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THE MADISON REVIEW FALL 2019

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We would like to thank Ron Kuka for his continued time, patience, and support. Funding for this issue was provided by the Jay C. and Ruth Halls Creative Writing Fund through the UW Foundation. The Madison Review is published semiannually. Two-year subscriptions available for $15 (2 print issues, 2 online issues). One-year subscriptions available for $8 (1 print issue, 1 online issue). Email madisonrevw@gmail.com www.themadisonrevw.com The Madison Review accepts unsolicited fiction and poetry. Please visit our website to submit and for submission guidelines. The Madison Review is indexed in The American Humanities Index. Copyright Š 2019 by The Madison Review the madison review University of Wisconsin Department of English 6193 Helen C. White Hall 600 N. Park Street Madison, WI 53706

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POETRY

FICTION

Editors Drew Quiriconi Tori Tiso

Editors Emma Cholip Chloe Christiaansen

Associate Editor Hannah Goldbaum

Associate Editors Megan Wittman Riley Preston

Staff Grace Barker Benny Koziol Tyler Moore Tori Paige Sarah Shaw Unnar Ingi

Staff Matthew Bettencourt Emma Crowley Richard Horn Alex Moriarty Madeline Peterson

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Editor’s Note Dear Reader, The Madison Review is thrilled to bring you our Fall 2019 issue! We here at The Review have been working diligently to compile an impressive array of work spanning a diverse range of style, subject matter, and perspective. We hope that these short stories and poems published in this edition provide insight into one’s own life, spark worthwhile conversations, and ultimately enrich the lives of those who read this collection of compelling literary work. The work we receive has continually impressed us. No literary journal can exist without the work of its submitters, and we cannot fully express how honored we are to be trusted with someone’s poetry, short fiction, or art and to dissect it in such a way that fills us with intrigue and excitement. This issue would also not be possible were it not for our amazing team of undergraduate students who balance reading, discussing, curating, and designing The Review on top of their already-busy lives. Lastly, we would be nowhere without you, dear reader. If you’ve picked up a copy of this book, we thank you for even opening the page out of curiosity, and hope that you continue reading. Our readership pushes us to compile the best issue possible, and we’re proud that you’re part of our community. The Madison Review would also like to thank our program advisor, Ron Kuka, for his constant encouragement, advice, and help. We would also like to thank the UW-Madison English Department and the Program in Creative Writing for their support. Happy Reading, The Madison Review Editors

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Table of Contents

Fiction

Terri Leonard | Eye of God Kylie Westerlind | Juggernaut Evan Buchanan | Bo Bear Francine Witte | Not Egg Daniel Kennedy | Maid of the Mist Tom Gartner | Carriage House Scott Ray | Grieve If You Want

4 20 34 37 38 52 72

Poetry Jim Daniels | SPRING HEAT Zebulon Huset | Defending the Castle Dan Wiencek | Everything Becomes When We Dance to It Elizabeth Majerus | Echo Lark Ivy Keller | Stem and Bone Peter Grandbois | [We are the ones]

2 18 36 50 70 82

Contributor Biographies

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SPRING HEAT Jim Daniels

ants in a glass jar on the raw edge of new weeds in the yard. skin flash on the street like haywire lights sparking go go go. dazed by chalkdusted sidewalk dreams, rocking the new green beat, rowing through sudden sweat-surge, brief novelty slickening soon into summer’s repetition but today, the first joyful leaks, two oars and the strength to pull, pull, pull. A child lifts a jar to the sun, drops in a few blades of grass— something soft to die in.

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Eye of God Terri Leonard

It’s cold and moldy inside this tomb, and I’m spying on Judith Tally. I know where to find her early mornings at the cemetery. Jimmy put me up to it, curious about the rumor of Judith’s dad and Mr. V. Jimmy’s my practice boyfriend. Calls himself an extrovert, curious about other folks. I call him just plain nosy, and so does Mama. The spying started as ‘Truth or Dare’, but it turned into something else. Jimmy looks like Tom Cruz dressed country, buffed out from weights and the wrestling team. The stud of Piedmont High, every girl wants him. I’ve known him since we were babies—his dad and my mom shacked up until Mama kicked them out, for the drinking, then the hitting. Jimmy’s got his dad’s drinking, but not the rage. He’s gentle, sweet with me, more like a brother than a boyfriend. We’re not a couple in public, just make-out friends. “It’s practice,” Jimmy says. Judith comes early mornings to visit with her dead mother, recently buried a Tally in the family’s grave site here in the old section. Judith’s 15, my age, but she acts much younger. Got dropped when she was a baby, but I think that’s a story. We’ve been in the same grade all our lives but I’m not friends with her. I sit beside her in Biology, dumb but smart, cheat off her Biology tests. Mama says, “Martina doesn’t apply herself ”. I apply myself alright, but not to things she wants. I’m sick of them, Mama and her new boyfriend, nagging me about college when I’m only in tenth grade. It’s a drag. It’s always deserted in the old section except for Jimmy and me and lately Judith, since her mother died. Grassy graves gone to dirt the color of sweet potato. Nothing grows here except privet and ivy. There’s no fake flowers, trashy and rain-splashed with orange grit, like on the new graves in Contemporary. Mama says dressing up graves is like folks fixing up their house on the outside, pretending nothing shameful on the inside. With our family, she says, what you see is what you get. She doesn’t care who sees, like her job and all. The Tally grave marker, chiseled granite blotched with black mildew and flaky lichen, hides in the deep shade of a magnolia. The massive tree, planted too close like some impulsive act, is a dark cloud over the 4


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grave site. Only trippers grow here, Jimmy’s made-up word for the nubby tree roots exposed in the hard-packed ground. “Gotta watch out for them,” says Jimmy. “Come from outta nowhere to trip you up.” Says they look like the shave bumps on Emmett’s brown face. Jimmy sees a lot of guys up close at wrestling. This tomb is perfect for spying, especially laying on your side where you can see through a broken-out section just at eye level. You get in by shimmying your body into a broken gap at the top. It’s harder for me than for Jimmy because of my boobs, which are growing faster than the rest of me. Jimmy says I look like a Barbie Doll, says guys like that. I have learned a lot from him. Jimmy told a nasty story once when we first discovered that crack, about glory holes, men sticking their private parts into a wall or fence, someone on the other side. I think it’s disgusting and wonder how he knew of that. I’m spying from a box tomb, a coffin set above ground as a marker over another slab 2 which covers the actual body, buried shallow. “Ground’s too rocky for deep graves,” Emmett told us, Jimmy and me, while mortaring the tombtop. “Soapstone’s soft and purty light, for a rock. Falls apart easy.” Emmett is the caretaker, the cemetery job of his daddy before him—mowing, trimming, and sometimes repairing old graves. Plus, he’s a history expert, calls it “knowing old secrets”. Showed us the grave symbol carved right into the cracked side of the tomb, “AllSeeing Eye of God”, a triangle with the point on top and the eye set inside looking out. It’s even on a dollar bill, would you believe? We made jokes about it, like ‘God’s Eye is watching you’. Soapstone feels hard as cement inside this tomb without Jimmy and our blanket. Here comes Judith, wearing that dumb green apron, white polo horse, the logo of Tally-Ho Builders, her father’s business. Mr. Tally built up this whole town. Now look at him, poor guy, with only Judith left, and the family money lost in scams to folks no good. All heart, churchfolk say. Heartbroken is more like it, according to Mama. Judith’s mother died last year, our first year of high school. A rare cancer, they said, but there was talk. She wasted away, looked like a skeleton. Now her dad has it. They even lost their nice house. Mama called it a double shame, a builder losing his own house.” Judith Tally lives with her dad in a rental with no air, not even a window unit, above the Tasti-Mart. I don’t know how they do that— 5


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no air, plus it being upstairs. I see her buying cigarettes for him. She’s his caregiver. That’s her whole life—no boyfriend, no job. 3 Through the God’s Eye crack I can see Judith’s legs, blue scrubs, white nurse shoes. She’s working toward her CNA license which you can’t get until you’re graduated. But wearing a uniform to take care of your daddy? It’s not even a real job. And that apron 24-7, likely to her own funeral. That’s Mama’s saying. The apron is Judith’s version of a purse. You can hear her coming, key chains and clips clinking like a mumble. At school, the kids call her “clinky” and the teachers make her keep it in her locker. I am smiling seeing it on her here. Judith sits down on a bench I hadn’t noticed before now, tucked beside some scraggy azalea bushes, hidden. Is it new? I see her lower to the bench, slow like church, her ironed blue legs creased at the knees, black socks with white nursing shoes. Jesus Judith, black socks? I’m thinking it must be from living with a man. “Hullo Maggie.” I can’t see her face but I hear Judith’s words childlike, “I love you so much. I wish you were still here.” Maggie? Why does she call her mama by her first name? I’ve never heard of that. “I’m worried about Daddy,” Judith continues. “On Sunday, he wouldn’t let Pastor Paulk in to visit. Says he doesn’t want anyone to see him sick like this. (Pastor left a real nice card from the Lodge, all 56 members signed it, I counted.) Daddy won’t eat anything, not even homemade mac and cheese from the Lady’s Guild. He’s getting so skinny just like you did, Maggie. Even Mr. V can’t get him to eat. He’s worried too, makes me wear rubber gloves. Why is this happening again?” and Judith dabs at her her eyes with a balled up tissue pulled from an apron pocket. “What’s gonna happen to 4 me?” I’m listening so hard I feel supernatural, and I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Poor Judith. My cheeks are stinging sweat, due to spying and all, and my heart is racketing. What if I get caught? Jimmy would call this “juicy”, but I’m not sure I like it. My God’s Eyes need to rest, so I close them, hear the chide of a mockingbird calling ‘Gloryhole, Gloryhole, Gloryhole,’ pestering me. That bench is definitely new. Judith again, “The medicine is not healing the black spots on his arms, Maggie,” and I can see her hands move like there’s really 6


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someone there. “They’re spreading to his legs. Yesterday, in the bath, I tried scrubbing them off and Daddy got mad. I was only trying to help. If he dies, I’ll have to go live with Aunt Lydia in Macon. She’s mean to me.” Now Judith starts crying hard, snuffling and blowing snot everywhere. Geez. I’m thinking about Margaret Tally, her mother, a coifed Southern woman with reddish hair and bright red lipstick, kind of old fashioned. And black spots? That’s just gross. Poor Judith I think again, and I’m not sure I want to hear more. Did she say Mr. V, the teacher who left last year? Being alone inside this moldy tomb is starting to give me the heebs, and then it starts to rain. Heartbeat pulses loud in my chest, vibrates my ears. I must be some kind of perv sleeping with the dead in this empty boxtomb. I feel drips coming through the cracks as Judith slips an umbrella from her apron pocket. Tally Ho swirls white-ongreen, making me dizzy. The rain harder now, pelts the gravestones, sends rusty groundspray to the heavens and begins to drip inside. My caked-on mascara melts, stings, and I whimper, a prisoner trapped with myself in this tomb. Judith’s coming closer now, nurse shoes crackling the thick brown leaves, and the mocker starts up again, soft this time, like it’s telling on me. “Martina Rayburn, I hear you in there. Are you spying on me?” Relieved, I don’t pretend surprise. “Yes, coming out now.” Out is easier than in. It’s a quick rain, changed to steamy mist, but my eyes are still stinging. Sunbeams pierce the shade, cicadas, shishh-shishhshishh, louder than my heart. “...always pushing limits...” I mumble aloud in Mama’s voice. “Are you talking to someone? Is Jimmy in there too?” Judith is close behind me when we get to the bench. “Course not. How’d you know it was me?” “I see you and Jimmy go in there Wednesdays after wrestling. Glad he’s not here. He’s mean to me. But I like you Martina.” I’m surprised she’s not mad, but that’s Judith. She’s been spying on us! Wait til Jimmy hears this. Saying nothing, I feel the hot prickles of my cheeks meet the moist air and hear that mocker, mocking me now. “I talk to Maggie. That’s what Mr. V told me to call her now she’s dead, my mother. He says it’s more appropriate, like she’s a friend. Emmett put a bench here.” 7


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“I thought this bench was new,” and I notice the beading of raindrops on the slats, tiny gazing balls, proof it’s new wood. We settle side by side, big enough for just us. “Yeah, you must miss her, your mama. You come at night, too?” “Daddy sent me on errands when Mr.V used to visit. Now that he’s staying permanent, I come over here, talk to Maggie. They are more than just friends, but they think I don’t know. Maggie says it’s a sin but it’s good for Daddy to have a friend. I like Mr. V, don’t you? He wants me to call him Bill.” I am freaking out. I did hear it right...Mr. V, our favorite teacher fired for “misconduct”, that jerk Billy Talmadge thinks he hot shit cause his dad’s a state trooper. Mr. V moved to Atlanta. “It’s a shame,” Mama said, “such a good man.” “Mr. V knows a lot about dying, Martina. His mama just died too. That’s why he came back. Then Daddy got sick and now Mr. V visits every day, sometimes stays, even though now he has his mama’s house. They have central air, but Daddy doesn’t want to live there.” Wait until Jimmy hears this, too! Judith looks at me and says, “Your mouth is happy on one end and sad on the other.” I reach up to feel my weird smile. It’s nice to be out of that clammy tomb, with a heart that’s back to normal. Stomach’s burning but maybe just hungry. My ragged pink Converses dangle dance next to Judith’s lace-ups. Looking down, I notice deep handprints in the wet mud, fingers pointing at us. It’s curious to see them there, kind of backward, and I smear them slick beneath my shoes. “I like this bench, don’t you Martina? I’m happy Emmett put it here, for company at night, but also for me.” “Huh?” “You know, ‘Company’.” Judith bobs her eyebrows wanting me to understand, her voice louder with the telling. “Emmett helps keep an eye on the old section, he’s a watchman, you know?” “Not really,” I mumble. She’s sharing all her personal business. (‘Airing your dirty laundry’, Mama says. I’m not sure Judith knows her laundry’s dirty.) I stay quiet to see if she’ll tell more. “You’re a lot nicer when you’re not with that Jimmy,” Judith says, touching my dangling leg, “like a friend.” Just then a crow chuckles. It’s mate flies in from behind the magnolia, lands too close, it’s call rattly, like something stuck in its throat. Judith cackles back, a weird crow laugh. 8


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“Oh Sootie. You little beggar.” She reaches into one of her pockets and tosses a handful of kibble. The shiny bird glides down to snatch it, so Judith throws some more. Pretty soon both birds, giant up close, are hopping, pecking, practically partying here in the old section, calling back and forth to us and the tombs, sharp cackles echo, iridescent blackness, velvety silver shimmer, and I can’t tell their true color. I’m feeling the edginess return to my stomach. We’re watching them, Judith and I, when she calls out, “Hey, what’s that shiny thing…Sootie, did you find a treasure?” She gets up quick and shoos the birds off. “Don’t eat that.” “Whoa. Lookee here, Martina. It IS a treasure.” She pulls out a fat pocket knife, the red kind with a thousand attachments, and extracts a dull probing blade, begins cutting a palm-sized square in the clay. Back on the bench, Judith spreads a red bandana on her lap, rubbing at the exposed silver crescent in the rock-hard clod. “It’s buried deep,” she says reaching into a pocket and drips liquid from a small eyedropper, wetting and picking, exposing the artifact like a scientist. “Why do you have that bottle Judith?” I ask whiffing the acrid tincture. “You’re like MacGyver with that apron. Ever watch that show?” “No. Daddy only let’s me watch nature shows. Alcohol is part of my CNA kit, stays in my apron. You never know. Plus my dad needs it for his shots.” She replies matter-of-fact never lifting her head from the dirty treasure. Then, her voice changes. “Oh My Word. It’s a ring, a silver one.” Her hands are shaky excited and she almost drops it. “I don’t know Judith,” I say looking on close as she picks off more crusted clay. “It’s definitely round, but it’s too big for a ring.” I pause, head cocked and close to Judith’s busy hands. “And it’s too small for a bracelet. Weird....maybe it’s a car part.” Still looking close, I’m quiet for a minute. “Judith, wait,” and my head jerks back like a turtle squinty-face. “I’m not sure you should be touching that thing.” I want to scoot away, but my head feels pulled toward Judith’s dissection, like in Biology, she’s good at this. Pretty soon, it’s completely naked, this ring that’s too big and too small. “It’s shiny alright and look at these bumps only on the inside, none on the outside,” Judith says and squeezes the three middle fingers of her left hand through the center. “With this ring, I thee wed,” she 9


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smiles toward the crow congregation, still raucous but listening. “Judith take that off. It’s not funny. And wipe your hands.” My face feels tired all of a sudden, my brain like a brillo, scratchy from knowing what I might know. Judith wraps the ring inside her damp bandana. “You’re not putting that thing inside your apron, are you? No, Judith, we don’t know where it’s been.” (Mama.) Judith is looking at me and this time, her head’s the one that’s turtled, sizing me up, too close. “What?” I say backing away and shrug my shoulders. Judith relaxes her head and says again, “I like you Martina. You’re nice when you’re not with that Jimmy.” Judith and I are in Contemporary, the newer section of the cemetery near the creek, lying naked atop a family of scorching grave slabs. Well, I’m naked, anyway. Judith didn’t want to skinny-dip, so she kept her underwear on. The cement is toast on my back and butt, front body frozen from the frigid creek. It’s still morning, but already blazing and muggy. I needed to wash myself clean from the early morning dirtiness of finding that ring. Judith stashed it in her apron. It’s near lunchtime and Mama might wonder where I am, but I don’t care, too tired now. I’m already in trouble. Judith had some lunch in her apron and she shared it with me but it’s not enough. It surprised me that she’d want to lay out, white as milk toast. (Mama again.) She’s weird but not stuck up like most girls. “Judith, you’re too pale. You’ll get burned.” (I can’t help it, darn you Mama.) She ignores me. “I like you Martina.” “Um, yeah, you already said that.” I look over at her, make a ‘duh’ face silently, but she doesn’t see. “We’re like friends,” she says, talking to the air. She’s annoying but growing on me. (Like scabies, Mama says it about her boyfriends.) I’m so curious to see that ring. Naked, I get up quiet and sneak toward the apron, hands patting the bulging pockets when Judith opens her eyes, sees me not seeing her, and then, can you believe, slow Judith leaps from her slab and slams me off balance. I’m eyeing the spectre of Clinky Judith Tally with no apron in Contemporary in broad daylight wearing grayish-white panties (called ‘Briefs’), and I’m smirking to myself about ‘dirty laundry.’ (Mama says smirking is my 10


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favorite expression.) “Come on Judith. I just want to see it, the ring.” “Martina Rayburn. Don’t you dare touch my apron!” Judith’s front teeth are showing like a wolf as she grabs my arm, then a little of my hair. “Oww, let go.” I’m staring at her, hands on my hips, righteous on the outside but a little scared of this un-aproned Judith. Then I see her legs jumping around, and I’m doing it too cause there’s a million bees dive-bombing us, our unclothed bodies. The next minute we’re tearing down the hill across Contemporary, jumping gravestones, chased zigzag by a mob of vicious yellowjackets, stinging places exposed and tender. Running, swatting, heaving breath, we reach the thick air, musty shade of the old section, then a frozen minute of quiet, too scared to move or even look, just listening hard for echoes of the swarm, the roar now replaced by pulsing cicadas, close, insistent. I’m surprised Judith can run so fast. Our heaving turns to breathy laughter and snuffles that make our eyes tear up. “How bad are yours?” I ask checking my stings, now searing and beginning to throb. Judith is folded over her legs, fingering the welts around her ankles, when she springs erect, wide eyes white against the bloom of her face and neck, then folds back down, she stays crouched to cover bra and panties. Glancing up, her face looks like she ate something nasty. “What? Oh man, are you allergic...?” “No, we’re ….n-n-neked….” She stammers, calling it ‘nek-ked’, the Southern way. Mama always corrected Jimmy when he said it like that, growing up. “Well, duh. Is that what you’re freaked out about?” “We can’t go back,” Judith’s still folded, talking to her feet, “for our clothes, I mean, my apron and the ring. Groundbees’ll be all over.” I feel the tangle of excitement and panic. “Hey, I have an idea. The bench. We can wait there until it’s safe.” Judith nods, then unfolds, and we shuffle in the direction of the magnolia and the Tally grave, crouched low, looking guilty. “Besides, won’t it feel safer being near Maggie?” I say, to convince myself. Passing some downed magnolia branches, Judith picks one up for me to cover my pubes, then finds more, a double set for each—one for breasts and one for down there. 11


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“It’s like the Bible,” Judith says matter-of-fact, and I wonder how Mama does this every night at the club? We approach the rise of the Tally grave site, coming up the back way under cover of privet, the magnolia and the tall granite marker, the azaleas and finally the...wait a minute...what the heck? It looks like someone’s at the bench. And who is that over there, walking past the Eye of God? I can see his shiny brown scalp and that old blue work shirt with his name in red cursive. What’s Emmett doing here in the old section during the day? Shouldn’t he be mowing grass in Contemporary? Said he was done fixing broken graves, “City done run out of money.” I drop my branch to reach for Judith, give her the hush signal, then waggle my finger toward the bench where we see the back of a blonde man, with muscled arms and a tan T-shirt, facing away from us. I put my hand on Judith’s shoulder to calm her, because inside I am freaking out. We watch as the man rises from the bench now and zips his pants. Wait, there’s another someone kneeling in front of the bench on the ground below, both hands in the dirt and that person gets up, swipes off the mud, then his face, and looks around. The kneeler sees us and we see him. My branch drops, clattering the cover of dried magnolia leaves that hides the ground, and the noise gives us away. I am completely naked. It’s Jimmy, my Jimmy Black, sprinting down the path, agility training from Piedmont Panthers paying off now. Emmett was the one got us our clothes back, got a sting or two in the process. Rode over there on his mower. When I asked him about that man and my Jimmy, here’s what he said, “They just playin’. Ain’t nothin serious. Nothin’ you need worry ‘bout, anyhow. I don’t pay ‘em no mind and I’d advise you to do the same, young lady.” He paused, and his tone change to something else. “ ‘Sides, why you so high and mighty ‘bout other folk? What you two doing nek-ked together in Contemporary?” He said it the Southern way. I tried to explain. “Mm-hmm?!” Emmett didn’t believe in “layin’ out” or maybe didn’t care. Later, when we were sitting by the creek, Judith says, “I can’t believe Emmett touched your underwear,” her face pinched up in disgust. “There’s a lot more than underwear I can’t believe,” I hissed spraying spit and then my 12


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voice got loud like Mama’s when I’m in trouble. “Let’s start with the fact that Jimmy Black, my Jimmy, is a fag. Christ almighty. He never even told me. I almost went all the way with him, more than once. We were working up to it, taking our time, he said. What a jerk. I feel gross, dirty even.” I spit a wad of saliva into the moving water, something Jimmy taught me. “Wow, you’re pretty good at that. Look how far it went.” Judith tries to spit and sprays it all over the front of her apron, dribbling her bottom lip. She pulls out a tissue and dabs at her pucker, nurse-like. “What am I gonna do?” I say to the ground and the creek, and to my sneakers, aware of Judith not listening. My eyes burn to near bursting and Judith watches me redden, watches my lips tremble, and then watches me sloppy, sobbing, tears and snot. Crying hard for a minute, I feel so embarrassed, but I can’t hold it in. It also feels good. Judith leans over, dabs at my cheek with her tissue. Softening, my face relaxes and without thinking, turns to receive the gesture. Presspress-press, blot-blot-blot, gloryhole-gloryhole-gloryhole and then my body stiffens. “No Judith. Not with that tissue. There’s germs, your saliva, it might be contagious!” Shoving her arm away, frantic, I swipe at the wet on my face, like I saw Jimmy do. She pulls her arm away and drops the tissue on the ground. “No Martina. It’s clean, right out of the pack.” Staring at the crumpled white wad, she asks, “What’s a fag?” After that, I decided to go to Judith’s house. With all that happened, I just wasn’t ready to go home to Mama’s yelling or questions. There was one thing though, a worry nagging me. “Judith, I’m gonna be straight up.... are you sure it’s...um, safe for me to be at your house? I mean, with your dad being sick and all?” “I think so. I never got anything. Neither did Mr. V and he’s around Daddy all the time.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll come. I just can’t face Mama right now. She’d be devastated too, maybe worse than me about our Jimmy being a homo.” “So Judith, how long have you been knowing all this?” “All what?” “The men. The bench.” We’re a couple blocks from the TastiMart and the entrance of her apartment, so I slow down for privacy. 13


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“I see them out there. Different men, and other boys. Emmett shoos me away when I’m trying to talk to Maggie,” she says, swinging open the screen door, and my stomach feels churny. The climb up the musty carpet stairs is steep and dark like the tomb, and there’s no handrails. I see a round hump in Judith’s pocket and I need to ask, “You still have it, right?” The lazy ceiling fan is blowing the must inside Judith’s house, I mean apartment, and it’s dark here too like the stairs, but not hot. Mr. V comes out from the kitchen. He looks different, New Yorkish, I’m thinking, and my face smiles seeing him, even with this queaze. His hair is shaved close on the sides with a long wavy part sticking up on top, like Elvis but modern. Must be hairspray or something, looks wet, but I’m guessing it’s not. “Martina,” his smile the same happy as always. “So nice to see you. You’re looking very tan. How have you been?” I remember, now, his soft voice and nice manners. In greeting, he lifts his hands, white latex. I freeze though my own hands are already raised to meet his. Looking at the gloves, then at us, Mr.V narrows his eyebrows and ‘oops’ his mouth, quick pulls them off. Snap-Snap. My hands Twitch-Twitch in return, then unsure what to do, they slide shyly into my pockets. I’m watching me now not him. “What’s wrong, sweetie? Are you OK?” He’s holding the gloves balled up in his hand, looking at me looking down. I want to hug him, but my hands stay stuck. “Of course.” He turns quick, and we hear the faucet running. Then, Judith’s hands rove inside her apron pocket, finger the ring-thing, carress its flat round bulge. My eyes widen, “Judith. Don’t.” Mr. V’s shiny cowboys click back up the hallway. “What do you have there, Judith?” She unwraps the bandana from around the bumpy circle and holds it out eyebrows waggling. She does that a lot I’m noticing. Mama says, ‘Eyebrows speak louder than words.’ “A treasure. We found it today in the cemetery. Sootie helped us.” Mr. V gasps and now his eyes are the wide ones. “Good Lord,” he says. “Wrap that back up, please. It’s not something you need to be handling.” “Don’t you want to see it up close?” Judith’s eyebrows are one 14


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line touching, wounded. “No Judith. I don’t. It’s not a toy,.... uhm, I mean, it’s not for show and tell. It’s nothing any of us needs to be carrying around or displaying.” “Why, what is it?” Judith asks again. I am thinking of the boys and men at the bench, and my stomach starts up again. “Um, can I use the bathroom. I think I’m gonna barf.” Mr. V points me down the hall and mouths a warning, “Mr. Tally”, then makes the shhh symbol, finger to his lips. In the dark hall, a crack of light exposes a small red wastebasket overflowing with balled up tissue and dressings, just outside the bedroom. Judith and Mr. V are still talking so I have time to peek, but not so sure I want to. I mean, I do, but I don’t. My stomach is still revolting as my legs slow down at the door, linger at the threshold. There he is. Hairy legs, skinny, stacked bare on the bedsheet, stick out white from a baby-colored blanket, with spots, a big one on his calf, blackish-brown, blacker than a bruise like Judith said, long and skinny as a finger, raised like a birthmark. (I hear Mama’s voice saying, ‘More like a deathmark.’) He’s wearing hospital socks, with white bumps on the soles for traction he does not need. He can’t see me, Mr. Tally, his face turned away, asleep like Mr. V said. I try not to stare, but I can’t help it. Mr. V’s watching from the front room, points me down the hall. From here, he looks small and old, boots too big. This dark house and the cemetery and Jimmy, this whole town feels like one giant black spot now in my own stomach, as I head to the hall bathroom, slump onto the commode. Muffled sobs escape my face, wet and snotty for the second time today. There comes a gentle knock and then Mr. V, “Martina, can I help?” The sound of his voice loosens something, but the knot in my throat is too tight for more hard crying. “God’s Eyes or Satan’s?” I pout to the mirror, and the smeary mascara drips twice in the sink. Turns out Mr. V knows all about the cemetery and what happens there; knows about Jimmy too. He never explained about the ringthing, and after that day at Judith’s, I didn’t want to know. We left it with Mr. V for “disposal”. Mama knew too. Not about the cemetery, but about Jimmy. Said he was born that way and she could tell from when he started to 15


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mature. I don’t know how she knew that, but it made me feel better. Said not to judge him or any of them. We were in the bathroom. Mama was plucking her eyebrows in the mirror while I sat on the commode lid. “Did you know, eyebrows are the only thing you can shape without exercising,” she says, matter-of-fact, trying not to move for the tweezing. Then more serious, “Martina, we all have a outside self and a inside self. Sometimes they don’t match up so well. Sex is how it can show up twisted, is all.” Distracted, she keeps her tweezing arm suspended and flaps at the saggy skin hanging beneath her skinny bicep, then again, flaps it, coaxing it to swing. Sneering at her face in the mirror, she turns toward me, says sharply, “What?!” (Are her eyes just watering?) “I was just thinking you’re beautiful, Mama.” Later that day, she asks Jimmy to come over and light the stove doused by ramen she was fixing for supper. Jimmy’s our pilot guy, a joke since the time Mama singed her eyebrows back when he was ten. Hearing them now in the kitchen, Jimmy and Mama, I stay in my room trying hard not to listen, but finally riled by their snickering, stomp hard down the hallway. “What’s so damn funny?” I command the two of them. “Hey Doll. Where you been?” Jimmy turns to me from his seat at the kitchen table and winks, cocky, confident, like nothing’s changed. I glare at him, then look at Mama, who quick gets up, heads to the back room with her noodles, a half-smoked Newport. “...ready for work,” she calls out. Hands on my hips, I’m daggering Jimmy with my eyes. He shrugs then draws his sweatshirt up like a shade over his face, and when he lowers it slow like a striptease, it’s the Pee Wee Herman face, the guilty one he’s so good at, eyes looking down with eyebrows rippled, lips in a tight bow, head withdrawn like he’s gonna get hit. It usually makes me laugh, but right now, my lips are quivery, scared of what I’m feeling. I’m seeing through Pee Wee to those sad eyes Jimmy used to get when we were little and his dad got hold of him. He’d come into my room and just stand there, looking at me and I’d get the sad feeling too, and then I’d hold him tight and let him cry until he was finished. Just now from his chair, Jimmy looks right up into my eyes, says, “I still love ya. Please don’t hate me. You’re my best friend.” 16


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Then he looks down again at his fingers tearing apart the matchstick, smudging the charred end into a used paper plate. Right in this moment, I’m not sure what to do. Then, from his seat at the kitchen table, Jimmy lifts his arms toward me. My mind isn’t interested in hugging or touching, but my body reacts the way it always does with him. I told him then I needed some time, and I still do. Judith’s dad, Mr. Tally, ended up dying not too long after that day in the cemetery. Judith said it was the cancer, the one with the black spots, that finally did him in. “ ‘Died from inside out yes’ says Doc Weber. What we saw on the outside, all the spots, was also on the inside, his organs,” Judith told me nurse-like, matter-of-fact. It was at the funeral that Judith lost it, crying something awful. I think it was more about seeing her Aunt Lydia than losing her dad. That Aunt Lydia did nothing to hide her pinched sour face in Judith’s direction, like it was Judith’s fault her daddy died. Not many people came to the burial, held in the old section at the Tally gravesite, buried next to his wife by the bench. Jimmy didn’t come and I was glad. It’s summer and no school, so I don’t have to see him regular. Emmett backhoed the hole. After everyone had gone, Judith, Mr. V, and I stuck around to see him interred. That’s the word Emmett uses for lowering the heavy wood casket into the ground with a machine made special for burying. Before we left, he opened his billfold, and pulled out two crisp new dollar bills. Handing one to Judith and one to me, he said to us both, “I’m sorry for your loss, sweetheart.” Fingering the bill, I flipped it over and my eyes went to the bottom corner, the mark of a blue ink pen circled around the pyramid, with the eye. I looked at Judith who was smiling toward Emmett for the gift and folded my crispy dollar into my purse. When I looked up, Emmett crooked his eyebrow in my direction, something Mama would call “giving me the eye”—a warning and a sadness.

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Defending the Castle Zebulon Huset

Jason insisted on booby traps. I felt like Indiana Jones setting them up, though, I should have felt like a native trying to protect his priceless idol, or whatever MacGuffin was in the treehouse we slapped together with leftover lumber asked-for or pilfered—using whatever we could find lying around: scavengers, salvagers. I should have paid more attention. To my childhood, the deep greens of the leaves flying by as we biked the thin packed-dirt trails between ash and aspen and fir and oak and maple. To the sky undulating with summer storm clouds, the constant improvisational concert

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of birdsong, mosquito hum and the baritone drone of toads—the way Jason so often slept alone in the treehouse. We were too young to see Temple of Doom but his dad didn’t care. We were too young to see The Terminator, but his dad didn’t care, we were too young to wander the woods, the streets, wherever we wanted all night, but his dad didn’t care. The forest was so dark on cloudy nights I worried we’d stumble on one of our tripwires and release one of the stumps. We’d slung them up, five rough tree stumps each tied to ten-foot ropes, rigged to swing at the level of a child’s head or adult’s crotch fast enough to splat loose adolescent brain fluid, or perhaps to smash a careless man’s pelvis.

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Juggernaut

Kylie Westerlind

When the rain came, they waited in the wet pocks of dirt and rock, and the city glowed at them orange and dull. The younger men startled, sliding down the hill with washes of mud. The glimmers blinked back, sedated, quiet, and as the rain gave way, dawn bled across the granite sky. Gunships thundered above, sloughing tracers off their bellies, and the men watched the blue tails scream into the city and puff buildings into billows of smoke. Palm fronds slimmed into candlewicks. Mortars shrieked upward and arced south in fear, retaliation. The men let out their own cries, cheering and laughing and cursing. Got ’em. Got ’em. Buildings fell in plumes of stony dust, silhouetting the untouched but ghost-thin mosques in the desert. A murderous air tore open the fortress into a pulpy rubble and the men trotted down from their foxholes toward Fallujah. The dust settled, the planes having moved on without them, and the men were truly alone. They had to sweep the city, sweep the houses. They stacked against the courtyard walls. A kick to breach the door. Storm through—rifles raised—straight into the fatal funnel and clear it. Next house, next door. Breach, storm. Clear, they cried. Empty. Next one, he said. Empty, empty. It was the black door against the black wall that flickered in Lance Corporal Toller’s dreams in the days, and years of course, after they were pulled from the city, and he knew the door would open to him in the dreams but it would not yield death to him as he had seen for his brothers, not yet, but always when creaking open, finally, the room—it was still and he couldn’t see beyond that dark. / Toller steps up to the barbell. He knocks the tips of his shoes on the platform, once, twice, for both feet. Left, then right. His grip on the bar is wide, and as he bends at the waist, he shoves his knees against the insides of his arms. The knurling roughs the skin of his hands. Muscles in his back tighten as he rolls the bar to his shins and pulls the slack out of it, the plates shifting on the bar with metallic clangs. Movement from other lifters slows as they turn to watch, their chatter quieting to let the rock radio station echo through the gym. “Eyes forward. Sternum to the wall. Get your butt higher but don’t 20


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let your back go.” Toller adjusts. The white wall in front of him gleans under the harsh lights. “Now push away from the floor.” The bar comes up quickly and his forearms bend too soon. The bar bumps his knees and Toller extends his hips violently to throw the weight up. He falls into a squat, swinging his elbows under the bar, but the hundred kilos of plates bounce on top of his rack position. His left knee burns as if struck on the bone with a rubber band’s snap. The weight falls forward off him and he hops back, dropping to the ground. The old-school metal plates clang and the weight of them crashing on the plywood sounds impressive. “That was pathetic.” “I know. I felt it.” He sits there, thumbing around his kneecap and trying to think back, as the bar rolls away from him, to when Olympic lifts were all he did. A hundred kilos for a clean had been nothing back then—warmup weight. And now it nearly crushes him. His knee hurts, a little. The scar that fetals around his kneecap is a thick eclipse, bone-white after he picked at it some weeks out of surgery. “Hate to say it, but you’re not going to get back what you had.” Lon Sorenson, the gym owner, rolls the bar back to the platform. He waits a moment, hands on the hips, staring up at the pictures of a younger Toller frozen into slow motion stills from lifts during Nationals when he swept records in his junior weight class for both the clean and jerk and the snatch. Sorenson crosses his arms, swivels on a heel, his voice lowering. “Don’t get me wrong. You’re a strong motherfucker, but Oly lifts are out. But you know that already.” He points to Toller’s knee. “You fucked it all up when you went there.” The young guys shake their heads and mutter to each other. Toller thinks he hears laughter. “He had that,” one of the guys says. The youngest leans against his squat rack. He does a salute, and it isn’t sarcastic, but Toller thinks of bending the kid’s hand until the wrist breaks. He wishes for that distraction, a few moments of anger at anything beside himself. Toller brushes his hands free of the chalk that cakes his palms. He pulls at his weightlifting belt and loosens it to hang around his hips, wanting everything slack after the tightness of ballistic vests. “It’s been a year,” Toller says, as if something should give. Lon turns to watch another of his guys lift. The guy, younger than 21


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Toller, squats with one hundred kilos on his back. Down, and back up. And down. Toller turns. He doesn’t want to count them. “Too soon,” Lon says so only Toller can hear. “Also, too much.” / The waiting was too much. The fire teams hopped like schoolchildren, restless. The tanks went in first, leveling buildings that were full of Chechen snipers who piped off lines of bullets at the armored tanks. Platter charges rocked the dozers, but they drove through, carrying on undeterred and elephantine. The men laughed, jittery and crazed. But Toller, he was lost in the sky above. No clouds. It seemed like there were never clouds here. What’s gotcha? But Toller could only shrug. The explosions in the city were constant. You jealous? The men punched him in the arm to bring him back down to them. We’ll get our turn, and your time to shine, they said. Toller felt like nothing would happen, even though his guys amped him up day after day. His first op, any moment now, a mission to kill the bombmaker. He was sick of the waiting, of the empty rooms, but then he came upon a room of them. He smashed into another den with force and surprise, but they sat there, nearly anesthetized, those many bombmakers, folding parts from old Russian land mines into cavities of bodies. Toller moved backwards out of the room, in his shock his fingers holding the trigger, lighting up the room in orange packs of dust and sparks. The stuff flew up like paint spatter. A round hit a body bomb, and the room erupted in frag and smoke. Toller burst from the house. The rest of his fire team clapped him on the back, knocked his helmet with their knuckles. Leveled it, they said. Fucking leveled it. Jugg, they started calling him. They chanted for him like a mantra. Jugg’s gotcha! Jugg’s gotcha! He tried to smile for them, but what was the point? They couldn’t see. He let his eyes keep doing what they were doing. He followed his men, his heart already slowing. He hated how this place was changing him. No, he hated how much he was changing this place. / Toller comes to in someone’s arms. He’s down on the ground of the living room, the door behind him open and the cold chill of dawn edging inside. A warm hand wipes his face and tells him that he’s okay, she’s there now, and Toller sits up to look at Nell. “Please don’t close the blinds,” he says. He hasn’t dreamt of the door in weeks, but he returned to the house from the gym and the windows were shut and drawn, the door dark and locked. He fumbled for his keys, his pulse mouthing at his ears. He leaned into the door, heaving, weeping, his shoulder braced against it, the ghosts of his brothers 22


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and those civilians behind him, whispering. The door punched open and swinging. He waited for them to come, their guns trained at their faces, but it was just the darkness of the room billowing up at him, his friends vanished, and soon his face against the floor, cool and numbing as ice. Nell holds out a washcloth. “Who were you dreaming about?” she asks. Toller wipes his face. “What do you mean?” “Who is Fallujah?” She doesn’t know where he’d been, where any of them had been. A loss floods him, the resolve that he will never be noticed for what he did. She can’t—isn’t the only one, and this feeling, he knows, can only become another dreadful loneliness. He asks her, “Can you stay with me?” She leads him up to his room, taking him past her own. This isn’t the first time. They stay on top of the sheets. She’s done this before, now and again since she became his roommate, holding him as he wakes up from the dark. “Did you just get back?” He thinks he can hear the men whooping when they saw her and her hair reflecting in the mirrored floors on the stage of the nightclub. He flashes to that first time he saw her, back in Vegas, as he stood near the doors as the club’s bouncer. He wonders if she gave the men earlier tonight that look that he first saw, severe but reluctant, the one that reaches beyond the men, past him, even; Toller doesn’t know how she does that. He’s only seen that look—that thousand-yard stare—in his brothers’ eyes on the flight back to the states. Most of them slung up in stretchers, gauze crisscrossing on their bodies: they stared beyond the walls of the plane that harbored them. There was history there—a leaky trauma. “I got out of there early,” she says. She turns on her side, keeping a hand on his arm. He can hear a slight whistle coming from one of her nostrils, an allergy to sagebrush that she’s played down since moving here. She clears her throat. “I’ve noticed it’s happening again.” “Do you remember the name of that restaurant I took you to before we left Vegas?” She lets the question hang there, letting him feel the pull of his diversion, his desperation. “You’re doing a lot. You’re at the gym six days a week.” His head takes on a pulse of its own, a strange beat that’s faster but heavier. “I can’t think of the name. It was the only place I could think of when you told me about that motherfucker. I could have killed 23


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him.” She taps a finger against his skin. “I remember the sudoku.” “Ah.” Toller smiles in the dark. “Where did I put that?” The flight was a near painless hour in the sky, from Las Vegas to Reno, but Toller pulled out a tattered sudoku book, the one he had started when he first was deployed to Iraq. How he and Cruz had tried to do the hardest ones first, working backwards, on the plane to Kuwait. He told Nell on the plane he and Cruz had failed miserably at it, leaving the white boxes bare. She laughed and pulled out a ballpoint pen as he cradled a pile of peanuts in his palm. She didn’t mess up once. “I’m sorry about your friend,” she said, but he hadn’t told her that Cruz had died. It made him go quiet the rest of the flight, wondering how he gave it away, how the grief was leaking out of him. “You always smell like peppermint,” he says now, moving his head to touch his nose against her hair. “Crushed up mints. That’s what I think of. It reminds me that I’m here.” “Elliot,” she whispers, her tone might as well saying, Are you okay? “I’m tired,” he says. But he can stay up all night talking to her. He wants to know what it means that she’s been leaving her door open, staying in his room, times when he asks, times when he doesn’t. How they kiss, not always, and he isn’t sure who’s more scared, and scared of what, then? He grabs her hand and holds it against his face, her fingers brushing up against his eyelashes. “Elliot,” she says again, but he keeps his eyes closed, feeling her searching him in their quiet. She always knows when to quit. / Nothing happened during the first sweep. The houses in the north were empty. The beds were made, sheets tucked taut and firm. The men loped through the rooms. Clear, all of them clear. Holte and Cruz and Toller were restless. Fuck this, they said. Boredom seeped into them. The adrenaline of opening the doors depleted, lighting a deeper, anxious anger. Let’s smoke the motherfuckers. But Toller hardly ever joined the cheers, couldn’t help but think there were all these invaders in a city that wanted none of them. Their squad cleared hundreds of houses. The courtyards, too, abandoned. Once here and there they found the white clay bowls with bits of rice, someone surviving, someone going on here, going on despite everything. In the beginning, all this had felt righteous and heroic and purposeful. And now Toller felt a persistent nausea, a numbing of organs, a numbing in the blood. What all this violence meant, he didn’t know anymore. 24


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He knew there were doors he had to open. But behind doors were empty rooms. The first sweep revealed to them nothing. / The competition is in three months. His technical skill with the Olympic movements deteriorated to a desperate reliance on power. Sorenson convinced him of this, but Toller tried everything: weightlifting straps, the belt, knee wraps, chalk, ammonia salts. But his knee falters during the second pull in the clean. Instead of an easy sweep into his hips, his pull is too slow. His knee fights to turn inward from the bullets that blasted it open in Iraq. His jump is hardly anything. The weight constantly crushes him. The bar slams to the ground, plates clanging together in a loud announcement of failure. “Your knee is going to blow if you keep it up. You won’t even have powerlifting left.” “Fuck you, Lon.” Sorenson stands before the bar. Toller used to look up to the man. A weightlifting champion who sees the tiniest faults in positioning and corrects them, drilling cues into the mind until the body relents. Every failure, every catch, Sorenson asking, “What did you learn?” His athletes are refined and technical, just as Toller had been. Toller looked to him as a father, a constant guardian. He seems washed up now and tired, ready for closure, but Toller knows Sorenson won’t forgive him for joining the Marines. It was not heroic or anything close to it. Sorenson saw glory in Olympic medals; Toller yearned for purpose that didn’t gather dust on gym shelves. There had to be something more for him. Didn’t Sorenson understand that? “You would have made it at the trials.” Sorenson pulls the clip off and unloads the plates, throwing them onto the floor, ringing metal on metal. “You left and got fucked over, and now you want to come back right where you left off. Doesn’t work that way.” Toller unloads the other side. “I wasn’t doing it for anyone. Not the lifting. Not the Marines, either.” The plates swivel like heavy coins, and Toller drives his heel down to stop it. “I wanted to see if I could do it.” “Prove it to yourself.” “I don’t need to prove anything.” “You’re a genetic freak, to be honest.” Sorenson loads the bar up for Toller’s deadlift weight. He steps up to the bar and clomps his feet. The weightlifting shoes make satisfying thuds with the thick heels. “I won’t ever understand it,” he says, and Toller waits for him to say, And I will never forgive you for what you gave up. He breathes out, hard, with his 25


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arms in front of him, one palm upward as if in deliverance. He bends and grabs the bar, pulling fast. Even without proper warmup, the old man easily deadlifts three hundred and twenty-five pounds. His face lights up like a match, his veins snaking along his bald head. He drops the bar, and, from the sound, it should have shattered the ground. Sorenson loosens his belt with a snap. “You could have been something great.” Ten weeks out, Toller changes his registration to powerlifting. Sorenson’s words clear in his mind. He only has raw strength now. His bench press is solid. He can open with two hundred and fifty pounds, easily. The deadlift, too, will climb back up to five hundred pounds now that the physical therapy for his knee is over. His squat will suffer the most. He will be lucky to get four hundred. The competition is in three months. He applies chalk to his hands, thick layers of it that gather in the lines of his palms like blood. / The city glittered before them in the desert sun. Palm fronds swayed. The civilians were gone, they were told. But they couldn’t level the city. The men had to feint, drawing the enemy south. Their assault would come from the north. They needed to take Jolan. Soon the mortars came. The fire team stormed through the streets, tripping over rubble and torn laundry. When Toller looked up, the few powerlines reminded him of the wires that ran over his parents’ house in Fernley, Nevada. The bushes were the same dead gray and dull green. But the dirt was richer here. He tricked himself into seeing wild mustangs dash through the city, pictured himself as a young boy again, experiencing something he used to know as wonder. Busted brick and stone crumbled from shaking buildings, breaking the men out of their heads. The apartments were quiet. The squads separated. They were beginning to find the weapon caches now. You clear that fucking house? Cruz ushered them across the dirt. Carts and piles rested in the street. An IED exploded on the other side of the house. Frag! They scattered from the door. It blew, and they ambushed, covering their sectors, high, low, rear, and the fatal front. I hear a motherfucker running around! They wanted to scout and clear from the rooftop down, but the buildings were too tall in this desert fortress. They climbed the stairs, angling their guns. The air was quiet. They heard mortars from afar. The other squad yelled, startling the fire team. Holte flinched, and a door opened before he could kick it. The man in the room sat on his haunches, his legs splayed before him, the AK pointed at Holte’s face. Shoot him! Shoot! Cruz sprayed him but the man would not go alone. 26


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He opened Holte’s face with a hollow point. The Marine fell, and Toller reached for him. Cruz marched forward. He shot twice, three more. Five, again. The man sat there, his gun pointed at Cruz but did not fire. Cruz kicked it away. Die, motherfucker! The man slumped to the side. Toller stepped away from Holte. He stood next to Cruz and they looked at the ground. They moved needles around the man with their boots. Adrenaline, cocaine. These men weren’t going out alone. Toller felt a constant ringing in his ears and wondered if it would ever end. The Marines carried their fallen out of the house. There were a thousand more doors to open. / He meets Nell at the museum of art. She likes to go on the first Saturdays of the month when admission is waived. They usually go to the museum together, but Toller woke up alone. He wandered through the empty house, pushing open cracked doors. When he read her message on his phone, he learned that she will meet him there, heading to the museum straight from the nightclub. In the museum lobby, she hands him a cup of coffee, black. “No lattes here, sorry. And we have to drink it before going upstairs.” “Missed you last night.” He sips his coffee. “And this morning.” She lifts a shoulder. “It’s that new club owner. Holding us later and later. Last week it was seven. Eight today. Can’t get enough of us, I guess.” A sting of jealously goes through him—new owner? But he pushes it away. There was no reason for it. “That was a joke,” she says. His laugh is more like a bark, and he hates that he feels uneasy. His guard’s going up, and he doesn’t know why. He tries to will it away, force instead to be a different man for her. “Come on,” she says. She drinks from her cup, meandering toward the gift shop. She holds up a pricey rock from the desert, smooth from the salt of ancient lakes, and swivels it in her palm. “How was your training?” “Rough.” He takes the rock and moves it over the top of her hand, tracing it along her fingers. He often does this when she stays in his room, placing his book down and tracing the end of a pen on her outstretched hand, but she hasn’t been with him for a week now. “Did five by five today with squats.” She gives him her other hand, so he can trace that one—it has to be equal, she always says. “Can’t stand up the last rep.” She drinks and holds the cup just below her mouth. “Are you sure 27


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you’re going to be ready?” Toller smiles. “Going to have to be.” He stops tracing her hand and tosses the rock in the air and catches it. “Or lower your opening numbers,” she says. She reaches out for the rock. “Just in case.” “You don’t think I got this?” She holds her hand up. “Sorry, Jugg.” She laughs. He puts the rock back. “Where did you hear that?” “Didn’t you say that was your nickname in the Marines?” “I did?” Nell pushes him playfully. “Semper fi!” He looks down at where she touched him. “When?” “Shit, I don’t know, Elliot. I forgot to put it in my journal.” She leaves the gift shop and tosses the cup into the trashcan. “Does it bother you?” Toller walks by her to dump his coffee in the trash. He took a sip or two, but the liquid was flat on his tongue, bitter. “You seem a little irked,” she says. “No,” he says too quickly. “I just—” He lets out an exasperated breath. “I don’t think you should call me that.” “Just your buddies then,” she says. “Now I know.” “Buddies,” he says, his jaw clenching at the end of the word. She isn’t looking at him though and turns on her feet, her hair bobbing a bit in the bun she twisted up on her head. “All right,” she says. “Upstairs, grunt. Roll out!” “Are you trying to piss me off?” She whips around, alarmed and unsure of him. He sees it in the way she holds her head, as if he’ll come out and say he was joking. But he doesn’t. She straightens and holds her arms, and a flash goes through him, the rush of knowing he’s ruining this for her, their time together outside his haunted room, his night terrors, the moments that have brought her closer. The skin of his fingertips prickling. “You’re afraid of me.” He doesn’t feel himself say this—the heat in his face and the pull in his stomach turning over to numbness, the same numbness he felt earlier today when he tried to squat four hundred pounds, the weight sitting on him in the hole, and Sorenson screaming at him to stand back up. The ascent was slow and agonizing. His knee burned but the wraps numbed it a little. “Shit,” he said when he racked the bar. His vision blurred. His black lifters shined with white dots as he stared at them. His head felt crushed and he closed his eyes. The blood was too much and the mess of it leaked into 28


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his boots, through the boot blouse to his skin as the enemy crawled under the city. The men thought they could feel the ground shifting under their feet. The mouse holes were everywhere; the re-clearing turned over more of them. Doors, doors, more doors. He couldn’t find his squad. The radio was clogged with his blood, maybe someone else’s. He’d breached the door and an AK nuzzled its barrel into a lieutenant’s neck, it was White’s neck, splintering cords of muscle across the room like fleshy shrapnel. It was hard to believe that the raw gore could belong to any of them. He wanted to put them back together, his brothers, but the men raged at him like wild, undying animals—and weren’t they the same in that way? He littered the men with spray from his M4. Fuck you. Fuck you! Bullets wracked their bodies and their clothes powdered behind them but still they stood, still they came for him, because they were surviving, and the men were sent there to win, and he realized this desperation of will, this feral call to live, he understood it. He retreated, his rifle thrust in front of him, popping bursts. The rooms were white and empty, misty from implosions and blood constellations. Behind him, a door. And when he opened it, there in the heavy dark was nothing. “Elliot! Elliot, come on, son.” Sorenson slapped his face and his eyes opened on lights and guys standing over him. He pushed at them with his hands. “Fuck you! Fuck you!” his mouth was saying. He rolled over and vomited. Sorenson patted him on the back. “That’s it. You’re all right.” Sorenson wrung a wet towel over the back of his neck. “I think you’re good for the day.” Now, Toller comes back down, his limbs trembling but he’s still standing, and Nell is in front of him, her face seeming blurry, pained—a ghost. “I’m sorry.” He presses his thumb and forefinger over his closed eyes. Heat floods back into him. “Forget I said that.” He takes a deep breath. “I know you’re not.” She steps forward and grasps his arm. He pulls her to him, needing her to ground him, hoping she can’t feel his body shaking. “Elliot,” she says, placing her hand against his stomach and putting space between them. He closes his eyes, but she grabs his hand. “Hey.” He opens his eyes. “Let’s go look at the art now.” Nell leads him up the stairs, his hand in hers limp and numb. His head hurts now, but he can hear it in his head all of the time, Are you okay? He rubs his face with one hand, trying to move the heat from it, and stands before the walls tiled with canvases. But he doesn’t look 29


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at any of it, only her. Nell wanders across the floor. Her arms are crossed, and she takes small steps, gliding across the ground. He thinks of the past few weeks. Ever since he signed up for the competition, Nell brushed him off. He could hear her in his head asking what he was trying to prove, what he needed out of doing something like that. Something like that. What was there for her to see in a squat, a press, a pull? It isn’t that she’s asked about these things. She doesn’t have to. What does he have to prove? The thought haunts him. She sees who he really is. He cries at night. Thrashings that hit her and there are his yells, but mostly crying. She began working later into the morning. When she didn’t work, there was a night, even, that she crept into her old room. She works later because she’s safer there, away from him. She knows what he is. “This one’s kind of sexy, isn’t it?” she asks him. She tilts her head but doesn’t look back at him. The word throws him. He can’t look at the painting she’s talking about. In his head, he hears pops. “You fuck them, don’t you?” He’s turned, facing the wall, remotely feeling that Nell’s leaving him in a rush that stings his nose and eyes. In his mind, a door burns its edges with blackness. He hears a thunderous rolling. Rocks give way, and dirt is pushed aside. Has he heard this before? He recalls a staff sergeant pacing before his grunts. If you think in combat, you will die. He screamed at them, demanded of them their blood, their secrets. You will kill everything in front of you. Do not fear death for once it comes, you don’t feel it. The Corps is you, and you are the Corps. The grunts clapped and looked at each other as brothers. The redemption smolders and burns in the wake of the juggernaut. / They were left to take Fallujah, and that’s what they were going to do. Cruz and Toller merged with another fire team of the first platoon, having lost their own. The assault was a week in now, and it was supposed to have only lasted a few days. The back clearing was a blistering paranoia of already opened doors. In the cool of the night, the Marines huddled together for warmth. One phone call. Fathers and sisters, they were saying the city was liberated, that their sons and brothers could come home. Was it secure? No, the Marines replied. No, it was not. They were not done. Cruz called up his girl and Toller did not hear him say he would be coming back. When he hung up, Toller grabbed him by the vest. You’re not fucking dying. Cruz smiled. Jugg’s got me! The sun rose again, and the city still smoked. We should have dusted this place, he said, but he didn’t mean it. The Marines 30


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piled into the trucks and rolled toward the wolves of Islam, they were told, these Chechen fighters of Grozny. These men tucked themselves into the bunkers and torture rooms that used to be warm houses and bright mosques. It’s impressive, Cruz said, kneeling into the dirt, digging it up with his fingers. They know they are going to die, but they will wait the seconds it takes for us to open the door so they can get a shot at our faces. Cruz smiled at Toller. They aren’t going alone. Cruz buried the ring under the soft, upturned dirt. The house was white and made of stone. The courtyard was empty. The men entered the foyer, and the doors led straight back into the dark. They moved forward, stepping over bits of rock and worn cloth. The noise from outside softened. The house was like a fortress. And then, they came upon it. The black door on the black wall. Cruz and Toller stopped. There it is, Cruz said. Tell her I loved her. The fire team aimed their rifles. Toller will never forget this door. It seemed to open on its own, this mythic gate, yawning wide and the wolves stirred behind it. But the men could see nothing. Motherfuckers! Cruz charged and lit up the room before a Chechen’s round catches and takes the back of his head with it. The body dropped to the knees and the men yelled. Toller watched the busted stuff leak onto the ground. Brother? Is that you? He marched forward, past the body, and into the room. The rifle kicked bruises into his shoulder. Rounds whizzed by his face, somehow, their screeching already a death cry. He didn’t know how he wasn’t killed and how they weren’t dead. The fight was primitive, a desperation of murder. Toller’s knee blew open, but he hardly felt anything. The rifle kept on going, the guts and gore flying up from the bodies. The men pulled on his shoulder. It’s done, it’s done. His rifle was dry and making empty clicks. The room was rank with death and Toller fell to a knee. Cruz was behind him in many places. Toller grabbed at them and tried to put them back. Is that Cruz? It’s not fucking Cruz! Don’t you die on me! A grunt grabbed Toller from behind. He lunged for Cruz’s rifle and held it to his chest. I can’t leave him. I can’t. The corpsman hoisted Toller over his back. They’re coming back to get Cruz, they said. Toller did not feel the gristle of his leg twisting around the knee. The black door was closed again, bumping against Cruz. Toller watched it as he drew farther away. Don’t you fucking die. You’re coming back home. You can tell her yourself. / Sorenson comes up to him and motions. He’s next. Sorenson holds out the smelling salts but Toller declines. His opening weight for the back squat is four hundred and ten pounds. 31


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The training went the best as it could. Sorenson wanted Toller to take more rest days, but he refused. His knee is feeling good. It doesn’t ache as much anymore although his head throbs more than he’s used to. The night he returned from the museum, Nell was not there. Her door was closed. He did not open it, but he knew it was empty. He tries to imagine the weight on his back and that all he must do is stand it up. With the meet at a local high school gym, Toller sees young guys from the football team acting as the spotters beside him. Families and clusters of friends gather in the bleachers, but their faces are a hurried blur before Toller’s eyes. He walks up to the bar in its rack, twisting the knurling. He stamps his feet, once, twice, for both feet. Left, then right. He shoves the meat of his shoulders up into the bar. One step back, then the other foot. The bar wobbles with the weight. The spotters stand next to them, their hands facing up as if in prayer. Toller breathes, the air sucked down deep into his belly. He thrusts his stomach out and into the belt. You need a solid trunk, Sorenson has always said. He braces, the bar shaking on his traps. He lowers, pushing his knees out, out, out. The left one burns. He’s done this weight before, he can suffer this, too. He hits the bottom of the hole and feels a good rebound, but his ascent is slow, and then he stops moving up. He lingers there, his muscles rapidly expending energy. His breath slides out of his mouth in a small gasp. The crowd, distantly, screams at him. But the weight is too much. He goes down and the spotters catch the weight so it doesn’t hit the ground. The gymnasium is silent. The spotters stand it up together, the two of them, and Toller racks it, rushing the bar forward to smack against the stand. It makes a mighty sound, and he stands there for a moment, letting that sound beat out the ringing. “Good effort, man.” A kid claps him on the back. Toller moves out from under the bar. He will get two more attempts, but he knows the weight will not be withstood. He brings his hands up behind his head. Sorenson smiles at him. It won’t happen today or tomorrow, Sorenson knows this, probably has known this whole time. Toller lets his belt go slack, lets his body fill back into that space. The gymnasium buzzes with chatter and half-hearted clapping. Toller wants to go home and sleep. He turns to head off the stage, but he hears something like his name. When he looks out into the crowd, he sees her. Nell, on the hard metal bleachers. Toller holds up a hand, feels something in him reaching out again, opening. He steps off from the platform, going to the stands, and he brushes the chalk from his 32


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palms, the white dust hanging behind him, waiting to fall.

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Bo Bear

Evan Buchanan Bo bear’s growling everywhere. Stop it, Bo bear! I say. But he doesn’t stop. He just keeps growling all over the backyard. He’ll finish a growl then look at me all proud with his tongue out and teeth sharp and nose wet. There’s never been a happier bear is what I guess about Bo bear when he’s growling. Damn. It must be a stupid sort of happiness. I’ve had him since he was a cub when I found him crying in a cave. Cradled in my arms I carried him home. But he loses himself all day growling in the backyard now. So I say, BO BEAR, IT’S TIME TO STOP! He stands six-feet tall on his hind legs and growls. I take him to play with the dogs at the dog park, but he just growls at the dogs. So I take him inside and try to make him an inside bear. But he tears up the carpet in the living room, and in the kitchen he growls at the fridge. What are you growling for, Bo bear? is what I say. He turns and tilts his head and looks at me quiet, but I know he’s thinking about growling all the while. He must be happy when he’s growling because his shoulders curl and his ears twitch. Me and Bo bear we go to the vet, but Bo bear growls and eats the vet limb by limb whose screams are awful. Stop it, Bo bear! I say. You got to be professional here, I say. At home Bo bear has one of those plastic cones over his head and a muzzle on his bloody snout, but he’s still trying to growl, even though he can’t see what he’s growling at. But I love that crazy bear and can’t stand to see him like that. I cut the cone off and unlatch the muzzle and let him out in the backyard. He’s growling again. Damn, that’s a crazy bear, I think. He growls into the night until he gets all tired. He even growls in his damn sleep, with his claws slashing up the air. Lying down he’s twenty feet wide, and I climb up his fur and on his shoulder and say with a voice low so not to wake him, Bo bear, what are you growling for? The next morning he’s growling up a storm again. He eats a tree, brach by branch. Because I love Bo bear, I want him to be happy. I want him to growl all he wants. But there’s not much else he can growl at here. And he’s already growled up the whole backyard. We drive three hours south to the beach, with Bo bear under a tarp on a trailer. In the dark I turn the headlights on the sand. I pull back the tarp and say, Bo bear, GROWL! He runs around me so happy like he doesn’t know what to do, and I look up at him with his head up in the stars. I say, Go on, Bo bear. It’s alright. Go on. And he shoots into the sand with his shadow a hundred feet long. I watch him 34


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growl all night in the light of the moon. When the sun’s coming up I kneel down and call Bo bear over. He climbs up on my lap. I say, Alright, Bo bear, we got to go home now. We’ll come back next weekend to growl. I hold him up to my chest and feel his heart beating so fast. His front paws are shaking. He wants to look at me but his eyes keep going back to the beach. And it goes on for miles. So I say, Alright, Bo bear, you can keep growling. I’ll just try to get some rest in the car. The wind is cold on my face.

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Everything Becomes Music When We Dance to It Dan Wiencek

Flowers crowd shoulder to shoulder in vases on white-clothed tables, confetti on the floor. A candy cigarette slips from one set of awkward fingers to the next You can bet on the number of times a fly will land on a Coke can’s lip. Watch and do not interfere. It remains a little longer each time, sensing in whatever passes for a fly’s brain that it is safe With each bite the candy cigarette grows shorter. The smoker tilts her head, purses her lips and fills the air with invisible pink clouds

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Not Egg

Francine Witte What do you want for breakfast, Mother says. Egg or not egg? Not egg could be anything. So, I say egg. Good choice, she says. Only choice, I think, but don’t say. That’s also a good choice. One time I said “not egg” and she squinched up her lips. Started looking around the kitchen, her eyes landing on our cat. I ran over and grabbed him, “Egg!” I shouted, running into the parlor, “I mean egg!” Mother is a tower of horrors. Or not. Sometimes she is so sweet. Making us breakfast, for example. Asking me what I’d like, for example. Other times, the horror times, she is likely to feed our cat to the neighbor’s dog, or chase my brother, Bill, out into the naked cold. Every so often, I stare at the back of Mother’s head. It is an oval with hair. It is an egg with hair. When she turns around to look at me, to catch me doing something wrong, her face is the face of an egg with a few holes punched in. The goopy yellow all run out. Those are the times I really want to say, not egg.

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Maid of the Mist Daniel Kennedy

“I’m late,” Contessa said. I’d smoked a fat blunt before going to her house. At first I was like, “Fuck.” She stared, mouth half-open. “That’s all you got?” She stood up and crossed her arms. A devil version of cupid was tattooed around her wrist. Unlike the red cherub’s mischievous expression, her face knotted with fury. I was afraid that looking directly at her might turn me to stone. “You’re like some cowardly boy,” she said. I wondered if that meant she’d been impregnated by someone in the past, but I decided not to ask. We were in her room. She’d pulled her black hair into a bun, washed off her makeup—which made her even finer, in my opinion—and wore a Back to the Future t-shirt and purple shorts. She had smooth, muscular thighs. “Sorry,” I said, hoping she’d notice the shame in my voice. “You’re unbelievable.” She pivoted away from me. The warning curve of her body formed an insane S. Contessa studied her Kendrick Lamar poster. I wondered what Kendrick would do. I traced my fingers along her shoulder blades and touched her chin, gently turning her face toward mine. She had this Paz Vega vibe, though Contessa was a real person, not some plastic celebrity. Wore life’s disappointments on the edges of a weathered smile. A pink scar on her left eyelid caught the light when she blinked. Some of her faults included taking Oxy at parties, crying each time she learned of a world tragedy, and her ex. The fact that her parents had ditched her at birth was not her fault. She used their absence as motivation—4.0 GPA, 1560 on the SATs. Wanted to attend some fancy school like Stanford. I just wanted to go. It didn’t matter where, as long as Contessa was with me. I stared into the hurt on her face. I meant to say I couldn’t imagine how she must be feeling. Meant to say I wasn’t going anywhere, unless it was with her. I said, “You don’t even know for sure, right?” “Get out.” 38


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“Why?” Contessa pointed to the doorway. Beyond it, the house was dark. Her aunt Belinda, who’d adopted her, often went to bed early. “Please, baby.” “Please what?” “Don’t make me leave.” I hugged her. To my surprise, she rested her head on my chest. Her hair smelled like the coconut shampoo she used. I inhaled her, held my breath until my eyes watered. “Your instincts are so wrong,” she said into my neck. She pulled away. “I’m sorry.” I bit down, flexing my cheekbones. She always loved when I did that. “You shouldn’t say sorry if you don’t know why you’re saying it, Dylan.” “I do, though.” “You’re pretty to look at, but that’s not why I’m with you. You care about making something of yourself. You’re not some white-trash loser.” Not paying close attention, I said, “Don’t call me that.” Sometimes, Contessa turned my love into an ocean of gasoline, and this nervous creature that lived in my brain would crawl from its cave, and with trembling fingers hold a lit match above the flammable, frothing waves. “I didn’t,” she said. “You never listen.” My hands tingled. “I’m just stoned. I guess you caught me off guard.” “I know. And I’m not letting us become those parents.” “What parents?” She raised an eyebrow. “The teenage types who party and sell weed.” “Then I’ll quit.” Contessa shook her head. “Or mine.” “But you don’t even know yours?” “Exactly.” “We’re here, though—by the baby’s side.” “Yours, then,” she said, exasperated. “Abby and Mike aren’t the worst.” I scanned her room. Yoga pants dangled from the top of her hamper. A thick book opened to a page about this Alexander Pope dude, a chemistry textbook, and some papers lay scattered across her desk. Her aunt had bought the desk years ago at a secondhand furniture shop. Bad words and people’s names—“cunt,” “Zeke,” etc.—were inscribed all over the wood. We used to play this game, back when we were just friends. We’d pick a name, and based on handwriting and placement, describe what the person was like, the sort of life they led. Most of the time, the descriptions 39


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turned into fantasies of how we hoped to live someday. “Be honest with yourself,” she said. “They had you at our age. They’re completely fucked.” “I thought you and Abby got along.” “Jesus. You don’t get it.” Trying to interpret her multilayered words was like taking tests at school; the harder I thought, the more a misty cloud obscured my brain. “What am I missing?” “I’m referring to their relationship. You were too much. They didn’t make it. And mine fell off even sooner.” “I’m not like them. I want to go to college and stuff.” Contessa sighed. “Spelling everything out for you is exhausting.” Her eyes fell to the beige carpet. “How do you expect me to believe in us as parents when you don’t even understand where your own went wrong?” So that was what she needed—an answer. If I could find it, she’d know I was serious. Whether I had to interrogate Abby and Mike or scale cliffs or ford rivers or slay a fucking bear with my Swiss Army knife to show her, I would. “I’ll prove myself to you,” I said. “Dylan, listen to me. I can’t become another wood-rat who never leaves this place.” I tried to kiss her but was instantly rebuked. “I’m not keeping it,” she said. The word keeping echoed through my mind, off of each jagged thought, leaving in the wake of its ricochet one visible desire, which was to keep Contessa in my arms, but for some reason—I didn’t know why—instead of explaining this to her, I punched the wall. “Leave, you fucking psycho!” “It’s my baby, too!” I said, storming out. “Fathers have a say!” No idea what I was talking about, but it sounded right at the time. It was up to me, then, to win back Contessa’s faith in our future. Saving our child’s life would be a bonus. I drove my dented Cavalier with the windows down, wondering how I might break the news to Abby and Mike. Things hadn’t always been bad between my parents. Not all the way. They’d shared that weekend at Niagara Falls, before I was born. Mike had caught heat for selling aspirin to younger kids, pretending it was ecstasy; Abby had wanted to scare her parents by running off with the boy they hated. A romantic getaway, in every sense. Abby used to tell me this story. Back then, I wasn’t sure why. Maybe 40


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to convince me, or herself, that she’d actually loved Mike at one point. I assumed all normal households had their odd routines. The story changed as I got older, though. For example, the part about Mike selling aspirin wasn’t included when I was young. According to Abby, she and Mike had boarded the Maid of the Mist, one of those boats that brings you right up to the falls. As the boat slid into a silver cloud rising off the surface of the water, Mike got scared. He wasn’t the sort to acknowledge fear. But Abby took his hand to show him that, in front of her, vulnerability was okay. The boat moved further from the shore. The hissing water broke against a line of rocks. The craziest part, or so Abby claimed, was what Mike said he’d seen. A giant form from the mountainous mist, he’d said, her eyes big as caves, and her hair, a rippling thicket of rivers, cascading into chaos; her mouth, with a hurricane shriek, unleashing lava onto Mike’s skin. The boat emerged from the mist. When it did, Abby was there, holding his face, tears cutting paths down his sandpaper cheeks. Seven weeks after their trip, Abby learned that she was pregnant with me. I knew the end of the story was bullshit. I asked Mike about it once. Said he didn’t know anything about Canada, boats, or giants. Whenever pressing Abby for the truth, she’d squint, and tell me that Sylphs—air spirits—were real. I never pushed beyond her answer. Told myself it was about letting her be a mom. Deep down, I feared knowing a world without unthinkable possibilities. I’d decided to tell Mike first. Maybe to arm myself with his pessimism before confronting Abby. “Here,” Mike said, opening a bottle of Gordon’s. He splashed some gin into a coffee mug and passed it to me, then poured one for himself. We sat in his living room. A tree lamp without bulbs stood in the corner. The only furniture was a worn-leather couch, a homemade coffee table, and a flat-screen television showing Cops. No pictures on the walls, no mirrors anywhere. “Can I ask you something?” Mike sipped his drink. “I’d rather you didn’t.” “What’s the real reason you and Abby hate each other?” He laughed, but it sounded more like coughing. Light from the TV danced across his face. Most of his nose was missing, which made his blue eyes seem absurdly far apart. He had no hair or eyebrows, asymmetrical 41


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lips. I’d stopped asking—an accident was all either of them would say. The last time I’d questioned Mike, two years ago, I was a sophomore. He’d responded by whipping a beer bottle at my head. After the stitches, I lied to Abby—said I was drunk and fell—so she wouldn’t press charges. “What do you care? No good’s going to come of it,” he said, catching his breath. “I’m not allowed to care about my parents?” He laughed again. “Save that shit for the girlfriends.” “I’m serious.” “Ask your mother.” “I will. But I need to hear this from you, too.” “Christ, Dyl. Thought you were coming to hang out.” Mike took a long sip. Some liquor dribbled onto his chin—a common occurrence when he drank anything. He wiped it away. His embarrassment, without fail, morphed into anger. He looked at me. His eyes shined against the brutal landscape of his face. On the screen, two cops questioned a toothless junkie who had no clue where he was in the world. “Does it have to do with your accident?” I asked. “Motherfucker.” He paused, then backhanded his mug off the table. We were both on our feet, Mike between me and the door. I grabbed my lighter, laid it across my palm, and closed my fingers. “Are you a fucking retard? How many times I gotta answer the same question? I should scald your face, see how you like it.” Air fled the room, and with it, sound. Even the TV had somehow stopped making noise. The two of us bobbed like kites in a sky cracked with lightning. “I don’t want to fight you, Mike.” “Then why you talking shit?” “What shit? I’m asking you to be my dad for once.” I hadn’t swung, but his knees buckled. He fell back onto the couch. “Get me another drink,” he said. I returned the lighter to my pocket. Picked up Mike’s mug—unbroken, somehow—and rinsed it in the sink. I filled it to the top with gin and handed it to him. He took three gulps. “Another,” he said, wiping his mouth, suppressing his anger. I poured once more, took a swig from the bottle myself, and sat down. “I don’t know what you’re so interested in. We partied too much. When you came along, she got all self-righteous, and that was that. End of Bonnie and Clyde.” I sighed and pressed my palms into my eye sockets. “Mike.” 42


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“Was another kid who liked your mother, this fag named Ryan. A shoulder to cry on.” “Did she like him?” “I wasn’t the first guy she fucked, that’s for sure.” I was used to Mike deflecting. Talking to him was like looking for a flashlight in a house that had lost power. You sort of just felt your way around, hands outstretched, hoping you’d find what you were looking for without encountering unseen danger along the way. I took a sip and waved for him to continue. “Why you being vague, man? Just tell me.” “Abby was expecting me to become a whole new person once you were born. How is that even possible? Ran into Ryan at the grocery store, in the parking lot, on a day you were staying with me. Snitch cocksucker calls your mother. Says he saw me blowing lines in the truck.” “Was it true?” I asked. “True? Shit, he exaggerated. But Abby freaked. She was already in my driveway when I got home. I start explaining, but she just bolts on by and scours the truck, looking for you. Being a little faded, I was smart—didn’t bring you to the store. You’d expect she’d give me some credit, thinking of your safety.” “That’s one way to look at it,” I said. “You were sleeping on the couch. I put some chairs next to it, in case you rolled. Wasn’t gone twenty minutes.” “How old was I?” “Six months, maybe.” Mike took another drink, wiped his chin, and held up his hands. “I admit, I forgot to lock the front door. Next thing I know, she charges inside and snatches you up. You were screaming. I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t drop to my knees and beg for forgiveness.” “That’s the whole story?” He shrugged. “Took her a while. Parents had disowned her on account of you. Wouldn’t pay for shit. But Abby’s the determined type; that’s where you get your hardheadedness from. She saved, eventually lawyered up. I hated her for taking you away when you were little. Still, I never doubted that she did it out of love for you.” He took a sip. “Rather than scorn for me.” As he said this last part, he rubbed his marred cheek—in a detached sort of way, like he didn’t realize he was doing it. “There’s more,” I said. “Ask her. Better she tells you. Surprised she hasn’t already.” “I’m outta here.”

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“Take it easy on your mom, you hear? She’s got a lot on her plate.” I finished my drink and pulled on my Eagles hoodie, which smelled like a Dutch Master cigar. I walked to the door. “Contessa’s knocked up,” I said, turning back. “By me.” I slammed the door before he could reply. First half of the ride from Sussex, New Jersey to Sunset, Pennsylvania— where Abby and I lived—was farmland, grooved fields that appeared blue beneath a sheet of moonlight. Trees thickened as I neared the Delaware River. I rolled up to the Delaware Bridge, a rickety, wrought-iron truss job that had been around since the 1800s. Type of thing, in an empty place like this, that people bragged about. “Fifty-cents, please.” I’d been zoning. Luckily, I hadn’t run over the toll man. A white beard shrouded much of his face. This particular toll man occupied his post in the middle of the night. Was like the state of Pennsylvania thought his unsightliness bad for tourism. He stood there, grubby red fingers held out. This underwhelming Cerberus was ready to block my passage. In the shack off to the side, a little television played a black and white show, I Love Lucy, maybe. Below the bridge, the dark, snake-like river muscled its way over rocks and logs. Every so often, a smallmouth jumped. The cooling air drew mist from the river’s surface, as if the water were steaming. “Sir?” I pretended to fumble around the center console. “For boy names, do you like Chad or Tristan? And for girls, Constance or Valentina?” He sighed. His orange, reflective vest was too small for his round stomach. “I’ll have to write a ticket if you ain’t got the money.” He waddled toward the shack and searched the inside for his ticket book. I took my bowl from the glovebox. It was a swirl of blue and green— a gift from Contessa for my seventeenth birthday. She’d picked it for its colors, since I was “her world,” which I found cheesy at first, but pretty goddamn nice once I thought about it. There was a hit or two left from the previous pack. I grabbed my lighter, flicked and pulled, feeling the Earth’s rotation. “Here,” he said, holding out the ticket. “Chad and Valentina, for what it’s worth.” I blew a cloud of smoke at his face; he coughed and stumbled backwards. I slammed the gas. The old planks sounded like they’d snap 44


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beneath my tires as I raced into the night. Before I got home, Travis texted me. Wanted a slice. I waited a few minutes at the community’s entrance until he pulled up and hopped out of his car. I reluctantly opened my door, stood on the asphalt. Travis walked like a pterodactyl, a bird moving awkwardly on its wingtips. His Fox shirt and cutoff denims hung over his wiry frame. His bleached-blonde hair was always in his eyes; his eyes were always red. In a zombie apocalypse, someone might mistake him for the undead. He was my oldest friend. “Dylan, what’s happening, brother?” “You got the money?” “Shit, Dyl. Take an Adderall or something. Gloomy as a motherfucker around here.” “Sorry. You wanted an eighth?” “Yeah,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Only got thirty, though.” “Costs forty.” I didn’t have time for his nonsense, but I figured it was never too soon to start a college fund—not for me, of course, but for my and Contessa’s child. “I’ll get you back,” he said. “Heard that before.” Travis stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked down. After a short, heavy silence, he glanced up to see if I was watching. I opened his bag, eyed out half a g, and removed it. I passed the bag to him. “You know that old bridge dude, the one who’s out there on the night shift?” I asked. I was crossing into a new phase of life, one that did not include childhood pals like Travis. This would be the last time we made fun of someone together. “Know whose dad that is?” he asked. I shook my head. “Boo Thompson, that weirdo in the grade below ours. Admitted to sucking a dick for heroin. Family of freaks, what it is.” “Fuck it,” I said. “I gotta go.” “You okay?” “I’m fine.” “Come over to my car,” he said. I followed him to his Civic. A ridiculous spoiler ornamented the back. Travis peeked over each shoulder, opened the door, and extracted a baggie. He hoisted a snowy pyramid onto his key and held it there. Neither of us said anything. I leaned over and snorted. Travis clapped me on the back. “Stay up, playa.” He climbed in and drove away. 45


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“What time is it?” Abby asked. She wore her blue Wal-Mart vest. Since her shift times varied, I wasn’t sure if she was coming or going. I pushed past her, stepped into the house, heart pounding. Our house was a shitty two-bedroom with a bathroom, kitchen, and closet for the washer and dryer. Carpets smelled faintly of piss. Dinosaur drawings I’d made as a kid covered the fridge. “You have school tomorrow,” she said. “Remember what you promised?” I looked down at her. Stress lines orbited her gray eyes. Cigarettes had browned her teeth. Abby had a wide, gentle face, which reminded me of a meadow beneath storm clouds, the yellow grass brilliant against a wall of deep blue. “Did Mike let you drink and drive?” she asked. “How’d you know where I was?” “He called. Drunk as shit, but pretty sure he heard you say something on your way out.” I clenched my teeth and cursed under my breath. Abby hesitated. “Is Contessa pregnant?” I hung my head over my shoes. Nodded. Abby took a deep breath. “Okay. It’s okay. Don’t freak out.” “You saying that to me or you?” She was doing her Youtube Yoga breathing. These loud exhalations. “Where is she?” “Home,” I said. Abby must’ve heard something in my voice, because she asked, “Are the two of you fighting?” She softened her face, in spite of her own panic. Her unconditional support began to mingle with Travis’s Oxy, my weed, Mike’s gin. It was like I’d shot pure, sentimental dope through a diamond needle. But a faintly burning light within guided my spirit through the good work of the drugs, a white-hot fury curling along the edges of convenient pleasure, and I finally realized that this was how she always got me; the pretty songs she sang were hypnotic, and I’d follow them until my quest for the truth broke apart against the rocky coast of her love. “Yes,” I snapped. “We’re fighting. But with the right information, I can fix everything.” “The right information?” I nodded. “She requires the Holy Grail of my biography.” Abby tilted her head, confused. “What are you on? You’re practically drooling. Did Mike give you something?” “A drink.” 46


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She scoffed as she stepped forward and tried to pass. I moved in front of her. “I’m sick of everybody lying. Not one person in my life can give me a straight answer.” “Sober up—then we’ll talk.” “There’s no time. You’ve gotten away with evading me for too long. You and Mike.” Abby dug a pack of Newports from her pocket, pulled out a cigarette, and lit it. “I’ve always done my best. I work my ass off for us. And I think you know that.” As she talked, smoke flew from her nose and mouth. She pointed to the wobbly kitchen table. We sat down. Abby pulled hard on her cigarette, the paper crackling, the sound of something being peeled away. She stared at the smoke, like the words she needed could be found there. “Mom,” I said. “Sorry. What is it you want to know, exactly?” “Mike told me about the day he left me alone. He said there was more to the story, that I should ask you.” Abby had this expression, déjà vu, maybe. Like she’d been waiting for this moment, wondering how it’d be. Same as I’d been. We were just approaching it from opposite ends. “Mike and I have a complicated past. It wasn’t all his fault. At first, I was obsessed with him. He seemed like a guy who was gonna go wherever he wanted. I found it thrilling. But with you around, things changed, naturally. Mike couldn’t adjust.” “He told me that already. Come on.” Abby stubbed out her cigarette and lit another. “Same night, the day I took you away from him. You were asleep. I remember being hungry. I filled a pot with water and turned on the stove. I debated calling the police on Mike. I was beyond pissed. I decided against it. He had his demons, but he loved you. I wanted to believe he could get right and come back to our lives when he was ready. Few minutes later, the water was boiling. I remember adding pasta. Then I heard static on the baby monitor.” She stopped. Her eyes widened. “Keep going,” I said. “This is a bad idea.” I slammed the table, sending the pink ashtray skittering to the floor. Abby didn’t flinch. “This is how Mike used to behave.” “What the fuck’s that mean?” “You want to hear about it? How I saw someone under the crib and 47


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freaked so fucking bad that I gathered you up and ran and shoved you, my own baby, in the oven to hide you? I couldn’t think. It was like autopilot or something. I was holding the pot’s handle. When he came into the kitchen, I just reacted. I didn’t mean to. Truly, I didn’t.” “And it was Mike,” I said. Abby bit her knuckle. “Happy now? The way songs get stuck in people’s heads? Mike’s screaming gets stuck in mine. In my dreams, I see the blisters forming on his face and the steam coming from his hair and skin. I watched and couldn’t move. You were still in the oven. Him there, sputtering. He’d thrown an arm up. Only reason he wasn’t blinded. I called 9-1-1 and pulled you out. Ran you back to your crib. Then I wet dishtowels with cold water and wrapped them around my hands and held Mike’s face. I tried telling him it would be okay.” Abby was crying now. “When he could finally talk, he lied for me. Told everyone it was an accident, that he was wasted and pulled the pot onto himself.” I sat there, digesting. “So was it true?” She wiped her nose with her vest. “Was what true?” “The Niagara Falls story—the boat, Mike’s giant.” Abby massaged her temple, a cigarette pinched between two fingers. “We never went to Niagara.” I stood, made for the door. “Leave me some weed before you go?” I fished a joint I’d rolled earlier from my pocket and placed it next to Abby’s cigarettes. I kissed the top of her head and left. Around 3 a.m. I parked on the street. Contessa had given me a spare key last year, six months after we’d started dating. I entered through the side door. A few scented nightlights broke up the dark. I could hear my pulse. I’d texted her to say I was coming. Wasn’t sure if she’d seen it. Her door was partly closed. I eased it open. Contessa looked up from her phone, its glow highlighting her craned neck. “You’re lucky Belinda didn’t turn your dome into a stadium,” she said. “She sleeps with that Glock under her pillow.” “That woman loves me.” “She’s afraid a Manson-worshipping drifter is going to kill us in our sleep.” Contessa yawned. “What do you want?” “You told me to come back when I could answer you.” “Answer me about what?” “My parents.” 48


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She squinted. “I’m confused.” “You said that if I could seek out the greatest mystery of my life in order to understand my flawed background, then we could be parents together.” She laughed once, quickly placing a hand over her mouth. “I never said anything like that. Anyway, doesn’t matter now. I got my period tonight.” “Couldn’t it be, like, blood from being pregnant?” She laughed again. “I thought you’d be relieved.” Contessa was right. I should’ve been relieved, but I wasn’t. What did I feel? As I tried to answer this question for myself, I grew dizzy. Then I leaned over and puked. “Let’s try again,” I said, wiping my mouth. She covered her nose. “I was actually thinking we should take a break. You know, focus on this whole college thing.” “Please, baby, don’t say that. I love you. I’ll clean up the mess.” “I’ll take care of it. Do you need a ride home?” “I need you to listen to me.” “You’ll be okay, Dyl. I promise.” Her voice was an echo. “In the future, you’ll look back and realize how silly all of this was.” I swayed, fell. Contessa became a ghost, a shrouded figure made of air. I clung to her image but felt myself dipping below the surface of time, into the realm where memories and futures are braided together. I passed through it, looking for my unborn child. When I found him, my beard was gray, and I took his hand and shared the story of his becoming. Together, we walked along the rim of a great waterfall that plunged down forever, through the center of the world. Together, we taste the mist coiling from its silver roar.

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Echo Lark

Elizabeth Majerus 1. In the dream the girls come and the one with the dark brown eyes walks close to you as all of you wander through wallpapered hallways searching for a lost tape recorder that they need for some indistinct reason. Her fingers brush yours and soon you’re holding hands and when your eyes meet you smile in quiet excitement. This holding hands is both electric as sex and simply innocent and you don’t even need to ask. You’re sure your wife would be okay with it. Waking you think It was only holding hands and It was only a dream and you hold your wife tight an extra moment and shake yourself toward day. 2. When you were a child you had a big tin top with a handle that pumped some inner works and caused the thing to spin. You had to plunge just so many times and release at the precise moment at a certain angle or it would stutter and tip, rotating on its side. But if you hit it right it spun and spun and the colors bled together from circus animals behind train bars to a blur of animated shapes. Your mom sent all your toys, almost all, to the Salvation Army store on Archibald, but not this top. You thought you’d give it to your kids, but you never did. Your youngest is still little, though. You might go hunt it out of that attic cabinet. 50


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3. You married when you were twenty-three and she was pregnant. The wedding was slapdash, but you had your honeymoon on the shore of a pretty lake in Michigan. Big Crooked Lake. And you and your new wife sat in lawn chairs on the sand as a bird called out shrill and lonely across the water. Tchee-hee, Tchee-hee. And you wondered Is that a nuthatch? And she said No, no. Chickadee. And you held hands across the sand and felt the opposite of lonely. And you didn’t know you would lose the baby. And you didn’t know you’d have more kids. But with each squeeze of her hand you said to yourself This is today. This is today. This is today.

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Carriage House Tom Gartner

Late in the afternoon, I walked across to the Carriage House. The wind was rising—scraps of bark and leaf from the eucalyptus trees pinged against the windows and tapped on the shingles of the roof. The only light came from outside. The building was wired for electricity but somehow the contractor hadn’t been able to make it work yet. My mother was at the top of the central staircase. I thought at first she was back to tinkering with the spiral tangle of creatures on the mahogany balustrade—centaurs, rocs, manticores, nymphs, basilisks, mermaids devoured by sea serpents, sea serpents devoured by whales. She’d already spent six months on the thing. But she was in fact redoing a much older piece of her work, the mural of Aphrodite at the head of the stairs. She’d painted it probably ten years earlier, not long after she first started remodeling the Carriage House. Now she was brushing red paint onto the goddess’s torso, creating an open wound where the left breast had been. She hadn’t heard me on the stairs. I needed to say something. I just didn’t know what. I was seventeen, after all. “Are you…” After a moment she looked over her shoulder at me. She had a way of concentrating that always scared me, though I don’t think she meant it to. She went back to her painting. “It’s kind of intense,” I said. “Yeah.” Very quietly. Her voice was always soft, so soft she often couldn’t make herself heard. Which is not to say that she didn’t have strong opinions. When I was younger, I’d spent a lot of time here, watching her work Sometimes she’d let me help in small ways, washing paintbrushes, sweeping up wood shavings, measuring things with a battered L-shaped metal ruler. I’d read or do my homework or run my Hot Wheels cars around the empty rooms. We’d talk about school or the neighbors or the weather, whatever kids talk about with their mothers. Sometimes she’d tell me about what she was working on, explain who Zeus and Athena and all the rest were. But in recent years her focus on the work had sharpened, her stories had gotten strange, and she’d seemed less and less conscious that I was there. And of course, getting older, I’d found other things to do. 52


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I thought about going back to the main house. I didn’t have a way to tell her what I wanted to tell her: that something was wrong, that she needed help. I sat down on the landing and waited. In the corner, pushed up against an urn painted with scenes of oared warships, were a glass, a bottle of Seven Up, and a bottle of Seven Crowns whiskey. “Does this bother you?” she asked, meaning what she was doing to the mural. “Yeah. I guess so.” “It bothers me too, Rob.” “So then maybe—“ “But it’s true, that’s the thing. Do you get that?” “It’s kind of beyond true.” She laughed, which in a way seemed good. “Do you know how many Aphrodites there are? Foam-risen Aphrodite, Aphrodite Ourania, Aphrodite Pandemos, Kypris, Cytherea, Venus Aurea, Venus of the Myrtle, Venus Cloacina, Astarte, Inanna…” She went on for much longer than this. The point, apparently, was that one of these versions of the goddess had been mutilated. That goddess, and not any of the others, was the one my mother wanted at the head of the stairs. There was something about Ares taking a mortal girl as a lover, and Aphrodite turning the girl into a tree out of jealousy, then having her breast cut off by Ares in revenge. I was pretty sure this story was my mother’s own invention. It was clear that she wasn’t going to change her mind about the mural, not that day at least. Since it seemed wrong for us to disagree, that left it to me to give in. Or at least to let her think I had. In the end, I told myself, I didn’t care about the painting. She went on with her careful attack on Aphrodite, chipping at the breast with tiny brushstrokes, replacing ivory flesh with blood and sky. She told me more goddess stories. I’ve never had much of a head for mythology, but I tried to pay attention. The light retreated from the staircase. “Yeah, it’s getting late,” I said when I saw her glance along the landing to the window, as if she could will more light to her hands. “Quitting time?” She shook her head, still looking at the window. I went downstairs and fetched her the electric lantern, the only one in the place. Something dark swooped up into an unfinished section of ceiling. She smiled when I turned on the lantern, as if I’d done something clever. In the rush of lemonade-colored light she looked older but somehow childlike too. I went back to the house wondering what she’d take it into her head to ruin next.

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Lupine Station, the ranch on California’s Lost Coast where I grew up, was settled in the 1880s by my great-great-grandparents. It began as a doghole harbor, which meant there was no real harbor, no dock, no breakwater, just a cove, a slight chink in the coast’s armor where Avila Creek broke the line of cliffs. Until the 1930s, when the sawmill on the creek burned down, lumber schooners from San Francisco and Portland would anchor in the cove and take on lumber by chute from the cliff-tops. More portable cargo—dairy products, wool, meat—would go aboard in small boats. All that’s changed, of course, in my father’s lifetime, and now the only domestic animal on the ranch is a white-muzzled Lab. It’s been fifty years since anyone felled a tree on the property. The Carriage House had been a stable, then a garage, finally a mausoleum for expired farm equipment. By the time I was born, it had turned into a sagging ruin with broken windows and skunks living under the floors. My mother, for whatever reason of her own, had taken charge of it sometime in the late 1960s. For ten years she’d been restoring it to something it never was: a showpiece for her own peculiar Neoclassical vision, full of murals, mosaics, sculptures, pottery, and elaborately carved woodwork, all in a style inspired by ancient Greece. She brought contractors in to do the structural work—replacing the roof and the rotted-out sections of wall, installing modern wiring and plumbing, ripping out the old flooring and pouring concrete where the skunks had lived. But all the detail work—the geometric flourishes carved into the window frames and door lintels, the Olympian skies and Stygian abysses painted on the walls, the gods wielding their tridents and lightning bolts in mosaic on the bathroom floor, the polychromatic urns and bowls and kraters —all that was hers. My father, my brother, and I were just spectators. Sometimes we were deeply impressed, sometimes bemused, sometimes flat-out horrified. My father’s studio was on the second floor of the main house, with a view down across a slope covered with manzanita and scotch broom to Sawyer Cove. More often than not the whole coast was drowned in fog or shaded by steely overcast. But on clear sunny days the ocean went from slate to sapphire, the shore from grey to golden green, and you could think you were on the Mediterranean.“So I was over in the Carriage House yesterday,” I told my father. “O.K.,” he said, glancing my way as he tacked a sheet of drawing paper, one of his sketches, to a corkboard. He never tried to keep us out of his studio, never closed the door; something I didn’t know enough to give him credit for until much later. “Have you seen her latest improvement?” 54


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“I haven’t. She mentioned it.” “Yeah, um, I’m not sure how to describe this.” I told him, more or less. He laid a sheet of tracing paper over the sketch, took up a fat round pencil, and started tracing. I didn’t recognize the scene, but it was a mountain landscape, a lake cradled in an alpine cirque. From the Trinity Alps, I guessed, because he’d been there over the summer, but it could just as easily have been the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, even the Rockies or the Alps. He had thirty years’ worth of sketches in his notebooks. “She said you were kind of bothered by it.” “Like I shouldn’t be?” “I don’t know.” He lifted a corner of the tracing paper to look at the sketch itself. His sketches are ungainly things, scrawled in cheap ballpoint, annotated with his shorthand notes and symbols so they seem more espionage than art. The soft pencil tracings are more elegant, basically a detailed line drawing with some shading, but still skeletal. It’s actually hard to say where the art comes in, all the individual steps are so prosaic. He presses the lines of the tracing onto the printing block (maple, cherry, linoleum) and then carves around the lines. Whatever surface remains is the image he eventually prints. “I shouldn’t be disturbed that she’s obsessed with mutilation? Wouldn’t you be disturbed if your mother was obsessed with mutilation?” “My mother?” He turned the pencil between his thumb and first two fingers, propeller fashion but slowly. “Sure. But Esther’s smarter than my mother.” His mother was in a rest home near Portland. “She’s also fucking crazier than your mother.” I maybe caught us both off guard with my vehemence. “Is it that bad?” he asked in a dead monotone. “Go look at it.” “I’ll look at it,” he said, meaning Not now, because she was over there. “Are you kidding me?” He ran his fingers through his hair. “People have weird ideas. They think things they shouldn’t, they get obsessions that come out of nowhere. Or they have dreams and they think their dreams mean something. And maybe they make art out of it.” “That’s not what’s going on.” “It’s part of it. You ever think of what she might have done if she hadn’t married me and moved out here?” “Not really.” It seemed to me like an entirely useless question. “You know we met in art school in New York.” “Yeah.” 55


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“Everyone thought she was too talented to marry me. I mean everyone. Teachers, her friends, my friends, her family, my family. Well, my family didn’t put it quite that way, but that’s what it came down to.” “Like any of that makes a difference now?” “That’s what I’m saying. Maybe it does.” He angled his body toward me, away from his sketch. If I’d wanted to say more, to argue it further, he’d have answered my questions, tried to calm me down, told me more stories about things that had happened before I was born. But I wasn’t going to stay for that. I walked down to the beach and then all around the headland north of it, tracing the perimeter, a few yards from the top of the cliff. * In retrospect, it’s odd that my brother and I weren’t closer. Since we had few close neighbors at Lupine Station, and he was only a year older than me, we spent a lot of time together. My earliest memory is of Steven hauling me out onto the footbridge across Avila Creek to look at a battered steelhead that was thrashing upstream. Over the years we dug tunnels in the grassy ridges above the house, built tree-forts and tepees and log bridges and rafts, fished and clammed and dove for abalone. We built bonfires on the hilltops, tramped all over the property mapping the old roads and ruined buildings, slept on the beach, surfed and swam in the cove, kayaked for miles up and down the coast, spied on the nudists a few miles south, filled coffee cans with blackberries that our mother made into pies, climbed trees and rocks, stalked bears and elk and bald eagles with cameras and binoculars. I guess the catch, though, is that the agenda was always Steven’s, because he was a year older and because that’s the way he was. By that summer, we weren’t spending so much time together. Steven had his own car, and he was dating a girl who lived down the coast in Westport. When he wasn’t with her he was out somewhere with his camera, or in his darkroom, or getting stoned. He was going away to college in September, to Columbia, and his girlfriend was staying. We did have one shared project at Lupine Station that summer. Steven was growing pot plants on a hillside far up the creek valley, and he paid me a few bucks to take care of them when he wasn’t around. But the plants weren’t doing well. They wanted the warm, moist shade of Humboldt County’s interior valleys, not the bleak chill of its coast. We’d tried more water, less water, potting soil, EZ-Gro Liquid Plant Food, manure, compost from the pit behind the Carriage House. The plants quit growing at about eighteen inches, the leaves got dark and brittle, no buds appeared. 56


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A couple of days after I found my mother defacing her Aphrodite, Steven and I hiked up to the pot garden. We took a six-pack of Bud with us—pun intended. “Screw it,” Steven said after a few minutes of sprinkling pellets of fertilizer around the plants. He opened a beer and sat down cross-legged in the leaf mold. “They’re going to die when I leave anyway.” “If not sooner.” He laughed. “I’ll be so glad to get out of here.” I didn’t say anything. He seemed to take that as a challenge. “What? You don’t mind it?” “I don’t know.” I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. I knew he was anxious to be gone, but I’d assumed it had more to do with New York than it did with Lupine Station, that he had an unrealistic expectation of how well things were going to go for him there. “What exactly is there to mind?” “The fog. The cold. The gravel road. Being thirty miles from civilization. The wind. The septic tank. The redneck neighbors. Dad’s asshole artist friends. Mom’s depression.” “Is that what it is?” “Hell, I don’t know what it is.” “OK, did you see what she did to the Aphrodite mural?” “Don’t even tell me.” “Don’t even tell you.” I’d been patting the grains of fertilizer into the ground with the back of a trowel. I jabbed the trowel into the ground and stood up. Steven tossed me a beer. “Look, I don’t know what’s wrong. I just know I’m leaving.” “Yeah. Thanks for that.” “If I had an answer,” he said, “I’d give it to you.” * In late June, with no warning as usual, some of my father’s friends, the Ronsons and the Tamaguchis, came to Lupine Station for a weekend: two painters, a sculptor, and a dancer. They had the arts in common with my mother, they had alcohol in common, but somehow, no matter how much time she was called on to spend with people like these, she never 57


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really became friends with them. She’d started spending most of her time in the Carriage House. The visit didn’t change that. She’d get up early, drink some coffee and eat a sweet roll while Steven and I got our own breakfasts. By the time my father and the guests were awake, she was grouting tile or sanding wood. She came back across for lunch in the early afternoon (usually) and then for drinks before dinner (always.) She helped my father cook dinner (sometimes), and if she said odd things or seemed to be on another planet, the clamor of the meal hid it fairly well. After that, she’d go back to the Carriage House or upstairs to the studio. It was my father’s studio, full of his sketchpads and woodblocks and intricate cutting tools, but she had a desk and a bookcase. She’d sit there for hours working and reworking her plans for the Carriage House. Was there actually a plan, a coherent one? I don’t know. She said there was, but it never seemed to be the same plan twice. Maybe I just couldn’t reconcile all the disparate images—deities who were life-givers and violators, who dealt inspiration and retribution whimsically; luminous Arcadian idylls, battle scenes, drowning cities, gleaming pillared temples, gorgeous bodies; rapes, some quaintly allegorical and others brutally graphic; suicides, murders; and now everywhere, in her different forms, Aphrodite entangled in mutilation, dismemberment, mayhem. If that was supposed to be a unifying theme, it seemed like it fell short. I went over there once during the weekend the Ronsons and the Tamaguchis were there. Lucy Ronson sent me over to ask my mother if she wanted to go hiking with them. I was sure she’d say no, my father was sure she’d say no, but Lucy insisted, my father sighed helplessly, and I went. She was replacing tiles in the floor around the fountain on the ground floor. The pattern, she explained without my asking, was wrong. She’d realized in a dream that the rows of blue stars needed to align with the sunbeams that came through the windows in the east wall. “It’s about morning light.” She frowned as if this realization had been difficult. “It’s about harmony with the morning light.” “They want you to go hiking with them.” I moved a discarded tile with the toe of my shoe. “You know, just a short one, home by lunchtime.” “I’d love to. Naturally I would. But you know I have to do this work while the light’s good. It could be foggy tomorrow.” “Yeah, it could.” “You see how the light comes through the stained glass in the window? When 58


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there’s a little dust in the air you can see it, like a laser beam but green.” I circled around, I tried to see it, but I couldn’t. “It’s just a few hours,” I said.“When the angle’s right, the laser beam picks up the glaze on the star tiles. All in a row—see?—” drawing an invisible line, from the window to the fountain to the foot of the spiral staircase. “It’s not the ordinals that matter, it’s the flow of the energy.”“OK, sure,” I said. “That makes sense.” She didn’t seem to pick up the irony. “When Brunelleschi designed the side chapels of the Santo Spirito, he had to align the spiritual symbolism with the progression of the light from morning to morning to morning. There’s a physical structure to redemption. The artist has to be in synch with the healing force.” She was talking past me now, her hands shaking with the urgency of what she was saying. “Most days I have trouble seeing the pattern, but today it’s clear.” “Yeah,” I said. “It’s just, you know, sometimes maybe the artist gets too wrapped up in the work?” “More likely they don’t get wrapped up enough. That’s the problem, really. If you’re focused on the mundane you can miss that there are fountains of sparks shooting out of your head.” She actually waved her hand in the air to simulate this. “The harmonies aren’t perfect yet. When I can blend them better, the whole building will just be a shell, the friction will disappear, the Santorini frieze will gather the streams, all the different polarities, and then Venus’s balance will illuminate everything.” The odd thing was, she seemed to know how loopy this all sounded, because her head tilted just slightly, and she turned a knowing smile on me, the one I’d seen her use on my brother and my father, but not so much on me. “But if you think the hike’s more important…” she said. A few years later, I ran into Lucy Ronson at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco. She told me she’d always remember that weekend at Lupine Station. “Your mother was so charming,” she said. “We went walking one day, and she and I split off from the others and walked up the ridge together. It was knee-deep in wildflowers. I’d never seen her so calm, so open. She was serene.” After they’d come back, I asked my father how it had gone. He told me what trails they took, what birds they saw, how the lupine on the ridge looked with the wind moving through it. I didn’t ask my mother. I wasn’t afraid to, not exactly. But the opaque sheen in her eyes hinted at the kind of answer I’d get. 59


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Still, Mrs. Ronson’s version has this much to support it—for a couple of weeks after that visit, my mother seemed better. She didn’t spend as much time in the Carriage House. Outside of wine at dinner, she didn’t seem to be drinking anymore, though I found that hard to believe. She started any number of projects—putting ten years worth of family photos into albums, culling her bookshelves, planting an herb garden, replacing the linoleum in the kitchen with tile. In the evenings, though, she’d read: novels sometimes, Edith Wharton, George Eliot, Nancy Mitford, but more often mythology, art history, archeology. She kept a yellow legal pad balanced on the arm of her chair, and she’d take notes and make sketches with one hand while she flipped pages with the other. I didn’t need to look to know that it was about Venus, about Olympus, that it was going into the Carriage House. Once a week, she drove the forty miles to Fort Bragg to do research in the library there. That’s what she told us, and while I never understood her, still don’t, I’m fairly sure she wouldn’t have told us an outright lie. It just wasn’t the whole truth. She went there to use the library; also to see a shrink. My father told us this a decade later. One afternoon in July, I crossed to the Carriage House to ask her something—where she’d left the car keys, how to get Steven to muffle his stereo, what to do with the not quite dead mouse in the hall closet, something. I found her in the upstairs hall, sitting on the floor. A curved line of blue flame trembled in front of her, a foot-high screen rising directly from the floorboards. I’m not sure what I would have said, but she held up a hand to silence me. She watched the flames as they slowly sank and died. There was a rank smell in the air, part chemical, part something worse. “Patterns, Rob.” She pointed at my feet. “O.K., patterns.” By this time I was pretty much desensitized to mystical commentary. I could see a can of something in the shadows behind her—paint thinner, kerosene, lighter fluid. She ran her finger along a dark streak where the line of flame had been. I could see now—what the light source was, I don’t recall, something dim and shaky—that the floor of the hallway was scarred with dozens of burn marks. Lines, circles, branching networks. No overall pattern, not that I could see. She scooted sideways a few feet, reached for the can, poured a puddle of clear liquid in front of her. She used her fingertips to draw lines out from it, to push little trickles one way or the other. “I just think this is a bad idea,” I said. 60


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Without answering or looking at me, she made a few more adjustments to the pattern, then ran a still-wet fingertip around each wrist. She struck a match and, deftly trading it from hand to hand, lit the bands of liquid around her wrists, then the pattern on the floor. The fine hairs on her skin flared up briefly. She spoke softly but with evident conviction in a language I didn’t know. Over the years, her headaches had come and gone. There was a logic to them: when she didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, and refused to stop working, they came in bunches. We called them headaches, or sometimes migraines, but there was more to it than that—hallucinations, panic attacks, paralyzing depressions. I’d gotten her to promise no open flames in the Carriage House; but flip side, it somehow drove her back to spending all her time there. And when she wasn’t there, she was in her room, in the dark, immobile. Some times my father had to take her to the hospital emergency room in Fort Bragg where they had some kind of special shot they gave her. The third time it happened that summer, they were gone from dinnertime until 3 a.m. After he got her settled, my father came back downstairs and poured Irish whiskey into a tumbler. Steven gave me a look when I turned the radio off in the middle of an Allman Brothers song. “When is this going to get better?” I asked my father. “I’m not sure.” “There’s got to be a reason for it. It’s not like she wants to be this way.” “You sure about that?” Steven leaned back on the couch. “Steven,” my father said, meaning, Shut up. “She told me the other day she’s not sure this is real,” I said. “She thinks it might be 1955 and she’s dreaming her future.” “She’s told me that.” As if this somehow made it less crazy. He was tired, I could see it in the stiffness of his shoulders. “She knows it’s not true.” “She doesn’t know it the same way you and I do.” “Look, she’s functional. Is she well? No. But she functions.” He looked straight at me. It was the same calm look, the same earnest reasonable voice that he’d used on me a thousand times. Now I had to wonder how many of those times I’d been wrong to believe him. “We don’t know what’s wrong, we don’t know how to treat it, we don’t know what she’ll do next. That’s supposed to be OK?” “What do you want to do, man?” Steven, with a big-brother sneer. “Lock her up somewhere?” “No. I don’t know. But yeah, maybe this is the wrong place for her. 61


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What do you want to do?” “It’s not my problem,” he said. “Then why don’t you just stay out of it?” “Stop.” My father stood up, still holding his whiskey glass, though there was nothing in it. “Is that what you want, Rob? You think she should be in a hospital?” “I don’t think we should do nothing,” I said. “Maybe it would be better if we didn’t live here.” The idea had never even occurred to me before, and I knew it wasn’t going to happen. My father’s head turned. He held up a hand to shush us. I heard a rustling sound from the stairs, bare feet on wood, and a creak as the floor took my mother’s weight at the bottom. “Talking about me?” She said it mildly, pushing her hair out of her eyes, swaying a little as she came into the room, lightly touching the glassfronted bookcase that held the books my father had read as a boy. Steven stared at the carpet and shook his head. “We were,” my father said. “I was just telling them you were out cold and you’d probably sleep until noon.” “I’d like that.” “I thought it was a good plan. It’s not going to work with you down here, though.” “I’m sorry to cause everyone so much trouble.” She looked at Steven and me. She was wearing a flannel nightgown and a faded blue terrycloth robe. The robe’s belt dragged on the floor. “I understand this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” “Things happen, Esther,” my father said softly. But she didn’t seem to hear, she just kept on looking at Steven and me. “Shit happens, Dad. I think that’s the word you’re looking for.” Steven turned to my mother. “But what I want to know is, why this particular shit? Don’t you wonder that, Mom? I mean like now, when you’re maybe feeling kind of clear?” “I don’t think I was ever clear a day in my life,” she said. “Sometimes I feel good. Sometimes I’m happy. But not clear, not the kind of clear where you see all the way to the bottom. I keep looking and the images shift on me, there’s interference, like a current is bringing in other colors, other frequencies, and I can’t see through…” Her voice faded out as she realized from the looks on our faces how she sounded. “You don’t have to look at those things,” Steven said, quieter now, resigned that 62


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he wasn’t going to get through. “You could just stay in the here and now, couldn’t you?” She pondered this as though it involved careful planning, like a vacation or a dinner party. “Well, that’s the thing,” she said, and reached out to touch his arm with the tips of her fingers. “Whose here? Whose now?” In my bedroom, the corner room closest to the Carriage House, with a half-obscured ocean view, I could dimly hear the Yes album by brother was listening to next door. I could smell the hash he was smoking. My father, three rooms down the hall putting a thousand tiny chisel strokes into a block of linoleum, presumably couldn’t smell it or didn’t know what it was. Steven had been absent for so long that I didn’t think his leaving would change things much. Maybe when I left—I couldn’t really think about how different it would be for me, living somewhere completely new, but maybe then my parents would climb out of their ruts. Or sink deeper into them. My father, I suspected, could go on forever as he was. My mother—not so easy to predict. It occurred to me now that the Carriage House might not be the bottomless pit of work that it seemed to be. It was possible that she could actually finish it. Possible, even, that all the elaborate patterns and symbols could come together in a meaningful whole. Maybe to her the statement the building made was self-evident, clear as the solidity and balance of a courthouse or the soaring lines of a cathedral. I didn’t really believe it, I’m sorry to say. I’d seen too much madness in her. But it was theoretically possible still, and I got some comfort from thinking about how it might look if she ever finished. Not like anything the ancients would have built themselves, nor even the loopy neo-classicists of the nineteenth century. It was, after all, a barn on the wild California coast. Zeus and Poseidon and Aphrodite reigned not over walled cities and massive temples, but a windblown littoral covered with grass and brush. As I walked out of the house and down the drive, the stretch of ocean I saw beyond the Carriage House was rocky and white-capped as the Aegean, maybe, but empty of ships. The Carriage House with its stained glass windows full of writhing monsters and bare-chested heroes, its carven scenes of Olympus and Hades, even when I imagined it complete, overstuffed with my mother’s feverish creations, didn’t so much evoke the past as it made the present 63


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seem unreal. It was quiet inside, not so much as the tap of an adze, the clink of tiles, the swish of a paintbrush. I wandered through the ground floor, not really looking for my mother, because I assumed she was working on the bookcases in the Reading Room, but just trying to let the feel of the place seep into me. Orange and black pottery emblazoned with spidery warriors smiting each other, marble statues of well-rounded, half-undraped women, a mirror bordered with square curlicues… Aphrodite, Ares, Hephaestus, Homer, Laertes, Leonidas, Narcissus, Odysseus, Penelope… bulls, eagles, swans, snakes, centaurs, the Minotaur … Maybe at some level I knew something was wrong, and that’s why I spent such a long time trying to stitch the gods and heroes and beasts, known and unknown, together into some kind of meaningful scheme: because I didn’t want to go upstairs. I just know that I was not as shocked as I should have been to find my mother slumped in the window-seat in the reading room. Her face was colorless, her eyes almost closed but not quite, a bronze goblet and a sheet of paper on the floor at her feet. I felt the silence press in on me as if I were deep underwater. I was frightened to touch her somehow, but I took her wrist to check for a pulse. It wasn’t cold, quite, but stiff and heavy. I bent down to pick up the paper. Somehow gravity got the better of me and I found myself sitting on the floor. I knew what came next and I dreaded it—the walk back to the house, going up to my father in his workshop, passing on the news like a contagion. I wanted to stay with my mother for awhile, thinking that maybe we could just keep this between the two of us. Thinking, too, that it would be wrong to leave her alone. But after all, that seemed to be what she wanted. I would say I’m sorry, but I am sure that more than anything this leaves you (or perhaps all but one of you) relieved. I loved you all, but to be human is to feel pain and sometimes too much pain to bear. I suppose I thought I could somehow attach myself to the gods and thus somehow be free of the pain, have their blind, blithe unconcern for such things. But if such a linking of mortal and immortal is even possible, and not just stupid fucked-up self-deception, I can’t see my way to the end of the work. It is too long, too far, too difficult. I’ll say again, I loved you. And I felt your love for me, at least until I drew myself away. I don’t see a way back, that’s all. E. 64


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“Seconal,” Steven said. “That must have been a hell of a disappointment for her.” “How’s that?” My father’s voice barely rose into the question. He looked over his shoulder, into the living room, for no reason I could see. All three of us were sitting at the kitchen table, Steven and I signing documents without reading them, my father shuffling them in and out of manila folders. “Not being able to use hemlock. Wouldn’t that have been the right thing? Too hard to get, probably.” “Shut the fuck up,” I said. “Still standing up for her? Don’t worry, we all know you’re the one she was talking about in her note. The one who wasn’t relieved.” “It sure as hell wasn’t you. We know that much. Because why would you want to show any sympathy?” He pushed his chair back from the table. “Totally wasted on someone as self-absorbed as her.” “Fuck you, Steven.” I took a phantom slap at him from six feet away. “Enough.” My father held up a warning palm to each of us. “That’s enough.” Steven dropped his pen on the table. “I wouldn’t waste my time. I’m already three thousand miles away from here.” They gave us her ashes in a white marble box just about the size of her Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Not pure white, but white with faint gold and pink swirls that took the edge off the glaring paleness of the thing. There was quite a selection of containers for sale, but from my father’s frown I could tell he thought most of them were in bad taste. The white marble one wasn’t the cheapest, not by a long way, but he seemed to have a good idea of what he wanted, and who would ever question my father’s judgment about aesthetics? Not his sons. I had no opinion about it, didn’t want to have an opinion, refused to have an opinion. Steven just wanted to get back to his girlfriend. My father had given the memorial service a lot of thought, had filled half a spiral notebook with guest lists, schedules, draft eulogies, menus, playlists, driving directions. At first he wanted to hold the service at someone’s house in Pt. Reyes, to make it more convenient for his Bay Area friends, but we managed to talk him out of that. With Steven, again, it was not wanting to spend time away from the girlfriend; with me, it was the thought that if people needed the service to be convenient, then fuck them. In the end, it was not that bad. About thirty people showed up, a few 65


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from the farms and B&Bs nearby, mostly my father’s artist friends from Mendocino, Gualala, Sonoma, Marin. There was a pot grower from somewhere in the King Range, a masseuse/astrologist who claimed to be my mother’s first cousin, and a used book dealer from Portland who spent most of the two hours looking through her art books. We fed them, we poured drinks, we answered questions about the photographs of my mother that were spread out on the coffee table in the living room. There was no service per se. After an hour or so my father led us all down to the cliff overlooking the cove. A few people stood up in front of the crowd and told stories about her, or said how much they admired her work and what a fine woman she’d been. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was all bullshit, or even mostly bullshit, and there were a few good moments, stories that got me to smile a little. “She saw differently,” my father said as the last line of his eulogy, just before he scattered her ashes into the water below, “and that was her strength and her fatal flaw.” That struck me as true and heartfelt enough. But mostly it was empty. It just seemed like a weirdly themed cocktail party. Needless to say, no one went anywhere near the Carriage House. My father chatted patiently with the last few guests, who showed precious little sign of wanting to leave, while Steven and his girlfriend and I started the clean-up—washing dishes, cramming the refrigerator full of cheese and smoked salmon and hummus and chopped vegetables, packing up the photos and putting the furniture back where it belonged. “Could have been worse,” Steven muttered as he went past me with a tub full of ice and bottled drinks. “True,” was all I could manage. “Oh hell yeah,” Carina sang out from the kitchen. “I’ve been to memorials that were god-awful.” “Small favors.” He glanced at her in passing. She had a way of failing to readthe mood. “It’s not like it was the highlight of the fucking season.” “I’m just saying…” She turned around from the sink, a soapy plate in her hands. “It was very… tasteful. Thank God for your father. Because if he’d done it the way she wanted…” “What?” I said, as Steven shot her another look, this one saying very plainly, You stupid cunt. Then he turned to me and said: “Nothing.” “What did you say, Carina?” She didn’t turn around, just hunched forward over the sink and pressed 66


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her dripping hands to her cheeks. “Don’t talk to her like that,” Steven said to me. “Then you tell me.” I advanced on him, he pushed me back. I got hold of both his wrists and held us there. “What was that—the way she wanted?” “Nothing. It’s done.” “Tell me.” “Whatever.” He looked toward the front door; our father was walking the astrologer to her car. “Like I give a shit. She wrote this thing, this, I don’t know, not a will, but… how she wanted it to be. If she died. When she died. She wrote it like ten years ago.” “And he ignored it?” “It was bullshit.” “But he told you about it. And he didn’t tell me.” “Because he knew I wouldn’t have a cow about it, and you would. Like you are.” I shoved him back toward the kitchen, and he let me, more or less. Part of me wanted to run out the front door, throw my father up against the side of the astrologer’s BMW, and scream at him. But I don’t think I knew that, exactly, not at that moment. I just had this sense of something white-hot, some distortion, rising through me and passing into the air, and when it was gone I turned and stumbled up the stairs to his studio. I hadn’t spent much thought on it at the time, but in the week after my mother’s suicide, he’d put in a lock on one of the drawers beneath his work table. A cheap lock; it snapped off when I put a screwdriver in the gap at the top of the drawer and leaned on it one-handed. Most of what was in the drawer had to do with his work—invoices, correspondence, clippings or photocopies of reviews or articles. But in front of all that was a manila folder that held my mother’s medical records, a police report, an insurance policy, forms from the mortuary that had cremated her, from the IRS, from a bank, from credit card companies. And behind all that was a bright blue 8 ½ x 11 envelope with a band of little gold spirals around the edges. Looking at what was inside, I had to shake my head and smile. It was so typical of my mother, far out there and dead serious, all in bits and pieces, images mostly, hand drawn or printed out from websites. Photos of jars, flasks, urns, with angular black figures moving across orange backdrops. A map of Lupine Station with tiny black squares drawn in alongside the approach road, at the top of the ridge. A recipe for the oil to be used to anoint the body. A menu for the perideipnon—the funerary feast—considerably more than the wine and appetizers we’d offered. 67


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Descriptions of the costumes the mourners should wear. Notes like “The ekphora (funerary procession) is to begin just before dawn…” and “offerings—food, flowers, jewelry, etc—should be made at the tomb on the third, ninth, and thirtieth days following death.” Photos of monuments with painted bas-relief sculptures. A line drawing of a headstone, flanked by two goddesses, with her name on it, and an epitaph in Greek below. When I heard my father coming up the stairs, my first instinct was to put the envelope back in the drawer. But then I thought, Fuck that, and I turned around to face him as he came through the doorway. “Did you look through it?” he asked. I nodded. “Do you get why I didn’t think that was the way to go?” “Sure.” I paused for a second, just out of spite, to let him think I bought his reasoning. “Because you cared more about what made you comfortable than what she wanted. And you didn’t do one fucking thing to respect her wishes. There’s some bizarre shit in here, but there’s things you could have done.” “Look, Rob, I get that you’re pissed off I didn’t tell you about this. And maybe also because Steven knew and you didn’t. Fair enough.” It was an apology, I guessed, but not much of one. He seemed less willing to take the blame than I was used to. “But what’s all that about, really?—” gesturing at the blue envelope in my hands. “What do you think she was saying with that?” “She was saying she didn’t want us to just throw her ashes in the ocean and then come back to the house and pretend like nothing happened.” “She was saying she wanted to be remembered. Do you think there’s any chance we won’t remember her?” I threw the screwdriver across the room, shattering the glass in a framed Obata print. “I think you’ll remember someone,” I said. “But I don’t think it will really be her.” I walked out of the room, taking the envelope with me. I knew if I waited until morning, I wouldn’t leave. I’d sleep through my alarm, or I’d wake up and think better of the whole idea, or I’d fail to get away before my father was awake. So I packed everything I could— clothes, books, climbing and camping gear, music tapes, some food, a camera, a pint of Jim Beam, my mother’s envelope—into my backpack and hiked to the top of the ridge. A clear night for once, the marine layer far out on the ocean horizon, a white slab of moon setting. I slept in the bushes, fifty yards from the road, with a boulder between me and the wind, until first light. Lupine Station 68


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was just dimly visible in the hollow beneath the ridge, the pale roof of the Carriage House speckled with the dark dots of sleeping crows. I watched it for a while, not waiting for anything or looking for anything, just feeling it was a moment I should remember. A cold surge of onshore breeze made me shiver. I turned and started walking east, toward the highway.

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Stem and Bone Ivy Keller

The last summer she lived at home, my sister tried gardening, kept pricking her fingers on zucchini stems. I thought her blood would smell like flowers, not green pennies or the catfish our father gutted on the kitchen counter. I refused to eat the fish, too afraid that the bones might stick in my throat or puncture my gut like a sewing needle.

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Grieve If You Want Scott Ray

Angie drinks about a six pack a night these days. It doesn’t really get her drunk and she’s not mean or anything and she doesn’t miss getting up early to teach, but it seems like something you might look back on and say, that’s when the trouble started. When we first met, I was drinking a hell of a lot more than that and I wasn’t so nice and I was missing enough work to lose my job, so I don’t really feel it’s my place to warn her about her drinking. She knows where it can lead, right? She helped me out of it. Well, last night I was smoking a cigarette in the little red lawn chair outside our little rented house when my landlord came by. Mr. King is a grey haired, paunchy Vietnam vet who lives off whatever the Army still pays him and the rent from the three houses his mother left him. He told me about Vietnam one day when I was doing laundry in the basement of the house where he has a bed set up so he can sleep it off when he overdoes his daily visit to the pool hall down the street. He walked in shouting that he’d seen horrible things. Before that I just thought he was a mean old man. Now I think he must be a hero. “Boy, I hate that you’re a smoker,” Mr. King said. “Me too, Mr. King.” I said. I always call him Mr. King. When I was signing the lease, I called him Daniel. I saw the look on his face and knew to never do it again. “You’re not a bad tenant, but lying when you first meet somebody ain’t a good way to start off.” “You never asked if I smoked, Mr. King.” “It clearly says no smoking on the lease.” “I don’t smoke inside. I promise I never will.” “You will if it gets real cold or real hot. It’s almost June.” “Mr. King, I promise.” He looked off in the distance. Angie gave me a hard time about smoking too until I quit drinking. Then she let me be but it’s been about two years now and she’s started up again. “Those girls next door been giving y’all any trouble?” he said. Three college girls live next door. I barely even ever see them, but apparently they—and actually he’s been telling me about this for three years so it wasn’t even the three girls who live there now—had a party once and they left some beer bottles in his trashcan and now he calls the cops if they do so much as park too close to my curb. One of them bumped the mailbox 72


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post once and he wanted to charge them a hundred dollars for him to replace it. “I’ve never even met them,” I said. “Well, keep an eye on them,” he said. “Yessir,” I said. “If you have any trouble, you don’t even need to talk to them about it. Call the law. If you have trouble, call the law.” “I don’t think it will come to that.” “I’m gonna bring you and your missus some meat real soon,” he said. He’s been telling me he’s going to smoke a pork butt for us since I moved in. “Looking forward to it, Mr. King,” I said. “I mean it. I’m gonna bring y’all some. I’ve just been having all these teeth problems.” He pulled his lip down with his two index fingers revealing silver stumps in his bottom gum. “I’ve got these anchors in here. But they still gotta install the teeth. Haven’t been eating well.” He started walking away, down the cracked sidewalk. He turned around and said, “I don’t want to see any of those damned cigarette butts lying around.” “Yessir,” I said. By then I was done with my cigarette, but I lit another as I watched old Mr. King putter off. I wondered what made Mr. King like he was. Who ends up an old drunk who bothers his tenants and all the other people who live near his properties? Was his childhood strange? Obviously the war didn’t help, but could we blame everything on that? Look at John McCain. Look at Oliver Stone. Even John Kerry, to a certain extent. Had he lost someone? His mother was dead. They say the space left by a parent could be crippling. I can’t imagine him having a woman, but he must have once, somewhere in his past. It’s circular to realize him incapable of having a woman now—I was trying to see him how he was. But I don’t know enough about Mr. King to say. I know he drinks. I know he lives alone. Before I went back inside I thought a little more about the idea of Mr. King losing someone close. Three days before Angie attended her cousin’s funeral, the son of her mother’s sister. Angie had never mentioned him to me. In the four years I’ve known her I never met him. But she seemed to be taking it hard. Harder than she took the death of her own sister two years before. I tried to get her to talk about him the night she returned from the funeral, but she said she didn’t want to. Her crying woke me up that night, but she didn’t want to be touched, to be consoled. She gave me her hand for a moment then pulled it away. Then I fell back asleep. When I walked inside Angie stood at the refrigerator pulling out gallon 73


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ziploc bags of leftover food from her aunt’s house, where everyone gathered after the funeral. She poured some baked beans from the bag into a saucepan. She scooped out hunks of cold mashed potatoes into another pan. She placed large slices of honey-baked ham on a platter. She wore sweatpants and a blue V-neck shirt that fit her tighter than it used to. Her dark hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail. “Need help?” I said. She turned on the stove’s gas burners and said, “Make yourself a drink, if you want.” I bumped into her a little in the narrow kitchen to pull a cup out of the cabinet. “You need one?” I said. She lifted up her beer from where it sat on the stove. I dropped some ice cubes into the cup and filled it with tea. As I replaced the pitcher of tea in the refrigerator, I noticed there were only two beers left in the six-pack she’d brought home that evening. I took a drink of the tea and looked out the window. The sun was shining, but rain poured down, decreasing visibility even a little ways down the street. “Boy,” I said. “Been waiting on that rain for days now. Kind of a nice release when it finally comes.” “Is that supposed to be sexual?” she said. “I wouldn’t say all anticipation is sexual. Or would I? Damn. That’s kind of a glass half full glass half empty kind of a question, isn’t it?” “You want your ham heated up? I’m just gonna eat mine cold.” she said. “Cold is fine,” I said. We’d been eating leftover funeral food for three nights. The first night I took a bite and immediately got up and found my journal and wrote down what a strange feeling it was to eat food from a funeral you didn’t even attend. Angie asked me what I was doing and I told her I just had an idea for a poem. She said, is it about eating this funeral food you didn’t even go to? I lied to her and said it was unrelated. I don’t know why I did that. The next night she cried after remarking that it was an odd reminder to eat this good ham night after night and know that the only reason we had it was because her cousin died. That night she couldn’t finish her meal. I was really hoping it wouldn’t come up last night. I was also hoping maybe it would be the last night for the possibility. Angie tends to throw food out of the refrigerator earlier than I would, something we argue about extensively, but in this case it might be advantageous for everyone. We don’t have a kitchen table or a dining room or anything so we eat 74


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our meals on the couch. There are some chairs we put the plates on. I always use a chair, but Angie only uses one if the meal requires some support. Last night we both used them. I turned on a documentary about nuclear exposure in Kazakhstan, but we had to switch it over to The West Wing because the mutated orphans were too much for us while we were eating. I probably could’ve soldiered through, but Angie started feeling sick. I didn’t mind. The world seems like a pretty nice place until you’re sitting there watching footage of kids with swollen, tumored heads. Luckily, we can just turn it off. We watched a couple of episodes and then it was nearly midnight. I started nodding off and asked Angie if she was ready for bed. She said she wanted to watch some more TV. We don’t go to bed together often. School’s out for summer now so she doesn’t have to get up at any particular time. When school is in session, I usually stay up a couple hours later than she does. We’ve been together so long and I’m not sure either of us is really sure why. Four years. I think she thinks she knows, but I think she’s afraid to really contemplate how it’s all going. I’m not afraid to contemplate how it’s going but for so long I’ve been afraid of doing anything about it. I always just thought she’d get tired of me and drop me. But she stuck with me through the bad times, when I was drinking—although she tried to leave several times. I begged her, broken, crying, out of my mind, not to go. I think I forced her into a permanent decision somehow. And now that’s all over and she already made up her mind that she was with me and I was with her. But seeing me like she saw me doesn’t make for anything good. I’m not a man to her. And I think anyone who respected herself would have left. When I was drinking I would make excuses for myself. Family history, frustrated ambition, bad breaks. I had a response for every critique of my behavior. Once she told me I made her feel like the girl in Five Easy Pieces. She said she didn’t want to feel like a blonde bimbo who couldn’t understand why she couldn’t make her man happy. It wasn’t fair that I got to be Jack Nicholson. Dark, complicated, intelligent, and complex. She said this in tears, and I was flattered. She was right to be upset about that, of course. There’s no way she sees me that way now. I wasn’t thinking about these things last night. I was just thinking about how lonely you could be in a bed even with someone else in the other room. Someone who would even be in the bed in a matter of minutes or a matter of hours. But it wasn’t enough. What could ever be enough? I don’t know. After a couple of hours of waiting for her to come to bed, listening to 75


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the show she was watching, trying to sleep but accidentally paying attention to the plot of House and knowing when the episode was about to end and realizing another episode was starting, she wasn’t coming to bed yet, I got out of the bed and walked into the living room. “Hey, you about ready to come to bed?” I said. I didn’t have my contacts in so her face was a blurry form, and I stood wearing only boxers. “I’m just not tired yet,” she said. “Come to bed,” I said. “I won’t be able to sleep,” she said. “You could just lie down,” I said. “You’ll fall asleep and I’ll just be lying there,” she said. “I just kind of want you to lay down with me,” I said. “I don’t want to lie down. I’ll just be staring at the ceiling thinking about my cousin.” I wanted to tell her that she wasn’t close to her cousin. I wanted to tell her that she wasn’t even sad about her cousin. That she was sad before, and that I was probably the reason, and why not just let’s talk about that. But I didn’t say that, and I don’t really know if she was close to her cousin or not. “We never go to bed together,” I said. “Doesn’t that seem like a bad sign?” “What?” she said. “What?” Her voice was high. “What are you trying to say?” “I’m not saying anything. Just, we should go to bed together at the same time sometimes, don’t you think? I’m only 28. And this makes me feel old.” “My parents never went to bed together,” she said. “Your parents got divorced when you were nine,” I said. “Is that the greatest example?” “Oh my God,” she said. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have said that. My parents still go to bed together, but I don’t think it really means anything.” “So what are we talking about?” “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know. I’ll go back to bed.” “We need to talk about this,” she said. “I’m—it’s okay. I’m sorry I brought it up. I don’t know. I guess I was just in a funk.” “No,” she said. “Let’s talk. What’s wrong?” “I think I’m just so tired,” I said. “I’m sorry. I would have turned the TV down.” “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah. It’s okay.” 76


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“I’ll come to bed,” she said. She came to bed, and we spooned for a while, but I think we were both kind of uncomfortable. My arm kept falling asleep. Neither of us could, though. I don’t think either of us slept the whole night. This morning she went to go see her mother for a couple of days. So I’d been smoking for most of the morning in the little red lawn chair outside of our little rented house thinking of lots of reasons not to go the bar, or even the liquor store, both only one block away. I had one or two reasons to go find a drink, but this morning, as it is with almost every morning these days, I felt that the good would keep outweighing the bad. Mr. King came around the corner of the house, a little out of breath. It startled me, as he usually comes from a direction where I can see him coming from a ways away. “Goddamit, Sam. There’s cigarette butts all over this yard.” There were quite a few cigarette butts, but they were mostly within one yard of the lawn chair. Furthermore, we don’t have a yard. The door opens up to a gravel alley dividing one row of houses from the next. “I’ll pick them up, Mr. King.” “Also, look at this,” he said, holding out a softball sized clump of dryer lint. “I told you I will not tolerate a dirty lint trap. I will not tolerate it.” I realized that he was very drunk. This was odd, as usually he was just getting to the pool hall around this time, just after noon. “I told you that a dirty lint trap will result in loss of basement privileges. I told you that. I told you that dirty lint traps are the leading cause of household fires.” He had also once told me that errant cigarette butts were the leading cause of household fires. And, a different time, overloaded outlets. “I apologize, Mr. King. I really do. I know how seriously you take these things. And I want you to know that I take them seriously, too. I’ll pick up the cigarette butts right now, and I’ll be more careful about the lint. I promise. I don’t know if it was me or Angie, but I’ll make sure to tell her, too.” Mr. King didn’t seem to hear what I said. He dropped his hands to his side and the ball of lint fell to the gravel. “Where is Angie?” “She took a little trip,” I said. “Visiting her mom.” “That’s nice,” he said. “This was my mother’s house, you know.” He smiled. “Yessir,” I said. He told me this regularly. “That’s funny timing,” Mr. King said. 77


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“What does that mean?” “She’s gonna miss out on this meat I been promising so long.” “No way,” I said. Mr. King chuckled. He cleared his throat. “You didn’t think I’d make good, did you? I was up all night smoking it.” This explained why he was so drunk, I guess. “I got it in a cooler in the car,” he said. “Been driving Beretta wild.” Beretta is his German shepherd. He often has her in the backseat of his car. “Come on, give me a hand with it.” I followed his weaving, unsteady path around the house. His parking job was questionable. The front bumper of the little grey hatchback touched the concrete of the curb, but a significant portion of the rear of the vehicle angled out towards the street. Beretta leapt to the closed window and barked. “Maybe you ought to have cracked a window for her,” I said. “She’s okay,” he said. “Do this all the time.” “It is getting warmer, though,” I said. Mr. King tried the trunk door. He stiffened. Taking a step backwards he slapped his thighs, then his chest where his shirt pockets were, then both his back pockets. “Shit,” he said. He circled the car, searching the ground. Beretta whined loud enough to be heard through the closed windows and Mr. King dropped to all fours. I couldn’t believe how fast he scrabbled across the pavement. He scraped his hands and knees across the coarse ground with little regard for what it did to his skin and clothes. His breathing was sharp and high pitched. “Shit,” he said, still on the ground. The entire car shifted down as he tried to pull himself up by the back bumper. It popped back up as his hand slid off and he fell back to the pavement, catching himself with his fists down on the ground. I hurried over and gave him both my hands, almost falling over with him as I pulled him up. My hands came away covered in blood and grit. Scrapes on Mr. King’s hand bled freely and his cargo pants were torn at both knees. “Wow,” I said. Now I was out of breath. “Are you okay?” “My keys,” he said. He slumped against the car, but his eyes continued to dart all around, scanning the grass beyond the sidewalk. “Mr. King, you’ve got to relax. We’ll find them.” His breathing was starting to really worry me. Beretta barked and scraped her nails against the window. “Sam,” he said. “I don’t have another pair. I don’t have another pair of 78


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keys. No one has a spare.” “Look,” I said. “How lost can they be? You drove here, didn’t you?” “I been down to the bar, I been by one of my properties on Bell Street. There’s no telling. There’s no way to know.” The day had warmed up and sweat stood out on my forehead. Beads as big as marbles flowed down Mr. King’s face. His breathing didn’t show any sign of slowing. “All my keys to all my properties are on that keychain. I’m gonna have to get the keys from the tenants to replace them. Oh, shit.” “Let’s not jump to conclusions,” I said. “We’ve got some leads. Let’s follow them.” I talked him into walking down to the poolhall and his other properties, to retrace his steps. We walked slowly, walking on both sides of the street, scouring the sidewalks and grass. We didn’t come up with anything. After an hour walking around, looking through the poolhall, talking to another tenant (who seemed very ready to get Mr. King away from them), we made it back to the car. I was sweating profusely, and Mr. King’s entire shirt was soaked through. Beretta didn’t bark anymore, she just looked out at us. I walked around the car myself and looked at both sides of each tire. I tried every door handle as Beretta whined. “What about triple-A?” “You think I pay for that shit?” Mr. King said. “Short-term solution anyway, I suppose,” I said. “Goddam, it’s too hot,” Mr. King said, looking in at the dog. “Mr. King, I really think you ought to sit down,” I said. He sat down right on the sidewalk. “This never would’ve happened to my mother,” he said. “Let’s just take deep breaths,” I said. To my horror he began to sob. “Goddamit,” he said, his shoulders heaving up and down. My immediate impulse was to walk away from him and go inside, but I couldn’t very well leave him out there on my sidewalk. I put a hand on his shoulder, getting some of the dried blood on his soggy white fishing shirt. I had nothing to say. I listened to him cry for a moment or two. “It’s okay,” I said. “Get me a brick,” he said, gasping. “I guess I’m gonna break the fucking window.” “Listen, we could still find these keys.” “There’s those old bricks by the stairs down to the basement.” “One last thing,” I said. I looked to see if the basement was padlocked (leaving the basement un79


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padlocked could result in loss of basement privileges), and it was. “I’ll be back,” I said. I went in the house to get my own keys. For a nasty minute I couldn’t find them, but I think I might have just been really into empathy at the moment because they were right by the door where I always leave them. I went down to the basement and found his keys on top of the dryer. Mr. King didn’t notice me coming back out of the basement. He just stared at Beratta from where he sat on the ground. I tapped him on the shoulder and gave him the keys. Mr. King didn’t say anything. He looked down at the bulky keychain in his hands. The only sound was his labored breathing until Beretta whined again. He looked up at the car and then right at me. “Jesus,” he said. He stood up, without any help. “It’s always the last place you look.” He rubbed his left eye and spat. “Guess I owe you some barbecue.” He opened the car and Beretta jumped out, breathing louder than Mr. King had been. Even from where I was I could already smell pork. “You think this pork is okay to eat?” I asked. “It’s been in a cooler.” “To keep it warm.” “It’s not mayonnaise,” he said. “Relax.” “Mr. King, you should eat some of this with me,” I said. “We’ve been running around all day. You were up all night.” “I got to get going,” he said. “At least let me get Beretta some water.” He followed me inside, carrying the cooler, Beretta at his heels. I filled a big plastic mixing bowl with water and she slurped it up. We took the aluminum wrapped hunk of meat out of the cooler and put it on a cutting board. I pulled out a chef ’s knife. “You won’t need that,” Mr. King said. “Give me two forks.” The forks went through the bark then through the rest of the shoulder like butter. We sat on the couch and ate. I had some pretty good barbecue sauce, but I only used a little because I could see it sort of insulted Mr. King. We put some pork on a plate for Beretta and she joined in with the feast. We didn’t speak to each other as we gobbled down the tender, still steaming pork. I felt I had a sort of chance to get to know Mr. King a little better while we ate, but to break through the solemnness and seriousness of our grunts and swallows seemed a great impropriety. After we ate Mr. King left. He said he had to go get a Busch and headed towards the pool hall, Beretta right behind him. I sit on the couch. The plates, dirty from pork, sit on top of the plates, 80


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dirty from ham, on the two chairs Angie and I ate off last night. I had expected Mr. King to comment on the left out dishes, but I suppose it had been a very long day for him. The little house feels exceptionally empty to me now—as empty as it felt when Mr. King showed Angie and I around three years before. A place we were then both excited to move into. I was still drinking, but I hadn’t bottomed out yet. I was still drinking, but we were in love. The house had been unfurnished and empty but it had been clean and it had felt less empty than it feels now, full of our things, the things that we’ve brought together, and I wonder if Mr. King’s house feels this way every night.

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[We are the ones] Peter Grandbois Having spent

the night

diminishing

into his own

of silence

I’d thought there was

tending my dog

forest something

to fear in the dark

some bridge

we weren’t

supposed to cross

like the sky

even

the river

is tired the body pushes

toward prayer I’d thought

there was a morning

to be relieved

but we are the ones

who dissolve

into breath

from moon to mouth

we cannot count

How do we

open

to death

If I were awake

mop all

the water

We try

to find small comforts

to be

that part

I’d thought

that seeps from him

words to say

careless and now there is

only his throat sounding can’t

for each other

the other has forgotten

there were so many

but I have been

I

I could

the one question

answer 82


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Contributors Jim Daniels is the author of seventeen books of poems, including, most recently, Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His sixth book of fiction, The Perp Walk, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2019, along with the anthology he edited with M.L. Liebler, RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music. Terri Leonard is a practicing yoga therapist. She formerly worked in various collaborative projects as a medical anthropologist. An emerging fiction writer, she lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. Zebulon Huset is a teacher, writer and photographer living in San Diego. His writing has recently appeared in The Southern Review, Louisville Review, Fence, Rosebud, Meridian, North American Review, Cortland Review, Portland Review, Texas Review and Fjords Review among others. He publishes a writing prompt blog Notebooking Daily with its print companion Notebooking Periodically and is the editor of the fledgling journal Coastal Shelf. Kylie Westerlind was born and raised in Reno, Nevada. She recently completed her MFA from the University of Montana in Missoula, where she served as an instructor of composition and one of the fiction editors for CutBank Literary Magazine, and also cohosted the Second Wind Reading Series. Her fiction has previously appeared in Carve Magazine, and the story, “Fur,� was nominated for the PEN Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Evan Buchanan is a writer and teacher from Nashville, TN. He earned an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Recently he finished a novella about a space journey to Mars.

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Dan Wiencek is a poet, critic and humorist who lives in Portland, Oregon. When not making poems, he writes for a luxury travel company and has walked in the same shoes on the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Serengeti Plains and the Abbey Road crosswalk. Someday he will write a poem about those shoes. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Hypertrophic Literary, New Ohio Review, Timberline Review and other publications. He is currently working on his first collection of poems. Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two full-length collections, Café Crazy and The Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton). Her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind, has just been published by Ad Hoc Fiction, and her full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This, was recently published by Blue Light Press. She lives in New York City. Daniel Kennedy holds an MFA from Virginia Tech, where he won the Emily Morrison Prize in fiction. He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and graduated from Boston University with a BA in English. His stories have appeared in BULL, Ghost Parachute, and Typehouse Literary Magazine. He’s currently enrolled in the Literature and Creative Writing PhD program at the University of Houston. Elizabeth Majerus is a poet, musician, and English teacher, and she lives in Urbana, Illinois with her family. Her poems have been published most recently in Arsenic Lobster, The 2River View, and Another Chicago Magazine. She is one-third of the band Motes. Tom Gartner’s fiction and poetry has appeared in various journals, including Whetstone, California Quarterly, Gravel, and Concho River Review. One story was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in California, just north of the Golden Gate, and works as a buyer for an independent bookstore in San Francisco. 85


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Ivy Keller writes poetry, collects plants, and spends most of her time on the internet. She earned her BA in Creative Writing from Ohio Northern University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the College of Charleston. Her work has been published in Arcturus and Polaris. Scott Ray is from Mississippi. He received an MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas. He currently lives in Denton, Texas where he is a PhD student at the University of North Texas and the Production Editor for American Literary Review. His poems and stories have appeared in Measure, Hobart, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. Peter Grandbois is the author of ten books, the most recent of which is half-burnt (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in over one hundred journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is the Poetry Editor for Boulevard magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at www.petergrandbois.com.

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i did not

oh, hi mark

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Profile for The Madison Review

The Madison Review Fall 2019  

The Madison Review is proud to present its 2019 collection of poetry and short fiction.

The Madison Review Fall 2019  

The Madison Review is proud to present its 2019 collection of poetry and short fiction.