temenos Fall 2015
Illusions Step through the Door way
temenos Fall 2015
© Copyright 2015, temenos All rights revert to the authors and artists. Published by: Temenos Anspach 215 Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859 temenosjournal.com
Cover art, “Night Swim” by Kathy Rudin. Cover designed by Regan Schaeffer. Book designed by Amee Schmidt and typeset by Regan Schaeffer, with temenos and poem title fonts in Rockwell, edition titles in Marker Felt and Mesquite Std, and text in Adobe Garamond Pro.
Temenos Staff Editor-in-Chief Abigail Hollingsworth Managing Editor Zachary Riddle Fiction Editors Amanda Shepard Mika Yamamoto Poetry Editor Maye Zerull Creative Non-Fiction Editor Carrie Polega Layout Editor Regan Schaeffer Faculty Advisor Professor Matt Roberson
Table of Contents Night Swim / Kathy Rudin Cover 1 Temenos Staff The Quest for Persona / Rees Nielsen 3 4 Zero Hour / Valerie Spalding Look at Me / Stephanie Noble 5 An Afternoon Recital / Curtis VanDonkelaar 6 Ode to My Broken Gate / James L. Cooper 8 Gregory and Alice / Joseph McGuire 10 Rearview / Kennen White 14 Anthropogenic 1: Reductive / Mason Boyles 15 Evolution / Brad Garber 22 Cubicle / Christopher Madden 23 A Dog for Christmas / Joseph McGuire 24 Deerfield Park / Riley Nisbet 25 Circ Dâ€™ours (Circus of the Bear) / Jonathan Forrest 26 Dressing the Salad / Buell Hollister 28 Watering the Plants / Jonathan Forrest 33 He Wore Anthrax like a Purple Heart / Kyle Hemmings 34 Scuttlebug / Ryan Francis Kelly 35 Terminal Butterfly: For Jane Wallace / David Anthony Sam 39 Those Who Affirm the Spontaneity of Every Event / Ryota Matsumoto 40 Behind Closed Doors / Kathryn Jacobs 41 Death Mask / Joanna White 42 Pretty Cute / Sarah Pascarella 43 Kiss of the Party Girl / James L. Cooper 48 Aubade with a Return Flight / Riley Nisbet 49 Bios 51
The Quest for Persona
Zero Hour Let’s meet in a field of sumac on the northwestern most part of the globe. I’ll thread my cut-up fingers between yours and we’ll amble through copper blooms until we hear static. We’ll splash each other with murky river until our skin fades and when your lips rub against mine on a mossy rock tumbling beneath us, I’ll push your body back through the seam separating liquid from air. We’ll float on our backs and watch bluebirds smear the sun in tar until we press into a bank of burned mica. I’ll hop across long, unmarked stones as you climb over curved pipes jutting up from the ground. We’ll chase each other into a cement shed, crooked words and an arrow pointing to a missing door. Our bodies will crash into a pile of boar bones, my limbs and yours writhing to mesh into one large appendage and when we finish, fire will soak through your chest to burn the centipedes at my feet. I’ll scoop up your ashes and bury them in a bed of algae. At three in the morning, fireflies will rise from the puddle of you and hover in my hair.
Look at Me Streetside I am gravityâ€™s bitch, crumpled as cracked sidewalk, ragged as a cardboard sign warning The End is Nigh. But underground... Underground I play the violin.
An Afternoon Recital With his fat, solid thumbs, Benji’s grandfather flips two rusty latches and opens the violin case. The old man lifts out a grimy and unstringed violin. He turns it in his hands—such hands!—large enough to palm a basketball, knuckles like ankles, fingers like shins—and they don’t tremble at all, not at all. They do not shake with what you might think are tremors. The old man doesn’t allow tremors in his strongman’s hands. His plump eyebrows, overgrown and snowy grubs, flutter up and down as do a butterfly’s wings at rest. His mouth moves to a sliver. His hands are not trembling. He controls his rockbreakers with ease, as he always has. His mouth gnaws broadly on words. He kisses the air. The edges of his tobacco-brown teeth rise up from behind the plum-colored flesh of his lips, his bottom teeth, gapped and untouching as castletop crenels, pushing against the uppers, chewing the language his lips would have. Benji tries to copy his grandfather’s scampering eyebrows, but they go so fast; he can’t. Benji’s father wanders away—he often does—and drifts to the mantel, where a diagonal spread of copper frames hangs above the fire. Inside each frame: a single black and white photograph of the old man—his father-inlaw—and the violin. He stands before a concert hall, an opera house, sits tuxedoed in a chair upon a stage. Good-by-gum-gosh the man up there in those pictures has giant paws. He could crumple his instrument like a candy’s wrapper. And here in this room, the old man stares down at his palms, and God Damn Everything, his fingers are Not Trembling. He can hold on to everything he has ever held, or seen, or desired, grip onto it all. In the topmost of the photos, the old man stands with windblown hair beneath a row of flagpoles which garrison a pillared hall, each pole holding a blowing flag from any of the countries of earth. The picture’s old man holds that tiny violin and looks down at it, a bauble in his plowman’s mitts. The old man swings the violin’s backside to Benji and his mother; she moves forward—afraid he’ll be unable to hang on? The old man frowns at her, belches, sighs. On the back of the violin, someone has painted curlicues of ochre and yellow in filigree around the instrument’s curves, patterned them after f-holes. They’ve scored away the top layer of maple and varnish along the violin’s spine, painted on the unprotected wood a design in clotted lacquer, a clumsy fleur-de-lis—
“Lily,” the old man says—and his daughter smiles. Benji lifts his arms, but the old man does not look at him; instead, he replaces the dirty violin in its velvet coffin. “No,” he says. “You can’t.” And no one moves. As if he needs help to reclose the latches.
Ode to My Broken Gate I named my gate Clarissa— risking envy from unnamed fences and doors. Her dusty white picket slats, uneven with arching tips, hold fifty loose nails, and I tell you she is beautifully broken. I won’t replace her broken latch. It would silence her soliloquies. I’ve come to love her grateful sighs when those with tender touch bring fresh her lithely ways. I’m partial to her hinges too: grey wings of mourning doves, tapered to the frame, painted white a dozen times before I came.
Funhouse Illusions Gates make peace with symmetry, but Clarissa shatters equality. Witness how one hinge gets to sing while the other bears weight in silence. Twice, to keep her new, I replaced her broken slats— my skills no match for her maker. She shutters farewell in April, when white-crowned sparrows leave. When sweet, broken Clarissa swings herself to sleep, I’ll ask no more from fence or boundary gate. I’ll take her down next Sunday but see her fresh in all my days in slightly open doors.
—James L. Cooper
Gregory and Alice It was Friday, so Gregory went out to do his errands, as he always did. He took his medicine, as he always did. He carefully put his shirt on around his bad arm, as he always did. He said goodbye to Alice, as he always did. And he went about his errands as he always did: Bank, Lunch, Post Office, and Pharmacy, in that order. His day went normally, almost perfectly. He only had to talk to a few people, and they were all people he was accustomed to. He wasn’t a social person by nature, but there were some people that he could get along with in small doses; mostly he only spent time with Alice, and that was fine by him. As he left the Pharmacy, he was excited to return home and have a pleasant afternoon with his wife. “Gregory? Is that you?” shouted a woman’s voice from behind Gregory. He turned around to see the face of a woman he clearly knew, or was supposed to know at least, but her face did nothing to remind him of who she was supposed to be. He stood where he was in front of the Pharmacy while she walked down the block to meet him. She was pretty, but age had done its work and had worn the edges of her face. She looked to be about the same age, or perhaps a little younger than Gregory. He mused that as pretty as she was, she had likely been stunning ten or fifteen years ago, whereas he had always looked roughly the same. Even age did little to alter his decidedly plain looks. He assumed she was one of Alice’s friends; after all, Alice had so many it was hard to keep track. The people that Gregory knew himself were easy to keep track of. His antisocial tendencies had only increased in recent years. “Oh my God, look at you. You look exactly the same!” the woman said after she had approached Gregory. “What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you or Alice in ages, not since my son’s bar mitzvah! He’s at Columbia, studying medicine. It’ll be so nice to have a doctor in the family. Gary wanted him to be a lawyer, but I said that was too clogged of a field nowadays…” Gregory stood silently as the woman rambled on about things she assumed he should know. She discussed her brilliant children, her bitchy in-laws, and her pets, which were apparently unrivaled in both adorability and intelligence. Gregory smiled and tried to nod at the right intervals, all the while longing that she would stop talking and let him go home and take his medicine. His arm was aching and he was tired from doing errands. Why is it, he wondered, that when all you want to do is go home, there’s always something to stop you?
The woman was expounding her theories on why her cat was so moody lately when she finally noticed Gregory’s arm. “Oh my God, Gregory? What’s wrong with your arm!?” It was made of stone. “It’s made of stone,” said Gregory, this being the first thing he had really said during this encounter. “Well yeah, obviously! Why is it made of stone? What happened to you?” “Well, I was bitten by a basilisk last year.” “A basilisk?” she said, clearly ignorant of most animals not featured in animated GIFs. “Yes, it’s kind of like a lizard except it has eight legs and kind of a beaklike face, like a bird or a turtle?” “And it turned you to stone?” “Well, its venom did. It bit me, you see. Basilisk venom is so toxic that even its breath can cause problems. If it bites you, it can cause petrification, like it did with me. There’s this myth that just looking at it will turn you to stone, but it’s the venom that’ll get you.” “Where did you run into one of those?” she said with concern. “You don’t usually see something like that walking down the street.” “Well, a basilisk is born when a rooster incubates a snake’s egg.” Gregory had explained this so many times, he was an expert at it. “I’ve heard that teenagers like to breed them for fun. They get big really fast though, so they’re hard to handle. What we think happened was that some kids in our neighborhood bred one and then let it go once it got too big, or it escaped. No way to be sure.” “You know, I think I heard something like that too. Did they do a ‘Sixty Minutes’ on this not too long ago?” she said, looking extremely thoughtful. “I don’t know,” said Gregory. “Alice and I don’t usually watch stuff like that. It’s pretty depressing.” “Oh I know what you mean, and you definitely don’t need anything else to be depressed about. You should keep your minds on better things.” Gregory tried to make his wincing as inconspicuous as possible. “So this basilisk thing just attacked you out of the blue?” the woman asked. “Not exactly. Alice and I found it when we were doing some yard work; I think it was living in the bushes for a week or two, because when I looked later, it had a little nest and stuff back in there.” Gregory had always felt bad about that. As much as the basilisk had disturbed his and Alice’s lives, it was still just an animal. He never blamed it for what it had done and always regretted that it had been killed by animal control. “The poor thing startled me something fierce and bit my hand,” continued Gregory. “By the time we had gotten to the hospital, most of my arm had already been petrified.”
“Holy crap, Gregory! That’s awful. I hope they killed that rotten thing. What if a kid had gotten bit or something? Now your life’s all messed up because of some weird animal.” “Yeah…well, it could have been worse.” Gregory didn’t like the way this woman seemed to know the best way everything should have been, but he continued explaining out of a sense of politeness; after all, he would definitely get it at home if he hurt the feelings of one of Alice’s friends. “The doctors got me just in time, I guess. If they hadn’t helped me when they did, I’d be a complete statue. They were able to stop the progression though. Now I take these supplements to keep it in check.” He showed off the small orange bottle he had just purchased inside the Pharmacy. He had a number of other drugs and supplements in the plastic bag draped around his dead, stony arm, but he had already revealed a lot of his personal health issues to this stranger and didn’t feel like giving away any more than he already had. “Jesus, that’s terrible,” she said, shaking her head dramatically. “I could never imagine dealing with something like that. How is Alice doing? It’s got to be tough on her too, having a husband with such a debilitating condition? I don’t know if I could do it. I mean if Gary had this? I mean, I love him, but I don’t know…That Alice is something special.” “Yes she is,” Gregory said with complete sincerity. This was the first thing the woman had said that he agreed with without reservation. “You’re so brave for dealing with this. I think it would really kill some people. My sister, Jan? Well, her husband killed himself after he was diagnosed with ALS or MS or something like that. I just can’t tell you how proud I am of you for soldiering on like this.” Gregory hated the implication that simply living was a courageous act. He didn’t feel courageous. He was bitter and sad and had a large useless lump of rock hanging off his shoulder, which he managed to keep from getting worse by ingesting twelve pills a day. He didn’t feel brave and he wished people would stop telling him he was. “Well…thank you,” Gregory said, trying not to betray the resentment in his voice. “It means a lot to have you approve of how I’m dealing with my disability.” “Don’t mention it,” said the woman obliviously. “I’ve got to get going, I need to get home and make dinner. You know what? You and Alice should come by sometime! Does that basilisk thing give you any diet restrictions?” “Not really, but I’ll have to take it up with Alice. I don’t go anywhere without her say-so.” “As it should be,” she laughed. “I’ll see you later. It was nice chatting with you Gregory.”
“Thanks.” Gregory was thankful that she had finally stopped pestering him and he could go home. He noticed that throughout the entire encounter, the woman had never once inferred that he did not know who she was. For the best, he supposed. He would feel awful if he had embarrassed Alice without her even being there. Gregory returned home. He carefully juggled his groceries to free up his good hand, as he always did. He struggled to open the old and busted front door, as he always did. He set down his groceries on the coffee table and went into the kitchen to make some tea, as he always did. He kissed Alice on the cheek, as he always did. Her cold, stony skin made his lips tingle, as it always did. Alice stood motionless and silent while Gregory told her about his day, as she always did.
Anthropogenic 1: Reductive Her face was a mirror and men wanted her for it. To feed her and water her and make crude simulations of love, they used her neck, the hole in her trachea, the whole time watching themselves wincing at their own faces. Slick Moffat throbbed for her. He longed to be ring and house, morn ing whisper and nighttime oath. The yacht was in the marina. The Cadi, the driveway. His land on the back nine of the golf course freshly settled up with the bank. He owed nothing to anyone and had everything to give. He’d finished his time at the software firm the same way he’d finished at Princeton, and before that, Afghanistan. With enviable circuitousness, meticulous finality. He was wholesome in looks as well as ethic. Hair fine and cascading. A chest for rugby, calves for boat shoes. More than once, the myriad women who hung around him like asymptotes, never crossing fully into his life, had called things off because he was too impossible. Too rounded and polished, nowhere for them to fit in. Slick saw this as his only emptiness. An inability for full knowledge, complete exploration of another soul. Then there was the art exhibit. The older donors, the yachting friends who poured champagne for Slick instead of the wispy foreign painter. Slick drifting door-wise, flush to the walls like the dangling art. And that was it; there, by the punch bowl, this perfect girl with the mirror face. When he saw her (hold on!) (what ho!), the very nearly old Slick caught the rest of himself in the sheer glass of her cheeks. This girl—this mirror—was what he needed to be complete. He broke from the wall. Broke past the canvas, the museum folks with hands out as if reaching for more of his money. The girl turned, but how could she see him? Right there, her face and mind and future his own, perfect and perfect and perfect. Trachea puckered under her neck scarf. A sallow sigh for her breathing. Slick stood in front of her and tried to consume all of it. The power of her was conductive. It put him rigid on his feet, struck wordless, no thought left rattling through his grey matter. One hand out to brush hers—so soft! So arachnid, its spindle of silky bones. Her body hung out of her dress. Legs smooth as margarine, breasts pitched lightly off her collarbone, all of it so much that Slick went the way of settling dust and creaked down to the stiff vinyl floor. The girl turned her mirror down so he could see himself from above. He knelt as if posed for execution. Anointment. Was that a bald patch over his crown? Good God, at fifty. Well it had to happen some time. That was where mirror face left him. Crumpled to the floor, enlightened to the earliest of his most intimate losses. Hair had gone first, then vision
and teeth and marrow and mitochondria until there was more dead about Slick than there was chugging forward to keep it all moving. He was still complete but lessened. A dog with a bobtail. Maybe a spayed one, too. His neck itched from sweat. She trickled out of the museum and down the curb and under the warmth of the dark, and the whole time Slick was thinking, so this girl. The museum director had been Polish when it was fashionable. Now he was too grey for fashion and more concerned with austerity; he spoke unaffected except by pretense. Slick met him at the steakhouse with a grin as full as his wallet. He, too, was free with pretense. “The mirror girl,” he said. “I have to know.” The director nodded into his whiskey. He nodded on and on before he said anything, looking right at Slick. “Everyone asks about her.” “I saw her and I swore I knew all of her.” “It’s the same with the rest of us.” “Who is she?” The waiter came with menus, but Slick waved him off. No time now for anything except revelation. “She’s anyone,” the director said. “She has the right parents, you know?” “Is she with the museum?” “All of it except for the new stuff.” “And Brachman?” Brachman, the painter with the perpetually martyred expression whose exhibition he had funded last night. “Does she approve?” The director was smiling now, savoring something. “Brachman is new stuff.” Plunging coldness racketed down Slick’s ribs. Of course she’d walked away from him, knowing his poor taste. “My God,” he said, though he had never found anyone in particular to appease. More nodding from the director. “She was there to tell people off.” “She spoke to you?” “She can’t speak. Being there—that’s all it takes for her.” The waiter came back with menus and Slick stuffed his hands full of whiskey money. He tumbled out of the restaurant and into the searing glint of heated sidewalk, through the door of his Cadi, doing 110 past all the cars on the freeway with his PVAs stacked on the dashboard and his ear stacked to the phone, already on the line with his money managers, instructing them to pull funding for Brachman’s projects. The mirror girl was classical. How could he have failed to detect that? She wanted something she could recognize. If she could recognize it, she
could assess it. He had seen all of this before when he looked at her, only then he hadn’t been sharp enough to decipher anything except the current of gravity that had toppled him. Now he recognized. He could be classical. He was ready for assessment. He was ready, ready, ready, until he found the package on his doorstep. Hand-delivered, unmarked. A note taped on top of it: Slick, This should point you in the right direction. M Who else but her? He quivered the knife through the cardboard packaging, tore the rest back with his hands. Eager as the cusp of orgasm. And here it was, glinting in the debris—a mirror. There were hair treatment catalogues and Slick ordered from them. He bought a new electromagnetic toothbrush from his dentist, mouthwash that was filtered with fresh spring water from Chile. He paid his maids for a hundred skin creams, moisturizers, and exfoliators of all kinds that he slathered across himself nightly. Always consulting the mirror for feedback. More pumice here, more scalp stimulant there. In April he stopped leaving the house for fear that he’d be seen, compromised before completing his rejuvenation. He needed to wait. He would be perfect for his mirror-faced woman and she would be perfect, too. Each day he noticed new trouble spots. He spent hours in the bathroom, had his chef bring lunch to him there on the tile, standing by the shower hacking away at his age. He’d whittle himself back down to thirty and stay that way. All winter he polished; by spring, he gleamed. Through the bay windows of his living room he swore at the palms, at their greenness. Golfers, too. Trickling by in carts with bags full of chrome, separate from his new naked beauty. All of it—the fat, sweating world—was separate from him. He was no island but he was an asteroid. He would barrel into the ugly of earth and disrupt its barren scapes and bergs with his brightness. Then the girl showed up. She had sensed him, he supposed. Her gleam was bright as the sun’s sheen on obsidian, and when she swept by, he was thinking Moses, Judah, fiery clouds in deserts half the world away. She put a hand over his eyes as she passed. One on his hip, too, to guide him. They sat on the sofa in the back of the living room. Out of the sun, their gleam died down so they could look at each other.
Her shoulders seemed smaller. The whole of her appeared to dangle from under the mirror. Legs. Stomach. Collarbones. She took off her scarf and he stared into her neck, the dripping blackness of it. No device there to keep it open. Instead—he swore this—the hole was rimmed with lipstick. It pinched together. “Take me somewhere,” she said. The words were damp; they squirted from her like something crustaceous on the underbelly of a dock. “Out?” “Yes,” she said. “Of course, Slick. We should be seen.” She followed him upstairs and showed him with her mirror how he dressed. He watched the glass—her moving with him moving for her—and couldn’t look away. They drove his Cadillac with the windows down. No radio, no talking. Just the feel of the sunlight anchoring to them. When he slowed for red lights, he looked into her, the naked separation where her voice came from. Hadn’t the director said she didn’t speak? Hadn’t Slick, by his own improvement, now improved her, too? Anything was malleable if it was pressed hard enough. The steakhouse. Oh, did those people gasp. Stunned to silence. The only sound in the room was the damp crackle of a hundred digestive systems. He shone past the hostess and led his mirror girl to a table in the middle of everything. “Champagne,” Slick said to the lurking waiter. He knew what she wanted. Under the cool of the air conditioning, his gleam receded. He watched it go in her mirror, funneling into the dumb obliqueness of the insignificants seated around them. Cobweb veins bulged under his eyes. His jaw went soft. He was malleable, too. The mirror—the girl—turned away from him. “Wait here,” he said. “Please. Just a moment.” In the bathroom, he lathered himself with face cream. Doused his hands in moisturizer, rubbed beeswax into his lips. But this mirror wouldn’t change for him. What had the museum director told him? Nothing new, only something that could be recognized and ranked. No; Slick had said that. The museum director hadn’t said anything. All sweat and swallow on his way back across the room. Noise in the restaurant now, chatter at staccato pitch. No one was watching him. The table, when he returned to it, was empty. No mirror girl—just a single glass of champagne and a receipt. He took both with him to the parking lot. There, across the sizzling asphalt. There, leaning on a Porsche. Gleaming at a taller, thicker man. Black hair, black eyes, white shirt; classic as cinema.
He gleamed back at the mirror girl. Slick tripped toward them but couldn’t make it. Too far, too much brightness stinging his eyes. He drove south down the highway in two lanes and three lanes and four lanes. The road was jagged, then fresh paved. The speed limit undulated: fifty-five, sixty, seventy, forty-five. Everything fickle. He couldn’t grip the steering wheel through all the sweat on his palms, so he stomped on cruise control and wedged his knees against the wheel. He’d sell the car and find a Porsche. He’d get rid of his suits. He’d smooth away layers of reddened skin until he gleamed again. Then—yes, certainly—he would be whole. In Afghanistan, days had creaked by. At Princeton, they’d moved in deep, chugging dregs. When he had joined the software firm, the days withered down again. Nothing but the wet dark grounds of them, soaking cold and slow for Slick to wander through. Now it was more of the same. His bathroom routine compressed. He ran out of moisturizers and didn’t refill them. He was spending more time in the living room, watching the palms and the golfers. He sensed that he was due some great reckoning, that he had been gypped of it back in the parking lot with the sun and the Porsche and these weakened legs of his that crumpled out from under him. Maybe that was it. A reckoning was all that he had been waiting for, the subverted backbone of completion. Assessment and atonement. An audit of spirit. Slick watched whole days pass in the mirror that the girl had given him. When the light pitched low through the bay windows and left everything behind the sofa shadowed, Slick’s reflection receded to simplicity. An oval, then a plane. Then one mass of purple aligned with the darkness behind it, clouding the glass until he couldn’t tell which surface was the mirror and which was his face. In the thick choke of the night, all things seemed inverted. The museum director came by in his three piece. With the toupee it was a four piece, all of it matching in impossible black. The director squinted up the porch and Slick squinted back. He let him in and gave him tea, which the director stirred instead of drinking. “You haven’t been well,” he said. “You mean I haven’t been donating.” “That too.” Slick put the mirror in his lap. So warm against his thighs, throbbing like a pulse. How to explain this? “I’ve been insulted.” This made the director laugh. He spat it out in furious, diseased hacks. He was an old man and he couldn’t have been well.
“You’re talking about your mirror girl,” he said. “You’ve been complimented, is what I say. You should see some of the other men she’s feeding on.” “Feeding?” Slick’s grey matter converging to that mouth, the hole rimmed with lipstick. More chasm than anything. “I should tell you something important,” the director said. “When I was a young man, I wanted to be an artist. The real kind, a painter. And none of the dusty academy stuff, either—I wanted to paint something new. I went to school for a while, but no one noticed me. They always put my easel at the back of the studio; they walked right by my masterpieces because no one knew how to judge them. “I had this one painting: it was a fish hook through a foot with about a hundred feet of geometry behind it—very dynamic, you know, wonderful compression. I moved it around everyone else’s easel, right to the front. The professor came over. He was yanking on his goatee while he thought about it. Finally he asked me if it was supposed to be a toaster oven.” “Oh,” Slick said. His cheeks felt heavy enough to topple off his face. He wanted suddenly to give the mirror to the director—to get rid of it—but he wasn’t sure how. The mirror was heavy, too. “I became a curator,” the director said. “I arranged and judged instead of painted. I perform many acts of creation; I create a narrative in exhibits, I create tension and focus and terror with space. But no one will call me an artist. Think what that must be like for me. How incomplete I must feel. And what is it, do you think, that keeps me from being a great artist?” Slick’s lips had gone to lead. His tongue was molten, his arms folded weakly over the mirror. The sun sank low into the belly of the golf course. It moved faster than it had since Princeton, going triple then quadruple time, as if to catch up to him. In the shallow light, the director could have been anyone. His face flattened and lengthened. Nose and eyes and pursed red mouth sank behind glass. He was a mirror now. A mirror always, maybe. Everything reciprocal. All of it meant to cast Slick back where he came from. He looked and he looked and he leaned in real close, but nowhere in the glass could he find his own face. The director was driving. They went seventy, they went forty-five, they went sixty and eighty and back down to thirty. The road bucked, then it hummed. Slick held the mirror tight to his lap and didn’t look into it. He didn’t look at the director, either. Between each streetlight, his reflection crackled into the window like lightning, then ebbed back into purple sky. He closed his eyes—that was the best thing to do. The museum was lit like Christmas. The director drove right over the curb and parked the car at the doors. Both of them running, soft tentacles of a cello quartet tangling down from the loudspeakers.
The second floor. The champagne perched on trays in stemmed glasses, the museum people and the yachting friends Slick had neglected for months now. All of them standing just as he remembered. Maybe they’d been waiting here this whole long time. Or this short time—it might have been long only for him. Everything, after all, had proven malleable. There on the wall. Wow, had they tacked her down tight. Right into the plaster. She was strung out and hung up and 100 feet high under the 20 foot ceiling, every aspect of her impossible. All Slick could think was how many bones they’d had to break to get the nails through her hands. Below her was a kind of altar. Slick went and he knelt there, crouched low, and looked up at the bleached bareness of the mirror girl. The museum director was next to him. His yachting friends were next to him. Every man was there who could have been—the waiter, the golfers, the darkened actor in his jeans and white t-shirt—were lining up below her. Each one of them wishing to be the artists that had made her. They were desperate to empty themselves into her. They projected, projected, projected, but they could not reflect. All that kept the director from being a great artist was the opacity of other artists. No mirrors for him to see himself, no tools for him to assess. What the director needed was the same as any other man. All of them skulking there, gaping into her perfect face—they needed the mirror girl. She kept her face toward the ceiling. Her throat swelled and collapsed and swelled again. She was trying to say something, but the hole in her neck was closing up. Her hands were melting into the plaster. Slick’s legs had molded to the altar. He twisted and yanked but everything was fusing. The paintings bled down the walls. The men sank into the floor. The whole room ran together into one sinister whole, and Slick reached and reached and his arm was five feet now, fifteen, twenty, long enough to wrap fingers around the mirror girl’s foot. She shrunk and quivered. Her chest and back and hips had all gone to plaster, only the extremities left. How many men had taken her like this? How many had she taken? “Look at me,” Slick said. Her chin creaked down to her flattened chest. She wasn’t looking—she was showing. No mirror now, no face. Just a white plane like the wall where art was hung, flattened and blemished with only one scar: a mouth, dark and gaping, stretching impossibly wide to swallow the room in its entirety. The lips curled back. The gums gleamed. They were full of teeth.
Cubicle In my old office a coworker called home to sing to her dog twice a day in her operatic voice. It was distracting, odd, and troubling when we had clients on the phone but funny, too until the police came and enforced the restraining order and only then, her makeup running, did we learn the ex owned the dog and it was as if her front wheel stopped and she went over the handlebars into quiet
A Dog for Christmas I was hoping to get a Nintendo, or maybe some action figures, but under the tree was this dog. Most kids would love a puppy for Christmas; I’d hate to seem ungrateful. Maybe I’d have liked it better if it was alive. If this dog wasn’t ten months dead, made of greasy paper skin and slick, picked over fur. My cousin had told me he expected a new bike this holiday season. I contemplated the fairness of this as I stared at the swollen black belly of what seemed to be my only gift. I asked my dad if at least I might have other presents coming. “You’ll get the belt for Christmas, you don’t act more thankful.” I sighed the warm breath of the defeated and dragged “Tiger” upstairs to play.
Deerfield Park While walking through a tangle of birch trees, coiling and bending upward like highways, I find myself hanging between two trunks as if I’ve been crucified before myself. This new not-me asks me to pretend he’s a marionette, his fists fastened, I now see, to the trunks he asks me to pretend are thread. I tell him I can only see what is real, tell myself I do not see him, but my nose grows from my face until it touches him, knocking him from his suspension. He stumbles in the soft, wet earth. Unable to hold himself steady, he lies looking upward into a spring sky, the bare treetops spooling into a curtain of cloud, where maybe behind it a man’s hands refuse to stop dancing.
Circ D’ours (Circus of the Bear) Tangled fingers pull the flaps of the tent waiting for your arrival Tailors clad in burgundy and white tuxedos throw you in a blank room They measure your cuffs, waist, and neck with rust chains Spiders weave silk robes and drape it over your bare skin Auburn fur grows all over ebony claws form from leathery paws You grunt, snort, and growl as your stomach yearns for honey You’re escorted through by the ringmaster’s daughter She shows you off to the crowd They greet with applause Masked men with hands for feet And feet for hands pet behind your ears and under your chin
Funhouse Illusions Lovely ladies with stapled lips and ribbon-tied wrists Tug on your fur, mount you, and ride out to an open field Across the train tracks to the bank of a red velvet river You stop for a drink and see voodoo dolls try their luck at Russian roulette It hurts you more than them
Dressing the Salad This is about the salad dressing served at a family dinner after my mother’s funeral. It was a simple concoction that she had served her children, telling us that it was her own mother’s dressing, and her grandmother’s before her. It was nothing more than olive oil mixed with vinegar that had been steeped for a month with tarragon and whole garlic cloves. There was always a jug of it on top of the refrigerator (which she had always reflexively called the “ice box,” as I still do). As the oldest sibling, I was in charge of the funeral arrangements and the memorial celebration of her life—as people call these things now. The body had been cremated, so there was no rush to gather the family (cousins, uncles, grandchildren) from where they had scattered to the four corners of the Earth over the years. So I had kept the little box with her ashes for several months in the sideboard in the dining room, where its presence, out of sight in a cabinet, was comforting, in a way. She had been in her midnineties when she died and had been bedridden and uncomfortable for at least two years before that, so my grief was muted and even then, unexpected. I thought I had dealt with those feelings long before her actual passing, but when the news came, it was still like a proverbial two-by-four alongside the head. I was instantly a child again, reaching out to be wrapped in her love. She had done a lot of thinking about the disposal of her remains, insisting on the cremation and the burial—not the scattering—of the ashes at the old family plot in a small town in upstate Vermont. Her family had come from that little town, which was to this day a dairy farming community. Later generations had moved all over the country, but even a century or two after the plot was established in that cemetery, they occasionally came back to be buried in the little spot, which was enclosed by a low wooden fence. She wanted her headstone to be made of Vermont granite, just like the others there. I thought she must have spent many hours in her hospital bed, the waking ones and possibly the dreaming ones too, thinking about her family. Her will was complete and detailed, even down to the disbursement of furniture and pieces of art. Her children didn’t quarrel about her decisions, even if they privately wished she might have chosen them for a particular painting or chair. I had found the perfect spot for the big gathering—a resort on Lake Champlain, not far from the burying ground: an old fashioned wooden hotel with cottages scattered about and a big main dining room. It had taken a lot of time to find and then it was available only because it was so late in the season. Months of juggling schedules had been the major cause
of delaying the service—one sister lived in England, another in South Carolina. There were nieces and nephews and various cousins all scattered almost as far. My mother had died in early May, but we couldn’t pull it all together until late September. But despite this, I felt good about it, because my mother had been worried that the family would drift apart after she died. This was going to be a reunion that would have made her happy. Around midsummer, my wife suggested that we bottle up some of that family dressing and bring enough for everyone. We made up special labels with my mother’s maiden name and called the hotel to tell the kitchen staff that no dressing was needed for the salad course—we would bring our own. It was unseasonably warm when we all gathered that fall, and the forecast said the weather would hold for the next three days. Perfect timing, the hotel concierge said; ordinarily they would have already hauled their canoes and kayaks out of the water for the winter, but they left them in just for us. The leaves had started to turn and the seasons were definitely in the process of handing this part of the world off, one to the other, but they had paused for our gathering. The old hotel had an enormous veranda with a beautiful view of the sun setting behind the hills across the lake. On a clear day, it offered up a barely visible but intriguing haze that could have been called up by Washington Irving—or his ghost. The lawn, still perfectly green, curved and undulated out toward the water and was lightly salted with Adirondack chairs here and there. We gathered in ones and twos, whole families of four, five, and even six. For most of us, it was the first time we had seen each other in many years; there were even a few children who were new to all of us. My wife and I were the first to arrive, naturally. We had driven up from Boston the day before just to make sure everything was in order, and shared a kick-off gin and tonic on the veranda as the setting sun worked its glorious chops. We all spent the next day catching up with each other, swimming and biking, exploring and paddling, or just taking in the scenery. We didn’t have even a single old curmudgeon—notorious in many families—to roil the waters with grumpiness. Even the handful of dubious in-laws were on their best behavior. Our plans were to have an informal supper that night, go to the internment at the cemetery after noon the next day, and have a more formal celebration of my mother’s life that evening. Dinner that night wasn’t a drawn-out affair. Everyone had done a lot of traveling and the kids were tired, so we all scattered to our various rooms and cottages. I didn’t feel like sleeping right away, so I took a walk along the lakeshore. The air took on a slight hardness as night fell, a hint of the winter to come.
I thought of my mother’s ancestors, who had farmed this country with its beautiful fields but desperately short summers. No wonder they went west. Corn and hay and dairy cows were the only kind of agriculture here now. Dairy was the only farming business that could compete with the Big Ag out west. Yet Vermont has a feel of legend in the air, far stronger than the other New England states, and that evening it came on strongly, like the odor of boxwood. When I finally came back to my room, my wife was asleep and I climbed into bed gently, not to wake her. I dreamed of my childhood. We met in the breakfast room at around 8:30 AM, as agreed. A couple of latecomers who had arrived after dinner the night before were greeted, and we filled the high-ceilinged space. The room was brilliant with the morning light flooding through tall French windows. Much chatter, laughter. We were off to a great start. For the first time, it seemed truly like a celebration, and I was a wholehearted part of it. After breakfast, we caravanned straight to the cemetery, me leading. We met the minister—who had the urn—at the graveside; there was a tiny hole that looked like it had been dug to plant a bush, but the granite gravestone was there, next to my mother’s parents and the rest of her kin. I couldn’t tell a piece of Vermont granite from any other kind, but some of them—the older ones—were pretty impressive. The oldest, dating back to the early 18th century, had become hard to read after all those Vermont winters had eroded the lettering. The minister, who had been selected by the undertaker, was a young man and did a remarkable job, not overly long or overly floral, but just right for a Yankee with a big heart. I had spoken with him earlier on the phone and we had emailed back and forth a few days before, so his homily was appropriate. The children were well-behaved, although afterward they went running noisily through the gravestones, playing hide and seek while the rest of us walked about and took it all in before climbing back into our cars. We spent the rest of the day, until cocktails that evening, on our own. Like the day before, the hotel’s facilities were plentiful and it was so late in the season that there were few other guests to compete with. Some of us went to a nearby museum while others just sat in the lawn chairs and read. That evening, we gathered in the dining room, which I had arranged with photographs and small paintings and sculptures that my mother had created. She was an artist and a model in her youth and the oldest of her siblings, just as I am of mine. I’m not especially religious—nor was she, even at the end, when the hospice staff sent her a minister during her last days. She thanked him politely, essentially saying thanks, but no thanks. She had made her own peace.
It was still warm enough for drinks to be served just outside the French doors in a lovely garden, so after we met in the dining room, we moved there. My mother had been a martini drinker, insisting on one every evening until she died—bedridden or not—so I made sure that there was a plentiful supply. She preferred Beefeater’s, and so do I, for that matter. Those of us who liked them were holding those little cone-shaped glasses, frosted slightly and with an olive or two inside. Martinis can’t be sustained all night, but they certainly are a good way to get an evening going. No other drink is the subject of so many funny jokes. If God was a bartender, She must have created the martini—even dubious in-laws became bearable under its influence, as they did that night. We sat down at the tables. Each had a nice centerpiece of flowers, and every setting had a little bottle of Mom’s salad dressing. I rose to give a toast, telling everyone how happy my mother must be to see us all together. I went on for a minute or two before lifting my glass to not just to her, but to our extended family. To the living. Others followed and before long the room was buzzing. We were all home there. I explained the provenance of the little bottles of dressing on everyone’s table. “Here’s to our family dressing,” I said, ceremoniously pouring my bottle into my salad. “It will bring back memories, I’m sure.” Everyone poured theirs, too. There was silence for a moment. “That’s not my mother’s dressing,” said someone—who had drunk three martinis—loudly enough for the room to hear. “It isn’t my mother’s either,” said another. Then, suddenly, everyone was talking. “I don’t know,” someone else said. “It is kind of familiar.” “My mother used balsamic vinegar...didn’t our grandmother use it too? I think she put mustard in it, also.” We had lived in a rural area when I was growing up, a town that wouldn’t have had such a thing as balsamic vinegar in its grocery stores, and my mother must have thought plain old vinegar would do just as well. As for mustard, she probably didn’t like it. Taste memory is as strong as that of smell, so I didn’t think all these family members were necessarily wrong. My wife and I had gone to a lot of trouble to make those labels and find the right little bottles. It was my mother’s dressing, after all, the stuff I had been brought up with. It was delicious and simple. The dinner wound down an hour or so later and was followed by coffee and aperitifs. Two of my cousins who still smoked went outside for a cigar, and I joined them. Even though I had quit smoking cigarettes years ago, I still enjoyed an occasional cheroot every other month or so.
“Our grandfather always smoked these things,” I said. I knew one of them had Havanas, and I couldn’t resist. Once the ritual of lighting the cigars was concluded and we were all enjoying the aroma, I asked, “What was it about the salad dressing you didn’t like?” My cousin thought for a moment. “Maybe if my mother had made it that way…” he said. We stood, silently puffing. “Well, we’ve got a long drive tomorrow...I’m going to hit the hay,” my other cousin said. “See you in the morning.” By the time we made it down to the dining room for breakfast, some of the family members with the longest drives had already left. My wife and I had made no plans for anything much more than packing and heading home ourselves, which we did at about 10 AM. The goodbyes we spoke were warm and our intentions to see each other again were real, but in the end, we all drove off toward our separate ways.
Watering the Plants My grandma waters her garden. When she turns on the hose, blood sprays, colors the flowers bright red. Whereâ€™s grandpa, I ask. Everywhere, she says.
He Wore Anthrax like a Purple Heart The sergeant ordered us to build a tunnel through Hill 17 and to stay there until we were safe from colors spreading. Even though he had been muttering crazy things over the past weeks, like it is dangerous to carry Aesop & pocket rainbows, we obeyed. It was a month or so after the Battle of Twin Allahs, where the enemy had not returned fire, had retreated in a mist. We prided ourselves in their being overwhelmed by our street sweepers, unnerved by our almost invisible drones. For days, the sergeant had been vomiting blood, coughing up specks of prism-colors. He kept one arm wrapped in a makeshift cast. Rumors circulated among some golly-grunts that the arm had turned from red to black, had ulcerated. “Did you see it?” one would ask. “I’m sure someone has,” the other would respond. Had he eaten the meat of a dead carabao or something similar? Were there any animals left at all? Had he inhaled the spores from a poisonous mushroom cloud? The tunnel was built while the sergeant waited below the hill, always that distance. It became our cocoon of darkness; we unraveled in telling false stories of our childhood, how night had never completely changed to day. We gathered at the mouth of the tunnel and watched with itchy eyes as the sergeant disrobed, took out a flash grenade, then a real one. The hill shook like an old woman trying to give birth. We were enveloped by a thick spray of whiteness that slowly decomposed to a pointillism of vague dyslexic faces. The sergeant himself was now a scattering of dots swept by the wind. We then understood why he had us build this tunnel. He wanted to keep us colorblind.
Scuttlebug I’m greeted by darkness when I finally come around. I can hear the autumn rain dripping from the shutters and draining from the gutters. Its inane utterance of pitt putters works in tandem with the chirping of the weather vane. Screech reech, Screech reech. It’s one of those shitty Sundays, where you sleep through most of the day and miss the sun altogether. The others are still out cold, cocooned in sleeping bags, hibernating all pigs-in-a-hanky and smother covered. I step over them and avoid the creaks of the hardwood. I’m a seasoned cave dweller, clawing my way through the darkness, grasping for the rough wool of blankets curtaining the window. I wring the fabric in a tight-knotted fist. Helluva bender. Left a nasty churning in my breadbasket. Cottage cheese in my lungs. Yellow and brown liquids sloshing in the bottom basin of my liver. A brain like gristled jelly. My blood won’t keep still in the vein, like it might seep from the seams at any moment. I’m jonesing for the days before jonesing. For the firmer parts of my medulla. Back when I had somewhere to be and someone asking after me. It’s funny, how I used to help these people for a living, and now I’m one of them. Not ha-ha funny. More chronically ironic than that. Me licking my wounded fingers and turning the pages until my real life feels like lives ago. I must be hungry. Maybe that’s my real problem. Yeah. I’m just hungry, that’s all. Why are the others always taking gibes at me? The fattest knock they’ve ever seen. Busting up each go around like the first time they heard it. But they’re the ones that’ll be all butt-hurt when I clean out this kitchen icebox, when I pull out the bread and the eggs and the can’t-believe-it’s-not-whatever shit. When I grab-and-go the cowbell carton, when I’m so elastic and jitter fritzed that I spill it all over the counter. Set it down. Settle down. Down, settle. Settle down, boy. Screech reech, Screech reech. My body is shaking its tired old story again. The sides of my skull playing Atari with my brain. Ping pong ping pong. My slackjaw chatterbox grinding itself down to blunted nubs. Grind rind, Grind rind.
This counter is a mess. What a mess this counter is. All covered with incriminating evidence. An empty bottle of Heem. A couple of pipes smoked down to the resin. Rolling papers. Some tarnished silverware. Razor blades. Free newspapers with lingerie ads and black fine print. Classifieds circled with red Crayola. I take a slurp from an old cup of rotgut that’s been sitting there for a while, and then put it back to cover the ring stain it left behind. I hock and spit into the frying pan. Grab the sponge and get it all sudsy with my saliva. Crack some eggs and beat the hell out of them with a plastic foon. Should be called a foon, not a spork. Whisk whisk whisk. This is your brain on eggs. Cracked eggs. Eggs on crack. These are your eggs on crack. I’m humming to myself to keep from all the fumbling and bumbling. But all hush hush quietly. No use cock-a-doodle-dooing about like some rabble rooster. Cock-a-wonder-doo. This bread is a Wonder. Wonder who named it bread. Must have been Jesus Crust. Crust on the cross. The crusty body of Christ. Amen. The stove exhales when I turn the burner. I pour the batter out with a splatter. Humpty lumpy. Like it even matters. Mind over batter. Flipping this here French toast. Or is it called freedom toast now? Whatever. Let’s toast to our freedom. Ha yeah right. Let’s toast to the French. I’m tweaking real deep and tense now, trying to focus on the hissing gristle of the pan. I hear a tiny slithering rattle, thrumming over the gas burner. Then suddenly this fat scuttlebug emerges from a hole in the drywall, leaking from the slit like the pellet feces of a small rodent. Scuttle Scuttle Scuttle. I’ve seen this scuttle before. Not only fatter than most, but quicker also. Clicking and clacking his little mandibles across the tile floor. He’s got quite the hustle in his bustle for a Sunday eve. Scuttle Scuttle Scuttle. He circles the room, seems antsy with anticipation, keeps rubbing his hind legs together. Like a poor man’s cricket playing the smallest violin in the world. Then he holds his pincers open out of hunger, all droopy like he can’t help it. I can hear the greedy squeegee suction of his salivary glands. The slovenly foaming of the mouth. The pathetic sensitivity of his weak antennae. The whole performance deserves a name.
Like “scuttling.” Yeah, scuttling. No good scuttle fuckers. Didn’t mind them so much when they kept to themselves. When they sat in the stale adhesive of spilled beer. When they rustled passively in ceiling fan breath. When they gathered lint and dust bunnies from beneath the radiator. But it’s this forced symbiosis that’s killing me. This parasitic, bottom-leaching business. What is this? A scuttle motel? Where ya check in but ya don’t check out? The Scuttle Inn. Scuttle 6. The fucking Scuttle Carlton. When did I say you could move in? Hive out in my hollows? Plant your seeds of intrusion? Grind rind Grind rind. I used to leave all this bunk at work. Used to only hang in the closet of my conscience. This house now. Nothing but a scuttle shelter running on its own excrement, where the larvae die as quickly as they’re born. Grind rind Grind rind. Let me guess: little Mr. Scuttle just wants a hit. Just a little scuttle bump. A place for a scuttle to spin out for a while. Few days to lay low. You know, all hush hush quiet. Keep things under scuttle. C’mon, man. Can you help a scuttle out? I look into this scuttle’s kaleidoscope eyes and count the many colorful shards of pain. I watch his little pupils bounce back and forth in the compound lenses. Ping pong ping pong. Piddles and spittles of drool fall from his orifices and create a pool at his feet. Screech reech Screech reech. I wield the frying pan as a weapon, freedom toast and all. For a moment, I try to put myself in his scuttle shoes. But I can’t. I just can’t. Not me. I’m not a fucking scuttle. Slam. I wham a final flip and trap the mother bugger right under the pan. I know you scuttles like small spaces. Well scuttle this out for size, you mugging scuttle. This iron canopy. This Dutch oven of death. A tightzipped ragecage of grease and humidity: a little scuttle sauna, complete with a wedge of freedom toast as big as your thorax. But it’s hot under there, isn’t it? Better hurry and enjoy your last supper, scuttle. I’m sure it’s Wonderful. Say your prayers to Jesus Crust. Yep, I can hear you in there. Whisk whisk whisk. Scuttling around in little useless circles. This is your scuttle on crack. All scuttle-brained. Your brain on scuttle. Ping pong ping pong. Stay away from the edge, scuttle. Wouldn’t want your little scuttle skeleton to sizzle.
Pop, fizz. Pop, fizz. I drop the foon and the spatula and collapse against the icebox. I can’t help but to listen closely to the popping of your scuttle wrap. Pop, fizz. Pop, fizz. Outside I can hear the autumn rain dripping from the shutters and draining from the gutters. Its inane utterance of pitt putters works in tandem with the chirping of the weather vane. Screech reech Screech reech. I turn the burner once more, and the stove holds its breath. Quietly now. No need to rouse the others. I’m fine. Grind rind Grind rind. I ain’t no fucking scuttle. Scuttle Scuttle Scuttle. I’m hungry, that’s all. That’s my real problem. I’m just a little hungry.
—Ryan Francis Kelly
Terminal Butterfly: For Jane Wallace The butterfly in my brain
unfolds its wings,
absorbs my light and heat until I am just the husk of its chrysalis broken and emptied in its becoming.
â€”David Anthony Sam
Those Who Affirm the Spontaneity of Every Event
Behind Closed Doors Her face fell, and I don’t just mean the smile, although that dripped from liquid corners (splat) and drew the eyes down with it, slanting till they ran like tears (despondent), and the rims were emptier without them. No, I mean that what was left reminded me of dough that somebody had put his elbows in, a warm and puffy loaf left pregnating. And if you want to, we can all pretend that nothing happened, and I’m talking bread – but she was mine, and wasn’t.
Death Mask You, “the most kissed face of all time,” L’Inconnue de la Seine, pulled limp from a Paris river at sixteen, dragged, dripping to the morgue. The pathologist fell in love, cast your face in a death mask. On rescue dummies they plaster cast your face so scores could press their lips around yours in vain attempts to bring you back to life.
Pretty Cute 1989. Tina and I stand in front of the bedroom mirror. We’re sharing this bunk bed room during the whole week we’re together on Long Beach Island. The breeze through the window smells salty and fresh, but lean close to the carpet and it shapeshifts into mildew. I’m a guest, a friend brought along to keep my friend occupied. Everything in the room—the bunk bed, mirror, dresser, and chairs, are all wicker, beach style, coated with white paint that flakes off in places thanks to the damp sea air. We’re going to dinner in a few minutes, the lot of us, a gaggle of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. I’m the only non-family member here, even though I’ve known the bulk of the group since I was in diapers. Still, I’m a little on guard, knowing full well the “be on your best behavior” rule is in effect 24/7 for the week. It’s almost-family, that almost making all the difference. We take turns brushing the other’s hair. I’m wearing a red-and-whitestriped cotton sundress, Tina a white blouse with blue shorts. Both should be fine for a restaurant, we decide. Her olive skin has turned a deep bronze from the few days in the sun, while my scarlet sunburn has now faded somewhat and reminds me of a bruised peach. I’m ten; Tina is eleven. I put on a headband; Tina lifts her bangs with a comb and spritzes some hairspray until they stand at just the right angle. I think we’re nearly ready, until Tina produces a tube of tinted lip gloss from her suitcase, scrolling a shiny seashell pink to the surface. She swipes her top lip, frowns, adds a touch to her bottom lip. “What do you think?” she asks, and turns for approval. “Can I get away with it?” Her lips pop with pink, even in the dusky room. “Hmm,” I stall. “Well, your mom and dad will definitely notice.” “They did say dress nicely for dinner…” She shrugs and looks back at the mirror, then pulls me next to her so we are side by side. “I want to wear it, but I don’t want to get in trouble. What if you put some on, too?” In this case, best behavior means togetherness. Almost-family means being a little more daring than usual. I take the tube and spread it evenly across my lips, then press them together the way my mother does. The smell, right under my nose, is reminiscent of crayons. I take a look. My lips shimmer unnaturally. We face our reflections, and Tina frowns. “Something’s not right.” I look at us, trying to see what she sees. “Not right at all,” she says, leaning closer to our reflections. “You know, I think it looks like you’re playing dress up.”
“Well, you’re kind of right,” I say. I never would have thought to try lipgloss, much less have a tube of my own. “But you like wearing it?” “It’s just—don’t take this the wrong way,” she says. “But it’s something you’d want to put on when you want to look really pretty.” “And you are pretty.” “Thank you.” “And I’m…?” “I’d say that I am pretty, and you are cute.” And like that, I feel my role—and hers—click into place. She’s a year older. She knows. I look at us again and see what she sees. I wipe off the lipgloss. 1994. The amusement park is crowded, a hot August day just before school starts again. We’ve taken a break from college visits and summer jobs to have a weekend visit, this time at my house. When I suggest the park, set deep in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, Tina is game. I don’t have my driver’s license yet, so my family joins us out of necessity, although of course we teenagers aren’t required to spend time with my parents and younger sisters once we get there. I’ve told Tina about the park’s amazing roller coasters, the pierogis and tri-taters, the fact that admission is free (“It’s like a carnival – you just pay for food, games, and the rides you want to go on!”). For those of us saving for college on summer wages, this seemed as good a selling point as any. The flip side of the free admission means, though, that Tina sees central Pennsylvania poverty up close. “Are these mountain people?” she whispers, and I can tell she’s trying not to stare at the numerous Jack Sprat couples, spillover bellies, and Jack O’Lantern grins. I shrug. “You see a little bit of everybody here, I guess.” We ride the park’s famous wooden roller coaster, take a turn on the pirate ship. In line for the Tilt-A-Whirl, Tina spots two boys in front of the arcade. “They look normal…even cute.” She nods in their direction. I turn slightly. They’re wearing oversized T-shirts and shorts slung low, so the crotch is nearly to their knees. Backwards baseball caps, high-top Jordans and Chucks. They’re dancing to something, just the two of them, their bodies jerking in opposite directions but to the same beat. I hear a general blaring of hip-hop from the arcade, although it’s too distant for me to make out the exact song. One catches Tina’s eye and winks. “Come on,” she says, and pulls us out of line. I drag my feet a little, genuinely disappointed. I love the Tilt-a-Whirl.
What I don’t love, at 15, are boys. Especially strange ones. And yet, Tina’s my guest. I aim to please. I follow Tina toward the arcade, trying to want what she wants. Her pace is confident on the approach, knowing the boys are watching her with anticipation. I try to match her carriage, but it’s all wrong, all an act: I’m here because I want to ride roller coasters and eat. She’s here because she wants to meet boys. Our body language shows who we are. “’Sup,” one of them says as we get close. “Hey,” Tina says. “What are you guys up to?” “Just hangin’.” “You from around here?” “Naw. Just visiting some family.” Tina laughs. “I thought so. Me too.” I’m suddenly aware of my faded jeans, baggy t-shirt, and woven hemp bracelet. I wonder if I could now be mistaken for a mountain person, as Tina has put it. I run my tongue over my full set of teeth, and when I look down at my cork sandals, I’m not reassured. “I’m Kim,” I say, extending a hand to the boy closest to me, the one in Chucks. “This is Tina. She’s here visiting me.” “Woo, fancy,” the boy says, but he does shake my hand. His palm is dry and calloused. Up close, I can see he has small dreads under his baseball cap, just grazing his earlobes. “I’m Sky, and this is Walker.” “Really?” “Naw.” “So what are your real names?” “I’m Shaggy. This is Scoob.” Tina laughs, just a little too long. “Where’s your Mystery Machine?” Something changes in Sky Shaggy’s eyes, a flicker of genuine interest, and he sizes Tina up appreciatively. “This one’s on point. So, where you visiting from?” Somehow we end up at a table at one of the pine-circled food pavilions, French fries and sodas for the visitors, pierogis and lemonade for me. Somehow, we pair off. Tina and Sky Shaggy duck their heads together and laugh, passing a bag of fries back and forth. Walker Scoob and I make small talk. “So, you local?” “Yes.” “I’m sorry,” he says. “Boring as shit out here. Quiet.” I’m allowed to say that, I think. You’re not. Actually, I agree with him, but I find myself feeling strangely defensive. “It’s not so bad,” I say. “You can get used to anything.”
“I’d never get used to it,” Tina interjects. I tip my head back and finish my lemonade, lingering a minute to see the pines scrub at the clouds. A lemon seed lodges right at my throat and I lurch forward, coughing it out. Walker Scoob thuds his palm on my back, just a little too much. “You all right?” he asks. I excuse myself to the nearby bathroom. Inside, I cough and cough, then take deep, deliberate breaths until the itch subsides. Tina comes in to check on me. “You ok?” “I’m fine,” I say. I look up from the sink, and see her in the mirror, just behind me. Her lipstick is smudged. Tina’s eyes flicker from me to her, and she notices it, too. She fixes it with just a delicate dab, then grins at her reflection. Outside, the guys stand to join us as we approach. “Tilt-a-Whirl,” Sky says. “My treat.” We go two and two, Walker Scoob cupping his arm around my shoulders as the ride gets going. We lean into the spin, our bodies crushed together on the downturns. Occasionally I get a glimpse of Tina and Sky Shaggy, their profiles whirling by. Walker Scoob hoots as the ride picks up speed. When we finally come to a stop, I discover my bra hooks are undone. “You guys go ahead,” I say, and linger behind to fix it. On the ride back, Tina removes a crumpled napkin from her pocket. There are ten digits scrawled on it, with the real name Derek. “I got his number,” Tina whispers. “You?” I shake my head. “Don’t worry.” She squeezes my knee. “I’ll ask Derek for it, for you.” I try to smile, hoping to convince her I would want it. 1998. I’m skipping class, and Anthony is, too. His roommates have all left for the day, and we have the house to ourselves. There is an early spring breeze coming in through the window; the sheet is loosely pulled up, just covering my chest. He tugs it down a little, exposing my breasts, and I pull it back. So far, our coupling has been exclusively lights-off territory, my modesty fierce. Today, though, we make love in the daytime, my body surprising me with its response to sunlight, to a house without roommates. Afterward, though, my shyness returns. I turn to face him, covered up to my chin. He folds the sheet down and kisses my shoulder, and I move to replace it. “You know I’ve seen you naked, right?” Anthony is joking, but his eyes show a glimmer of concern.
“No, you haven’t,” I say back. “Oookay.” A few minutes later, he sits up. “I’m going to take a shower,” he says. “Would you like to join me?” “No.” “Really?” “No, thank you.” He pauses, and I can tell he’s weighing whether to ask me. “Have you ever taken a shower with someone?” “No.” “Well, if you’d like to join me, I’d love that.” I hear the water turn on. I step out of bed, take a look at myself in the full-length mirror. I force myself to keep my own gaze, and try to see what he sees.
Kiss of the Party Girl You and I are ancient friends, sitting on a beach at dawn in front of a giant rock offshore. Look how it separates the horizon. We meditate. I’m visited by a girl who boldly kissed me at a party thirty years ago. I was twenty-five and knew a real kiss by then. I wanted to kiss her back; I was going to, but she drifted into the crowd and left. That was our only moment. She was stunning, but she was drunk. I was a whim to her. Life with her might have been miserable. Still, her incredible kiss comes back. I’m making an imaginary ikebana arrangement for us, while the moment is still alive. I’ll balance a lone iris with five horsetail reeds, using three clusters of cherry blossoms to suggest my life before the kiss, the willing press of lips, and my whole life after. I, being the iris, must lean slightly away from the other elements. The kiss of the party girl is a single veil of wisteria on the edge of the ceramic world. You, being more private, remind me you were there as well. You also saw the girl approach, and remember a musical quality. Cellos made from ginkgo leaves bring long tones from the earth. An arch made from a maple stem will be your listening place. You invite me to the empty space under the arch, feeling this is the main point anyway. We seldom agree, but today I see your wisdom. You, with your hint of wince from a nameless wound, and I, with a reckless action plan, step back from the edge of water. Look how small the rock seems now; the whole horizon shows. In waves we hear a Bach cantata. We’ll finish the arrangement together. The container begs to be blue and oval, with a single stone for serenity. Pebbles, fading in size, can be the stream of time. We’ll make the water split at the rock and come together on the other side. Snow has fallen in the mountains, taking thirty years to reach us. A layer of moss softens the uncertainty of longing. We think to add some buds of plums along the pebble edge, or a single sprig of holly. We don’t. We add nothing. We step back, even from this, knowing not to add to an ikebana piece that’s finished.
—James L. Cooper
Aubade with a Return Flight Airports are nothing like mattresses, yet she boards a plane in Detroit and it somehow reminds you of her pulling covers off her feet, tumbling from bed like a droplet over a waterfall. Your eyes follow her past the edge, chase her to the bottom, while you forget, for a moment or two, how fast things come and go. Time seems so slow— controllable almost—as you cling to this last image you have of her: the only thought you’ve had for months now misting against your face and dampening your cotton t-shirt. You know if you unlock your gaze, time will return and she will be gone: impossible to find in that river, floating toward your bedroom door that she pulls open and walks out through.
Bios Mason Boyles is a rising senior at the University of North Carolina. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Cutthroat, Prick of the Spindle, and Kansas City Voices. He is the recipient of a fiction prize from The Southampton Review and the Whispering Prairie Press flash fiction prize. James L. Cooper is a writer and psychologist in Sacramento, California. He is winner of First Place in Short Short Fiction in New Millennium Writings, 2013, and second place in the essay category in Literal Latte, 2014. His work has appeared in The Manhattan Review, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Gold Man Review, Subliminal Interiors, Kentucky Review, The Sun (Reader’s Write), and in other journals and anthologies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jonathan Forrest recently graduated Central Michigan University with a Bachelors of Science in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies. He is an avid reader of comic books and an avid watcher of comic book shows. If people don’t think his writings are insane, then he’s not doing his job. Brad Garber has shown his drawings and paintings since 1997 in the Portland and in the Lake Oswego, Oregon area. His art and photographs have made it onto the front cover of Vine Leaves’ 2014 Anthology, and have appeared in Gravel Magazine, Off the Coast, Writers Tribe Review, Quail Bell Magazine, Four Ties Lit Review, Cargo Literary, The Grief Diaries, Livid Squid, The Tishman Review, shufPoetry, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Mud Season Review, Third Wednesday, Crab Fat Magazine, Dirty Chai, and Foliate Oak. Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Your Impossible Voice, Night Train, Toad, Matchbox, and elsewhere. His latest ebook is Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys at amazon.com. He blogs at upatberggasse19.blogspot.com Buell Hollister published a novel, Leeram in Fordlandia, in spring of 2015, as well as short stories in Temenos Journal and Empty Sink Publishing. He has been a journalist and freelance writer, with nonfiction articles in the Boston Globe, the National Fisherman, and other boating publications. He recently went through a door into the larger room of fiction, a space big enough for him to swing the cat of his imagination. He has many stories to tell, and now, the time to tell them.
Kathryn Jacobs is the editor of The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry. She is also a professor, a poet, the author of five volumes of poetry and over 200 individually published poems, in such journals as The Raintown Review, Measure, New South, and Whiskey Island. Ryan Francis Kelly is a young writer from Cleveland who now lives and teaches in San Diego. His writing has been published by Dirty Chai, Dămfīno Press, Carbon Culture, The MacGuffin, pacificREVIEW, Composite Arts Magazine, Fiction International, Black Scat Review, Wordstock Ten, Third Wednesday, The Houston Literary Review, and the San Diego Reader, among others. His story “Face Time” was nominated for a Small Presses’ Pushcart Prize in 2013. Readers can find him at ryanfranciskelly.com or on Twitter @RFrancisKelly. Christopher Madden owns two funhouse mirrors, two carousel horses, an MFA in Fiction from Fairfield University, a B.A. in Sideshow Arts from Coney Island U.S.A. and a B.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin. His work has appeared in Airways Magazine, Spry, and Temenos. He lives in Connecticut and teaches at Fairfield University. Ryota Matsumoto is an artist, designer, urban planner, and a principal of the award-winning design office, the Ryota Matsumoto Studio, based in Tokyo. He was born in Tokyo and raised in Hong Kong and Japan. He received a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, after studying in the early 90s at the Architectural Association in London and the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art. His work has recently been exhibited at the Los Angeles Centre for Digital Art; the Florence Biennale; the Prize Lynx Exhibition, Lux Art Gallery, Trieste; the Electronic Language International Festival; the San Paulo and London Group Exhibition; and the Cello Factory. Joseph McGuire is a creative writing graduate student at Central Michigan University. He hopes to one day become either a novelist or a creative writing professor, or ideally, both. He enjoys writing about the world through different perspectives, especially those that are often overlooked, such as those of children or the elderly. Most of his stories blend the surreal with the mundane, because that is how he sees life: mundanely surreal. Riley Nisbet is a graduate of Central Michigan University. His work has appeared in The Central Review, The Blue Route, Temenos, and, perhaps in a lingering Facebook Note. He owns a pair of left-footed shoes, but only wears them dancing.
Rees Nielsen farmed stone fruit in California’s San Joaquin Valley for thirty-five years. After the passing of his wife, Riina, he moved to Indianola, Iowa to take part in the lives of his grandchildren, Marshall and Adelaide Taylor. He has published prose, poetry, and visual art in the United States and the United Kingdom. Stephanie Noble has poetry published in the Atlanta Review, IthacaLit, Pilgrimage Magazine, Buddhist Poetry Review, DoveTales—Writing for Peace, The Mindful Word, Light of Consciousness, Marin Poetry Center Anthology 2010-2015; and the anthology Unsilenced:The Spirit of Women. She was a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee. She teaches insight meditation in San Rafael, California and is the author of Tapping the Wisdom Within: A Guide to Joyous Living. Follow her blog at stephanienoble.com. Sarah Pascarella is a Boston-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in The Quotable, Gravel, The Grief Diaries, Travelers’ Tales, The Boston Globe, and USA Today, among other publications. She has a Master’s in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. Her novel, The Virgin Mary Hotline, is available via Kindle and Nook. She is currently at work on her second novel. Kathy Rudin is an artist from New York City. She also rescues dogs and cats. Currently, she lives full time in the Hamptons with her girlfriend, Laura, and their pack of rescued animals and humans. They are just three raccoons short of completing a faithful recreation of Grey Gardens. David Anthony Sam has written poetry for over forty years and has two collections: Dark Land, White Light (1974, 2014) and Memories in Clay, Dreams of Wolves (2014). Born in McKeesport, PA, he now lives in Culpeper, Virginia with his wife and life partner, Linda, and serves as president of Germanna Community College. Sam was the featured poet in the December 2015 issue of The Hurricane Review and was a 2017 nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Valerie Spalding is a senior at Central Michigan University, majoring in English with a focus in creative writing. She has been published three times in The Central Review literary magazine, twice for visual art and once for poetry. Her poems tend to focus on the visceral, the surreal, and the dark.
Curtis VanDonkelaar has recent work appearing in journals such as Passages North, The Tusculum Review, Western Humanities Review, DIAGRAM, Hobart, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. At curtisvandonkelaar. com, you can find even more to read. Joanna White, a music professor, studies poetry with Robert Fanning and Jeffrey Bean, and has works appearing or forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Sowâ€™s Ear Poetry Review, Examined Life Journal, Ars Medica, Cape Rock, Poetalk, Hummingbird, Grey Sparrow Journal, Milo Review, Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, Abaton, Flare, Temenos, KYSO Flash, Balloons Lit Journal, Chest Journal, and Minerva Rising Literary Journal. She is also a finalist in the poetry contests of Snow Jewel, and Naugatuck River Review. She lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with her husband and has a daughter and son in college. Kennen White, professor of clarinet at Central Michigan University, is also a photographer. His work can be found at Art Reach in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and he has been published recently in Grey Sparrow Journal, Flute View, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and Temenos.