm whined outside the back door. I snuck the dog in and he curled on the floor at the foot of the bed. The rhythm of his breathing lulled me into sleep. *** I began staying overnight at Lucky Dan’s place so often that his older sister, Violet, who lived in a single wide trailer in a dirt lot across the dirt road, called my mother and complained that I was a burden on her aging parents. Lucky Dan found out, told his mother, who then called Violet and ordered her to call my mother and apologize for butting her nose in where it didn’t belong. Dan’s parents, Maxine (Mac) and Jesse (Mr. Big) were about fifteen years older than my own. Mr. Big would retire from the Wyoming Highway Department and Mac served lunch at one of the junior high schools in town. Their house was highway yellow with paint Mr. Big had pilfered from the job. Both welcomed me into their lives as if I was one of their own. Dan and I spent a good deal of our time in the garage working on the ’48 or other sundry castoffs. I helped tune mini-bikes and motorcycles for neighborhood kids. The call from Dan’s sister emphasized the need to carry my own weight, so I hauled plants from the Old Man’s greenhouse and nursery up to Lucky Dan’s in the bed of the ‘48. More often than not the plants, tomatoes and bedding plants in the summer, were overstock and of no use. On a couple of occasions, however, I did help myself to trees, flowering plum and cherry, and Dan and I planted them in Mr. Big’s two-acre backyard. I helped do heavy work where I could, trips to the junkyard to sell scrap metal, rototilling the half acre garden in the fall and spring. We refurbished a rusted-out shell of an old single wide trailer sitting in the back corner of the property, made it habitable, filled it with furniture lifted from the city dump. I considered myself a kind of hired hand who worked for room and board. Lucky Dan and I were like brothers. Even so, we needed time to ourselves, so I started bunking in the trailer rather than the main house.

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*** We dismissed Jesus and the Bible as archaic fantasies of a bygone era. Though some of us were required to attend church on religious holidays, I don’t remember anyone actually volunteering to wake up on Sunday morning to worship God. On summer Sunday afternoons we played Frisbee and picnicked in the cemetery next to the Horseshoe Bar, not once thinking of blasphemy or disrespecting the dead. The bar was an anomaly, the only business in the area, a loophole in the zoning system, a magnet for blue collar workers before they went home to crying babies and wives addicted to daytime soaps. I don’t know how the cemetery got there either. But there it was, the only thing resembling a park (the headstones were flush with the grass) for miles and miles. A god that looked like a man sitting on a throne in heaven struck us as just as absurd as Native American myths, the Hopi Spider Woman or the Lakota Water Monster (I was keen on Native American literature in those days).To top it off, we learned evolutionary biology as sophomores in high school. The manner in which the teacher, a fat man with round glasses and a Ph.D., presented the theory trumped any other story that might explain the human place in the world. Science prevailed. To this day I do not consider evolution a theory but a fact of nature. But evolution has been powerless to explain the mystery that is life. How has failed to replace Why. What were we to do? Experiment: astral travel; shamanistic journeys; Aleister Crowley; The Golden Dawn; LSD and Magic Mushrooms. Some of the investigations panned out better than others but, in the end, they all rung hollow. Sitting on the green grass of the cemetery eating apples and wedges of cheddar cheese, we, as a collective, craved something more. We just didn’t know where to look. *** Two weeks into An Assassin’s Prayer, six players remained. Culley, Brent, Rob, Kyle, Jenny and Kimberly had been eliminated. Culley didn’t go quietly. He punched Tim in the eye after being ambushed outside a liquor store that accepted his fake ID (Culley sported a full beard at sixteen). Kimberly cried when Javier slipped a dose of poison into her bottle of Coke. Poisoning (in the form of powdered sweetener) required a neutral player to witness both the placement of the poison and the target ingesting it (I was happy to oblige). Jenny and Rob fell in love during the game and, blinded by the throb of living, were gunned down by Dan and Roy as they played kissy face in Rob’s maroon Ford Mustang. Kyle cried foul when I shanked him in the bathroom of the movie theatre (the plastic knife seemed so

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much more intimate than the plastic gun). He cited the rule that public places were off limits (we didn’t want to cause a panic). The group, however, agreed with me that restrooms, no matter their location, were not public spaces. The ruthless nature of the game gave birth to a hybrid of paranoia and cunning that sucked any semblance of fun out of the process. To blow off steam, Dan and I traveled remote country roads unknown to the others. Jackrabbits and cottontails darting through sagebrush and greasewood under a sky of strewn cirrocumulus synchronized the rhythm of living disrupted by the game. Out there we were part of something bigger, evolution, or nature, or god, no matter, we did not attempt to name it. We drove for miles and miles without saying a word, the windows down, the prairie unfurling, the wind humming a familiar tune. In those moments enough was enough and that was enough. We were satisfied and craved not. We stayed out there until dwindling amounts of gasoline forced us back into the city’s limits. The game frayed nerves to such an extent that a meeting was called and a safe house designated where everybody could gather without fear of elimination. Inside the dilapidated trailer at the back of Mr. Big’s property, a place I had come to consider home, we drank beer and listened to music: Black Flag and the True Sounds of Liberty (TSOL), Suicidal Tendencies and Black Sabbath. We laughed. We cooked chili chock-full of jalapeños, green chiles and finely chopped habaneros orange-hot. We broke bread. Brent, the first casualty of the war, showed up in his Datsun pickup with a pony keg of Budweiser. He shook my hand and smiled. So good did it feel to regain a sense of community, so safe, nobody wanted to leave the singlewide. Jenny and Rob disappeared into the back bedroom. Others curled up on the mangy couch or the shag carpet the color of decaying tangerines. Soft snores punctuated the music pumping from the kitchen. Lights out. *** The sound of morning birds, chitters of sparrows, coos of doves. Light, pale and thin, sliced between the two curtains covering the picture window in the living room. Bass guitar thrummed faintly from the kitchen. The trailer smelled of beer and cigarettes. I felt sick. Finding my feet, I staggered to the front door and stepped outside. Cool air and warm sunlight mixed into an elixir that calmed my twitchy entrails. I stepped down the metal stairs onto a yard of mowed weeds, cheat grass and pigweed, some green, some brown, as if the seasons were on the verge of change. I listened to the birds and watched high clouds waver in blue sky. The breeze, slight as a child’s whisper, smelled of lilacs. I craved coffee.

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Turning back to head inside, I was startled to find Lucky Dan standing behind me. I smiled. He aimed the gun at my chest and fired. The bullet, a bright yellow sphere the size of a stunted pea, struck my sternum. Dan’s weather-checked lips, wide and wild, big teeth tobacco stained, entered my eyes and branded my brain. He fired again and again. I stumbled out of the yard and into tall weeds. I fell to my knees. I puked until there was nothing else to come up. *** I don’t remember who officially won the game, maybe it was Larry, who ended up working as a mechanical engineer for defense contractor after college. We never played again. The entire experience left us all a bit sullied. But, for me, it taught a valuable lesson, however unwelcome: I had been betrayed by the single person I knew would never sell me out. Dan must have planned it, waited patiently for me to walk outside. He knew I could outrun him so he snuck up to get the drop. He collected my dossier and told me he was sorry, that he got caught up in the moment, that he had been seduced by the thrill of the kill. I believed him. But I never trusted him again, not unconditionally as before, though we remained friends. And, because I no longer had confidence in my own judgment, any notion of certainty, I realized that crisp and clear morning, was a lie. *** One need not find something to die for to make them worthy of living. Causes are necessarily human constructs. They can’t be trusted. That was the lesson of An Assassin’s Prayer. I realize now, decades later, that there was a redeeming aspect to the game as well, something silent that surfaces only in moments of revelation: out there in the prairie among jackrabbits and greasewood, away from the game and its rules, free of human conceit under a sheltering sky, I discerned something in the wind, an unknown country beckoning. Out there the concept of trusting Lucky Dan never came to mind. Out there trust had no name. It was in the wind. Absent the game, I may have never noticed it, that unknown country lingering just under the surface of the familiar. Lucky Dan never did notice. I once asked him and he just shook his head.

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Local Prophecy Matthew Fee

The birds will arrive by the power of magnets. Each night my bed a desert filled with old ships, a drop on the hand. Language is never broken, just holds a grudge. I was born of weathermen & raised as seer. Photo of my grandfather, hands in his pockets. In this story, a kingdom in search of its ghost. The past understood as river, the same water, the same sand.

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In My Nightmare Matthew Fee

In my nightmare, everything is regular—the broom in the cupboard, the dishes on the floor. All those crows along the fence, diving towards the window. I sweep up their bodies & wait for a meteor. I sweep up their souls & pray for a flood. The sun is so beautiful. The lawn is so green & so perfectly cut.

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from LOVE, AN ACCOUNT Matthew Fee

dream of my love

in my love i dream that we are an octopus. i am the hands she is the feet. we search the ocean for small crabs. then there is big darkness.

portrait of my love

my love poses like a movie star. the wind is blowing very loudly through her hair. what i paint is a red starfish.

letter to my love

i write to my love an american letter. all the mailmen are smiling. there is lipstick on our envelopes. so many weeks of waiting for envelopes, waiting for them to arrive. in the city are rumors of an armed conflict. the weatherman on the television is pretending to be a philosopher. snow, he says, nothing but snow.

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Spittoon 3.2 Fee, from LOVE, AN ACCOUNT

war of my love

the farmers are armed with small bandages. take off your clothes, says the fire marshal. the men get out of red fire trucks and spray us with hoses. my love, her shirt is wet, her nipples showing like tiny goldfish. already it is beginning to rain. swim away, i say to my love, before they get you. my love in her white t-shirt, she is so beautiful.

home video of my love

a wedding. my love her eyes like barnacles. the band plays heavy metal music. the pastor is a giant clam. we pry open his mouth with pliers, but nothing comes out. oh my god, says my love, we will have to pull the wedding off.

tears of my love

the tears of my love wash over the valley. children are swept away in small blankets. i look for my love but i cannot find her. all of the sudden a boat appears out of the water. grab on! says my love. she pulls me up by my feet, and i am turned on. in the valley, the children are drowning, their mothers are calling out to them. go, says my love, kiss me.

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Spittoon 3.2 Fee, from LOVE, AN ACCOUNT

mixtape to my love i make to my love a mixtape. the sound of ants crawling. wicked ambience, a drummer boy surrounded by ants.

monologue of my love

whatever is the case, i am here in my own body. my love, an ocean of lost bottles.

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Paving Day Adam Deutsch

They’re caking my block says a yellow tag, and if I invest in a pass the bus will send me over the valley in under forty minutes. A dream worth remembering: six living heads, stitched up at the neck holes, voicing recipe tips. Place them in the crockpot, they suggest, torn spices with dash pepper, leave the lid alone over night. They’ve given their bodies so we’ll be fed. Chopped nightshade fills their cheeks. My house is a tiny isle, surrounded by municipal pain and waste. Those herbs and I breathe a foreign dust, our effort to adapt.

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The Kinsey Scale Trish Cook

0: Exclusively Heterosexual

She is two and a half years old. A blond, bubbly toddler who knows exactly what she likes. And what she likes is Will. “What’s your favorite part of preschool, honey?” you ask. She coyly looks down, a blushing cheek against her shoulder. “Weee-ill.” His name is like a song, and she sings it incessantly. *** She is seven. A swimmer, a writer, and an artist. “What are doing, baby?” you ask, seeing her pink pen topped with marabou hovering thoughtfully above her diary. The one with the lock and key. “Just thinking,” she says with a faraway smile. A decade later, you’ll find the journal stashed away in a box in the attic. There, in pretty, precise lettering, you’ll discover what she was pondering so seriously that day: My heart is breaking in two. I love two boys named Tyler and don’t know which one to pick!

1: Predominantly Heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual

She is ten. Her best friend is Maddie who, though a full year younger and a full head shorter, is miles more in the know about boys and dating. Maddie constantly arranges movie nights and fondue parties for all the cool kids. Includes her in every one. For this and many other reasons, she loves fourth grade. Develops major crushes on Liam and Griffin, both movie-going, fondue-eating boys.

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And talks about Maddie so much, with so much awe, you wonder if she has a crush on her as well.

3: Equally heterosexual and homosexual

She is in seventh grade. One day when you are cleaning her room, you flip casually through her Book of Lists. Under all the entries that have anything to do with kissing, love, or sex, there will be two answers. Such as: Best kisser: Grayson…and Emma! Person you’d most like to fool around with: Charlie…and Jacquelyn! You shut the book quickly. Wish you’d never opened it. Feel like Pandora.

5: Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual

She is thirteen. You get a text from her even though she is only as far as upstairs in her bedroom. I’m dating a girl named Amber. Her parents want to meet you or else we can’t hang out. Ok? What else are you going to say other than okay back? If this is her chosen path, then you will support her. You and your husband go to meet Amber’s parents at a local dive bar. Amber’s mother cries the whole time. “I just always pictured my baby walking down the aisle with a man,” she sobs. “I can’t give that up!” You hand her a beer and pat her shoulder. Slug yours down while you do. “This is so not what I signed up for,” you tell your best friend on a walk later. “It never is, “ she replies.

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6: Exclusively homosexual

She is fifteen. Dating Summer, a bisexual trapeze artist with a magician father. Sure, it sounds crazy, but the girls actually seem have a very down-to-earth, and possibly magical, relationship. Summer’s parents don’t cry into their beers at a dive bar over their relationship; rather, they love her and think she is a good influence on Summer. “I’ll never date another guy,” she says. You believe her.

4: Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual

She is sixteen. She and Summer have a nasty break-up after which she learns that Summer has been cheating on her the whole time. With men. Many of them. “No wonder she wanted to stay on her birth control,” she says. “It seemed stupid at the time, but now that I know this…” She spends hours on the phone being consoled by her friend, Jackson. Soon crying turns to laughter. Soon laughter turns to hooking up in the basement. Soon hooking up in the basement turns into a giant hickey. Soon the crying, laughter, endless phone conversations, hooking up in the basement, and giant hickeys turn into losing their virginity to each other, all of which turns into a tentative relationship. “I still mainly like girls,” she tells you. “But I like Jackson, too.”

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Spittoon 3.2 Cook, The Kinsey Scale

2: Predominantly Heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual

She is seventeen, and has been dating Jackson exclusively for a year now. “If Jackson and I ever broke up, you know who I’d want to go out with?” she asks. You shake your head. “Sam,” she says, invoking the name of her sensitive, blond, beautiful seventh grade boyfriend who semi-seriously proposed to her in the milk aisle of the mini-mart. He is now six-three and devastatingly handsome. “Or Pete. Or Nick.” “Good choices,” you say. They are nice, sweet guys she has known forever. Safe. Besides, she and Jackson don’t seem to be breaking up any time soon. “But I low key want to marry Jackson,” she tells you, adding, “Either him, or Lindsey Lohan.”

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Man. Woman. Iamb. Cindy Clem

Peter was four years younger, a recovering alcoholic, and I could not for several weeks remember his name. Or rather, I knew his name, but it floated in my brain with other, equally insistent, names. Tom because of his match.com alias. Inexplicably, Josh. Daniel. Peter emailed me a list of Daniels: the prophet, the karate kid, the timid tiger who lives in a clock and wears a watch. Which Daniel am I? Peter spent night shift at a hotel desk revising poems and stories into iambic lines. He called the job his Guggenheim. Peter: Apostle of the Arts, I thought. This is what I knew about Peter. He’d finished his Bachelor’s in English the previous year, twelve years after quitting school in Ohio to move to New Zealand with his girlfriend. He’d moved to Pennsylvania three years ago with a different girlfriend. I didn’t know much about the years in between, the years of his alcoholism. He said he would tell me someday. I knew Peter had been sober for two years and that two years, recovery-wise, is not long. Perhaps I should have taken this as a red flag, but his list of Daniels, his experiments with vegan butternut squash soup, and his love of cemeteries caught and held me. He drew me to him like a myth, a sign. Peter, I repeated. Peter. We saw each other every day for a month, and then he disappeared.

Cock Crow #1 When did the cock first crow denial? When did I first refuse to hear it? When Peter plied me with talk of poets and writers, assessing my education? When he began to examine my bookshelves? “The test,” he called it, and I failed: too pedestrian (Anne Lamott, Stephen Dunn); too trendy (Robert Olin Butler, Lorrie Moore, David Foster Wallace); too undisciplined (Charles Simic, Louise Gluck); too popular (Jane Austen, Barbara Kingsolver). He approved of Annie Dillard and Eudora Welty. He admitted a fondness for Charles Dickens, but curled his lip at Faulkner. He scorned (in his blank, expressionless way) all of my poetry except Larry Levis. He tabbed through some of the books, and I remembered, with horror, that many of them contained my pencilled notes for class.

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When I sat for hours with a big eraser labeled “Shit,” rubbing out my marginalia? When I moved in a daze afterward, head pounding, neck and arm numb, and sticky eraser debris all over my clothes, the table, the floor, the pages of the books? I couldn’t finish. It was too much. I stashed the still-marked books in a closet.

Pumpkin Eater On Wednesday night, two days after we’ve met, Peter makes butternut squash soup. I meet Teflon the Cat, and we listen to some kind of jazz. Teflon eats turkey, raw, with canned pumpkin. All black and small, she sits and studies me with somber eyes as I fling and dangle the ribbon on the stick. Is Teflon Peter? Peter likes me most so far for a pun. The name Teflon is Biblical, he had written. The Gnostic Gospels? I asked. Or no, I mean Nonstick? How long can one pun linger? How long can it fuel a Sagittarean fire? Peter stretches his jaw wide, and Teflon reaches her head into that dark cavern, sniffs. When Peter’s mouth gapes, his eyes look wild: part fiend, part horse gagged by the bit. His four front teeth stand apart, ample space between for food, tongue, soup sipped from a spoon. “It’s a way for her to know me.” He looks at me peripherally, with his mercurial grin. He’s gauging something. How strange I’ll think him? Teflon’s testing, too. Is Peter Teflon? She gazes at me, and I am not unaware she might be pondering a claw across my face. Her eyes look like an old oil painting, green paint chipped into small pieces, revealing bits of cream-colored canvas beneath. When Peter leaves the room, she stares at me, then leaps at the orange chair, frantic attack. “She likes you,” Peter says, when she settles against my hip. I suspect she’s acting as chaperone, keeping us apart. Peter gnaws at her belly. She stares at me with fractured eyes. “Shall we make dessert?” Peter asks. Movement, a reprieve. In the kitchen, he cuts up apples and mixes them with raisins, walnuts, peanut butter, and honey. I watch, fascinated by his tall lankiness, his pale face. Peter’s eyes are green from the front, amber from the side. I like the gaps between his teeth, the jawline he jokingly

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compares to Joseph Fiennes’. His forehead is wide, his dark hair cut high and straight across the brow, strangely monk-like. I could curl with Teflon on the couch and look at his face for hours.

Cock Crow #2 At 12:30am, he walks me home. We walk quickly against the chill. Peter stuffs his hands in his pockets. Over his head fits a knit hat; it changes his face, and I remember, suddenly, that I don’t know this man. At my door, I move to hug him, and he takes my face in his hands and kisses me, lightly and quickly, on the lips. I smile (did I smile? I worry about this afterward), we say goodbye, and then before I pull away he takes my face again, and our kiss is brief and sweet. I am too giddy to sleep right away, but later, in the wee hours, half-conscious, I’ll see his white face leaning in, his hat-flattened skull, his intent look, and feel inexplicably frightened and repulsed. Trembling, I’ll wend my way back toward delight.

The Peter Principle A compass by which to gauge my mediocrity, Peter became. He tapped into the vein of fear that appeared during my MFA years: the fear of cliche. A small but pervasive pack of the avant-garde among us sought it out like inquisitors, and my writing shrunk with terror. A formless predator, cliche; I could walk up to it and greet it before the steel trap snapped on my ankle. Just give me a catalogue, I silently pled. Tell me what to avoid, what to admire. I’m a good girl; I’ll study it; I’ll carry the pocket-sized edition in my purse. Peter scorned the avant-garde, choosing to prostrate himself before the altar of formal poetry. For Peter: meter, rhyme, the perfect scan. Yet anyone dedicated to scorn balances on the same misty apex. Here, the avant-garde meets the formalist, where they can stand and gaze on the rest of us creeping through our tiny, cliche lives below them. Still, I can’t help myself. I decide, finally, to show him a poem. “Peter,” I will say. “I will recite for you now, with great courage, one of my poems, with full awareness that William Logan would hate it.”

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But the next night, my preface falters, and the poem echoes into silence. Peter’s face is unreadable. He asks me to repeat it. Then, he considers. “I liked some of the sounds in the beginning,” he says. “Do you feel better now?” he asks.

Pecks of pickled peppers Peter could kiss for hours. A tongue twister he was too with The Knight’s Tale, his Middle English curling and galumphing merrily along. A-long-geh. Kuh-neek-the, me curled beside him on the couch, watching the words as he said them, hoping I laughed in the right places.

Cock Crow #3 I called Peter one night with renewed resolve to talk about something other than writers I didn’t know. I sprawled on my couch and chattered about my visit home: the phantom tea party with my nephew, my brother-in-law’s impression of a seagull. Peter laughed, asked for details, talked about his childhood. He suggested we spend the next day together, perhaps scavenge the thrift store and go out to dinner. A real date. I called Peter the next day at 2:30, left a message. My sick feeling began around 6 p.m. I ate dinner at 6:30, not knowing what to do. A time to act and a time to wait. Add up all the minutes I’ve spent waiting for men and you have a small child, thin and ghastly pale. Enough, I told myself. Enough. Waiting is a red flag, a sea of red. Waiting marks, always, the beginning of the end. Still, the brain churns out hope. He’s tired, I told myself; he worked all night. He should have set an alarm, I countered. I tried reading Eudora Welty out loud. He called, finally, at 9:30, his voice low and quiet. I let him apologize, let him invite himself over. He walked in talking on the phone to his AA sponsee, handed me a book by Diane Ackerman, and went upstairs. His voice sounded animated and comfortable. If I were an alcoholic, would Peter talk to me more easily?

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Spittoon 3.2 Clem, Man. Woman. Iamb.

He came down at 10:15 and sat next to me on the couch. I held still, not wanting to scold but not wanting to let it go. My history with men is one of silence, of withholding objections and disappointments for fear of appearing unreasonable, of being the cliché nag on the rooftop. He started to kiss me, then took my hand and walked me upstairs. Later, I leaned my head on his chest. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. He left at 1:00 a.m. He looked back at me in the doorway, his face curious, sad, distant. I went to bed and cried. But then two days later he called, cheerful and teasing, and said he wanted to cook dinner for me on Wednesday: a red curry, with tofu and without ghee.

A Petering Why must dying take so long? Why must we deny thirty times three? On Wednesday he was unshaven, uncombed, wearing a ratty sweatshirt; he shrugged hello and returned to the stove. When we moved to the couch after dinner, I leaned against him and absent-mindedly caressed his stomach. “Oh, I see where you’re going with this,” he said, when I lifted his shirt a little to finger his bare belly. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I didn’t protest. We made out, talked about inconsequential things. In the days afterward, he shrunk from physical contact. He was entering a “tired phase,” he said. Then he didn’t call back. Then he sent the email saying that he’s no longer interested.

And the Wolf “A sexy beast, aren’t you?” he says, and licks my stomach. “I like your hands,” he says, and kisses one. “You can come home with me in May, if you play your cards right.” I play back the cries like evidence, listen to the echoes, desperate for clues. What could I have missed? If I had read Chekov? If I had identified the jazz? If my poem had followed a perfect iambic pentameter? If I had touched him as often as I’d wanted to? If fear hadn’t gathered like jackals between us?

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Spittoon 3.2 Clem, Man. Woman. Iamb.

The jury looks at me and shakes its head, not without sadness.

He put her in a pumpkin shell I walk the streets near the graveyard where he broods, but I don’t see him. We live in the same small town, but he has disappeared. I will be your editor, he’d said, after I’d recited my poem. I questioned in the end not only my desirability but also my intellect, my devotion to the craft. Peter sounded the siren call of perfection, and I strained toward it. Peter showed me one short poem he’d written, the only thing he’d finished in years. It rhymed, subtly, and followed an iambic meter. He promised to show me more but never did. My grief for Peter is the grief of cliche thwarted. Instead of loving in a cottage by the sea, reading to each other by the fire, I’m sitting in a pumpkin shell alone, nursing my trap-bitten ankle. What was the fucking point, I screech at the dark stringy walls. Contentious woman. It was only a month. Hardly worth months of recovery, a lengthy essay. But it was a passing from this world to another and back again. I didn’t recognize the new place for what it was, at first, didn’t recognize the impossibly narrow summit. I’d thought we were approaching someplace wild and sweet, not the cold light of dead stars. Peter (Daniel, Tom, Josh): a sign to whom a signifier would not attach, a being without context. I had no access to his family, his friends, his AA group, his history. I never saw him in a public place. I never knew how to describe him to inquiring friends. He always wore the same shoes. Peter was the person I never thought I’d meet. He was the best literature, both dream and substance; he would not free me from my cloistered world but join me there, create with me our own world, where we would choose to live together out of context, sequestered in imagination, language, and art. I would read more classics. I would say smart things about them. But the world we created was too much his own. I had thought that the sign, when it came, would signify new life, a new world, with new access to intimacy, the routine made fresh. Cliche, cliche. I don’t want Peter and myself to be a cliché. But it seems we’re one or more of several old stories: alcoholism, depression, one person simply tiring of another. We’re the cartoon of trickster and dupe. The dupe who

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dons her own blinders, shuts out the peripheral to look straight ahead, flinging a string over the abyss and not looking down. And when the string stretches thin, like a wad of chewing gum pulled until you can see through the pink skin? Peter could encompass or abandon me, and he did both. It happened so quickly that I was left stunned, reeling, cast out of his world yet not able to re-enter the atmosphere of my own.

A Rock and a Hard Place A year after Peter left and walked back up into the mist from which he had come, I found out from a friend who’s in AA (when I finally had the courage to ask) that Peter moved to Delaware to teach high school. “I liked Peter. He was kind of crazy,” my friend said. In the afterward, I’ve found (returned to?) soft ground between the hard summits of aspiration and art. Sitting on fragrant grass, I lean against the rock and project movies with cliché plots onto the hard place. Sometimes I read poems. If I like a poem, I think to myself, “That was a good poem.” Here I soothe myself with tea, with friends, with ankle salve. The doors swing open onto paths to higher ground, and breezes whisper promises I take with grains of salt. Someday, perhaps, I’ll climb; the view, they say, will take your breath. I liked Peter, too. Or whatever his name was.

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Where We Are Sarah Carson

We live now in a dream between who we are and what scares us. We count weeks by how often Trenell changes her clothes, how many fights she starts with strangers on our lawn, not hers. We follow Chevrolet Avenue across where the river used to be, where someone once decided to float severed tree trunks, consequently built a town, built the houses we split our time in, always scrubbing, cleaning, repatching, begging Paul not to use his bong in the yard. At the Family Dollar, Mom says not to gets the zebra striped microplush shorts, worried I’ll be confused for one of them, be dragged into one of their desperation scuffles that always end in fire. We sit on the porch and let them know we have not forgotten. We hear a rustling in the bushes and send the dog out to run the fenceline. We scare them to the other side of the hospital and are proud. In town we pass a police officer conducting a traffic stop. We cheer the way he takes notes on a little piece of paper. We eat popcorn on a bench nearby and wave. When he’s finished we tell him how there used to be hockey and how there used to be baseball. How our uncles had tuned into the Tigers on their own, perfectly manicured, perfectly useful front lawns.

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Grief Theory C Dylan Bassett

Because you are dead, I fill your side of the bed with a pile of clothes the size of your body. You keep the sheets warm. I give you a baseball head. I scratch your baseball head with a fork. I bring you cranberry juice and eggs but you say you aren’t hungry. I’m worried about you. An alarm clock illuminates the room. All across your head, a red light. I kiss your mouth, which is a folded glove.

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“Death is not final. Only parking lots.” C Dylan Bassett

And then I wake to a heart’s hummingbird chainsaw. Sunday dread and my stomach's shallow hull, my penis hurts, etc. Ghost applies lipstick to her window reflection. Ghost thought of as distances impossible to measure or map out. In my next apartment, I’ll live at ground level. Real pain in not having you. I cannot control a shadow’s length. My friends arrive and I’m unprepared. My world is a bowl of cereal. Ghost in the threshold. A light clicks off. Rectangular snowdrift light.

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Contributors

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Bradford K. Wolfenden II is a writer, musician, and graphic artist living in the northern woods of Cincinnati, Ohio. His work has appeared in Prairie Margins and Forklift Ohio. Bradford is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and is currently sitting in the Marsh Ark wrapped in family and friends.

Laura Madeline Wiseman has a doctorate from the University of NebraskaLincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of the book Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012), two letterpress books, and four chapbooks of poetry. She is also the editor of the anthology Women Write Resistance Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). www.lauramadelinewiseman.com.

Dr. Ernest Williamson III has published poetry and visual art in over 400 national and international online and print journals. Visit his online gallery: www.yessy.com/budicegenius.

Vallie Lynn Watson’s debut novel, A River So Long, was published by Luminis Books in June 2012, and her Pushcart-nominated work appears or is forthcoming in dozens of literary magazines such as PANK, decompE, and Gargoyle. Watson teaches creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University and is learning to fly hot air balloons.

Theresa Sotto lives in Los Angeles. When not writing poems, she develops strategies for engaging people with art. She is the author of the chapbook hinge (Flying Guillotine Press, 2012), and her poems have been published in La Petite Zine, VOLT, Drunken Boat, and others.

Ethel Morgan Smith is the author of two books--From Whence Cometh My Help: The African American Community at Hollins College and Reflections of the Other: Being Black in Germany. Her essay “Love Means Nothing” was the winner of the 2005 Mid-Atlantic Arts Prize for Nonfiction. Her work has been published in: The New York Times; Callaloo; African American Review; That Mintoritything.com, and other national and international outlets. Professor Smith has received the following awards: Fulbright-Tübingen, Germany; Rockefeller Foundation-Bellagio, Italy; DuPont Fellowship--Randolph-Macon Woman’s College; American Academy in Rome-Visiting Artist; Women’s Studies Research Center---Brandeis University; Bread Loaf; and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her novel in progress-The House of Flowers placed second for the West Virginia Writers Contest, and her play for the stage-African Violets placed third for the same contest. Professor Smith is Associate Professor of English at West Virginia University.

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Ken Poyner lives in the lower right-hand corner of Virginia, with his power lifter wife, four rescue cats, and two attitude-challenged fish (in their separate but similar bowls). His 2013 e-book, Constant Animals: 42 unruly fictions, is available for download at all the usual e-book retail sites. Recent work has appeared in My Favorite Bullet, The Legendary, Conte, Asimov’s, Rattle, and a host of other places.

Michael J. Pagan resides in Deerfield Beach, Florida, where he continues writing. He contributes to his alma mater’s blog, The MFA at FAU, as well as his own, The Elevator Room Company. His work has appeared in Diagram, BlazeVOX, Pacifica Literary Review, and Verse, among others.

Matt Paczkowski is currently pursuing his MFA in fiction writing at Hofstra University. He writes articles for his website, Review Hub Central and is working on a novel. “Lost Objects” is his first published non-fiction piece.

Steve Oberlechner earned his MFA from West Virginia University and teaches composition and creative writing at Potomac State College in Keyser, WV. His work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, and elsewhere.

Sara Lippmann is a 2012 New York Foundation for the Arts Fiction Fellow. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Valparaiso Fiction Review, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Used Furniture Review, Our Stories, Joyland, PANK, Slice Magazine, Potomac Review, Big Muddy, and elsewhere. She co-hosts the Sunday Salon, a monthly NYC literary series, and lives with her family in Brooklyn. For more, visit saralippmann.com.

Cory Johnston is a graduate student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is thankful to Spittoon for offering his first opportunity for publication. Reach him at CDJohnston1@gmail.com.

Rich Ives is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. His book of days, Tunneling to the Moon, is currently being serialized with a work per day appearing for all of 2013 at http://silencedpress.com.

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Valerie Hsiung is a poet, playwright, and chanteuse. Her work appears recently or is forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, and Mad Hatters’ Review. She lives in California and Bell-ile-en-mer, France.

William Haas lives in Portland, Oregon. His writing has appeared in Dark Mountain, Fiddleblack, River Teeth, Whole Beast Rag, and elsewhere.

Maggie Glover is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her poetry has appeared in MANTIS, Verse Daily, Ninth Letter, Smartish Pace, The Journal, and other literary journals. Her debut collection of poems, How I Went Red, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2014. She lives in San Francisco, CA.

John M. Gist’s creative nonfiction and short stories have appeared in publications such as the Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Superstition Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Fiddleback, Dark Matter, New Mexico Magazine, and many others. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has three published novels and is co-author of the philosophical work Angst and Evolution: The Struggle for Human Potential. He currently teaches creative writing and literature at Western New Mexico University.

Matthew Fee has lived in both Maryland and Utah. Recent work is published/forthcoming in The Atlas Review, Dear Sir, Freshwater, Likewise Folio, and Pebble Lake Review. Find more at pointingatindigo.blogspot.com.

Nancy Devine teaches high school English in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she lives. She co-directs the Red River Valley Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project. Her poetry, short fiction and essays have appeared in online and print journals.

Adam Deutsch lives in San Diego, teaches college composition and writing, and is the publisher at Cooper Dillon Books.

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Trish Cook is a YA author (her latest book, A Really Awesome Mess, comes out in July) and a 2013 graduate of the University of Chicago’s Graham School in Creative Nonfiction. Writer/runner/rower/renegade. www.trishcook.com.

Cindy Clem teaches writing at Penn State University. Her work has appeared most recently in Memoir (and) and Superstition Review. She just might start chewing to celebrate this publication.

Sarah Carson was born and raised in Flint, Michigan, but now lives in Chicago with her dog, Amos. She is also the author of three chapbooks, Before Onstar (Etched Press, 2010), Twenty-Two (Finishing Line Press, 2011), and When You Leave (H_NGM_N, 2012). When she’s not writing poems, she has a full time job telling stories. Sometimes she blogs at sarahamycarson.wordpress.com.

Seth Berg is addicted to hot sauce. His first book, Muted Lines From Someone Else’s Memory is a psychedelic joy-ride through poetry land. He has a kick-ass family full of hippies named Ash, Oak, Sage, and Icarus, the Saint Bernard. You can find his poems and fiction on the interwebs. He loves you.

C Dylan Bassett is an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Columbia, Copper Nickel, CutBank, Diagram, Subtropics, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. He co-edits likewise folio (http://likewisefolio.org).

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Spittoon 3.2  
Spittoon 3.2  
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