TEA literary magazine vol. xix
staff Editor in Chief
Executive Poetry Editor
CLAUDIA FELL CONGER
Executive Prose Editor
Executive Art Editor
NEEL BAPATLA GABRIELLE GRILLI JEREMY DAVID HAAS GIA LANDICINI KAREN LIBBY STEVEN LIBBY DANILO MARIN EMILY MAVRAKIS TAYLOR MCLAMB JUAN MEDINA JORDAN NOELL JOHN SHEA JORDAN SHEALY HEATHER STARRATT
letter from the editor Dear Reader, Welcome to Tea 19. Year after year, students have published their best writing and visual art in Tea—the University of Florida’s premier undergraduate literary magazine. Since its inception in the mid-nineties, Tea has continued to support new undergraduate voices in art and literature. Our form, like our list of contributors, has evolved since ’95. What was once a stapled zine made from construction paper and glue is now perfectly bound and more durable than in years past. Our intent is to create a magazine that will last, a magazine that you, dear reader, will want to look back on as we have looked back on all of the previous issues of Tea. Goethe said that “all poetry [all writing and art, really] is supposed to be instructive,” but that “we must deduce the lesson on our own, just as with life.” Tea taught us that decent artists “should glisten like fruit being sold on the sidewalk—suspicious and healthy;” that decent writers should tread the page without restraint since, “in the interest of safety, it is safer not to write at all.” This year, as always, our mission is to nourish you and we are humbled by your decision to dine with us. We’re all scrabbled out. We’ve fought for the better part of a year over line breaks, onomatopoeia, tasteful semicolons—and em dashes—to bring you this prix fixe. We offer you sour oranges, medlar cobbler, parables of sunlight for your darkest day. We take a thing of paint and pixels and make it—you know the story— simply headspace. We venture to bring you writing that feeds you, writing that will hold on to you for longer than it takes for you to read it. Consider this an invitation not only to the pages that follow, but to all of those that came before. Take the trip that we once made (some of us more than once) to the third floor of Smathers Library East and visit the Special Collections room, commonly known as the room-where-pens-go-to-die. Ask for the Tea archives. We’ll be right there waiting for you. Read hungry, Danny Duffy Editor in Chief Tea 19
acknowledgements As always, Tea would not be here without the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Council. We would like to thank CLAS and Student Government for continuing to support us. Tea is grateful to the Honors program for providing us with the means to reach a wider audience. The Honors Program is committed to promoting the Humanities and the Arts here at UF and their continued faith is encouraging. Special thanks are due to our faculty adviser William Logan, Padgett Powell, and Dr. Mark Law. Finally, thank you to all of the artists who submitted this year and all those who support and nurture art on campusâ€”especially our reviewers. Thank you for your patience and discerning eye.
about our selection process Tea bases its content on impartial votes by the reviewers of our editorial staff. The magazine is entirely student-produced and any undergraduate attending UF can participate in the selection process. All submissions are emailed directly to the Editor in Chief of Tea. The staff meets weekly and reviews the submitted works, which are displayed with their creatorâ€™s names redacted. Since the Editor in Chief is the only person who knows the identities of the artists, he or she does not vote, except in the instance of a tie. In this way, each work is selected anonymously. The reviewers discuss the integrity, mechanics, and technique of each submission before voting on whether each piece moves on for further review. If a majority agrees that a work deserves more deliberation, it will return for the final round of selection. During the final round, reviewers rate each piece with a numerical value and the highest averaging works are slated for publication. Only after the total selection is determined are the identities of their creators revealed. Due to the anonymity we afford our submitters, staff members are permitted to submit to the magazine. We do not, in any form, give preferential treatment to any poetry, prose, or visual art submitted by staff members. Tea has spent more than a decade perfecting our review process and we take it very seriously. The result is a magazine that represents the best work produced by our student body. Those interested in being featured in Tea 20 should submit their work to Andrew Cushen, the succeeding Editor in Chief, at email@example.com. We look forward to your submission.
awards BLACKBIRD PRIZE FOR POETRY As of Fall 2014, Dr. Mark Law has been the Director of the UF Honors Program and has, in good spirit, agreed to the continuation of the Blackbird Poetry Prize. The Blackbird Poetry Prize is awarded each year to an Honors Student whose poem will be featured in Tea. This prize is sponsored by the UF Honors program with funds provided by the Wentworth Scholarship Fund, originally advocated for by Dr. Kevin Knudson, Professor of Mathematics and former Director of the UF Honors Program. Dr. Knudson is an “occasional” poet—a professional mathematician with a confessed “lifelong interest in writing and reading poetry.” In 2012, the prize’s inaugural year, Dr. Knudson named it for one of his own favorite poems, Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. This year’s winner is Juan Medina for his poem “Canaries,” a piece that combines landscape and fantasy. The frequent double entendres of “Canaries” remind us of Stevens’ “blackbird whistling” and “just after”. Medina’s inflections can be found in his exploration of the “fabular,” but his innuendos are persistent so that the speaker’s connection with the landscape is purely digital and, in this way, dream-like.
PALMETTO PRIZE FOR PROSE Five years ago, an anonymous donor endowed Tea with the means to reward one undergraduate writer a year with commendations, and the Palmetto Prize for Prose was born. On the fourth floor of Turlington, a plaque honors these yearly winners. Padgett Powell is an American novelist in the Southern literary tradition. His debut novel, Edisto, was nominated for the American Book Award and was excerpted in The New Yorker. Powell has written five more novels— including A Woman Named Drown, Edisto Revisited, Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men, The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, and You & Me—and three collections of short stories. He has also been generous enough to select this year’s Palmetto Prize winner. The winner of the Palmetto Prize is Andrew Cushen for his short story “Everybody Had a Good Time.” “The piece has some ambition, some size, is ballsy, and has what we’ll call nice oblique narrative postures.” Andrew Cushen’s name will join those of past winners John Moran, Danny Ennis, Lindsey Skillen, Ciara Lepanto, and Jordan Dong in an etching that will embellish the fourth floor of Turlington for years to come.
contents 12 “Canaries” JUAN MEDINA ■ 13 “Headspace” AMBER FLASKEY ▲ 14 “Gender Research, 1996” HEATHER STARRATT ■ 15 “Everybody Had a Good Time” ANDREW CUSHEN ● 19 “Forests” NICOLE SERRANO ▲ 20 “Lake Girl” BRIANNA BARNETT ■ 21 “Humidity” CLAUDIA CONGER ■ 22 “Plants are Great Listeners” ELLE WOOD ▲ 23 “In Cappadocia Valley” JUAN MEDINA ■ 24 “Kat's Cradle” KAT MALLORY ▲
25 “La Nota Roja to Enrique Metinedes” ANDREW CUSHEN ■ 26 “Angel of Death” AMBER FLASKEY ▲ 28 “All-American Football Man Reads E.E. Cummings” JORDAN DONG ■ 28 “Dresden” AMBER FLASKEY ▲ 29 “Auto Shop Eavesdrop” LIREN XUE ● 31 Artist's Statement AMBER FLASKEY ▲ 34 “Peanut Butter Fingers” Emmie Sperandeo 36 “Upside Down” BRIANNA BARNETT ▲ 37 “Habits” CLAUDIA CONGER ■
38 “Splitting” AMBER FLASKEY ▲
49 “Vantablack” MAITANE ROMAGOSA ■
39 “Cloudy” BRIANNA BARNETT ■
50 “Two-Faced” AMBER FLASKEY ▲
40 “Brain Chemistry” ZIQI WANG ▲
51 “On Eating the Sour Orange” ANDREW CUSHEN ●
41 “Presentation” ANDREW CUSHEN ●
52 “Growth” THOMAS CONNELLY ▲
43 “Alternative Forms of Government” JOHN SHEA ■
53 “All Those Unfriendly White People” JORDAN DONG ●
44 “Lake” STEVEN LIBBY ▲
56 “Beast of Burden” AMBER FLASKEY ▲
45 “Spill” ELLE WOOD ▲
57 “Baking Meddlar Cobbler with my Gynecologist” HEATHER STARRATT ■
46 “The High Diver” PHILLIP MACKIE ● 47 “16 Manor Place” CLAUDIA CONGER ■ 48 “Drop” KAT MALLORY ▲
58 “Friendly Furniture” AMBER FLASKEY ▲
canaries Juan Medina
I have an uncle in Tenerife who borders on the fabular. I never met his wife before she passed away, and his boy is an actuary. Like a guardian satyr, my uncle pokes out around Good Friday or happy birthday mornings in an offbeat frolic, hopping over live streams on our computers, laughing and motioning all the way from Tenerife’s sand castles of marigold—Love, uncle. We say blessings. Tenerife itself is a fable; the sea-forts lie unkicked by twilight hour, and in flashes from storms they loom like tusks of ivory. The static of the breaking waves below is familiar as fear to the folk of Tenerife, the salt gurgle of a morning’s lullaby.
headspace Amber Flaskey
gender research, 1996 Heather Starratt
Spray-tanned polypropylene limbs fill a soap dish—flesh lacking, meat missing, hard and hairless—like lobster shells. On the bathtub’s edge, our next victim sits, pleased, never not smiling, a delicious idiot naked lifeguard dying. Who does he think he is? Ken and his half-brothers have something we don’t, but will find. Boy amputees buoy in girl-salted water. We rub our thumbs on nubs nippled from their hips and shoulders. This is it, no this can’t be it. I thought it would be bigger. Oh well. We let out the bath and watch buff bodies compete for the drain, our beefcake sacrifices. Our fathers and uncles, our men, disjointed by young giants, callow in the water’s leaving, helpless, the way we want it.
everybody had a good time Andrew Cushen
George is the type of man who describes other people as “the type of…” He’s easy like that. You could have him pegged in a second. So it was a surprise to me to find out he messaged a young man through a gay app on his sister’s old phone. It might have started off as a bit of a joke, the extra hot dog you eat because your friend dared you to, or because you have never been able to resist sauerkraut. This was George’s shallow, teensy hot dog, so to speak. Everyone gets that way, George thought. We paint something obscene on the wall and leave it up for a day, rub off in someone’s guest room, things like that. But this was more than that. All George wanted, really, was to kiss a boy. Strike that. A man. Kissing a “boy” at his age? No, he didn’t want to be one of those mug shots on 7 o’clock TV. So messaging men, who looked suspiciously young, he took things to a level. “Hello,” he said. One of the young men, who had an 8-pack and oddly shaped eyebrows, replied, “Bottom?” “Show me the money,” said another. George would chuckle and go back to his work or his family. Look at what he’d gone and done, bungled up a pure Internet connection with this silliness. “Hello,” he said. “And what do we have here?” one man said. “I’m only joking,” he said. “I’d like to bust a joke in that mouth,” the man replied. Gross. It went like this, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then before Marjorie called everyone to dinner on Thursday, he took the next step. “Hello,” he said. “Hi, Daddy,” the boy said. “I’d prefer you not call me that,” he said. He thought of his daughter. “Should I call you anything?” The boy messaged this next, followed by a smiling purple devil horns. “Call me in an hour if you’re looking for a good time.” George included his number. The “good time” line came out of nowhere, the imaginary bathroom stall in his mind. It felt like the type of thing people like this say. George thought of “people like this,” who said “Hi, Daddy” to strangers and did who knows what in the bedroom, not with religious-like judgment, but as being truly courageous. In another life, he dreamed of being that person.
Dinner: it’s mundane and simple until it isn’t. Marjorie, dressed down in a sweatshirt and bun, reaches across him for extra dressing. George wears a button-down, slacks, glasses. He had work; they have working lives. These days had progressed steadily, interrupted only by Marie’s small achievements and George’s mistakes. Example: When Marie got to 4’ 7” and George said “That’s damn great,” and Marjorie didn’t get over damnation for an hour. Example tonight: Marjorie asks for George to pass the breadsticks and George hears “bread dicks.” He gasps, amazed at Marjorie’s language, but no one said that. No one would ever say that. “Anything exciting happen today?” Marjorie asks the table. “Ms. Margol spit on a boy,” Marie says. She’s a good little daughter. She mostly resembles George, big nose, big hands, little ears. She eats too much. “Her name is Mrs. Marigold,” Marjorie says, “and I’m sure it was an accident.” Marjorie measures the length of a breadstick and tears it in half. “Accident-shmakccident,” Marie says. “She soaked him.” George and Marjorie are tired and unwilling to entertain their daughter’s banter. Marjorie places the other half of the breadstick close to Marie’s plate, a suggestion. After dinner, no one called, and George deleted the app, feeling dirty outside the bathroom of his mind. After dinner two weeks later someone does call. George is sweeping breadcrumbs off the top of the table and catching them in his hand. He is occupied with a simple work problem, how to phrase an email, how to broach a question. George likes cleaning up after dinner. He can’t make anything, but he’s Olympic gold in clean-up crew. On the counter across the room, his phone begins to vibrate. As it vibrates, it skitters itself across the counter, approaches the counter’s edge in limp attempted suicide. George dumps his hand in the sink, and without washing off, picks up his phone. It’s a number he doesn’t know, which generally doesn’t dissuade him from calls, because he doesn’t mind telemarketers. George likes a good pitch. “Hello, this is George.” He’s maneuvering the phone to his other shoulder so he can get his hands free. There’s a pause. “George good time?” It’s a boy’s voice. He sounds nervous. George doesn’t know this, but Timothy is standing on his bathroom counter for reception. His toes are wet; he could slip. George doesn’t know what to say. “I don’t know what to say.” “It’s fine if you’re not who I thought. I just got this from a friend.” “Well, who did you think this would be?” “A man willing to kiss me.” George is amazed. What gumption, what a thing to say. Imagine his father heard this. He’d keel right over, dead. But he’s not saying no—he’s not his father. “You might have the right man then.” The right man is turning the faucet on; he is washing his hands. “Text me an address and we can meet.”
His voice seems unworried, almost practiced, though the right man wants desperately for the not-boy to say “No, no, not tonight.” “Sure,” the boy says, “see you in a half hour.” The phone clicks off. In the kitchen the smell of toast, no, French bread, haunts George’s perception like a seizure. It smells good. Marjorie hates dinner smell to stick around after they’ve eaten, so George lights a candle, Lavender Dividends. Timothy is minor in George’s life: 17 and unimportant, though he feels massively important in the moment, and looks legal enough. He’s done his eyebrows. We know the sort, an encouragement, kind to teachers, mothers of friends love him. He’s exemplary and volunteers his time. He makes friends badly, often. His only vice is his judgment: he consistently makes bad decisions. At 24, Timothy will be carried off by a human trafficker and sold to an Indonesian millionaire, and murdered by 26 for lack of patience. But don’t worry about that. His fate is everyone’s—some questions go unanswered. Timothy sends George the address of a park twenty minutes away. George has combed his hair, but he hasn’t changed. His shirtsleeves are still rolled up, and he wears no tie. He wishes he had one so he could loosen it at an appropriate moment. He takes Marjorie’s car because it gets better mileage. Did you know Volkswagen means “the people’s car?” After the war, Ford had the opportunity to take Volkswagen’s first factory, free of charge. The Ford representatives declined. Bad, bad decisions. In the purchase of a motor vehicle, do you value efficiency or comfort? How do you feel about a full leather interior? Trunk room? Fold-down, wide-back co-pilot seats? Do you need to see your MPG in green lights? Do you feel cleaner when you press the button leaf ? It’s a trick question— Volkswagen lies about emissions. You’re always ruining something, no matter how you come to it. George is ignorant of all this. He wishes he knew more about cars, but it’s one of the arenas he feels is too late to take up now. All the other men at work talk about the cars they own (shitty) and the cars they’re saving to buy (nice). They seem to communicate via pheromones when someone’s vintage pulls in to the lot. George feels like an adult, which he is, but he worries about things he doesn’t know. What difference does four-wheel drive make, and for that matter, how long would it take to love another person? Timothy vapes. Vape, vape, vape. He likes smoke that tastes like blueberries. Timothy is outside of his car. He texts descriptive information to George. “Red Focus, green shorts, black t-shirt.” Marie has a pair of green shorts. She calls them her “Luckies.” Timothy gets caught in the German lights. George turns the car off, and texts Timothy to make sure it’s him. Of course, it is. They walk around the children’s park. George is nervous, and makes the nervous conversation. How old are you? Old enough (not sexy). What do
you study? I want to be a lawyer. What does that entail? Helping people who can’t afford help. So how will you stay in business? The conversation is understandably slow. They’re trying to get to know each other in the wrong circumstances. Spread false names, false stories. Lie about your age. Everyone in the world is having a good time, except these sincere idiots. They sit on a bench that has wrought-iron shapes in the handles. They might be children playing, or Aztec caricatures. Timothy has gum, and they split it between them, chewing nervously. Timothy’s lips are cold but smooth, clearly nervous. He uses balm. George doesn’t—he never has—Marjorie never complains. It’s perfunctory, the kissing. It’s a prelude to what they really want, George and Marjorie. Tim—that’s what George is calling him—is enthusiastic. He sits on his legs to gain higher access to George. He likes the scruff, adult hair on his upper lip. Tim wants to be an adult. He thinks that—ah, we don’t care what he thinks. Fast forward, and Tim is a cold body in an Indonesian parking lot. George, how do you feel? George puts his hands on his shoulders with a little pressure, and Tim takes this as an invitation for a blow job. “I needed this,” Tim says. He unzips George’s slacks, smelling George’s home, car smell, the warning sign of toast. He needs this? George is depressed somewhat by the delivery. Tim uses his hand to clean his mouth and wipes it on his pants. He spits over the bench. George breathes out, slowly. It’s over. He can go home. Timothy offers another. George declines, politely, then offers money. An investment in the law, George says. Timothy thinks he’s joking and doesn’t take it. George tastes himself in Tim’s mouth, warmer now. Tim has no lip hair. His mouth is small—almost Marjorie’s size. George decides he’ll never do this again. “Should we do this again?” Timothy asks George, his best attempt at seduction. “Please.” George is the right man. The right man gets in his car. He drives home.
Lake Girl was created by a bomb drop. She’s cold—clear in the middle— sweet like water streaming through limestone where the bomb first touched ground. Warm and dark water lingers by her edge and touches weeds and dirt hills thrown upward upon impact. Lake Girl is sun and inner-mud blended, easy like the naked swimmers paddling near the edge, floating over tendrils of seaweed. She holds up their backs; their chests face the air. Animals creep through the moonlight and lap their fill with rough pink tongues.
humidity Claudia Conger
I grew up between bedrooms of rented apartments and brackish lagoons, lips dripping with half-saline, apologetic wetness. The mangroves all look the same in the Indian River, like the planned community pools that reek of chlorine and unwatched children. By sundown, stepmothers retreat into two-car garages while chlorine pools drown more children than estuaries.
plants are great listeners Elle Wood
in cappadocia valley Juan Medina
The sun marked our backs and chafed the edges of a bare sky like a barber with a blowtorch. All around us bloomed fairy-chimneysâ€” volcanic discharge rained on stubborn basalt, two layers like bickering lovers trapped into form across so much hot air. Atop one, we lay in the wind and play-fought with stones, cornhole for the last grape lokums. A continental breakfast, a honeymoon suite: we slept in a cave.
katâ€™s cradle Kat Mallory
la nota roja to enrique metinedes Andrew Cushen
Choose a dead body. This could be the corpse of anyone, say, a married woman, white, who died in an automobile accident. Choose a dead one with little blood for inspiration. The windshield glass is tight through her blonde hair. She is unlike any death we’ve ever seen, and you preserved her. It’s the 1950s in Mexico City. Enter the red note, the beginning of your art. We have seen exposés on the hideous— you are not a horror man. Your photos are almost erotic. A husband will forget to hide them from his children, sitting at the breakfast table, wondering where his wife spent last night, and when he might hear from her—today? You profit from death. Your material cools to perfection. It sells well; it settles fears. Where do we go after? Who sends us headlong through the grass? You pose these questions in the poses women make: broken over the electric light; full of lake water; strangle marks blooming along the neck in a lover’s caress. These dead have flattering angles, still. They pout with dreamy ease, as if you haven’t told them yet. See the red note. The blonde—her arms lightly, lightly cut. All the sweaty confusion of other days has gone. She had some heat left when you took that photo. What can we say, when confronted with the red note? It demands attention. We would give our lives to be viewed like this any other day: made-up; camera-flashed; heeled; dressed like Easter; floating in the town’s largest body of water.
angel of death Amber Flaskey
all-american football man reads e.e. cummings Jordan Dong
Balls balls balls, Balls balls balls. Balls; balls ballsâ€”balls Balls balls, balls Balls (balls) Balls?
auto shop eavesdrop Liren Xue
Look, you gloomy son of a bitch, I got the perfect story to cheer you up. First off, stop trying to be a tough guy. You’ve been cooped up for almost a month. Jesus, the last time I saw you was before Margie started with that grapefruit asshole cleanse nonsense. Anyway, this happened last week when Margie and I were fixing to pick up the kids after school. Listen. We were there, picking up the kids, waiting in that fucking line with all the other SUVs in front of the school, just me and Margie, sitting in that airport lane. You know, the one where everyone just has to inch forward in their cars and stick their heads out the windows until that one volunteer girl, the one with the tits, sees em and signs off that their kid is good to go? This ain’t part of the cheering up, I’ll get to that, but can you believe that? Schools are so scared of being sued that they have to check off on each runt before they can send them home at the end of the day. Hot garbage if you ask me. Anyway, so we were just lounging, me and Margie, waiting cause you know that chick don’t ever remember anyone’s name and has to look through the whole goddamn list every time, when Margie turns to me and says, “You know what? I don’t really mind waiting in line here one bit. Kids are so goshdarn cute, and it’s just nice—yeah, nice—just looking around and seeing all of them. Like, oh my God, look at that little Chinese boy, isn’t he ridiculous? I want one so baaaad.” Picture that. Baaaad. like her Momma was a sheep. Well, anyway. She drops that on me and you know what I said back? Didn’t say shit, of course. Look. When they get like that, you just gotta pretend like you didn’t hear nothing and change the subject. That’s how she got me to get that damn dog. She wanted a cat first, you know, but then I started trying to talk her out of it and, like a dipshit, I told her all about how cats don’t even make for good pets and how you can’t teach em to do tricks or nothin, and she turned it around. She said, “How about a pup?” If you say no then you’re the big, shitty asshole, but if you try to argue back with cold-hard, factual logic, well, they just want so many things that you’re gonna talk yourself into a corner. So anyway, I just gave her this half-assed smile, like I was worn out from work, but she just kept gabbing. “Did you know there’s, like, a billion of them in orphanages? Especially the girls, you know I’d be happy with a girl too, they just get tossed out in dumpsters all the time, it’s so saaaad.” Then she did that pause, you know, the one where she just looks at ya and you feel like if you don’t answer something bad might happen to you? She did that
and I hit her with a sad-sounding Hmmm back cause I thought that’s what she wanted, but in my head I was cussing out Oprah for turning everyone into Jesus wannabes. Look at me. Do I look like I need a Chinese kid? We already got the boys, and you remember how much work taking care of them is. Christ. Shitdick One and Shitdick Two. The point? I’m getting there. You got somewhere to be? I bet if I didn’t show up at your door this morning you’d be spanking it to Judge Judy right now. Don’t lie. I’m getting there. I promised you this would cheer you up, didn’t I? Back to my story. I gave her that little Hmmm, but she was really thinking hard. She turns and looks me in the eye and says, “Y’know, I think I’m actually feeling it. I’m thinking about all the places that I know, and, I have got to say, I think this is my favorite one. This is my favorite place to be in the whole wide world. It’s so simple, but still. I love kids and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to be surrounded by them every time we’re picking up the boys. It’s the part of my day I look forward to the most. Please, can we try for another?” Well, I knew I was in deep then, so I had to pull out the trump card. Yup, so I look her real hard in her eye, all intense-like, so we’re just staring each other down like cowboys, and I tell her, “Baby girl, you know who else sees this kid pick-up lane as their favorite place? Pedophiles. In fact, I bet you there’s some pedophiles waiting in line with us right now.” No, no, yeah. I know it was a dumbass thing to say. But man, she put me on the spot. She wanted a kid for Christ’s sake, and you’ve seen how scary she gets. Member that Christmas when Pop Pop got too wild and sat on the fruit cake? That was chicken shit next to this. She said, “What the hell? What’s wrong with you?” She likes to ask that. “Why do you have to act like such a child all the time? I’m being serious here,” she said. At this point I realize I ought to cool it. But I don’t. “Well, I’m being serious too, Marge,” I said. “I just think it’s kinda freaky that you like this place so much. In fact, when you say that you love this place cause it’s got the most kids, what you’re pretty much also saying is I’m okay with being surrounded by an unusually high number of pedophiles.” Man, that really set her off. She started calling me all sorts of names and was sobbing all over the place and punching me on the arm. We got the boys and drove home in silence. She didn’t talk to me for two whole days after that. And look at me now, not having another kid. Happy and happily married. How does that cheer you up? It’s obvious, brother. You’re all bummed out just cause you’re seeing things the wrong way. You’re a regular glass halfempty. Look, if I could twist her thing from wanting kids to being about pedophiles, you could twist that story of your life in any other direction you wanted. Maybe those creepy fellas camping out in front of all the schools aren’t there cause they wanna diddle, but cause they wanna be surrounded by happy families. Maybe they just want to see something nice. You just gotta start seeing things more positively. Things’ll be alright, you’ll see.
Amber Flaskey My artwork is an exploration of psychic life. It questions the conflicts between perception and reality, the desires for permanence and mutability, and the opposition between internal and external worlds as one struggles to maintain a coherent sense of self. I work with mixed media in order to mirror this instability. The pieces in this collection consist of collages, hand-drawn images, and watercolor paintings that have been postprocessed in Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop. (Pictured: Angel of Death; Headspace; Two-Faced; Ainâ€™t No Sunshine; Beast of Burden)
peanut butter fingers Emmie Sperandeo
Maybelle was a sweetheart. She was a thoughtful mother, an attentive wife. That’s what I said at her funeral, anyway. If we’re being honest, Maybelle was a real bitch. In the 15 years we were married, she managed to turn our entire family against me. Every Thursday night at nine o’clock, after one-too-many glasses of merlot, she would call someone in our family and tell them I was gay, and that she was convinced I was having an affair with one of the guys in my bridge club. By Friday afternoon I would get a call that started with, “So, you’re a fag?” Maybelle had lots of things she liked to do just to spoil my day. A couple of years ago my doctor told me to take it easy ‘cause my cholesterol was getting too high. Maybelle soon after started pouring salt on every meal she made for me. One Christmas, right before the children woke up, she threw away all of the gifts I got for them so it looked like she was the only one who got any gifts for the family. She told all her friends I forgot about Christmas. For every book series I ever started, she would rip out the last page and blame it on the kids. I know it was her because when I finally went through her things yesterday, I found every single page she had taken stashed in a shoebox. But of all the things she did to make me unhappy, last year was the beginning of her biggest scheme yet. She started making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids’ lunches every morning. Normally this would be a typical mom thing to do, except for the fact that I’m allergic to peanut butter. We had kept peanuts out of the house for 14 years, until one day she realized my crippling weakness was her strength. Maybelle refused to wash the peanut butter-covered dishes. At 11:00pm, she would call her friends and complain about how messy I was because I wouldn’t wash the dishes. She wouldn’t tell them about my allergy, only the dishes. A real bum I was, they’d say, a real character. She may or may not have wanted me dead. At least she wanted me to be miserable. I bet she never expected to be the first to go. She was the thoughtful type, a true cultivator. I’ll never know when Maybelle began to hate me. It came quickly, without warning, almost immediately after we got married. Maybe I just didn’t ever notice it before. I probably thought she was joking. Anyway. Enough complaining. There were plenty of great things about Maybelle. She was a lovely person when she wanted to be. It’s been three weeks now since she died. She was on her way to the grocery store when a garbage truck slammed right into her. What a mess.
That’s what the cop told me, at least. I apologized for the inconvenience. I wouldn’t say I love being a single dad, but I definitely like it more than being a married one. Not because I want to explore my sexuality or anything, I’m not gay, I just really think Maybelle was trying to kill me. Only, now that she’s dead, I’m all the kids have. And they won’t let the peanut butter go. They really won’t. On the children’s first day back to school, they asked for their usual sandwiches. “I can’t make the sandwiches. I’ll die.” “Mom made them every morning.” “Your mom wasn’t allergic to peanut butter. I’ll die.” They didn’t care. They learned empathy from Maybelle. Later that night, I went to the store and bought powder-free latex gloves, duct tape, trash bags, and those tiny masks the doctor hands out during flu season. I pulled on the gloves, wrapped the trash bags around my arms and secured them with tape, and put on my mask. The kids were asleep. I wanted to see if I could do it before I got their hopes up. I maneuvered the bread, jelly and peanut butter, but no matter how hard I tried, the peanut butter would get everywhere. Once I finally got a sandwich made just right, I made ten more. I had to stock up. This method of keeping my children happy worked for the most part. Sometimes the peanut butter would slip between the gloves and the duct tape; sometimes there were tiny holes in the latex. Either way, my hands were almost always covered in rashes. Sometimes I would accidentally touch my face with my gloves on, and the rash would spread there as well. The rashes would be red, bubbly, and I was convinced I actually smelled like peanut butter. I constantly had to keep explaining myself to moms at school, coworkers, and the guys in my bridge club. “Does he hurt himself ?” “He must really miss her.” “Such a good father.” “Those kids really have him by the balls.” “I couldn’t imagine.” “Fucking baby.” The moms in the pick-up area at the kids’ school had always been bad at whispering. I heard them describe their husbands’ erectile dysfunction so many times I started to feel good about myself. I wish I could spare them some grief by telling them I’m fine. Really. It’s my hands that are the problem, my peanut butter fingers. Every morning I risk my life for a sandwich. It’s all I can do for my kids. They love their peanut butter—not me so much. That’s what Maybelle would’ve wanted. God dammit. She was such a bitch.
upside down Brianna Barnett
I wear your skin, your thighs—the parts too big for my sister’s clothes. There are too many spaces between our good habits— like your crushed Diet Coke cans, and my landscape of one-night, half-assed relationships. After two girls and twenty years you didn’t have to stay here, sleeping through the workday in this concrete apartment. Before you knew me, in the first house with my father, that one-bedroom beside Valley Forge—you ran down the driveway just slowly enough for him to catch you.
splitting Amber Flaskey
Brianna Barnett Sitting on the toilet, half naked and waiting for a bowel movement, I massage my right breast, Listen to rain that pours, then waits, then pours. My toes rest on cold tiles, knees nearly touching, I wait, listening to the wind, acorns cracking against the roofâ€” I think Iâ€™m sad.
brain chemistry Ziqi Wang
presentation Andrew Cushen
Imagine a classroom. All your friends are there, your roommates, your ex-girlfriends and -boyfriends. You’re the last person to arrive, and a few people do the half-smile, the look, the “you don’t care as much,” judgment. The only seat left is in the front of the class, next to a wetfaced girl you’ve never appreciated. Her name is Marissa, and she smells like piss (cats). She’s always been kind to you, but you hate her. The room quiets down. You have something to do with this, probably. You take out your phone and read the news. There’s been an explosion. It happened in a city 70 miles away. In the grand scheme, that’s close to you. You imagine all the dead on the sidewalk, lying uninterrupted. You lock your phone. Marissa coughs a fake cough. Don’t get annoyed with her—she’s trying to cue you in. There’s a presentation in the front of the room with your name on it. She coughs again. You can see your name, incorrectly spelled. What a bitch. To your left, your ex-girlfriend (from when you used to do that), puts her hand on your desk. More like slaps her hand. It’s loud. The room hears it and listens for what is next. “Your turn, bozo.” It’s insulting but lame. She motions towards the PowerPoint. It has your name on it. At the front of the room is a grade sheet, a set of criteria. You will be judged on both preparation and spontaneity. The topic is your life, exhaustively researched. Marissa coughs once more. It’s possible the coughing has nothing to do with you. She might have allergies or the flu. If she’s infectious, she shouldn’t be here. The door opens. It’s everyone you’ve ever known in your life. Your family, your uncles, the old parish priest. It’s kindergarten and high school math classes. It’s people you’ve befriended online, but never seen in person. It’s a parade. The room fills and keeps filling, but everyone is able to find good seats, up close. You won’t have to use a microphone. They are, at most, ten feet away. You can see their pores. Colin Ransom, the hottest man you’ve ever known, seems to have none. Age has treated him well, which is a relief. Marissa won’t stop coughing. Your mother offers her a bottle of water from her purse. You begin. You start at your birth. What did you weigh, how did you sound? Where did it start and where did it finish? These questions are easy. Your mother is a reliable source. The surgeons who delivered you nod in agreement. You’re doing this well. Pubescence is a source of strain. You have to say private things. You’ve
hurt yourself on purpose, but it was only once, and you didn’t want to do it again. This will impact your image, naturally. You jerked off a lot. There are photos between slides, complete with sliding transitions. Who took these? Marissa is taking notes. Colin nods. He’s not judgmental. Attractive people are so understanding. Middle school teachers are mostly appalled. You get to losing your religion. “How can you do this to us?” This is grandma. She asks this in the middle of high school, when you rejected priesthood. The Monseigneur excuses himself partway through—he feels ill. Your mother puts her hand up. Should you save questions for after the presentation? You’re not sure how long it goes, what it covers. Everything is told looking forward. It’s impossible to disguise your motives at the time. Look where we ended up. You describe your first sexual experience with a man. In a way you’re trying to boast to the people who thought you’d never get laid, while making sure your mother knows you still have some shame. The result is this man sounds made up. He’s in the room. He dislikes you, but he can’t disagree with the facts. Someone won, someone lost. Father McGrady is back. There is some quiet weeping coming from your younger brother. This presentation is thorough. In the teens, you mentioned how you wished he died. This desire motivated you to do well in school, so that when he didn’t do as well, your parents would be disappointed and he might kill himself. You haven’t thought about that feeling in a long time—how gruesome this all looks in the PowerPoint. There are diagrams and animations. Things are summed up easily in pictures. “What kind of man says things like these?” Your father now. You want to answer his questions, but you don’t know. It’s just your life.
alternative forms of government John Shea
It was decided at the highest level that there was to be, in the month of June, a referendum on the form of the government. June, it was decided, was the time for breaking bad news, like a month of Fridays, inspiring and disarming. Everything was on the table: there were suggestions of a boy king; a cadre of old soldiers countered that only a warrior-in-chief could protect them from a future coup dâ€™ĂŠtat; the oldest woman in America was found living somewhere in the Southwest and briefly proclaimed matriarch. Research underway in Florida on the moral superiority of the dolphin showed promise. Scientists hurried to tap this genius with the spile of language, but which one? A man from Oregon drove cross-country and revealed that he could read the clouds, taking the whole thing out of human hands. The voting age fell to zero. Privacy and security see-sawed, economies tottered, and the ballot grew from a sheet to a book, then was digitized. People reviewed their options in lines that stretched around the world.
the high diver Phillip Mackie
She can do the violent dives. The ones they do at the Olympics. She can compact twists and somersaults into a second in the air. These dives are the money makers—all torque and speed; elegance is an afterthought. She thinks everyone loves her for her poise and grace. They see her hard eyes and a pointed nose against the delicate curves of her body, which is oddly sharp in her shoulders and soft as a baby elsewhere—she is right; her features are both perplexing and entrancing. But only when she dives. She likes to dive on clear nights when the light of the moon is gentle and gostly. You’ve never seen such wet vanity. She knows that her image hangs delicately, on tiptoe like at the edge of the ten-meter platform. She wants only to be admired by people she finds worthwhile, so she ignores everyone who is awkward or clumsy or balding or fat. How can you fault her? This is all she knows. And while ignorance may not be innocence, it can be just as pitiable. One night a guy she knows asks to go with her to watch her dive. She says please do. So he goes and floats around in the pool while she starts at the one meter springboard. Pike dive, back dive, single somersaults. Bravo. Her body is fluid through the air as if through water, as if suspended by wires, like it ought to look. He watches her body straighten and slip into the water, making almost no sound at all. Go higher. She gets out and shakes her hair out of habit. She turns and looks at him for a second, to see he is impressed, before starting toward the platform stairs. She climbs higher and higher. Ten meters, or three stories, is a long way up. He loses sight of her. Then she reappears on the edge of the platform. From where he’s standing she is a silhouette with a corona of silver moonlight around her. He sees her arms raise into a cross then swing in a circle as she lifts off the platform. She makes to flip and twist as she approaches the water’s surface and time seems to accelerate. Maybe she is tense or distracted or, for once, just a little clumsy, but for whatever reason, she is askew. She hits the pool with a clap and the water erupts around her. He ducks under water to check on her. She is sinking. Like the good Samaritan he is, he keeps her head still as he slowly comes back to the surface with her. In an ambulance, neck brace and all, she is taken away. The paramedics, amidst their flurry of activity to rush her to medical attention, tell him he’ll have to answer some questions at the hospital for legal reasons. They ask him what they could’ve been thinking, as if they have an answer. He asks if he can ride with them. No, since you aren’t family. So he stands at the back of the bay. Before they slam the doors, he calls in quietly, “I’m so sorry. I still thought it was nice, though.” But she cannot hear him.
16 manor place Claudia Conger
I remember little of my life fifty-five miles north-west of London, besides the fox shit that marked the end of the cul-de-sac. Oxford, a series of unfinished thingsâ€” my father never completed his thesis, and I couldnâ€™t learn how to read quickly enough to understand J. R. R. Tolkien, or to know why his Manor Road house at the end of our street meant anything more than the peeling number three and bricks never burnished, aging under a violet sky.
vantablack Maitane Romagosa
The blackest of blacks was created in a laboratory somewhere in Europe. It isn’t a shade or tint— no splash of Spanish Damson with some Bittersweet Vermillion—but expensive leatherette from an incalculable slur that plots any curve, squeezes breath from any atom, and sits palpably somewhere between solid, liquid, and gas. I heard some famous artist paid millions to own it, so he could sell it, packaged as meaning or beauty. It’s the closest we’ve got to a man-made black hole, they say.
two-faced Amber Flaskey
on eating the sour orange Andrew Cushen
“You can’t get these anymore,” Jack begins. “People buy fruit for the sweetness.” We dig in, and it’s wildly fertile; we expected seeds, just not so many. It’s difficult to pierce. After nails, we used a knife. Ms. Redmund brought me one coming back from a local historic place, meaning it I think, in the way of a party favor, or like painkillers: suitable, a kind of pitying. It was at dinner in the Pan-Asian all-you-can-eat by the highway. We celebrated my boyfriend’s coming success in the world of improvised comedy. Coming, in the way the religious refer to what they believe in, but have not seen yet. At dusk, they hurried us off the lake deck, because mosquitos come out after sunset. And what a sunset—very few things are made orange without food coloring: the uncreative namesake, and a sunset. Some flowers? I think of marigold, which is on second thought a crayon color. But I wanted to tell you about the sour orange. It pulls at your jaw, and as you pick/pull the seeds out one by one, it’s a force of its own, which you pry open and clench through. That day I walked home from my boyfriend’s apartment with the refrigerated gift in my hand. People let their dogs out to shit, and a girl with golden hair fell off her little bike. The day was hot and blue. I sweated, but the orange held cold my whole way home.
all those unfriendly white people Jordan Dong
Xue Zhang got to pick his name when he moved to The United States of America at the age of four. He picked the name Jackie. Jackie Zhang was twenty-five years old, and having a hard time. A girlfriend named Pam and an office job made things bearable, but he felt uncomfortable around most people and watched too much hardcore pornography for things to be just right. He couldn’t help any of it. Then, he woke from a deep, deep sleep one morning with a new ability, which felt more like remembering how to do something than it did learning how to do something new, more like riding a bike again than doing something left-handed: the ability to control white people. He wasn’t excessive in trying it out. If you’re thinking, I’d make everyone on the street do jumping jacks, or, I’d make that attractive person come and kiss me on the mouth and tell me they love me, that’s your problem. That’s why good things don’t happen to you. It was as easy as thinking it. Pick up your dog. A white woman picked up her dog, and the dog whimpered. Pretend to trip, but then say, “I was just kidding.” A white man walking with his wife pretended to trip, and then said, “I was just kidding.” She said, “What’s the matter with you?” He said, “I don’t know.” Jackie asked Pam to go to the mall. They’d been together for three years. “Do you see that woman in the purple sweater?” he asked her. “She’s ugly,” she said. “Can you not be like that for a minute? I’m trying to show you something. She’s going to start hopping on her left foot, and when she stops she’s going to cry quietly.” “What are you saying?” she said. The woman did the things. “What the hell is going on? Who is she?” He explained his new talent. She reacted more calmly than she felt. “Can you get us free Chick-fil-A?” They kissed and got lunch. Jackie was satisfied with getting free food and starting fights between white couples. Pam acted more calmly than she felt. In a traffic jam, they sat still and quietly. A black family had been pulled over by a heavyset balding man wearing white-framed sunglasses. The traffic was completely stopped. “I hate Oakleys,” Pam said. “The worst brand, so copish.” Jackie had agreed to not control anything Pam did, since that would complicate things. Still, he could think of what he would do.
There were three children in the black family’s car, two girls and a boy. Pam had opened her window to listen. The normal pulled-over things happened. “Did you know your tags are expired.” “No.” Some more talking. “Will you step out of the vehicle?” “Why.” “Will you step out of the vehicle?” “Beat his ass, daddy,” the younger girl said. “Shut your mouth,” the cop said. “Don’t talk to my daughter that way.” “Punch him in the neck, daddy,” the older girl said. “Step out of the vehicle, now.” Enough, Jackie thought. Be on your way now, he thought, and just like that the entertainment for the traffic was over. “Drive away, small man,” he said to himself, and the cop drove along the shoulder past the parked cars. Pam rolled up her window. “I was watching that. I wanted to see what would happen.” “You shouldn’t say things like that if you don’t mean it,” he said. “You know, they could’ve been criminals,” she said. “They could’ve had guns or drugs in the car. You don’t know.” He gestured toward the large bag of weed in the back seat, which he had obtained from his new white drug dealer. “Still,” she said. At home, he masturbated to a video of a woman kicking and punching a man. It was eighteen minutes and forty seconds long, perfect. The woman slapped the man in the face and called him a piece of shit. She kicked him in the balls once in a while. “You’re garbage,” she said, smiling. It was hard to get off to a woman like this, he thought, the type of woman who doesn’t mean it. Mean it, he thought. “You’re just a pussy,” she said, and kicked the man. “Mean it,” Jackie said, but there was no changing the video. He thought about giving up. Pam walked in. “I wish you wouldn’t while I’m home,” she said. “I’ve told you that before,” she said. “Sorry,” he said, and zipped up. “I think we’re not really taking advantage of what we’re dealing with,” she said. “What are you thinking?” he asked. Naturally, things escalated. Rotations of white people would come in throughout the day to clean the house and cook and drop money on the floor once in a while. A pile of twenty-dollar bills was growing in a corner of the living room. They would come, work, leave, and come back the next day. It was easy. “How do I know you’re not making me do things?” she asked him. “I don’t know. I’m not.” “I know you’re not. I just don’t like that you can.” A white man came up from behind her and began to rub her shoulders. “Stop. Tell it to stop.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the white man said. “Christ, can you make them a little more friendly? They’re so unfriendly,” she said. “No, sorry,” he said. “I don’t know how to make them friendly.” “I don’t think I like this,” she said. “I don’t think I like this at all.” “I can make them leave if you want,” he said. “I think I need to leave.” She grabbed a handful of twenty-dollar bills and walked toward the door. “Hey, won’t you stay?” he said. “Don’t go,” he said. Alone, she spent two-hundred dollars on sushi.
beast of burden Amber Flaskey
baking meddlar cobbler with my gynecologist Heather Starratt
A metal speculum looks awfully like my grandmother’s cake-beater. I watched her wind them and churn lumps into something beautiful. The future is here now, wearing a white apron. She cracks an egg over my head, whispers bad news. These medlars are covered in polyps, she says, I’m afraid we’ll have to cut them out. Yolk drips into my mouth and we laugh like dying women as the oven light burns out.
friendly furniture Amber Flaskey
Intended to be published in the year of 2017. Published in August 2018.