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Stymie Magazine

Spring & Summer ‘10

Stymie Magazine a journal of sport & literature :: volume 3, issue 1 :: spring & summer ‘10

SMALL PRINT STAFF Erik Smetana, founding editor Sara Lippmann, nonfiction editor Amandine Abraham, poetry editor Casey Clabough, contributing editor COVER ART David Colman: “Gus”

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FICTION______________________________________________________ D. Orozco’s "I Run Every Day" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 B. Loory’s "The Woman Who Skied on the Rooftops of Houses: A Fable" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 S. Garson’s "D.C. Gymnopédie" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 D. Erlewine’s "Balls, Balls, Balls". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 L. Koozer’s "Steelers Country" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 S. Lovelace’s "John McEnroe Visits His Musical Side" . . . . . 54 S. Dasgupta’s "Gavin's Proposal" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72

FEATURE ART Aaron Jasinski: “A Hunting We Go: A. POETRY ______________________________________________________ Hepburn,” “Single Player Game,” “Darth Vader vs. Tyrannosaurus,” M. Dennison’s "Witness" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 “Fowl Ball,” and “Pisces” W. Keener’s "Masters of Fantasy" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 D. Corrigan’s "Ninth Inning" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 NOTES N. Peterson’s "Sandlots" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 All works – art, fiction, nonfiction and N. Peterson’s "That's the Ball Game" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 poetry – contained herein are copyD. Romo’s "Homeroom" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 right of the respective author and/or D. Romo’s "National Championship" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 creator. D. Romo’s "Rounds". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 MISCELLANY “I Run Every Day,” by Daniel CREATIVE NONFICTION______________________ Orozco, originally published in Zoetrope All Story, Fall 2001. B. Oliu’s "The Futility of the New York Mets: A Mixtape" . . 10 C. Hawkin’s "Smaller in Person" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 “Witness,” by Matthew Dennison, P. Weidknecht’s "Bombardment" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 originally published in Cider Press Poetry C. Clabough’s "Home Court Advantage" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Review, volume 9, 2008. J. Ginsberg’s "An Uplifting Story About Death & Mixed Martial Arts" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 “D.C. Gymnopédie” by Scott Garson, B. Pratt’s "Poaching". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 originally published in Sojourn. ETCETERA Stymie Magazine is published online, bi-annually. Archives, guidelines and other related information is available for review at www.stymiemag.com.

FEATURES___________________________________________________ An Interview with Scott Garson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 The Art of Aaron Jasinski . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

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Stymie Magazine

Spring & Summer ‘10

I Run Every Day Daniel Orozco__________________________________________________________________________________________________

I

'm up early. I'm usually awake before my alarm clock goes off, and the first thing I do is get down on the floor and stretch. I start with my legs, with the ankles and calves, then the upper hamstrings and quads. I work the muscles around the hips and the lower back. I work my neck and shoulders last. It's slow and tedious, but there's no way around that. I do the same bends and reaches in the same order for forty minutes every morning. This is my routine. This is how I wake up. When I get outside it's still dark. It can get pretty chilly. But I don't bundle up. Shorts and shoes and a tank top – that's all I need. I like the discomfort at the beginning of a run, when sometimes it's so cold you can't stop shaking, and every breath cuts into the back of your throat. Your knees and ankles crack and give, and the cramps stab hard. But then you find the rhythm of the run, or more accurately, you feel it find you, slipping into you like it was waiting for you along your route, and its heat spreads through you like a flame flaring up, and then the endorphins kick in and the pain is gone and everything is steady and true. It happens that quick. It happens every morning. There's no traffic at this hour. I run through the blinking yellow lights. I go along the boulevard under the freeway, then head into the neighborhoods above it, where the rich people live. A few of them are just getting up. I can hear their alarm clocks beep, see their lights flick on. I can see the steam rolling out of their bathroom windows. I can smell their coffee brewing. I keep going, up where the roads are unpaved and the houses are farther apart, deep in the trees. Except for the occasional yapping dog or the rumble of garbage trucks down below, it's just me up here--my breathing, the pulse in my neck, and the slap of my feet on the ground. When I get home, the sun is out and the rest of the city is awake. I have plenty of time to

cool down, stretch again, then eat and get to work by seven-thirty. * I've been at the warehouse for ten years. I started out of high school. I work on the stock floor. We're called Central Supply, and we assemble and ship orders for the county school district, everything from chalk and erasers to light bulbs and toilet paper and basketballs, on up to filing cabinets and desks. I used to be the newest guy until Ruben was hired. But they still call me the New Guy. Some kind of joke, I guess. Ruben is about my age, and he's in good shape, but I don't like him. Every afternoon he disappears with one of the drivers to smoke a joint, out back, behind the dumpsters. Ruben is Mexican, and when he first started here he corrected us when we called him Ruben, telling us that it should be pronounced Ruben. And from then on everybody made sure to call him Ruben, which is what he goes by now. The rest of the guys have been at the warehouse forever. Dave has been here the longest. Our foreman Mack says Dave came with the building--he was seventeen when he started, and it's been twenty-four years now. I never liked Dave, but in a way I owe my life to him. With the exception of Ruben, the men I work with are old and unhealthy. They're all overweight and they smoke constantly, even while they eat. Dave is the worst of them. I've watched him get older and sicker--he had cancer surgery a while ago-and after a few years he started getting to me. I drank a lot then, nights after work, weekends in front of the TV. You could say I was another person back then, somebody I wouldn't want to be around now. I lived with my folks rent-free. Nothing was expected of me. I thought I had it made. But I started worrying about things. I was afraid the warehouse would be my whole life, like it was for Dave.

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One day at work I just zeroed in on him. I counted the cigarettes he smoked, and the cups of coffee he drank. I counted the sugar cubes he ate. He grabbed them by the handful and snacked on them. "Sweets for the sweet," he'd say. I watched him lick the mayonnaise off his fingers from the sandwiches his wife made him. I watched him hop down from the loading dock-a three-foot jump--and then stoop for a minute to catch his breath. I couldn't keep my eyes off him, and he got annoyed. "Am I making your heart go pitty-pat?" he said. In a way, he was. I started running that night. I went out after dark so nobody would see me. I didn't even make it around the block before I ended up puking in somebody's bushes. I thought I was going to die. My folks thought I was nuts. I kept at it, though, probably the only thing I've ever kept at. And I run every day now. I dropped forty-five pounds, and I don't drink anymore. My heart rate at rest is just under fifty beats per minute. I fall asleep every night like that. I never need more than six hours. When I look in the mirror now, I see somebody who doesn't disgust me. I see somebody who knows the difference between what he does for a paycheck and what really matters in this life. At work Mack is always telling me to slow down. "You get paid by the hour," he says, "not by the order." I don't argue. So I slack off at work because my foreman tells me to. But I know who I am. And I know this, too: that I owe nothing to Dave, that I owe nothing to anybody. You get where you are by yourself. There's no regret in that. That's just the way it is. Rilke says Rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you. * There was one person I liked. Her name was Dot, and she always referred to herself as "this old broad." She never said "I" or "me." She worked in Receiving, and I hated going in there. Receiving is full of middle-aged women, all married or widowed or divorced, and whenever I walked in they'd stop talking and look at me with these little smiles on their faces, like I’d caught

them at something. I liked Dot because when I started running she was the first to notice the change in me, and not just losing the weight. Everybody noticed that at first. The guys said things like "You look lovely today." And even the women in Receiving made a few cracks. But Dot said they didn't know anything. The body was a temple, she said, and we could all benefit from sprucing up our temples. She said I seemed calmer, settled somehow, like I'd made a decision I was comfortable with. She wasn't telling me anything I didn't know. But I liked that she told it to me. She wasn't making fun of me. When she retired last summer, they had a little party for her, and she said if I ever wanted to pop a few beers with a tough old broad, to come on by. I would have. But a few months later she had a stroke, and had to move in with her son Phil, who works on the loading dock. Nobody has seen her since, and Phil never talks about her. If you ask him how Dot's doing, he just glares at you. So we stopped asking. If she died I'm sure he'd tell us. Phil's been stealing from the stock for the past year now. He hasn't been very secretive about it, and I don't know why he bothers, because it's never anything big--a few rolls of film, or a box of ball-point pens sticking out of his back pocket. Nobody says anything, and even Mack, who's kind of a stickler, pretty much ignores it. I guess we're all thinking the same thing: If they fired Phil, what would happen to Dot? * I suppose I was friends with Ruben once. When he first started working here and found out I ran, he told me that running was for pussies and that you had to lift weights. It was his way of inviting me to his gym. We went there one night after work, a 24-hour place with a juice bar and music piped in through speakers and mirrors everywhere. Ruben introduced me around. He called me a buddy from work who was a pussy runner, and everybody laughed. I didn't get mad. I recognized this as a kind of respect. Ruben joined a group of guys around a

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weight machine. I never liked lifting weights. Half the time you're standing around with your hands on your hips waiting for somebody else to finish. And then there's the mirrors, mirrors everywhere so you could watch yourself, so that everywhere you turned, there you were. One room even had mirrors on the ceiling. I got out of there, and worked on a treadmill until Ruben was done. After we got cleaned up we went out to the parking lot and joined his buddies. They were all drinking beers out of a cooler in somebody's car trunk. They were talking about the women in the gym, about who was hot and all that. And I guess in all the talk I let a few things slip. It wasn't the beer. I only had one bottle. So it wasn't the beer. It's just that when you're talking and everybody's having a good time, when people are talking to you and everything feels OK, you just let your guard down. I should have known what to expect from people. I should have known better. Later that week, Eugene sat down next to me at lunch and handed me a donut and asked if I wanted a moment alone with it. I didn't get it. Then Ruben slid the whole box over, a big pink box filled with donuts and little packs of condoms. They called it the virgin assortment, and they said I had to fuck every donut before attempting real pussy. Then Dave put his cigarette down and stood up. They cut one of his lungs out and he was still smoking. He stood up and pumped at the table with his hips, and said the best woman he ever had anyway was a butterscotch custard bar. Mack finally told them to knock it off, and they did, and he changed the subject. But nobody was listening to him. They were all sitting there, grinning down into their thermoses and ashtrays. They were having a great time. That was it for me. I eat by myself now, out on the loading dock. Mack didn't like that at first because he said it creates discord. "You have to eat chow with your shipmates," he told me. But since I still take breaks with them, he lets me eat lunch alone. I've got a spot at the far end of the dock where they recharge the forklifts

and pallet movers at night. I can catch the last of the noontime sun before it swings to the other side of the building. I like it out here, in the fresh air, in the sunlight, away from the smoke and the smell from the crap they heat up in the microwave. I love it out here. It's water under the bridge now, and I get along with all of them in my own way. Ruben even apologized. I don't care. It's nothing now. Back then, though, it was something, what he did. It was something to me. * I've lived in this house my whole life. My folks died here. They both got cancer, my mother first and then my father, and I took care of them both and now they're gone. So the house is mine. I have a brother who wants nothing to do with it. He's a lawyer for the EPA up in Alaska. We were never close. Lately he's been calling me, once a month or so, out of the blue, to say hello. He doesn't have to. I tell him that, but he still calls. He says he wants to come down for a visit sometime, to bring his family. He says he wants his kids to meet their uncle. I tell him: Fine, come down whenever. I don't need anybody feeling sorry for me. My life is my own, and I decide what matters in it. I've taken good care of this house. Whatever it's needed, I've done. I sanded and planed and lacquered the floors a few years ago, and I did a pretty good job. I keep the lawn and the bushes trimmed and neat, and the neighbors appreciate that. They tell me so. These are things I care about. I don't own a TV; I don't watch that crap. I listen to the radio and I read the newspapers every day, so I know what's going on in the world. And I don't need anybody telling me how a life is supposed to be. I'm alone, but I'm not lonely; there's loneliness and then there's solitude, which is a positive thing. It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. Rilke said that. I've read him. I read books. I know who I am. * The new girl's name was April. She was hired to replace Dot, and on her first day Mack

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brought her out to meet us. The guys were very polite. They told her about the rooftop bowling alley, and tried to sell her tickets to the underground swimming pool. It was the same routine they did on my first day, and when Ruben was hired. But when she and Mack left, they started in on how fat she was. Phil said you'd have to roll her in flour first to fuck her, just to find the wet spot. She started coming out onto the stock floor regularly, to chat and to hang out during breaks. This was a new thing for us. The women in Receiving rarely came out onto the floor, and then only to ask where Mack was and then go looking for him. None of them ever came out otherwise. There was no policy against it. It just didn't happen. So this was new. The guys muttered to each other when they saw April heading our way. "Here comes our mascot," they said. "Here comes the pooch." They were nice to her when she came around. They told their jokes and their stories, and she laughed and told a few of her own, and they laughed. But when she was gone they leered and made fun of her. They were always talking about screwing her, but not in a good way. And they just wouldn't let up on the fat jokes. I didn't understand that, because she wasn't that fat, no fatter than any of them. I thought at first if she dropped a few pounds, maybe they would've let up on her. Maybe things would've been different. But they just find something else about you to make fun of. It's what they do. They're good at it. I guess you can just hate somebody no matter what. April went out for lunch. She always went alone. If she got back early, she'd spend the rest of her hour with the guys on the stock floor. She didn't socialize much with the women in Receiving. She was the youngest one in there. A few weeks after she started, she came up on the dock on her way back from lunch. "So," she said to me, "you're the New Guy." She lit a cigarette and asked me why I ate alone. I told her it was because of the cigarette smoke inside. She looked at the cigarette she'd just lit, and laughed. And she put it out. From then on,

just about every day, she swung by and talked to me, fiddling with an unlit cigarette. I had nothing to say, but she didn't seem to mind. She was a talker. She told me that. "So that makes you the listener," she said. I liked that she didn't judge my silence, that she just accepted it. So she talked, and I listened, sitting on the dock while she stood leaning against a stack of pallets. When I got tired of squinting up at her, I looked at my food. Sometimes I looked out over the lot, where you could see the heat wiggle up from the blacktop. It was hot that summer. April had just moved here, and I remember her saying how she was discovering the place, getting to know the bus system, finding the neighborhood pubs and the second-hand shops, doing all the tourist things. She rode the dinner train up to the capital once, and did the tour of the abandoned prison over in Old Town. She went to the zoo. I hadn't been there since I was a kid. We used to go a lot, so it was interesting to hear how much it had changed. They charged admission now. And they were getting rid of the cages. There was an Otter Island, and a Gorilla Haven. The cats where getting their own places, too, a savanna for the lions and grottoes with pools for the panthers and tigers. I was born here, and April already knew more about the city than I ever would. I liked hearing about it, though. Sure enough, the guys started in on me. Eugene wanted to know if she was a moaner or a screamer. Dave asked if we had set a wedding date, and if we were registered at any of the donut shops. Ruben laughed with the rest of them. But whenever we were alone, he said I should ask April out. He said that she wanted me, and that it would be a waste to not go for it. I told him I didn't even like her. "Fuck like," he said. "What's like got to do with anything?" Ruben wouldn't leave it alone. He wouldn't leave me alone. I'd be working the floor and he'd be running up and down the aisles looking for me, whispering at me through the shelving that pussy was a gift from God, or cornering me with his cart to tell me that I had a duty as a man. We haven't said ten words to each other in years,

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and here he was getting all worked up about my duty as a man. I never liked him. Who was he to tell me about being a man? Who was he to tell me anything? * She asked me about my running. I said I didn't like talking about it, and she just nodded. So I told her. I kept it simple, sticking to my regimen, telling her what I do and not getting near why I do it. She was playing with her unlit cigarette while I talked, flipping and catching it in her hand. But she was listening. So I told her she could do it too, if she wanted. She was about my age, maybe younger, so it wouldn't take long to get a routine going, and to see results. But she just smiled and shook her head. Then she put the cigarette she was playing with in her mouth and lit it. "I lack discipline," she said. "Which is something you've got a lot of." She blew a thin stream of smoke above her head, and swatted at it to keep it away from me. She was right. It was something I had a lot of. Another time she brought it up again. She asked about my regimen, and it turned into this interrogation. She wanted to know what time I got up every morning and how long I stretched for. She wanted to know how long I spent on my calves, on my thighs, on my neck. She asked what direction I headed in when I ran and what streets I turned on and whether I took the same streets back. She stood above me with the sun at her back and fired her questions at me. I answered every one of them. It was kind of a game, like a lawyer and a witness, and I let myself get caught up in it because I thought she really wanted to know about what I did, that the details of my regimen, and my absolute knowledge of them, were bringing her around somehow. I was wrong. She bent down all of a sudden, real quick, and leaned in close. I could smell her hair. I could've looked down her blouse, if I wanted to. And she said, "Well, maybe discipline is something a person can have too much of. Don't you think?" And the way she was looking at me, I realized she wasn't interested in running at all. I didn't say anything. She straightened up

and checked her watch and walked back inside. Lunch was over. She was looking at me like she knew something about me, as if you could know a person just by looking in his face. She thinks she knows me. She doesn't know anything about me. I've looked at my face. You can't see anything in it. * Here's something about me. I was running around the lake one afternoon when this woman fell into step alongside me. She ran well, with her legs in full extension. She clipped along in smooth even strides, her shoulders slack, and her arms relaxed, swinging in little arcs along her rib cage. There wasn't a single wasted motion about her. She ran with me. We didn't say a word. After four laps around she tapped me on the shoulder. She smiled and said thanks. I watched her pull off and head down a path toward the streets. I went to the lake regularly for a few months after that. I never saw her again. There's something pure about running. When you run, you aspire to an economy of motion that has only one goal: to optimize the intake of oxygen so that you can keep running. Anything that impedes this one goal must fall away. I don't remember the woman's face anymore. All I remember is the way she moved, the way everything about her was contained and effortless and perfect. Sometimes I imagine her alongside me when I run, and I try to match my every movement to hers. Our shoulders jostled each other when we rounded the turns, that day. Her hair was in a single braid, a thick rope of hair that swayed across her back. You could hear it swish against her windbreaker. The rhythm of it paced us both. When I told Dot about this woman, I remember her sighing and shaking her head, telling me to just let it go. If more people did that, she said, if they just left each other alone there'd be less disappointment in this world. I've realized that everything Dot ever told me, all of her advice for me, came out of a life that I didn't

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know much about. I knew her husband was dead, and that she had other kids besides Phil. They came up in passing when we talked. She never said anything bad about them, but she never said anything good about them, either. I didn’t know if she had any grandkids. I didn't know what she did outside of work. I didn't even know where she lived. Dot never smiled. "Bad teeth," she told me once. But I remember her smiling when she told me this--the only time I'd seen her do that--and her teeth were fine. She didn't sleep well, so she was always tired, and she moved around the office carefully, hanging on to the edges of desks and cabinets. She was a small woman, but she moved with this weight in her, like her gravity was different from everybody else's, like it took everything she had just to get across the room, or to get through the day. When I told Dot about the woman at the lake she said as long as I was happy, why chance it with anybody else? Why risk what you've got for something you may never have? I realize now that maybe Dot didn't give the best advice. But I like to think that giving me advice helped her in some way, that talking to me would help somebody. I wish I had talked to her more. * So we went on a date. April caught me after work and asked if I wanted to buy her a drink. She gave me directions to a place she knew. "Turn right here," she said. "Left up there." She used her unlit cigarette as a pointer. She said she liked my car. It's a '69 Olds that belonged to my father, and he took good care of it. Change the oil every three months, he told me, wash it every other week, catch all the rust spots before they spread--do that and a car will last forever. That's what my father taught me. April said that's a good tradition to have, keeping the family car in shape. The bar we went to was on a frontage road that looped north of the airport. It reminded me of every other bar I'd ever been in, with carved-up tables and wobbly chairs and ratty loveseats against the wall. There were TVs mounted in the ceiling corners, all of them on,

and a jukebox going, and people hooting around the pool tables in the back. And there was the smell of the place. I read somewhere that smell is the most primitive of the senses, that it can trigger memory more strongly and deeply than any other sense. This bar had that smell, and it all came back to me. You can say I still have a nostalgia for these places. I was a different person back then. But just because you change your life doesn't mean you don't miss things. I miss things. We sat at the bar, and the guy behind it knew April by name, and gave her the usual, a vodka gimlet. I had orange juice. I wanted a beer. I admit that. But I didn't have any beer that night. Beer had nothing to do with it. She handed her cigarettes to me and told me to ration her. "I'm cutting down," she said. And then she just started telling me things-where she was born, where her folks were born, what they did for a living. She had three sisters and two brothers, and she told me what they all did for a living. Some of what she said I never would have guessed. She was married once. She called her ex-husband The Mistake. And she had a kid somewhere, which she never saw because The Mistake was such a dick. But she thought about the kid all the time. She was learning how to crotchet, taking a class in it at the extension college. And she was a big reader, mysteries and true crime. "You know, crap," she said. Then she ordered us another round, and said, "OK, your turn." So I told her where I was born, where I went to high school. I told her about my folks being dead, and what I've done to the house, fixing it up. I didn't have much else to say after that. But again, she didn't seem to mind. She asked me a few questions--what did I do in high school, what did I do for fun. When I couldn't answer, she just asked me for a cigarette instead, and held it out for me to light, and thanked me. The bar was getting busy. Everybody was coming up and saying hello to her. Her life seemed filled with people, crowded with them, and I wondered how she could stand it. She asked me what I read. I told her I didn’t

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read anything. I told her I didn’t like to read. Then somebody shouted her name from the back, where the pool tables were. "Come on," she said, "let's play." I told her to go ahead. "Come on," she said again. "One game." She put her hand on top of mine, and said she'd teach me. But I told her to go play pool, and I guess she got the way I said it because she held her hands up. "OK, OK," she said. There was a baseball game on the TV. I hadn't seen one in a long time. There were two guys next to me watching it. Whenever anything happened they hollered and banged their fists on the bar. One of them kept elbowing me accidentally and apologizing for it. Sure enough, he knocked my orange juice over. He apologized again and bought a round. He sent April's drink to her. He told me that April was a great gal. I looked over at where she was, and when she got her drink she bowed to us, and me and the guy next to me waved back. I watched her back there. She was having a good time, getting drunk. They all were. I turned back to the TV. After a while I felt something on my leg, and when I looked down I saw April's hand, sitting there on my knee. She leaned on it and slid into her barstool. "I won," she said. She leaned into me and laughed. Her hair was against my face. She was asking how we were doing, how things were going with us. I told her: Fine, things are fine. She was saying that she liked me, that she liked the shy ones. She was telling me this with her mouth next to my ear. I could feel her breath. I looked over at the drink she had put down on the bar. The glass was smeared with her lipstick, all around the rim and halfway down the side. It made me sick. I couldn't take my eyes off it. So I told her about the guys making fun of her behind her back. She stiffened up, then pulled away to look at me. It was like she'd sobered up immediately, as if I'd just come into focus in front of her. "Tell me something I don't know," she said. I didn't expect that, that she knew. I asked her how she could let them degrade her like that, how she could think so little

of herself. "Why do you put up with it?" I asked her. And she smiled her little smile and said, "Same reason you do." Then she grabbed her cigarettes and her drink and went back to play pool with her friends. We didn't talk anymore after that. I sat at the bar and waited for her to finish her game so we could get out of there. I watched TV. The baseball game was over. I don't remember what was on after that. But I remember watching something, and drinking my orange juice, and eating the ice. * It was raining outside. The streetlights had just come on and you could see the drizzle swirling down around them. It had been in the seventies and clear a few hours ago and now this. The weather was strange that summer. There'd been a funnel cloud a few weeks before. I remember reading about it bouncing around the downtown area, blowing out windows and tipping over newspaper racks, trying to touch ground, they said, trying to become a tornado. April was drunk, and walking wobbly. My car was a block or so up the street, and by this time it was the only one there. A chain-link fence separated it from an airfield. All the cargo companies were up here, and some of their planes were out, roaring around the tarmac, their lights flashing through the mist. When we got in the car I asked her where she lived. She looked at me from her side of the front seat, all woozy, but giving me that look she gave me that day on the dock. She slid over toward me, and it seemed to take a while. The seats in an Olds are bench seats, and long, like sofas. And when she finally got to me, she said my name and kissed me on the mouth. I admit that I let her. I let her because I've never heard my name said the way she was saying it, and because it's been a long time since anybody's touched me. Her mouth just slipped onto mine, and it was nothing like I'd imagined, and I let myself get all caught up in it, in this feeling that you're part of a world with other people in it, and that you matter because somebody else

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seems to think you do. Her mouth was soft and warm. But it reeked of cigarettes and fruity lipstick, and when I opened my eyes there she was-April from work, with her face up against mine telling me how we were two of a kind, and how we needed to do something about that, her and me. She put her hand on my neck. I felt it hover there, small and light. I smacked it away and I gave her a shove. She ended up on her side of the seat, holding her hand like I'd hurt it. Who was she to say we were alike? There's nothing of her in me. So I did something about it, about her and me. I pushed the seat back and got her down on it. She may have been yelling but I'm not sure anymore, because it got really loud with the rain coming down hard and the planes outside roaring around like they were coming right on top of us. I kept one hand on her mouth and I started working down there with the other one until she stopped struggling, and she just lay there and let me finish. When I was done she eased out from under me and slid back to her side of the seat. She sat there for a minute with her head against the passenger window, like she was listening for something in the rain outside. It was really coming down now. And when she started putting herself back together, I told her to tell me where she lived. She sat smoking her cigarettes the whole way. When we got to her apartment building I waited until she got inside OK. Then I cracked all the windows, to air out the car for the drive home. Then I drove home. * She was late the next morning. She came in with her wrist taped up. She told the guys she sprained it falling out of bed. They loved that. Nothing changes. She's still friendly with them. She doesn't talk to me anymore. For a while Dave was coming up to me, putting his arm around me, asking if the honeymoon was over, and if the bloom was off the rose. She doesn't talk to me anymore. But she doesn't avoid me either. At lunchtime she still comes in and out through the back lot and up the dock. I'm at my usual spot, and she’ll go up

the steps, then stop and light a cigarette before going inside. She looks right at me the whole time. So I eat my lunch in my car. It's at the far end of the lot, back where the busted pallets are piled. From where I’m parked I can see her come in. I can see her walk past where I used to sit. My not being there doesn't faze her at all. She just gets on with her life. When she's gone I get out and grab a few minutes on the dock before going back to work, a few minutes of sun at least, before it moves over the building, and then only until the fall. By early winter the sun's too low, and doesn't hit the dock at all. * I’ve started a new routine. On the weekends, I go up into the mountains for a long run. I've got water bottles stashed in hiding places up there. I drive up and replenish them once a month. Above the tree line the roads end in culde-sacs, and from then on it's nothing but fire trails that switchback through scrub and grass and rock. I take it easy getting up there, but once I hit the trailheads, I pour it on. I pound up that grade and I don't ease up until I reach the plateau. I stop for water and keep going, and soon I hit my stride. I go all day in those mountains. I've gotten lost up there. Sometimes I don't get back until after nightfall, so depleted, so close to the brink that it takes everything I've got to just hang on and make it home. I'm weaving and staggering along, and I'm laughing. People have pulled over and gotten out of their cars to ask if I'm OK. They think there's something wrong because sometimes I can't stop laughing. But there's nothing wrong. Sometimes that's just how good I feel. *** Daniel Orozco’s work has appeared in the Best American Essays, Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies, and in Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, Zoetrope, and others. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Idaho.

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The Futility of the New York Mets: A Mixtape Brian Oliu_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

I

n 1957, two of the three cornerstones of New York baseball, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, fled the Big Apple for sunnier times in California. These moves were much debated; Walter O’Malley, owner of the Dodgers, allegedly sabotaged Ebbet’s Field, the home ballpark of the Dodgers in order to prove that the Dodgers needed a new stadium, and furthermore, O’Malley reportedly convinced the Giants to move to San Francisco in an attempt to keep the rivalry in tact to boost ticket sales, and come Opening Day of 1958, New York would not have a National League franchise, therefore leaving only one team in the city: the American League’s New York Yankees, based in the Bronx. In July of 1959, New York City attorney William Shea announced plans for a new baseball league that would operate separately from Major League Baseball. Named the Continental League, the league would have teams in Denver, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Toronto, Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas/Fort Worth, and, of course, New York City. The formation of the league was perceived to be a gambit devised by Shea when he realized he was not going to entice an existing National League franchise to relocate to New York City to fill the void created by the departure of the Dodgers and the Giants. Fortunately, the ploy worked. Fearing competition, Major League Baseball announced the addition of two teams to both the American and the National League: the American League placed the Senators in Washington D.C., and the Angels in Los Angeles, and the National League placed the Colt .45s in Houston and a to-be-named team in New York City. Pleased with this offer, Shea stopped championing the formation of the Continental League and in August of 1960, the league disbanded. New York had their baseball team. A poll was conducted to determine the name of

the new franchise. Among the finalists were the New York Bees, Burros, Continentals, Skyscrapers, Jets, Meadowlarks, and the eventual runnerup, Skyliners. Ultimately the owners opted for the New York Mets, mostly because it harkened back to the Metropolitans, a New York American Association baseball team during the 1880s, and because its brevity would fit in newspaper headlines. The team’s official colors would be blue and orange as a tribute to the blue and orange uniforms of the Dodgers and Giants, respectively. And this is where the glorious old-timey baseball history of the New York Mets ends. To be fair, the New York Mets over the years have done considerably well in their attempts to find their own sort of tacky neon-glow while engulfed in the shadows of their cross-town rivals, the historically classy New York Yankees, who have an extraordinary long history with legendary players such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, and the like. Needless to say, there will be no movies made about any players on the Mets, unless of course we count the viral cocaine addiction that seemed to give the Amazin’ Mets their extra pop during the 1980s. This is apparent even in the small details such as the uniforms: the Yankees with a delicious dark blue ball cap with a pristine white interlocked “NY” in the center of the hat, white and blue pinstriped jerseys with only a number on the back, no name, as if to conjure up the great robotron monotomy of teamwork and history, that the only name that matters is the one on the front of the jersey, spelling out “New York” in beautiful sans-serif block letters, or, again the gorgeously crafted NY as if it was forged by Thor himself out of white-hot angel wings. The Yankees have an ancient neighborhood stadium on East 161 Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, referred to as ‘The House that Ruth Built’, rustic red white and blue pennants

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hanging from the upper deck, the first athletic structure to be referred to as a “stadium”, as it conjured up images of Greek gods, Agamemnon resurfacing from Hades to lead the Bronx Bombers to yet another victory. A place where Knute Rockne gave his famous “Win one for the Gipper” speech. A place where Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling, Adolf Hitler’s closely watched ubermensch Aryan prizefighter. The Mets, in direct contrast, have none of these things. No history of winning, no nohitters (which stands until this day), no spit or polish. The blue and orange tribute to past New York teams, while kind of adorable, looks absolutely atrocious. The blue is a color that simply does not exist in nature; it conjures up antiseptic or window washing fluid, blue raspberry lollipops, which, according to New Jersey schoolyard legends, cause cancer. The orange is obnoxious, bright and neon, the color of a detoxing alcoholics urine, Freeze-Pops, the worst bridesmaid’s dress you’ve ever imagined. The Mets, as do the Yankees, have an interlocked “NY” on their hats, in this toxic orange. The font used is garish, flowery. It looks, as my front -runner 11-year-old cousin puts it, “kind of retarded”. Recently, the Mets have added “black” as one of their official colors, leading to black uniforms with blue and orange piping which sold like hot-cakes (I, for one, own a very old Mike Piazza jersey), before everyone realized they looked horrid and kind of like laser-tag uniforms. Shea Stadium, in Corona, Queens, resembles a disheveled Millennium Falcon, with tacky murals of baseball players affixed to the outside of it. The stadium is in the center of a parking lot, and is conveniently located right next to the runway at LaGuardia International Airport, causing commercial aircraft to fly over Shea during games, causing a break in the action as no one (including radio broadcast announcers) can be heard over the sound of a jet engine. In centerfield, there is an upside down top hat in which a gigantic apple adorned with the Mets logo pops out of whenever a Mets player hits a homerun. To say that it looks like a fourth grader’s papier-

mâché project on the food pyramid would be generous. But hey, the Beatles opened their 1965 American Tour at Shea, so that brings some sort of luster to the hallowed baseball grounds, right? Well, considering a man was decapitated by a remote control airplane during an exhibition in 1979 and that Marvel Comics rented out Shea to have a mock wedding between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, one might say that the credibility that the Beatles brought to Shea back in 1965 needs to be re-upped at some point. Someone find me a Nazi to punch. Shea Stadium was dismantled following the Mets season in 2008 and the Mets moved to their new home, CitiField in 2009. Conveniently, Yankee Stadium also closed its doors that year, and needless to say the fanfare over Yankee Stadium being demolished was significantly greater than those weeping over the demise of Shea. Let’s just say that Shea Stadium was not asked to host the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star game. One could go on and on about the Mets being the classless little brother in the New York baseball terrarium (and don’t get me started on Mr. Met), however, ladies and gentlemen, one cannot discuss the wonderfully wacky and goofy flare of the New York Mets without a discussion of music. As a small child growing up rooting for Vince Coleman (who lit a fire-cracker in front of some kids), Doc Gooden (busted for cocaine on many occasions), and Bret Saberhagen (fired a Supersoaker filled with bleach out of his limo at some children on a street corner), one of my dream jobs, aside from running my own Bed & Breakfast, being a professional wrestler, and becoming the next R.L. Stine, was to be the person in charge of the sound system for the Mets. Two of the first CDs I ever purchased were “Jock Rock” and “Jock Jams”, released by ESPN (the Worldwide Leader in Sports). These CDs had all of the classic hits one would hear when going to a sporting event, including such classics as Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready For This”, Snap’s “The Power!”, and everyone’s favorite, Gary Glitter’s

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and the West side kind of hate each other, and that we have already met the Mets on multiple occasions, and they have often broke our trust with their sub par bullpen and inability to hit with men in scoring position. Also, like the Catholic Church, Trix cereal, and all things of cheesy and questionable nature, the song was remade in 1984 with some key alterations: we are still meeting the Mets, certainly, but instead of bringing our kiddies or bringing our wives, we are instructed to eat hotdogs (something our children will not eat because of choking hazards, and we married a vegetarian, so there goes that whole thing), and enjoy the green grass at Shea. Furthermore, the Mets are “rockin’ the home runs over the wall”, as in the mid-1980s, America was obsessed with rocking, perhaps as a result of the birth of Katharine McPhee, American Idol finalist, or the nation’s dependence on crack-cocaine. Also, instead of simply East side and West side, the Mets are welcoming all members of the following areas to come meet the Mets: Long Island, New Jersey, Brooklyn, Queens, Uptown and Down. If you are from the Bronx or Midtown, sorry folks, the only thing you’re meeting is your tear-soaked pillow as you cry yourself to sleep tonight. In other words, this song fucking rocks. In the 1986 World Series, the Mets were East side! West side! EVERYBODY is coming down 3 games to 2 in their best of seven series down! Please note the designation of “New with the Boston Red Sox and trailing by two York town”; as it can be extremely confusing to runs in the bottom of the tenth inning. After a those unfamiliar with the distinction of New series of singles and a wild pitch that tied the York City and New York. For example, if one is game, Mookie Wilson hit a ball that rolled in beto say “I’m from New York,” someone from, tween the legs of Red Sox’ first baseman Bill say, Chicago, would say “Oh, I love New York.” Buckner, scoring Ray Knight from third. The This would lead to an awkward moment where Red Sox never recovered from this error and the New Yorker would have to say something lost the following night, giving the Mets their along the lines of “Oh…yeah. I’m from Buffirst World Series win since 1969. While Buckfalo,” and then those two lovely people would ner’s error and that infamous Game 6 have never get married or have beautiful children. If found their way into the lush history of baseball, only if it were corrected by a playing of “Meet many seem to forget the Mets had not one, but the Mets”, nuclear families could be formed. two theme songs during their improbable playThis song is rooted in Mets culture, certainly; it off run. The first, “Let’s Go Mets Go”, can be is a long time favorite and is played before Mets best described as a “rock song”, with building home games, despite the fact that the East side crescendos and the intensity that a layered-track “Rock and Roll Part 2”, which has now been banned from all major sporting events due to Mr. Glitter’s child pornography arrests and subsequent incarceration. Nevertheless, you are bound to hear any or all of these songs (there were, after all, five volumes of Jock Jams and three of Jock Rock) at any sporting event that you attend in the near future. While they certainly do an adequate job of pumping up the crowd (I for one, still get jazzed when I hear ‘Raise The Roof’ by former 2 Live Crew member, Luther Campbell), The New York Mets have taken this art to the next level. It started innocently enough; in 1962 Ruth Roberts and Bill Katz penned a song called “Meet the Mets” in order to garner interest in the new expansion team. The lyrics are as follows: Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, Step right up and greet the Mets. Bring your kiddies, bring your wife, Guaranteed to have the time of your life. Because the Mets are really sockin' the ball, Knockin' those home runs over the wall. East side, West side, everybody's coming down, To meet the M-E-T-S Mets, of New York town.

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of people in a studio chanting “Let’s Go Mets” in an attempt to simulate crowd noise can only bring. Not to mention the video involves kids with heavy Queens accents locked in an underground baseball card trading ring, and one can imagine little Joey who stupidly gave up his Cal Ripken Jr. card for his mediocre brother, Billy Ripken now calls in to WFAN, New York, the official radio station of the Mets as “Joey from Ozone Park”. Also Joe Piscopo is in the video! He’s HILARIOUS! The other song, “Let’s Get Metsmerized” was taken on as the unofficial theme song of the 1986 Mets, as it seemed to be a little too harsh and dark for the mainstream Mets fan. The style of the song was this brand new craze called “rap” that was sweeping Metsnation and making your mom nervous. Undoubtedly, upon seeing the success of the Chicago Bears 1985 Superbowl Shuffle, the professional ballplayers of the New York Mets decided that they had incredible rapping skills as well and did their best to give the Mets that hard edge that they needed to demonstrate that they were to be taken seriously by not only the baseball world, but on a global level. Granted, this song might not have gone gold like some OTHER 1986 New York Mets theme songs, but this shit was from the heart, from the streets. After many years of futility and overpaying absolutely god-awful (and fat) baseball players, the Mets finally returned to prominence in the year 2000, where with a patched up team of veterans and one or two spry newbies improbably won the National League pennant. Naturally, the Mets organization needed a song. Not just any song, mind you, a song that would strike fear in the hearts of opponents, most specifically the New York Yankees who were in the middle of their buzz saw dynasty and were scheduled to face their snot-nosed goofy-ass little brother in the World Series. Naturally, the Mets turned to Marvin Prosper, Rick Carey, Ryan Andrews, Leroy Butler, Anthony "Monks" Flowers, Jeffery Chea, Patrick Carey, Colyn "Mo" Grant, and Isaiah Taylor. You may know them better as the

Baha Men. You may know the Baha Men better as the group that wrote “Who Let The Mets Out.” You may know “Who Let The Mets Out” as the song that was rewritten for the Mets from their original smash signal “Who Let The Dogs Out”. The Mets lost in 5 games. I have nothing more to say on this matter. Have the Mets learned from their song-writing and/or adapting ways? Certainly not. While I won’t even bother to mention “Our Team Our Time”, which was made on a Casio keyboard and a bootlegged version of Sonicfoundry Acid for Windows 3.1 for the 2006 playoffs, the Mets have been in the news recently for trying to determine an appropriate 8th Inning sing-along song. For a long time, they used Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, but they stole the song from the Boston Red Sox. Take Me Out To The Ball Game is very much the work of the Chicago Cubs. The Yankees would trot out that Irish Tenor dude for a nine-minute pretentious version of “God Bless America”. Naturally, the Mets needed a song too. They held an online contest to pick a new song. The winner in a landslide? Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a rather ridiculous and inoffensive song that has received resurgence lately due to a YouTube trend involving sending a friend a link to something they might have interest in, (e.g. a video of their favorite debutante naked, exclusive footage of a new video game, etc), and instead they are directed to a white red-headed man in a suit-bathrobe combination singing like the 15-year-old kid in your chorus class that had the moustache. The song blasted over the tacky orange and red seats of Shea Stadium, Phillies fans giggled, and someone, thankfully realized that we’ve been had and went with the second place winner, the Monkees “I’m A Believer”, which narrowly beat out Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer.” So, where does that bring us? Is there an extended conceit here? I am only a moderately handsome man, I do not have the publication records of a Joyce Carol Oates or the sexual partners of a Joyce Carol Oates, my t-shirt is not

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overly clean, my house is modest and my room is painted a hideous bright green shade. But then again, you are like me. The Yankees, the winners in this world grow accustomed to their lavish lifestyle in this world and have no need for parlor tricks, do not feel the need to write a song for first-borns and have grand celebrations for graduation parties and the like. If scratching and clawing in an attempt to assemble some sort of pride is shameless, then let us be shameless. If “Who Let The Mets Out” is our rallying song, then it is our rallying song. If anything, baseball is an exercise in faith; we pray for a stolen base, curse God’s name after a strike-out. And when DJ Casper’s “The Cha-Cha Slide” comes booming over the PA, perhaps it is not DJ Casper instructing us to “clap our hands”, perhaps it is something within us that does it, something spiritual, something godlike, something human. We listen, we put our hands together, and sometimes, someone delivers a frozen rope that gets past the opposing team’s shortstop (the devil, certainly), and we round the bases and slide home safe. Meet me. Meet me. Come on down and greet me. *** Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His work has been published/is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Bat City Review, The Collagist, DIAGRAM, Brevity, WebConjunctions, and elsewhere. He makes a Benny Agbayani reference twice a week.

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Witness

Masters of Fantasy

Matt Dennison________________________________________ William Keener_______________________________________

H

I

e shows the fish repeatedly to any and all walking by. Pulls it out of the water and flops

it on the bank. Big as a dog, it has wet eyes. You can see the anus, puckered and red. Mebbe pregnant, he says, winking his knife along its belly. Find out tonight, he groans as he jerks it high

and your daughter never goes fishing again. *** After a rather extended and varied second childhood in New Orleans (street musician, psych-tech, riverboat something-or-other, door-to-door poetry peddler, etc.), Matt Dennison finished his undergraduate degree at Mississippi State University where he won the National Sigma Tau Delta essay competition (as judged by X.J. Kennedy). He currently lives in a 100-year-old house with "lots of potential."

like to watch the pigskin spiral into an end zone, but cannot imagine me putting on the armor and the helmet, running up and down the gridiron, hearing the roar of the crowd, the crunch of my cartilage. I'll keep my feet where they belong, on the leather of the ottoman, as the horsehide flies into his wheelhouse, the crack of a bat announcing it's outta here, since I couldn't hit a slow-mo pitch. And I'll tune in to the uber-cyclists touring France, but two bad knees say we'd never dream of grinding up the Alps and down the Pyrenees. Yet, every year magnolias bloom in Georgia, where men my age tee their dimpled little balls, and I play the game of fantasy: given a stroke of royal & ancient luck, a gust of fairway wind, a caddy's help, the grass blades bent just so around the holes, my victory on Augusta's greens is not beyond the laws of physics or my physique (judging by some of my heavier competitors). Oh, I may never get to kiss the silver cup or claret jug, my smile distorted in their gleam, but slip on a loud, ill-fitting jacket —that I've done. ***

William Keener is a writer and environmental lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area. His poems appear in the current issues of Atlanta Review, Water-Stone Review and Margie, among others. His chapbook “Gold Leaf on Granite” won the 2008 Anabiosis Press Contest and was recently published.

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The Woman Who Skied on the Rooftops of Houses Ben Loory______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A

The people of the town all get together. woman buys a pair of skis. That woman is a nuisance, one says. But honey, we live in the tropics, her Yeah, says another. Who does she think husband says. Just in case, says the woman. Just in she is? Yeah! say the others. Let's get her! case. The people go up and stand on their She puts the skis in the closet. rooftops. They hold brooms and hockey sticks The next day, it starts to snow. and baseball bats. When the woman comes skiI knew it, the woman says. She takes her skis out of the closet, bun- ing by the next morning, they flail angrily at her and yell. dles up, and goes out the door. Stay off! they say. Leave our roofs alone! The woman skies up and down the main The woman is terrified. She doesn't unstreet of the town for hours and hours and derstand. She's not doing anyone any harm. hours. The people of the town watch from their Then a tennis racket comes sailing out of the blue and crashes into her knee. windows. The woman loses her balance and stumThey cross their arms over their chests. I don't think people are very happy with bles back and falls head over heels to the ground. you, the woman's husband says when she gets The neighbors stare down as her blood home. seeps out and stains the surrounding snow red. But the woman doesn't even seem to Are you happy? the woman's husband care. screams up at them all. She stomps the snow off her boots. He has just arrived home from work. Every night it snows more and more, Are you happy? he screams at them over and every day the woman goes skiing. She gets again. better and better and better and better. Are you happy? he asks his wife. One day, she decides to try jumping. The woman is in the hospital for many She finds a house with a big drift piled against it, and she skies up it onto the roof, and weeks. She lies in bed and stares out the winthen she jumps off it on the other side, through dow. Outside, the sun is shining. It stopped snowing ages ago. the air and down into the street. In fact, people now say it never did. This is the best thing I've ever done! she This is the tropics, they say. Don't be thinks, and she does it again. silly. Pretty soon she's got it all figured out. On the day the woman is released, her She skies up that first drift onto that rooftop, husband drives her home. He wheels her up and and then jumps from there onto the next one, into the house, watches as she goes from room and there onto the next and the next one. The woman finds she can jump roofs all to room. Where are my skis? the woman says. the way across town. Your skis? says her husband. You can't Bump! Bump! Bump! hear the people in walk. their houses. I want my skis, the woman says. Where And then they hear her Bump! Bump! are they? What have you done? Bump! back. [ 16 ]


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Her husband can only shake his head. I threw them away, he says. The next day the woman wheels herself outside. She stares up and down the street. The people of the town watch her from their windows. They hide behind the curtains. They peek. The woman wheels herself down the front walk. Then she wheels herself down the block. She goes from one end of the street to the other. Back and forth, back and forth, faster and faster. It's almost the same as skiing, the woman thinks. But it isn't. Not really. Not at all. The woman finally stops. She looks up at the rooftops. She looks up at all the rooftops in the town. She remembers how it once was, and her eyes fill with tears, and then the tears come rolling down. And then she hears a sound, and another, and another. The sound of many doors being opened. When the woman's husband gets home from work, he stands in the street, speechless. There is his wife-- still in her wheelchair-- up there flying through the air. She's leaping from roof to roof to roof, with the townspeople cheering her on-- and they're catching, lifting, pushing, pulling, tossing her on and on. Everyone is sweating under the tropical sun, and laughing and smiling and carrying on. The man wants to stop it, to holler out No! But instead he just stands on the lawn. His wife is smiling. The man can't believe it. He hasn't seen her smile in so long. I never thought it would happen, he thinks. It's even better than snow. *** Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles, in a house on top of a hill. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Barrelhouse, Wigleaf, Danse Macabre, A cappella Zoo, Vestal Review, and more. His book Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day will be published by Penguin in the Summer of 2011. He can be found on Facebook, or writing nonfiction at TheNervousBreakdown.com.

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Smaller in Person Cynthia Hawkins_______________________________________________________________________________________________

I

see myself in the glass first. Gestalt glints of eyes, nose, and chin. Sloping span of narrow shoulders. My body superimposed over the skirted baseball uniform Madonna wore in A League of Their Own. It squares across my reflection like a little emblem on my shirt. Madonna is a tiny person. I ask my husband Joe standing beside me, “Do you ever wonder why so many famous people are so little?” At Planet Hollywood once I’d put my hand against the impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hand, and my fingers had overran the length of his. I’d squinted in thought, feeling the grooves of the print against my palm as if tracking a little capuchin monkey. Still warm, maybe twenty minutes ahead, about six months old, just handled a radish – he went that way. “Napoleon complex,” Joe says in hush befitting the dim lit passages of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. “The whole being-small-drives-them-tobe-larger-than-life thing.” I suck my teeth, shake my head. No, it’s a cliché – the Napoleon complex. It’s a running joke. There must be some other explanation I just can’t quite work out at the moment. I’m relieved, as I shuffle aside with the small crowd just a little further down the display, to find Geena Davis’ uniform would fit me perfectly. “Ooh!” I zero in on the Wonderboy bat from The Natural and take another big side step in its direction. My hand sprawls greedily across the glass. I wonder how many of these they made. I wonder where the one went that split in half. And how many of the split-in-half bats they made. I try to ignore the fact that even Robert Redford’s Knights uniform is smaller than I would like it to be. When I was a kid, and oddly enough for an eighties kid a huge fan of The Sting and The Great Gatsby, The Natural had marked the last time I didn’t look at Robert Redford as paternal in any way. After that, he was too old and admiring him was too Freudian. So

he made his exit from my imagination on the heels of Sean Connery. Soon after, Harrison Ford would follow, an event marked from that moment on by an annual moment of silence. I grab Joe’s shirt sleeve, tug him toward me, and point at the bat. “Cool,” he says, squinting studiously, nodding. And as we stare, engrossed, content, pressed together, side by side, the only time this will happen for the rest of the day at the Baseball Hall of Fame because I don’t like baseball, not since the little slow-pitch softball incident, not unless it’s on film where it’s safe and condensed and any humiliation belongs to someone else, I see a familiar reflected face hovering above the reflection of my own. Something about the thin, naturally downturned mouth and slightly jutting chin, the angle of the nose, the shag of dishwater blond hair over the brow – the guy behind me, as I discreetly study him in the glass, looks just like Jeff Daniels. I nudge Joe with my elbow and nod to the reflection, but he thinks I’m looking at Redford’s jersey beyond the reflection. Then the man behind me who looks just like Jeff Daniels says something to the woman next to him in Jeff Daniels’ voice – a little plaintive, a little rasped at the end of the sentence, resonating at the pitch of a whine but not whining. “Hmm,” I loop my arm around Joe’s and squeeze as we all shuffle, en masse, toward the next group of items, “I wonder where, you know, that thing … with the thing … is … from that thing, you know.” I peer around as I speak, pretending to look for some thing with the thing, while really trying to get a good look at the guy behind me … who is most definitely Jeff Daniels. And tall. Just as tall and lumbering as you’d think he would be from any of his films. It’s an exact match, movie and reality. It’s better than a Geena Davis uniform. “What thing?” Joe asks me.

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I squeeze harder on Joe’s arm, and he looks at me with one brow raised. “Joe,” I sort of whisper, jerk my chin, try to direct him with my eyes, and say as inconspicuously as I can with gritted teeth, “it’s Jerf Dernyerls.” “What?” I lean to his ear. “Jerf. Dernyerls.” “I can’t hear you,” he says. I hit him on the stomach with the back of my hand. “What’s wrong with you? What’d I do?” he asks with his hands up. People start to glance at us. I smile. I don’t know if Jeff Daniels is glancing or not. I angle my chin toward my shoulder to pick off invisible lint. No, he’s not looking at all. He’s looking at the exhibit, slouched with his hands in his pockets, mumbling observations to the woman I’m thinking must be his wife. There seem to be children along with them too. And then suddenly I feel very sorry for Jeff Daniels, because wherever he goes he’s not just dad or husband – he’s Jeff Daniels. Why can’t people just leave him be? Standing on toes, I press my mouth against Joe’s ear and whisper, “that’s Jeff-” “Ugh, you’re making my ear itch,” Joe says, swatting at me, scratching his ear. “But that’s Jeff Dah--” “Stop it.” More swatting and scratching. “Okay!” I say and cross my arms in a hard tangle. “What’s wrong?” Joe asks. “Er cern’t tell you ert lerd,” I push a stage whisper through my teeth. “Eat lard?” “Out loud! God!” “Okay, okay!” We move another few inches. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be looking at now, because I’m miming an old fashioned movie camera, really small, directly in front of me, like you’d do for a clue in charades. “Movie,” Joe says. “Not ert lerd,” I warn him. “Movie,” he whispers. “Shh!”

“Movie,” he mouths exaggeratedly, and I nod with approval. I pantomime scissors trimming a bowl cut, a gap in the teeth, and then pretend I was just angling to scratch my neck all along. Joe shrugs. I sigh. We move aside again. Jeff Daniels, I can see in the next panel of glass, is still behind me. Three words, my fingers indicate for Joe. First word, I point then tug an ear, sounds like. Then I point to my butt. “Sounds like ass?” “Shh!” “No, well, the way the British say it.” “Arse?” “No.” “Bum. Sounds like bum,” he whispers. Second word, I twirl my finger which in our house is the universal sign for …. “And. Second word and.” I touch my nose. Bingo. Third word, point to my butt again. “Sounds like bum and bum,” Joe tries to work it out under his breath. “Oh, Dumb and Dumber,” he says, then louder with excitement of being right, “Dumb--” I slap the back of my hand to his stomach again before he can finish. Everyone glances at the source of the loud, hollow pop of sound. I hurriedly work at that stubborn invisible bit of lint on my shoulder again. Damn that infernal lint. Jeff Daniels does not notice. Okay, now I’m suspicious. Now I’m thinking he sees our little ruse and is doing his best to pretend we don’t exist. We move with the crowd down a little hallway. Gaps form between bodies as the crowd staggers. Finally, I have just enough distance to whisper a little more loudly, “That’s Jeff Daniels behind us.” Joe turns to look, and I jerk his arm. Then, with a knowing compressed mouth, Joe feigns having dropped something. It throws the momentum of the crowd off, Joe, slowing to glance around his feet and back behind him. But he gets his look and catches up with me again. “That is him,” he confirms. And beyond that, Joe is not particularly impressed with Jeff

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Daniels’ celebrity status nor intrigued by Jeff Daniels’ appearance exactly as Jeff Daniels appears on film nor interested in what Jeff Daniels is going to do next nor concerned that Jeff Daniels just be left alone to enjoy his day at the museum with his family. Then Jeff Daniels follows me into the Bull Pen Theater. * My arms hung at my sides, the ball glove about to slide off my hand, scrappy grass bristling around my stationary sneakers as the rest of the softball team bustled past me, divided, and took up various positions around the baseball diamond. “Hey kid,” the Coker Methodist coach said with his big hands folded over the edges of a little clipboard, “you’re short stop. Remember where that is?” I nodded, took two steps to the left, and held my gloved hand folded against my chest. “Here?” I squeaked. “Gorman!” Coach barked with a suddenness that made me flinch. A girl with a scrap of fat yarn tied around her ponytail glanced up. “Take short stop!” She nodded once and moved to a spot nowhere near where I was standing. “You’re outfield now, kid.” He took me by the shoulders, the clipboard pressed against my arm, steered me around, and pointed. “Way out there.” I exhaled for the first time in what seemed like five minutes. Little stars winked across the score board coming into focus. “Okay,” I said, trudging off while yanking my glove further down my wrist. This was my first softball game ever, and, to my great relief, it looked as if all I’d have to do, unless First Baptist was having a banner day, was pluck the occasional grounder from the grass. I’d practiced this maneuver many times at home. It was the only sort of catch I’d play with my dad ever since he knocked me between the eyes with a Frisbee when I was four. “You were supposed to catch it,” he’d said. “But it was super fast,” I’d explain every time he told this story. I swear he’d pelted it with all his might directly at my head. He swears I’d just stood there watching it gently

glide toward me and wham. We agreed, however, I wasn’t one for sports involving flying objects of any kind. Softball included, but here I was, smelling my ball glove in the outfield. This was my cousin Jenny’s team, really, from Jenny’s church. After puttering around a little with her softball and bat in her backyard, she’d asked if I’d wanted to join. “Would I get a shirt like that?” I’d asked. “Everyone gets one,” she’d said. It was a blue shirt with white rings around the collar and sleeves and pristine white lettering. She wore it with blue shorts and striped athletic socks pulled up to her knees. If this were a movie, my cousin would be the foil. You know, the one you think at a glance is the hero. Blond, blue-eyed, all-American, loved by everyone, trophies lining her bedroom shelves, crouching at first base with her hands on her thighs and her gaze squinting down on the batter walking up to the plate. At a glance. But really, it’ll be the underdog who wins the game with one glorious hit or catch or throw or tag, befitting a grand swell of music culminating with a single hoist up onto the shoulders of the team in slow-motion. That’d be me. The underdog. Stretching out the hem of her shirt while bobbing on the shoulders of her teammates to show her lucky number. I really wanted that shirt. It didn’t quite fit me the same as it fit Jenny – which is to say that Jenny’s fit just right and mine looked as if someone bigger had worn it for a week with their knees tucked up inside. My legs protruded from the short hems like pick -up sticks set askew. The athletic socks slouched down around my ankle bones. While I picked at a loose thread in my ball glove, the first batter up bunted and hustled to first. There’s just no other sound like the crack of a wooden bat meeting a ball … in the movies. I loved that sound. The resonant high-pitched thunk particular to the big screen. Maybe in reality, it’s not even a ball. Maybe it’s really a stick hitting an empty cylinder close to a microphone the way they used to snap matchsticks on the radio to imitate homerun hits. I also loved the close-ups of shoes shuffling in the dirt, fingers wrapping

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calculatedly around a ball behind the back, balls arcing towards the stands or the score board or the lights, slow-motion sparks and glass raining down. Best of all, the montage of innings collapsing the game into a far more tolerable twenty minutes. A ball skipped across the grass in my vicinity, and I lunged like someone feigning a sword thrust in a play while a teammate scampered after it with a greater sense of urgency, yelling, “I got it!” She chucked it toward third base seconds too late. She shrugged at me. I shrugged at her. “Next time,” I said. “Sure,” she sniffed, yanking her shorts up and walking back to her position. This scene replayed itself at least a dozen times that afternoon, and I became very good at feigning sword thrusts. Batting required a different kind of theatrics. I swung hard and fast the second the ball flicked off the end of the pitcher’s fingertips, so hard I stammered forward after the bat had sliced all the way around. I figured if it was fast no one could actually see what little art there was to me swinging. Playing with the Methodists was great because no one really got angry with you. They’d sporadically slow clap as I walked away from the plate and dropped the bat in the dirt, and then they’d say, “Next time. Next time.” “Sure,” I’d sniff, taking a seat. This was my favorite part of the whole game, running my thumbnail into the soft worn wood of the bench, feeling safe from all possible projectiles, chewing impressions into the waxy rim of a Dixie cup, unraveling the yarn in Kelly Gorman’s hair without her noticing. This wasn’t much like the movies at all, I was thinking, slumped with the huge disappointment of it, before I jogged toward the outfield again where I stood, shifting my weight, watching the batters, pinching at my face with the glove. I loved that smell. Then when we were tied in the last inning and it was my turn to hit, I started to love that smell still lingering on my fists wrapped around the bat a little less. I glanced back at the bench and realized, as I quickly surveyed the screwed up faces, that if anyone could make a Methodist disgruntled it was me. It wasn’t a good feeling.

The smell wasn’t a good smell anymore. I started to see little stars wink across the score board again as I swallowed down the sudden urge to vomit. It was all on me. Coach should have chosen Jenny, but he had this thing about being fair and going down the list on his clipboard so everyone had an equal number of turns. So here I was, the underdog – batter up. * The ghost of a baseball player, who’d been shot to death on his way to the big leagues, magically materializes years later for his second chance, now infused with supernatural abilities. But the more he plays ball, the more thoroughly he morphs into a mortal human form again, blood oozing from his gunshot wound and all. This is what I’d thought The Natural had been about when I’d seen it as a kid. What a clever conflict, I’d thought, having to decide between baseball superstardom or immortality. When Field of Dreams came along, I’d scoffed, “Ghosts looking for another go at baseball? Pshh. Well that’s already been done,” garnering inexplicably blank looks in response. Turns out this wasn’t quite the story of The Natural, but it only took me some twenty years to figure that out. It had taken me slightly less time to figure out that Han Solo doesn’t die in Empire Strikes Back only to get resurrected in Return of the Jedi (between sequels I was inconsolable), that Linda Hunt is a woman, or that when Steve Martin picks out the thermos in The Jerk it’s a sex toy. Maybe I wasn’t a really astute young film -goer. Or maybe I took too many bathroom breaks. And distracting things were always happening at the theater back then anyway, like the time I choked on a Jordan Almond or tangled a Hello Kitty comb in my hair. Somehow there were just key points I’d missed. Which is okay, because now I can watch something I’d seen a long time ago as if I’d never really seen it before. Which is what happened when I watched The Natural last week. I was screening it for my young daughter due to yet another realization I’ve made in adulthood: most movies I’d seen as a kid were completely inappropriate for kids.

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Splash, for example, we put Splash on for Hannah and ten minutes in John Candy waltzes onscreen with a handful of porno mags. “Oh my gosh! The world’s biggest diamond is right here in my cookie! We’re rich!” I’d said very loudly, which had the desired effect of immediately distracting Hannah who’d eyeballed the chocolate chips with growing disappointment. So I was giving The Natural its audition when I realized it’s actually very clear that Roy Hobbs is not a ghost but a gunshot survivor who’d been barred from his baseball career as well as the woman he’d loved by a big injury and even bigger disappointment. True, he does have an uncanny ability to bust the seams on a baseball in one good swing, even though he’s grown older, even though his old injuries are potentially debilitating … but that’s why the movie’s called The Natural. Redford plays Hobbs to such mesmerizing affect the title might well be referring to Redford’s acting instead of Hobbs’ swinging. I’ve decided it’s probably his approach to the role more than anything else that had led me, long ago, to imbue the fantastical qualities into the plot that I did. He’s mystically aloof, keeping the extent of his passions tucked away in the very subtle inflections of his voice and manner of expression. In every scene, he exudes the sort of quiet self-confidence that allows us to believe he has it in him to turn a baseball into silly string before he ever does it. We’re never surprised by what he accomplishes. We’re only grateful we get to watch it come true. And when the gal, then his injury, threatens his game, we’re devastated … and still cheering him on, more invested in the progress of his character than ever. Not weathering the maturation of my discernment so well, the way Hobbs’ big baseball moments are repeatedly presented to us with the same two minute movie score. Sure, it’s great the first time. Hobbs’, the underdog, squares his toes against home-plate with his Wonderboy bat poised in his fists, and, whack!, the majestic horn section crescendos with the tinkly chimes in the pauses, playing as Hobbs moves in slow-motion from one base to the next. Goose bumps materi-

alize down the arms on cue. Then the second time, unfolding in exactly the same way with exactly the same track, it begins to feel like the music and the slow-mo has been meticulously orchestrated to force-feed us the emotion that the moment already elicits. Hobbs had us at hello. We don’t need smoke and mirrors to be excited by him. It becomes so melodramatic I snicker every time I see it, imagining myself with that sort of soundtrack whenever I do something small, like balling up a dirty diaper or dumping a dustpan full of busted plate shards into the trash bin. It could make any gesture seem grand. Also a little hard to over look now are the actors’ ages when they’re supposed to be playing much younger versions of their characters. Redford with his impressive acting chops tries to pull it off in demeanor alone but comes off like Lily Tomlin wriggling in an oversized chair. I’m a little disappointed to find that it doesn’t come together just right, given the enigmatic Redford at the core delivering a spot-on performance. I suppose my lesson is the same as Hobbs’ – you lose as much as you gain with age. * I didn’t have a special bat. I had the bat with the sweat of the last girl who’d wrapped her hands around it still making it glisten. Dragging my feet to the batter’s box, I emanated a haze of red dust and halted. If there were music about now, it’d be a subtle shuffling of bows over violin strings, an anxious, shivering whisper. Knockkneed, slouched-socked, stretched-out top, I licked the dust off my lips as the pitcher smacked her mouth at the sight of me and lobbed the ball my way. I yanked all my joints out of place with a single, lumbering swing. Strike one. With a finger between my shoulder blades, the coach nudged me closer to the plate. I resisted it like the edge of a cliff. It looked like a good place to get hit to me. Standing in an ambivalent hunch toward the plate, I swung again, stirring the air, making the sloppy fringe of my bangs flutter. My teammates played hangman in the dirt of the dugout. The coach rubbed his temples with his eyes closed. One glorious hit is

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all a cinematic underdog needs. Roy Hobbs easing Wonderboy out of its case, eyes narrowing on the ball in the pitcher’s hand, making his calculations of how best to unravel its stitches. The Knights, the coaches, the opposing team, no one sees it coming. I scooted a little closer, closed my eyes, and let the bat fling forth at the soft flicking sound of the ball leaving the pitcher’s hand. If there were music about now, it’d be a nervous frenzy of violins coming together in a soaring crescendo with the matchstick crack of the bat sending a shudder up my arms. I opened my eyes in time to watch it sail into the blur of the sun. Then I dropped my bat and ran. Ran like hell. Chin up, fists pumping, shoes thumping out a frantic rhythm. I imagined my slow-motion glory, the ripples in my generous shirt, the splat of my ponytail, and then I realized no one was coming after me. I’m too fast, I’d thought, they’ve given up. I was closing in on my homerun. Not only were they not coming after me, they were just standing there, arrayed across the field, slouched at the plates I barreled past, their eyes rolling. My teammates played hangman in the dirt of the dugout. The coach rubbed his temples with his eyes closed. The pitcher extended her glove with the ball tucked inside for me to see. The umpire scissored her arms over her head. “Hello! You’re out! Out!” My run slowed to a jog. In the stands, while everyone sat still my uncle stood and clapped with gusto. Holding my breath, seeing little stars, I made a bee-line to the dugout with my loose fists against my hips. “Yeah, I was just playing with ‘em,” I said on the exhale. “Next time,” Kelly Gorman said. “Next time,” I said and sat on the very end of the bench with my legs drawn in tight as if I could fold up small enough to vanish. And that was that. The end of real-world baseball of any sort as far as I was concerned. Movies end better. * Jeff Daniels quite incidentally follows me into the Bullpen Theater, I should say, the way Jeff Daniels quite incidentally follows me on the

rest of the tour in the Baseball Hall of Fame. As we move away from anything film related, this is the single most interesting thing about our visit in my estimation. I survey reflections and sneak glances while holding a splayed map of the museum and saying with furrowed brows, “where are the, um, whats-its with the, um, whatevers?” I make my five-minute reports to Joe out of the corner of my mouth. “Checked. He’s still there.” “Good for him.” “He looks like he really wants to go unnoticed.” “You think so?” “I feel bad for him,” I whisper with my lower lip going inside out. “People should just leave him alone, you know. It’s terrible.” As the small cluster of us finally shuffle out into the sun and begin to disperse with our museum maps and souvenirs, I watch Jeff Daniels and his family amble up the sidewalk along Main Street. I smack Joe’s stomach. “Quick. Give me my camera,” I say. “Don’t take a picture of Jeff Daniels.” “I’m not,” I assure. “He just happens to be in the way of what I want to take a picture of.” I grab at my camera in Joe’s hands, and he pulls it just out of reach. “Come on,” I slouch, “no one will ever believe we saw him otherwise. I need proof. Really quick. I’m just taking a picture of the town for all anyone knows. Please, please, please. Quick, we’re losing him! We’re losing him!” Jeff Daniels and his family begin to retreat into the street’s horizon as Joe and I stand in place debating the matter. “Oh, okay,” Joe agrees, impatiently fitting the camera into my hands. I grin, closed-lipped, my fingers beginning to tremble around the buttons as I turn and center the line of the street in the small square of the view-finder. If there were music playing right about now, it’d be the high-pitched violin squawks of Psycho. There’s the street and there, to the edge of the frame, is Jeff Daniels yanking the brim of his ball cap, shoving hands down the pockets of his baggy shorts, and stopping to gaze down at something in a shop window a

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good twenty feet away. Bingo. Snap. “Got it,” I say and shove the incriminating evidence of the camera back at Joe. “What a lovely town! You’ll be so glad I got a picture of it.” He cocks one brow. “I’m sure.” When I get the pictures back the next day, Jeff Daniels is a faint, pale sliver in the distance looking more like an accident of lighting or a smudge on the lens than an actor who’d just wandered out of the Baseball Hall of Fame like one of its displays cut loose. A faint, pale sliver. But if you squint maybe… *** Cynthia Hawkins graduated with a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from SUNY Binghamton. She writes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and frequently contributes freelance arts and entertainment features to magazines and newspapers such as the San Antonio Current and InDigest Magazine. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, home of the Coker Methodist slow-pitch softball team. For more information, visit www.cynthiahawkins.net.

Ninth Inning Dawn Corrigan ______________________________________

G

irls in jerseys, wearing braces, ribbon around the dugouts and up through the stands. The ball pops up, like Communion received, or not received, into a boy's hands. On tin bleachers, mothers flutter like moths. They know the myth of baseball; but the myth of these girls, their soft, swollen mouths? They scrutinize the jerseys’ lack of curves, as if boyishness were a sign of innocence. A man looks at jerseys through a camera lens. He’s supposed to take pictures for the parents. A batter walks, the Cardinals score again on the Saints, whose coach calls time out. Boys converge like fingers closing on the mound. After a pep talk, they pile hands and shout. But Coach St. John's words don't impress, drowned by the urge to piss, to touch a girl and watch the jersey's upheaval, to drink until we hurl, to finally do some evil. *** Dawn Corrigan is an associate editor at Girls with Insurance and a researcher and social media specialist at IMS Expert Services in Pensacola. Her poems, short fiction, and other writing have appeared in a number of print and online publications. Go burgeoning sexuality! Go Yankees!

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Bombardment Paul Weidknecht _______________________________________________________________________________________________

D

odgeball. That's what they call the game now. Sounds a little too politically correct, probably inaccurate, maybe even insulting. I'm going to take a chance and guess that the eighth grade boys of 2010 are somewhat similar to the ones back in 1978. If so, then I know for a fact that an eighth grade boy doesn't want to dodge a ball. He wants to throw it. Simply put, he wants to bombard. A gym teacher's dream activity, bombardment was a low maintenance crowd-pleaser that required only a pair of volleyballs. If it had rained or it happened to be Friday and they wanted to start their weekend early, the gym teachers would blow their lanyard-tethered whistles for bombardment to the shouts of all. The field of play was the gymnasium, wooden rollaway bleachers pushed flush into the walls' recesses, basketball backboard and rim overhead, the two teams divided by the center-court line. The goal was simple: take the ball, run up to the line, and hit one of the kids cowering against the bleachers. Keep doing it until everyone is gone. Our gym teacher, Mr. P, was a man in his thirties, thick-chested and fit. He always addressed the class in a loud clipped way that made me think he'd been ex-military. His black handlebar mustache was out of place, even for the time, the kind that would have paired well with a derby, but one thing was certain: Mr. P never owned a derby. Until the minute hand made its proper tick, he rested in his office, tilted back in a rolling chair with his feet on the desk and the door closed. On the other side of the wall, we sat on wooden benches in the dim locker room, the place abuzz with insults and laughter, the big kids prowling from one end to the other; a Dickens workhouse come alive in late-seventies New Jersey. Volleyballs zipped back and forth across the center-court line, striking bleachers, walls,

shoulders, arms, and legs. Some thin kid would get hit in his bird chest--'70s parlance for a chest light on muscle and heavy on ribcage. Another student hit on the far side of the gym would walk toward the sidelines only to be struck again, the second shot quickening his pace. A big kid palmed the volleyball. It looked like a large grapefruit in his hand. He bounced the ball twice, ran up to the line and, in a motion that was one part major league pitcher, one part cricket bowler, hurled it. The crowd parted and the ball thundered against the bleachers, rebounding back. The bleachers bobbed gently in their recess as the crowd filled the hole again. The big kid got his own rebound. He stared at a particularly dense lump of people in the corner where the end of the bleachers meets the folding wall separating the boy's half of the gym from the girls’ half. There was an alcove, a notch where people hid; but it was full. Like prisoners trapped in the hold of a sinking ship, eighth graders clawed over one another to escape. I heard the girls on the other side of the wall. They played kickball. Kickball was the dream activity for the girl's gym teachers. I wondered if the girls were bored. Kickball was not bombardment. The ball rocketed in. Standing in the back afforded security, as fired balls would be absorbed by those standing in front. However, the natural tendency to daydream would settle in, making this as dangerous a place as any. This was no place to daydream. The last thing the daydreamer would see is the volleyball--a blur of white--slam into his face. Invariably, it happened to the kid with glasses. The Kid With Glasses. Every gym class had one or two. And so KWG took it in the head. He jerked backwards, spectacles flying from his face. Everyone--those on the floor, on the sidelines, the non-dressers, the burnouts, and maybe

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somebody cutting class who'd just popped his head in from the hallway--howled. Not in sympathy, of course; this was eighth grade. With his back humped and arms hanging down, KWG looked as if he'd been standing in a downpour letting the water run down over his back. He touched his face, feeling for the hardware. When he finally looked up, his look was distant, like a person waking from sleep, a baby mole suddenly exposed to sunlight. Mr. P halted the game. He was concerned--a little. (Tenure couldn't be put at risk if the pencil-neck decided to cry to his parents.) KWG was not hurt, he never got hurt, and it was because he never got hurt that the laughter was not completely cruel. Someone recovered his glasses, handing them to him. Jeers lingered until the ball was back in play, as KWG walked to the sidelines, head down, inspecting his eyewear. The fact remained: a pair of glasses, particularly overly-thick glasses, skidding across a gym floor was funny to eighth grade boys. Awfully funny. Catching a hurled ball was one other way of putting a person on the sidelines. Catching someone's throw not only put them with the spectators, it made a statement: Your ball is not fearful enough for me to dodge, so I will stand in its way and catch it. Having your ball caught was a minor humiliation; it was far better to get blasted to the sidelines. Related to this, another play outshone all others. An event that defied planning, it simply occurred, it's rarity sealed by the ever-swirling variables of time, place, and circumstance. If you bore witness to it once, you were fortunate; twice, you witnessed planets aligning; three times, you were lying. It was an act of vindication for the rest of us; the skinny, the fat, the weak, the uncoordinated, the mediocre. The anonymous. Somebody hit the rim and the sideline emptied. KWG ran out with the rest and hid in the back. The glasses were fine--no explanations needed for parents. Players spaced out, their backs to the bleachers. The big kid (he always

seemed to get the ball) on the other side held it and charged the line, releasing a vicious overhand throw. A pelota slung from a jai-alai cesta couldn't have been faster. The crowd parted for the ball. The ball was fast, but not quite right. Big kid got sloppy. Big kid threw the ball too low. The Kid With Glasses stared at the ball coming in. He couldn't move. Too many people, ball too fast. He closed his eyes. There was a hollow thump, then a gasp. The bespectacled one doubled over. The crowd looked down at him. He was still on his feet. The kid stared at the floor in front of him, his knees bent like a monkey's. Breathing through his mouth, his hands were wrapped around the tumorous volleyball embedded in the cavity beneath his sternum, just below his bird chest. He caught it. A roar went up. The crowd peeled back, showing him off to the gym. KWG slowly straightened up, an embarrassed smile across his face, a red mark on his stomach for certain. Mr. P razzed the big kid and thumbed him over to the sidelines. Even the big kid smiled. And I am not the Kid With Glasses, but I wanted to be--if only once. *** Paul Weidknecht’s work appears or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Yale Anglers’ Journal, The Vocabula Review, The Oklahoma Review, Sunken Lines, Outdoor Life, Potomac Review online, and elsewhere. He lives in northwest New Jersey where he is at work on a novel.

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An Interview with Scott Garson Sara Lippmann, Nonfiction Editor__________________

__

tymie’s own Sara Lippmann recently spoke with writer Scott Garson about his new book, online publishing, what influences his stories — sports, music, places — his reading list and much more.

I was maybe going for that feeling in "Houston," and that could be part of why I called it, even before writing it, a 'gymnopédie' rather than a story. Once I'd written it, I thought right away about writing another, tied to a different place. The project kind of took off from there.

S

Sara Lippmann: I'd like to start with your book, American Gymnopédies (upcoming from Wil- SL: I remember reading that one on Fictionaut and quite loving it, perhaps most of all because lows Wept Press). How did you arrive at this the setting— Houston — takes on a life, beproject? comes the character. The way you handle setting — Scott Garson: Almost a centralizing it, traversing year and a half ago, I it, surprising us with it, wrote the "Houston always stirring the senses Gymnopédie," which — brings to mind, in a starts like this: "The way, William Gass's "In streets have terrible the Heart of the Heart of breath, it's said, and evethe Country." Certainly, ryone hides but the the D.C. Gymnopédie is young, who have slick, all about place. naked shoulders and fragrant tobacco shreds in SG: It's fun to think the lining of their empty about influences. A few pockets." That one's only early readers were reabout 100 words long. In minded of Calvino's Invisithe vaguest possible way, ble Cities, and that seemed I was thinking of Townes right to me in that the Van Zandt when I wrote places I was calling up it—of his Live at the Old were sometimes more Quarter album, which was imaginary than real. Still, I recorded in a tiny Houslike to think you're closer ton bar in July 1973. Toto the mark with the Gass novella. Man do I mato put out a remastered recording of the show a while back, and on that one you can hear love that one! "Gravel dust rises like breath behind the wagons. And I am in retirement from everything. Drunk people holler conversation while the guy introducing Townes reminds peo- love." Another great place-ifier comes to mind here—Sherwood Anderson. I put Gass in the ple what all is upstairs: restrooms, pay phones, cigarette machines. Then Townes comes on and Anderson line. He's more of a rhythmatist than in a really meek voice apologizes for the air con- Anderson, but like Anderson his lyricism is ditioner not working. For me, this offers an in- lodged in an insistent subjectivity. Place becomes character, but at the same time character is transtense and impossible experience of transport, which is part of what l love in the fiction I love. posed to place… [ 30 ]


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SL: At Stymie, we're interested in the intersection of literature and sports. Rollerblading makes an appearance in the D.C. Gymnopédie. I love the final image, how you take a figure eight and turn it to a symbol of infinity. I once interviewed Justin Cronin and he said, “a whole story dropped into my head in the middle of a tenmile run through falling autumn leaves.” Do you roller blade? Do sports at all inform your creative process? If so, in what way? SG: I used to roller blade. Not so much anymore. When I lived on the West Coast, I used to jog all the time. Ordinarily, it would be in the late morning/early afternoon, after writing, and I'd end up dreaming forward with whatever I was working on. But I've come to see that as a bad idea—for me. I think I write best without foresight, when I have no idea what's going to arise. "D.C." isn't the only gymno centered around moments of sport. One involves running ("Santa Cruz"), and another skateboarding ("Sandusky"). In "Sandusky," which is written in the thirdperson, this long-distance driver pulls off the toll -roads, mid-morning, because he's starting to lapse into sleep. After laying himself out on the hood of his car and "looking into his eyelids," he grabs his board and finds "a way out, by the lot for employee cars, ducking low to slide under the gate." That's the lead-in to the final sentences:

SL: Your chapbook will include almost 40 Gymnopédies, each named for a different American city. Have you lived in all these places — or passed through them? How did you decide on this particular geography? What kind of narrative did you uncover through their accumulation? How might one read this unique map? SG: I've written close to fifty. Thirty-seven made the cut. Experience-wise, I've lived in six of the cities represented in the collection (D.C. is one of those); fourteen of them I've never set foot in. I wrote the last two, "Buffalo" and "Nashville," for editors whose publications are based in those cities, and since I hadn't been to either place I felt a little insecure and used Google Maps to 'walk' some neighborhoods. But that was the exception. In most cases, I didn't feel much obligation to represent cities in ways locals would recognize. I guess I was more interested in ideas of places than places themselves. In a way, I found it almost easier to write about cities and towns I had little to no direct knowledge of. For the one called "Sandusky," my departure point was an Uncle Tupelo song (an instrumental also called "Sandusky") on the great MARCH 13 album. I didn't feel like I needed much more than that.

In the case of "D.C.," since I'd lived there, it was almost like, Where to start? How to 'do' D.C. in under 200 words? I think maybe what I ended up doing, in part, was skewing or messing with the commonplace idea of D.C.—because it's one of those cities that 'mean' something, that wear a “And here was a town. Tin pinwheels in gardens. Hanging white benches on verandas swept coat of symbols. clean. Tulips everywhere, moist as whispers, brilliant yellows, whites and reds. Here was a place I love that last question—about some overall that the morning had breathed. He scratched at narrative being uncovered through accumulation. I hope that possibilities of that type will the sides of a scab on his elbow. He zagged occur to people. I'm not sure what all they might through flickering shade.” be—though, when I was sequencing the collecThat scab, for some reason, is the whole key for tion, I become aware of certain recurrences, echme. As I read them now, the sport ones seem to oes. There's lots of coins and bills, for example—legal tender—in these pieces. One thing I'd suggest breaking out, getting into the new of say: since they were all mostly written last year, yourself, getting onto the leading edge. [ 31 ]


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they might end up offering an angle on their time. Most obviously, along those lines: there's a foreclosure voice ("Flagstaff"), and there's one in the voice of a young woman whose brother has died in Iraq ("Detroit"). SL: Townes Van Zandt, Uncle Tupelo. And then, of course, Satie. Clearly, music is a source of inspiration. Satie himself took the term “gymnopédie” from poetry, and you put it back to written word. Can you explain what moved you to translate the “gymnopédie” conceptually to short fiction? Because when I read some of your pieces, what struck me was how they well they resonated with the actual compositions. They seem to have a similar structure, building almost horizontally, through juxtaposition, in a subtle but strange way, without a classic climax or crashing crescendo. Did you ever sit down and write any of them directly to the piano? SG: I think I listened to Satie right before writing "Houston." And Satie was actually playing when I wrote the third one, "Minneapolis." What I discovered, though: mood-wise, Satie ends up swinging you his way. Like, here's the start of "Minneapolis": "The trees keep hold of their shriveled brown leaves for purposes of drama. But who's there to see? Who follows the crystalline fade of his breath as it floats toward the hard, ringed moon?" That seems to me kind of Satie-d. Has that slow blue equanimity. After "Minneapolis," I used the term 'gymnopédie' more as you say—in a conceptual sense. Actually I think you give a pretty great read of it in the second part of your question when you mention how some of the ones you've read "seem to have a similar structure, building almost horizontally, through juxtaposition." I knew the pieces were going to be short (none longer than 200 words, as it turned out), and because I didn't want to think of them as shadows of something else, I didn't want to think of them as stories. Really they are stories. But as you say, many of them build differently. Sometimes side-

ways. And sometimes by sound (which is also in line with Satie, who liked to use the term 'phonometrics'). SL: Music itself becomes an integral subject in American Gymnopédies: The Ramones in Des Moines, choir in Baltimore, the Manhattan jukebox, to cite a few… SG: That's one of those recurrences, yeah. One possibility (let's see if I can word it right)… Do people in the gymnos use music to maybe sidestep the pull of life narrative? If so, I see a parallel to how I'm using music as a writer. SL: That phrase, side-stepping the pull of life narrative, is really well put. That does seem to be a theme. You’ve got all these startling details that root each gymno in a specific place, and that when strung together create wonderful mood and atmosphere: tobacco shreds, a father smelling of cumin, black barber combs. And yet, it seems that each piece also contains a pervasive evasiveness; that it is very much about the negative space, too. The unacknowledged elephant, if you will. The reader feels an incredible aching in the absence. SG: I see what you mean—and I really hope other readers end up going that way with the collection too. In terms of technique, I didn't often consider what existed beyond the borders of what ended up on the page; I wrote what was there, and if I didn't immediately understand what was there, that made it more interesting. Sometimes a fairly well realized sketch of a life would be the result. "Cheyenne" comes to mind. It's narrated by a girl whose mother owns a motel off the Interstate. The verbs are all past continuous – what was going on around her at a particular moment in time. Four other 'characters' come into this. When I remember it now, it's like remembering a novel. Usually, though, what I'd end up with in the gymnos would feel lighter to me. That 'cumin' one you mention, "Oklahoma City," is a good example.

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SL: Right. One of the things I admire most about very short fiction is the incredible word economy. When a reader encounters your short SL: How you accomplish that in so few words is fiction or comes across the work of Wigleaf contributors the experience is a bit, too, astounding. Not only are you a master of very like finding gold, because the pieces are rich and short fiction, but as editor of Wigleaf, you are also its champion. And in our culture, too, that’s profound and often contain that shimmer of surprise. American Gymnopédies is due out at the glutted with reading material and seems to be suffering increasingly from ADD, very short fic- end of April; where can we look to read more of your work? What are you currently working on? tion seems to have found a home. Because it’s so suited for the Internet and for the pace of our lives (we can get our fix during a lunch break or SG: I love reading people's takes on vsf—and waiting for a train) it feels like more people are yours in particular, Sara! On the subject of current projects: I started a new story just this reading fiction. morning, maybe the last one in a group I'm callSG: I want to think so! Because Wigleaf is online, ing 'Core' on scratch paper, because I see these I end up 'hearing' from readers a lot. I like pleas- ones as serving to pull together and complete a full-length collection. The first two are due out ing our habitual readers, but what I especially enjoy is reaching new readers, people who may later this year in a couple of my favorite journals, New York Tyrant and Unsaid. More about these not see themselves as the type to read fiction online (or even to read fiction at all). Sometimes stories: you know how people sometimes talk I catch that tone of surprise in readers' voices – about the stories that they were 'born to write'? These feel that way to me. Also it seems to me like, Wow, that's really good. like I might never have gotten to them without The implicit logic of part of your question really writing the gymnopédies. interests me. In a culture glutted with reading SL: I look forward to reading your new stories, material, very short fiction has found a home. those you feel you were "born to write." That You didn't say 'but': our culture is glutted with reading material, but very short fiction has found idea, that these stories you've created have come from you naturally, combined with your push for a home. Is it a causal relationship then? Because spontaneity, raises the question of process. Your we're so glutted with reading material, we're drawn toward vsf? That makes a kind of sense to habit of writing without foresight reminds me of the Breton essay on automatic writing. Do you me. I think vsf succeeds with readers when it's ever do this? What more can you share about intense and full and surprising, when it takes your approach to your own work? As an acacare in its sounds and construction and, at the demic, how does this play out in the university same time, comes fleetly to life. That kind of classroom? work is a refuge from the glut—and a refuge, too, from the more automatic moves of some longer fiction. Stepping out of his house, John Mark- SG: If you asked me about process five years ago, I might have said how I thought that each ham adjusted the band of his watch, which had become snagged in his wrist hair. When people start stories story contained a 'problem of construction.' That was a term I liked. What I meant: each like that, they're kind of begging indulgence. story that was really going to be art—that was They're saying, Come along with me here, just on faith. Readers of the new vsf don't have to go going to do more than replicate the course of anywhere on faith. They're either getting pleas- some earlier story, in other words—might end up running you into what you saw as a ure or they're not. Readers get just a voice in this one, essentially. I like thinking about what it comes out of.

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dilemma, some issue that stood in the way of your ever completing it. It might do that just because it was singular—because it hadn't been written before, and there was no model to ensure its success. What I always advised students in this case, if they understood what the hell I was saying: you are a storyteller. Story, not analysis, is your medium. So: give yourself over to it. Court intuition. Try to get a line on the words of the voice instead of making it say what you think might be best. See if the thing might be told in such a way that the problem gets converted to advantage. Of course, that's abstract. It engages the very thing it warns against—a rational mind.

publish. My experience doesn't bear that out. We get what I see as a very reasonable amount of subs, with not a lot of bad ones. On a good day, I'll get to read any number of delightful stories by writers who seem to know what we run. And though it's hard to say how, I feel pretty certain that reading in this way, editorially, has been a plus for my writing.

One other angle… If I'm more private about the books I read lately, it might have to do with the Internet and its power to create, via sites and blogs and social media, 'obligatory reads'. I'm really careful about what I read. I won't let myself feel obligated to read anything I don't love—especially since I read so slowly. Right now I'm really enjoying two books—Barry HanLately I stress intuition in a more proactive way. nah's Ray and Anne Carson's Eros the Bittersweet. I I teach conventions—because students need to have the new Sam Lipsyte novel, The Ask, on my know they exist, and because they may find them bookshelf. It's been calling my name. enabling—but I stress desire. I stress writing the *** words that you want, and only the words that you want. That's how I work now, in terms of process. If the only argument for a sentence or a D.C. Gymnopédie paragraph is that the story 'needs' it, that need Scott Garson ______________________________________ goes unfulfilled. I try to write just what seems ake the surveyor's view, heading south right and good. When I’m lucky, that yields a on 16th, and you'll generate a nice illustory that works, that doesn't require a full resion: the dome of the Jefferson Mewrite. morial setting like a sun behind the president's house. I don't know what to recomSL: How has the Internet changed how and mend, beyond that. I used to look for parking what you read? Do you own a Kindle? What’s your favorite fiction of right now? Of yesterday? spaces close to Lafayette Park, then lace my What are looking forward to dipping into tomor- blades while sitting in the open bed of the truck. Pennsylvania Avenue ran on the other side of row? the park and was closed to traffic. A field of SG: First, thank you for these q's, Sara. You've thoroughfare, unpurposed. In winter, in the early blues of dusk, you could do flying infinity signs. spun off some great ones. No Kindle!

T

Thinking about the Internet and reading, I have to mention Wigleaf, of course. The Wigleaf inbox is an amazing thing. Before I started the journal, I had this idea—an old and hackneyed one— that there were always billions of desperate writers out there, just waiting to inundate you with their work—and without caring to see what you

*** Scott Garson's American Gymnopédies is just out from WWP. He has stories in or coming from Unsaid, Hobart, Mississippi Review, New York Tyrant, New Ohio Review and others.

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Balls, Balls, Balls David Erlewine ________________________________________________________________________________________________

I

look up. Howser is standing over my computer, waving paper at me. "You screwed something up."

I know enough to stand. He plops down in my chair, opens the offending document. He says something about definitions and inconsistencies. He glances back so I nod and scribble in my notebook. He bangs away on the keyboard, smacking "delete" with a hooked pinkie swipe that carries a warning - one more fuck-up and I too might disappear. He saves the saved document and stands up. "Ready for the game tomorrow?" "Sure, sure." My grin feels toothy. In about 12 hours, Howser and I are playing golf with Brett George, executive VP of our largest client, the one lining the pockets of our law firm's partners, most particularly Howser's. Every time I hear his name I think about George Brett, the Hall of Fame third basemen for the Kansas City Royals, the player I idolized. In six months at the firm, I've never met the man, only heard Howser talk to him on conference calls. I'm likely to do something stupid tomorrow, maybe call him George instead of Brett, ask if he ever played baseball. After Howser leaves my office, I do some deep breathing exercises. The course we're playing tomorrow supposedly has close tee times that result in foursomes stacking up on one another. I inhale through my nose, exhale negative thoughts out of my mouth. If I can excel at PuttPutt while obnoxious teens heckle me for lining up my shots, that has to mean something. * I wake up at four a.m. and make coffee. After a scalding shower, I flip channels, my stomach hurting like it used to freshman year of high school. Joining the firm immediately after law school wasn't a great idea. The whole summer I studied for the bar exam at night, worked

for the firm mornings and afternoons. Since graduating law school, it feels like I've aged about ten years, and gained at least 15 pounds, maybe more. * I get to the clubhouse twenty minutes before I'm supposed to meet Howser. He's waiting. I wave. He all but rolls his eyes. We stand by the practice putting green for a few minutes, neither of us saying anything. Howser rubs his hands together. "I hate this game. Never had the hand-eye for it. George isn't coming." "Who?" I say, immediately realizing he's referring to Brett George by his last name. "He called this morning, said he knew I hated golf, said there's no point playing because they're going to Busby." I take in the news and study the practice putting green near the first hole. A janitor replaces some grass. A divot? Howser's golf shirt fits unevenly, as if covering two droopy balloons. His legs are whittled white twigs. "What happened?" My voice is pitchy. I'm speaking before thinking. "We misfiled a financing statement. The bank's general counsel caught it during his review of our work." Howser shakes his head. "Breathe, not on you. Another associate failed to attach the collateral to a financing statement. Thus, we weren't perfected. Anyone could have filed after us and had priority over the collateral. This the bank's general counsel explained to me like I was a halfwit." "Did anyone?" "Did anyone what? File? Of course not. It could have happened. When you want to fire a law firm, you'll find something." I haven't looked at his face this closely for so long before. Usually, his massive desk adds another five feet of distance, or he's typing

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on my computer and I'm trying to take notes. The creases in his forehead crisscross; two deep comma pits lodge between his eyebrows. "What now?" I've only done work for Howser. At happy hours, other associates have called me his bitch, worse things. "Now?" Howser says. "Monday I start asking for work from other partners until I find another big client. Maybe I retire." He yawns. "Forgive the histrionics, I've had other clients drop me. Took a big pay cut, of course. I'm worried about you. You're fucked." He grins. "The look on your face. It's a joke. Plenty of other partners in our group can use you." "Cool," I hear myself say. "What do you say?" Howser nods in the direction of "The 19th Hole." "I say we call it a day, tell them to roust us up some beers." I follow him over, listen as he cajoles the manager into giving us some pitchers before the place even opens. I try to picture myself at Howser's age, playing golf, working weekends, browbeating people. A waiter sets up a booth for us. The pitcher arrives. I think about making a toast as Howser downs a third of the foamy beer in his mug. I pour myself some beer, take a long drink, hoping I can go home soon, trying not to think how nice it would have to be hitting balls for a living. *** David Erlewine’s work appears or is forthcoming in places like The Pedestal, PANK, Los Angeles Review, Per Contra, and FRiGG. He edits flash for JMWW.

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Steelers Country Laurie Koozer _________________________________________________________________________________________________

M

egan Sullivan woke up, heart pounding. Where am I, she thought, rubbing her face and looking at the unfamiliar brown paneling for the second time in a minute. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping that somehow when she opened them she would be back in the pink bedroom where she had grown-up, her mom at the foot of the bed with a cup of hot tea. She opened her eyes wide. Nothing registered. Not one thing. Slowly, she moved her head to the left, then to the right. A shooting pain radiated down her neck. Then, from somewhere deep below she felt the strangest sensation of movement, like the whole world was rocking. Oh god. Everything hurt. Every. Single. Thing. She shut her eyes again, this time rubbing her temples. Her stomach felt so full that she could barely swallow but when she did, the inside of her mouth tasted like beer and kielbasa. Megan grimaced, looking straight up at a low white ceiling. She hated kielbasa. Absolutely hated it. Taking a deep breath, she looked around again, searching for anything that might give her a clue about where she was and who the heck was curled up next to her. Everything in the room was brown - velour seats along rectangular windows, dark paneling, and brown carpet. Just beside the narrow screen door, two steps led into a small space that looked like a kitchen. On the counter, there was a pile of black and gold plastic leis, a half-eaten black and gold cupcake, a couple of cans of Iron City Light, some beer koozies and a pair of tongs. Above it all, a black and gold paper banner that had once boasted "You're in Steelers Country" was ripped in half, the two sides swinging just above the beer cans on the counter. The Steelers game. Yes, that was it. The Steelers game. Megan knew she was onto something now. She licked her lips. Her tongue was so dry that sandpaper wasn't even a

good comparison - the Mojave Desert in August maybe or the bottom of a box of cat litter might have been more accurate. Slowly, the fragments of the day that bobbed and buoyed in her mind began to surface, revealing themselves from the recesses of her drunken subconscious, a place that on most days Megan didn't want to visit but this particular night searched, hoping for a clue. She remembered that she and her friend Alyssa had gone down to tailgate. Wherever she was now surely bore some kind of connection to that but things still weren't entirely adding up. Like where the heck was Alyssa? And even more urgent than that where in the heck was that godawful Dave Matthews Band music coming from? It sounded faraway and garbled like it was being piped in through one broken speaker, but the horns were still so loud that Megan felt like the band was performing live inside her skull, each chord slicing through her head like scissors shearing paper. She put her hand to her ear. What time was it? She had to be to work in the morning. She remembered saying that, at some point in the day - somebody had traded her Miller Lite for a bottle of Jager and she had lightly protested, "I have to be to work in the morning" before laughing and taking three straight gulps from the bottle. Oh dear. Things were fuzzy. Real fuzzy. This was not good. She'd been late for work so many times this summer that the head partner at Reilly and Sons Law Firm, who coincidentally was neither a Reilly or a son, had given her a little pep talk about what it meant to be a successful receptionist. "The receptionist is here to greet people. When we have early morning appointments she needs to be here to let them in," he had said, hands folded on the crest of his mahogany desk. "It's important that she be here early then to do just that." Megan had flashed him her brightest

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smile and nodded. "I know. I'll do my best." She also knew that Kelsey, the chunky paralegal whose office was just beside the front desk was always there super early and could let people in just fine. Except Kelsey was on vacation the next week, meaning that for one long week Megan actually had to be there on time. It was only five days but if she didn't get out of this place, wherever it was, real soon, she had already blown the first. She had to get up. She had to go home. She lay there staring at the ceiling for a moment, trying to formulate her next few steps into a coherent plan of action. It helped, for some reason, to think of it as a mission of sorts - Operation Get the Hell Out, she thought. That name, stupid as it was, struck her as a little bit funny and she thought, with regret, that if her face didn't hurt so much she might even crack a smile. Sneaking out like this wasn't exactly new for her. Over the years she had become an expert at extricating herself from even the stickiest of awkward drunken situations - like say, the time she left an overly-friendly bartender passed out half-naked on a stairwell in the South Side or the time she wormed her way out of a conquest's apartment while his girlfriend snored away on the living room floor, completely oblivious. Still, her task this evening felt especially daunting. Maybe it was that she was tired of constantly being on the run like this. More likely it was that thick rolling wave of nausea in the pit of her belly. She felt like she was going to blow any minute. Any freakin' minute. And the lump next to her didn't help matters, especially when he decided to roll over. His entire body weight bore down on her right shoulder. Whoever this dude was, he was big. Real big. And wearing a faded Jack Lambert jersey that had definitely seen better days, the number 58 cracked and faded. He smelled like charcoal. She tried to sit up, but he was too heavy to push away. She tried to remember who he might be and whether or not she had - oh god no. His head flopped towards her and she saw that not only was he bald and chunky but he was boasting one hell of a big

blonde unibrow. She couldn't have. No, really that would be just awful. She'd been with some doozies in her day - like that 58-year old guy with one testicle who she had met at a friend's wedding or a client at the firm, cross-eyed Johnny Mariani, who she had found downright unattractive until he had broken down in tears telling her the story of his fiancĂŠe's untimely demise. Still, this guy was taking it to all new levels. Unless he'd told her that his entire family had been murdered, she couldn't think of one good reason why she would have slept with him. Well, except for all that Jager. But even her drunken judgment couldn't be that bad. Or could it? She tried to open her mouth. Her lips hurt. Oh god, her lips hurt. What had she done? Lightly, she patted them with the palm of her hand; they were chapped and tender to the touch like they were bruised. She peeked under the fleece blanket saying a silent prayer to nobody in particular that all her clothes would be in place. Black and gold knee socks? Check. Cutoff denim mini-skirt? Check. Steelers tube top? Check. And even better than all of that, her clothes were securely on in the proper manner, none of this inside out, unzipped, half-buttoned crap that she usually encountered. If nothing else, that was a very good sign, a step in the right direction. With Operation Get the Hell Out firmly in mind, Megan slowly shifted, pulling her arm from underneath Lambert. He stirred, letting out a loud moan. Megan knew the faster she acted the less chance she had of waking him up. Any hesitation on her part could spell trouble, lest the jagoff think that she was cozying up to him for more cuddle time or the dreaded sneakattack spoon. She shuddered. She hated the sneak-attack spoon and the fact that so many guys wanted to cuddle. Her own post-coital reactions were bent on adrenaline and instinct - specifically, roll away and avoid eye contact. At all costs. Every once in a while, she encountered a kindred soul who understood the rules, but the older she was getting the more she found guys who wanted some kind of reciprocal affection

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after sex. To avoid any such roadblocks on this particular day, Megan pulled her arm out from underneath him in one swift move. He faltered on the couch enough that she was able to break free and hop over him. Standing on the floor, she realized without a doubt that the moving she'd felt had been water. She wasn't at a house or an apartment or even the backroom of a bar. She was on a boat. This one even she found hard to believe, but the proof was undeniable on all sides the black river churned, the room bobbing and rocking. Out the window she could see the soft blue lights of a nearby bridge and farther than that, she could just make out a row of yellow lights climbing the steep hill. The incline! Seeing that gave her some sense of location at least. She swallowed, trying to focus on the positive- she was on a boat, yes, but she was on a boat that was still in Pittsburgh. She scanned the open area for her shoes. Underneath a flat panel TV something black and shiny stuck out of a box piled high with cables and cords. Upon closer inspection, they were definitely her shoes. Just exactly how they had ended up in what looked like an audiovisual box she didn't know, but she was relieved to find them at all. She pulled them out of the box and slipped her feet inside. Stilettos on a houseboat. It was an interesting feeling. She teetered a moment and tried to think if there was anything else she needed. Her purse! She couldn't leave without that. Her keys were in there, her keys and her wallet and her phone. That would be the mother lode. Once she found that she was golden, she'd call her best friend Patrick and be out of there in a jiffy. She stepped down into the kitchen, stepping over the broken banner and surveying the counter - melted candy bars, batteries, a pack of hotdogs, empty potato chip bags, and red plastic cups. At the far end by a sink, she noticed a clunky silver buckle peeking out from beneath a Terrible Towel. She grabbed for it and pulled out her cell phone, dialing Patrick. Stepping behind a wall, she squeezed between a mattress and another window, trying to be as quiet as she could.

"Hello?" Patrick sounded like he had a pillow over his mouth. Knowing way too many intimate details of his sex life, Megan smiled to herself, thinking it highly likely that there actually was, or at least just had been, a pillow over his mouth. But this wasn't the time for small talk. This was Operation Get the Hell Out and Megan was working on time restrictions - were Lambert to wake up, the whole mission was dead in the water. Literally. "Patrick, you gotta come down here and get me. NOW!" She covered her mouth with her hand as she spoke. "Down where?" "I don't know, the River. I think it's the Ohio. I'm on a houseboat." "You're what?" "I'm on a houseboat. C'mon Patrick stop with the questions, I'm sick. So you need to get down here like right now or something really bad will happen." "Um, Megan, I hate to tell you this - but you're stranded on a houseboat in the Ohio River. I think something really bad might have already happened. Are you naked?" Megan almost threw the phone into the window. "Hey, stop being a wise guy and get down here. I can see the incline, so just start heading down to Heinz Field and call when you get to like, I don't know, like around the stadium. I'll start walking back that way and hopefully we'll meet in the middle." There was a long pause. Megan heard Patrick talking to somebody else, who she figured was his latest flame, Adam. "Megan, I'm over at Adam's and my car isn't here and I don't think - " Megan clenched her teeth. "You don't think that you can come and pick up your BEST FRIEND? Put Adam on the phone." "Megan." "I SAID PUT ADAM ON THE PHONE." There was some more talking in the background. Megan shook the cell phone back and forth in her hand, like it was a Magic 8 ball

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that she could shake until she got the answer she wanted. "Okay," Patrick finally said, defeated. "I can take his car. I'll call when I get down that way." "Okay, I love you." She clicked the phone off and surveyed the room one last time. Lambert was fast asleep, snoring so loud now that it sounded like he was choking. Megan tiptoed towards the screen door to make her escape. Then, thinking better of it, she stepped backwards to the kitchen and scooped up the pile of black and gold leis. If there was one thing a girl in this town could never have enough of, it was black and gold accessories. About twenty-five minutes later, Megan was still walking down a dark gravel road alongside the river when she saw a pair of headlights approaching. She put her hand to her forehead and squinted as the car slowed down. This better be Patrick, she thought. "Megan!" Patrick stuck his head out of the window. Her heart jumped, as she ran to the other side of the car. She didn't know when she'd been happier to see anybody in her entire life. Patrick could be a little brat sometimes, but they'd been best friends since the 7th grade and there was nobody who knew her better. There had even been a brief time in the 10th grade before Patrick had came out when they had "dated" - a short period of time marked by Patrick carrying her books to and from class, a few slow dances at the sophomore homecoming dance, and a handful of awkward make-out attempts in Patrick's mom's mini-van, the last of which sealed their fate as best friends when Megan pulled up her shirt and bra and demanded that Patrick touch her naked boobs and he, having none of it, started to cry. Megan opened the car door and slid into Adam's Chevy Malibu. "Patrick!" She reached across the car to hug him. He was wearing burgundy old man pajamas and his brown curly hair was ruffled. She felt his back arching away from her as she hugged.

"Gross! You smell like rotting meat and skunked beer. What the heck have you been doing?" Megan shrugged, pulling herself into a ball on the passenger seat as Patrick maneuvered a three-point turn on the narrow road. "I don't know. But you really saved me from a long walk of shame." Patrick shook his head. "Maybe we should get you a kayak and you can do a paddle of shame next time." "Hardy har har. Quit making fun and start driving. I feel like I'm gonna barf." "Okay, so what happened today? Did you at least go to the game I hope?" Megan shook her head. "No, Alyssa and I came down to tailgate." "Well, where's she then?" "I don't know." It was true, she didn't know what had happened to Alyssa. The last thing she remembered that involved her curlyhaired friend was taking a hit off a cigarette in a dark room that looked kind of like a cave but had a bed in it. Hm. Must have been another boat, she thought. Megan shrugged. She could only imagine what had happened to Alyssa from there. "I guess she must have went home." "And why didn't you go with her?" "Um, I guess because I still wanted to party." "Oh, well of course, I mean, other than St. Patrick's Day, I guess September 11 is the number one day for partying." "What's that supposed to mean?" "I mean, did you even know that's what today is?" Megan sniffed, "Well, what am I supposed to do? Sit at home feeling bad because something bad happened in history today? Wouldn't we have to stay home like every freakin' day?" "I didn't say that, I'm just saying that it seems like a theme with you, like you don't take anything seriously." Megan bit her lip. Don't take anything seriously. What was that supposed to mean? She

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took things seriously. Well, sometimes. And she had taken 9/11 very seriously the day it happened, had spent the entire day at home with her parents glued to the TV like everybody else in the nation, thinking that life was about to change forever. And yeah, in some ways maybe it had security check at the airport totally sucked now, but four years later, it almost seemed to Megan like it had never happened at all. And she obviously wasn't the only one, everybody in the Steelers main lots had seemed pretty bent on partying today and she hadn't noticed anything more patriotic or somber than usual. Still, now that she knew it was September 11, the mood of the day felt entirely different, ominous and unforgiving. Megan tried not to think about that, concentrating on Alyssa instead. Thinking back on it, Megan vaguely recalled some kind of a scuffle later in the day, towards sunset or maybe just before. She had a vision of Alyssa yelling at her, the city lights just turning on, glowing like shards of broken glass in the pale orange sky. It seemed likely enough. Alyssa was a fun girl, but once she started sobering up, she got a little judgmental. That's most likely what had happened - Alyssa had sobered up and decided to go home and been mad when Megan wasn't ready. It wasn't the first time that sort of thing had happened with them and Megan had a feeling it wouldn't be the last. Patrick spoke up. "Why you so quiet? Remembering something? Like where you left your friend perhaps? Or how you honored September 11 by getting totally smashed?" Megan ignored the snide comment. "I feel sick." "Why were you down there at all?" Megan rolled her eyes. "Um, dumb question, Patrick. Because I love football, that's why." To be perfectly honest, she didn't really love football all that much, but she did like to party and football season was ideal for that - you win, you drink to celebrate, you lose, you drink to mourn. Either way, it's a good party. Patrick shook his head. He had a chis-

eled nose with a bump on it, what her mom called a Romanesque profile. His hair stuck out in tufts and the collar of his old man pajamas was upturned, the buttons slightly askew so that it sat crooked on his narrow shoulders. He drove Adam's car seriously, holding the wheel at 2 and 10, like a driver's ed teacher might. He'd met Adam during an Art Gallery Crawl five months ago and they'd been dating ever since. It was the longest relationship that Megan had known him to have and while she certainly didn't begrudge him his happiness, she had found that he'd become a bit of a bore lately, just like every other friend she knew who was in a relationship. And worse than that, Adam didn't drink. He had been raised by alcoholic parents or some other such sob story like that and he wouldn't touch the stuff - wouldn't even go in a bar if he could avoid it. Her interactions with him, therefore, had been mostly limited to short interludes at coffee shops and end of night rescue rides when Patrick picked her up drunk from Station Square or South Side. Megan got the feeling that he didn't much care for her, but she was the kind of person who didn't let things like that stop her from trying. "Why didn't Adam come out tonight?" "He's sleeping. So if you're such a football fanatic, Megan, what was the score?" Megan bit her lip. How the heck was she supposed to know that? She wasn't even sure who they had played. She knew they had won, but not much more than that. "We won?" Adam nodded. "Yeah. We did. Ya know, Megan, I love football too. But I also love, ya know, my liver and my job." "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" "It's supposed to mean that I'm getting sick of bailing you out all the time." Megan kicked at the dashboard. "Shut up. You have a boyfriend who doesn't drink for one hot minute and now you're some kind of abolitionist?" Patrick put his hand over his mouth, smothering a laugh. "Prohibitionist."

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"That's what I SAID, retard." "No Megan, you called me an abolitionist. So technically, you just accused me of being anti-slavery which is, I would dare say, a compliment." "Oh shut up, you know what I mean. You date Adam for a second and now you're going to like sit on a throne and judge me?" Patrick didn't say anything. They were past the Strip District now, heading up Route 28 towards the 40th Street Bridge. On their left, the Allegheny Mountain loomed above, rows of dirty frame houses carved into its tight curves and inclines. Just about a mile farther north, the mountain was all cliff, a straight line of trees and loose rock. Megan was from the southern suburbs and had only moved to this side of the city about a year ago. Since then, she realized that once or twice a month, the lead story on the morning news was about a rockslide closing one or more lanes of Route 28 traffic, adding to the rush hour headaches. While the South Hills commuters into town had to contend with the tunnel traffic - Fort Pitt or Liberty tubes - none of that seemed so bad in comparison with driving to work everyday alongside a mountain that might give way at any minute. Yet people over here seemed mostly unfazed, as though it was just another thing to check for in the morning, like the temperature or road conditions, just one more thing to plan around, landslides becoming a way of life. She remembered something Patrick had said about it once. He seemed to think of it as some kind of retribution, nature's revenge for Penn Dot building a major highway at the base of such a hill. "You can't just shear away the side of mountain to make an interstate. Nature always wins in the end." She had always liked the thought of that. It made everything seem vulnerable, like they were all at the mercy of something much larger than themselves. She thought about this now as they waited at the light at the mouth of the bridge, the white and orange lights of Lawrence-

ville and the Strip District flickering across the river. At this time of the night, they hung soft, thousands of nightlights stretched along the city's slopes for as far as the eye could see, guiding you home maybe, or just to the next stop. Home, thought Megan, clutching her stomach. Home would be really nice about now. The light turned green and they drove slowly onto the deck of the bridge. Patrick clicked his tongue. "I know it doesn't sound like it, but I'm trying to help." "Help me from what?" "Yourself." Megan pressed her forehead against the window. Underneath them swirled the black waters of the Allegheny River. Just ahead, the army -issue gray walls of the Arsenal Middle School rose like a penitentiary. Megan stared down into the water, looking towards Downtown, the USX and Mellon skyscrapers slicing into the black sky. Yourself. Again, what was that supposed to mean? She remembered, quite suddenly, kissing Lambert. He had smelled like Old Spice and tasted like smoked ham. He had been unnecessarily rough, pushing her up against the side of the boat. Usually she was fine with that sort of thing, her and Patrick even had a little saying about it, showing each other their wounds like medals of honor, repeating their motto with a smile, "If it ain't rough, it ain't enough." She liked the kind of sex that left a mark - bite marks on her neck, scratches on her back, bruises on her legs. She liked that intensity, found something about violence intoxicating, the anticipation of the unknown, something slightly scary and forbidden. But something about Lambert's intensity had made her uncomfortable, one of his hands closing in on her neck, the other grabbing a fistful of hair as he practically bit off her lips. In the end, she had pushed him away, frightened. Slowly, it came back - she had claimed to be sleepy, gotten away from him and lay down on the couch, he had came from behind her and squeezed her, she had played dead, laid still until he started snoring, his hold on her finally loosening.

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He had been rough enough that it scared her to think about it even now, safely away from his grip. It reminded her of the time mother had warned her about the date rape drug before she'd went to a high school dance. Megan almost laughed thinking of it, the way her mom had very seriously broached the topic by relating a date rape story from a recent episode of "Walker: Texas Ranger" and concluding that it was very very important that Megan never set her drink down. Or trust boys. Meanwhile, even then, Megan knew she was the one who could never be trusted. Her mom was naĂŻve. She had given that advice with full sincerity, Megan knew, most likely because she'd been married to Megan's dad since she was 20 and had never once experienced dating and relationships in the kind of world where Megan navigated. That she had ever once considered "Walker, Texas Ranger" a cultural touchstone was just another way in a long line of ways that her mom was completely out of touch with the world around her, particularly Megan. Sometimes she imagined that her and her mom were the same age and wondered if they would get along. Usually she thought no. Apart from Alyssa and her roommate Emily, she didn't get along too well with other girls. She was always jealous of those kind of girls her age who displayed picture after picture of their group of twenty-some best girls, their smoothskin, blonde hair, and pearly whites aglow. She didn't have pictures like that. Most girls didn't like her. She preyed on boys in a way that intimidated, in a way that made ugly girls whose boyfriends she screwed say that she wasn't a "sister". Whatever the hell that meant. Megan couldn't help it that every guy she came into contact with wanted to have sex with her. Patrick always laughed when she said that. "I'm a guy and I sure don't want to have sex with you." He was the exception. Most guys wanted to do it no matter what the consequences and then blame it on her the next morning. "It's all your fault," they always said,

speaking of girlfriends or wives they had betrayed, their hands grazing across the curve of her waist, their lips grazing the back of her neck as she laid there, cold, hatching her escape. Maybe that was why she liked Patrick so much. They had a relationship in spite of her looks, not because of it. She looked over her shoulder, the mountains alongside Route 28 falling away into the distance. She thought about the rockslides, how maybe it wasn't so much nature's revenge like Patrick had insinuated but the natural course of things - that given enough time, everything eventually crumbles. She turned sideways, to Patrick. "You can't help me. This is who I am. Nature always wins." She laughed to herself, thinking somehow that this offhand reference would remind Patrick of better times - evenings spent laughing and joking and talking over cups of steaming coffee on the sidewalks of Bloomfield, him working on his iBook and her slowly crossing and uncrossing her legs for the benefit and titillation of the old neighborhood guys who played checkers there every summer evening. Thinking of those muggy nights, she waited for his reaction, waited for his remembrance and maybe, just maybe that guttural, throaty laugh he bestowed only when something really hit him the right way. In her mind, he would laugh and put his hand on her arm, willing her to stay still for a moment - she, forever going, forever anxious beneath black lights and disco balls in clubs across the city, forever spinning in a circle of Red Bull and vodka. She would relax then, his hand on her without purpose or intent, no prelude or invitation to something else. She waited for this reaction, but instead she watched the white knobs of his knuckles as he gripped the steering wheel even tighter, making a left by the gas station and Wendy's. Patrick shook his head. "What are you talking about?" "You know," she said. "Like what you said about route 28 that one time, like the rock slides and stuff. Like you can't change nature or whatever."

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"Oh. Well, that's different. You're a person. You CAN change." "And why would I need to do that?" "Because you're acting like an alcoholic lately and it's kind of scary." "Scary? Because I drink a lot? There's nothing wrong with drinking a lot - " "Megan, I have to pick you up almost every weekend from some insane situation with some random guy and I just think you need to lay off for a while." She felt herself starting to burn. Patrick, who she trusted. Patrick, who was supposed to love her without judgment, without the cold, hard reasoning that most people would give her. All this she expected from Patrick and all this, suddenly lost. And what right did Patrick have to tell her anything about the morality of her life? He was a homo for goodness sake. A homo! Megan felt like she was going to explode. "Ha, well at least I'm not a faggot!" Patrick came to screeching halt in the middle of the street. Megan braced her hand on the dashboard. Her purse flew forward, the leis, her wallet, an empty airplane bottle of Jim Beam and a handful of condoms spilling onto the floor. She leaned over, scrambling to pick everything up and stuff it back inside. He leaned across her to open the door. "GET OUT OF MY CAR. Megan swallowed. She couldn't believe Patrick was doing this. "What? You're taking me home -" "GET OUT. RIGHT NOW." Megan sighed. "Look, I'm sorry, I know you don't like that word but I just don't think it's right for you to lecture me-" "GET OUT." His arms were shaking. Megan shook her head. If he wanted to stand on pedestal and judge her, that was fine but she sure as heck didn't have to listen to it. She could walk home. She jumped out. For a second she stood in the door watching him, her long blonde hair grazing the top of her crooked tube top, her blue eyes beseeching. As Patrick watched her,

she watched the flecks of gray in his green eyes, the slope of his neck. And then he leaned sideways, reaching for the door. Megan slammed it before he had a chance to even touch it, then watched him fade away into the crowded corridor of brick row homes and abandoned storefronts. At three in the morning, Megan, with smeared mascara, no lipstick, rumpled hair and beer breath stood on a street corner and pulled her phone out of her bag. She turned it on. It turned right off. Darn. Darn darn darn. She decided to head over to the gas station. There was a pay phone there most likely and she could call Emily to pick her up. The walk to her apartment wasn't terribly far, but she was too tired for it. By the time she got to the gas station, she remembered that Emily was out of town. Prepared to be a soldier and make it home without calling anybody for help. Megan marched into the store and poured herself a cup of coffee like it was perfectly normal that she would still be wearing yesterday's clothes at 3 in the morning on a Sunday night. Actually, for her, it was perfectly normal. The heavy-set black woman behind the counter gave her a knowing smile as she paid for her steaming cup of dark roast with coins. The clerk winked at her. "Good game, huh?" Megan nodded. "Mmmm, yeah." "Think it's gonna be the one this year?" "Huh?" The lady set her hand on her belly and laughed. "The ONE, honey. The one for the thumb." Megan grabbed her coffee. "Yeah," she mumbled, shrugging and slightly annoyed. She had bigger things on her mind than that day's game but this town was obsessed like that, you could play off a ticking bomb in your purse as a wristwatch as long as you engaged people in conversation about the Steelers. Megan leaned against the glass door and pushed it open with her hip. Outside, she sat down on the sidewalk to

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regroup before her walk up the hill. She wanted her mom. She wanted to call her mom to come pick her up and she wanted to curl up in her arms and fall asleep. It was something about the way her mother held her that always made Megan feel like no matter how bad things had gotten, like no matter how many times she had woken up in strange apartments with no idea where her underwear were or how many days she had spent hugging the toilet till well into the evening, it was all okay as long as her mom held her, stroking her hair across her forehead and telling her that she loved her and that whatever it was, it would all be okay. Now that she wasn't living at home, her mom wasn't around to take care of her like that, and Patrick was a good substitute. And now he was gone. Megan pulled her knees into her chest and folded her face forward. She felt full, her stomach pushing up. There was no way she was going to make it home. "You okay?" Megan looked up, hopeful. Above her stood a woman with fried blonde hair pulled into a severe ponytail. She wore stonewashed jeans so tight they looked like body paint and a scoop neck Steelers tanktop, the emblem cracked and faded like she'd maybe been wearing this edition since that last Super Bowl run in the seventies. The woman's skin was slightly red, like she'd spent too much time in the sun, not just this summer, but her entire life. Her mouth was in a straight line and the coarse reddish tone of her skin made her look tough. There were deep wrinkles furrowed into her forehead and around her eyes. Megan had a feeling that this woman was actually much younger than her face let on, maybe even younger than her mom, but that years of hard living had caught up with her. Marked her face. Megan had begun noticing things like this lately - how the signs of age betrayed people, the weight of their sorrows pressed deep into their skin. Megan imagined how she would describe this woman to Patrick - creating a sob story in her mind of illegitimate children maybe, a deadbeat husband or two, a mother with emphysema who wouldn't

quit smoking. The woman cleared her throat. "Well, ya gonna talk or not?" Megan swallowed. "I need a ride home." The woman smiled. Her teeth were yellow, cigarette stained, but her smile softened her face, like a tiny ray of sunshine sneaking through closed blinds, just barely lighting the room but giving one that sense of hope, that sense that there is something outside, something somewhere else. She was a woman, maybe not so much unlike Megan, a woman who had been through a lot probably, one who understood being stranded in the middle of the night. "Can you take me? I mean, can you give me a ride? I'll pay you. I mean I don't have any money, but I can, I can - " Megan fumbled through her purse, but all she could find were those plastic leis. She handed them to the lady. " I don't have any money. But I can give you these." The lady laughed, shaking her head, but ultimately reaching for them, slipping them onto her wrist like bangle bracelets. She smiled. "What's your name?" "Megan." "I'm Audrey. Good to meet ya. And where do ya live, Megan?" She had a thick Pittsburgh accent. Behind her, that same banner from the boat waved over the empty street, lonely and sad at this time of night. Megan thought back to that scene on the boat, the wreckage of the days' party, that half-ripped banner. She imagined Lambert waking up hung over the next morning, noticing the shredded sign and wondering how it had fallen maybe, perhaps thinking about Megan and wondering how she had left. The sign looked dark now. Foreboding. Its words not so much a welcome as a threat: "You're in Steelers Country." Like from here on out, everything was about to change. "Steelers Country," said Megan, reading the sign aloud. The woman put her hands on her hip, the black and gold leis falling over her muscular thighs. She arched her back as she laughed, one

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foot on the curb, the other grounded by her rust -colored Honda Civic. "Well, that's where we all live, hon. I meant, where do YOU live, specifically?" Megan looked at her for a moment and blinked. "Over there," she finally said, pointing up the hill. "Well, ya want me to ride ya up there or what?" Megan thought of the back of Patrick's car, how its lights had eventually rounded a corner, disappearing altogether. She imagined telling him about all of this, spinning it out in a way that might make him smile, in a way that would make him laugh. Then she wondered, worried, if he'd ever let her. She stood up, wobbling on her heels and tugging down the bottom of her shirt. "Yeah," she said, looking inside the window of Audrey's car. Inside, the car was littered with flattened cigarette packs, Diet Pepsi bottles, and various papers and envelopes. Megan took a deep breath, noticing her reflection for the first time since she'd escaped from the boat. Black streaks of mascara circled her eyes and her face was red, still creased from sleeping so long with her face pressed into Lambert's back. She stared at it hard, swallowing, marveling at how dulleyed and tired she appeared, how she suddenly looked unfamiliar even to herself. Climbing into the car of this woman she had just met, she felt overcome with a gnawing sense of loneliness, stranded and waiting in a place that no longer felt like home.

Home Court Advantage Casey Clabough, Contributing Editor_________________

F

aded old pale yellow school bus, cast off of a wealthier school system, scion of Michigan and another decade, engine knocking, no shocks to speak of, rocking and shuddering along the highway, carrying uniformed middle schoolers westward, raggedy ill-fitting outfits not unlike the seen-betterdays bus that bears them: hand-me-downs of classes long since graduated, of teams past--of people grown now into their full bodies. Boys gathered about the middle of the bus, eyes focused on two of their number seated and facing each other across the aisle, extending their fists so that they almost touch, one of them clutching a tan plastic comb. "Hold up, fellas," says a skinny, little greasy-haired boy named Lonnie. "Y’all haven't said yet what you're playin' for?" The contestants, myself one of them, withdraw their fists and peer up at him. Tye, the boy across from me, responds first. “If I win, I gets his lunch money for next week.” Me, glancing away toward the front of the bus, then beyond it, through the glass, at a distant blue line of ridges on the horizon. I look at Tye and smile a slow smile. “If I win, you have to walk to the top of a hill I point out.” Questioning look from him as Lonnie assumes again his self-appointed role of referee. "Y’all's bets have been staked," he says, solemn *** voice brimming with ridiculous pomp. "Now we Laurie Koozer lives and writes in Pittsburgh where she got to see who gets first go. I'm thinking of a number between one and a hundred. Fella recently obtained her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her fiction has appeared in The Fourth River comes nearest gets dibs at grabbing U's comb." and Storyglossia. "Easy for me," I say, chest-thumping the digits on my jersey with the fist that clutches the comb. "Number, name, game. Always the same." Tye, confused, squinting at the floor in thought for a moment, then brightening. "Fifty be half-a-hundred and that be what Jordan

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scored the other night. Put me down for fifty, man." Lonnie, solemn again, guiding the proceedings, enjoying his rare authority. "Tye the 2guard gets it cause the number on my mind, fellas, is sixty-nine. Sixty-nine." "Hell yeah!" someone says. Laughter from everyone, self included. "Alright now, gentleman," says Lonnie expectantly, and the smiles on the surrounding faces deepen even as the ones on Tye's face and mine fade and disappear. I extend my right fist, Tye's coming forth to mirror it. Then with my left hand I set the comb down flat just behind the ridge of my knuckles, jagged, uneven teeth facing outward, toward Tye. If an onlooker happened to guess the crude teeth of the comb had been inexpertly sharpened with a pocketknife, breaking off a few in the process, he would be guessing right. Even as my left hand comes away, Tye's-fist unclenched, thought and action almost as one--has the comb, ripping it hard to the right. I jerk my hand back and down, but not fast enough to avoid having the skin on the outer three knuckles raked open: a scratch more than a cut, but enough to etch into the flesh a bright crimson line and heap little white curling mounds of flesh on either side of the narrow wound. Tye laughing and tossing the comb back to me. "This gon' be easy money." * The object of Bloody Knuckles--at least the version we played--is to break open your opponent's knuckles, making them all bleed, through a series of vicious blows from a straight, sharp-toothed comb. Make a fist and lay the comb on the back of your hand, just behind the ridgeline of bone. Your opponent then either tries to grab the comb and slice it across your knuckles before you can move your hand, or feints in an effort to make you flinch in fear at the impending attack so that the comb falls. If successful in the former action, the other contestant gets to attack

again--up to a maximum of three times before the roles are reversed. The latter event, the comb falling as a result of a feint, is considered a foul and, as a result, the defender must hold his hand out while the other player whacks it with the comb as hard as he can. The game ends when one of the contestants forfeits on account of physical discomfort and/or having all four of his knuckles busted open. That person is the "loser." One of the advantages of Bloody Knuckles is that it can be concealed behind bus seats, beneath cafeteria tables, or by onlookers' bodies. However the games we liked the most required the total absence of adults. One of the strongest boys on the team, I often was invited to take part in Pass Out, in which a participant, willing or otherwise, (was) stood against a wall. The person would then hold their breath or be forcibly smothered by a towel while I braced my arms against their chest and pushed as hard as I could. Invariably the condition for which the pastime was named occurred and the person slumped to the floor unconscious while the rest of us laughed and hollered, "Pass Out!" Another favorite grownupless game—a stealthy, surprise-based affair that never really ended—was Sac-Tag, which tended to burst into being suddenly, usually in the locker room, when a potential attacker observed a prospective victim not paying attention, often while in the shower or changing clothes, and proceeded to backhand his testicles as hard as he could. The person who had just been hit was considered "it" until he succeeded in tagging someone else. Terrible as it may sound, I always suspected that if Coach knew about this particular game he would have approved of it since it kept everyone onedge and alert, likely aiding in the development of our reflexes. And because the contest could be resumed at any time, you always had to be on your toes, which was not a good thing for those more slow-witted teammates possessed of limited attention spans. In fact, the mother of one repeat loser at Sac-Tag went so far as to remove her son from the team and threaten to sue the

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school when she discovered the reason for his frequent stiff manner of walking and limping about the house following practice. Yet nothing ever came of her threats other than a few jokes by us at her expense, and the season wore on, the boy and his mother all but forgotten. In the end, no one cared, not even Coach. That kid was about as good at basketball as he was at Sac-Tag. * Tye gloating as I place the comb on the back of my clenched fist once more. He feints, fingers darting over the comb, but my hand holds steady—not so much as a tremble. Then a double feint and he has the comb again, grasping and raking it in one swift motion. This time he strikes only the two outer knuckles, but the blow cuts deeper and a warm trickle traces the inside of my pinky. Tye laughs again. "I be carryin' two trays next week." Lonnie to me, like some slow-witted boxing manager reasoning with his beleaguered fighter, "Sure you wanna keep playin'? He gotcha good that time, U." Me, ignoring him, placing the comb on my hand once more. And Tye grabbing it again. This time I don't even try to move my fist, but rather tilt the outer portion upward so that the three already injured knuckles receive the brunt of the blow. Searing white-hot pain and my knuckles bleed. But not all of them, for in sacrificing the others I save the one. Tye, clutching the crimson-tipped comb, laughing, and me laughing with him as I flex my bloodied hand open and shut. But then I rip the comb away from him and stare into his eyes, smiling. "Now it's my turn." And suddenly he stops laughing, mouth lapsing into a parted line, cheer draining from eyes grown slightly larger. "Carve him up, U!" someone says. Me, holding the comb out to him. "Careful now, Tye. Don't drop it. Remember that it's sharp. If it falls you have to hold out

your hand for me to hit. I get to hit it as hard as I want." Tye, sober, crouched forward, shaking slightly, carefully setting the comb on the back of his trembling fist. As his hand comes away my whole body jerks, legs kicking outward, hand darting over Tye's in a feint. Breathless curse from him at his body’s involuntary start and the comb drops to the gritcoated floor. Nervous laughter from the onlookers and a subdued expression from Tye as he picks up the comb, blood and dirt caked between its jagged teeth, and slowly hands it to me. Next, the sad albeit somewhat comical spectacle of a teen athlete, bigger and older than the rest of us on account of the grade he has failed, holding out his fist with head averted, like a frightened child not wishing to see its mother extract a splinter or apply a salve. And me, wasting no time, eager to get it over with, bringing the comb down and across-quick, fluid, precise stroke—a chopping motion destined to splinter a million shards of kindling. And Tye, half-rising from his seat, jerking his gashed hand to his chest, covering it with the other as his head tilts backward, mouth shaping the letter O, unleashing an ear-splitting falsetto howl. “Ooooooooo!” Then Coach's voice—abrupt, harsh, irritated--bellowing from behind his newspaper at the back of the bus. "Keep it down up there, fellas! Quit screwin' around and think about the game!" * Coach began sitting at the back of the bus in the wake of the enormous spitball war that erupted under cover of darkness during a particularly long return journey from an away game, peppering the windows and seats with hundreds of little bits of wet white paper. The sheer magnitude of the barrage surprised us when the bus finally halted in the school parking lot and the lights came on. It looked like some

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miraculous blizzard had struck the vehicle's oblong green interior—even the driver’s rearview mirror had not been spared. Then, Coach, blinking in the harsh light, pacing up and down the middle aisle, energized by his lengthy nap, eyes sweeping across us, thunderously vowing that no one got off the bus until every last tiny ball was collected. When one of us laughed, he hollered even louder, fist striking a seat. “We’ll just see about what comes out of y’all’s mouths next! I’m gon' run you till you puke next practice!” And behind and beneath his shouts, a low chorus of sobs from the front of the bus, where the cheerleaders sat gently combing damp gobs from each other’s hair, weeping softly. * Bus and trip at hand, Scooby smiling and gesturing toward the front where the cheerleaders again inhabit the first few rows of seats, as close as they can get to the bus driver—a fat, bespectacled middle-aged man whose prodigious abdominal folds of excess flesh gyrate on the off -beat to the vehicle's vibrations. “Mars needs womens-womenswomens!” bellows Scooby. Sound of Coach’s rustling newspaper and again he hollers. “Goddamnit fellas! I said shut up and think about the game! I ain’t gon' say it again!” “Shit,” whispers Scooby, “can’t even holler at bitches no more. What’s this world comin' to?” “I hear you, man,” says Lonnie, “but it don’t do no good no-how hollering at the likes of cold bitches like them up yonder.” “I hear the team we’re playin’s got hot cheerleaders,” says Scooby. “That’s the word,” says Lonnie. “I definitely wouldn’t mind getting me another phone number or two.” Me, head against the window, fading out of the conversation, dozing. Then, awakened by Lonnie poking my arm, look of appeal on his face. “I hear U’s gone all the way. You did, didntcha U?”

Me, ignoring him, closing my eyes again, readjusting my head. When a bump jolts me awake, I keep my eyes shut, establishing where the conversation has drifted. “I made her a tape of love songs,” Lonnie is saying, “and told her ‘Forever and Ever, Amen’ was the one that was about her. It worked real good until she found out I was talking to Jennifer on the phone too.” Lonnie, catching my smirk, seeing that I am awake. “What’s your love song, U?” Me, eyes open, yawning and shrugging. “I mean if you had to choose one to use on a girl,” Lonnie says. “What would it be?” “‘Love Me Tender.’” Scooby. “Don’t know that one.” Lonnie. “Aw, that’s a good one, man. I bet you can play that one on guitar, cantcha U?” “Yea, it’s easy.” “Have you used it on a girl?” Shake of the head. “Why not?” “It would be too unfair.” “Damn, U, my uncle said any man’s not willing to do anything for pussy don’t want it bad enough.” “Is that the fat man who comes to all the home games by himself?” Lonnie, nodding. I smile at him. “What’s so funny, U?” “Nothing. Have you got a sister, Lonnie?” He shakes his head. “If a girl comes along you care about, treat her like you would a little sister if you had one. Look out for her. Be good to her.” Lonnie, unsure what to say. Me, glancing out the window, noticing where we are, remembering in my mind how all things look from here. Rising from my seat and stepping into the aisle, where I nudge Tye. He looks up at me and jerks off his headphones. "Let's go."

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Up to the front of the bus, me leading the way, cheerleaders drawing back from the aisle as we approach, giving the impression of cornered fauns. But then as we pass I catch a fragment of whisper and suddenly giggles surround us. Up to the very front, peering out the big windshield at the line of mountains grown much larger now, two in particular standing out before the others. Bus driver glancing up at us. Me. “It’s alright, J.D. We’ll sit down in a minute.” Then, Me, pointing. “There it is, Tye. There’s the hill you have to walk up. See those two big ones right next to each other? It's the one on the left: the pointed one.” Tye, squinting. “Damn, that look far.” “It’s not that far. We could start walking to it now and get to the top by morning—in time to see the sun come up.” Tye, glancing at me doubtfully. “Get your brother to take you up there next time you’re in the city. He brings you up here, right?" "Yea. He do" "Tell him to take you to those mountains --that you swore you’d walk up the sharp one. Tell him it's important. Promise me you'll do it." Squinting, he shades his eyes and considers their dim bluish shapes, sun of the west behind them. "I do it,” he says, then, smiling at me a contemptuous smile. “Shit, U. Walkin' up a stupid hill. You didn’t even win nothin, chump.” Me, serious. “Yes I did, Tye. I did win something, but I gave it to you.” “You crazy, man.” * Arrival. Off the bus and through heavy school doors into a lobby-like area, cheerleaders ahead of us, peeling off in search of a place to practice their hops and yells. Then through another set of heavy doors and into a . . . And here language fails us, the dim tan-

gerine venue before us unlike any athletic facility we ever have encountered. A basketball court to be sure yet covered end to end by an orange carpet, made to appear even oranger by the weak sunburst light in which it is cast, emanating in conical shafts from bizarre hanging ceiling lights resembling black suspended jet engines. The wanting illumination also conspires to irregularly shroud sections of the bleachers and walls in darkness, affording the peculiar impression that in certain places this place spans indefinitely into some black dimension, elsewhere and forever. Coach, speaking as we gape, looking back from yet another door he's shoved open. "Stay here, fellas. I'm gonna see what locker room they want us in." Tye, first to recover, gaze dropping to the floor, kicking at it. “What the fuck is this?” Then looking up, eyes wide, lips parted in wonder. “It a fuckin' rug, man!” And Lonnie, crouched on bended knee, prying and hacking at the surface with his white, deer-bone-handle knife. “It’s some tough shit for sure, fellas. My blade can’t do nothin with it.” Tye, yanking the ball bag away from the little benchwarmer whose duty it is to tote it, tilting it so that a basketball spills forth. We watch as it bounces on the floor—not so high as it would on a normal court and accompanied by a curious sound: heavy, muffled, and hollow all at once. Lonnie, addressing us all. “This is some weird shit right here, fellas. It ain't even their school colors. Who puts a big 'ol orange rug on a basketball court?” Scooby. “Maybe their principal’s some kinda fag.” Meanwhile Tye, bouncing the ball slowly, head bobbing as he follows it, face cast in a rare studious expression. Then looking up in wonder. “Check it out y’all. My dribble be soundin' all funny and shit.” Lonnie, flick of the wrist, knife rotating end over end toward the floor, striking the carpet, bouncing once, then abruptly going mo-

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tionless and dead. He bends over, swooping it up irritably. “Man, this court is stupid. I ain't never seen the like.” And Me, silent through it all, peering around: noting the placement of the wall outlets, the barely discernible lumpy weld patterns on the big steel frames above the goals, the low hum of the orange lights shaped like jet engines, and the gentle billowing of the raggedy old cobwebs hanging here and there from the ceiling girders like tiny ghostly banners. Then, kneeling down, gently tracing the rough irregular bristles with a forefinger, deciding I like it. * Assigned to the girls’ locker room. Putting our bags away before returning to the strange carpeted expanse for stretching and drills, scattering of early-arriving fans and our cheerleaders in attendance. Then, opposing team, the Bees, filing in, occupying the other end of the court, assuming pre-game rituals of their own. We check each other out between passes and shots: a smaller team than us, save one tall boy who dribbles well and touches the rim on a lay up. Coach will want to double-team him. Tye, performing a series of fancy dribbling moves behind his back, tongue wagging, then tumbling to the floor while practicing a spin move, shoe caught in the carpet. A couple of players on the opposing team pointing and laughing. Tye, embarrassed, casting them a nasty look, cursing under his breath. Then the Bee cheerleaders entering, giggling and waiving at people they know in the stands. Lonnie staring, a missed shot careening off the backboard, striking him on the shoulder as he gawks. The opposing girls ignore our cheerleaders, who watch them with haughty, sullen disdain then whisper among themselves, moisturized backs of their hands perpendicular to their made-up lips. Then a pair of zebra-clad referees out on the court, stretching for a time, then, arms crossed, chatting with the coaches, scoreboards on the far walls blinking to life in a flurry of red-

bulbed digits. “Show-time, baby!” yells Tye. A buzzer sounds and Coach motions us to our bench. He crouches before us, eyes sweeping across our faces. “The tall kid, 24, can play, fellas. We’re in box-in-one on defense. Case, you take 24. If he gets the ball in the post I want whoever’s backside low comin' over to help. We’ll go motion on offense. I do believe we got the height and the quickness on the rest of em, fellas. Now get it in here.” Coach rising, holding out his hand and, bodies pressed close, our smaller hands piling in on top of his. Then a chorus of voices—not those of men, but not those of boys either-shouting as one. “Team Break!” * 24 getting the tip, quick pass, and they score right away on a layup. Then they steal the ball, Scooby cursing as he slips on the carpet, committing the turnover. Then, Tye, ballhogging, hefting a contested three that bounces off the rim. They score again. Just like that it’s 60, opposing team’s nymph cheerleaders clapping, serenading the venue with their monotonous mascot-based chant. “Bee, Bee-Good, Bee-Bee, Bee-Good.” Our guys, falling and sliding round on the carpet, a couple already with rug burns. Other team running precise plays, darting to and fro, players executing surefooted cuts, shorter and less athletic than us but wholly adapted to their peculiar environment. Tye, taking an inbounds pass and sprinting up the court. Coach, hollering at him, flailing his arms. "Pass the ball 23! Motion!" Tye, ignoring him, dribbling the ball behind his back and between his legs, before driving in to make a lay up. We make a few more and draw closer. Still behind but not the blowout it looked like it might be. Me, dribbling in the post, making a lay up, passing it out to Lonnie for an open 3pointer, hitting a fade away jumper over 24, then

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stealing the ball from him at the other end, hitting Scooby on the outlet pass. Then, in the lane, muscling 24 out of the way for a rebound, several inches taller than me but not nearly as strong, purposefully bumping him as we run back down court. Warning shout from one of the referees. “Watch that contact, four-two!” Then, Tye, competing for a missed shot, becoming entangled with one of their players. Together they tumble to the unforgiving surface, Tye scraping his arm. He pushes the boy as he gets up. “Get off me, bitch!” And Me, stepping in front of Tye, distracting him. Facing the other player, talking trash, drawing the referees' attention away from Tye, placing it on me. Coach, calling a timeout, hollering at the two of us. I catch Tye's eye and nod toward his hand, which has started to bleed, the towel he presses against it coming away red. Then Coach, gesturing to the volunteer doctor, only just arrived from his city practice. Shaking his head as he inspects Tye’s gashed knuckles. “What in God’s name happened to your hand?” “Musta scraped it on that rug, Docs.” * Halftime, behind by eight, heading to the locker room, tails tucked, all of the starters but me with sore ankles and rug burns from sliding, slipping, and diving on the brutal orange surface. Scooby, inspecting a long abrasion on his elbow, then punching a locker. “Man, fuck this orange! It make my eyes hurt!” A bra, falling out of the locker he has just struck, door swinging back and forth. Lonnie, picking it up, letting it dangle from his forefinger as he addresses us. “Man, they got some hot cheerleaders though. Y’all see that blonde one with braces that climbs on top of the rest of em every timeout?” Scooby, slowly rubbing his arm. “You mean that one doin' all the crazy shit with that stick?” Lonnie. “Yes sir. And I’ll tell you this,

good buddy: that gal can play with my stick any ‘ol time she pleases, braces and all.” Locker room door slamming and Coach, having lingered to complain to the referees, steps in among us looking tired. Tye, starting in on him. “This be crazy, Coach. They be usin' that rug to cheat!” Coach, pausing as if gathering himself, before speaking. “Those baskets are the same height from the floor as ours at home, fellas. And that team puts on their shorts the same way we do.” Tye, rolling his eyes. “Come on, Coach. We all tore up from that stupid floor. We got to switch courts or forfeit or somethin'.” Coach, blood filling his face, volcanic implications. “Forfeit? For-feit? What are you? Some kinda quitter? No team of mine quits!” Me, looking back and forth between Coach and Tye. Coach, malignant gaze on Tye’s head, bowed in the wake of the outburst. “That’s about what I’d expect from somebody dumb enough to fail a grade.” Then, Me, choosing and speaking. “Tye’s right, Coach.” Coach’s face, turning on me, confused, flushing deeper still, purple, as though it might blow open. But then somehow he throttles back and when he speaks his voice is very soft. “I’m the coach of this team. And what we’re going to do is this: we’re going to go back out and play the second half. Everyone that is, except for the captain here, your very own Mr. U, who’d rather quit than lead this team. Now y’all get your asses back on out there for shoot-around.” They sit frozen for a moment, looking at Coach and then Me, but then do as they are told, rising and walking slowly, faces subdued, eyes on the floor, Tye, the last to leave, turning back to silently flick the bird in Coach’s direction as he exits. Alone in the locker room, Coach standing over me, voice hard. “I expect more from you. These poor delinquents can’t help it.

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They’re as sorry a bunch of losers as I ever coached, but that don’t mean you got to be like em, too.” Coach, turning and walking a few steps before looking back. “You stay in here and think about what you ought to be doin'. I believe you’ll come to see where quittin' gets you. The rest of us got a game to play.” Me. “Maybe there are more important things than games.” Coach, mouth twisting contemptuously. “Then maybe you’ll decide to get your ass off this team. I don’t give a damn how smart they say you are. You’d best think hard on this one.” * Locker room door slamming and I am alone, or so I believe. Shuffling from a nether row of lockers, bang of wood on metal, then slow footsteps. Sound growing closer and then, at the end of my row, a tall middle-aged man holding a push broom. “Man, y’all’s coach really lit into y’all.” Me. “It happens.” Janitor. “Does it? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a coach who hated his own players so much.” Me, silent. “I liked when you said there’s more important things than games. That’s true. Mr. U, is it?” “Just U. That’s my nickname.” “How come?” “It’s short for Universe.” Janitor, smiling. “Mr. Universe?” “No. It’s from a book I like that reveals the answer to the universe.” "Really? What is the answer?" Me, thumping my chest with my fist. Janitor. “What? The human heart?” "No, 42. The number." “That’s crazy.” “So what? Life’s crazy.” Janitor, smiling. "So you think you're the answer to the universe?" "Nope, I don't think that at all.”

“Then why the nickname?” Me, serious, staring at the janitor. “You might say I got a certain notion about things. Sometimes I know things other people don't.” Janitor, suddenly looking troubled, as though remembering something, and making as if to leave. But then speaking a final time. “Well, you know more than your coach, boy. That’s for sure. Life is crazy and there’s a lot more to it than games. Who are any of us to say what things should be called?” * Second half underway, faint sound of the buzzer periodically reaching me in the forlorn locker room. Then, rising slowly, drifting out into the empty hallway, hovering over to the edge of the gym doors, peering out from the shadowy recesses at the action on the tangerine expanse. Team looking disorganized, behind by fourteen, breaking down on defense, missing their assignments. Then, Tye, hitting three shots in a row, the last a driving layup between two defenders. He wags his tongue and does a brief sideways dance, but trips on the carpet again and nearly tumbles to the floor. Opposing players, cheerleaders, and crowd all laughing. Tye, recovering quickly, then pointing at the Bee coach and yelling as he loafs back down court. “Y’all be cheatin'!” Referee, shouting. “Last warning, twothree!” Tye, exasperated, almost in tears. “Come on, ref! It ain’t even they school colors, man!” They score again, then Tye, driving again, ball-hogging. Contact with two opposing players and he hits the carpet hard, referee calling the violation on Tye: traveling. Tye, leaping up, stalking toward the official, ball clutched against his abdomen, no one out there to step in front of him. "That bullshit, ref!" Referee, making the technical foul sign with his hands—a handmade capital T—then pointing at Tye and casting his other arm in a throwing motion toward the door where I stand.

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"You're outta here, two-three!" Tye, slamming the ball against the carpet so that it bounces high into the air, then, head thrown back, detonating a vocal explosion. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuck!” Gape-mouthed parents covering the ears of their children, though even this prodigious eruption of sound is muffled slightly by the oppressive acoustics of the orange carpet. Then Tye, dejected, walking slowly off the court, one of the Bee benchwarmers heckling him. "See you next year, two-three!" Tye looking up, anger rekindled, pointing at the boy. “I be lookin' for you in football season, bitch!” * Banished derelict pair, the two of us, slumped on a bench in the locker room, listening to the faint sounds of the game which has degenerated into a route. Tye, looking over at me. "U, don't take me wrong, you cool and all, but I don’t think you should be captain no more. You don’t even give a damn if we win or lose." Me, shrugging, not wanting to explain, changing the subject. “Do you ever remember your dreams, Tye?” Tye, stumped, uncertain, then forming a sly grin. “Yea, I dream of pom-pom bitches doin' pyramids on top of me.” Answering smile from me. “Who doesn’t? I mean other dreams.” Tye, thinking hard. Then, “Naw.” “Well imagine you did dream and that you remembered your dreams, and that what you dreamed about were people and places that you knew, except that they might appear very old or very new sometimes.” Tye. "That what you dream about?" "It is." "What happens in them dreams?" "It depends on the people and the places, but sometimes they tell me things about people and places. When I wake up, I know more about them and it's true." Tye, quiet, thinking. “Ever seen me in

one of them dreams?” Then it is my turn to think, to try and remember. “I did one time, but you were far away--very hard to see.” “What was I doin'?” “Nothing. Nothing at all. I think you must have been waiting or something.” “Chilin', huh? But I was OK and all.” Me, lying. “Yea, you were OK.” Then, trying to explain. “Stuff happens in life that pulls people away, Tye—like you and me waiting in here now, apart from the team. Life is very powerful—I can feel it all around us—and it can be very sad because it pushes people apart." Tye. "Man, don't nobody push me and get away with it." “That’s right. Just because life’s so strong doesn't mean we should give up--that we have to lose everything." Tye, growing irritated. “Man, talkin' to you gives me a headache. What be the point, U?” "Life is going to push us apart.” Tye, silent. I look at his torn up hand and feel the soreness in my own. "But memory will keep us friends.” Tye, squinting as though thinking hard, as if about to say something profound, but then laughing instead, head thrown back. “Shit, what the fuck you talkin' bout? You crazy, U. A crazy motherfucker. There ain’t nobody like you.” And Me laughing with him, thinking he may be right, voices echoing off the ceramic tile and steel lockers of this empty place where girls our age we'll never meet change clothes everyday, mirth drowning out the faint whisper of the final buzzer sounding. *** Casey Clabough is the English Graduate Director at Lynchburg College, literature editor for Encyclopedia Virginia, and a contributing editor at Stymie Magazine. More information can be found at www.lynchburg.edu/clabough.xml.

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John McEnroe Visits His Musical Side Sean Lovelace __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Y

ou are the Michael Jordan of rock music. No, the Mozart, only your music isn't like his--your music rocks! People say you were born with a tennis racket in your hand, but they are wrong--you were born gripping a sixstring. You missed your calling and we're the worst for it, all of us. I hear you jam and I think diamond butterflies, rainbows of sound, a fireworks show of very, very, very bright light. I think I'm born anew, or no, that I'm dead and gone straight to rock and roll heaven. I'm sitting there with Jimi Hendrix and Sonny Bono and Kurt Cobain and we're shaking our heads and thinking, Goddamn that boy can play guitar! Patty Smyth, my wife and all out chick rocker, says none of the above. What she says to me is, “John, this is fucking ridiculous. I'm a housewife, and you're out touring with your band. I have a Kroger's card and you have a gig at CBGB's. I'm splitting, John.” “But Patty I--” “Just listen! You need to think about it: your half-ass band, or me. I'll call you in one hour. One hour, John, and you tell me.” She slams the door and I'm thinking halfass band? and a noise like a Sub-Zero refrigerator tumbling over fills my head. It rattles and splits and hisses, ripping apart, exploding, splintering cabinets, spilling pots and pans, smashing bread machines and food processors and microwave ovens. Knives gouge hardwood, shred wallpaper, and stick to the ceiling with a satisfying thunk. A George Foreman grill flies through a window, shattering glass, followed by a wine rack, three bottles of merlot, a jar of organic peanut butter, and a silverware drawer, bursting, clattering, spinning--all of this inside, inside my head, my skull, just bouncing around. See, I have this urge to destroy the kitchen but I count to myself, in my own particular way, the way my therapist taught me: 38, 38, 38. . . That's my age.

I forget the kitchen and march to my bedroom, for my guitar, a neon yellow '59 Les Paul, a real beauty, a serious instrument, given to me by one Rikki Rocket. Once I have my guitar strapped on, I clomp-clomp-clomp my way upstairs to this little studio I built for myself. Turn on the amps, plug in my guitar, open a Soundgarden tab book, then jam. The music fills the room like a billowing fire, thick and dense--I can feel it rattling my lungs, but it doesn't make me forget what Patty said. I stop playing, turn everything off, lock the door, walk downstairs, and put the guitar in its case. Its case is sable. I grab the phone and press speed dial number six: that's Lars. That's right, Lars Ulrich, drummer and spokesperson of Metallica. I have lots of musical friends--I mentioned Rikki, but that's nothing: I've jammed with Clapton, Billy Squier, Mick Jones from Foreigner, both Van Halens. I mean I'm no lightweight, that's obvious. Lars isn't home. I dial Sting, then hang up after seven minutes of no answer. Where is Sting? I dial the Van Halens and finally get Eddie. He sounds strange, like he has a cold. “Uhh?” he says. “Eddie? Can I play guitar? I mean seriously, no bullshit.” “Who is this?” “Mac. McEnroe. I need to know if I can play. This is critical, man.” “Huh? It's three in the morning here. Ring me tomorrow.” Click. I stare blankly at the receiver. Then it rings and I almost throw it across the room--it's weird as shit to have a phone ring while it's sitting in your hand. “You make a decision, John?” “Patty. Thank God. Look, you're being silly. This whole thing is--” “John, I'm going back to the studio. I'm not a housewife, and you're no rock and roller.

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You have thirty minutes, John.” “Patty--” Okay. Okay. I feel I need to defend myself. I have three points to make: Guys cannot know girls. That's why I wouldn't do girl's tennis for NBC. I mean how can I talk about girls’ tennis when I'm not a girl? I don't know what they're thinking. Same with girls about guys. The name of the band is the Johnny Smyth Band. I've even got one of her old band mates on guitar. How's that for understanding? I don't really have a number three, not right now, but when I think about all of this, the way Patty is acting, what she's asking of me, well I want to go into my bedroom and take that aquarium--this big-ass aquarium that's part of my therapy (fish are calming, etc.)--and all those tropical fish--guppies and neons and big fat black ones with red tails--and I want to, want to just, just smash! It's all about smashing for me, the crunch and crack of things splitting apart. About the pebbles, the plants, the glass, the water sloshing, fish flopping all over--it's all about the scene, the reality of the scene, the leap from emotion to action, that's what I'm good at-guitar, tennis racket, aquarium, whatever--I want to do something with how I feel. But I don't. I know better, now. I swallow down the bubbling stomach juices; cap the volcano. I drop to the floor and do 38 pushups. Whenever I feel the urge to go kinetic I do pushups--you should try it. After my pushups I plan my next move. Just waiting and thinking won't work, so I dial Sting. Eighteen rings. I hang up and dial Eddie. “Eddie, you awake?” “Yeh, I'm awake. After you called I been sitting here smoking cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes in the dark. Thanks, Johnny.” “Listen, Eddie. You think I can play guitar?” “I've seen you play one.” “No, I mean really. Patty's going to leave me. She's talking crazy. She wants to get back on the road, with her band, she wants, she wants,

well . . . I don't know what she wants. I'm concerned here.” “Johnny, it seems real simple to me: Rockers want to rock, just like tennis players want to play tennis, or actors want to act. You know Valerie here is an actress and I've got to respect that. Do you even know your wife?” “Of course. What kind of question is that? I know her.” “I don't think so. Scandal was huge in the '80s, Johnny. Hell, Patty helped make MTV. Her voice, the attitude--I mean your wife has balls, and not many people in this industry have balls. People respect that, man.” I sit and think for a second. My mind says, Throw the phone into the ceiling fan, but I don't throw the phone. I simply sit still and stare into the ceiling fan, the whirring blur. Why act on urges you can't even understand? This is what my therapist tells me. I say, “What about me? These people, do they respect me? My playing? I'm feeling all trapped here, I don't know. I'm feeling all--” “Relax, Johnny. The fact is most people do wonder about Patty. To just drop a career like that. And, to be honest, maybe a few people think it's kinda weird you are playing, with a band and all. You know, athletes always wanting to be musicians. I guess people in the industry, well, we shake our heads sometimes.” “At me? But I can play, right?” “Sure, sure, I said I've seen you play, but Patty Smyth . . . come on. I mean what would you do if someone had you quit tennis?” “Oh… I've kind of put down the racket, for a while.” “Yeh, that's right. I forgot that. Well, she hasn't, you know. Rockers don't--it's all they want to do. It's all I want to do . . . Jesus. I need to go to bed. What am I doing smoking cigarettes in the dark, Johnny?” Nothing, a dull tone, and I sit there looking dumbly at an oversized photo on the wall: it's me, leaping over a tennis net with a scowl on my face. I glance at the aquarium. The fish are all near the bottom, maybe sleeping.

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What do I know about my wife's career? I know “Goodbye to You,” but so does everyone, that and “Warrior.” It's what they play on the radio. I should find her CD. I wonder where it is. The phone rings and my heart leaps: Good, I need to talk to Patty. No, no, I need to listen, not just talk, listen. We need to talk, is what I'm saying, but it isn't Patty. It's Sting. “Got three-point-five minutes for you, John.” “Great! Good! Listen! Can I play guitar? I mean really.” “Ha! Right. You were with us backstage, in Sydney. Or was it the Ukraine? I remember seeing it in your hands and I know I heard music.” “But am I good? Do I jam?” “Wow! Look at that sun, big fat bastard of a sun outside the window. Outstanding. Bouncing off the Atlantic… yes… you know; you play like Patty plays tennis, John. How's that for you? How's Patty? She's real, realness. And I see a wonderful plate of blueberry scones. Ha! Goodbye, John.” “But--” But Patty doesn't play tennis. I sit and stare at the phone and then shut my eyes and try to make my mind blank, totally blank, like a wide and dark and empty auditorium. This is incredibly difficult, closing my eyes, trying to think of nothing, and then I think about thinking of nothing, and then my thoughts are off somewhere: a tennis ball, a limousine, one night in this Berlin nightclub when I leapt from the stage, into the crowd, and I was body surfing, all those hands holding me, floating along those friendly fingers, this human tide . . . The phone rings and I yell desperately into the receiver, “Sting!” “Well,” Patty says. “Do I come home? Or do I never come home?” I stand and look into the mirror. I raise the phone above my head, rear back my arm. What is it about these impulses? I use to allow them, to embrace them really, just a short

while ago…though sometimes I felt so outside my body, far above the stadium, the crowd, hovering up there with that big white blimp, its engines droning, its camera eye, both of us watching a skinny man in tight shorts wedge a tennis racket beneath his shoe. He would grunt, the wood splintering. Then he'd lift the racket, holding it for display, its frame mangled and bent, the crowd booing and cheering, muttering and whistling, and he would howl and drop-kick the racket across the court, all the while I'm up far above, with the clouds and the blimp, floating in space, recording it all, wondering, honestly wondering, Who is this guy? What is he doing? What am I doing now? And so my urges crash and break again, a tightness in my chest, a pull and throb, and I see myself: placing the phone softly on the bed, removing my photo from the wall, lifting my Les Paul from the closet, slipping it from its case, pacing down the hallway, past the kitchen, up the stairwell, opening the door, stepping inside the cool, quiet air of the studio, looking it all over--my microphone, my reel-to-reel, my amps-filling my lungs, lifting the guitar, feeling its strings, the neck, lifting it higher, up higher, like a battle ax, no, a tennis racket, an overhead smash--thinking, I truly love Patty Smyth, I do. And will she come home? She will, right? Right? My heart floats into the air like a service toss, pausing at its apex, fixed between rise and fall, and then the slicing, the hum--I'm bringing down the racket, the guitar, bringing it down, a ferocious arc. That's right. I let it go. I let it all go. I fucking thrash the place. *** Sean Lovelace is running right now, far. Other times he teaches at Ball State University. HOW SOME PEOPLE LIKE THEIR EGGS is his award-winning flash fiction collection by Rose Metal Press. His works have appeared in Crazyhorse, Diagram, Quick Fiction, Sonora Review, Willow Springs, and so on. He blogs at seanlovelace.com

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The Art of Aaron Jasinski Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

Single Player Game [ 58 ]


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The Art of Aaron Jasinski Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

Darth Vader vs. Tyrannosaurus [ 59 ]


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The Art of Aaron Jasinski Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

A Hunting We Go: A. Hepburn [ 60 ]


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The Art of Aaron Jasinski Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

Fowl Ball [ 61 ]


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The Art of Aaron Jasinski Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

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The Art of Aaron Jasinski Words and Pictures by the Artist_________________________________________________________________________________

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION Aaron Jasinski is a painter living in the Seattle, Washington area. His work has shown across the United States from Los Angeles to Anchorage to Arizona and in Europe. Venues that have showcased his art include: La Luz de Jesus Gallery, Gallery 1988, Dorothy Circus Gallery, Society of Illustrators, Cannibal Flower, and Communication Art Magazine. Jasinski grew up in suburban western Washington thru the 1980s and 1990s in a musical home; His father, a violinist and orchestra teacher, passed a love of music to his children. Music is constant underlying themes in his art which is populated by surreal and humorous ideas, pop culture references, and moody characters. ARTIST STATEMENT "My art is one piece of a puzzle. The viewer brings to the art the other piece of the puzzle. I want people to participate in the creation. What we gain from experiencing art is as unique as our personalities. Surreal and moody themes that facilitate this experience, often with an underlying sense of humor, are what keep me painting." Jasinski, his portfolio and more can be found online at www.aaronjasisnki.com. Aaron Jasinski’s painting If You Love Them Set Them Free will be featured as the cover of the Autumn & Winter 2010 issue of Stymie Magazine.

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An Uplifting Story About Death & Mixed Martial Arts Jordan Ginsberg ________________________________________________________________________________________________

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he stadium is still under construction and doesn’t have a proper backstage area yet, so the fighter preps in the public toilet. His trainers tape his hands, fit him with eight-ounce gloves, smear petroleum jelly on his face and rub him down with liniment oil. He’s not used to that last step; it’s annoying and it burns but it’s OK, he’s all right, he’s fine. He’s been here in Phuket, Thailand, for over six months now, training at the Tiger Muay Thai camp—started in the novice ring, worked his way up quickly and has been training six hours a day for two months with the masters, guys who retire at 28 after 400 career fights. He’s calm, he’s steady, but this...he’s been waiting for this. His last fight was almost two years ago— his first pro mixed martial arts fight, TKO 26 in Victoriaville, Quebec, fighting in front of 2,000 people on June 30, 2006. He walked out of the gate, saw his face up on the big screen while JayZ roared through the arena’s PA, and in that moment, there was no question Andre Gear, the 21-year-old from Georgetown, Ontario, was a professional fighter. He brawled for two rounds with a local boy with a few wins on his record, punished him with sharp knees to the ribs and wild, swinging fists. He was winning the fight, but his trainer, Chris Boreland, could tell he was wearing himself out, not following the game plan, and the Kaybecker pounced on him in the third. Gear tried to shake him, tried to get away, but his opponent crushed him with a few good hooks to the face and that was it, a technical knockout. For his troubles, Andre got a pail to puke in and the good news that he didn’t have a concussion. But two years is a long time to gain perspective, to evaluate what went wrong and how you responded, to digest the lessons you’ve learned and decide how to apply them. He believes there’s an inverse relationship between

logic and anger, and fighting—not brawling, but fighting—is probably more reliant on logic than any other sport. Lose control of your emotions, lose the fight; the mindset comes loaded with a certain acceptance. He has no control over what punches will be thrown his way, he realizes— only over how he reacts. It was a fluke his little sister, Stephanie, survived her first suicide attempt. The girl was meticulous: an empty house, a stomach full of pills, a profound depression kept secret from everyone but her. No reason it shouldn’t have worked, really, but there are some things in life for which you can’t prepare, things you can’t predict. How could she have known her brother Maurice would stop by the house randomly, just in time to find his 16-year-old sister, the youngest of five siblings, dying of an overdose and get her medical attention and save her life? How can you see something like that coming? A few years later, their mother, Odile, would tell a local newspaper that Stephanie probably saw that attempt as a failure. At the time, nobody knew anything. Before that day, nobody knew there was anything to know. Andre, though...he was two years old when Stephanie was born, the youngest until she arrived. He treated having a little sister like a responsibility. They shared a room, and when the older boys would banish him from the basement, he’d spend most of his free time at home with her. She wrestled in high school because he had wrestled, just like he’d followed after Maurice, one of the top-ranked wrestlers in Ontario at one point. Oh, and she loved it when Andre started training in MMA. She had the competitiveness you need to fight, but she was a better student than Andre had ever been, too. She had friends. She did fundraising for humanitarian groups and volunteered for Doctors Without Borders, for God’s sake. And then suicide? What? Where did that come from?

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But the way she did it...she meant it. She thought she had them beat. “She researched it,” Andre says. “She was a perfectionist. She was good at her shit.” There was a grudging respect there. Her methodology fit in perfectly with her personality. All or nothing. Maybe that’s why he didn’t take it as seriously as he now thinks he should have—if she had the clarity of mind to conceive of such a solid plan, if it was so distinctly hers, then wasn’t that cause for some hope? She bounced around clinics and institutions for a few years while Andre went to Concordia University in Montreal for a degree in athletic therapy. He joined Tristar, the gym that produced MMA legend Georges St.-Pierre, and tried to balance schoolwork with 15 hours of training a week. It was working. His academics complemented his training, and when he’d go home in the summer, he’d blow away the guys at Boreland’s with his improved Jiu-Jitsu. He even shocked Maurice one day—Maurice, one person who could still wrestle him to the ground every time—when he tapped him with a choke-hold. Twice. “I had to fight him again,” Maurice says. “I didn’t believe it the first time.” When he finally got that pro match, Stephanie was in a rehab centre and couldn’t leave to come watch him, but at that point, it almost felt like stasis. Maybe she wasn’t getting much better, but at least it didn’t seem like she was deteriorating. He came home for a weekend in November for his nephew’s birthday, and on the Saturday, all five siblings, older brother and sister Philippe and Aimee included, went to Boston Pizza with the boys from Boreland’s to watch the UFC event that was on TV that night, and saw Georges St.-Pierre beat Matt Hughes for the Welterweight Championship. Stephanie was quiet that night, as she tended to be around some of the older guys from Boreland’s, but she was smiling, she was present; nobody felt like she needed the kid-glove treatment. Three months later, she was killed after lying down in front of a speeding train. It was the last time Andre ever saw his sister alive.

The tinny speakers at New Bangla Muay Thai Stadium peal out shrill strings and flutes as Andre approaches the ring. The Thai he’s fighting is rangy and toned and Andre can tell he’s done this before. Doesn’t matter. His plan tonight is to get through two rounds and not exert himself any more than necessary. Neung, one his trainers, instructs him in broken English to “Kick power, punch sure.” The theme of his training here has been “beautiful Muay Thai”— that is, his fighting has to look good, because if it looks good it sounds good, and if it sounds good it feels good. He squares off against the Thai and just misses a kick to his opponent’s face. The two lean in and trade shin-kicks and Andre realizes, “OK, I can absorb a kick to the shin.” Useful information. Not everybody can take a shot like that. There’s a sense of satisfaction in taking a heavy hit during a fight—provided it’s not a knockout—for that very reason. If fighting is about control, be it physical or emotional, then the knowledge that you can eat a punch and not lose a step is vital. Andre takes a kick to the cheek, shakes it off and starts to back the Thai against the ropes but, no, his training kicks in: Put him against the ropes and you’re giving him an exit. Andre pivots and throws a high kick to the Thai’s left, cutting off an escape route and catching him in the corner, which lets Andre set the pace. Fighting depends on creating and taking away space—the closer you get, the less force a punch can pack and the easier it’ll be to take, but open up too much distance? You might get flattened. He was visiting friends in Ottawa when he got the call, and it didn’t matter that she’d tried it before and it didn’t matter that she’d been institutionalized and it didn’t matter that she wasn’t getting better—he felt like he’d been tricked. How could he ever comprehend never getting to see her again? How would that even work? He walked away from the semester with two months to go and withdrew and got away with it. People let him do as he pleased. Even when he came back to Georgetown, he would

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only show up sporadically at Boreland’s, and then he was particular about the people with whom he’d train. He went by one day to spar with Shaun Krysa, an old friend. “I loved that,” he told Krysa after. “That’s how it used to be.” He lied and said he’d come by more often. That started to become the norm. He didn’t want the condolences or the attention. Maybe that’s why, when some friends from Montreal suggested he participate in a twomonth Concordia-sponsored humanitarian program in Uganda, he jumped at it. He could do it in tribute to Stephanie, who had supported causes like these, but he could also do it for himself and get away from all the mourners and well -wishers. Being surrounded by strangers for a little while sounded good, no matter the location. They arrived in Gulu, a village near the Sudanese border, in May, and though he ended up knowing one girl, Jacqueline, she promised not to tell anybody about his sister. What he found in Gulu was country with blood still fresh underfoot. Between longrunning civil war and AIDS-related decimation, this was death immersion. The way he spent his days varied. Sometimes he worked on behalf of housing projects, which had him going hut to hut and gauging who was most in need of an upgrade in accommodations. Other days, he’d walk the grounds of Internally Displaced Persons camps with lists of people in need of medication or food or other supplies. He’d bring a family a basket of cooking oil and rice and fish and, my God, the way they’d smile. What he came to realize is he could tap a random person in Gulu on the shoulder and there’d be a good chance she’d lost more than one family member to AIDS, or war, or hunger. Maybe recently. Maybe she’d been alone a long time. But being alive, trite as it seemed, was enough of a reason to smile most of the time. And when the blond white boy came by with food and water and medicine? Made a person want to dance! If these people refused to be victims, then he sure as hell wasn’t going to act like one, either. He also went from one IDP camp to

another and saw people whose names weren’t on any lists, who weren’t getting rations and who weren’t getting well. He saw the sunken eyes and sallow flesh and open sores, and he saw they didn’t beg. He saw people who would be dead inside of 30 days and they’d take a handout, but they also knew their fate. They’d accepted mortality not as a theory but experienced it as an inevitability, witnessed death take a tangible form. It started to register that Stephanie was gone. She was dead every day. This was his new reality, and it was hitting him in the face. Mixed martial arts teaches that when you’re getting pounded, keep moving. When you’re getting rained on, keep moving. As long as you keep moving, the fight’s not over. As long as you can keep your head up, you’ve still got a chance. According to Andre, Muay Thai is a comparatively gentlemanly fighting style. You still fight to win, but, for example, he was trained not to throw an elbow during a fight unless an opponent throws one first. This doesn’t necessarily apply to MMA—not to say there’s a lack of gentlemen in the sport, but few will tell you to wait until the other guy strikes. Andre came to Thailand five months after returning to Canada from Uganda, and he came for some of the same reasons, but he also noticed the void left in his life when he stopped fighting. This wasn’t just exercise and this wasn’t just fraternity: This was a medium for learning. And a few weeks from now he’ll be back in Canada, and a few months later he’ll be back at Concordia. Maybe a year from now he’ll have a degree, or maybe he’ll be training Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil. Maybe he’ll be a corner-man, or maybe he’ll find some sponsors and fight full-time. Sometimes you strike first, and sometimes you wait for a punch and try to react accordingly. The Thai misses with an elbow and Andre becomes giddy. They bash shins a few more times and then Andre drills him in the jaw with a pickax of an elbow of his own. The native son crumbles. Knockout. Keep moving.

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and the whip crack of his arms as they swung around, thinking of my brother Bill, and George *** Hamilton who lived across the street but never played anything except bagpipe music on an old Jordan Ginsberg is a Toronto-based freelance writer Victrola. I’m thinking now of Tommy Heinrich, and editor. He has a journalism degree from Ryerson “Old Reliable,” whom the Yankees could count University, which he thinks will look splendid on the wall of the bar he will eventually own. He is a hopeless on for a single when there were runners on fan of all Toronto sports teams, will often eat corned base. I’m thinking of this poem, wondering if it beef out of the brown paper wrapper instead of making might skip through the hole between first and a damn sandwich and, despite his appreciation for second to send someone home. (continued from page 66)

mixed martial arts, does not own a single Affliction Tshirt. Honest. You can read him in short, pithy, selfpromotional bursts at witter.com/jordanginsberg.

Nils Peterson__________________________________________

Sandlots Nils Peterson__________________________________________

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That’s the Ball Game

hinking of my boyhood one – not long before a Victory Garden – the ground uneven with the ghosts of furrows past. The outfield tilted up to the street. No level playing field here. There were those who could play and those who played anyway. Over the fence was a home run at first, then, a double – when most of us could clear the fence, an out. In truth, it was a pain, the left fielder scrambling over the railing to chase the ball before it started rolling down the hill. If you didn’t get it quick, it could go a quarter of a mile. We learned to swing level, to try to meet the center of the ball for a line drive, or a little above for a sharp grounder made mean by the hard-packed, lumpy earth. It was nothing but Zen. At last the playing field felt as tight as last year’s sports jacket, and we set out into the great world to find a larger. But now I’m thinking of poetry, of life, of my life, of the fact there are no sandlots anymore and what it means to try for singles instead of swinging for the fences. I’m thinking of the Vossler brothers, of Joe Mosca and his father who would take me to Yankee Stadium on the subway, I’m thinking of Joe DiMaggio, his lovely long stride along the plate into the ball

A

single – but Russ, knees high, pumping hard, leaned round first with never a stop thought as the right fielder overran then fumbled the ball, and when the whole body sings with moving why drop anchor at second, so by the time the short stop caught, wheeled, and heaved it wide, Russ was hell-bent for home as any voyager, ready to barrel into the catcher who simply stepped aside when no throw came. Wrapped in a warm summer cocoon of stadium light, the three of us cheered from the bleachers, my friends halfway between me and Russ in years, beginning to mourn their distance from the carelessness of the young body, from the confidence that this day’s bruise will be gone by tomorrow, from the understanding that life would offer no hurt more than a bruise, from the conclusion: Why not run heedless – breath comes easy, flesh is immortal, the last obstacle will step aside, there’ll be friends to cheer. *** Nils Peterson is Professor Emeritus at San Jose State University where he taught in the English and Humanities Departments. He has published on subjects as varying as golf and Shakespeare. His most recent collection of poems For This Day was published in 2008. In 2009, he was chosen to be the first Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County.

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Poaching Bruce Pratt____________________________________________________________________________________________________

The line between snitching and doing what is right can be as thin as 7X tippet. While I cannot define what delineates the two today, years ago I was sure of the difference when I turned in a man fishing with worms in a fly-fishing only area and exceeding the daily length and bag limit of one trout or salmon of more than fourteen inches. I got my first whiff of the poacher's transgressions before sunrise on a cool August morning as I picked my way down to the rocks on the south bank of the river. My late friend, Russ Howland, had, as usual, arrived ahead of me and was working streamers from the rock that now bears his name. As I passed, he said, “'Bout time you were up.” Not yet six I said, “Thought I'd give an old fella a head start.” “See a trailer up by the dam?” he said, turning toward me and laying his rod against a boulder, “Yesterday, the bastard owns it was using worms. When I told him, friendly as can be, that he can't do that here, and that after the fifteenth of August it's flies only, he told me to mind my own f'ing business if I knew what was good for me.” Russ slipped his hand into his front pant's pocket, yanked out a .45 and said, “I'm not taking any chances.” “Seen him before?” I asked. “Nope,” Russ said, “And I hope I never do again.” The river is the one place where I lose track of time. Were it not for fishing I might have had to resort to therapy, because like many writers and musicians I know, I often cannot shut down my mind. Those afflicted with this curse envy those who can drift off to sleep anywhere at any time, and many of us who cannot overcome this distraction, generally worse at night, become insomniacs. This is why, I believe, so many artists develop drinking problems or become addicted to sleeping pills. It may not be

as tormenting as the voices in their heads that psychotics cannot silence, but the inability to stop your mind from racing from thought to thought after the lights go out can make you mad. It is a sensation of being bombarded by information that you must process before falling asleep, the failure to do so having some dire consequence. That never happens to me on the river. After a few casts my brain becomes a tabla rasa, and I believe that fishing while sleeping is possible though I haven't tried it yet. To have the haven where my worries drift as slack as floating line in the current threatened by gunplay was unsettling at best. Russ eased the gun back into his pocket, took up his rod, and said, “They were rising earlier, but only small ones. Bead heads and streamers been best in the last hour.” I moved down river, rigged up my sinking tip and selected a perch imitator that Russ had showed me how to tie. As I had to make the hour and a half drive into town for supplies I only fished for ninety minutes. Passing back by Russ, I asked if he needed anything in Greenville. “No,” he said, “But if that fucker's up there, you be careful.” I hiked back up to my truck, and when I gained the spot where the trailer was parked, a stubby, dirty man in his late fifties, dressed in overalls and a torn plaid shirt, was burning a pile of Styrofoam worm containers beside a battered Subaru station wagon. “Do you know that fly-fishing only here started yesterday?” I said. The man, fixing his gaze on the melting Styrofoam snorted and did not answer. Not sensing the level of menace in the guy that Russ had, and wondering if he was simply a broke old fellow bent on filling his freezer for the winter, I turned away and said, “Just wanted you to know.” As my truck bounced along the dirt road

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toward the twenty-mile checkpoint--a sort of tollgate operated by the paper company over whose land I was crossing--I considered calling the poacher line when I got to town; torn between doing what I believed in my heart was right and giving the old guy the benefit of the doubt. As I debated both sides of the argument in my mind, the man's shabby shirt, beat car, and rusty trailer pricking at my heart, I reminded myself that I have never been so poor that I was hungry. Still, I reasoned, this man was raiding a public fishery for personal gain and flouting regulations intended to keep it viable for everyone else. When I spied a warden's truck at the gate, I decided that it was a sign to report what I had seen. I told the warden about the burned worm cups and related what Russ had told me the man had said to him. “He driving a Subaru with a green towbehind trailer?” the warden asked. “Yes,” I said “Been looking for him,” the warden said, “He has a history of this.” The following morning I had work to do at camp and didn't get to the river, but I met Russ working the evening rise. “After you left,” he said. “I tried to tell that guy he couldn't use worms and even told him about a beaver pond off the Elm Stream Road where he could. Bastard said he'd shoot me if I said anything.” “Saw the warden on my way out,” I said, “And I told him about the guy,” “You old sea snake,” Russ said, a grin exploding across his wind-creased cheeks. “He nailed him spinning worms from the ledge an hour and a half after you left.” Later Russ heard through the grapevine that as a repeat offender the guy had lost his trailer, freezer, generator, tackle, and two firearms, and was facing two plus years in prison-which may be apocryphal. For years, I was pretty smug about that poacher's fate and my role in his apprehension until memory, that nettlesome old codger, re-

minded me of some suspect fishing of my own that had occurred a few years after my wife and I were married. At the time, she was attending law school at night, expecting our first child, and working as a paralegal. I was traveling around southern New England and New York City as a solo singer/songwriter and as the front man for Bruce Pratt and The Iron Horse Band, in addition to painting houses and bartending to keep us solvent. We weren't starving, but we weren't dining on Tournedos Brennan and washing it down with a good Barolo either. One early October Saturday night, after the band had played a morning wedding in the western Berkshires of Massachusetts and an evening concert in north central Connecticut, the bass player, Steve, and I were tromping a bit raggedly along the main street of our village when a car came hurtling toward us with its high beams on. We raised our arms to shield our eyes and then I raised a finger to the driver who seemed determined to run us down, and whose driving did in fact make us stumble up the bank of my neighbor’s yard to avoid being hit. As the car blew by us, it thudded over a dead maple branch fallen from one of the venerable trees that shade that stretch of road. We continued toward my house even after we heard the car screech to a halt and begin backing up. I figured that the driver wanted to see what he'd run over. Wrong. He had determined that the branch had been thrown into his path by me and was intent on pummeling me. Using his enormous size advantage--he was at least six-five and a few double cheeseburgers shy of three bills--the jerk grabbed me by the collar. An argument, as one might expect, ensued. I wrenched free of his grasp and made it clear that he was to keep his hands to himself. As our discussion devolved into threats and profanities, the oaf was joined by an equally large, but more muscled, companion and only Steve's quiet insistence that we were innocent, and the other man's desire to “get home,” kept us from a major altercation. Our assailants were drunk enough to be dangerous, and I'd had enough to

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be fearless. Thank God Steve hated violence. The following day I told my neighbor, I'll call Les, with whom I hunted and fished about the encounter. His eyes swelled to the size of soup plates. “That's________,” he said, “That bastard ran onto my lawn last July and stalled out. When I went out to see what happened he started cursing me out.” As Les described the car and its driver, I was convinced that we'd gotten into it with the same guy. According to Les, our mutual enemy lived in a sprawling cedar home up on the mountain in a neighboring town, complete with his own trout pond, and that night as a soft autumn drizzle settled over the valley, we paid a visit to our enemy's house. As we turned off the main road, Les cut his lights and coasted. “He lives here,” he said, easing to a stop in a gravel driveway next to a garage a hundred or so yards uphill from the house. We got out, crept to the garage door windows and peered in. Inside we saw the station wagon. The house was lit as if it were on fire, and down a long gradual hill, in the circular drive in front of the house, illumined in the outside spotlights, shimmered a late model pickup and a red Camaro. “Guess he only drives the wagon when he's loaded,” Les muttered. “Bet the Camaro's the wife's,” I said. Les never traveled without a spinning rod, a tin of lures, a packet of snelled hooks, a pistol, a buck knife, and several cans of corn to use for bait and chum, which was legal where he fished. When the last light in the house winked off, he opened the garage door backed his car in alongside the station wagon, pried open the corn with his knife and went to work. It was after three AM before we'd cleaned and wrapped the dozens of trout we'd caught, likely most of the fish in the pond, and each packed half of the take into our respective freezers. To make sure that our enemy knew what had happened, Les plunked a dollop of corn on the station wagon's hood. More than twenty-five years have passed since I ate the last of those fish, and I haven't seen my partner in that crime in more than

twenty. As for our mutual enemy, I'd bet that like all bullies he ran into the guy truly meaner and tougher than himself with some unpleasant consequences. If not, he will. As I reflect back on that misty night redolent with the scent of orchard drops and frost-dead goldenrod, the dark surface of the pond wrinkled with trout chasing sinking kernels of corn, I don't know if what we did was technically poaching. Stealing yes, but not from the public trough like the guy I turned in. Am I rationalizing? Probably. That is, of course, the problem with the “don't get mad get even” mentality. The righteousness of your motive conveniently absolves you of the need to question the form of the your revenge. Among my passions is a fervent dedication to the pursuit of a united Ireland, and while I am cheered by all that has happened toward that end, I remain bitter about the long history of British brutality to the island's people. Yet, if the leaders of Sinn Fein can shake hands with zealous Loyalists, proclaiming their courage and commitment to peace, I should be able to get past the urge to get even. Right? I'm working on it. Though all were eaten and none wasted, the memory of cleaning all those fish in my blood-spattered kitchen sink lingers in my mind as an obscene nightmare. Perhaps that slaughter is why most years I keep only one fish and why some seasons I kill none. Would I “poach” the guy's fish again? Sure, but I'd release them into the wild and wouldn't leave the corn as evidence, hopeful that he would be so tormented about where his fish went that he'd be ever unable to sleep. I guess I still have a way to go with this forgiveness thing. *** Bruce Pratt is a graduate of The Stonecoast MFA at The University of Southern Maine where he teaches undergraduate creative writing. Pratt lives with his wife, Janet, in Eddington, Maine.

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citrus fruit and not a fresh, scented flower, he bowed down, planted his hands on his knees and Dan Romo____________________________________________ wilted, realizing his first-team all-everything year he wide receiver who plays for New would not have a hero's ending. And when the York, young back-up quarterback was grabbed by his Whose team actually plays in New facemask, pulled into the grizzled face of the Jersey, head coach and told, Just go in and have some fun, Accidentally shot himself at 1 a.m. everyone knew what would happen. How many In the nightclub. of us could take the reins leading the team to You know, victory at seconds notice? March our team down The one who made that catch as if the field for the winning score, ignoring the Every muscle and nerve in his taut body pressure suddenly saddled upon our shoulder Had been preparing for that Superbowl mopads. Someday the young back-up blitzed from ment his blindside, tackled into the earth's entrails for Ever since he left the inner city. four uneven quarters will be a star, parading You know, around the campus pecs protruding, conducting The one with the cool nickname post-game interviews thanking his lineman for That bestows him an All-Pro cog giving him such good protection. His mom for In an I-formation constellation. driving him to Pop Warner and sitting in the Why can't teachers be christened slick monibleachers all those years. And God for allowing kers? him to excel at a game he loves. But this was We sweat too. today. And the other team had bigger, badder Like Lightnin', or Bolt. lineman, brutes nasty enough to eat their mothI'd want to be called… Rainmaker. ers whole spitting out their seeds, ensuring no “Rainmaker. Are we gonna' write an essay today, nice bones from the family tree would ever grow Because I hate essays.” inside their bodies, probably pretty goddamn “Rainmaker. My mom wants to have a parent good at it. conference with you, Rounds Because she wants to know why you're failing Dan Romo____________________________________________ me.” “Rainmaker… You're my favorite teacher.” ecember 6, 2008 The judge gave him a minimum of twenty De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao months For shooting himself in the thigh, Saturday night on the Vegas strip. While Buckner got twenty years Lady Luck's vapors linger through For shooting himself in the foot, celestial skylight. The stars sit ringside; because Failing to get down far enough on the all bodies are present Slow roller to first. tonight. And when the PA announcer with the “Rainmaker. Who's Buckner?” voice mimicking utopia introduced you to the world like he'd done all National Championship these years, we should've Dan Romo____________________________________________ celebrated each drawn out Anglo vowel (a dishen the college star quarterback tant cry from Mazatlan suffered a separated shoulder in shores), and tucked each lanky syllable in our the first half of the prestigious shirt pocket for keepsake. bowl game named after an acidic Who knew this would be your last round? --The

Homeroom

T

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last time your fists flew at adversity like “Yo' Mama” insults. --The last time your body bobbed and weaved between legend and legacy, admiration and pay-per-view pay days. But the bell was not kind. And time, a postdated bastard to us all. Body blows to egos, East LA amigos sympathetically snapping their own heads back with each unabashed jab at your manhood, punishing your face for being too beautiful. The Filipino warrior smiling, because your Mexican heart prouder than his punches. Our Golden Boy, tarnished, less lustrous than the twilight of his career. The once blazing spark too dull to explore cavernous guts of the fight in man. And you lost. And we accepted defeat, wiping our tears, and the sweat from your battered brow with the towel your tired eyes had no choice, but to reluctantly throw in.

Gavin’s Proposal Shome Dasgupta______________________________________

M

arvin smashed an empty Sunkist can on top of Gavin's head and walked away. Danielle saw the whole thing. She was leaning against a light post, in her green Parrs Wood High pullover and black skirt, which she rolled up when none of the teachers were around. None of the teachers were around, and Gavin looked at her white socks and then her defined calves, her knees, the lower portion of her thighs, her skirt, her breasts, her freckles, her blues eyes, and her light brown hair which came down just below her shoulders. The Manchester gray was at its best with a slight drizzle and a cool wind. Danielle laughed and watched Gavin scratch his head while looking at her. Gavin couldn't do anything but to make an attempt to laugh, but it came out as a wheeze, and he started coughing. He opened his eyes, and Danielle was gone. He heard Marvin shouting at him: *** "You got no chance." His head was shaped like a pencil eraser, Daniel Romo teaches high school Creative Writing, and lives in Long Beach, CA. He has recently appeared, and Gavin noticed the shiny gold chain around or has poems forthcoming, in Praxilla, Forge, Monkeybicy- his neck as he walked away. For such a thin and cle, and Underground Voices Magazine. He is an MFA can- scrawny guy, he had a lot of umph to him, didate in poetry at Antioch University, and bleeds Gavin thought--one day, I'll be like that. Gavin, Dodger Blue. More of his writing can be found at himself, was a thin and scrawny guy, but unlike danielromo.wordpress.com. Marvin, his stature matched his personality. At the cafeteria, Gavin ordered a mini pizza, a bag of unsalted sunflower seeds, and a brownie. He sat at a table by himself and as he sipped his carton of fruit juice, some of it got caught on his throat, causing him gasp for air. Bryan, Gavin's younger brother, walked up and whacked him on the back, making Gavin fall over on the table, stomach first into his lunch tray. "Thank you, Bryan. I thought I was dying." Though he was four years younger than Gavin, Bryan was taller and bigger; however, his

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shyness and gentle demeanor made him an easy target for students to put food down his pants. "It's going to be a long day, and it's only lunch," Bryan said. "I have pizza and fruit juice on my shirt," Gavin said. "I have Sour Cream & Onion Crisps in my underwear." "Does it crunch when you walk?" "It did. Now the bits and pieces are pricking my inner thighs." "This is going to be rough one," Gavin said. "If we make it--see you at the bus stop." Gavin threw away the rest of his food and walked to the playing fields--he had 20 minutes until Math class started. The playing fields consisted of two sections with each section consisting of a group. Group A played football with regular footballs; Group B played football with crushed soda cans. If by chance Group B was playing with a regular football, Group A would come and take it away leaving Group B to find empty soda cans to continue their games. Gavin walked towards Group B. There were two games going on. One game used a Mountain Dew can and the other game used a Dr. Pepper can. Gavin looked at Group A's section and saw Danielle standing on the sideline watching a game with her friends. Marvin was playing too-with his shirt off and his shorts rolled up so he could show off his leg and thigh muscles. Gavin promised himself that one day he would have pectoralis majors so that he could take his shirt off and play football in front of Danielle. Gavin raised his hand and shouted, asking if anyone needed a break. Anthony trotted off the field. "Have at it," Anthony said. "I think I pulled a groin muscle." "That smarts," Gavin said. "The grass is wet--watch your footing." Gavin ran onto the field and went straight to the player with the can. He tried to kick it away, but he slipped and fell. "The grass is wet," Gavin said. Gavin stood up--he didn't go any faster

than a jog. When the can came to him, he tried to kick it to a teammate, but he missed it completely and stubbed his toe. He sat down and grabbed his foot. He heard laughing, but it didn't come from anywhere in his section--it came from the other section, where Group A was playing. Marvin, with his shirt still off, was pointing at Gavin and laughing. Danielle stood behind him, running her hand through her hair. He watched Group B play with the can. He looked at the football in Group A's section. He looked at the can. He looked at the football. Gavin stood up again and ran toward Group A's section. After the first ten steps, he started to lose his breath, but he kept going. I am a horse, he thought. He found himself in the middle of Group A's football field. He stopped. He twirled in circles, looking around. He stopped. He was dizzy. He sat down. Marvin walked up to him. Gavin stood up. Before Marvin could say or do anything, Gavin ran and picked up Group A's football and started running around holding the ball up high. He stopped when he came to Danielle. "Hi ya, Gavin," she said. "You're so pretty," he said. "What are you going to do with the ball?" Danielle asked. Gavin heard Marvin shouting at him, and he took off again. Marvin caught up to him, kicking him in the gluteus maximus. He toppled over and rolled a few times before coming to a stop. He lay flat on his back with his arms stretched out against the grass. Marvin picked up the ball and threw it at Gavin's stomach, making him scrunch up in pain. "After school," Marvin said. "By the courtyard. We're fighting. Or more like I'll beat you up, you punk." "I'm not much of a fighter," Gavin said. "How about a game of chess?" "There's no pain in chess," Marvin said. "Well that brings up an interesting topic," Gavin said. "What is pain? Philosophically speaking, does it have to be tangible? Does it have to hurt physically? What about mental

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anguish?" Danielle ran up to them, and then a crowd of students formed around the two. Gavin was still lying in the grass, looking up at the towering Marvin. Gavin shifted his head and looked at Danielle. Even her nostrils are beautiful, he thought. "I'll beat you up at 2:30," Marvin said. He walked away and the crowd followed him. Lunch break was over. Gavin was late for Algebra--he walked in covered in sweat and dirt, panting heavily with his shirt untucked. Ms. Jasper, a small lady with a lot of spunk embedded in her short brown hair, small eyes, pointy nose, and sharp lips, was not amused. "You're a hot mess," she said. "And you're late." "I took the football," Gavin said. "But they took it back." Ms. Jasper filled out a slip and handed it to Gavin. "Detention. Today. After school--2:30, Room 103." "But I have to be by the courtyard at 2:30," Gavin said. "Sit," Ms. Jasper said. "Complete the exercises on the board and turn them in. I expect to see you in Room 103 at 2:30, or I'll ring your parents about this." Gavin sat down and took out his notebook, ruler, and pencil box. He worked on the Algebra problems written on the chalkboard, but he was thinking about a bigger problem--how to make it to the fight and detention at the same time.

8. Danielle Danielle Danielle 9. Get hurt before the end of school--go to hospital A. Cut myself with compass B. Slip on stairs on the way to PSE C. Choke on things (paperclips, rubber bands, books, shoelaces, mud, etc. et. al.) D. Try and get a concussion somehow E. Get hurt while saving Danielle's life F. Accidentally run into things 10. Become friends with Marvin before the end of the school day 11. Ms. Jasper looks like a mean turtle

The next class was an elective--Personal Science Education. Gavin sat down behind Danielle--she turned around. "Are you going to fight Marvin?" she whispered. "I'll do anything for you," Gavin said. "Shut it, Gavin. It's not about me. It's about your health." "I like your breath." She turned her head back around. "As stated during last class," Mr. Andrews said. "Today we will talk about love and its relation to the human body. I thought we would start off with a video." Mr. Andrews inserted the tape into the VCS and turned off the lights. Gavin shut his eyes--the dark had that effect on him. Danielle turned around and tapped him on his head. He opened his eyes. "Take notes," Danielle said. She turned back around. What did she mean by that, Gavin asked himself. Did she love me? Gavin closed his eyes again, and again, 1. Time Traveling Danielle tapped him on the head. 2. Clone myself "Are you taking notes," she asked. 3. Run away to Bolton with Bryan and live with Auntie "Are you going to the fight?" Gavin Smith asked. 4. Ask Marvin if we could meet at 2:25 instead-"I'll be there, but you shouldn't be shouldn't take more than 5 minutes anyway 5. Ask Marvin if the fight could be moved to Room 103 there." "I must be there. I'm in the fight." 6. Ask Ms. Jasper if detention could be moved to the "He'll pummel you." courtyard "But you'll be there." 7. 2x + 9y = 125 - 2(Marvin crushing Gavin) [ 74 ]


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Danielle looked down. She looked up again to say something, but nothing came out. She turned around and watched the video. Gavin tapped her on the shoulder. It was the first time he had touched her. He had never bumped into her, or gave her a high-five, or shook her hand, or hugged her or anything. It was a simple tap on the shoulder, and he felt a tingling. "I'm having an erection," Gavin whispered. He meant to ask her if he had a chance with her. Danielle jumped up--startling Gavin, and causing him to shift backward in his chair. The momentum made the chair fall over, and once again, Gavin was on the floor. Mr. Andrews stopped the video and turned on the lights. "Is everyone OK?" he asked. The class stared at Gavin on the floor-they were all pointing at Gavin's pelvic area. He crossed his legs. Mr. Andrews walked through the crowd. "Are you hurt?" he asked. "I'm perfect," Gavin said. "Wow," Mr. Andrews said. "OK everyone--back to your seats. There's nothing to see here." The students went back to their seats. "We are all adults here," the teacher said. "This happens sometimes. There's nothing one can do about it." Gavin sat in his chair with his legs crossed. Danielle sat down and turned around and looked at Gavin's pelvic area. After Physical Education, the last class of the day, Gavin realized that he wouldn't be able to be in two places at the same time. He would have to give up one option--fighting or detention. Gavin saw Ms. Jasper walking in the hallway. He pressed his back against the wall. She stopped. "Don't think I can't see you," Ms. Jasper said. Gavin hoped that he had invisible powers.

"I may be a bit late for detention, Ms. Jasper," "That won't work." "Apologies, Ms., but I won't be there." Gavin walked away. Ms. Jasper shouted at him. Gavin didn't look back--he went outside, to the courtyard. He could still hear Ms. Jasper screaming. The crowd was already there. They formed a circle. Gavin pushed through the students and stopped in the center and saw Marvin. Danielle stood on top of a table. Gavin wondered if he could see up her skirt if he shifted his head a certain way. Marvin punched Gavin in the stomach. The crowd started shouting. Gavin fell to the ground, and looked up Danielle's skirt. Marvin bent down and put Gavin in a headlock. Gavin breathed heavily--tears came out of his eyes. He acted on instinct and picked up Marvin, whose arms were still around his head-Gavin cradled him like they were newlyweds walking through the threshold of their house. Gavin started twirling around until he became dizzy. He fell down again, dropping Marvin. Marvin jumped up to his feet and walked in a zigzag motion. Gavin got up too and did the same thing. Once the world stopped spinning, he looked at Danielle. As he was about to say something to her, Marvin gave him a bear hug from behind and threw him to the ground. He got on top of Gavin and pinned him to the ground, lightly slapping his face. All Gavin could see were the shoes of the students around him-he recognized his brother's shoes. "Go home," Gavin said. "Bryan, go home." Marvin turned Gavin around, with his stomach against the ground and slapped the back of his head. In front of Gavin, stood Danielle--she moved from standing on top of the table to ground level. She shook her head. "Give in," Danielle said. "Will you marry me?" Gavin said. "How about we go see a flick first?" Gavin felt no pain at all as Marvin was pinning him to the dirt and slapping him on the back of his head. Gavin was numb to it all--he

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only saw Danielle. He only heard her words. He only saw her legs, her hips, breasts, face and hair. He looked at her and smiled--face covered in dirt and scratches. "I don't have enough to get you popcorn, but I can buy you a soft drink." "We'll trade," Danielle said. "You get the soft drinks, and I'll get the popcorn." Marvin felt like his head unattached itself from his body and floated towards the sky like a stray balloon full of helium. He saw a pigeon fly by. He felt the gray of the clouds filling his ears and coming out of his nose and mouth. The city of Manchester was below him--full of doubledeckers, Indian restaurants, football jerseys, and Aero chocolates. He saw the top of his brother's head. He saw himself getting beat up by Marvin. Then he didn't see anything at all. He didn't feel anything at all. The pummeling had stopped. Marvin was standing up wiping the sweat off his forehead. Gavin got up and brushed himself off. His legs were red and brown--a mixtures of blood and dirt. Marvin picked up his knapsack and started to walk away. "Marvin," Gavin said. He turned around. "I got a chance," he said. Marvin shook his head and walked away. Gavin gave his brother a high-five. "Just one more day of this," Bryan said. "And then it's the weekend." He nodded his head at Danielle and told her that would call her that night. He picked up his knapsack and made his way towards Room 103 for detention. I am me, he thought. He felt shiny. *** Shome Dasgupta lives in Lafayette, LA and teaches at South Louisiana Community College and University Of Phoenix Online. His writing has appeared in H_NGM_N, The Coachella Review, Magma Poetry, The Dead Mule, Splinter Generation, and elsewhere, and he has work forthcoming in Drunken Boat. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University-Los Angeles. [ 76 ]


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Regarding the Cover Art and the artist, David Colman___________________________________________________________________________________

David Colman is an illustrator who has You can see more of David’s work online been working as an Emmy award winning at www.davidsdoodles.com or at his daily character designer and development artist blog www.davidcolman.blogspot.com in the animation industry for over 8 years. He has worked for many clients such as Disney Feature Animation, Sony Pictures, Blue Sky Studios, Cartoon Network, and is currently at Fox TV Animation working on the new hit series The Cleveland Show. Beyond his work in the industry David is widely known for his animal character work and has self-published 3 books, The Art of Animal Character Design, David Colman’s Doodles Volume I and Volume II. His publications have led to many classes, lectures, seminars and workshops. More recently David has entered the private market being part of both solo and group exhibitions. Artwork used with permission of the artist, all rights reserved by the artist.

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Stymie Magazine | Spring & Summer '10  

The spring and summer edition of Stymie features a new look, a wider focus and amazing contributions from emerging and established writers a...

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