The Madison Review Fall 2021

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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. Print issues available for cost of shipping and handling. 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 © 2021 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 Nina Boals Sam Wood

Editors Hannah Kekst Matthew Bettencourt

Staff Aidan Aragon Ev Poehlman Lucia Macek Mac Byer Madeline Mitchell Matthew Rivard Milly Timm Phoebe Omuro Rhianna Prine

Associate Editors Eloise Johnson Griffin Emerson Kora Quinn Staff Eleanor Bangs Nadia Tijan

LAYOUT

GRAPHIC DESIGN

Hannah Kekst Kora Quinn Madeline Mitchell

Tim Sands

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Editors’ Note Dear Reader, Welcome to the newest edition of The Madison Review. Please enjoy the poetry, fiction, and art that lit a fire in our guts. We hope a spark or two find their way to yours—you won’t regret letting these talented contributors set you ablaze. This issue would be impossible without their craft, care, and skill, and from the entirety of our staff, and we would like to thank them for letting us present their work. We would also like to thank our program advisor, Ron Kuka, for his constant encouragement and support, along with the UW-Madison English Department and the Program in Creative Writing. To the staff, we would like to extend the deepest and sincerest gratitude. This is the first issue produced under our new masthead, and it is thanks to the efforts of every single one of the editors who has dedicated their time to this project that it was even able to get off the ground. You are all amazing. A final thanks belongs to you, reader; we do this because you love art as much as we do, and this issue would not exist if not for your support. Thank you. Be well, The Editors

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Table of Contents Fiction MJ Hernandez | Real Life Safari Adventure David Canning | Our Daughter Rajiv Ramkhalawan | My Heart is as Strong as Jello David Preizler | Flyover State Jack Styler | Michal: 703 Ilya Leybovich | Thumb Breaker

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Poetry Jenny Hykes Jiang | One Hundred Doorways August Morning News Jeremy Johnston | The Day After an Unthinkable Tragedy Jane Zwart | In the Dementia Journeys Room, my Grandma Writes LBJ James Miller | There are Doors Emily Kingery | War Criminal Estrangement

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Art David Sheskin | Grandma Moses Painting Two Jackson Pollock’s Salvador Dali Painting Vincent Van Gogh Painting a Frida Kahlo Edward Michael Supranowicz | The Pain Within Hearts 4 Angry Flower Sly Wink 1bc1 Rachel Coyne | Untitled 1 Untitled 2 Biswamohini Dhal | Bliss TV Weining Wang | draw1997 collage19999

Contributor Biographies vii

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ONE HUNDRED DOORWAYS Jenny Hykes Jiang

The magnolia trees splay—wan, shrunken with thirst—craving kinder air—not this morning’s acrid smoke of plastic bags, thistle, the brittle bits of newsprint smoldering in some abandoned lot. They’ve sent you home the last time. Your boys to orbit you like heavy, stone-bright moons. Magnolia leaves litter the yard— bronzed and sheened, Egyptian funerary boats. The petals—perfumed cups and platters—wrinkled to dun too soon, like so much yellowed silk. Everything shines. This patina the world wears. The long afterglow of what’s been made from light. Still, it’s not enough. After the first round of chemo, you said I’m ready to get on with my life. We kept saying Stay. Holding the brown leaves. Shaking the seed pods, ornate chimes. These hundred crimson doorways, layers of burst ampules, a censor of incense I wave, broken open and spilling, my short walk home.

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Real Life Safari Adventure MJ Hernandez

Russ Cheevers waited for us next to a decommissioned military jeep in the lot between a Sam’s Club and an L.A. Fitness. His brown boots were muddy, the rest of his body was in dark green camo. His slicked-back hair was more silver than black, and it looked glued to his sunburnt skin. “Ready?” We nodded. Katie’s ponytail bounced across her freckled shoulders and pale skin. We wore khakis and blue paisley bandanas wrapped around our foreheads. I had agreed to take her on a safari as an errant birthday promise when, in retrospect, times were good. She was nine years old at the time. It was the type of promise a parent might make in a time when a greater future still seemed possible. Even then, I was not making safari-type money as a repair technician and things hadn’t exactly gotten better. That was three years ago. Now, we spent most weeknights in our one-bedroom apartment wedged in the loveseat watching nature documentaries. Her vision was now failing, so she asked me to fill the narrator’s pauses with my own descriptions of the images on screen. I told her about the shapes and colors that blurred in front of her. Sometimes, I got lazy and repeated myself. Or, I said something generic like, “it’s so majestic,” and her fingernails dug into my kneecap. The sound of car doors slamming faded as we followed Russ through a vacant handicapped spot and sidestepped down a grassy knoll into suburban forest. We followed Russ’s trail, pausing when he paused. From his advertisements taped against the traffic signal at 83rd and County Line, Russ offered $15 private excursions, guided tours, add-ins and packages for birthdays, anniversaries, and bar mitzvahs. The most recent description caught my eye: See the Killer Turtles of Hidden Valley Condominiums, Phase II. Real Life Safari Adventure. Don’t Let Life Pass You By. Next to the description was a pixelated photo of a cheetah in mid sprint. I called Russ after Katie’s last scan showed an expanding shade of white in her temporal lobe and booked a private tour for the following

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Tuesday. I told her it was a safari and that we would have to travel a bit. She thought I’d forgotten. On the way to the bus stop, we ducked inside a Walgreen’s and bought some bottled water, granola packets, and the bandanas. We got back on the bus, and then I took her on another bus, and then a third bus out to the airport and back, until we finally got back on the return bus in the direction of home about ninety minutes later. We followed Russ and I started to describe some of the trees to Katie, but I couldn’t really tell a conifer from a spruce. She could hear the distant melody of an ice cream truck, and I didn’t need to explain that. As far I could tell, we weren’t close to seeing anything, dead or alive. “Hey Captain,” I finally said. For an extra two dollars, Russ agreed that I would call him “Captain,” and that he would call me “Sir.” Russ seemed to ignore me before coming to a swift halt. “See that?” he asked. We were standing next to a kind of shit creek. It had water, and moved a little in places, but was mostly brownish and dishwater gray. It wound its way across our path and then continued on a bit further. “What is it?” Katie asked excitedly. “Mud pit, probably lots of turtles here,” Russ answered. “Wow, so cool. It’s like a slow-moving tributary, gentle, so peaceful. So much life probably supported in it, probably fed from that nearby mountain,” I answered. I gestured towards the cell tower nearby and kicked a large stone into the deepest looking part. “Oh man, I think there might be salmon spawning here.” Katie stopped and inhaled deeply. When the doctor told us the news, he told us both to take a deep breath. At first, they thought her vision troubles were due to migraines. It wasn’t migraines though. The stuff they gave us didn’t work. Poor kid kept getting lost out on the soccer field, it was like she was on a tape delay. I chalked it up to the fact that neither myself nor her mother were all that athletic. They took her, and us, more seriously when she started to vomit. It got so bad she’d wheeze in between episodes. That’s when they ordered some more tests, an MRI, and finally all the pieces were put together. Russ gave me a quizzical glance, but we continued. The creek started to bubble a tad more and pick up speed. There were signs of life, a lily pad here and there, some brown pellets in a pile. In the

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creek’s banks, I finally saw what Russ saw. There was a distinct trail. It looked like a small animal had dragged itself some distance and continued on through the edge of the water. “It’s close, Katie. Has to be one of those turtles stalking its prey, can tell by the tracks. It’s like that episode where the woman got swallowed by the snake in Colombia,” I said. “They probably hunt in packs though, right Captain?” “That’s exactly right,” he answered. Instead of three inches, I said it was three feet wide. I told her the tracks looked fresh, and that whatever made them looked dangerous. She was a smart kid. She had to have known I was exaggerating, was just a matter of degree. She grabbed my bicep with both hands and pulled herself closer with a smile before we followed Russ deeper into the woods. The trail momentarily disappeared, then reappeared. The forest canopy dimmed the path as our sneakers crossed through fresh mud. I started to get tired, I could see Katie tiring as well. We didn’t exercise much. She was always sapped, and I was always disinclined towards movement, so we started to tear through our granola packets with a crunch-ity crunch that, I could tell, irritated Russ. He shusshhhed us. Katie looked at me with the same guilty smile she used to give me when I questioned her about her homework or her school absences. The first time the school called me, I immediately thought the worst. Checked her backpack and her pockets, searched through her phone, smelled her hair for smoke. And then I felt guilty for all of it. Dad, I just needed to get away from it all for a minute, she told me. And what could I say? I told her not to do it. I told her how dangerous it was, and I feared the worst. But, each time, when the school called, I played along. Told them she had an emergency doctor’s appointment and apologized for the late notice. Our appetites disappeared at the origin of the creek, a small reservoir fed by a trickle from a cylindrical drain of corrugated steel. The steel was rusted in part, and just plain dirty in the rest. The pungent and viscous smell of dead fish hit us well before we arrived. I could tell Katie was doing her best not to gag, but Russ marched on. Near the drain was a pile of silver minnows that Russ was now standing over with crossed arms. Around them was an oily film of green liquid floating alongside the fish and encircling some of the cattails around us.

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“What is that smell?!” she finally asked. “Fish,” said Russ. “They’re dead,” he added. “Something killed them,” I finished. Which was technically true. If I had to bet, my money would have been on the rippling green fluid. “It must have been whatever made that trail, don’t you think, Captain?” “Most definitely.” We stood looking over the fish, Katie and I each pinching our noses with one hand. “How’d they die?” I asked. “Turtle must have got to ‘em.” “But why?” “Because it can, Sir. Laws of the jungle,” he finished, which didn’t really make sense to me, so it definitely would not have made sense to Katie. Her eyebrows were raised like when I used to tell her one of my jobs ran late and the babysitter was halfway out the door, my breath hot with booze. We both turned to leave, but Russ stayed there momentarily before stepping down into the mud surrounding the creek with a wet squish. He was headed towards the drain. I didn’t have time to disagree with him or argue. I wasn’t really even sure how to get back to the Sam’s Club at this point and we were completely out of Evian and granola. So, I reached for Katie’s hand, and found it in mid-air waiting for me, and we stepped down into the prints left by Russ’s giant boots. There was even less light inside the drainage pipe. A few feet inside, Russ flicked his lighter and held it lit. I found one inside my backpack and followed suit. With each stray condom, empty tray of Oreos, Russ knelt closer and examined the area for signs of the muddy rut that we had been chasing. He got down on all fours, knees resting in the stench while I held my lighter above him. It smelled like dung and I had to tell Katie when there were broken bottles, so she didn’t accidentally step on any glass. “We’ve found a cave, Katie. Seems like someone recently broke camp,” I said. “Probably a native tribesman.” In the darkness of the drainage pipe, I hoped my echoing half-truths were not boring her. Before she got sick, the world was full of possibilities. Her mother wasn’t around, but we had each other. We had food on the table and a roof over our heads. She could have gotten a basketball scholarship. She would have graduated college. She said she was going to be a doctor, she said she was going to be a veterinarian, she said she might

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be a judge, and she might have been any of those things. And then the world just started shrinking and shrinking. And it became average lifespans, and average lifespans filled with appointments, parking validation, exhaustion, and false hope. The number of possibilities shrunk until there really only became one. It was late afternoon when we emerged from the other end of the drainage pipe and were deposited back into a matching little reservoir. We were on the other end of the parking lot from where we started. Russ was suddenly talkative and mentioning something about patience. The sun was so damn bright and the glare from the GNC sign thirty feet up an embankment made me shield my eyes a bit when I finally saw one. Katie almost crushed it actually, I only noticed when I glanced back to help her out of the marsh. The creases in Katie’s face, for the first time in weeks, were soft and amused. She looked happy. Next to her foot was a protruding little wrinkled face, bald head, two pointy little greenish elbows. It was so beautiful and alive. Before I could say anything, just like that, it disappeared back underneath the murky water. Russ was already halfway up the incline on his way to the parking lot. I wanted to tell her about what I saw, but I never did.

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The Day After an Unthinkable Tragedy Jeremy Johnston

Note: An earlier version of this poem appeared in The Bangalore Review.

1. A moth landed on my lips And kissed me I turned into a skyscraper, a rose A rose is a fire engine The street is a cup of coffee America is a big rug puzzle for kids There is a pit in me Moths aren’t nostalgic Moths are flickering lightbulbs Moths in industrial London got darker Industrial London was made of moths Soot landed on my lips Soot is smeary on my lips Like newspaper words More poems should be newspapers More moths should be soot More tomatoes should be cherries Sometimes I don’t want to be in a place that smells like a public toilet Sometimes I want to land in a heap of ash Swallowed in a silent cough Like every moth

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2. Someone I have given everything to Has taken advantage of me. I have purchased a gun There is a Polish lady who is so little standing next to me with a bag full of yarn She gets off the train And I palm the railing she was just holding It is so warm I smell someone’s piss I breathe deeply Sometimes I want to smell all the piss in New York

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Our Daughter David Canning

Our daughter is crying because I’m dead and she’s not. I play with her in the nursery at night when it’s dark and Kat is asleep in bed. I try to calm her down by singing the same silly songs I used to when I was flesh and blood and warm and had teeth with fillings. Back when I had those big ears that I passed down to her and the kind of eyeballs that now stare back at me from her face. My presence makes the room colder than normal. I can hear the thermostat click on and I smell the gas warming up as it comes in through the radiator. The heat pinging around the pipes is like Morse code telling me to get out. That I don’t belong here anymore. I ignore it and carry our daughter over to her changing table because I can see the yellow line on her diaper turned blue. Before I died, I counted all of her wet diapers. The pediatrician always said a healthy baby has six to eight wet diapers a day, and I delighted in every one of them. I loved when it was a big poop. Her diaper would look like it was filled with rusty, brown cake frosting. It smelt like mustard mixed with spoiled yogurt, but that meant she worked. It meant all her insides worked and she was healthy and well and safe and secure and perfect. I lay her on the table and undo the sticky part of the diaper. The lights come on and burn my, well, not my skin, but I guess you would call it my skin. It feels like the electric shock from fuzzy socks rubbed on thick carpet. Kat runs into the nursery screaming and crying and panting. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” Seeing her angry and scared feels like a knife digging into where my heart used to be. Cold needles and hot panic all over. “Just leave us alone!” She yells. She can’t see me. But she knows I’m there. I stand next to our daughter who’s wailing now, her diaper partially undone and a fresh wet wipe pulled from the box next to her. There’s no poop. Just pee. Kat runs towards our daughter and picks her up. “Please, leave us alone.” I wish I could hold her. I wish I could tell her it was okay. I wish a million things over a billion years because time doesn’t mean anything

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to me anymore. I can see things I couldn’t when I was alive. I can see the end of the world. This world, at least. I can see our daughter as a fetus, sucking in amniotic fluid and getting the hiccups and I can see her lip synching to music in her bedroom mirror. I can see her taking her first steps with bare feet on wood floor and I can see her body lying face down in mud in a dark place only lit by fire, trampled on by hundreds of people dying of thirst, running towards clean water. Kat covers our daughter’s ears and screams as loud as she can. “Get out!” I retreat to my home inside the painting on the wall in the living room. It’s a painting my mother gave us when we first moved in. It’s of an old abandoned house in a sprawling, green valley. The house’s white paint is blinding. It’s bathed in sunlight under a bright blue sky, with no clouds to offer it any cover. Kat thought I was crazy when I told her the painting made me feel sad. When she asked why, I told her I couldn’t imagine how lonely it would be to live in the middle of nowhere, under a sky with no clouds, surrounded by nothing to offer any shade and no one to keep you any company. She would laugh and say it’s just a dumb painting. I make a fire in a little room in the painted house. If you were to look closely at night, you would see a tiny glow of burnt orange in the window – a small sign of life through the dead pane glass. A small sign of me – a dead man keeping warm by a fire constructed from my own consciousness. But no one looks closely. Like Kat said, it’s just a dumb painting. As I wait for the sun to set, I watch the life I used to live pass by without me. Kat bakes sourdough bread and our daughter coos and does tummy time. She makes six wet diapers, but not one of them a poop. Kat takes a nap on the couch and I see her hair fall in front of her face. A few silver strands hide between the lush, black foliage. I remember how strong the prenatal vitamins made her hair. I used to joke that I could cut cold butter with it. Kat would laugh and tuck a bunch of hair behind her ear, exposing her cheek for a kiss. And I would oblige. Being dead isn’t so bad. I don’t mind the free time, and it’s nice being able to travel. I’ve gotten to see microbes emit methane on Mars. I tried to spend some time looking at the stars from the Andromeda galaxy, to see if they looked any different. But the light from the stars is so ancient it just makes me think of the past, so I always go back to

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where my past is– here. I wait until all the cars get parked in all the driveways and the dinners get put away as left overs in the fridge. Dogs and daughters alike go down for sleep and the TVs go off with the lights and all that’s left is the moon shining down on wet streets and vinyl siding. I leave the painting and make my way down the hallway to the nursery. Our daughter is stirring and fidgety as the temperature drops and the thermostat clicks on. Her hands are scratching at the baby eczema on the sides of her head with her tiny nails that are always so difficult to cut. One time, when I was alive, I cut her nails and I nicked a bit of her skin. When I saw the red blood on top of her little thumb, I looked down at my own thumb expecting it to be bleeding too. It wasn’t. But it hurt just the same. She lifts her legs up into the air and lets out a little baby fart. I hope it’s signaling there’s a poop on its way. I take her from the crib and put her over my shoulder. I rub her back and pat her bottom and bounce her ever so slightly as I make my way to the changing table. Kat walks into the nursery, but this time she’s not screaming at me. I can tell she’s hyperventilating because I can see that the carbon dioxide levels in her blood have dropped dramatically. I lay our daughter down gently on the changing table. “What do you want?” Kat asks to the air. I can’t speak to Kat, or anyone for that matter. I don’t have vocal cords or a tongue anymore. But I want her to know I don’t mean any harm. I want to tell her I love her and I miss her and I just want to know that our daughter is okay. I want to know that she’s still perfect. Tears are forming in Kat’s eyes and her heart is racing and her hair is standing up on the back of her neck and I can feel the cold in the pit of her stomach. “Please, just tell me what you want.” I switch on the electric mobile at the foot of our daughter’s crib. Little bears and foxes and bunnies begin to turn and dance in a circle. The sound of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons plays from its speakers. Kat gasps and holds her trembling lips with her fingers. When the doctor told us the baby was breach inside the womb, he told Kat to play Vivaldi next to her stomach, and that the baby would turn towards it. That didn’t help. Kat’s water broke a month early and our daughter was born via emergency c-section. I remember holding Kat’s hand in the operating room and telling her everything was going to be okay as blood from her womb dripped and dropped on the cold

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and sterile floor and brushed up beside the medical booties I wore over my shoes. In retrospect, it wasn’t really that much blood, but at the time I felt it was enough to drown us both. Kat’s gasping for air now and I don’t know what to do, so I continue to change our daughter’s diaper as Vivaldi plays and the woodland creatures spin and twirl above the empty crib. I undo the sticky tabs on her diaper and pull it out from underneath her. Just pee. I hold up the heavy diaper to Kat. I want to show her. But she just looks wide eyed at the floating diaper, frozen like a deer on a once dark highway somewhere. Maybe I’m over reacting. I don’t really know how long it’s been since I died or how long since our daughter pooped last because time moves all around me. Columbus is on a rampage in the Bahamas and a star is dying 13.4 billion light years away and our daughter still hasn’t pooped. I wipe her butt clean and dry her off with a tissue and I fasten a new diaper around her. I button up her pajamas, first around her kicking legs and then tickle her belly button before finishing all the snaps. “Please,” Kat whispers with a heavy breath. “I don’t know what’s happening.” She’s sweating and flushed even though the room should be cold enough to see my breath if I had any. I carry our daughter over to her, but Kat backs up against the wall. I want to put her in Kat’s arms, but she’s already holding herself so tight and shaking so I lay our daughter back in her crib and Kat begins to weep. The song on the Mobile stops playing Vivaldi and our daughter begins to whine from the silence. So, I make the pipes in the walls play Bach. I always liked Bach better than Vivaldi, and whenever Kat exhausted her Vivaldi for Babies playlist, I would play Bach and aim my phone at the side of her tummy and smile. The molecules in the air heat up and ping around the pipes producing the tune of Partita No 1 in B flat. Kat stops crying and wipes the snot away from her nose and listens. She looks all around the room for me, but I’m already sliding back into my painted house. I watch from my oil on canvas drawn window as Kat slides her backside down the wall and sits on the floor. The pings stop playing in the pipes and the thermostat clicks back on and the air warms up and Kat’s blood pressure begins to steady. I light my fire and wonder if the microbes on Mars have learned how to use tools yet. It takes 8.3 minutes for the light from this sun to reach Kat’s

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bedroom window and spread across the white bedsheet and the yellow duvet cover. It takes the same amount of time to reach our daughter’s closed eyes, causing her to stir and cry and fuss and whine. Sometimes she sounds like a little baby dinosaur crying for its mother who’s drowning in tar, all on their way to getting pumped into the gas tank of an SUV. Alarm clocks go off in all the houses in all the streets and coffee is brewed in pots and newspapers hit front doors and driveways and dogs poop on lawns still wet from sprinkler systems. I watch as Kat sits our daughter in her highchair that we borrowed from an old friend whose child had graduated to booster seats and she begins to spoon feed her mushed up, baked apples. This is the first time I’ve seen her eat solid food and it’s like I’m watching a fish walk on land all over again. The TV plays the news throughout the day and our daughter makes five wet diapers, not one of them a poop. She eats some more apple mush and sucks on a slice of orange. She seems to like the juice and she slams on her highchair table for more with her little tyrant hand. The mailman delivers hospital bills and condolence letters from family and friends. Kat lights a candle in the nursery and prays for the first time since we took communion together at our wedding. When she was done chewing the communion wafer, I asked her what flavor she got. She smiled and said “Shhh!” I told her I got cool ranch. The earth turns its rightful way putting the sun behind it and lets the moon have its time to shine. I come out of my painted house and walk past the two old pleather chairs Kat always wanted me to throw away but never did before I died. I glide down the hallway that leads to the nursery and past a shelf that has a picture of my old face on it. Seeing the face I used to wear is like hearing a recording of my own voice for the first time. I enter the nursery and hear the click of the thermostat and the ping ponging of the heat bouncing around in the pipes that send the rush of hot air in through the radiator. I hover over our still–sleeping– baby–daughter. Her thumb smells like apple and orange and it rests halfway in her mouth. I check to see if her diaper’s wet but it’s not. I look around for Kat and can feel her breathing heavy in her bedroom down the hall. She’s sitting up and watching the baby monitor on her phone. She still can’t see me. There’s a smell in the air. Like a half–eaten–yogurt that’s been sitting out on a counter for too long. I let the smell carry me to the

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changing table where there’s a neatly folded diaper, as if it were a present under a tree on Christmas morning. I don’t have eyes and therefore I don’t have tear ducts, but my emotions can still get the better of me. I can’t help but manipulate the atmospheric pressure outside so it begins to rain as I open the wrapped diaper and see a hint of the orange and brown mess inside. The rain drops crash into the roof and the brick patio and sound like a high school marching band playing the winning team off the field. The rusty cake frosting sticks to the edges of the diaper as I open it up wide. It’s a really big poop. I hold the diaper up to the air and I can hear Kat suck air into her lungs as she watches it on the baby monitor. The room shakes as the rain outside swells to a torrent as time converges all around me. I’m a baby in my crib learning how to roll onto my back. The glacial ice sheets are moving south and carving up land that will one day be the Great Lakes. I’m being introduced to Kat in a bar on a Tuesday night and everything smells like stale beer and lilacs. Earth’s sun exhausts its hydrogen fuel and starts burning helium, turning it into a red giant that will swallow the earth. Kat and I are debating names for our baby on a back porch as a little charcoal grill cooks hotdogs for our dinner. A Chickasaw boy holds his father’s hand as they march from their home in Mississippi, never looking back. Our daughter is trampled to death along with fifty-five other people fighting over clean, cold water on a hot August day as drought and famine take hold across the world. A simple celled organism on an alien planet divides itself into two. I let all of these moments in time slide through me, past my protons and neutrons and quarks and as I feel them slip through, I focus on just one moment as the marching band bangs on the roof. Our daughter is pooping. It smells like spoiled apples in yogurt. It’s perfect. She’s perfect. She is well and she is safe and she is alive and whole and wonderful, now and forever.

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In the Dementia Journeys Room, my Grandma Writes LBJ Jane Zwart

I have sons, and I have nightmares about the draft. I dream of boxcars run over the sides of cliffs. Of trolleys transformed into elevators hellbent on freefall, and in my sleep I watch an earthquake take the earth that should hide their plunging. In the shaft cleft from around those boxes—they plummet as cleanly as bullets shot through a plum; the canyon sheers open as cleanly as the fruit a falling knife halves— my sons drop. I dream of them, knowing that on the long agreement one files when she has sons I did not uncheck a pre-checked box; it would have spared them; I doomed them like charms padlocked to a bracelet and dangled over the lip of a manhole. Lead locker rooms fall down ladders of railroad ties in my dreams. I have sons, and I have nightmares about the draft.

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My Heart is as Strong as Jello Rajiv Ramkhalawan

V You pick up a Sally Rooney from a stack of other books and pretend to read the blurb. You finger its contours and press your thumb hard into the sharpish edges as you eye him. He’s in front of you, in another duty-free store—but with the same loud lights and peppermint breath—perusing quirky-shaped bottles of rum and sniffing rugged scents. Memories sift through your brain. Good and bad. But mostly memories of him planting sweeps of kisses along your clavicle; a salvo of bergamot, pink pepper, and vetiver infiltrating your patient, girlish defenses. You wonder if he still eats Milano cookies and drinks iced tea. You consider pulling the book up to your nose each time he threatens to turn your way. But you decide that you are safe: he was never much of a reader anyway. A bookstore to him must be what a cigar shop is to you, dated and unnecessary. He disappears and reappears between zipping travelers lugging their possessions along the reticulated patterns of cold terrazzo. The airport is frenetic even for early morning. Tired parents search for elusive departure gates. Shops overflow with customers, anxious to purchase cheap, last minute gifts. The bitter roast of coffee and the saltiness of cheese being pressed into panini sandwiches waft through the corridors of Terminal D. He has aged as have you. His munificent locks—the ones which used to leap off his forehead with unashamed desire and tickle the coarse inclines of your eyebrows—are no more. Instead, they are replaced by a withdrawing line of thinning hair and naked patches of creamy skull. But his looks have been spared, you think; he is still attractive, still captivating enough. What has it been, twelve years? Fourteen? You agree on thirteen and let out a chesty, counterfeit sigh. You’d always known that you’d get one of these: a glimpse, a snapshot. To return—in whatever superficial

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way possible—the fragments of splintered hearts which have been taped to your soul. A “moment” to rectify, to fix whatever it is that you are. But you know it does not work that way. You have always known this. For thirteen years, you remind yourself. You play a game: Guess the girlfriend or wife. There is a leggy, tanned blonde to his right. On her arm is a tattoo of a man who resembles a young Clint Eastwood. The tattoo artist has done justice to Clint’s popping jawline. She has too much spunk for him. You consider an Asian woman at the register—with perfectly pressed hair—but a couple of jumbo-sized boxes of Marlboro in her cart takes her out of the running. You recall that his father dropped dead from emphysema when he was nine. Then, out of nowhere, she emerges from behind an M&M’s stall and you know it is her without the need for confirmation. Long, healthy hair, pulled into an unspectacular ponytail. Rimmed, cat-eyed sunglasses and a turtleneck—a size and a half too big for her—draped over a pair of jeans. No hint of makeup, because you reject nude lipstick as actual makeup. He is with the person you have grown into. She elbows him. He grins and mutters something you wish you could hear: Is this cologne too much? Think we’re gonna miss our flight if we don’t leave now? Do you know that I am broken? You ponder whether failed relationships are really just a series of preset factory beats moving along a conveyor belt: the promising meet cute, the hurried, awkward merging of eager bodies, the petulant fights, the inevitable break up, the damaged end product. Words like “strong” and “empowered” get bounced around in conversations with your mom and girlfriends for months, years. Whatever tales of inner peace these syrupy pow wows seemed to have nourished your brain with becomes embarrassingly undone in this moment. Thirteen years feels like thirteen minutes, and suddenly, you can smell heated mozzarella rising on a pizza in his oven that will never be eaten by the two of you. Layers of pseudo-fortitude built up by all that yoga, and reiki, and Eat Pray Love bullshit peel away, leaving you feeling bare and defenseless, like a buttery hog in the wild. How does one truthfully reconstruct a heart to be “strong” and “empowered” when it has been stuffed to capacity long before you are even twenty-two? You dig into Sally Rooney with your manicured fingernails and a

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rush of regret and anger gobble your insides. With a last look, you leave your soulmate at the airport, not wanting to, but having to. IV It’s not the spewing of more fuck yous than a Scorsese flick that convinces you it’s the end, for real, this time. It’s the word anymore, tacked unassumingly onto those fucks that seems to underscore the finality of the relationship. This is indeed the swan song: I can’t fucking do this, anymore. This isn’t fucking working, anymore. I got nothing left for you, fucking nothing, anymore. You love her and hate her at the same time; you figure she must feel the same way about you. You’ll fondly remember this particular relationship when you’re married to a solid eight with two photogenic kids (a boy and a girl), but still not complete. Not loved in the way that you feel loved now: to the bone and blood and guts. Yet, in your arrogance and childish spite, you gamble consciously with love like this and decide that better will come along without ever considering the terrible consequences if it does not. Baby and Shug sour into dimwit and dumbshit. Cookie rots into asshole and jackass. You’re tired but not because it’s 3:17 in the morning. The toxic effects of marathon rants and debasing soliloquies have seeped into you and you feel dirty thinking about all the “bitches” and “fucks” and “losers” that have stained the white walls of your tiny apartment. Finally, she rips off her engagement ring and flings it onto the table. It careens off the hardwood and makes several metallic chinking sounds before landing at the feet of your new pair of Nikes. The ones she got you for your birthday. She leaves and you pick up the ring you saved up the last seven months to get. 3:17 turns to 5:34 and she has not come back. III You are at a bachelorette party of a friend of a friend. In five years, you’ll ask your friend, how’s whatshername doing? The response will likely be something along the lines of: beautiful kids, city life, Fiji holidays, and a Border Collie named Luscious Purple.

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The party is really a dinner at a charming restaurant in the city. All the girls drip in Gucci and Prada, except you. They sport salon styled hairdos and orthodontically corrected teeth. You don’t assume this; they speak with a cool sense of pageantry about these sterile facts in the same vein you’d expect someone to talk about a recent job promotion or the arrival of a new puppy. You notice narrow trenches of wrinkles beginning to conquer their Mediterranean kissed faces, and you worry what will become of them. You decide that you are only “worried” about these pristine creatures because you’re bored. You almost didn’t make it tonight. The weather has been horrible all week. The kind where fat streams of water, long as snakes, gush down the edges of sidewalks and give gutters a real thrashing. You are overdue on rent and figure free food and drink is worth the downpour. You catch whatshername smiling for no apparent reason while the other girls break off into pockets of conversations about celebrities you have only vaguely heard of. Is this how you’ll be when it’s your turn to get married? Crated in an innocuous bubble of obliviousness; a comatose state of bliss? You think and think but decide against it. You pleasure your brain with warm thoughts of Cookie on one knee. You wonder if you’ll cry. You decide against this, too. Knowing him and his careless nature, you’ll probably discover a crumpled receipt or two, days before the day. You scold yourself: he has surprised you before. And not just once. You are not over the moon about many things in life, but you are about him. You wonder—at the same time you catch whatshername examining her gleaming rock—whether she is over the moon about her fiancé, whom you assume to be a slippery, armpits-shaven, prick. In the moment you realize that Cookie is the rock. He is the weight in your life. But the good kind, if there is such a thing. The sommelier arrives with champagne: two bottles, dark juniper with silvery tops. He states in a snotty tone: Champagne Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 1995, before he unwinds the muselet and impregnates the otherwise empty restaurant with boisterous pops. He says something about the champagne’s rich nutty and honey undernotes as he pours the effervescent liquid into glitzy, crystal glasses. The girls ooh and ahh. You recall reading that the average person can’t tell the difference between the quality of a ten-dollar bottle of champagne picked up

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at a supermarket from a thousand-dollar bottle bought, from, well, a restaurant like this. You chug the bubbly and conclude that the author was right. II You are in the park, holding hands, observing color explode in the blackness above you. Red. Green. Silver. Blue. You feel the pulse in her wrist quicken—each time the flare of a brocade firework tears through the night and stretches into a wheel of dazzle—sparking up your heart. You fall in love with her amongst choking sulphur and glittery particles. The thing you love most about loving her is the feeling of oneness, of belonging, that perhaps only an all-consuming relationship can offer. You dismiss your mother’s words of never giving your entire heart to someone, to keep a piece for yourself, for that rainy day. You question the sense in that. Especially the part where your mother says that the day does come, whether we wish to admit it or not. There is nothing and no one like Shug. The trajectory of your life’s likes and dislikes will be shaped by her and this experience, and you submit to this truth, for better or worse. You pull Shug into you and think this moment should never end. And in some ways it never does. I It’s 7:15. He is late. You saunter around the convenience store and run your hand along a row of chips in shiny aluminum bags. One with intense neon writing steals your eyes. It says: BONKERS CHIPS. Underneath those words, in small, cursive letters it says: guaranteed to make you bonkers about something. Even someone? you whisper. You decide to get a slushie, but the machine is out of order. Things like this always seem to happen to you. You almost never particularly itch for something, like a Vanilla Coke or a slushie, but when you finally decide that you want one, it’s never available. Apathy morphs into necessity and you forget that you started off not really wanting the Vanilla Coke or slushie. This is how marketing must work. The doorbell chimes and you know that he has come in. You wonder why he is late. You wonder if he has a girlfriend. He must have, you

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decide. How can he not? You wonder if she is waiting for him in the dim carpark. You wonder if she is pretty. Before you realize it, he’s standing next to you and you feel giddy. This is the closest you have ever been to him. You seize the BONKERS CHIPS and start reading the ingredients: White habanero. Red Savina. Ghost Pepper. Your eyes drop lower. His sneakers are muddied and frayed. You decide that he does not have a girlfriend after all. You know that he will grab a small pack of Milano cookies, make his way over to the fridge for an iced tea and vanish into the aisles. If you do not go in now you will have lost your chance for another week. Another week of welling agony; of constant indecision about ever returning to this store. Before you can commit to the idea of turning to him, he turns to you and says: Are those any good…the chips? You get lost forever in his light, brown eyes. He is even lovelier up close. Never had them. I think you should stick to your cookies. You realize your mistake and turn red like the party cups next to the BONKERS CHIPS. He has not reached for the cookies yet.

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AUGUST MORNING NEWS Jenny Hykes Jiang

In my palm, a warm quail egg. Above, white jet’s drone. I think, Kabul. Twenty years ago September I was pregnant for one week. Butchering day, Jack filled a blue rice bowl with unlaid eggs—translucent, unwalled yolks, piled golden orbs, pebbled yellow grains felted in blood. Miscarried lament. Tonight, the same prayer: Mercy. Our teeth tear dark, rich meat, crunch marrow, bone.

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Flyover State David Preizler

Where the heck is Wall Drug? South Dakota, Badlands. It’s written on the t-shirt of the Argentine girl who sits down next to me at the Minneapolis Greyhound station. I don’t understand why the shirt poses that question if the answer is right there. She places a mountain backpack on the floor between her boots. Her country’s blue and white flag is stitched to the bag lest someone mistook her for a Chilena I guess. A couple of decades ago, Americans did the same but in recent years it has become more popular to put a Canadian flag on there, or none at all, to avoid becoming a target. The wooden bench is like a church pew, forcing you to sit ramrod straight up, which is the way they want it, so you can’t doze off no matter how unrelenting your fatigue or boredom. We’d been waiting at the Greyhound terminal for nearly three hours. My chaperone, a sheriff’s deputy, whose sole responsibility is to make sure I get on the bus, is on the verge of nodding off. He looks like one of those kids in school, head drooping forward, slipping off into sleep, then coming back, eyes flashing open and head snapping upright again. The whole process probably makes him more tired than if he’d have just stayed awake in the first place. The wooden bench might be the one thing that keeps him from losing his job. He wears a brown winter coat, crisp tan shirt, and brown polyester slacks like they all do. I’m not shackled to him or anything. There’s no set of handcuffs hooking his wrist to mine. I’m not his prisoner precisely but I don’t have much choice in the matter either. “Que tal?” I say to the Argentine. “Buenas Noches. Hablas español?” “I do speak a bit of español. I’m something of polyglot, you might say,” I tell her. “I speak oh, around six hundred and twelve languages. Not fluently, but enough to get by. Anyway, it’s not so much our words but our tone and gestures that matter. That’s how I learned to communicate with animals as well,” I say. Her name is Ariana. Her face is relaxed and friendly and she smiles when I tell her about the animals. She nods. She understands.

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Big Drowsy Deputy opens his eyes. He notices an old woman seated on the bench across from us watching me. She’s wearing a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt and one of those winter caps with a fuzzy ball on the top. She gets up off the bench, hoists her suitcase, and makes as if she’s shoving off, away from us. “Don’t mind him, Miss. Oscar here may be in deep space nine but he’s not dangerous if you catch my drift.” He seems to have given up on sleeping. He says to me, “When’s this rig going to get here? I need a drink of water. Come on, let’s go stretch our legs.” Big Drowsy Deputy stands up, extends his long arms straight out and cracks his knuckles. My legs don’t need stretching and I’d hoped to continue practicing my Spanish with the Argentine girl, but Big Drowsy Deputy has other ideas. He hauls me up by the collar. “Well, what do you know?” The bus glides into its parking stall with such precision and grace that it seems like the driver cut the engine two hundred yards out, only applying the brakes at the very last minute, easing with just the right amount of pressure. “That’s one for the record books,” I inform Big Drowsy. “What are you going on about? You at it again? Your meds haven’t worn off already, have they?” As soon we as push through the station doors, a torrent of fumes and noise engulfs us. It’s well below zero with the wind chill, cold enough to freeze contact lenses to your eyes. Even the slightest breeze feels like pins tapping your face. The heat of the engine in contact with the cold air produces a billowing cloud, so grandiose that it’s as if a steam powered train engine has pulled up instead of a bus. “Fuckin’ A,” the deputy says. “Move it.” He guides me toward the bus with a hand on my shoulder. In his other hand, he carries a paper grocery bag. Before he shoves me up the stairs onto the bus, he hands it over. I look through it as Big Drowsy describes the contents. “Don’t eat this all at once. You’ve got enough brown bag lunches to last you to Miami. They’re individually packed and stapled shut. Make them last. There’s some bottled water and cash in an envelope too.” Miami. So that’s where they’re sending me. What I don’t understand is why? I figure the state hospital is letting me go on account of either good behavior or budget cuts. My guess is the latter. My behavior wasn’t particularly bad, but it wasn’t that good either. “What about my meds?” He pulls a large zip lock out of his pocket

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and hands it over. Before letting go he says, again, “Don’t eat these all at once.” He gives my ticket to the driver who stands beside the bus entryway with his hands on his hips, like a bouncer at a bar. They exchange a few words and I can hear the deputy say, among other things, “dangerous”, “patient”, and “discharged.” Was he saying I was “not” dangerous? Doctors always described me as a threat to myself, my own worst enemy. “I don’t want any problems on my bus, sir.” The driver tells the deputy. They both look at me. “You’re not going to have any problems from him. Not a one. Are we, Oscar?” “No. That’s right, not a one. I’ll just sleep like a baby the whole way, the way you drive.” I wink at the driver. “Go on now, get on, Oscar.” The deputy makes a shooing gesture with his hand like I’m a raccoon. I climb the stairs. The deputy calls out to me, “And, Oscar, get a refill on those meds as soon as you get there. First thing, Oscar, first thing.“ At the top of the bus stairs I look back and give him a wave. I take my seat about two-thirds of the way to the back. I’m not one of those guys that likes to sit in the far back. I don’t know why anyone would, riding adjacent to the bathroom. The Argentine girl comes down the aisle with her mountain backpack. Before I can ask if she needs help, she heaves it up into the rack above the seats. “Is this chair occupied?” She gestures to the aisle seat beside me. I shake my head. The bus so far is only but a third full. My guess is she wants to sit toward the front, same as me. “No, be my guest.” The expression seems to confuse her but she sits down anyway and unwinds her red scarf. I’ve never seen anyone wear scarves with such panache as South Americans. Before leaving the station the driver’s voice comes over the PA system. “No smoking, no drinking, no intoxicants of any kind.” “Bummer, this is going to be a hell of a ride,” I say to Ariana. My brother once told me that the best view of the Twin Cities is in the review mirror. That’s what I see now as we ascend the freeway onramp. I watch the skyline recede – the Metrodome, warehouses, and a handful of pathetic excuses for skyscrapers. I dig into my backpack

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and pull out a Milwaukee Road baseball cap. It features the red logo of the railroad. My brother gave it to me some years back. I thought it would compliment Ariana’s scarf. “You take this,” I tell Ariana. “A souvenir from America’s Dairyland.” She thinks for a moment and then takes the hat. Tentatively, she places it on her head. “See what I mean, that hat is meant for you.” I always believed that, if you encounter a foreign tourist in the US, especially one on their own, you should give them something. “Boy, is the feng shui on this city off or what,” I say. “Fong shoy?” Ariana says. “No, it’s okay. I’m good, I’m good.” It seems like she’s offering me food but I’m not sure. “I’d like a scarf like yours,” I say. “Back at el hospital though, they wouldn’t let me have anything like that. Afraid, I’d, you know…” I make a gesture like I’m hanging myself with a noose. Ariana doesn’t seem to understand. “Maybe I’ll knit me one of those. Where are you headed? My ammy? Meeahmee? Shoot, no one needs a scarf there. Unless that’s all you wear. Like a loincloth or something. I’m going to live off the land in Miami. In my scarf pants, climbing trees and eating coconuts.” Ariana turns away to look out the window across the aisle. I feel hot. I pull off my jacket. The damn hospital sent me off in a pair of mint green hospital scrubs. Underneath I’m wearing long john pants and a long-sleeved shirt for warmth. They can never get the temperature right in movie theaters or public transportation. I want to sleep but I’ve become fearful of dozing in public after reading a news report about a man in Canada who sawed the head off of his sleeping seatmate with a hunting knife. The newspaper described the attack in vivid detail and it’s a situation I’m determined to avoid. I look around the bus at all of the passengers. Most are geriatrics, and the others seem more afraid of me than I am of them. I’m mostly excited to be going to Miami, at least for the weather and to see the ocean. On the television shows everyone seems happy there, and beautiful and rich without needing to work too much. I’ve only seen the ocean once before, on a trip to California with my dad when I was seven, thirty years ago. I’ve spent my life in the Midwest and have always wanted to live somewhere warm. My only reservation about Miami is another fear I have, of Face Chewers, people high on bath salts in South

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Beach, gnawing each other’s faces off like zombies. I’ve been in and out of psych wards for the last few years. I’d lived with my mom since I flunked out of college, until she died. I always tried to work as much as I could and my most recent job was bagging groceries at Driscoll’s but on account of my meds, I overslept one too many times and exhausted the manager’s goodwill. I’d been trying to walk from Madison to Milwaukee when they picked me up. There was a girl there, McKenzie, who I was in love with. I bagged groceries for her one night when I worked on the late shift. Our eyes met and it was like staring into whirlpools. I forgot to breathe. I know she felt the same way. She asked for paper, not plastic. I noted the time and day that we’d first met and made sure to work that shift every week in the hope we’d cross paths again. In the parking lot, gathering carts, anytime a woman got out of her car, I checked to see if it was her. Women float through my life and I try to forget them but it only makes it worse. I never could forget McKenzie. The highway patrol had found me in a ditch off the I-90. It was January and the snow covered me like a shroud. Only my head was visible like when kids bury each other at the beach. A semi driver who’d pulled off for the night spotted me. The snow glittered in the parking lights of his rig. I told them to just leave me there but they didn’t listen and put me in a hospital. Then one day, for some reason – to save a buck is my guess - they decided to let me go with a one-way bus ticket out of town. I tried to think positive thoughts though. Once settled in Miami, I’ll find a pastel-colored Art Deco apartment with a view of Biscayne Bay and call McKenzie. Finally, I sleep for a while until I wake up to what at first I think is a siren but turns out to be a baby wailing. We’re in the middle of some Illinois town: low brick buildings, a pizza place, an Ace hardware store, and a John’s Grocery that is in reality a liquor store. The windows are pasted over with advertisements for specials on Pabst, Milwaukee’s Best, and a full range of jerky products: venison, turkey, and beef. “This is unscheduled stop. Wheel bearing’s broke,” the driver’s voice says over the P.A. We can stay on the bus or stretch our legs while we wait for a new bus to show up, he explains. A few of us smoke or sit on the curb near the bus. It’s cold and I have my hood cinched as tight as possible leaving barely a slit for my eyes. Ariana’s gone. She must’ve gotten off at a stop along the way

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while I was asleep. It’s a pity because the woman with the crying baby only speaks Spanish and I haven’t mastered Spanish yet. She makes rocking motions which do little to console the kid. My Spanish is about the level you’d get to in the 10th grade: cerveza, señorita, cuchillo, avion. I can make out that something is wrong with the baby’s estomogo. There’s real terror in the mother’s eyes. They’re wide and glistening under the streetlights. I’m pulled into them like a piece of driftwood being drawn over a waterfall and I suddenly want to kiss her. She asks around for medicine, for Pepto Bismol. “You don’t want to give Pepto to a baby, lady…Señora,” I tell her. “Hang on. Un momento,” I say holding up a finger. I jog over to John’s Grocery and buy a bag of pretzels, a bag of nacho chips, and a bottle of water. Those are for me. I hand the mother a bottle of Pedialyte. I occasionally drink Pedialyte as a hangover remedy so I know from the label that it’s really meant for sick kids. After an hour, once we get underway in the new bus, everyone more or less takes to their original seats, including me. I dole out one of my sandwiches to the mother and then eat one myself. I open one of the Ziplocs the deputy packed and flick a few of the pills into my mouth, one of each color – my daily dose. I’ve been taking them for so long that in the dark, I can detect which is which by their size and shape with my tongue. I have a couple of rounds left and then I’ll need a refill. The replacement bus smells like the previous passengers hadn’t showered or brushed their teeth in a week, which was probably true. A family near the front has practically set up a campsite amongst their seats. They have pillows, blankets, an Igloo cooler the size of a coffin, and a small TV they managed to plug in somewhere. They pack in around it, watching Titanic, a movie I’ve prided myself on never having seen before and avert my eyes to avoid sullying that record. I resent them the way that I resent oblivious smokers for their secondhand smoke. The next time we stop is in Chicago. It’s the middle of the night, cold, and the streets are empty. Only funnel clouds of snow pass up and down the streets like twirling phantom ballerinas. Skyscrapers loom over us and the bus winds through a maze of glass, bricks, and steel. We pass over the river whose surface ricks and churns, bedecked with ice like giant heaving flakes of coconut. I’m groggy. I feel like I’ve

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been asleep for forty hours and that my head’s entombed in a massive ball of cotton. The bus pulls into the Chicago terminal and exhales as we came a stop. “Use the bathroom, get a sandwich from the vending machine. There’s cheese or bologna, and then we’re on the road folks. Whether you’re back or not, we leave in thirty minutes.” The bus driver unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs off. Cold air rushes in through the open door. I walk under a Welcome to Chicago sign that features the Greyhound logo, a dog at full stride over a red, white, and blue background. I take the escalator down to the vending area. Like the driver said, there’s a machine with a carousel, offering Oscar Meyer Bologna or Cheese sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip. In high school I’d worked at the Madison, Wisconsin Oscar Meyer plant. At the end of the shift we mopped the floors - every last scrap went into these big vats they used to make hot dogs. I figure it must be the same with bologna. I drop a couple of coins into the coffee machine and wait while it shudders and hums for a good three minutes as if it’s stunned to be called to service. What drama for a simple cup of black coffee! I half expect the machine to dance across the floor and hold out its hat for tips. As the machine tries to get its act together I see someone I recognize. Ariana. In the atrium below. You can’t miss the red Milwaukee Road baseball cap so I call out her name but she turns away. Her footsteps click on the tile as she crosses the hallway. I run down a broad staircase that seems endless, like running down the steps in a stadium. I cross the atrium but Ariana is already ascending the escalator. “Ariana!” She doesn’t turn. She floats upward like something ethereal. She flings open the heavy doors that exit to the street like they’re cardboard. The doors bang against the building and the sound reverberates through the station. I run up the escalator, taking two steps at a time. I slip through the gap in the doors just before the hydraulic hinge pulls them closed. I look in both directions but Ariana is gone. Where is my bus? It should be nearby. I walk over to the Welcome to Chicago sign. The bus isn’t there. It’s left with my backpack inside!

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Everything I own is in my backpack: meds, food, money, my i.d. and Social Security card. My goddamn comb, deodorant, and my Tic Tacs. I’ve always prided myself on good hygiene regardless of my circumstances. Some of my hospital mates, this one guy they let out, had elephantiasis in his legs. I’d never seen anything like it and never want to again. I couldn’t take my eyes off those legs. I’ve only stared longer and more intently at the legs of a beautiful woman. He had bandages on both feet and wore some form of medical boots so he didn’t need shoes. He walked out of there - the best he could mind you - wearing a hospital gown and plastic wristband. He carried all of his belongings in paper grocery bags. From Driscoll’s no less! I’m not like that, and swear I’ll never allow myself to sink to such depths and besides it would have turned off McKenzie. I go back into the station. I think that maybe I can get the Greyhound office to call the bus back or at least send my stuff, but the office is closed. I go into the Men’s room. It’s immaculate. Gleaming white porcelain and polished fixtures. It’s like the inside of a space ship. Yet it has the heavy vegetative and floral scent of a greenhouse. And then I see why. Vines cling to the walls. Sunflowers sprout from sparkling toilet bowls. A Monarch butterfly flutters through the air. When I look into the mirror there’s that effect of infinity: my reflection, my reflection, my reflection, on and on and on. It’s beautiful and horrific. A gentle mist of steam rises out of the sinks and toilets, filling the room with a gray fog. My vision blurs. “Hey buddy, bathroom’s closed.” A janitor in the doorway leans on his mop. “I can tell. Yeah,” I say, pushing past him. I leave the station and walk up Lasalle. The wind lashes at my face like a whip but I press on. I pause at the rail of the bridge to look down at the river. In summer, it’s perhaps one of most beautiful urban waterways in America, if not the world. Green water winds past buildings – some from the early 20th century I had learned years ago on a high school field trip – the neo-gothic Tribune tower, the Wrigley building, Marina City, eventually feeding into Lake Michigan. In winter though, instead of a river, there’s an ice floe. I lean over the rail and look straight down. The semi-frozen water looks like a mirror that has shattered into thousands of pieces. Should I dive in? Thoughts like this often cross my mind. I walk down the Magnificent Mile, past Hugo Boss, Tory Burch,

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Max Mara, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and Bulgari. Everything’s closed. I go into the bar at the Drake Hotel. I can count on the goodwill of fellow travelers, I think. I step up to the bar. The voice of the gentleman behind me suggests otherwise. “Sir.” I turn. “I appreciate you addressing me as ‘sir’.” “Are you guest in the hotel?” “That depends what you mean by ‘guest’.” “After you, sir,” he points toward to the door with a small tactical flashlight, suggesting that I go first and he’ll follow. Back on Michigan Avenue, parking meters laugh at me. They are hungry and I have nothing to feed them. All I want at this point is to lie down. I think again about flinging myself off the bridge onto the ice floe. I could curl up on a slab of ice and float out to Lake Michigan. Maybe the current would carry me along the coast to Milwaukee, to McKenzie. First though, there is something I need. And there it is. Mercy Hospital. They should all be called this. Light spills from the lobby doors like a waterfall. They’ll help me. They’ll have a comb and a toothbrush. I need to look good for McKenzie.

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There are Doors James Miller

Sno-cone ice blue. The mosquitoes have learned how to whistle summer. We spoil five venoms, our tea too sweet. Half-written hot tub plugged in, ready to boil, but there is no money for the deck no nails for steps no lattice overhead for vines and lizards. Mother says our washer water will evaporate on the street before morning. The HBO show on her master tv in her master bedroom is kill or be killed. Perfect fold on her toilet paper rolls. Brother always spitting, hocking up thick layers of soot and lime. He runs scrawny round barkless oaks, giggling like a favorite flaw in soundtrack vinyl. Anyway everyway beauty school rhinestone. Tells the story of humanoids from the deep, hanging from the diving board. The air is compromised but we learn early to breathe through our mouths. Good bacon rolls up like gristly bugs in grease. Mother knows how to force each down and dead, how to tell when they are ready to crisp on the counter. Her pancakes imply a paycheck gig at the startup bakery, feeding BP execs croissants and kolaches, fat coconut pies with carpet tacks mixed into the batter. Mother says the second book in the series explains how the children survived their winter. We catch seven pale crabs in the creek with squares of expired chicken on the line, but when we make it back home mother makes us dump them in the side trash. We take turns plucking thick dill pickles from the jar, eat them on the driveway, watch neighbor roger parking his horse trailer on the street where it will remain for three years with no sign of ever having known a horse. We talk about the girl from school who was missing for two months till her cousin led them to the body in the woods. Sister tells us about wallpaper scraps, turn them over and paint fringe

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of fur on the mouth of God. I make sign of the cross on the stub of my exquisite pickle like I saw in amityville with the vomiting nuns and creepy childhoirs waving sticky palm fronds in heatdeath night. There are doors into microverses where gravity can be licked like salt from stale almonds. Mother knows what we say is never what we saw. Enough to eat this weekend. Leftover pasta congealed in purple Tupperware. Mother squeezed his head like a zit and wiped her hands clean.

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Michał: 703 Jack Styler

Four blocks off the central square of a post-industrial rust-dusted city stood an apartment building built mostly of concrete. Befuddled by inspiration, the architect had planned to build a brutalist structure with romantic flourishes. Three years later, a hulking, utilitarian monstrosity composed of three connected towers with a central courtyard emerged as an unwelcome addition to the city skyline. The three towers of the building made almost a complete triangle around the courtyard, which was washed in sun from the hours of roughly 11:30 am to 1 pm. At all other times, the courtyard was darkened by long, disfigured shadows. Anyone who saw the building knew that the architect must have had a lofty vision but had failed terribly in execution. Indeed, once planning and construction had finished, quiet disapproval of the building from its own residents and all city-goers weighed on the architect. Of course, no one said anything to him directly. First, a cheeky editor at the local paper made a list of the “The 10 Ugliest Buildings in the Metro Area.” After the review, the architect’s friends called less. Business slowed. His firm fell into debt and closed. Each night, he would drive downtown to the $30 million dollar piece of concrete, rethinking every decision in the design process. On a street bench across from the building’s entrance, he sat, staring up. He watched residents return to the building and sometimes even overheard their conversations about living there. “I can’t wait to move out of this shithole,” one said. “This place is literally soul-sucking,” said another. For half a year, he sat outside the building, talking to no one, approached by no one, studying his mistake and listening to complaints. It was his punishment, and he bore it alone. Thirteen months after the building’s completion, the architect drove home after an especially long night on the bench. He pulled into the driveway of his house, opened the garage, and pulled the car in. There he sat, and despite the fact that he had not gone to church in years, he whispered to himself, “God please.” Bracing, he looked down at his

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phone. On his home screen, he saw only the time. Hoping, waiting, hoping, waiting, the phone shut off, and he saw his own reflection on the black screen. With that, he closed the garage door, reclined the driver’s seat all the way back, and listened to the hum of the motor until he no longer could. Though it lost its most consistent audience, the building persisted. And the company that owned it, Allegheny Rental Inc., still rented each apartment. The rent was cheap for the city — whose real estate had been jacked up by thousands of college students who overran its streets for nine months of the year. The studios had everything a poor student could need: an oven, microwave, toaster, desk, chair, one standing mirror, running water, adequate heating, a shower, and a toilet. Due to poverty, disorganized housing searches, or a combination of both, the studios filled up. When they toured the building, few prospective residents noticed the most peculiar result of the architect’s tragedy. Since the three sides of the building formed a triangle, each resident could look across the abyssal courtyard into every apartment in the opposing towers. Unwanted eyes were inescapable. Allegheny Rental Inc. didn’t provide curtains or blinds. Most residents made do with towels or sheets hung above the windows to stop those on the other side of the building from seeing in. But for whatever reason, each renting cycle there would always be some who didn’t make any effort to stop eyes from peering in. Whether it was curiosity, laziness, or exhibitionism, some residents left windows unobstructed each year. *** Michał Stubuyski had just finished unpacking. He was preparing to start his sophomore year at the university and had mumbled through a conversation with his parents, who were calling from their family home in Poland. During the call, he stared at the print of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa on a keychain. He found the keychain in his luggage after he had arrived in America and figured his mother hid it in his bag for good luck. He retraced the Madonna’s scarred face often, mostly when he was in unbearably boring situations like his bi-weekly call with his parents. They started as they usually did by telling him how much they missed him. Quickly though, they began asking annoying, out-of-touch, and often far-too-probing questions

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about his studies in America. Since they were paying, Michał felt that it was his duty to respond, and he did. They asked him “how are you doing, son?” He answered, “I’m good. Excited for a new school year.” Two sentences. That’s what he stuck to. One sentence to answer. One sentence for a little added detail, so he seemed engaged in the conversation. After spending over a year apart, he had perfected his two-sentence method. Once the call ended, he finally could settle into the place he planned to spend the next year: Tower A, Apartment 703. He picked 703 because it was “a studio with a view,” which he thought would look outward onto the city. Instead, he found out he was on the wrong side of the hall. His view looked inward toward the courtyard and faced Towers B and C. As Michał hung up the last of his posters (five for ten dollars at a pop-up stand that illegally reprinted copyrighted images), a buzzing started. It was the box next to his door. He mashed every button until he heard the voices of his friends Jon and Andres. After pressing every button again, they texted him that they had gotten through. Jon and Andres had lived across from Michał during their freshman year and had bonded over their general misanthropy and distrust of the university. Jon and Andres always traveled together, sulking through the city streets and causing unnecessary problems on campus for their own amusement. One of their favorite activities was walking into a crowded lecture hall a minute or two after the class had started and asking for two seats in the middle of the auditorium, forcing every student in the row to get up to let them by. Despite their immaturity, they had always been kind to Michał. And, almost equally important, they always had weed. *** “Nice place,” said Jon as soon as he walked through the door. “Yeah, much better than the dorm,” echoed Andres. “And we can take this shit down without anyone caring,” said Andres as he extended his 6’2” frame up to the ceiling to take down the single smoke detector in the studio. “Might as well christen the place,” said Jon with a smile. Reaching into the oversized pockets of his pants, Jon brought out rolling papers and a bag full of weed.

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“Might as well,” said Michał. As the two sat down on Michał’s only piece of furniture, a standard, Target-bought futon, Michał examined them. Jon Etten came from an upper middle-class family in New Jersey, and he hated when people talked about his parent’s affluence. He called himself an “anti-materialist,” which as far as Michał could tell meant only that he wore the same pair of pants every day and talked about “late-stage capitalism” too much. Andres Calvo, on the other hand, had come to college on scholarship for photography, but he rarely if ever took photos anymore. He spent most his time talking about psychedelics and smoking cigarettes. Once he had smoked a whole pack in front of Michał with the only explanation being, “I want to hurt myself and see what happens.” Jon and Andres were both incomplete, beta-versions of the men they would become but felt relatively comfortable in the limbo of incompleteness. Not cringe-worthy enough to assert that they were “born in the wrong generation,” but self-absorbed enough to think they were more interesting than most others on campus, Jon and Andres smoked weed and philosophized to each other incessantly. Michał set up the customary laptop on a small table in front of the futon as they passed the joint through the rotation. And, at the cost of a burning in his throat, his head became light. His eyes fixed on the screen and he smiled. Michał had come to college with his parent’s warnings of drug and alcohol use in his pressure-cooker brain. He didn’t touch anything his freshman year. But when a co-worker offered him a hit of a dab pen during a break at their job in an empty dining hall, out of boredom more than experimentation, Michał sucked in. Weed made him care less, and Michał rationalized that as long as he didn’t have school, it made no difference whether he washed dishes stoned or not. After that first time, he took a hit whenever he worked and even bought his own dab pen. *** Jon and Andres immediately began talking about a new university policy that required students to show their ID cards whenever they entered a campus building. “This is just the university following the government’s pattern of saying something’s for our own safety when they’re just trying to track

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our movements,” said Andres. “Yeah. I mean this shit’s fucking insane. Like you know stores use facial recognition software now. And you better believe they’re gonna use that shit to keep us spending,” Jon said, not so much as a response to Andres’s comment but just an independent thought he had while Andres spoke. That was often how their conversations went. Michał usually left the conversations up to them. When he smoked, his mind was empty, not trying to debate the merits of facial recognition software. Closing his eyes, he felt his body warm. No, it was not his body. Something pressed up against his back. It was warm. It was familiar. Keeping his eyes closed, he focused on the feeling. He had not felt that warmth in years. It almost put him to sleep. Michał smiled. His parents had too many children and not enough beds. In the eighteen years before he left for college, he always shared a bed with his younger brother Rafal. Rafal slept with the blanket over his face and his legs pressed against the wall. Michał always faced the other way. Through the night, their backs pressed up against one another. “No one even realizes that Amazon is taking over every part of our life. Like, Jeff Bezos runs the damn country!” yelled Jon. Michał opened his eyes. The warmth on his back faded. The conversation had moved on to Amazon. Jon and Andres traded their “hot takes” about the evil of the company. Then, Andres brought up Edward Snowden. Listening to the two of them talk past and through each other, Michał floated over to the chair at the small desk flush against the window. It was his first Friday night in the building, and he outlined the concrete walls of Towers B and C with his eyes. Most renters were college students who either had not moved in yet or were out for their first Friday night back on campus. Michał scanned the building. A couple apartments had lights on, but makeshift curtains already covered their windows. Three floors down and into Tower C, he saw a woman. She drank from a mug and was looking down at a laptop. Her cheekbones stuck out, not in a particularly attractive way; they poked out of her skin. Her lips were thin and her jaw sharp. Her hair was brown and back in a bun. From Michał’s view, her fingers seemed too long when moving across the keyboard. She wore a grey cardigan sweater that wrapped around her body. From the angle, he couldn’t see her legs under the

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desk, but he did see the tips of her slippers pressed against the window. He felt as though he had seen her face before. He kept watching, not out of sexual attraction — he already decided that she wasn’t pretty. Creating a small, oily smudge on the glass, he pressed his forehead against the window to see her better. Something in her sullen eyes and oval face …. “Michał what the fuck are you doing mate,” Jon said in a bad British accent. “Nothing. I’m just — I don’t know. Pretty stoned I guess.” “It’s good shit I told you.” “Uh yeah I guess it is,” Michel responded. “Actually, could I buy some from you?” Jon handed him a few grams and Michał paid him thirty bucks from a stash of cash his parents gave him. Jon joked that the transaction officially made him a drug dealer. Both Michał and Andres rolled their eyes. *** Once the semester began, Michał saw Jon and Andres less. They were the type of friends who didn’t come around unless Michał reached out. Besides, Michał had school and the weed Jon sold him. Sophomore year quickly proved harder than freshman year, and Michał struggled to adapt to his studies and environment of one. Encouraged by his parents who had trouble making payments on their house whenever they received the latest tuition e-bill from the university, Michał took eighteen credits. If he took a couple hard semesters, he could take a year of tuition off the price of his college education. He worked best with all the lights in his apartment off. When his laptop was the only source of light in the small room, he had no choice but to look at it or out the window. It also put him at ease that no one from Tower B or Tower C could look into his apartment. As long as he kept relatively still, all they could see was a small light in an otherwise black window. *** Weeks passed in the dark. One night, Michał took out the weed. Jon had also left him a few

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loose rolling papers. Trying to remember Jon’s finger movements, Michał crumbled the weed onto the paper. After using all but two of them, Michał had an ugly joint, but it would smoke. He felt the familiar feeling of an empty head. Taking out his laptop to find something to watch, Michał smiled. A random episode of “The Office” played. He remembered the smell of his parent’s car and his father’s hand. The trip from Krakow to Częstochowa lasted only an hour and forty-five minutes, but Rafal threw up the whole way. The car smelled of stomach acid by the time the family had made it to Częstochowa. Most other details of the trip faded. All except his father’s hand on the back of his neck. “The Black Madonna will watch over you as she has watched over Poland. Not even the Communists could keep her from us for long,” his father said. He looked up and stared at the Black Madonna’s face before him, mimicking his father. Michał blinked. His glazed, red eyes refocused on Steve Carrell’s face. Jon was not lying about this weed being strong, he thought to himself. Walking over to the window, he pressed his forehead against the pane. It was cool and nice. He looked down to see if the woman still had not put blinds up. She had not and sat at her desk. He strained his eyes to get a better look at her. Her long fingers rested at the crown of her head, then pulled and flicked. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like she flicked the hair she had just pulled from her head onto the floor. Somehow the thought of her without hair only made her seem more familiar. *** The next morning, after sleeping for fourteen hours, Michał woke up around noon. His parents called during their dinner, just as they did every two weeks. “How is school going,” asked his mother. “It’s alright. Taking this many credits actually is really difficult. I just feel like … well I’m not sure. How—How’s Rafal?” “He’s fine. He’s studying for a math test this week. Are you making connections with any of your professors?” “Uhh. I’m mostly just trying to keep up with the work. Most of my

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classes are in big lecture halls, so I don’t really have a chance to speak to the professors. You know, I feel like I’m definitely capable of doing well here. It’s just a lot… maybe I should’ve lived with other people or something. Living with roommates might make the work a little easier.” “Next year, Michał. We just paid for the lease on your studio. Next year, you can live somewhere else,” said his father. “Ok.” *** His parents never taught him how to cook. His fridge was totally empty except for a few energy drinks. His freezer, however, was stacked with boxes of just-throw-in-the-microwave meals. He ate his sesame chicken, vegetable fried rice, or pigs-in-a-blanket out of the plastic, sectioned plates in which they came. He ate at his desk and looked out the window. She was always there, in the same place. Dependable, she hardly seemed to take a break from sitting at her desk. Michał only left his studio to get groceries and go to class. She didn’t even seem to do that. Whenever he took a break to eat, he knew she would be there. He wondered how she did it. He wondered if she was happy. He wondered if she knew about him. *** Later that week, he decided that he needed another break. A wrinkly joint in his hand, he laid down on his futon and smoked it. When he last saw Jon … five weeks ago … he only needed a few hits. This time, he wanted to see how far he could go. His throat on fire, he smoked until he hit the filter. Then, he waited. The high came on, but nothing else. He waited longer. Nothing. Pissed, he jumped up, hoping something more than a weed high would come. He smacked his head with his hand. “Fuck,” he muttered. He smacked himself too hard, and it didn’t do anything. Then, he looked toward the kitchen. Michał’s stomach tensed when he saw his garbage bin full of microwave meals. The food here was killing him. Maybe that’s why I’m not really feeling anything yet, he thought.

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He looked down and saw his stomach. A little pudge poked out from under his shirt that had not been there before. “Am I fat now?” he said out loud to his empty apartment. Back at home, his father had a stomach and whenever someone made a comment about it his father replied that a big gut comes with distinction. Michał hadn’t done shit for his gut. He grabbed the extra bit of fat and pressed hard, seeing if it would break under pressure. It didn’t. He stuck his fingers down his throat. Nothing came out. He tried again. He gagged, but no food. He pictured himself outside his body. He imagined himself standing in the middle of his studio apartment, high, putting his fingers down his throat, and pinching his stomach. “What am I doing?” he said, sitting back down on the futon. He thought about what had just happened and wondered if he was all right. He decided he had smoked too much and retreated to his bed tucked in the corner of the studio. I just need to sleep this off, he thought. *** Michał woke up. He had been cold all night and barely slept. “No good work can be done without proper sleep,” his mother had always said. At his computer, he browsed the internet for a solution. More blankets? He already had three. One or two more probably wouldn’t help. Any drafts near the bed? No, he put his bed in the corner farthest from the window. He thought of his mother’s words and of Rafal’s back as he searched. Then, he saw it. Heating pads. He ordered five. Amazon could get them to his doorstep in hours with same-day delivery. The wonders of the internet! After working on homework during the day, taking periodic breaks for his food and window-staring time, he got the notification that his packages had arrived. He unplugged everything else from his extension cord and plugged in the five heating pads. He laid them out in a line from the pillow to the end of the bed, then crawled over them to the unheated side. Sticking out his back just far enough to feel the heat radiating from the pads but not far enough that he would be laying on any one of them, he felt the warmth he craved and fell asleep.

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*** The next day was the same, as was each day that month. Now wellrested, he spent the day at his desk. He stared at the screen, but no thoughts came. He read words from his online textbook over and over again. In the middle of a sentence, he would get confused and have to start over. Determined, he kept reading, half a sentence at a time. He read two pages in an hour. Another break would help, he thought. He looked out the window. For a second, he panicked when he didn’t see her. But then he saw her sit back down at her desk. What had she been doing? he thought. She never got up from her desk. Why now? Why had she gotten up? She must have a child, he concluded. Yes, of course, she was going to check on her child. A baby, in fact. He could picture her holding it. When he thought of the baby, its image came in and out of focus. Its head was too small but … glowed. Maybe it needed help, he thought. He sat by the window and looked out for the baby. If he was lucky, maybe he would get a glimpse of it. Hours passed. He couldn’t afford to take his eyes off the window. When the woman would get up from her desk, Michał craned his head to see where she went. She walked toward the back right of her apartment. His crib must be there, Michał concluded. That night, after the woman turned off all her lights, Michał switched on his heating pads and climbed into bed. The warmth of the heat against his back soothed him, but sleep did not come. He could think only of the baby. Was it safe? Did it need his help? Maybe, he could help it. The next day, Michał decided, he would find out. *** He figured that she lived on the fourth floor. With his key, he would be able to get into Tower C, easy. But how could he be sure which apartment was hers? If he lived in 703, then she must be in 4__. The last two digits. Two digits from salvation! He counted each window on Tower C. There were nine across. Were there nine on each side of the tower? If he was 703 in Tower A and his window looked over the courtyard, would odd-numbered apartments also look over the courtyard in Tower C? He counted and recounted four windows between her and the staircases that connected the towers. Four

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windows meant four apartments, right? His mother always told him, “sometimes a leap of faith is required.” *** The door to apartment 405 looked just like his own. He knew, though, that she could be behind this door. He needed to talk to her or her baby even if only for a second. Miracles happen in seconds. Then he could get back to his work. Then he would be able to sleep. Then he would be able to take a break. He knocked firmly and waited, counting the seconds. Six… seven… the door opened. “Hi,” the woman said and looked at Michał. She was taller than he expected, probably an inch taller than him. She wore black leggings that seemed loose on her. A sweater hung off her body. He studied her neckline and saw that collarbones popped out from her skin just like her cheekbones. She wore the same slippers as always. Her hair was clearly thinning, and the area around her eyes seemed to cave inward. The poorly lit hallway shadowed her face. “Hi,” he said, his voice cracking. He realized he had not spoken to anyone in weeks. “I’m not sure how else to say this but I think you or your baby – perhaps … if I would be allowed to see him. I’m sure he’s pretty busy but… I think he could help me, or I could help….” “Umm. I’m sorry I think you have the wrong apartment.” Michał paused. He had the right apartment. This was her. He tried again. “Your child. I need to see him. He could save me. He will save me. And, you know, I could help him out if he needs anything. You know I would be a faithful servant,” he repeated. The woman closed the door halfway so that he could only see her face. “I don’t have a child. I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” “Wait,” he said before she could close the door. “I came to your door to see your son….” The door shut. He heard the deadbolt lock into place followed by the chain lock. Stumbling, falling, he ran. Down the hall, down the stairs, out the door. Headphoned students filled the sidewalk outside the building.

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Michał pushed on, now at a sprint. He ran blindly to a park six blocks from his apartment. There he found space and caught his breath. He laid in the grass and whispered a prayer. He repeated the prayer over and over, hands covering his eyes, knees to his chest. Eventually, red lights flashed across his face as he lay in the grass, crying and shaking. He closed his eyes and with the help of two strangers that came from the truck with red lights, he levitated. Ascending, he had been saved! *** Michał was fit for release from the hospital ten days later. A nurse told him to order a car service home and take some time off to relax. After the Uber ride, Michał walked back into his studio. His heating pads were still plugged in. His desk chair still faced the window. His trash can still overflowed with frozen food boxes. He took his phone out and stared at the time display until the screen went black. He saw his reflection on the screen and was puzzled by what he saw. He had started to grow more than just peach fuzz on his upper lip. And his pupils were more dilated than he had ever seen them. The doctor told him that the medication could do that. Then, he turned his phone back on and texted Jon and Andres. “Hey guys. It’s been a while. Want to come over tonight?” he texted them. Andres responded ten minutes later: “yes, sounds good. We’ll be over with some stuff hehe.” Michał made his bed, stacked the heating pads in his closet, took out his trash, and waited for the buzz of their arrival. *** “Yo, Michał, it’s been a second since we’ve seen you, my guy,” said Jon as he stepped into the room. “Yeah… true,” said Michał. “What do you do all day in this place? Just grind on homework or…?” said Andres. Michał paused. “Yeah, basically. Just been doing a lot of work and stuff. Keeping busy,” Michał said. “All right. Well, I’ll roll up. I think we all deserve a break,” said Jon with a smile.

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The three boys sat on the futon, making small talk about classes while Jon rolled. Then, the rotation began. Michał took just a couple hits, still wary of the last time he smoked. Out of seemingly nowhere Andres said, “I was reading this thing about how Democrats have just become like the party of appeasement. They always cave to the Republicans who play hardball.” “Yeah, I think I saw something on Twitter about that. I honestly don’t even say I’m liberal anymore, that’s just too mainstream. I’m a leftist I think, on some more radical shit,” said Jon. “The DNC is like corrupt as fuck. I literally saw this thing online about how they rigged the primaries,” said Andres. Michał sat there, feeling the high come on, but nothing more. “Yeah. I saw somewhere that the DNC probably secretly monitors the campaign emails of progressive candidates that actually want to change shit in this country,” Michał lied. He had not read anything of the sort. Surprised by how easy the sentence was to say, he sat back, satisfied, waiting for a response. Jon and Andres looked at each other for a second. “You’re probably right, Michał. Honestly, they’re probably using the same facial recognition software that big companies use,” Jon responded. It was his turn again in the rotation. Michał took a hit; his head was empty. What a blessing!

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War Criminal Emily Kingery

My family moved through towns of black-eyed wives who all baked coffee cakes, and squares of sidewalk bore the glint of fifths and windows dressed in pungent, potted flowers. Pets were drowned in sacks or shot on sight. Boys drove shovels into squirrels for fun and gashed the skin to geraniums. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, said a man who would die on summer sheets. We didn’t know what kind of person made a home of a place of torture of boys with mountain chains rising on their backs, its bricks the color of blood, its surefooted animals strutting like men. The news came on and we guessed what other families ate, the card games they played. We lived not knowing what we knew we knew about the squirrels.

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Thumb Breaker Ilya Leybovich

Avalanche is in love. He pictures the gentle slope where her hip curves into her waist when she lies sleeping beside him, the pale taiga of her stomach rising and receding with every breath, the black pool of her hair that drinks the dawn light. On the mornings they spend together he’s filled with gratitude and a dram of amazement that she would lend him even a minute of her time, a sliver of her affection. He is a lucky man. These are the tender thoughts he summons as he works over his client, driving a fist into the poor mope’s face again and again until it’s reconfigured into the shape of a burst mango. Avalanche has never met this guy before, but he knows that the guy owes money and is in arrears so dramatic that blood and teeth have been added to the interest. After two weeks spent knocking on doors he’s finally tracked the debtor to this flophouse on Ocean Avenue. The moment he walked in, sweeping aside crushed Chinese food containers and broken glass with his foot, Avalanche could see the guy was high as the goddamn moon and would have to be brought low. Avalanche does not enjoy this aspect of his job, even though it’s what he’s best at, and so he typically focuses on the science of it: the fast-twitch muscles contracting in his shoulders, the kinematic sequencing of torso and wrist, the pounds per square inch of pressure in the meeting between knuckle and skull. But no longer. Now that he’s in love, his mind goes Technicolor with distraction so he feels he’s hardly there meting out the world’s judgment. He met her two months ago at Café Gleychik where he’d gone to pick up blini for Grandma. He saw her standing behind the counter amid the ceaseless Slavic bustle of the midday crowd. She was tall and narrow as a cat burglar, with a curtain of dark hair obscuring her face, and wore a nametag labeled “Val.” That struck him as divine influence, a working of fate that marked the moment for special purpose—you couldn’t spell his name without hers. He hoped she’d notice him, which was unavoidable given the store was occupied by a swarm of tiny babushkas with kerchiefs wrapped around their heads

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and one giant track-suited man who looked like he’d barely won a fight against a tractor. Avalanche stuck his bruised hands into his pockets before approaching. Val smiled at him. He forgot about the blini and started blabbering words at her, the gist of which was: Would you have a coffee with me sometime? Val thought for a long moment, eyeing this potato-faced goon with a jeweler’s attention, and, miracle of miracles, agreed. He hustled out before he could ruin it, and when he returned to Grandma and told her what had happened she didn’t even care about the lack of blini. Grandma planted her palms on Avalanche’s cheeks, pulled his face close, and exclaimed “Finally!” Now he and Val spend two, sometimes three nights a week together, and though she still refuses to be called his girlfriend, he feels that he is close to a permanent change of destiny. Caught in these memories, Avalanche has nearly forgotten about the debtor’s friend, who has been slumped on the couch all this time watching the beating transpire in a state of bovine indifference. The friend, stumbling upon a profound truth, now blinks his bloodshot eyes, leans forward, and says, “Oh no. Dude, you got the wrong guy.” Avalanche pauses mid-swing, still gripping his victim by the collar. “What are you talking about?” “That’s Will, not Bill. He’s my other roommate. Damn, that’s my bad.” Avalanche looks at the friend then back down at the man he’s been clobbering, as if drawing a line between words and reality. A red bubble of saliva blossoms along the man’s broken lips, and suddenly his earlier pleading and confusion seem to make sense. “Well, shit.” Avalanche drops him to the floor and goes searching for a napkin. * Sunshine lances bright and warm through the elevated tracks above, but the season only makes things worse. Avalanche feels guilty. Not for getting the wrong guy, which isn’t ideal, but for needing to get a guy in the first place. Val’s father, it turns out, suffered from the same affliction as the elusive Bill. Avalanche learned this fact a week ago. He asked her why an educated girl would be serving fried batter at the counter in Gleychik’s, and she told him a sad story. “Horses,” she said. “Come again?” “Horses ate Dad’s paychecks, and our family’s savings, and my

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mother’s jewelry and our rent and our furniture. My father possessed an extraordinary ability to bet on the wrong horse every day for twenty years, and then had the poor manners to die on a bench on the Boardwalk.” “What was it that killed him?” “A bottle of Mom’s pain pills and a lack of self-esteem.” Avalanche pulled closer to the AC in his tiny bedroom and let the cool air wick the sweat from his hands. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.” Val shrugged. “It’s not as bad when you’ve lived with it for a while. Anyway, that’s why I’m working the counter: to keep my mom breathing as long as I can. It’s kind of like you with your grandmother. Except I’m doing it honest.” “Why don’t we join forces, make a go of it together?” She reached across the blanket for her t-shirt and pulled it on. “You know I can’t be with someone like you.” “Someone like me?” “I know your job. You chase deadbeats and break their bones. I saw a hundred guys like you in my doorway asking for Dad.” “There’s a gulag’s worth of bad Russians in this neighborhood. Way I see it, there’s nothing especially bad about me.” She rolled over in bed, revealing her back to him. “And there are some decent ones, too. That’s the kind of man I could spend my life with, Alexey.” He loved the way she said his real name, the weight of it in her throat. In that instant, he decided he would improve his situation, would find a way to wash clean the blood so that he could hold Val entire instead of the portion currently allotted. Now he circles back up Brighton Beach Avenue to make a pit stop at home, half-expecting to run into someone he knows along the way, but the familiar faces are gone. There are young guys manning the corners, ravenous second-generation types who occasionally glance up from their glowing rectangles as he passes by to see if he’s worth a hassle and always deciding against it, either because he’s large enough to tear them into fractions or too much of a relic to be carrying anything valuable. At home he changes outfits, stripping off the clothes covered in fake Bill’s effluvia. He retrieves a packet of salmon from the refrigerator and stubs out the still-lit cigarette in Grandma’s ashtray as she lies

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sleeping in her recliner, weighted by eighty years and two continents. Will that be him in the chair someday? He remembers Kolya the Drunk, who connived his way into a drug deal the proceeds of which allowed him to retire to California. Kolya bought himself one of those three-wheeled motorbikes and died in a crash on the Pacific Coast Highway. What about the Guttman Twins, who went straight and founded the second-largest car service in the borough? No, they were snatched by the FBI on a decade-old racketeering charge. The evidence suggests that every path leads to six feet of dirt, but Avalanche convinces himself he will be the first to fashion a better life from the wreckage of his old one. He thinks of Val, and his heart swells like an animal trying to escape its cage. * He takes a train then a bus to the Navy Yard, where developers are throwing up skyscrapers so fast they might be planning to invade heaven. The city has a penchant for resurrection, and so this longdead industrial zone is now waterfront property, it seems. The mighty engines of wealth have activated here, bringing with them the usual throng of realtors and contractors and subcontractors and lawyers and community board members and other miscellaneous hangers-on, one of whom happens to be Avalanche’s boss. Through a connection with the Ironworkers Local, Sergei managed to create a fake supply company along with a fake job for himself. The business is a front. Avalanche is very much an employee of the back. He walks across a dusty lot germinating into a condo building and up to the vinyl-sided trailer where Sergei conducts his operation. Today there’s someone else sitting in Sergei’s chair, a young guy with loose blond hair and a pricey looking jacket over an Oxford shirt. “Who the fuck are you?” the young guy says. “Actually, wait a second.” He taps at his phone a couple times. “Okay, you’re my twelve o’clock. Alexey?” “They call me Avalanche.” “And why’s that?” “Because I bury people.” The kid leans back and spreads his mouth into a cannibal grin. “Oh, very scary, very nice.” “Where’s Sergei?” “My uncle’s sick. He’s got the flu or cancer or something, and he asked me to cover for a few weeks. My name is Sasha, hello, ochen priyatno,

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and so forth. Take a seat.” Avalanche lowers himself into a thin-bottomed chair, worried it’ll crumble to twigs beneath him. He knows already that he doesn’t like this twerp, quick judgments being a prerequisite in his line of work. “So what do you have for me, Mr. Buries People?” “First things first.” Avalanche retrieves a sleeve of butcher paper from an inside pocket and unwraps it on the table, revealing pink shingles of sliced salmon. He slides the stack over, but Sasha’s face shrivels at the sight. “What the hell is that?” “It’s from Freiman’s. The usual.” “Wherever you caught it, throw it back. You’re stinking the place up.” “The custom is—” “I don’t give a shit about the custom. I have an office in midtown and a vacation house in Amagansett. This is a modern organization. All the tea-sipping, black bread bullshit is going the way of the dodo.” Avalanche slowly packs away the salmon and slips it back in his pocket. Eating Freiman’s with Sergei is one of the few things he looks forward to each week, a ritual that makes him feel like he’s still human and not just an instrument of punishment. “You know why the Italians failed in this town?” Sasha announces. “Because they clung to tradition like a bunch of primitives. They had their God and their family and their honor code and their yappa yappa yappa. But not our people. We have nothing except what we take.” Avalanche turns this idea over in his head a few times and thinks he detects an opening. “Speaking of take, there’s a proposition I’d like to—” “One second.” Sasha lifts his phone again and flicks at it like he’s got a grudge. “You’ve only got one name on your docket right now: a Mr. Bill Tremblay, of losing-at-poker fame. I assume you have something to give me in that regard.” “Haven’t been able to find him yet.” Sasha angles his head up, looking like he’s about to sneeze. “This loser, this degenerate, is sauntering around with money he took from a group of dangerous men who, thus far, have done nothing to retrieve it. Is this what you’re telling me?” “That’s not fair,” Avalanche protests. “I’ve been hoofing it all over

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town trying to catch this guy. He never stays in the same place more than a night.” “Here’s a solution for you: today you go to the place he’s going to be tomorrow. And wait.” “Honestly, what’s the fuss over a few thousand?” “Six thousand eight hundred and forty-six dollars. And for fuck’s sake it’s not about the mope or the money. We need to clear the books right now, immediately, ASAP.” Avalanche stares at him. “Christ, how do I explain this to you,” Sasha says. His eyes dart at each corner of the trailer, from the peeling oak-grain wallpaper to the matted shag lining the floor. “Okay, take my uncle Sergei, for example. He sits here in his shack, pretending to be a union rep or whatever, and waits on his collections every day. Meanwhile, I’ve got a dummy corporation that’s sunk seven figures into the new development going up around him. That’s a large-scale, semi-legitimate enterprise with a promising future. So promising, in fact, that a consortium of interested parties are flying in from overseas to take a look. You know where they’re coming from.” “Oligarki.” “That’s right. Men from the motherland. Big men, serious men. The type who have lunch with Putin, or at least in the same building. We can’t afford to look like street hustlers when they’re here, and that means we can’t have any outstanding debts. Including Bill the Incredible Escape Artist.” “Okay, yeah, I understand,” Avalanche says, seeing his opportunity. “I don’t want to be a street hustler either. I want to be done with that too.” “What’s this now?” “I’m saying I want to move up. I’m not looking to knock heads together anymore. I want to be like, uh…you.” Sasha smiles again. “Oh, Avalanche. I’m flattered. But this is a Brotherhood of Thieves. We don’t have a fucking executive training program. You’re a thumb breaker. Maybe stick with what you know.” “I know a lot more than that. And I’m getting too old. Seriously, I’m ready for a desk job. Paperwork, spreadsheets, whatever you got for me.” “How old are you, anyway?” Sasha asks. “Forty-one.”

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“Jesus. Alright, I’ll admit you’re a little long in the tooth. But you can still bite, and that’s what counts in this business.” He leans back and swivels Sergei’s chair from left to right. “Tell you what: you find Bill and settle things, and then we’ll talk about sewing a white collar on that tracksuit of yours.” “You won’t regret it.” Avalanche stands up and extends his paw, hoping a handshake will make the arrangement real. Sasha stares at the scarred hand without taking it. He looks up into Avalanche’s eyes and says, “Don’t bring me anymore fish, okay? Just close Bill’s account. And while you’re at it, close Bill.” “Am I hearing you right? You’d clip a guy for six thousand bucks?” “I’d clip a guy for six cents right now. Just do what you do—bury him.” Despite all the gangster talk and the ominous bluster adhering to his name, Avalanche has never ended a man’s life before. There have been some close calls, sure—the guy in Bay Ridge who fell off his roof after a single punch and nearly broke his neck comes to mind— but he’s never felt the need nor the desire to put someone down for good. Becoming a murderer in middle-age is not the reinvention he’d planned for himself. Avalanche gets up and walks to the door. Before he can leave, Sasha lobs a final piece of advice at him: “Remember where you’re from. Be a man carved from ice.” “Ice melts.” Sasha stabs a finger into the air. “Not in Russia.” * Fuck Russia, Avalanche thinks as he waits outside the taxi depot in Kensington. These young guys don’t know what it was, what it still is under the gold lamé. It’s a grandfather, an uncle, an aunt disappeared in the night to starve in a labor camp on the snowy edge of the world. It’s being a criminal because of the blood in your veins and the vowels in your last name. Russia is an empty belly in winter and so fuck what it means to the fake tough guys who’ve never missed a meal. Avalanche plans to do this job the American way. He’s heard a tip that Bill’s second-cousin drives a car based out of this garage, and that occasionally Bill picks up a shift. And so Avalanche waits on the corner for hours, watching yellow cabs glide in and out of the depot like bees circling their hive. His current strategy is to scare Bill away. Gamblers incline toward

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the superstitious, so if Avalanche retrieves the money and instructs Bill to leave town under threat of the worst luck he could imagine, there’s a fair chance he’ll leave for good. On the other hand, he knows Bill is a piss-poor gambler, and so he might still risk the odds by showing his face again. A second, less promising option is to administer a beating, collect the money, and then drag Bill’s barely breathing neck in front of Sasha for a heartfelt apology. All of which could still result in Bill’s demise. Then there’s the added variable of the money itself. Bill might not be able to fork over the required six thousand eight hundred and forty-six dollars no matter how thorough the beating. Should it come to that, Avalanche has decided he will drain his own bank account to cover for this asshole, repellent as the notion may be. He watches a newer-model car, one of the green outer borough taxis, pull up to the curb. He checks its license plate against the digits scrawled on his note, and unhappily realizes it’s a match. Near midnight, Avalanche steers the cab into the lot behind Val’s apartment building, inching it into place with stops and starts. He’s never been good behind the wheel, and with his busted right eye and the broken front headlights, it’s a minor miracle he’s managed to make it this far. He unbuckles his seat belt with a wince, noting that he might have broken ribs. He throws a glance over his shoulder through the plastic partition and sees Bill is still unconscious on the backseat, his body spread loose as a stain across the faux-leather interior. Cold moonlight outlines the man’s ragged form, his torn clothing, the blood caked on his face and neck. But he is still alive, and that is halfway to a promise kept. Needless to say, things hadn’t gone according to plan. Knowing the cab would turn left on McDonald after leaving the depot, Avalanche walked up a block and hailed it at the corner. He gave Bill the address of an abandoned factory on the southern lip of the island. He tried to play the part of a regular customer by making small talk with his driver, but Bill wasn’t what he’d expected. Most gamblers, particularly the bad ones, are gregarious types, thinking their chatter is received as charm rather than desperation. Yet Bill had a somber, thoughtful quality to him. He spoke low and slow and chose his words with economy. All Avalanche managed to glean was that Bill hadn’t been sleeping well and that someone had tried to rob him recently. Avalanche had pictured a small, squirrelly young guy, but in the

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rearview saw that Bill had a long face lined with years of sad living. With what felt like a shard of glass passing through him, Avalanche realized that he might have liked this man under other circumstances. They arrived at the address, and Bill looked out the window with skepticism. When he stopped the meter and noticed Avalanche made no motion to pay or get out, that his passenger simply sat and stared straight ahead in silence, the full knowledge of his situation descended upon him like dark wings blotting out the sky. “So that’s why we’re here,” Bill said. Avalanche nodded. “That’s why.” He wanted the man to plead with him, to cry, to weave a story about a sick child or a vanished wife or even the crush of the city and its extraction of the soul—anything that would permit Avalanche to say afterward that he was just another con artist. But Bill surprised him again. “You’ve heard of Charon?” he asked. “He a friend of yours?” “Not yet,” Bill said. “There’s a river that runs between the lands of the living and the dead. Charon pilots the boat that delivers souls across the water into the underworld. Trick is, you have to pay for the privilege. Put a coin in the mouth of the deceased to get him safely across, otherwise he has to wander the shore for a century.” “Sounds like a lot of guys I know.” “I learned about it in elementary school,” Bill explains. “The thing they don’t teach kids, though, is that the fee cuts both ways. You have to pay for life, too.” “Look, I don’t want to hurt you—” Bill slammed the accelerator and crashed the car into the wall of a warehouse with as much speed as he could pick up. Now Avalanche knocks on Val’s door with his free hand, Bill’s inert arm draped over his shoulders and the man’s body slumped into his side like a bag of laundry. Bill’s head lolls down, unhitched from his torso, and what sounds like a pebble but is probably a tooth bounces against the tiled floor. When the door opens, he is surprised at how unsurprised Val is by the disarray before her. Her colorless lips contract into a point, her eyes narrow, and she says, “No, no, no. 9-11. Ambulance. Hospital.” “I can’t. If I put him in the hospital my boss will make it so he never leaves.” “Then why bring him here?”

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Avalanche has only been to Val’s home once before, after a drunken night when they’d stumbled back to her place, pawing at each other’s clothes. But even in the darkness he could make out the oxygen canisters that Val’s mother relied on, the rows of plastic pill bottles arrayed over the kitchen counter, the wheelchair folded behind the sofa. It seemed like a place one could convalesce, though he never imagined that one would be Bill. “I just need a little time to put him down and catch my breath,” Avalanche offers weakly. Instead of sighing or sobbing or screaming at him to leave, Val opens the door wider and nods for him to get inside, and he wonders once more how he survived for so long without love. They navigate through the dim hallway, careful not to wake Val’s mother on the other side of the apartment. Val leads him into the bathroom and he lowers Bill’s battered frame into the tub. They look down at the man, listening to his shallow breath like parents standing over a child they’ve delivered to bed after a day at the park. “Did you do this to him?” Val asks. “No. Swear to God, I tried to talk to him. But he got spooked and crashed his car. Funny thing is, if I’d just given him a beating we’d both be in better shape.” “That’s not a funny thing.” Avalanche sits down on the toilet seat lid, feeling his ribs shift beneath his skin. He gives Val an honest accounting of the Tale of Bill the Gambler, including Sasha’s execution order and his own refusal to follow through. He explains his plan, how rescuing Bill is the first step on his journey to becoming a decent man, except that he stepped crooked and now there’s no telling where the path will lead. Val scrutinizes him, her gaze drifting from his purple misshapen face to the blackened knuckles resting atop his knees. Her silence frightens him, reminding him of the perilous seconds after they first met, when she had to judge whether he was worth a human feeling. “Aren’t you going to call me a disgusting piece of shit?” he says. “It’d be redundant at this point.” “I’m trying to do some good here, I really am. Or if not good, at least better.” “That’s what makes it so awful, Alexey. You think being a higher class of thug is the same as being a decent person. You think you can

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stop hurting people by hurting them a little less. But that’s not the world. There’s a line between good and bad, and you don’t become good by smudging it out.” “Then tell me—” He coughs out something wet and red into his palm. “Tell me what to do. Please, just tell me.” Val steps closer. She runs her hands through Avalanche’s thin hair and pulls his head into her chest. She knows what he’s asking her, knows that if she looks down she’ll see tears cutting tracks through the grime on his cheeks. She knows, too, that when she tells him what he needs to hear and sends him out of her house she’ll never see him again. * Avalanche is in love. He pictures the half-smile she offers as a consolation prize for his bad jokes, the way she tucks a strand of inkdark hair behind her ear before crouching to pet a dog they pass on the street, how she leaps into a momentary circle of sunlight on an otherwise cloudy day like an actress accepting the spotlight. He hears the heaviness in her voice as she speaks his true name and tells him what he has to do. He sees the look on her face as they dress a groggy Bill in her father’s old clothing. These are the thoughts he uses to steel himself as he limps across the construction site toward Sasha’s trailer. This time the young man is waiting for him, puffing a cigarette and leaning against the outside wall. Sasha closes his eyes and sends a spear of smoke into the air. His shoulders are loose and he seems too relaxed for the kind of man he is. “Such a beautiful day for bad news, Mr. Buries People.” Sasha stubs his cigarette out in the dirt and eyes Avalanche closely, a butcher appraising meat. “Christ, you look like someone punched you back into the old country. Or like you crashed a cab.” “So you know.” “It’s my job to know, and you’re not exactly James Bond. I know you found the guy. I know where you put the guy. And I know who you put him with. Now please, alleviate my boredom by telling me something I don’t know.” Avalanche looks down at his feet, at the dust caked in the seams of his once-white sneakers, and wonders what his pride has ever been worth. Even at his richest he’s always been poor, trading in scraps of his body and dignity for just enough to keep himself and Grandma fed another week. Now, though he hates this kid, he will exchange his last

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tatter of self-respect and plead for mercy. “After all this time, after everything I’ve given, I’m asking—no, begging, for one favor: give him a pass.” “Done.” “Just like that?” Sasha gestures with his hand as if waving a magic wand. “Bill is officially clear of his obligations. He’s free to go live his best life. You, on the other hand…” “Right. Me.” “You owe what he owed.” “Not a problem,” Avalanche says. “I’ll go to the bank right now and get you the cash. Every last penny.” Sasha shakes his head, sad and slow. “That’s not the whole debt.” A grim realization ruptures inside Avalanche, glazing his heart and his gut and his veins with thick oil. It is a familiar knowledge, the mortal truth that’s long been with him and is finally awake. “You were going to close the book on Bill. And now I’m Bill.” “Like I told you, it’s not about the mope or the money. It’s about impressing upon our esteemed guests that we’re a serious organization. One that doesn’t truck with losers or hustlers or common hooligans.” “So all these years, all this loyalty…” “Russians don’t look back. We move forward,” Sasha lies. The construction noise around them suddenly falls away as if smothered by a blanket. It must be lunchtime, and so the vast project of erecting a new city inside the old one has paused for a few minutes. They hear a dog barking, its sound carried from a great distance through the still air. Whether the animal is expounding rage or fear, the message is the same: it refuses to suffer mutely. In this way, Avalanche thinks, the dog is superior to them both because someday the same judgment will fall upon Sasha, and his children, and his descendants down to the very last, and each of them will accept it without protest just as Avalanche is doing today. “Look,” Sasha says, “I’m sorry it went in this direction, I really am. But times change. Think of all the guys we sent you to fuck up over pieces of green paper. At least now there’s a principle beneath it.” “The woman I left him with...” “She’s a civilian. No harm, no foul.” Avalanche shoves his hands into his pockets to hide their shaking and says, “I guess there’s nothing I can say to change things.”

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“No, there isn’t.” Sasha plants another cigarette between his lips. As he’s about to light it, he looks up and smiles his terrible smile again. “You know, I almost expected you to choke me to death right here, out in public. But that’s not your style. You’re a classic model. One of the old breed. I might even miss you for a minute or two. Shastlivovo puti, Mr. Buries People.” Avalanche doesn’t respond. The man has wished him a good journey to a place no one wants to go. He sets off across the dusty lot as the sounds of construction resume, the rumble of progress rising like collisions into the sky and drowning the pain of a solitary animal barking into the clamor. He thinks about the last thing Val told him, that it’s not enough to want or to try to be good. That he has to give himself up to the inevitable before he can die an honest man. Avalanche knows what will happen next. He’ll return to his apartment and sit next to Grandma while she chain smokes and rifles through the newspaper. The sun will set and evening will wear on and as she’s about to lift her withered bones from her chair to start making dinner, there will be a knock on the door. It will be the same knock that came for her husband, the same that came for her son. The same men will be waiting on the other side of the door and they will lead her grandson away forever. On his way out he will turn back once and ask her to keep dinner warm for him. But for a few hours at least they will sit together, these remnants, and wait for the future to drink them like the past.

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Estrangement Emily Kingery

I watch the yard for teeth of rabbits, beige of aging lace. On opposite sides of the kitchen window, we eat the green of our disappearing worlds. My hands are opposable, tight-rolling leaves, packing my cheeks full as luggage. My keeper apprehends nothing, lost at the exits I have taken. I have grown my own fur coat, flirted with double jaw traps and fled. I salivate, flood with iron: animal turned crucible. One day, I’ll thieve a garden and my clothes will catch. The neighbors will pluck my buttons up and dial his landline, only to find I have starved it

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in its cradle. I have chewed the buried cord in two.

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Contributors David Sheskin is a writer and artist whose work has recently appeared in The Dalhousie Review, Notre Dame Review, pacificREVIEW and The Tulane Review. Edward Michael Supranowicz is the grandson of Irish and Russian/Ukrainian immigrants. He grew up on a small farm in Appalachia. He has a grad background in painting and printmaking. Some of his artwork has recently or will soon appear in Fish Food, Streetlight, Another Chicago Magazine, The Door Is a Jar, The Phoenix, and other journals. Edward is also a published poet. Jenny Hykes Jiang’s poetry has appeared in literary journals including Little Patuxent Review, Arts & Letters, Caesura, Chestnut Review, Palette Poetry, Cider Press Review and Tule Review and is forthcoming in The Believer and Stonecoast Review. Raised in rural Iowa, she has taught English as a Second Language in Asia and throughout the United States. Currently she lives with her husband and three sons in the Sacramento area. Rachel Coyne is a writer and painter who lives in rural Minnesota. MJ Hernandez is a writer living in Chicago whose fiction has previously appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Across the Margin, Manzano Mountain Review, Hair Trigger, and Literally Stories. Biswamohini Dhal is a fashion designer from Odisha, India. She is a National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) alumna and winner of Best Design Collection 2018 at NIFT Bhubaneswar, Odisha. She has over three years of ongoing experience in the fashion design industry including working with Rustorange, India. Her love of indigenous art and craft has led her to work with artisans and craftsmen in several regions across her country. Biswamohini does graphic art, water colour art, doodling, soft pastel art and pencil art in her spare time. Her work has appeared in New Reader Magazine. She can be reached at dhalbiswamohini@gmail.com.

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Jeremy Johnston is a Queens-based writer and musician whose work has been published by the Bangalore Review, Grub Street, Splice Today, Aqualamb Records, The RS 500, and College Zine Press. He is a Master of Social Work student at New York University, and he received a Bachelor of Arts from Hampshire College in 2014. David Canning is an Emmy award winning writer living in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, Kasia and their daughter, Ripley. His fiction has been published by The Madison Review, The Festival Review, Sterling Clack Clack, Literally Stories, and has been awarded by Writer’s Digest. Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have previously appeared in Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and Poetry, as well as other journals and magazines. Rajiv Ramkhalawan is an Attorney-at-Law and writer from Trinidad and Tobago. Rajiv is the winner of the 2020 Cecile de Jongh Literary Prize. His most recent works of short fiction is forthcoming or has appeared in Joyland and The Los Angeles Review. David Preizler lives in California. His short fiction has been published in Santa Monica Review and Faultline; his poetry appears in Slipstream. James Miller is a native of the Texas Gulf Coast. He is published in Best Small Fictions 2021 (Sonder Press) and in the Marvelous Verses anthology (Daily Drunk Press). Recent pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Phoebe, Yemassee, Elsewhere, West Trade Review, Sledgehammer Lit, Neologism, Press Pause, Coal Hill Review, The Shore and Indianapolis Review. Follow on Twitter @AndrewM1621. Jack Styler was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he majors in history, political science, and has a certificate in art history. This is his first published piece of fiction. He is currently working on a senior thesis on right-wing paramilitary activity during the Reagan Administration.

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Emily Kingery’s work appears widely in journals, including BirdcoatQuarterly, GASHER, Midway Journal, Midwest Review, Plainsongs, Quarter After Eight, Sidereal, and Trampoline, among others, and she has been the recipient of several honors and awards in both poetry and prose. She teaches English at a small university in Iowa and serves on the Board of Directors at the Midwest Writing Center, a non-profit organization that supports writers in the Quad Cities community (mwcqc.org). Ilya Leybovich was born in the Soviet Union and raised in Brooklyn, NY. His fiction has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, The Normal School, Fiction International, Los Angeles Review, and other publications. Weining Wang is a Senior student at Beloit College, majoring in interdisciplinary studies--East Asian Studies. His artwork, translation, and fiction have also appeared in Black Moon Magazine, Wordgathering, Euphemism, Long River Review, Third Wednesday, Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, and elsewhere.

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