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story week reader 2014 Executive Editor Jotham Burrello Editors Fallon Gallagher, Amber Ponomar, Malissa Stark, Sung Yim Layout Malissa Stark Cover Design Amber Ponomar Story Week Artistic Director Randy Albers Creative Writing Department Faculty Matthew Shenoda, Interim Chair; Randy Albers, Jenny Boully, CM Burroughs, Don De Grazia, Lisa Fishman, Re`Lynn Hansen, Ann Hemenway, Gary Johnson, Garnet Kilberg-Cohen, Aviya Kushner, David Lazar, Eric May, Patricia McNair, Joseph Meno, Nami Mun, Audrey Niffenegger, Samuel Park, Alexis Pride, Shawn Siflett, Jill Talbot, Tony Triglio, David Trinidad, Sam Weller. The Story Week Reader is published by the Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. Printed by Columbia College Xerox Center. Fiction, creative nonfiction, stories in graphic form, poetry, and one-act play manuscripts of 750 words or fewer were submitted by students for consideration. The Publishing Lab, a student-run resource library, publishes this annual journal of student writing in conjunction with Story Week. Visit the Lab online at http://colum.edu/publishinglab for past issues, market research, and industry interviews. For information on studying creative writing: http://www.colum.edu/Academics/CreativeWriting/ Copyright © 2014 Creative Writing Department Editor’s Note:

All she wanted was her grandmother’s false teeth. He tackled Jenny Moriarty outside the bakery. René hid her father’s Winchester under her bed. Eliza escaped the Harvard library with Faye Dunaway. For the past ten years, characters like these, both real and imagined, have appeared in the Story Week Reader. Since 2004, thirty-one student editors have shepherded 206 writers into print. Many writers earn their first credit with us, experience the discovery and satisfaction that comes from rigorous revision with us. Thanks to everyone who has made SWR a success these last ten years. Our production schedule is brief, our reach worldwide, and our stories attempt to capture the pathos and humor of this life. In the end the granddaughter inherited the false teeth. Jenny Moriarty chipped her’s. René’s dad reclaimed the rifle. Eliza wanted a ride to the Sylvia Plath hotel, but thankfully, no one came.


contents swr archive

fiction smack | Nestor Hernandez

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smartbulb | Caitlyn Pszonka lean season | Charlie Harmon

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sweet mary jane | Austin Ream

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18

darcy | Dustin Pellegrini

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the sound | Josh Watkins

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king of the cup | Jasmin M. De La Cerda

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outside the bar | Liz Gower to the hiccups | Tess Wallace syncopated| Tess Wallace batman pants| AJ Alvarado

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creative nonfiction unsavable | Liz Grear

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crossing over | Alexandra Weiss

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16

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these sounds fall into my head | Kate Duva waiting on fruit| Alicia Ann Hauge

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how to buy beer at 17 | Ben Kramer a prince is born | Sahar Mustafah

poetry whales | Liz Gower

peppermint and gunpowder | Tony Bowers

author bios

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smack | Nestor Hernandez

I pinned Cliff Evergreen up against his locker and turned our faces into a cherry lip-gloss mess. Smack. Georgia Soy, his girlfriend, didn’t own him. It’s high school. Does that mean you can only hold hands and swap spit with one boy at a time? Girl, please. I was never keen on that vamp. You could see from space what the boys saw in her, Double Ds with short hippo-shaped legs. I wasn’t going to let her keep me from kissing the hottest boy in school. Keeping my cherry lips off boys is the hardest thing a girl could do. There wasn’t a clumsy boy I haven’t wanted to kiss. I want to smooch boys more than I like watching America’s Next Top Model, real talk. Some days I wake up not wanting to kiss anyone and on those days I just call in sick. The Cliff Evergreen make out sesh should have been a sick day. Georgia found out about my attack on her social life in chemistry. I ruined the covalent bond between her and her boy and now I combusted any chance of her being civil with me. A folded up note floated its way around and landed on her desk. Her eyes pierced through it and just about set off a Bunsen burner. Our eyes locked from across five lab stations. “You’re so dead,” she mouthed. You’re so dead. It didn’t sound that vicious. She could have killed me, brought me back to life with her witchery, and then killed me again. That would have been way worse. Today I found out that Georgia freaking Soy has been telling people that I’m sleeping around with some of the wrinkly old teachers like Mr. Moore. Have you seen him? His skin makes alligators look like runway models. I would never in a bajillion years sleep with a teacher. I don’t even look up from my phone in class so how would I know if a teacher is bangable? You won’t believe how often they call me down to Principal Jeff’s office. I didn’t think one little kiss would land me back there. I hadn’t even finished applying my base coat in homeroom before they paged me over the intercom. They called me like The Price Is Right: “Samantha, COME ON DOWN!” Jeff’s office is dark because the blinds are pulled shut. His desk has red and purple lava lamps, as if that makes him seem cooler. There’s a dumb picture of him with his twelve chubby 6 | story week reader 2014

cats. The more cats you have also doesn’t make you hip. Sorry, dude. I bet Jeff has never even kissed a girl and here I am because, well you know. Jeff walks in and closes the door, “Very nice to see you again, Samantha.” His ugly grin droops off his dumb face. Jeff pulls out one of those pens with the nudie ladies on them, the kind that when you flip them over their tops float off. I know their tops float off because he’s writing in my folder with it. “Well, Samantha. I’ve been looking over your grades and these are not going to help you graduate.” He’s got a whole cup of nudie pens and he’s over here talking about my grades? “I’ve also been hearing rumors that you and some of my faculty are engaging in some explicit activity.” I shake my head. I wish I could engage in some explicit activity with my foot on his face. Jeff leans over the desk and whispers, “I don’t want to believe everything I hear, but I think we can work out a solution that will keep you in school and get your grades up.” Jeff stands up and loosens his rusty brown belt. Smack. He drops his pants and they hit the ground like a bag of rocks. I close my eyes to keep them from rolling out of my head. Why can’t anything in my life be easy? One measly cherry lip-gloss kiss. Had I kissed any other boy, I probably would have lived a normal life.

story week reader 2014| 7


unsavable | Liz Grear

And then there was that time I stole from a church. It wasn’t like I hated god or religion. I just couldn’t help my hands. I was seventeen, got caught drinking underage at a strip club, and was sentenced to thirty hours of community service at the Canaan Apostolic Church. The word church made me cringe. My only memory of it was, as a kid born Catholic, being forced to CCD class where I asked questions and got no real answers and then was sent into the hall for being ‘disruptive’ when I was just being curious. I remember passing time by counting the chipped tiles beneath my feet. My dad dropped me off in front of the tiny building. In the entryway a woman with a long ponytail, huge glasses, and an ankle length denim skirt waited. “Hello, hello!” “Hi.” I wondered if she knew about the strip club. My parents didn’t. “It is so nice to meet you!” She grabbed both my hands in hers and held them. “You too.” I wondered what would happen to me for lying in church. I followed her around the tiny space, past a shiny piano that looked wet, down an aisle of pews, past heavy crosses and stained glass windows that made rainbows across our skin. We went out a back door and eventually ended up in a basement that looked like a classroom. “All I need you to do here today is clean the cupboards and the kitchen. I’m hosting Thanksgiving for families not able to have their own.” I felt I should say something. “That’s nice.” My hands scrubbed each dish mechanically, but I couldn’t control them when I saw the miniature spoon hidden in the back of the cupboard. I held it up to the light and admired the intricate swirls etched into the metal handle. I looked around and when no one was watching, I shoved it into my pocket. “How was it?” My dad asked with a smile that brought his mustache to life. I rested my hand on my pocket to feel the shape of the spoon. “Eh. It was fine. Boring, but fine.” I kept the spoon to myself. 8 | story week reader 2014

I didn’t want Dad thinking I had bigger issues than a drinking ticket. He’d text pictures of Malibu (my drink of choice) with the words, “Lock the liquor cabinet!” It took a while for him to find humor in my arrest and having the church’s spoon in my pocket would probably stir up a whole new set of disappointments. The odd jobs went on for weeks. Once I helped her dig out old Christmas costumes from the shed for a play. In the shed I found neglected ornaments and tucked them into my purse unnoticed. While vacuuming, I collected the coins I found on the floor. While filing paper work, I snuck a notepad into my bag. Sometimes she’d stay in the room and watch me with a proud smile like maybe these odd jobs were fixing me and teaching me a lesson. I was cautious of my hands then—never letting them wander on any one item for longer than necessary. She tried getting to know me. Tried talking about how strengthening a faith in god can be. I felt like telling her I didn’t really believe in much but I was afraid she’d tell me to leave and I’d end up doing my community service with old people. So instead I listened to every tangent she went on and wondered if she ever caught on to my silence. One day she had me write out invitations to see the Christmas play. I sat in her living room surrounded by large crosses on the walls. She gave me a pen and left. The second I held that pen in my hand, I felt it. It was a good pen, heavy and gold, and the perfect sized tip. I looked around. When I realized she definitely wasn’t in the room I shoved it in my purse and grabbed one of my own pens to continue writing invites and suddenly everything felt very mundane. At home, I placed the pen on my bed and studied it. In white elegant font it read, “‘Canaan Apostolic Church—Saving Lost Souls.’” I frowned, wondering if I was a lost soul they wanted to save. If the only reason she watched me while I worked was because she was studying all the ways she could save me. I sighed. It was still a nice pen. I thought I should feel guilty about stealing from a church. But I didn’t. I wondered if that made me unsavable.

story week reader 2014| 9


smartbulb | Caitlyn Pszonka

eye.

Jake opened his tiny palm and held the smartbulb up to his

“Dim a little, Smarty.” The buzzing luminosity faded to a dull orange hum, dim enough for Jake to look inside at the sparking, frayed filament. The bulb wouldn’t make it much longer. “How ya feeling?” the little boy asked the little bulb. The smartbulb lit up as bright as it could. It blinded Jake and washed out the patchwork of light cast by other smartbulbs on the rough concrete walls. But then the bulb’s light went out. Its spidery legs collapsed underneath it. Jake sniffled and tucked the smartbulb in one of his old socks, then laid it gently inside the creaky wooden chest halffilled with other dead bulbs. The smartbulbs all shared a similar construction. They had wings for self-delivery and legs for selfinstallation. They sneezed when they needed fixing. Jake’s dad programmed all of them to find their way back to that basement where they were first built. Jake jumped back as a bruised apple bounced into the chest, shattering the glass. Bobby stood in the doorway, tossing and catching a second apple. “What are you moping about?” Bobby asked. Jake slammed the chest shut before Bobby threw another apple. “Lost another one, did you?” Jake stared at his feet. He felt Bobby’s eyes, cold and fierce like the eyes of the hungry men who crowded the streets. Bobby was eleven, but he tried to act big like their dad had been before the police took him and their mother away for “attempts to overthrow local authority.” “They’re lightbulbs, Jake,” Bobby went on. “They don’t last forever. They go out, you replace them. Jeez. Grow up!” Bobby walked over and kicked the chest for emphasis. The socks muffled the rattling shards. Jake’s hot tears blurred together the splotches on the dirty cement, but he didn’t say anything. Just as he didn’t say anything when Bobby had told him to get rid of the dog and her puppies— animals existed only to feed hungry people. A baby 5-watt—the last of its wattage—scuttled over to Jake 10 | story week reader 2014

and flapped its wings and nudged his holey sock with its flame tip. Jake scooped up the tiny bulb, careful not to touch the glass— his fingers were numbed from past burns. He held the bulb close to his heart, turned away from his grumpy big brother, and curled up on the straw dog bed that was now his. A wintry draft came through the broken basement window, but the light from the thousands of bulbs surrounding Jake, warmed him, and reminded him of sunlight. A long time ago they had played in the sun. They pretended to be monkeys or wolves or vampire bats. Jake couldn’t remember that far back. The first thing he did remember was the policeman coming to the door, his dark glasses staring through four-year-old Jake when he said, “It’s dangerous out there. People who have homes should stay in their homes.” So their dad had started the smartbulb business. He had all the tools and supplies delivered through the mail slot, and he turned Jake and Bobby’s basement playroom into a workshop. Bobby shrugged his big boy shoulders and went upstairs to play video games. But every night Jake pulled his knees to his chin in a corner of the basement and watched his dad map out baby 5-watts, 50-watts, and even a plan for a 1,000-watt smartbulb that was never finished. After he assembled each smartbulb, before he sealed it up, their dad turned away and tucked a slip of paper inside the screw-in. On his fifth birthday, Jake had received a smartbulb fixing kit. He’d spent the day naming the wounded bulbs as he healed them. “They’re just lightbulbs, Jake,” Bobby laughed. “Let’s go upstairs and play real games.” Jake wrapped his fingers carefully around baby 5-watt. Smartbulbs didn’t pretend everything was fine. They made the basement lighter and warmer, and they scared the ghosts away. Bobby’s footsteps creaked up the stairs, leaving Jake curled tight and sniffling among tiny, burning lights.

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whales | Liz Gower

I say I feel fat like it’s not just size and shape. Like it means more than rolls and cellulite and white lightning bolts touching down on thighs and stomachs. Fat like shame. Fat like disgust. I saw the story about the one-ton woman fused to her bed with KFC buckets rotting beneath her. She smelled so foul the firemen cutting her out cried. My dad threw away all my Halloween candy when he saw that article. Said it could happen to me. I was thirteen, and I had already quit the swim team because the blue Lycra suits couldn’t hide all the burgers and shakes and extra crispy fries I’d consumed. I haven’t worn a bathing suit since. Now, not even lovers see my body without cloaking shadows. I should love the skin I’m in—Dove says so—but confidence only comes in over-the-counter pills selling caffeine and miracles. For the low, low price of shedding twenty bucks and dignity. Curvy should be a four-letter word and obesity’s the killer punch line.

outside the bar

our cigarettes spark orange in an alley paved with twix wrappers and bud light cans half-hidden in drifts of snow. we blow nicotine ghosts through flaking lips into air that gnaws not bites. away from the red brick building, we fold ourselves into origami shoulders hollow, exchanging smoke and breath and clumsy silences. we’ve been hiding in empty glasses and streets buried deep so the plows can’t touch. the tequila burns and slurs your question into the air where it hangs on the mantle of my parliaments and your sobriety. “wanna?”

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story week reader 2014| 13


lean season | Charlie Harmon

Frank and Mary Jane were doing a crossword puzzle in their suburban kitchen when their ten-year-old son, Marty, walked up dragging a worn canvas laundry bag from Frank’s college days. “Do we have any carrots?” “I think there are some in the crisper.” Mary Jane pointed to the refrigerator. “Nine down, four letters: ‘communal pot,’” she said to her husband. “Stew,” Frank said, as Marty dropped several large carrots into the bag. “What about potatoes?” Marty asked. “Look in the pantry,” Mary Jane said. “‘Child stealer of Hamelin.’” “Pied Piper,” Frank said, watching Marty pick out potatoes. “Can I borrow some salt and pepper?” Marty asked. “There’re some extra shakers on the spice rack,” Mary Jane said. “‘Slang for human flesh.’” “Long pig. Hey, buddy,” Frank said, as Marty hauled the bag past them, “what do you need all that stuff for?” “Mr. Bacchus asked if I want to go on a tour of Elysium,” Marty said. “But it’s winter there, so their lard’s a little bare.” “You mean their larder?” Frank said. “That’s probably it,” Marty said. “Sometimes it’s hard to understand him ’cause he drools whenever he looks at me.” “Who is Mr. Bacchus?” Mary Jane asked. “And what’s Elysium?” “Remember the wardrobe you bought me at that yard sale?” Marty said, releasing the bag and putting his hands on his hips. “Well, it turns out that it’s also a portal to a place called Elysium, which is full of wizards and talking animals and stuff. Mr. Bacchus—he’s not a talking animal, but he does have goat legs—he lives in a tree right down the path from where I first went through.” “So Mr. Bacchus is a goat-man who lives in the magical kingdom in your closet,” Mary Jane said. “A faun,” Frank said. “In my wardrobe,” Marty added. “And what’s the food for?” Frank asked. “Mr. Bacchus says,” Marty’s voice took on the tone of a 14 | story week reader 2014

recitation, “there’s a lot of things you can do with a little boy, but it’s been a while since he’s had one for dinner.” He blinked. “So he just wants to keep it simple and make soup.” “You’re right,” Frank said. “He does talk funny.” “He’s pretty strange,” Marty said. “He wears a coat and a scarf but no pants.” “Goat legs.” Frank shook his head. “What a weirdo.” “Well, have fun,” Mary Jane said. “Try to be back in time for dinner.” Marty marched off, the bag in tow, and for a few minutes they could hear him knocking around his bedroom. “Eleven letters: ‘ill-fated expedition,’” Mary Jane said. “Donner Party,” Frank said, and looked at the ceiling. “You hear that? He got his winter coat out of the closet so he won’t catch cold in Elysium. We raised a pretty smart kid.” “I just hope he doesn’t sit in that thing in a coat all day and give himself heat stroke,” Mary Jane said. The sounds of Marty’s preparations stopped and they heard the clunk of the wardrobe door being shut. “‘Damon Knight Twilight Zone episode,’ ten letters.” “‘To Serve Man,’” Frank said as he stood. “I’ll go check on him.” Marty’s bedroom was quiet as Frank entered. Action figures were arranged in dramatic tableaus on various surfaces, and the books on the bookshelves were organized alphabetically—Marty was as clean and neat as a ten-year-old could be—but a strange, gamy scent hung in the air. “Marty? Your mom and I think maybe you shouldn’t be wearing your coat in there, okay?” He crossed the room to the wardrobe. “Marty? You okay, buddy?” He pulled it open. There was nothing but a small puddle in the back corner. Frank pushed a row of shirts out of the way, stirring up the faint smell of pine and wood smoke. He bent down to inspect the wet spot, dabbing at it with an index finger. It was ice cold and gritty with dirt. He leaned a bit to let in more light, and frowned. It looked like a hoof print.

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crossing over | Alexandra Weiss

The rickety Stillwater Lift Bridge was more of a home to me than any house I ever lived in. It was built in 1931, replacing an old swing bridge that never worked quite right. I only know that because they taught us every year at Stillwater District Schools. The bridge connected Stillwater, Minnesota to Wisconsin. It connected my mother’s house to my father’s house. I went across four times a week, every week. Two times over, two times back. I could point out every loose bolt, dented steel corner, and rusted patch on its bones. I even knew Henry, the old man who controlled the lift, with his pointy ears and thick white beard. Before arriving in Stillwater and crossing over to Wisconsin we drove down the one lane hill with the giant boulder wall to the left and the river on the right. Like a postcard photo, the lift bridge was nestled into the valley, surrounded by brick buildings, antique shops, and ice cream parlors. It’s the kind of town that appears in old movies where romances bloom on the cracked sidewalks and cars pass by slowly, careful not to make too much noise. My father and I were silent during the half-hour drive from my mother’s house to his place in god-knows-where Wisconsin. My head leaned against the window and the world passed by my tired green eyes. Tourists, the ones who heard about Stillwater through a family friend, snapped photos of the buildings, the red and green trolleys, the bridge. On Main Street, girls my age, almost sixteen and almost free, strolled around with their friends in pink polka-dot shirts and jean skirts. Boys, always in groups, laughed with their chins held high as these girls passed by. They were all free after school, allowed to roam the town without a parent at their side or a locked car door under their arms. No trip to a different state, or different state of mind, at least not today. During summer days, riverboats stirred up the water, the bridge was called, traffic stopped, and the bridge lifted. As cars began to line up on Main Street, my father’s included, everyone turned towards the river and watched as the middle of the bridge rose up towards the sky. The Empress, an 1800s red paddlewheel replica of the boats that used to sail these waters, passed under. Hundreds of people in tight dresses and cheap 16 | story week reader 2014

suits floated by as if they were in a dream. And as soon as they passed, the bridge lowered and the world resumed once again. We drove over three small bumps and were on the bridge. I focused on drivers, their paranoid faces lighting up behind streaked windshields. People were afraid of the bridge. Afraid that its rusty rods and unstable center would collapse one day and they would drown in their cars, locked doors and all. They were afraid because a car had driven off when it was lifted by accident. It shook and rattled beneath tires, reminding drivers and passengers that even something that looks strong could fall apart at any moment. But I knew this bridge would stay put—it had a job to do. Crossing over now, the bridge and I are the same, if only for a few seconds. Maybe because it has been beaten up over the years and mistreated. Maybe because it was created to bridge a gap it couldn’t close, one that would always remain. Maybe because it was forced to connect two different pieces of land that wanted nothing to do with each other. The bridge didn’t have a choice but to remain standing, and neither did I. Unless, of course, it chose to collapse, and maybe someday it would. Maybe someday, it should.

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sweet mary jane | Austin Ream My last memory of Daddy is him puttin two Mary Janes in my hand before he walked out and drove north to Nashville. He always wanted to be a country music star and this time he up and left us. Caleb cried a lot after that and started sleeping in Mama’s bed. Last spring Caleb died. They said he hit the water so fast a little minnow got sucked into his lung with everything else. I told Mama that was funny because he and Jimmy had gone fishin that day and caught nothin, but she didn’t think it was funny because she whupped me seven times—for every one of Caleb’s birthdays. Mama couldn’t afford no fancy funeral, so Jimmy buried him under the cottonwood tree out back where Caleb liked to play. We made him a cross from some fallen branches and Jimmy carved CALEB AVERY THOMAS on the front with his pocketknife. Sometimes I bring Caleb Mary Janes. I’ll sit in front of his cross, and when I’m done talking, I eat ’em. So now it’s just me, Jimmy, and Mama. We get along fine; Jimmy works at the grocer in town, I go to school, and Mama watches TV. Once I asked her why she didn’t go talk to Caleb. “You leave me be, Emma Grace,” she hollered. “I’ll do what I like.” Afternoons I ride into town with Jimmy. Sometimes he smokes and sometimes we pick up Darla, a pretty girl he likes to kiss, but he buys me candy at the gas station, so I don’t tell Mama. I think candy’s a good trade for a secret. Today when Darla hopped into the truck, her eye was big and blue. “What happened?” Her head jerked toward Jimmy. “I fell.” At the gas station, Jimmy handed me some money and pulled around back to put propane in the white tanks. “Just a few pieces,” he called after me. Inside there were so many choices, but I settled on a handful of Mary Janes, and two extra for Jimmy and Darla. I chewed my candy in front for a while, sitting on the front step, giving them time to kiss before I walked back there. I watched Mr. Leroy Johnson fill up his truck with gasoline, I watched three blackbirds chase each other through the Mississippi sky, and I watched the sun pull a shadow across the 18 | story week reader 2014

ground until it met my foot before I decided Jimmy and Darla had kissed enough for today. When I turned the corner, Jimmy had Darla pressed against the wall next to the propane tank, a handful of her blonde hair in his fist. Tears gushed down her face. His jaw was clenched and a blue vein on his forehead looked about to burst. He looked real scary. I hid behind the wall. “Jimmy, I swore not to tell nobody ’bout Caleb.” He jerked Darla’s hair upward and she yelped. “That’s right,” Jimmy spat. “You owe me.” “It ain’t my fault.” “No?” Another yelp. “I can’t help it. Please, Jimmy.” “I took care of the last one, Darla, I can do it again.” “No, Jim, I want to keep it.” “You know your Daddy would kill me. You tryin to murder me?” Darla stopped crying and wiped her swollen eye. “Like you and Caleb?” “Shut your mouth.” “What? ’Fraid everybody’s gonna find out what you done? And just ’cause he found out we was havin a baby?” “Now you shut up! We ain’t having no baby!” I stepped out from my hiding place. “You killed Caleb, Jimmy? Jimmy let go of Darla’s hair and stepped back. She wiped the tears from her face and tugged at her blouse. “Now you keep quiet ’bout that, Emma.” “But, why, Jimmy? Family don’t hurt each other. ’Sides, you and Darla are havin a baby.” “No we ain’t. And you ain’t gon tell no one ’bout Caleb or the baby, Emma. You got that?” His eyes were wild and he leaned over me. I didn’t want him any closer so I stepped against the wall like Darla. I’d never been so scared in all my life. “Emma?” “Okay.” “Now go buy yourself some more candy.” “Here.” I moved toward them when Jimmy’s eyes went soft again and lay two Mary Janes in the palms of their hands. “Congratulations.” “For what?” Darla asked. “The baby.” Mama says my teeth are gonna fall out someday, but I think that’s okay. Candy sure is sweet. story week reader 2014| 19


these sounds fall into my head | Kate Duva

Imagine the millennia of evolution that have shaped the fiftyfive muscles of the human face. They flex in infinite shades of fear, love, disgust, outrage, and tickling perplexity, picking up transmissions from that cosmic antenna the brain, pink labyrinth of a hundred billion neurons whose sparks could power a light bulb. Those gray lumps floating in formaldehyde are dead. We are alive. Our brains are pink. All this power is concentrated thanks to cephalization, that evolutionary trend in which nervous tissue migrates towards one end of an organism over the generations, forming a head with sensory organs. We have heads on our shoulders, so naturally we make headway for headquarters and headliners, and give head starts to heads of state, heads of household, headmasters and headmistresses. And then we let it all come to a head: the process in which nervous tissue migrates towards an end of an organism, or as Prince sang on his album Dirty Mind, Now morning, noon and night I give you head! Til you’re burning up Head!

tight enough? Am I too weird? Am I needy? Look at the vast sea of amazing females he could choose from, I gotta set myself apart, so I’ll give him the best head of his life. I’m down on my knees for him, but really, I’m desperate for power. We evolve. We grow our own power. We learn to watch all the weather that blows across your landscape of a face—your puppy face, your wolf face, your hell face and heaven face, the face you wear for grandmas, the one you use with beggars, the one that erupts when something breaks, and your face, best as we can make it out when it’s buried in our fur—’cause we’ve learned how to receive by now and we receive gooooood. And when we get down on our knees and love you end to end, now we like it just as much as you, thanks to mirror neurons, those empathy-cells that have evolved to fire when we witness one other. It’s delicious. It feeds us. This is power. Trusting heart at the center opens its artery to the groin doublewidth, and our pelvic blood engorges sixteen-fold. Eyes can see his erection—ours blazes inside and has to be felt. But thanks to amygdalae—almond-shaped bundles of nerves deep in our temporal lobes—we can read each other’s faces, and those mirror neurons have us shimmying in sync. Stale fears and adolescent doubts lurk in old neural networks we’ve built on past experience, but we can play out new memories that rewire our minds. For while that pink labyrinth behind the human face seems the locus of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, its network goes far beyond. So skin can see. Sounds roll into our blood. Genitals think. And heart can be tickled, squeezed, and stroked.

Love you til you’re dead! Head, head, head!

That is another evolution. As girls, it was always about giving, not receiving. How to tease and titillate, spittle on fingers, grip synchronized with lips, strokes and gulps and bragging to our friends—I got so many squirts in one night—I pulled him into my parents’ pantry and he dropped his jaw—I got ’im off in perfect rhythm to that smoldering track by Mad Professor and Massive Attack—all that braggadocio really our way of screaming, Am I dumb? Am I intimidating? Are my tits big enough? Can he see rolls in my back fat? And that pimple in my crack? Is my pussy

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story week reader 2014| 21


to the hiccups | Tess Wallace

syncopated

For Kaitlin

Where you sleep is important. When the world you live in is full of potholes and wrong way signs, you need that soft mat, need that hiccupping friend on the other side of the wall. Need her because you trust her and you never know what stranger would grip a pillow over your head and strangle you in your sleep when you’re most vulnerable, so trust is important. Bad reviews, they’re not as important. Everyone knows about the knee shakes and the voice cracks and that’s a fact, but sometimes facts are not as important as laughing at your mistakes and my hiccupping friend knows all of her flaws without becoming them and that makes her important. I’d rather read her fortune cookie thoughts than Snapple bottle caps because Snapple bottles never tell you that sometimes just a little progress every day gets you pretty far after a while. I can learn a lot more from a conversation than a bottle cap. Sure, tree frogs can jump twenty times their own body length but it’s more important to know that if I finish my glass, I can fill it again. I can fill it to the brim. And my hiccupping friend is always filling her glass. And so it’s warm in my house. It’s warm where I sleep.

the alley under the train tracks looks like the dark side of the moon so full of potholes and scattered gravel make it difficult to walk we loiter outside the bar and force down the dregs of our not-coke bottle last swig and I can’t quite swallow back to the moon spit it out. you whisper I still want to kiss you you like to whisper–like to turn me on like to tell me you want to hold me but you keep Spinning me around the band onstage with their long hair and syncopated reggae ska groove looks lost but you you’re at home in this pulse of clustered bodies and I interrupt lose my balance into your chest you ask if I want to leave my eyes drop–I know you want to stay know you want to dance while the rest all bob their heads but I’m too . . . Drunk. “can we?” I just want you to kiss me like you promised.

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waiting on fruit | Alicia Ann Hauge I had lived in India long enough to know that a woman dressed in a red and gold ghagra choli meant she was getting married. But this was a girl, no more than ten years old. A winding hike up a Darjeeling mountainside funneled me into an open-air Buddhist temple. Tourists meandered amongst altars strung together by prayer flags, their bold colors hyper in the high wind. A few feet to my right, a small group encircled a fire pit and the girl. Her painted eyes were full of daydreams and her flat hips struggled to keep a heavily-beaded skirt in place. She tugged on her necklace of marigolds, and the stems pushed in her hair. It could have seemed like an elaborate game of dress-up, if not for the ceremony. “Shaddi Shuddr?” I asked in broken Hindi. Marriage? “Haan,” a lady replied. Yes. There was no obvious husband in sight, so I asked, “Pati kahan hay?” She pointed to a melon-sized fruit–fat, naked and apathetic. “Nahi samaji,” I said. I don’t understand. The lady explained that the girl would marry the fruit, then hide it away. When she grew up to her true age of marriage, they would recover it. If it is in tact, she could marry. It was then I felt truly grateful my love life wasn’t fated to the decomposition of a fruit. Since I crushed on BJ in the second grade I had been embarrassed that I had never had a boyfriend. And in my late twenties, it felt like a rare disease. All my crushes were a series of breaths held for nothing. I never said anything to let them know–just waited until the timer dinged. Until they found other girls, moved away, or called me “sister.” I started to believe no one would ever reciprocate my feelings. When I made the decision, as a single lady of twenty-six, to live overseas indefinitely, I felt condemned to loneliness. I saw myself years ahead laughing at episodes of The Office and telling secrets to my journals. But ten months before I met the girl and the fruit, I met Shawn. Shawn was charming. Everyone knew he was passionate about politics, but I knew he was passionate about pomegranates. We both had restless souls, cheesy humor, and a 24 | story week reader 2014

love for swing dancing. On Valentine’s Day, we snuck away from our underage friends into a basement jazz club and danced to his favorite song, “At Last” by Etta James. A few days later, he held me tight, enough to count the Mississippis in between, and said, “I want to hang out. Just the two of us.” We never said words like date or attraction, because, I believed, we understood the big interruption. After six months of a “close friendship,” our flight paths parted our ways–he to Geneva, me to Delhi. From continents away, he lit up my inbox. I dove into a pool of daydreams about being together again, but this time with guards down. We were like a roller coaster car balancing at the top of a hill. We just needed a little push to profess our feelings. He could move here or I could move there, or somewhere entirely new, and we could make each other happy. I wouldn’t need sitcoms for company or journals for secrets. After five months of living in India, a Geneva phone number danced across my Nokia for the first time. The easy chitchat about how different our days were–him drinking wine, while I filtered my water–almost made me forget my intent to tell him my feelings. The words felt gummy leaving my lips. “You know, I really have loved our time together, and I want to let you know I have feelings for you.” A few seconds, long enough to count Mississippis between, was long enough to tell me I was wrong. His voice turned, like a wave rushing back to the ocean. All those perforated daydreams were torn through, and he became another tally on the wall. My usual exit interview was filled with impossible questions. Should I have done something more? Less? Did I speak too soon? Too late? Journaling that night, I thought of the girl waiting on the fruit with nothing she could do to change her fate. Our destinies once so polar seemed suddenly equal. The only difference was that I got to peek every once in a while at my fruit, rotting away.

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how to buy beer at 17 | Ben Kramer

So you’re seventeen-years-old, want beer, but can’t afford a fake ID. You are not alone, my friend. Many teens struggle with this problem. You can try calling an older sibling, but more often than not, they’ll either fail you or be unavailable. You could try picking up a bum, but you might end up spending the whole night searching for one, or hearing him explain how his life went horribly, horribly wrong. Here’s a thought. Why not buy beer yourself? Sure, you might think only beard-bearing college kids can go into a liquor store without getting carded, but that’s not true. You don’t need to have a hairy face to buy beer. Anyone can do it, including you! All you have to do is follow these ten simple steps. 1. Check your clothing. You don’t need a suit, but a nice polo works. Look sharp. If you walk in with baggy jeans, a purple beanie and a T-shirt that says, “Taylor’s Swift On My Dick” chances are the guy will know you’re underage. Go vintage if possible. If you own a 1987 Chicago Bears jacket then flaunt that shit. 2. Don’t go to Jewel. Seek out a booze-hole that has a rep for selling to minors. If you see an establishment with a neon Hamm’s sign in the front window, hit it up. If you don’t know any places with a rep, then search for one that has a gaggle of bums huddled in front sipping on tallboys of Icehouse. If they’re smoking shitty hand rolled cigarettes too, even better. Bums indicate that this store will sell to anyone with a pulse. 3. Keep your dockets in your pockets. Always stash a couple of twenties in your jean or coat pocket. Pulling out your wallet to pay might remind the cashier to check your ID. 4. Make sure to enter the store with confidence. If you go in thinking it’s not going to work, then it won’t. Cashiers can smell fear like German Shepherds do explosives. Act like you’ve been here before, and don’t mind the “We Card Hard” signs. Those are usually a bluff. 5. Survey the brands. This is not a race. You may not be feeling Busch Light tonight. Explore your options. Buying craft

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beer suggests you’re a suave, sophisticated drinker. You’ve traveled the world. After all, what teen buys Daisy Cutter? 6. Proceed to the counter. Walk as you normally do. If you’re waiting in line, casually glance at the Camel cigarettes and whiskey bottles on the wall. The line can be the most stressful part of the process and is the place where nervous jitters can sell you out. To keep these from blowing your cover, try and think about a magical moment in sports, like Michael Jordan’s last shot as a Chicago Bull. Remember how he sank that championship winner from the foul line with less than six seconds on the clock? Pretty clutch in a high pressure situation. If you don’t like sports think about music. Ask yourself, if the Beatles never broke up would they end up sucking? 7. You’re seconds away from success. Don’t stumble. When you place your beer on the counter look the cashier in the eye. He may be a leathery looking fella who’ll try to mean mug you with a lazy eye, but keep your composure. If he asks how you’re doing, respond. Don’t nod like a dimwit. And if you need to clear your throat, clear it! A voice full of phlegm is gross and won’t help your cause. From here, if you’ve done everything right, you should hear, “That’ll be $17.23.” Hand your money to the cashier, take the change and peel out to your buddy’s car. 8. Secure your spoils in the trunk. It is always important to keep your liquor hidden because, should you get pulled over, a cop cannot search your vehicle unless you give him permission. If the cop sees that case of Miller High Life sitting in the backseat, you’re busted. 9. Slide into the passenger seat, high-five your friends, and have them buy you a Big Mac because tonight you are the Big Mack. 10. Go where you need to go, and DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE! Play it smart, be safe, and enjoy.

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darcy | Dustin Pellegrini

I call her a home-wrecker because that’s what she is. Mom made wooden clocks and sold them at craft fairs. Dad’s a butcher in a grocery store. Darcy wrecks homes. I heard her cough the first time outside of Mom’s cancer ward. She gagged like she wasn’t used to clean air and when I stepped out into the hallway, I thought she was a giant snake. Her legs were wrapped in shiny green scales, her stomach bloated out of them like she’d swallowed something whole. Her fingers coiled around Dad’s arm, claiming him. She smiled as he introduced her and all I could think was, of all the animals you could dress like, who chooses a snake? At Silver Medals that night, in a spongy booth by the bathroom, me and Hanna sat with our chins on the table watching Darcy in the front of the restaurant, her fingers jamming the jukebox, scraping the coin slot for change. Dad smushed the paper from his straw and said, “I get lonely. Darcy helps me with that.” We watched Darcy blow smoke into a passing waitress’ face. “Just until Mom gets out of the hospital,” he said. He winked at us, slid a single plate across the table. “Now, who wants to split a trip to the salad bar?” Six days later Mom’s cancer was gone and so was she. Seven more days and Darcy moved in. Dad said that we should bond with her. Darcy took us out every day, to picnics in a cornfield where Illinois meets Iowa, pushing us across the border. We made trips to the Pawn ’n Go, saw rows of butterfly knives and lighters, me always asking Darcy for a Zippo, offering to pay half with money I didn’t have, always finding a “No” in the middle of one of her coughing storms. It didn’t take long for us to run. She’d turn her back, make the scales on her jacket hiss, and we’d bolt. We would run hand-in-hand down the yellow rows of corn, zigzagging when we heard her scream our names—the way animals do in traps. Deep and desperate. We bailed five times before she understood. At the store we would shrink inside cupboards and clothes racks and wait, watching her to see that angry panic clamping her teeth as she stalked, 28 | story week reader 2014

not wanting to go back home to Dad and say those words: “I lost them.” She turned the store over searching for us, swung her purse into a glass case of gold bracelets. After the owner kicked her out she came home to find us already in bed and muddy. After that, the outings stopped for good. Twenty years later, Darcy’s face is skid-marked with wrinkles and her legs bulge too much for her scales and it’s a lot harder to lose her. Most nights Darcy coughs herself awake, doesn’t recognize the attic that Dad moved her to, thinks she’s been kidnapped, and tries to escape. Dr. Johansson calls it fleeing. He said it’s genetic. Basically, she was destined to go nuts. The lady with the pet lizards that chewed on the cigarette butts she drilled into their wood chips. Who saw that coming? I remember waking up to one of her monsters digging its claws into my stomach and her hulking over me, holding it, the glow from her cigarette beaming through the dark. And she just got up and left. Not a word. Dr. Johansson says she’s confused, she doesn’t understand. But I know she does. She wants to get even. When we find her now, she’s always somewhere we’ve been before: out in the cornfield, her toes stretched into Iowa, outside Pawn ’n Go, ducked by a dumpster, her hands coated in grease. She never fights us. She doesn’t even talk. Sometimes Hanna coos to her, says, “Darcy, Darcy,” swiping two fingers past her face. Darcy just grins at her. Sometimes Hanna looks to me, Darcy’s arms around our necks, and says, “How long can we keep doing this?” Instead of telling her we can’t stop, I just help load Darcy in to the bed of the truck. Most times when we’re looking, I hope we’ll find Darcy dead. Until then, I’ll keep searching, but I’ll pretend that it’s Mom. Mom asleep in her gown in the hospital, thin as her sheets. Mom behind her table at the craft fair. Mom, happy to see us. Smiling.

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a prince is born | Sahar Mustafah

By the time my youngest sister was born in 1976, my parents had tired from naming girls. She was their fourth consecutive daughter, and for immigrant parents, it wasn’t important to disguise their disappointment to protect our feelings. We girls could sense their supreme despair when they hadn’t named the baby yet. But we were very young and blithely celebrated the arrival of our sister, whom Hala, the oldest, suggested we name Linda. So she became Linda Mustafa, the only child born with an American name. We would all experience name assimilation: mine became Sarah, Hala was Helen, and Abeer was Abby. And, Linda was always Linda. To this day, she is the most easy-going of all six kids. Four years later, my mother was pregnant for a fifth time. It was the winter of 1980 and a terrible flu leveled our household. We were tucked into a long and wide couch in the family room so we could watch The Brady Bunch and The Monkees, sweating out the fevers ravaging our small and feeble bodies beneath layers of blankets. We floated in and out of sleep, nodding awake if my mother carelessly banged a pot in the kitchen or spoke loudly into the telephone when she called my father’s grocery store to ask him for a gallon of milk or box of rice for the stuffed squash she was preparing in a tomato yogurt stew. We sat, listless, and pulled our knees up to our chests when we grew stiff from sitting Indian-style. Our mother’s voice seemed to be traveling through bales of cotton before reaching our ears. On the second day of the flu, we felt well enough to argue over who’d get the end spot of the couch with the armrest. My mother had been stopping her chores to sit down every hour with each painful contraction. She wore a faded peach-colored housedress and her protruding belly did not impede the cooking and cleaning she did each day. She swept and mopped the floors as usual, pausing to massage her lower back and refasten the synthetic silk scarf on her head. On December 30 we were startled out of our sleep. Hala, nine-years-old, woke us up to let us know our mother had been taken to Holy Cross Hospital. When she came home she was radiant and beautiful. Her 30 | story week reader 2014

white knit turtleneck amplified her soft black hair that fell just above her shoulders, before a shock of white hair would sprout from one side of her head like skunk fur. In her arms was a tightly swaddled baby boy with a perfectly shaped head. His olive-skinned face was unmarred. His pursed lips and heavy eyelids produced a pouty expression as if he understood the magnitude of his existence and wasn’t terribly happy about bearing such a tremendous weight. My sisters and I could appreciate the gravity of the matter without feeling threatened. In fact, my brother’s birth seemed to peel away a layer of disappointment my mother had draped over our household. The birth of a son made her smile more often and her laughter came more easily. She wasn’t always quick to scold and complain anymore. In his quiet, brooding way, my brother Feras would come to resent how much he meant to my parents. His shoulders would gradually stoop with the burden of my father’s alcoholism and the transfer of financial responsibilities. Instead of college and girlfriends, he would become an alcoholic—textbook-proof of a murky gene pool. Before turning thirty-years-old, he would be arrested for multiple DUIs. I would receive jarring phone calls at two a.m. and a throaty, guttural voice asking me to pick him up from where he drove into a rail on I-57. I’d pull up to the shoulder of the highway where his truck’s rear bumper lay mangled and partially hanging on the ground. When he’s sentenced on a fourth arrest, Feras will serve a year in state prison and because of a glitch in paperwork for a temporary release, he would miss my father’s funeral. But, then, in my mother’s arms, a tiny, smooth face without a single blemish, Feras was our new beautiful brother. He was perfect.

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the sound | Josh Watkins

The drive is too long; he’ll never make it. Vinny hears a pounding metallic noise from the delivery truck’s cargo as it emerges from a sentry of pines onto bright plains. The truck’s Milton Snacks logo fades against washed-out yellow paint. Vinny pulls into a rusty filling station, nudging the rustier attendant to help inspect his shipment. “Could be a stowaway,” Vinny warns. “Oh,” says the old man, belly-scratching. “One’a them.” The cargo gate shudders open like an aluminum mutiny and the men eyeball columns of brown boxes, unsure of what they’re searching for. Two crates of Cheesed-Lightning New! Taco-Flavor have vanished from the top of a stack. The old man mumbles how these are thieving times. Back on the road, Vinny triple-checks the inventory clipboard: Vera had two bags on her smoke-break earlier, Vinny sidled beside her on the curb eating a peach, and before leaving he’d snuck some bags for the other waitresses; two crates still unaccounted for. He pictures them being eaten by the truck. The cargo’s hollow thumping amplifies, and an unknown handle crackles through his CB-radio’s static, a wrong number, maybe. He CBs Vera, who keeps a set at her bedside so many miles behind: Heavy-Lifter to Honeybear, over. Vera details her revised draft of a renovated city park; Vinny speeds up, fidgeting the rearview. Smooth sailing, Heavy-Lifter? Over. Right as rain, over. He reminds her how hard she has sweat over her portfolio, that she should move Midwestward, regardless of his whatever. A static-tinged silence thickens the road’s yellow lane-lines; they sign off. From the freight, another caged-beast thud. Around suppertime, Vinny’s sentinel eyes note a lone truckstop miles down the road. The sound reprises as he steps out, evening wind pitching his black ponytail. The cargo is now over a dozen crates short, with Vinny yet to reach his first destination. His boxy Milton truck seems a minivan alongside the big-rigs. Clusters of gruff men flank the brick truckstop

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at picnic-benches, portly in oil-stained workshirts. “You ever hear this dropping sound from your load?” he asks a table. The truckers inhale vending-machine food and say nothing. He ghosts among the other benches, unseen but by one thuggish trucker standing near Vinny’s rig. Vinny spares a curt nod; the man mugs back, stonefaced. Vinny drives on. Perhaps he’d known the man from years ago: perhaps Vinny has been found. …whrrrrrzzzzzzrrppp… The CB static thickens: sundown. Vinny’s scarred hand tinkers the rearview. The man must be a Vibora, as Vinny was back East when his hair was rough stubble, when the keen eyes Vera swims in served as lookout under foul, unforgiving men. Vinny won’t follow if Vera moves away to study. He can’t explain the years of off-books odd-jobs, can’t articulate that he doesn’t lack ambition or love; he is just hiding. The terrain becomes barren, lunar: was he lost? Vera CBs— she found a job lead for him in St Louis, meatpacking. Vinny cuts her off: Lights ahead, Honeybear, looks like a roadblock…over-and-out. Scattered below makeshift searchlights are tight-rifled guards, armored jeeps. At orange pylons Vinny yields, lowers his window: “Believe I’ll take a look at what’s in back,” says an officer. “Please,” says Vinny with a brisk headnod. “Not sure what’s back there myself.” The guard scoffs, fiddling his aviators and swaggering away. Vinny squints against the towering lights. His cargo-gate rattles open and immediately closed, then the guard’s sharp holler—oh my god—and the armed silhouettes shift to surround his truck. “Sir—” Vinny crunches the gas-pedal, catapulting through a red dustcloud, and the swarming roadblock thins in his rearview. The sound thrashes, vicious, as though some intruder at the door. He CBs his manager but the static washes over him, a power-drill on sheet-metal. Unknown-Handle, Heavy-Lifter, over. …whrrrrrzzzzzzrrppp… I saw you today, you fuck, what’s in my rig? …whrrrrrzzzzzzrrppp… Who found me? I had to snitch, I was cornered. Vinny, are you safe? What’re you yelling about? Vinny’s words waver, he’d meant to radio a different handle— static, drummed throbbing—Vera’s drowned pleas to just let her in, he worries her to death. The speeding truck tilts off the

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two-lane blacktop. Vinny hugs the CB-radio to his chest and bails onto the desert floor. The truck is downed: something grinding its way out. Vinny runs, clutching his box of static, and he can hear Vera, his manager, the truckers, the Unknown Handle, the Viboras who still want him dead, all pushing him toward the moonlight as the truck ruptures open behind him.

batman pants | A.J. Alvarado

I see two girls sitting on the sidewalk every night. Pale skin, matching red hair, gold rimmed aviators in the dark, smoking Pall Malls and drinking 40 oz. bottles of King Cobra out of brown paper bags. They place their empties beneath parked cars, to watch the glass break under the weight of tires, instead of using the garbage can five feet to the left. They have worn the same black fleece bottoms, every evening from August to November, sitting Indian style on the DNA stained cement of South Clark Street. All it makes me think of is dirty sheets. Every passerby’s gum, spit, and cigarette butts stuck to the asses of their Batman pants, then lost somewhere between comforters and throw blankets, and pillowcases that reek of cheap beer and menthol tobacco.

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king of the cup | Jasmin M. De La Cerda

Tio Junior winked at me. He crushed his beer can between his fingers. There was a meow and he bent down to grab Mr. Miyagi by his tail. The cat hissed. A snake hiss. His teeth shone against the porch light; paws searched for Tio Junior’s face, scratching air. Mr. Miyagi hissed again as Tio Junior gripped the tail. Tio Junior stretched his arm and in a halo motion moved the cat over his head. The body cut through the air. One. Two. Three. Mr. Miyagi’s meowing and hissing stopped. Tio Junior glanced back at me. He laughed at my wide eyes, there was more white than brown in them. My nose flared, and I felt the waning sun sting in my eyes and bits of the cat’s hair stick to my lips. “Bettcha he won’t land on his legs.” He winked again, swinging Mr. Miyagi once more. He shot putted the cat and we watched him cartwheel over our fence, the street. Crrrunch! His side smacked the tree and he tried to hold on, his paws dug into the bark. Tio Junior laughed, large bellowing laughs. He grabbed onto my shoulder, pushing me down with all of his laughing. He began to run out of breath, wheezing. Tears rolled down his plump cheeks from all that laughing. It was a contagious laugh. A laugh I would’ve joined in if it weren’t for my cat free falling on his back, splinters in his claws. “Guess not.” Tio Junior pulled another beer out of his pocket. Clicking it open with his thumb, he chugged it, letting a loud burp echo into the night; flies buzzed away from the rustic pee smell of his mouth. Tio Junior always had a beer in his hand, and paint on his clothes. He was the cool Tio, pulling back his Native American hair into a ponytail. The bandanas he wore came past his eyebrows. When he smiled his dimples showed. He told me I was his favorite niece because we were the only ones who had dimples. Tio Junior walked over to the stairs leading into Nana’s house. The adobe house had Spanish grilles on the windows, wrought iron stems across dusty glass. Vines crawled up the sides of the house. Buelo had built it for Nana when they got married and three generations had come and gone. Tio Junior’s boots clicked against the cement as he sat down. He waved me 36 | story week reader 2014

next to him, drinking the other half of the beer. He placed it under his boot and slowly smashed it with the tip of it. “You know I could be your father.” I laughed. “No.” “Sure,” he pulled my long black hair over my face. “We have the same color of hair, same complexion, same dark brown eyes.” “So do my brothers.” “Yeah but they’re a bunch of pussies.” “What’s that?” He coughed, found another can tucked behind the stairs. It sizzled when he opened it. I stared at the words Bud Light tattooed across the can. They were so white, clean teeth white, against a space blue. He grinned, watching me. I wanted to touch the can, to feel its weight, to taste, to understand why every grownup in my family liked it so much. It couldn’t be as good as chocolate milk. “Do ya wanna try?” He hovered the beer under my nose. I stepped away, the can also smelled like pee. “I’m ten.” He chuckled, squeezing my cheeks. “Your loss.” I stared up at the sky, some of the stars were sneaking up. I always wanted to be outside to find the first star. I pulled my knees close to my stomach, leaning against Tio Junior. He was always warm. Nana said it was because he always worked in the sun. My head burned against his shoulder. “Tio Junior, why do you keep drinking beer?” I felt his body sigh. He pulled me under his arm. “It’s a grownup thing.” His fingers pressed against my ribs. He rubbed them and let me go. A cool breeze pulled at my shirt, the empty cans scratched the ground. Tîo Junior stood up. I tried to smile at him but he drank his beer and walked into the house, the screen door rattled behind him. One of the cans rolled under my shoe. It felt light. My shoe pressed against it; the can crinkled. I pressed it again. It flattened against the cement. A meow whispered over the grass. I glanced back up at the stars. They winked for me.

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peppermint and gunpowder | Tony Bowers

It was 2 a.m. The rest of the New Year’s gunfire had ceased. I gripped the pistol loosely as I aimed it at the alley below. “Hold the damn gun right!” My father snapped. “Don’t make me look bad.” The laughter and taunts of his friends grew. They were three fools known as the Drunk Brothers. And that’s what they were, all the time. “No way he gonna hit that can! That’s like a hundred feet away,” Drunk Brother Number Two slurred. My father betted the brothers that I could drink four shots and hit a trashcan from our back porch with his .22 automatic. Fifty dollars was on the line, which was the same as a day’s pay. My father folded his massive arms and told me what was at stake. The Drunk Brothers didn’t say what type of liquor. So, my father poured four shots of peppermint schnapps, lined up in a row on the porch railing. They protested. “A little girl could drink a whole bottle of schnapps,” said Drunk Brother Number Three. But my father cussed them out until they gave in. My hand hung over the first glass as I turned and looked back into the apartment. I imagined my mother hiding behind her bedroom door, too afraid to do anything. I guess I couldn’t blame her. When she didn’t appear, I took each shot straight to the head. It didn’t burn my throat much. “Steady yourself. Squeeze the trigger and hit that can.” I saw tornados in my father’s eyes. I had seen the gun in action a few times and those same tornados whirled. The .22 once caught a kid who’d cheated at craps in the thigh. He was only a few years older than me, maybe even in high school. I was afraid of the pistol. But I was afraid of my father more. He sucked his front teeth and I tightened my grip on the handle. The only light in the alley was right over the trashcan. It was bathed in yellow like some treasure in a museum. I closed my left eye and concentrated. The babblings of the Drunk Brothers

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fell away and echoed like I had descended into a cave. I licked my lips and tasted the slick residue of the schnapps. I pulled the trigger. Pop. The shot tore through the night sky as the gun tried to jump out of my hand. The bullet hit the can dead center, and the Drunk Brothers rolled over in disgust. “Now pay me my money!” my father bellowed. They handed my father lumps of bills and cussed bitterly. I guess that boy of yours ain’t such a Poindexter after all,” said Drunk Brother Number One. “Yeah,” chimed in Number Three, “I guess you gonna start claiming him to the fellas down at the pool hall.” All three brothers howled and cackled. My father shook his head and smiled as he counted the money. I stood there waiting for a high five, or for him to say, “that was good, boy.” Nothing. He went on counting the cash. I felt a rush of hot air. My skin smoldered like the bottom of a steam iron left on too long. I squeezed the trigger and lit up the air. When a bullet hit the trashcan, it jumped, flipped and danced like the tail of a kite in a stiff wind. Bullets struck the ground, the light post, the Johnson’s garage. I kept squeezing until the gun went silent. The weight of my father’s hand lowered the gun slightly. He slid the pistol from my grip and grabbed my shoulder. His lips moved but I couldn’t hear him. The gun smoke hung heavy in the air as the brothers coughed. They stared like I was the drunk one. Number One flapped his arms wildly and spit out some words. I looked down at the alley. The Johnson’s lights burst on. Several other houses followed. My father shoved me inside. The Drunk Brothers tripped out the front door. My father pointed to my bedroom. I laid in my bed, head throbbing, still feeling the weight of the gun inside my hand. I waited for my mother. But she never came. I finally drifted off to sleep as the sun rose, with the sweetness of peppermint schnapps on my lips and the taste of gunpowder in my throat. Archive Spotlight: originally published in The Story Week Reader 2007.

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Author Bios A.J. Alvarado graduated from LaSalle-Peru Township High School in 2007 with an award for the best article submitted by a high school student to her local newspaper. She received her Associates in Art from Illinois Valley Community College, and is now majoring in Creative Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College. Tony Bowers has an MFA from Columbia College’s Fiction Writing program. He’s an adjunct professor of English Composition with City Colleges. He’s a freelance writer for the online magazine the Guardian Liberty Voice, and he’s currently hard at work on the short story collection, Sketches. Follow him on twitter @tonyb14. Jasmin M. De La Cerda is a creative nonfiction writer, tutor, and social activist from South Texas completing her BFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago. Advocating for veteran rights, she volunteers as an oral storyteller for veterans suffering PTSD. She currently interns for the Chicago Center of Literature and Photography. Kate Duva wrote “These Sounds Fall into My Head” in Megan Stielstra and Bobby Biedrzycki’s Story and Performance class, which changed her life. “The Whole Song,” her Prose Forms essay about Bosnia, will appear in Hair Trigger 36. View her lurid collages and links to published works online at www.kateduva. com. Liz Gower, from Grayslake, IL, is a server pretending to be a writer. Her charade has culminated in pursuing a B.A. in Creative Nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago, where she is currently a junior. Liz Grear is an MFA candidate at Columbia. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, Hair Trigger 35, Every Day Fiction, Whiskey Paper and elsewhere. She likes strangers, Nutella, and public transportation. She is happy to say she hasn’t stolen from the church lately. Charlie Harmon is an MFA cadidate in the Department of Creative Writing and recipient of the Follett Graduate Merit Award. His work has appeared in Prairie Voices, Kittenpants.org, The Jersey Devil Press, and Story Week Reader 2012. He lives with his parents because MFAs don’t grow on trees. 40 | story week reader 2014

Alicia Ann Hauge is a half-Vietnamese, half-Yankee Texan living in Chicago by way of India. She is a Creative Writing MFA candidate and intern at Splash. When she isn’t in an endless cycle of writing and coffee, she is dangling from an aerial silk or sleeping. Alicia is happily married to her husband, Chad, and is mama to her bunny, Masala. Nestor Hernandez is a junior at Columbia College Chicago. He is minoring in Creative Writing. This is his first publication. While not writing he reads a lot of children’s and young adult titles. Ben Kramer is currently a student at Columbia College Chicago studying Creative Writing. In addition to writing, he enjoys home brewing beer with his older brother. He supports the Chicago Bears and Bulls vehemently and loves to play a game of basketball any chance he gets. Sahar Mustafah’s work has appeared in Word Riot, Hair Trigger, Mizna, Chicago Literati, Ploughshares, Prime Number, and HYPERtextmag. She is the 2012 recipient of the Guild Literary Complex Fiction Award and a 2013 Pushcart Prize nomination. She is also the co-founder and fiction editor of Bird’s Thumb, an online literary journal. Caitlyn Pszonka is a Creative Writing major pursuing her BFA at Columbia College Chicago. She is currently interning as a content writer at NoStigmas, an organization that works to promote public awareness about mental health. When she’s not writing, she’s volunteering, drinking coffee, and always looking for a good story. Dustin Pellegrini will graduate from Columbia College Chicago Summa Cum Laude this May. He studied creative writing and screenwriting, served as a Resident Assistant, and was a recipient of the David R. Rubin Scholarship. He is currently rewriting a novel and adapting it into a screenplay. Check him out at dustinpellegrini.com. Austin Ream is a freshman pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing. In 2013, she won first place in the Sierra Nevada College National High School Writing Contest for nonfiction. Her poetry has appeared in the anthologies This Time Around, A Celebration of Poets, and Inside of Me.

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Tess Wallace is a singer/songwriter studying CUP music at Columbia, with a minor in Women and Gender studies. Her writing tries to speak the truth, whether ephemeral or enduring. She’s reaching for understanding through connection so that she might help make the world a better, more mindful place. Josh Watkins needs to borrow money. Alexandra Weiss is a junior pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing and a minor in Marketing. Aside from reading, writing, and getting lost in the city, she spends most of her time being fascinated by astronomy facts and hanging out with her cat.

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43 | story week reader 2014

Story Week Reader 2014, Volume 10  

Precise prose in 750 words or fewer.

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