Spring 2010 Issue

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The Meadowland Review

Spring 2010 Double Inaugural Issue

Cover Photo A Snail, Castle Street, Cork by Wojciech Jurczok

Editorial Note

We are delighted to present the inaugural issue of The Meadowland Review. As editors, we are overwhelmed by the brilliant range of voices and images that lie within these pages. It is this eclectic combination of style and vision that we hope will continue to be the hallmark of our publication. We thank all of the talented contributors for helping to make our first issue so very memorable.

Megan Duffy

Editor, Poetry Editor

Lauren Cerruto

Poetry Editor

Jennifer Walkup

Fiction Editor

Ray Caramanna

Photography Editor

For submission guidelines please visit www.themeadowlandreview.com Questions or comments: contact@themeadowlandreview.com Copyright Š 2010 by The Meadowland Review. All rights are one-time rights for this journal.

Poetry Karen Schubert Joshua Buursma Ian Khadan Margaret Gilbert Jenny Enochsson Lisa Bruckman Carole Stone Jay Rubin Aditya Shankar Laura Freedgood Peter Weltner Jennifer Yeatts RC Pirosch Changming Yaun Amorak Huey

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Ginger Cake The Making of Spring All-Nite Diner Man Makes Fire Bust a Move My Grandmother’s Engagement Ring Edith Hamilton Smoldering Rosewood Iwanta Excursion into Philosophy, 1959 Doves Model Father A Guide to Poetry Design Before Love When I Was 20 Against Atheism Against Meditation Sailing She Wore Pearls on the Midnight Shift Big Fish What I Should Have Said Reading Behind the Words In an Open Bottle The Art of the Free Throw Grail Bird

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Fiction Nina Schuyler Katie W. Darby David Morris Parson Malka Davis Rayme Waters

The Bob Society A Color Story Baby Girl Missing In Action The Watertower

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Pigeons – Kyle Street Cork Light and Shadow Volunteers Olivia’s Eyes Ellen Marie The Journey

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Photography Wojciech Jurczok Ruby T. Arnold Christopher Woods Ruby T. Arnold Ayanna Muata Melissa Tozier


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Pigeons - Kyle Street Cork by Wojciech Jurczok

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Karen Schubert Ginger Cake White trees in x-ray against the black sky. Thistles bend heavy next to grasses, arc like sculpture, every lace of bush light with snow. Warm ginger cake mixes with smells of my old kitchen, gets into me, this farmhouse nothing like suburban duplexes. Just when things are ending they begin again. Sugar through paper lace over dark cake, outside the snow grows old and dull except this year when snow follows rain, each snow the first.

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Karen Schubert the making of spring undressing in the dark january i wish


of my room i thought climbed small

into the unfriendly


curled feet together whispered read

i need rose

all night under

deep blankets and old reading light said

i know

music came from me words

i wrote

i love my house calm enough for the scent of lavender

a spring

of my own creation, blue bowl filled with French stew vase


forced forsythia

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Joshua Buursma ALL-NITE DINER The painted flowers on the ceramic cup are almost chipped away— and nobody cares but me. I’m the one doing it, thumbnail scratching the petals and stem, blue and green flakes falling on my saucer. I’m guilty. The waitress must notice, just as she sees the busboy’s pruned hands, their pink flesh cracked and almost bleeding as they collect the plates and bowls smeared with lipstick, pork grease, sweat. And all the plainest white. Mine must be the last dish with any foliage left after years of constant scrub and scour, hot water and soap and sterilizer. But still I pick the paint and pray a little for the hostess to pull my ear, for the manager to step from the kitchen, grab my collar and toss me out to save the last floret. Ask me why I’m doing this. Ask me.

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Joshua Buursma MAN MAKES FIRE They are little miracles. More so, even, than babies. Babies have been around a while, burdening us, but lighters are a liberation. Fire in your pocket. A force of nature commanded by a thumb on a wheel, for a flick and a buck-nineteen. My advice is get one. It’s your human inheritance, from two sticks to this: got a light? --I sure do, mam. Come here much? Treat yourself. Set something ablaze. Could be a cig, the lint on your sock, twigs, insects, your ex’s curtains, whatever— I’m not here to judge. But keep on hand these rules-of-thumb: Yellow lighters are unlucky. Don’t ask why; that’s just the received wisdom. I can’t tell you about luck anymore than I can light a match in a sandstorm. Also, don’t let the babies have them. Most lighters are child-proof, but… (like I said, burdens). Of course, there are problems. Sometimes— not often, but once in a while— they explode in your hands. Vanish with a POP, a cloud of cold air. And they get lost or stolen constantly, so stock up. Check beneath couch pillows. You will find a ready cache. Once you possess one of these marvels, you will be pestered daily for its use. Be polite. Indulge the unprepared, for they, too, are heirs of evolution, descended from dwellers in torch-lit caves. But one warning: its fuel burns up and fast winds blow the fire out, leaving you hunched over a spark, flicking again and again, baffled. Then you are back in dark.

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Ian Khadan Bust a Move after Jon Sands There is a single moment at the last stop on the B-Side of a Michael Bolton cassette where your legs become nebulas and a gift-zipped-package of 'too-tight-for-TV' pair of levis kisses the hairs on your thighs hissing "Brother I'm home" with every step. The bag in your chest inflates to remind your elbows that they bend—outward. Each tooth sparkles madly lining into a row of diamond cutters and your tongue is on the rebound. Your knees bust out of their cages like bent prison bars, the hairs on your neck stand up for an ovation, and the same genes that tell earthworms to dig deeper for the good stuff jumpstarts in your double helix and command you to get down like the sky was falling but the only dance you knew at fourteen years old was raising the roof or the shoulder press or the repeated hallelujah. Whichever school of funk you were raised with you knew when the first cavemen paired music with motion this was not what they had in mind for When a Man Loves a Woman, but you danced like midnight just winked at you from across the sky. and the only rotation of the hips that you surrendered to, was up! Page 8

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Light and Shadow by Ruby T. Arnold

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Margaret Gilbert MY GRANDMOTHER’S ENGAGEMENT RING It was a size too large for my finger and coruscated in flashes, a big scab, casting its spell of the past forever. An engagement gift from my grandfather, - a three carat diamond is hardly drab it was a size too large for my finger. It had been gift to me from Mother, a constellation of white, green, and red, casting its spell of the past forever, melancholia and nervous languor, treatments at Hillcrest Sanatorium Lab. It was a size too large for my finger. It gave a wink like a toad - sinister an Aldebaran, Sirius, a crab, casting its spell of the past forever, a fine jewel to glitter on my finger. I lost it in a New York City cab. It was a size too large for my finger, casting its spell of the past forever.

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Margaret Gilbert EDITH HAMILTON In my father’s bookcase, in the hallway with all the crumbling college textbooks, is a white and gold tattered paperback with the figure of a naked bronze man on its cover, Perseus, with his paperback sword which could not be bent or broken, his winged sandals and his shield, polished, too, of paper bronze. Lynx-eyed, he stands in the center in green sandals, holding Medusa’s head. He has no jug of wine to sing his antique love, only a gold loincloth, flaking wine-red curls that bleed like the mouths at Thermopylae.

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Jenny Enochsson Smoldering Rosewood Hotel manager Ronald poured viscous wine into glasses shaped like ink caps. The lava lamp was boiling like solar plasma. Lasse’s gaze fell on the contract’s small print: part-owner of the hotel … on condition that … spends three weeks in the foyer aquarium. A woman played the farfisa in a corner; the instrument panted and wheezed monotonously. Ronald slung his sepia scarf in the air and it was swiftly swallowed by the candle-flame. The hall smelt of smoldering rosewood and dissolution. Ronald’s reptile smile and volubility charmed Lasse; he became a cilium in the other man’s drink. A sharp gust hurried through Lasse’s marrowbones, when he felt the hotel manager’s hand on his shoulder. Everything begins and ends with a human touch.

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Lisa Bruckman Iwanta Thebigfatdog the boy wrote in chalk on the back fence and circled the new word. The fence was chest height and the boy could see over clearly within view of the kitchen window. The golden retriever on the other side bellowed like a lonely love missing thebigfatboy. Pup was then called come! by the childless owner but he did not. Boy was beckoned whydidyouwriteonthefence? The boy cried out as daddy got the garden hose. DadIwantadog! boy yelled. Dog barked as father sprayed fence and dog on the other side. Nodog! Dark haired child hung head kicked stone as neighbor called loudly to howling pup and the father entered the house. Thebigfatdad! The boy wrote on the fence and circled it. Screen door slammed and his father appeared angry eyes bulging as they sometimes did when this man was inconsolable. Spouse wasn’t there to scold his frenzy make him stop. Chris! he raged erasethatoryouwillcomein! NO!I won’t!I wantawriteonthefence! Large bellied man ruddy hands dark brow and hair sped to boy with a heavy stomp grasped yelling punching boy grabbed his arms and shook with rage at wife gone to work rage at boy who will not be perfect rage at crying sister rage at mother dead rage at father sisters world that make him wear shirt and tie that mother never did. Boy runs inside, locks bedroom door and whimpers in room for an hour. He throws toys at door yelling Ihateyoudad! Grabs paper and pencil and writes thebigfuckdad and circles. This the boy whispers to self is not my home.

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Volunteers by Christopher Woods

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Carole Stone Excursion into Philosophy, 1959 Quotes are from Jo Hopper’s Diaries The shutter at an open window, a painting hung on the back wall, white square of sunlight below it. A rectangular rug on the floor, tip of one shoe touching it. On a covered daybed, a woman lies on her side, buttocks exposed below her pink gown. Her hair spread on the white pillow. Jo said, a nice girl wouldn’t have the soles of her feet so grimy. Edward replied, I’m not sure she is a nice girl. His long sleeved shirt open at the collar, his two-tone shoes, white socks, and well pressed trousers, formal, he seems dejected from reading the book open on the daybed. Plato, reread too late. Only the roundness of the woman’s body may save him.

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Jay Rubin Doves And the dove came in to him —Genesis 8:11 The first dove fell like a leaf Wingless, autumn into winter When its beak bit the earth Its shadow fluttered off Tossing the gun, I knelt Beside the beige bundle Held its hollow in my hand Its blood still beating Its one eye watching… When its neck rolled back I dug a grave, tamped the ground Now dust returned to dust Its ghost still haunts In the soft warbled notes Of my young son’s throat

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Jay Rubin Model Father —circa 1971 By the light of a single bulb Our father built balsa-wood planes Assembled wings with pins and glue Tissued over lightweight frames He painted schemes in camouflage Applied decals with cotton swabs We asked to help, he grunted No He hung his fleet from fishing threads Each plane an angle in the air Messerschmitts and Thunderbolts They dogged it out above our beds Older, we dispatched those planes We wound their plastic propellers We let them fly with gassy rags Gagged down their hollow throats O what bright light those models brought As they exploded into straw

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Aditya Shankar A guide to poetry design On Saturday nights when you have nothing to do in a city jaded with memories, date a girl who resembles your mother And when she sleeps half nude on the couch, a pre-historic animal swaddled in the memories of your warmth, write about your mother Remember Cavafy: On the sea beach, a lamp that she lit regularly in expectation of her missing son Add the remains of a last gaze while turning back from a moving bus for Anna Akhmatova Standing by the midnight window, relive Albert Camus – the meaningless monologue of solitude when cold wind blows into an old age home Capture that moment when the toughest of the toughest guy in the gang who often hikes with a backpack feels like picking up the receiver to call-up home Sharpen your ears. Listen to the voices of the distant, Listen to Amos Oz – Like men obsessed with traveling to forests and hills, think of mother as the waves of a disturbed sea. On Saturday nights when the moon is Dali’s shapeless dial, and time overflows into time, history overflows into history, write about your mother.

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Aditya Shankar Before love There is a period of love before each love when you eagerly expect calls from long lost acquaintances with whom you have nothing to share To come across anyone from your address list – the administrative assistant of a previous company, the girl you met in the bus couple of months back, the cousin of your friend’s friend, the daughter of your mother’s colleague… in the melancholic bagatelle of a hotel just to remind them you are still around Days when you travel aimlessly in metro trains from one station to another, watching couples hand-in-hand, eye-in-eye, sitting next to you in their own beautiful worlds when you sadly find out that something as insignificant as checking mails, recharging mobiles and washing clothes tops your priority list Passing through certain city streets that remain strangely vacant on working days, you would walk along with a friend who turns silent near the sea On the cold floor of an empty church, you would close the eyes and think of the darkness inside a beehive on top of the church tower There is a period of love before love When you alone know that you are in love with something that you don’t know.

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Olivia’s Eyes by Ruby T. Arnold Page 20

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Laura Freedgood When I Was 20

And yes I said yes I will yes Ulysses, James Joyce You asked would I vanish like a butterfly at dusk and because I had only 2 ripe weeks to live I trembled when you touched the edges of my wings and since time was moving fast in this delicate world my colors quivered because wanting to stay I answered the other question

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Peter Weltner Against Atheism The third disc of Turandot’s revolving on the player in my room, Ping, Pang, Pong part of my big day’s stash. The march between scenes in Act Two wows like the Whirlie band at a football rally rousing the crowd to their feet with its jazzed-up Dixie. His turn in their school car pool, Corby parks his Fiat by the curb, toots his horn. In back, waiting, Les, Ike, wave. Still heavy with dew, the dogwood, camellias, azaleas, jonquils, tulips gleam like the colors in a wet oil painting, rich with impasto I’d like to pinch. My father’s lawn’s May green, the velvety blades in oak tree shadows dark as the sheen of magnolia leaves. “In questa reggia,” Borkh sings, her voice nearly feral, as if echoed from the depths of a cave. I click off the turntable, grab my books. In the living room, freshly cut gardenias float in crystal lit by a sun that, refracted by a picture window, transmutes the bowl and its water to gold. Their odor is all there is to breathe, sensual, thickly sweet as the nightly fantasies that cling to my skin like another boy’s sweat I can’t wash off. I walk outside. Corby honks a greeting. The light’s festive as candles on a cake. What do I wish for? A love, once known, fifty years older, I’ll still dream of. The joy.

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Peter Weltner Against Meditation “Let all thoughts die. Erase all images. Daylight is only night the sun’s shattered into pieces.” So I’m told. But in my mind long dead roses entwine a trellis. A rope hangs from a pine limb. Chipmunks, tight on berries, chase round a pyracantha near a hot flat rock I lie on, warming myself– the needles, duff, pungently sweet where scorched by sun. Dew wet, a rose thicket drips into the creek. Or in lower Manhattan a guy on a pier–blond hair, worn work pants, t-shirt, greasy, torn, a hunk–drops chunks of dirt into the Hudson as he chomps on a hoagie, the sweat on his arms glistening like the oil-slick water hitting the dock as a ferry toots its horn. Piers, pilings, brown-gray, gray-brown, the river’s green trickling into blue--oh, a della Robbia blue, why not? Back then, when I was young, God painted all things that flow the color of heaven. Time, too. How can I meditate? “Free your mind,” my guru instructs. “Deny desire. Let famished birds peck the sand for seeds day after day. Not you.” I cross my legs, lotus-style, inhale, hold it, expel, repeat. But still I smell wild roses, resin, a man’s sweat, see chipmunks playing, a man’s golden hair, hear the past slap-slapping against a pier.

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Jennifer Yeatts Sailing Instead of taking out the trash I made a sandwich of things left in the fridge: apple rings, pastrami, aged gouda with a brace of mold I trimmed off. Waste not, want not, my mother always told me. No exception now, even when she’s dead from diabetes. Couldn’t let go of those damn ten-cent cookies she always picked up on sale at WinCo. What did she win. An innertube of sugarfat, veins dripping with Mr. Pibb and that iced tea she thought was good for her because it had lemon and she read somewhere that citrus was good for scurvy. She never sailed, but she kept a painting of a yacht hanging in the guest bathroom, a catamaran drifting below blue sky, below a whooping crane, its giant white wings on the upswing, headed straight out of the frame. Every time I wash my hands there at the pedestal sink, my gaze aligns with the plane of sky where the crane flies, and I figure the painter died before Google. He should have known that whooping cranes, like hermit crabs, stay away from people. They’d never coast so low and close to boats, would rather soar over fields, peering down to find a secret oasis. A colossal yacht offers no haven for reclusive birds with wingspans the length of a man. The length of my mother, at least, was more than her width, but only by a foot or so. Chewing my sandwich, I wonder about beaks, sharp blades of almost-bone for pecking bugs from sand, perfect for the down-swoop dive to swipe unsuspecting sunfish from shallow ponds. I imagine my own beaked face, nose and lips replaced with such a weapon. What would my mother say.

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Jennifer Yeatts She Wore Pearls on the Midnight Shift I ask for cherry pie at three a.m., not thinking that at four thirteen we’d still be waiting in our corner for the check. Three of us drove south in search of rock and roll, a weekend gone from jobsites and girlfriends, but got a different bargain: traded two hundred bucks each for fields of putrid mud and hours pushing strangers through crowded haze. When Sunday’s rockets lost their glow, we piled back in Mike’s Subaru, pooled the last of our cash on the console, drove two hours and landed in this tattered vinyl booth. Soon we’ll be wired from strawberry shakes, ears still pulsing David Byrne, pissed at Carla over there for being born a waitress. Her legs are way too long for a place like this, and I’ll hate to complain, but the way Mike’s omelet oozes day-glo cheddar and the ashy hue of Colin’s burger will make the fingernail in my pie somehow even less bearable. Back here at three, though, when we’re simply better for the wear, Carla licks chapped lips, scribbles our orders, her pale cheeks attracting the glow of the only open sign for miles.

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RC Pirosch big fish at two in the morning you call me saying I have seen the end of the world in a music video on tv I’m not joking you say it was Egyptian and they wore black hoods black masks ***** the next day and we are fishing beneath a bridge at the canal the shore is made of gravel and rebar and plastic bottles the underwater branches are thieves and greedy they take our sorry worms and then we give them our spinners and leaders and all our sharpest and cruel things until we grow angry and afternoon is rolling over to show us its wasted belly **** a fish jumps and we panic and point did you see it you say it was this big you extend your hands to show me how much but all I see is empty space and say you are full of shit you are always full of shit but you already threw your hook into the disappearing circles

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RC Pirosch What I should have said -for Halley I said you should kill your writing which she took to mean it wasn’t good I am sorry she said and looking away at the traffic which ran crazed past the pedestrians who like victims scampered fearfully between solid and immutable white lines I should have said take your blackened hair and your buggy shades and your knee-high leather boots and throw them through an open window of someone’s passing car and in the sudden November twilight we can close our eyes and I can press my palm to your mouth and you can hold my tongue and we can run across the street like lepers dancing in the noonday heat that scatter all the important pieces all those precious beautiful piles of meat

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Changming Yaun Reading behind the Words

Behind the words is there no meaning squatting Except a bold row of cheerful cherry trees Standing tall in front of my half-fenced house That bloom for two weeks in a year only Between April and May Behind the words is there no emotion hidden But a pair of little unsung yellow birds Popping up from nowhere One has flown far away from home The other still learning to fly close to the nest Behind the words is there no metaphor explored But a black and white photo of my parents Who are hospitalized alternately in China For the imbalance between yin and yang A disease both blood-related

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Changming Yaun In an Open Bottle All bees die While charging towards light Every fly survives By fleeing into darkness What if the empty bottle rotates?

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Amorak Huey The Art of the Free Throw Muscle memory. Flex. Hold. Release. The results mean less than the process except results are all that matters. If you are good at a thing, you have no idea why. If you are not, you know all too well every possible explanation. Shaquille O’Neal’s hands are simply too big, it is said. Imagine trying to toss a pea into a teacup with your palm. Ben Wallace’s woes have been traced to a once-broken, poorly healed wrist – flexibility key in this, in all things. In a sweaty high school gym somewhere in the deep South in late October, practice freezes at a whistle’s random trill: Time to shoot. Make six in a row or run, then shoot again. The scene plays out in sepia tone, slow motion, absolute silence, there are two ways this can end. A weary body betrays, begins to force metaphors where none belongs. If you can’t do it when you’re tired, you can’t do it when it counts. It always counts. Turns out, flesh has nothing to do with failure – desire, the only factor.

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Amorak Huey Grail Bird It is said the present is allotted seven seconds before it becomes the past. Now — now — then. It’s what we have. I am not afraid. Or I was and am no longer. I can live with such knowledge — I continue to believe I have choice in such matters. The maybe-last ivory-billed woodpecker in the world lives in a white pine forest in eastern Arkansas. One passionate searcher captured on film a transcendental winged blur — lifetime of devotion rewarded by seven grainy seconds of footage. A reporter from Little Rock wondered: Was it worth it? Ask a tree if the sky proved worth the rain — the roots — the ground. Ask lightning: Was thunder worth the pain? Is that future worth this past? Never ask for promises. Is it compromise to revel instead in possibility? — undiscovered glade of live oak and river birch where sunlight angles green through summer leaves and a dozen or a hundred or a million woodpeckers sound their toy-trumpet call and staccato double rap — now, and now, and now.

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Ellen Marie by Ayanna Muata

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Nina Schuyler The Bob Society “Are they out there?” Bob gripped the dirty furnace filter and grinned at the beautiful woman who had just walked in. Sherry was holding a bottle of wine, her long fingernails painted red, like ladybugs. “Who are we talking about?” she said. Condensation was dripping down the green glass. Sherry owned an antique store. Over the years, Bob’s ex-wife had dragged him along to the store, ‘Another Chance.’ Last week, Sherry had called and asked in a silky voice if they still had the absolutely stunning twin pedestal desk? Would they consider selling it? He remembered now: he’d told her to come by this Saturday and he’d be puttering around in his work shed. And now here she was in a black, short skirt— miniskirt, he thought it was called-- and a sheer white blouse that showed the fullness of her breasts. They were round, like perfect baseballs. He raised his eyeglasses. His eyelid was twitching, and he pressed his finger to it. “The men across the street. Did you see them?” “You mean the workers? They’re out there.” He already knew that. They were building a stone wall around the house across the street. Fourteen sometimes as many as eighteen men, pudgy, wearing khakis and pullover sweaters. “The man in the baseball hat usually does the talking,” he says, “the others just stand there. They listen and nod. The one that’s talking, he’s the main honcho--” Sherry came over beside him, her gauzy blouse rustling like a dazzle of dragonflies, her flowery perfume overpowering the shed’s must. “Once they get working, he’ll yell, ‘Stop!’ Then they all stop what they’re doing and notice what’s going on in their heads,” Bob heard himself say. “If they’re daydreaming about furnace filters, they’re supposed to snap out of it and just pay attention.” When Sherry laughed, her breasts jiggled. What was funny? If Erica was here, she’d tell him. His high school sweetheart, she had left him, along with Woodacre, California, nine months ago. Now she lived in New York City. In twenty-five years of marriage, they’d collected a handful of married friends who continued to invite him to their dinner parties and holiday gatherings, though less and less, he thought. He always went, thrilled to be included. The evening always started out fine, but once he said anything—about computers, the stock market, his bug specimens, anything at all, really—an awkward pause followed. He stood there, a cold stunned silence smashing down on him. Finally, one of the women would say, “Oh, Bob, you’re a riot. Isn’t he a riot?” And the table would laugh. Bob could see the heaviness that had fallen over everyone lift—except from him.

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“Do you like baseball?” He put on his glasses. “Sure. The all-American sport. Everyone loves baseball.” He nodded. “Thought so.” Sherry handed him the bottle of wine. “For letting me look at the desk.” He blinked and studied the label. Two people were embracing atop a pile of green grapes. “A very good year,” he said automatically. “So you’re a day trader.” Sherry opened her purse to check her phone. His heart skipped a beat. “Who told you?” “You did, silly. Over the phone. I’d never have figured you for a risk taker. Living on the edge, I admire that. Takes a lot of guts and smarts.” He felt his face warm from her praise. Even though it wasn’t something he was particularly proud of. “You said on the phone, ‘Come over anytime, I’m always home because I work from home.’ That must be nice.” Nice? Nice for who? He was going to ask, but he was distracted by her bright white teeth—they reminded him of something. “You look young, Sherry—how old are you--37? 38?” She laughed, flashing her teeth, “Oh, I’ll take that.” She tossed her head, swinging her long blonde hair around her back. “You’re probably older, but you work out and eat right and so you look younger than your real age. Do you use those teeth whitener strips because your teeth are so white they don’t look real?” Like a stonefly, he thought. He had one in his collection, a favorite. He was going to tell her about it, even show it to her, but her eyes were wide, and her smile seemed glued on. Didn’t she like her teeth to glow? He thought about kissing her, just a peck on her pink cheek, and telling her he liked her teeth. “They look good, Sherry. They do. No reason to be ashamed.” She was looking down, maybe at the furnace filter in his hands. He scraped off some of the dust from the white webbing and showed it to her. “I’m trying to clean this filter so I can use it again. A new one’s probably cheaper, but this is kind of a hobby of mine.” “So you’re a handy man, are you?” Her smile was back, though her voice sounded different, as if she’d swallowed something and it got stuck. He smiled. “Anything broken, I’ll fix it. For you? Free.” “Shall we take a look at that desk now?” She gestured, and he led the way jerkily through the shed door to the main house across the green lawn, because he kept turning around to see if she was coming, then he began telling her he worked six days a week—Saturday was his day off, that’s why he was putzing in his old shed -- and trading wasn’t easy, tracking the major stock Page 34

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exchanges-- New York, NASDAQ, London, Tokyo, Frankfurt-- reading seven newspapers every morning and the finance journals, thinking about the future and the hypotheticals, the big What Ifs. He knew he was talking too fast, but he couldn’t stop because she kept laughing, not a harsh laugh or mean-spirited or sarcastic, but one that said to him she was enjoying his company. They passed the lawn furniture and he told her he was thinking of buying a new set. “Need to keep upgrading,” he said, smiling. When they stepped into the kitchen, he opened the wine, poured two glasses, and handed one to her. “Cheers!” He tapped his glass to hers. “Cheers.” Glowing with pleasure, he decided not to tell her he became a day trader as a last resort. Four years ago he was laid off and couldn’t find another job. Erica hated that he didn’t have a regular one. “Every day’s a big crap shoot,” she had complained. What she really hated was that he was always home, hovering over his computers or his insects; sometimes he even forgot to change out of his pajamas or brush his teeth. “Nice,” said Sherry, looking approvingly around the kitchen. What was she seeing? What was nice about it? Dark wooden cabinets, a yellow linoleum floor, blue tile countertops. People were so strange. “You must do very well for yourself.” She put her wine glass down and slipped off her high heels, putting them right by the kitchen door. His breath caught. What was she doing? What did she expect him to take off? He’d been away from dating for so long. He looked at her small feet, cocooned in flesh-colored nylons. “Don’t want to get your carpet dirty.” “Oh. Good idea,” he said, hastily taking off his work boots and lining them up with her delicate shoes. “If you see anything you like, let me know. My ex- left me with all this crapola. Me? I don’t need much furniture—.” She was in the living room now, and he trailed her, going on about sofas, La-Z-Boy recliners, coffee tables, and lamps. He heard his voice, but he didn’t know what he was saying. A beautiful woman! In his house! She was probably a cheerleader in high school. He remembered them walking down the hall at his school, enclosed in an electrical force of power, always three or four in their skimpy skirts, showing off their long, prima-donna legs. Everyone wanted to be near them, talk to them, befriend them, date and claim them. Of course that was a long time ago, when he wasn’t part of their world, and here she was now, in his house, smiling, sipping wine. He wished Erica could see him now. He wasn’t stuck in a rut. Just look at him!

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He heard rocks being chipped outside. The men had finished the walls and the front right post eons ago, and now they were working on the left post, then the whole wall would finally be done. Had they chosen a rock for the top? The gray one, speckled white—granite, he guessed— would be a perfect fit. He’d been watching the progress of the wall since before Erica left. He’d take his tuna fish sandwich and sit on the porch swing, gently rocking to the men’s chatter— which rock, should it be chipped, how many men should do the task? Sherry was in the living room. She was circling an old chair, like a honey bee circling a flower bed, trying to pick the right bloom. But no—not a lowly worker bee. She’d be the queen, sitting on her throne, ordering the workers around. “Those men have been working for at least ten months,” he said, looking at the imprints her feet left in the carpet. “For the longest time. Incompetents, I used to call them. And why only on Saturdays?” As she stepped back and sat in the chair, her arm brushed his. A charge went through him. “Isn’t that funny?” she smiled. “They work on Saturday, the only day you don’t work.” He joined in her laughter, assuming he should. If she went with him to the dinner parties, she’d have things to say, and she’d sit beside him and tell him, as his wife used to, “Oh, that’s enough about the stock market now.” No more silences that made him wish he stayed home. When he felt like a fly on the wall—there, but not really there. He told her the men spent so much time jabbering, and so many of them were out of shape, with big guts, clumsy hands, barely able to lift a rock. They were more like computer geeks trying to pass themselves off as construction workers. Then a neighbor told him they were all members of some secret society. Turns out the guy across the street ran the local chapter, and they used work as a path to spiritual awakening, maybe even a higher state of thinking. “I thought, hey, I should start my own group and get some free labor too. The Bob Society. It has a nice ring to it.” Standing, she laughed. “You don’t seem the group type.” He stiffened. What did that mean? Her teeth were glowing. “You’re more the lone wolf type.” Then she wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t frowning either. Was a lone wolf type good? “Anyway,” her hands were on her hips now, “where is this lovely desk? I’m dying to see it, and I just might have a potential buyer.” He pointed to the stairwell and lurched toward the stairs. Erica’d left behind a bunch of her stupid antiques, saying she was starting over —new city, new home, new interior design. He should have paid more attention to the divorce settlement. He bet her conniving lawyer had included their value and made Bob pay to keep them. He’d stuffed a bunch in the guest bedroom on the second floor so he wouldn’t have to see them. Page 36

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The guest room was filled with sparkling dust, like thousands of silver-winged gnats. “Look at it,” he said. She headed straight for the desk, causing a small dust storm. “Beautiful.” From the center of the room, he watched the dust swirl. Now he heard, from the room below, a buzzing sound. His five computers. Working too hard, he thought. All this dust must travel through the duct system, mucking them up. He’d have to clean their cooling fans. Sherry coughed. “It’s kind of stuffy in here.” He rushed over to the window and opened it. The screen had fallen off months ago, and a bug flew in and landed on the bed post, rubbing its feelers, displaying its body, a metallic blue. A blowfly. For a moment, he felt an overwhelming urge to show it to Sherry, but he caught himself. He waved his hand at it. It flew around the room, landing again on the bed post. He looked at it, then turned to the window. They still hadn’t chosen a rock to put on top. “A blowfly just came in.” Sherry sat at the desk, rubbing her hand on the top of it, as if it were made of velvet. Bob pulled up a chair beside her and watched her stroke it. The seam in the curtain let in sunlight. The pale gold hairs on Sherry’s arm stood straight up, as if on alert. “You’re cold, Sherry.” He pointed to her arm hairs. “Should I turn up the heat?” “Oh, I’ll only be a bit longer.” “No rush. We could sell everything in this house, and I wouldn’t mind. Hey, we could start our own business together, ‘Sherry and Bob’s Antiques.’ We’d be a knock-out duo.” He’d do it in an instant, if she agreed. But she said nothing, only opened her purse, pulled out paper and pen, and began writing something, maybe about the desk. Outside, he heard a deliberate, rhythmic tapping, someone carefully chipping away at a stone. Sherry was looking under the desk. Then he heard waltz music floating in through the window. Maybe a radio across the street. Erica used to love to dance. Almost every Friday night, they went to Alberto’s Ballroom Dance Club. “I was part of a club, of sorts.” Sherry’s hand stopped stroking the desk. “Oh?” “You said I wasn’t the group type. But I am.” “What kind of club?” “A dance club.” He thought of Erica, the press of her breasts against his chest, not baseballs like Sherry’s, but good enough. Before they were married, they took dance lessons in high school. In a drafty auditorium with wooden floors, polished and gleaming, and a big chandelier, flickering on the wall like fireflies. It was the only way of touching each other allowed, though the teacher was always holding a ruler between them, barking, “At least one foot! Keep your distance!” But when she

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moved to the other side of the room, the distance closed again, though never close enough. He longed to put his ear right next to Erica’s mouth and listen to her murmur the words that seemed to align the world in their favor, “1-2-3, 1-2-3.” He heard a snapping sound. He looked at Sherry. She’d shut her purse. A vague terror seized him: Was she leaving? Two people were tapping away at the stones. If he didn’t know better, he’d think they were taking the whole wall down. “You could go to Alberto’s with me,” he said quickly. A hard merriment shone in Sherry’s dark eyes. “I don’t think so.” “We’d have a terrific time.” Quickly he began telling her about the club, its blue and gold lights twinkling on the ceiling, music pumped through the two Bose stereo speakers, a good sound system vibrating the room. He and Erica used to go almost every Friday night. Great exercise. By the end Erica’s skin glowed pink, and she looked so young, like when they first met in high school. And they felt younger, too, rushing back home and ending up in bed, making love like teenagers. “Not always, but often enough, I mean, our sex life was alive and kicking,” he said, laughing. Sherry just stared at him. “Do you know how to dance, Sherry?” He jumped up, seized her elbow, and pulled her up from the chair. She was surprisingly heavy. When he tried to twirl her, she didn’t budge, as if she’d suddenly become something hulking and immense. “Stop!” She yanked out of his grip, deliberately brushing off her blouse where he’d touched her. “And now, it’s time for me to go.” “But what about the desk?” he said, panting from his effort. Her eyes were cold. “I’ll pass.” “What’s wrong with it?” “Everything. A crack in the left leg. Nicks, scratches. I could go on and on.” “Then how about--” Two firm lines appeared at the corner of her mouth. “How about a —“ “No.” He thought of the cheerleaders. If they saw him, which was hardly ever, they still looked right through him, right through his thick glasses and the moustache that suddenly sprouted above his upper lip, like an ugly caterpillar. Sherry’s dark eyes flashed at him. Then she was gone. He heard the front door open and shut. He watched the fly circle around the room, as if now it could roam freely. After a while, even her smell was gone. Then he managed to move again, reached up and trapped the fly in the cup of

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his hands. It flung itself back and forth, frantically, hitting his fingers, his thumbs, and it occurred to him he could save it for his collection, before he smashed his hands together. Below him was the gathering of men. He imagined himself striding across the street. He could see the rock from here, the gray speckled boulder, jagged, the slight dip on top. The men would stop what they were doing and look at him because he had the answer. He’d choose two, maybe more, and they’d circle around, jam their hands beneath the rock, and he’d say, “On the count of three!” Grunting, they’d lift it. “Good, good show, men!” and someone slips the baseball cap on his head, and everyone looks pleased, even surprised—finally they are finishing something. The whole group gathers around as they shuffle and sway, under the immense weight of the rock. If only he could get his legs to move, if only he could unbuckle his knees, but for some reason his body feels weak, and his legs rubbery and lame, as if they have been crushed.

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Katie W. Darby A Color Story Betty refused to get curtains for our bedroom. She said that the room was dark enough, because of the red walls, but every morning around 6:30, sunlight started leaking in through the blinds, and it became impossible to sleep. Once, to prove my point, I turned off our alarm clock. It was almost a week before she noticed. Part of it, though, was just that I hated the color she’d painted the bedroom. It was my fault—she’d asked me which color I thought would create a better “mood,” and I told her that I didn’t care, she could do whatever she wanted. But now the walls were the color of dried blood, and with the stippling, they had about the same appearance. I thought curtains would make that less obvious. “You had your chance,” she’d say every time she caught me staring at it. “It doesn’t look like blood, either. It’s much pinker than that. It’s almost magenta, but deeper.” “That doesn’t even make sense,” I said. “There are two colors of red: blood red, and regular red. This is blood red.” But Betty would just laugh at me. She sounded like wind chimes, little bursts of air hitting her teeth as she exhaled. “You’re exhausting.” “No. I’m exhausted. Because I can’t sleep. Because we have no curtains.” She punched me in the arm. She'd been doing that since the night we met. We were in the laundry room at the college. I was wearing an undershirt and boxers—the only things I had clean—and she had on camouflage sweat pants, high-heeled boots, and a pink sports bra. I dumped my bag of clothes into the washer, and without saying anything to me, she walked over, opened the washer next to mine, and started putting some of my clothes in the other washer. "You never done laundry before?" she asked, casually sorting my underwear. "Ever heard that it's not polite to go through other people's things?" But she ignored me. Finally, she had all of the colors and whites separated, and she put the money into the second washer. "Do you have any bleach?" I shook my head, and she went over to her laundry basket, and got a plastic jug out from under her piles of clothes. She poured a cup of bleach in, shut the lid, and pressed "start". I wanted to stop her, but I was captivated. "I haven't had to do my own laundry before," I said. "This was my first time." And she punched me in the arm. It hurt, but I didn't want her to know that. "That's obvious," she said. She laughed and I followed her out of the room back to the common area, and Page 40 T he M eadowland R eview Spring 2010

watched her paint her toenails while we waited. She was from Portland, but decided to go to school in the Midwest because she was tired of having to be 'hip'. I brushed the hair out of my eyes. "That's never really been a concern of mine," I said. "That's obvious." She never looked up, pushing that tiny brush up and down her toenails. "That's a good thing. So where are you from?" "Here." "Wow. Going to school in your hometown." "I know, it's like, the anti-hip. I'm practically the coolest person you know, now." It was so easy to make her laugh. "So do you plan on staying?" she asked. "I don't know. I mean, I don't know where else I would go." "Where is somewhere you've liked? Like, somewhere you went on vacation, or something like that?" "I've never really left Illinois," I said. "I mean, I've been out of Effingham, but not too far. I've been to Springfield before." She smiled. "But we aren't that far from Missouri." And she stood up, and started walking towards her room. "Wait here." She came back with a jacket and her car keys. "Follow me." And even though I was still in my boxers, I did. "My name is Betty," she said, "And I'll be your tour guide this evening. Next stop, St. Louis." We left the clothes soaking wet in the washer and took off. We didn’t get there until almost midnight, but it was a starry night, and the constellations looked like chalk in the night sky. The buildings had an otherworldly glow, lit up with people working late. “It’s like a beehive,” I said. “You’ve really never been outside of Illinois?” Betty asked. She parked the car illegally on the street below the arch and put her warning lights on. “Maybe when I was a baby,” I said. She got out of the car and started walking up the stairs towards the arch. Once she got to the top stair, she sat down and faced the river. Again, I followed, struggling to keep up with her pace. “It’s beautiful,” I said, huffing my way up the stairs. “Wait until you turn around.” And she was right—standing above the river like that, the wind cutting through my boxers, I felt all-powerful. Tiny waves rippled, but they looked frozen from the stairs—tiny iced

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triangles floating in the dark water. I sat down, and though I could feel my skin brush her skin frantically, I didn't recognize that it was because I was shivering. She reached over and grabbed my hand, and we sat there for a while. “There,” she said, “Now you’ve been to Missouri.” “My name is Sam,” I said. We'd talked the whole drive, and I hadn't told her my name. On our way down the steps, the heel on her left boot snapped off and dangled like a loose tooth. I reached out to catch her, and almost fell, myself. I had her climb on my shoulders, and I carried her down to the car. We went through a McDonalds drive-thru to get a cup of coffee, and drank it in the parking lot of some apartment complex downtown, sitting in her car with the heater on. I made a bad joke about seeing so many arches in one night, and Betty laughed. I was saying anything I could to keep her laughing. We had no idea we were sitting underneath what would eventually be our apartment. When we got back early the next morning, we had to start our laundry all over again. Eight years later, she looks almost exactly the same. She still has straight-across bangs, and her black hair still curls in perfect ringlets at the bottom, though now I know that it takes a lot of work, where before I thought it was natural. Her eyes are still coffee brown, which with her dark hair, makes her look like a succubus. I was thinking about this while watching her sleep. The neon numbers on the clock next to the bed flashed 6:07, then 6:12. "Betty? Babe?" "Mmm," she moaned and rolled over, putting her face in the pillow. "The sun's coming through the blinds again. I can't sleep." "So get up." "I'm getting curtains today." She was silent. "Is that OK?" "Fine," she said. "Whatever. Just let me go back to sleep." I got up to put the coffee on. I had a busy day ahead; I was preparing to pitch a book cover design to a publisher, and after that, I had a billboard design that I'd been working on for the city. I only had a few more weeks for both projects. My office, which was really a spare bedroom, was covered in swatches and paint and magazine articles—anything that would be inspiring. There was a bowl of plastic fruit on a nightstand in the corner, and on my desk were three or four of Betty's bras—the book was a romance, and I was trying to decide what look to go with. Page 42

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I heard Betty fumbling around in the bedroom. She had class—she'd just started teaching math at the community college across town. As young as she looked, she always had to dress conservatively; a lot of the time, students thought she was one of them. "You leaving?" I called up. "Got to." Footsteps clopped down the stairs, and then back up—she poked her head through my door. "Are you really getting curtains today?" "I think so," I said, turning away from the computer. "Please, please just get white? Don't try to find some color that goes perfect?" "But the bedspread is white," I said. She walked over, turned me back towards the computer, and started to rub my shoulders. "I know, baby, it's just that if we get too many colors in there, it'll look ridiculous." "I'm a graphic designer. I know colors, OK?" She draped her arms down my chest, and put her chin on my shoulder. "I know. But if you're going to get curtains against my wishes, can you at least compromise?" She kissed my cheek. "Fine," I said, smiling. I turned to kiss her, but she was already on her way out the door. "I'll see you later—and maybe, if you're not too tired, we'll decide which bra looks best for the cover together?" And then her heels clicked down the stairs and out the door. I must have worked for four hours without stopping. The city wanted a "Drug Free" billboard. I couldn't shake thinking that it wouldn't work—adults would see it, and think something was being done about the problem, but kids wouldn't ever notice it was there. Like a placebo. My first idea had been a giant pot leaf on an orange background, with big blue letters—but then I realized it looked like I was selling the drugs. I liked the way it looked, though, so I kept playing with it, over and over. I couldn't find a slogan that sounded realistic. This was going to take forever. Finally, around four, I knew I wasn't getting anywhere. It was time for me to take care of the curtains. In the name of marital harmony, I bought white—but they were thick, plush curtains, almost like a carpet. I didn't want to risk the sunlight. Before she got home, I had them all hung up, and standing in my new, dark bedroom, I finally felt sleepy. I woke up almost two hours later to Betty turning a light on. "Sam," she said, "Wake up. It's afternoon, still." "I guess the curtains work," I said, slowly opening and closing my eyes, trying to adjust. "Wow," I said.

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"What?" "Did you re-paint the room?" "Of course not," she laughed. "What's the matter?" "Nothing," I said. But I couldn't stop looking at the wall. "Open the curtains, would you?" I asked her. But when she did, nothing changed. The wall was a completely different color than it had been when I laid down. "What's wrong?" Betty asked. "It's not funny, to mess with me like this," I said. "You're starting to scare me." I searched her face—she wasn't lying. "Maybe I'm going blind?" "Sam, you're not going blind." But all of the sudden, the wall was different. It was deep and pink, the color of the crepe myrtles that lined the stairs up to our apartment. "Betty," I said, "Has our bedroom always been this pink?" Her nervous laugh jangled, she crossed her arms. "Yes, since the day I painted it." "OK, let me think a minute. Has it always been the color of those bushes outside?" "No, they're not this— are you sure you're OK?" I got up and walked outside as calmly as I could, hoping that everything would be the same, but as I passed every part of my home, it seemed to have a new, strange light shone on it. The stair rail was the color that bandages used to be—and the blades on the fan were the color that the stair rail used to be. Both things seemed to be lighter, more worn out before. "You really can't see this?" I asked Betty. "I'm calling the doctor," she yelled back down the stairs. When I got outside, I wasn't particularly surprised to find that the flowers on the bush were, of course, lighter than the color that our bedroom now is—the color of Pepto-Bismol, or a Barbie doll's fingernails. I sat down on the concrete. The front door opened behind me, and Betty came out, and put one hand on my shoulder. "I'm not sure what's wrong with you," she said, "But when I tried to explain it to the doctor, he suggested I call a psychiatrist." She bent down, and sat with me. "What color are the flowers, now?" "You don't believe me." "Just… try to tell me what color the flowers are," she said. "OK. They were darker, like the bedroom walls look now— but now they're a very pale pink. Or what I thought was pink." Page 44

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"What do you mean, what you thought was pink? What are they now? Blue?" "I don’t know," I said, turning to her. "Oh my God," I said. "It's even happening to you. Your hair doesn't even look black right now." "I've always had brown hair," she said with a weird smile. "Remember? We used to argue over what color my hair was?" And of course, she was right. I'd forgotten. I said that I didn't think black hair could be natural, and she said it wasn't, that her hair was brown. "I don't know what to think right now." "Just get some sleep," Betty said. "Come in, get some sleep, and I'm sure things will be normal again in the morning." "That's exactly what I was thinking," I said. The next morning when I woke up, for a split second, I thought I was in bed with a stranger—but it was Betty, brown-haired Betty, apparently, Betty the way she'd always been. She was still beautiful, but softer without the dark features. In fact, it was like everything in my life had lost its edge. The colors were more pleasant, but they went together in entirely different ways. "The problem has to be with you," Betty said, one hand around her coffee mug, the other holding the handle. "Thanks. That makes me feel better." "I mean, think about it—in preschool, when they teach the colors, they hold up the same card for every kid. And every kid is taught that red is the splotch of color on that card. But if they all see the color differently—and how are we to know how people see a color, I suppose—then they all learn it different. You learned the colors the same as everyone, Sam. So the problem must be with your eyes." "What, they were bad for thirty years, and now everything's fine?" "Apparently. Because now, you're seeing colors the way I've always seen them." She turned around, her bathrobe falling open slightly at the counter. "You're right," I said. "I'm always right," she said, and smiled, but I wasn't joking. "I'm seeing colors the way you see them." She shook her head. "I guess I don't see your point." "Colors are mostly the way I thought they were—the walls are red, the flowers are pink, your hair is—" "Brown."

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"Whatever. And now, now that I'm looking at them again, the walls are red, and the flowers are pink. But they're different shades. I'm just seeing the shades the way you do, now." She looked thoughtful for a minute, eyebrows moving towards the center of her forehead. "I guess I don't know what it means." "Me, neither," I said. It was late fall, and the air was getting cold. The sky looked like a video-game imitation of itself, a clear, pale blue. But what was really remarkable to me was the way the leaves looked. One of Betty's favorite things to do in college was to drive around and look at the leaves changing color, from green to yellow to red. I always joked that she could just sit outside our dorm at the corner, and watch the stoplight—but she just shook her head. "You really don't see it," she'd say. But I saw it now—the deep gold, the bright red. It was so different than the muted tones of the stoplight. It was like the whole world was rusting, or like everything was copper, melting from bronze to green. Bleeding. "Betty," I called in through the foyer of our apartment. "Betty, come down here. I want to go with you this year, I want to go on a drive and see fall." I felt stupid, saying it out loud, but that was what I wanted to do. There was no answer, but a light was on in the kitchen. I went in, and saw a note in Betty's all-caps scrawl—"GONE DRIVING, BE BACK AROUND 6 FOR DINNER." I looked at my watch—it was almost 6. I called in a pizza, but to surprise her, I had them put black olives on it—her favorite topping. We never ordered it, because I didn't like it. About ten minutes later, the door opened. "Sam, I'm home," she said. "I'm in the living room." I was up as close as I could get to the TV, trying to see what color the pixels looked like now. "I called in a pizza." "Hope you're hungry," she said, "I picked one up." We stared at each other for a minute. "I ordered black olives this time," I said. "OK, Sam, what's going on?" She opened the pizza, and, our normal pepperoni pizza was dotted with little black circles. "Rock, paper, scissors." "What?" she asked. "Put the pizza down." She did, and immediately put her fist in one flat hand. "One, two, three, shoot," I said. We both threw paper. "One, two, three, shoot," she said. We both threw rock. Page 46

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"One, two, three—" we both threw early—but I threw rock, she threw paper. “Oh,

God,” I





can’t read



“Not any more than I’ve ever been able to,” she said. She went into the kitchen and brought out a roll of paper towels. “Relax. You’re still alone in there.” We ate in silence for a while, and when we were done eating, she put the TV on. I watched her watch for a while, the light bouncing off of her dark irises. It was like the colors were given a new life in their reflection—all tinted with dark brown, replaying the show in sepia. I asked her, “So you don’t know what I’m thinking about now?” She smiled and without saying a word, took her shirt off. She was wearing a red lace bra, detailed with just a little shiny gold thread around the cups. "That cover you're working on?" I picked up a pillow on the couch and tossed it at her. "Right, work, that's what I'm thinking about." She grinned, and climbed on the couch with me. "I know this is weird for you," she said, "But I can't say I'm sorry." She burrowed in between my body and the back of the couch, and we laid like that, her on top of my arm, all night. I woke her up early. A thin white stripe was streaming through the blinds in the living room. “Betty,” I tapped her, and then pushed lightly. My arm was asleep. She punched me. “We finally get curtains, and we fall asleep in the living room. Great.” She groggily opened her eyes. “You know this was my day to sleep in?” She flared her nostrils and rolled her shoulders back, stretching her body like she was trying to break in an old catcher’s mitt. She looked like a bulldog. I turned to give her some privacy, and got up to put my bathrobe on. “So what did you dream about?” I asked. We’d been discussing our dreams since the first night she stayed at my place—we’d make coffee, and then talk, about anteaters and Napoleon or whatever else bothered us enough to think about in our sleep. “Nothing,” she said. “Nothing I can remember.” And I couldn’t remember, either; I tried to focus. “Don’t think too hard! You’ll lose it.” “Yeah, good point.” I went into the kitchen and started the coffee. “Isn’t that how it is with anything?” She came up behind me, put her nose in between my shoulders. I’m sure I smelled like sweat and dust. “No, not everything.” I could feel her smile into my back. “Not with numbers. Numbers, the harder you think, the bigger the reward.” She kissed me. “The kinds of things you like, though? Yeah, you can't think about them. The harder you think, the faster they disappear.”

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I smiled at her, and for the first time ever, I knew she understood my job-- that to accomplish anything, I had to let go, and let it happen. And then I was struck with horror. I felt like I was running on the edge of a kaleidoscope. All I could think about was color, and the way that things were exploding together for the first time. I ran up the stairs, threw open the door to my office, and was overcome with pity. I don't know how long I sat there, quiet, before Betty noticed. I was sitting on the floor, staring at a movie poster. The first design I'd ever sold was for an action movie called "Endgame II: Terror Strike." Some B-level actors were in it, all greased up and orange for the poster. And for some reason, I'd put it on a bright yellow background, Andy Warhol-esque, and in green script, put the actors' names. "What are you doing, Sam?" she called up. "Just working for a while." She came into the room. "What are you working on?" But I didn't say anything. I think she knew what was going on as soon as she saw me, cross-legged in front of that poster. "Sam, it's—" "It's awful." "You sold it. You still get a royalty check in the mail every time some college movie uses it as a poster in a dorm room. I mean, come on." "But you hate it, don't you?" She didn't say anything. "Maybe we can read each other's minds," I said. "Because I know what you're thinking. You're embarrassed." "Yes," she said. "I am." "You're sad." And then there was pity again. I was miserable with pity. Betty came and sat down next to me, her left shoulder up against my right one, and reached for my hand. Her fingernails were chalky white, and long, and they felt plastic in my hands, even though I knew they were real. The whole room was like a mausoleum of the way things used to look. And suddenly, I did know what she was thinking.

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David Morris Parson Baby Girl Jorie Faber was hell-bent on throwing a killer party even if it sent her tits-up to the funeral home downtown. Who cared that it was Wayne’s birthday party and she was catering to a house full of eight-year-olds?—she was all in. She made daily trips to Wal-Mart, and in the intoxicating aura of shopping for Wayne, she stretched the elasticity of her Little Rock Bank & Trust Credit Card and picked up stuff for herself. A digital camera to capture pics at the party. An espresso machine for those who want coffee with cake. Wine and beer for moms who need a break. And there were birthday gifts. Wayne got a new bike, Jorie got a new lime-green dress. He got an iPod, she got teardrop earrings. He got a cordless phone for his room, she got a tiny TV she could watch while taking a bath. Something Larry had talked her out of buying, time and again. But it wasn’t Larry’s bathroom anymore. The house was in her name now. She could toss the TV in the tub if she wanted. Whatever made her happy. Throwing a party for Wayne made her happy. Renting a bulbous bouncing moonwalk made her happy. Donkey rides for the kids made her happy. Not inviting Larry made her happy. But the closer it got to two PM the more she invited doubt. Here she was, expecting a house full of kids and their moms she’d never met, who’d be scrutinizing the home of a justdivorced woman, and there, in the living room, mocking her, were the indentions on soft shag where Larry’s Soloflex used to live. She arranged the furniture into an intimate group and rewarded her creativity with a Coors Light. “I smell beer,” said Rita, walking through the front door and heading towards the kitchen. She stuck her head in the refrigerator, and over her shoulder she said, “I’m surprised you had room in here for the cake with all this liquor.” Jorie noisily pulled out a chair from the kitchen table and sat down. “If you want a beer, momma, grab one,” she replied. “I don’t care.” Rita closed the white box containing the cake and shut the refrigerator. “I was just admiring Wayne’s pretty cake,” she said, before arranging paper plates and cups on a tray. Jorie sat stiff, staring at her mother’s back, resenting her cloaked criticisms, which were as much a Rita signature as her bottle-brown helmet of hair. She fingered one of her pearl-drop earrings, paused and took a deep breath, then allowed herself to surrender to the woman’s industriousness and enthusiasm, which were essential, she admitted, in helping her create a memorable day for Wayne. “Tits up,” she reminded herself. “With what I’ve been through, momma,” she said lightly, “A beer won’t hurt.”

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Rita carried the tray of cups and plates to the back door. “You’re right, baby girl,” she said. “You’re right.” She maneuvered the knob and stepped back. “Jesus Christ!” her voice rang out into the backyard and up into the trees. “A donkey and a bouncing balloon?” She pulled the door shut behind her with her foot. Through the kitchen bay window Jorie proudly surveyed her creation. Thumbing through back issues of House Beautiful had paid off—those perfectly crafted parties in playrooms and backyards—for her backyard was now transformed into a scene as festive and fancy. Never mind that the Juan-in-a-Million Moonwalk was cramped in the corner, squished between the back fence and a low limb of the pecan tree, or that the donkey and piñata were both tied haphazardly to the other tree that was losing leaves, for there was Wayne, already in the moonwalk, jumping and laughing and waving at Rita. When she’d rented the moonwalk and donkey over the phone, Juan had sounded older, but here he was a teenager, dressed in a sleeveless plaid shirt, exposing taught brown muscles, and tight black jeans. To keep the street clear in front of her house she’d asked him to pull his trailer around the corner, to which he replied with a smile and a touch of his cap’s brim, without saying a word. Now he picked a handful of oats from his pocket, and just as Jorie worried that he’d get bit, the donkey simply extended his flat purple tongue and Juan patted his head. The first kids arrived and Jorie celebrated with a glass of wine. Some mothers joined her and seemed grateful that someone had thought of their needs. These women—realtors, marketing executives, Junior Leaguers, with their husbands and overweight bank accounts—they’d be pleasant to lunch with, to enjoy a Ladies’ Night with, now and then. Wayne was acting as if he’d been drinking himself, he was so giddy. A far cry from the night she and Larry had sat him down. Wayne’s eyes had welled to the brim with big, salty tears, yet to their surprise, his tears never crested down his cheeks, as if they refused to breach an invisible wall. The most significant reaction he’d had to the divorce so far was his tendency to sleep. It was difficult to wake him for school, and according to his teacher, to keep him awake during class. He’d succumbed to the land of lethargy. Witnessing him here today, effusing carbonation, Jorie stifled the urge to pull out her old majorette uniform—stacked neatly in a box in a closet with trophies—and twirl and toss her baton into the blue. “Goddamn, baby girl!” her mother might say. “With a little more oomph you could knock out the sun!” Jorie shooed everyone outside so she could make a big production of the cake. The baker had got her drawing just right: the Juan-in-a-Million Moonwalk on the left, the donkey on the right, popping off the cake in red, yellow, and purple icing. She stuck eight white candles into the green icing of the backyard, making it look like it was bordered by a white picket fence. “Happy Birthday, Wayne!” cut a cursive tornado up the middle. Page 50

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She remembered the new camera in the plastic sack in the pantry. Camera. Cake. Candles. Matches….She’d somehow forgotten matches. Jorie searched the cabinets above the fridge, a gather-all nook for homeless objects: cheap florist vases, mismatched candle holders, empty gift tins that had once held chocolates. A Coors Light helped her think. The guest bath. Yes. She downed her beer and ran down the hall. There, on top of the toilet tank, a silver tray of tea lights. But no matches. Next, her bathroom. On the lip of the tub, three pine-green candles with concave centers. With gusto she pulled open drawers; brushes, curling irons, lipsticks, creams— debris rained down, creating a cosmetic litter box. Outside the small bathroom window, framed in her vision, the sun shown too brightly as mothers snuck looks at their watches, and Rita shooed away screamers from a blindfolded girl, too far from the piñata, wielding a Louisville Slugger. Jorie returned to the kitchen and uncorked a bottle of wine. She was placing the cork in its drawer when it struck her: the junk drawer! Should’ve looked there first, silly girl. She took a congratulatory sip, wiped her mouth, and swatted away coupons, paper clips, pens, batteries, rubber bands, Super Glue, a tire gauge, trash ties, cardboard coasters bearing beer logos, a walletsized school picture of Wayne, and a key fob carrying keys that unlocked mysterious doors. Not a single goddamn match. But wait… stuck to an exposed flap of pale paper liner…a familiar color and shape. She wedged free a satiny blue book of matches, the size of a business card. Fancy. Jori twirled the book of matches in her fingers. The Sunset Marquis it read in gold letters on the cover. Cursive with curlicues. Elegant. Dreamlike. But the gold lettering was too cursive, too difficult to read, as if the name was a code, the hotel a secret. The pain was sudden and blinding: an invisible hand clawed into her chest cavity, squeezed the magenta muscle, then ripped it free, veins dripping blood from their valuable transitory source, and held it in front of her face. She thought she’d thrown out the matches the day she threw out Larry. The first time she’d found them in Larry’s suit pocket. She was at Guthrie Cleaners, with dirty clothes crumpled on the counter, doing what she always did—rummaging through pockets before handing it all over to Mrs. Guthrie. (She’d once pulled crayons from Wayne’s jeans and ball-point pens from Larry’s shirts; it was her job to protect her men’s clothes.) With Mrs. Guthrie staring quizzically, Jorie had twirled the book of matches in her fingers.

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That night, a Tuesday, with Wayne across town at her mother’s, she confronted Larry at the Soloflex machine. “Cigars with a client,” he said, in the middle of a rep. “At a hotel downtown?” “At the bar.” He clean-and-jerked, he added more weight. “You don’t smoke,” she said. And she remarked about how he’d stopped drinking and started exercising, and all of it, every goddamn bit of it, didn’t add up. He hemmed, hawed, and then brought out the tears. The woman’s name was Melody. Office-temp Melody. Larry loved Melody. For a year Larry had kissed Jorie good night with the same lips that’d been all over Melody. For a year Larry had hugged Wayne good-bye in the morning with the same arms he’d wrapped around Melody. And now, to have been reminded of The Sunset Marquis at this time, on this day—during her party—there was no way in hell those matches were going to light those candles. Jorie stuffed the matches into the garbage disposal, cracking the tips of her French manicure, and barely pulled her hand away before flipping the switch. The grinding noise was weak, not the bloodthirsty slaughter for which she’d hoped. Her eyes welled over. Her world swam. She grabbed the bottle of chardonnay and took a swig. The disposal ground away. What kind of woman saves those matches? What kind of woman prays that the junk drawer will just make things go away? The kitchen door opened and she jumped. “Wayne wants his cake,” Rita said exuberantly. Screams and giggles escorted her through the door. “I keep telling those kids not to take punch in that bouncy balloon, but do they listen?” She juggled an empty plastic pitcher and a stack of dirty plates, then set them down and tilted her head, as if she was trying to catch from which direction the grinding noise was coming. She zeroed in on the disposal, exhaled in a disgusted burst, and slapped the switch on the wall. The metal gears ground to a halt. “I swear,” she said, shaking her head, before barreling on. “I asked that Mexican a million times to clean up after that donkey…”—she mixed a fresh pitcher of KoolAid—“and when that piñata broke, you shoulda seen mommas scramble for their kids. Of all places for candy to fall. Donkey rides?! Seriously! But don’t you worry, baby girl, I took care of it.” Jorie squeezed the neck of the bottle behind her back and looked past her mother, out the kitchen bay window. What should’ve been a golden hue of warm chicken broth pouring through was, instead, a coagulated lump of pancake mix. Where was Wayne? Was he having fun?

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“Jesus Christ, look at you,” said Rita. She stood at the back door with a new pitcher of Kool Aid. Jorie’s lime-green dress was wine-stained and misshapen. She blew hair out of her eyes. “Getting the cake ready,” she said, nodding at the white box on the table. “Must be a heavy cake.” Rita jiggled the door handle and left. Jorie closed her eyes, swayed, and prayed for the wine’s fruity warmth to ease her concerns. How in the world did I end up with a mother like that? The lines between mother/daughter/enemy/saint were constantly being crossed, as if they were property lines to the soul, with amorphous demarcations. She recalled the night she’d rushed home to announce her engagement. Rita had stopped ironing and stared blankly at her across the den. “Larry asked you to marry him? He said those exact words: Will you marry me?” She turned the blouse over and slid it onto the end of the board, then added, “But Larry’s perfect.” “He is perfect,” said Jorie, her eyes reaching past the ceiling fan, through the roof, into the clouds. “There’s something wrong with a man like that who wants to marry a girl like you.” Steam sighed from the iron; hot water spit on the board. Jorie ran from the den, and over the next months leading up to the wedding, she ran faster, towards love, hoping to hold it, smother it with kisses. A love that fit and felt like the form of her dead daddy. She opened her eyes, turned towards the living room, and took in the fluorescent packages, unopened treasures waiting to be discovered inside each and every one. Piled among them, on the couch—purses. Yes. Mothers were at the party. Yes yes yes. Surely one of them smokes, somebody has matches. She set the wine on the coffee table and gripped a green Gucci. Lipstick, tissues, gum, cell, compact, calculator, Mercedes keys. It struck her how little she knew the mothers of her son’s friends; they were nothing more than props that waved from a passing car. Next, she tore into a candy-apple Louis Vuitton. LV key fob, LV change purse, LV checkbook cover, LV sunglasses holder—the designer’s monogram floated up like a bevy of butterflies. She pulled out an LV cigarette box and plied apart the kissing clasps. Menthol Marlboro Light 100s. A flame caught in her heart. The back door sprang wide and Rita stood there restraining Wayne and his friends. Small arms clawed out from behind her—cockroaches all. “They want cake,” Rita said, laughing, “or they’re gonna make me bounce in that balloon!” “I want my presents!” Wayne squealed.

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Jorie froze, staring at her mother and son, with the contents of other women’s purses piled around her like a barricade. There they were, the three of them: past, present, and future. Her mother, a touch of joy softening her hard-knocked demeanor, a face she seemed to reveal only to her grandson. And Wayne, with a furrowed brow (a gift from Jorie), balanced with an angular, confident jaw (a gift from Larry), as if one facial feature was fighting for dominance over the other. Every time I look into Wayne’s precious face will I see a cheating husband? How do you not hate someone who looks like the one you hate? What monumental strength is required for a heart to withstand such heavy misery? With the candy-apple Louis Vuitton in one hand, Jorie escaped out the front door, down the front steps, and sat down hard between two cars. Up and down the street, parked along the curb, cars gleamed like in a parade, waiting to whisk mothers and children back to their wonderful lives. She splayed her legs and dumped the purse’s contents onto the hot street. Mixed in with all the LVs were an orange prescription bottle of tiny pills and gum. She wedged her face into the bottom of the bag and inhaled leather and Juicy Fruit. No LV lighter holder. How can you smoke without a lighter? She withdrew a handful of cigarettes from their rectangular LV home and twisted the dry tobacco into a mangled mess, then watched them float, dreamily, on a burnt breeze that sent them into the shade beneath a car. A bird squawked. Sweat stung her eyes. The solution was easy, Jorie admitted, finally—at last—giving in to sensibility: the party could proceed as planned, if she could swallow her pride and present the cake with unlit candles. Yes, Wayne might be upset. Yes, Rita might roll her eyes. Yes, Jorie could be the butt of their jokes—How can you have a birthday cake without lit candles? Rita would say. So what? She could be a big girl. God, she wanted a cigarette. When was the last time she'd smoked? Why did she ask herself such a silly question when she knew the silly answer? Last winter with Ray Darby. He’d flown down from Memphis when his own dad had succumbed to cancer. A sudden snowfall had turned boring Little Rock into a place of promise, a small Southern city in which, for the time being, one didn’t mind being trapped. Larry was on a business trip, so she drove across town in a black dress and push-up bra to Ray’s parents’ house— the one he used to sneak out of in high school—to pay her respects. A funny feeling overtook her when he approached in his grey suit and brown sideburns. Ray hugged her warmly, smelled her hair, and whispered in her ear, “God.” They rode in her Suburban with the windows down: Ray

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drove and Jorie sang to old songs. They bought a twelve-pack and cigarettes, and away from the mourners, behind the football stadium, in her back seat, she let him lift up her black dress. They smoked from a smashed pack. The fog on the windows diffused the light pouring in from the street lamp, bathing them in a swimming pool green. Ray took a final puff and tossed the cigarette out a crack in the window. He pulled up his plaid boxers. “Where’s your husband?” he said, half joking. Jorie retrieved her bra and panties from the floorboard and stuffed them in her purse. “Where’s your wife?” she said. Ray zipped his pants and buckled his belt. “I’ve never done this,” he said. “Let me refresh your memory,” she said. “Loverboy concert.” Jorie unscrunched her dress from under her arms and smoothed out the wrinkles. Ray lit another cigarette. “Loverboy. I’ll never forget that.” He took a puff and handed it to her. “Or the woods behind your parents’ house.” She took a drag, blew, then added, “Or the Jacuzzi.” He smiled, turned away, then gazed back at her, gravely, as if trying to force a point. “No, I meant I’ve never cheated before.” He took the cigarette from her and smoked it. Jorie popped the top of a beer. Ray continued to stare. “What?” she said. “In high school you could drink every guy under the table.” She took a swig and extended the can. He sent the cigarette out the window and accepted the beer. “Those were the best days of my life,” she said. Ray drank and gave her a long, incredulous look. Their magical moment had passed. Within his eyes she saw a man who pitied her, and she immediately resented him, itemizing his midlife paunch, unruly chest hairs, and vanished muscle tone—a man to whom she’d just given a blowjob because he'd left the condoms on the counter at the KwikieStop. Why had she called high school the best days of her life? It was untrue. Those were debilitating days that contained only two emotions: dread or joy. There was the death of her daddy, whose life had been cut short by cigarettes. And sex. Her first sex. Lying to Ray had been a way to end the night. Afterwards, she’d lain in bed crying, confused. If Larry hadn’t been traveling she wouldn’t have done it. And then to be made a fool of,

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later, in her own home, by a satiny royal blue book of matches. She refused to believe that she and Larry were two peas in the same two-timing pod. Peals of laughter erupted from her house. The sun was a greasy skillet on fire. Gasoline and tar fumes swirled in front of her. The Louis Vuitton yawned from the street. She reached for the orange bottle of tiny pills and crunched two between her teeth. A woman and child stood over her on the sidewalk. “Jesus Christ, shit,” Jorie gasped. The woman clutched her chest. The boy stifled a laugh. With violent effort Jorie pushed up from the curb. Her knees popped, vision slurred sideways, and she landed hard on the sidewalk. She erupted in a snort. This really was the funniest thing that had happened to her—ever. In the curved bumper of an SUV she caught her image in chrome: stretched eyes, ballooned lips, cratered chin. She imagined this is what Melody looked like. “This is Wayne Faber’s house, right?” said the woman. Jorie blinked hard, bent to retrieve the Louis Vuitton, then rose slowly, careful not to tumble over the curb. The purse’s paraphernalia remained on the street to bake, while her mind gradually registered the fact that the woman didn’t bother to help her up. “Do you live here?” the woman said with exasperation, nodding at the house. Jorie brushed away concrete pellets that stuck to her dress. “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me,” she replied. The woman spoke to her son. “Let’s drop off the gift and go.” The woman wore a pale linen short-set, with a brown leather purse that hung long from a strap. A diamond wedding ring glinted like a white hot asterisk. The boy was handsome, even in his grass-stained soccer uniform and sweaty blond hair, and his masculine demeanor seemed at odds with the polka-dotted package he carried. “What’s your name, son?” Jorie asked. The boy shuffled his cleats and looked at his mother. The woman bore a striking resemblance to her son when she produced a flat smile and said, “Nathaniel is his name.” Jorie winked at the boy. “Nathaniel. That’s a nice name. NA-THAN-YAL. Where’s your dad, Nathaniel? Is he at work, Nathaniel? On a business trip? Is he alone—or with a female associate? An office temp?” The woman expressed a startled anger that made her face appear starched. “Dads never come to these things,” Jorie said bitterly, before the woman could interject, and then thought of Larry somewhere, anywhere but here, because she never invited him, and it gave her a wicked satisfaction. Page 56

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The woman pinched a piece of her son’s shoulder, an action that seemed familiar to her. “We’re going inside,” she said, then turned up the walk without saying goodbye. “Your funeral,” Jorie said loudly, and watched them go up the steps quickly and ring the bell. Pretending they were friends parting, she turned in the opposite direction with a pleasant disposition and the purse in the crook of her arm, a show for the neighbors who might be watching behind shrouded windows, and then walked heel-toe down the sidewalk. At the edge of her property line she stopped, and as if a school bell had rung, she suddenly bolted to the side yard, her arms and legs akimbo. She halted at the air conditioner; a whirring motor caught her attention. She touched the big, gray metal box, but it wasn’t running. Stepping on tiptoes she peered over the wooden gate of the back fence. A generator echoed loudly as a fan fed air into the Juan-in-a-Million Moonwalk. The backyard was empty except for the donkey and Juan, leaning against a tree. Juan pulled something from his front shirt pocket. He lit a cigarette. He took a puff. Jorie let the purse drop to the grass and opened the wooden gate. The donkey’s ears snapped to attention. With a burning purpose her sandals led her past the kitchen bay window, across trampled gumballs and Bit-o-Honey wrappers loose in the sunburned grass. The mutilated piñata, barely resembling its soccer ball design, swung from a branch. Juan brought the cigarette to his lips and blew. Seeing him up close, Jorie was reminded that despite his thick eyebrows he was only a teenager. She startled him, and his full lips spread into a feeble grin; he held the cigarette awkwardly as if he’d just been caught smoking by his mom. She smiled, jabbed a fingernail into her left breast, and nodded at his shirt’s left pocket. He froze, not knowing how to react to this woman who hadn’t paid him yet. She pantomimed again. He raised a thick eyebrow, nodded, and pulled the pack from his pocket. “Por favor,” said Jorie. She hoped to find a book of matches tucked inside, but she found only cigarettes. Frowning, she took a cigarette anyway and returned the pack. With his free hand he retrieved matches from his pants pocket, struck the fire, and held it up to her. Jorie burst into a beautiful smile. She accepted the light, puffed, and burrowed into his brown eyes. He shifted them sheepishly, which she found endearing. She took a long drag, then exhaled toward the sun. Juan tossed the match into the grass and stamped it with his boot. He was returning the matches to his pocket when she grabbed his hand. This lady was confusing him. “Matches,” she said. And then she spoke slowly, loudly. “Birthday. Cake. Can. Dles. Little. Boy. Por. Favor.” His innocent composure evaporated. “No problem, lady,” he said in clear, un-accented English. She was drunk. Jorie took three matches for good measure. The donkey brayed. She laughed and surprised herself.

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Carefully turning, she craned her neck and took in all of the Juan-in-a-Million Moonwalk, the words emblazoned in bubblegum letters across the top. The hulking balloon bulged red with fishnet windows on all four sides. Jorie set her sandals by the doorway, laying the three matches delicately in the heel, before hiking her dress, gripping the red rubber door flaps, and taking a lunging step inside. Her bare feet sank into rubber, her equilibrium exited her body, and the floor came up and smacked her in the face. On her back she giggled, rolled and glared at the ceiling, fixating on a knot in the center, doing her darnedest to assimilate with the undulating room. Noxious sweet vapors hovered. She rolled to the moonwalk’s edge and slipped her fingers through the threads of a mesh window. With terrific energy she pulled herself up and felt a tear in the armpit of her dress. She took careful steps to the center. With tickling apprehension, Jorie bounced like a beginner. Her stomach fluttered. A poof of joy. Laughing gas. Up up up—frozen, weightless for an instant, her tear-drop earrings immobile in mid-air— then down down down. Higher and higher she flew, with each jump providing a glimpse over the fence into the neighbor’s back yard. A kidney-shaped pool. A girl’s pink bathing suit. Flat at the edge. Drying in the sun. A girl freely nude in the heat? Or enveloped inside in the air-conditioned air? Jorie dipped to her knees, bounced off her back, dived and flipped and cart-wheeled and soared. She was a bird. A kite. A baton. This lightness, this dizziness, had a dislodging effect on her brain. Her memory became malleable, her mind a mess of scrambled puzzle pieces. A heady sensation, a new perspective, erupted. I set them free. Larry and Melody. Possibly, perhaps. I was complicit in their crime. I knew, in my gut, at the most basic level. Didn’t I? I sensed a shift, a fractured foundation. And I did nothing about it—not even an attempt to repair it. I threw myself away, into the pathetic arms of Ray Darby. Now Larry and Melody are free. Free of me—and I of them. She felt lighter, and soared higher, faster, farther, alone. Jorie touched the top of the balloon with the tip of her nails. Once. Twice. Thrice. Children’s hands and faces pressed sticky and flat against her kitchen window. Wayne was pointing and laughing, his mouth smeared with cake. It struck her, from this viewpoint, how Page 58

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Wayne didn’t look like Larry at all—and not even like herself. He was uncontrollably, unabashedly Wayne. His exuberant eyes followed her up and down. Mothers huddled with their mouths agape. Rita hid her face behind the new camera, pointing and clicking, and the flash emitted a strobelike warning. Kids flooded into the yard, screaming, clambering to be the first to bounce with Wayne’s mom. Jorie’s insides tickled and rose through the center of her stomach. The back of her throat burned. Gravity gripped her ankles, her head regained its former weight, and her burdens reconnoitered against her. Her belly lurched. Jorie swallowed hard.

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The Journey by Melissa Tozier

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Malka Davis Missing In Action A rumor circulated among the grease monkeys at Columbus High that a 1970 Dodge Challenger 383 Magnum was sitting in a barn on the Montgomery property, and that it was a source of conflict between Cheryl Montgomery and her mother. Cheryl wanted to sell the Challenger—maybe even give it away—to someone who could drive and maintain it. Mrs. Montgomery argued that Cheryl might as well declare Benjamin dead if she was going to do such a foolish thing, that her brother bought the car a month before basic because he said it was the next best thing to having a girl waiting for him back home. And who knows, by the time he finished his tour of duty, the Challenger could have attracted a whole posse of girls just jumping for a chance to go cruising. That was the rumor. Now the grease monkeys wanted Jerry Kemp to confirm it. All he had to do was go to Cheryl’s house and ask her about it—as if it was that simple. “Of course it’s that simple,” Bob said. “She totally digs you.” And Chuck added, “If you play your cards right, Jerry, she’ll probably hand you the keys right there on the spot.” It was meant as a joke, but Jerry didn’t laugh, didn’t think it was funny at all. He was afraid his buddies might be right, that the girl would do something that rash and careless. But then there were a lot of things about Cheryl Montgomery that frightened him—or at least unnerved him. All the same, he found himself walking down a county road to the Montgomery place—no one called it a farm anymore—on a hot July fourth afternoon. Clouds dotted a pale blue sky, and the hum of insects pulsated like electricity in the breathless air. Jerry’s stiff work boots kicked up dirt and gravel as he shuffled along the shoulder. He couldn’t bring himself to wear anything less cumbersome on his feet—not sandals, not high-tops, certainly not those ridiculous gym shoes everybody and his brother was sporting these days. Jerry Kemp, a mere eighteen years old, already embodied the spirit of a man three times his age. “I like what I like,” he said, and often in rebuttal to anyone crazy enough to suggest the unfamiliar or untested. A short-cut to the drive-in. A new brand of frozen pizza. He wiped the sweat from his brow with one sleeve of his white t-shirt, then the other, and waited in vain for a gust of wind, a shallow breeze, even just the draft from a passing car. But everyone in Lacomb County, except the two surviving Montgomeries, would be gathering in downtown Astoria for the country’s bicentennial celebration. And although he hated to miss out on the festivities, he didn’t want anyone to see him walking to that decayed parcel of land that had been, at one time, the proud home of Columbus High’s all-star quarterback, Ben Montgomery.

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Hard for Jerry to believe there was ever a time when his oldest brother Dave and Ben were teammates, near constant companions, sometimes mistaken for kin. “We’re closer than brothers,” Dave used to say. But after high school things changed. Without explanation, Ben Montgomery turned down his football scholarship to Notre Dame and enlisted in the army. Dave went to Berkley, as planned, but within a year “fell in with the hippie drug culture,” as the elder Kemp put it. From what Jerry had overheard in the heated exchanges between his older sisters it was Ben Montgomery’s unexpected change in plans that had sent their brother “over the edge.” It troubled Jerry to realize how easy it was to lose sight of your goals in life and get diverted. The consequences, as he saw it, were both dire and irrevocable, which was why, despite the teasing he took, he stuck to what he knew. He believed no good could possibly come from changing your course of direction. He cursed the heat as he walked. Once again his “piece of crap Le Mans” was in the shop. It was a purchase his father had advised against, so whenever the machine smoked and sputtered its way into Carson’s Auto Repair—which seemed always to coincide with an important event of some kind—Jerry knew better than to ask to borrow the family car. He kicked aside a dusty Miller beer bottle and thought about how he might explain his sudden appearance at Cheryl’s house. As usual, his buddies were no help. “Trust me,” Bob said, “a chick like that won’t care. She’ll just wet her little panties when she sees you at the door.” And Chuck, always ready with a punch line, added, “Shit, if she even wears panties.” They seemed to get a good laugh out of what was, for him, a most serious and challenging assignment. It came to his mind in the shower that morning that he could tell her he had tried to find a scrapyard off of old Route 4 and got lost. It was, after all, the most plausible explanation. Everyone in Astoria—if not the entire state—knew he had the worst sense of direction of anyone in the world, had rightfully earned the nickname Wrong-Way Kemp during the summer he took driver ed. Fifty-fifty odds rarely worked in his favor. He invariably turned in the opposite direction of Mr. Wallace’s pre-set destination. “Taking the scenic route, Kemp?” became a common refrain when Jerry was behind the wheel. John Kemp tried to orient his boy by way of the sun’s position in the sky, but after a few fender benders realized it was too much of a distraction for him. He heard an engine approach from behind—a Mopar, he thought—and turned around. Sure enough, a ’57 Dodge pickup the mottled color of an overripe banana rambled up the road, its driver nothing but a pencil smudge with a green baseball cap. Half a minute later the driver was asking him if he wanted a lift. Jerry looked around at the landscape of open field and scratched the stubble on his face, wondered if maybe he should have shaved that morning. “You know I think—I think I’m almost there. Thanks anyway, though.” The old man shrugged. “Have it your way buddy.” As the truck pulled away, Jerry saw the license plate was from a neighboring state where Page 62

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his family had gone camping every summer—years before Dave fell in with the hippie drug culture. He recalled a trip when was five, six at the most. His big brother led him off the trail to explore and they ended up at a cool, mossy hollow where a stream cut across the rock and sent up musical notes they had never heard before. As dusk set in, Jerry worried about finding their way back to the campground, and Dave had said, “You won’t get lost so long as you stay with me.” And so Jerry never thought his brother could get lost. Yet he was, and perhaps forever. The letters and infrequent phone calls, always for more money his father said, stopped five years ago. For all anyone knew, Dave had as much status among the living as Ben Montgomery. Amidst all the uncertainty of his brother’s whereabouts Jerry was sure of one thing—that his father would prefer a dead son to a drugged-out hippie. He’d rather have the honor of a son killed in the service of his country or declared an MIA. At those times when Cheryl Montgomery entered Jerry’s head it wasn’t like he didn’t think of her as pretty or sweet or any of those things a girl ought to be. But she had to be smart and talented, too, winning some huge scholarship to a design school on the East Coast. She had to wear clothes she made herself, that didn’t look like anything you’d find at Sears or Kmart. And if that wasn’t enough, there was the vagrant part in her hair. It didn’t follow a nice straight path down the center of her head. It took a detour halfway through the crown and migrated from day to day, so that he began to notice its progression like the phases of the moon. Jerry had seen her drawings on display in the cafeteria and thought they were as good as tracings. How could such a skillful artist be so careless in the parting of her own hair? Now he was expected to talk to this strange girl—not like in biology, where they were teamed up to dissect a frog—but like actual friends. Jerry thought for sure his pairing with Cheryl was Mr. Kelso’s way of making sure he didn’t fall behind in his grades so close to graduation. Even after he accidentally threw away their frog’s digestive tract, the girl’s steady patience and gentle directives kept him from giving up in his usual fit of frustration. She talked to him as if she was unaware of his “learning challenges” and “attention problems.” He always thought a smart girl could spot a dumb guy like him. Jerry stopped and squinted into the sky, tried to get a fix on the sun’s position. But the clouds interfered, made it seem like it was shining from different points in the sky. The rough hair on his arms prickled. His tongue felt large and foreign inside his mouth. When he returned to the low pasture with its solitary stand of trees, the Montgomery house materialized before his eyes, roughly a hundred yards ahead on the crest of a small hill. Twenty feet to his right he recognized what had been, at one time, a potato digger. The seat of the digger was positioned so that it looked like the face of a man gazing skyward, its metal arms extended in supplication. Jerry and his buddies had cruised past the Montgomery place at least a dozen times, mostly to mock and sneer at the oddity of Cheryl’s rusted machinery sculptures. But now he saw that they weren’t really

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meant to be viewed from the vantage of a passing car. You had to sort of creep up on them like this to see that they were dignified and somewhat defiant. Realizing this made Jerry feel uncomfortable, like someone or something had put a thought into his head that was not his own. What on earth had he done to provoke a girl like this into liking him? One day she was asking questions about the car he was taking apart in shop class. The next thing he knew she was wearing black eyeliner and lip gloss that gave off the scent of strawberries. She got into the habit of smiling at him in the hall, even when he was standing around with his friends. She stopped raising her hand to answer questions in biology and Spanish class. Sometimes she’d tell him that she didn’t “get” the homework problems, or about how little she studied for a test. He felt embarrassed by the transparency of her behavior but didn’t know how to tell her she wasn’t fooling him for a second. As he moved closer to the Montgomery house he saw his own desperation reflected in the sparsely populated flower boxes that underlined the second story windows, in the paint job that had been abandoned for lack of a tall, steady ladder—half-hearted attempts at normalcy made too remote by grief. Jerry’s pace slackened. He reminded himself rather sternly that he was only there for the car. But out of respect for the girl’s obvious feelings for him he couldn’t just come right out and ask about it. That would be insensitive and cruel. Something Chuck would do. He also had to be mindful not to betray his prior knowledge of the car once he was under its spell. It was a formidable degree of awareness to sustain for a boy like Jerry. It required subtlety and guise, two qualities he neither possessed nor aspired to. But for this particular situation he was willing to try them on. What made it all the more challenging was the way Cheryl both repelled and attracted him. He hated contradictions—especially in himself—and hoped that if he didn’t come out of this whole venture with his first muscle car he might at least arrive at a definitive like or dislike for the girl. He thought there was a good chance of that happening—if he could just keep his mind off that crazy migrating part in her hair. ************************************* Outside Benjy’s bedroom, she listens, her breath shallow between parted lips, fingertips pondering the faceted glass doorknob. She licks the sweat from her lip and contemplates the contrast of yellow wallpaper where a crucifix used to hang. From down the hall she hears the scrape of a drawer opening and closing in rapid succession, although she knows it is actually three different drawers—a game she plays with her mother. Not so much hide and seek, but Three-Card Monte. Throughout the week, Cheryl moved the bottle of scotch from one dresser drawer to another. And still her mother barely spoke to her. At last comes the syncopated clinking of glass against glass by an unsteady hand, followed by the wild applause of some distant studio

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audience. Congratulations, Sarah Montgomery! You’re one drink closer to complete self-destruction! Her mother was now safely tethered to the television set. Cheryl turned the doorknob in slow steady increments until some unseen hand on the other side pulled the door away from her. Months had passed since she last entered her brother’s bedroom, she felt hopelessly out of practice. And it was all the fault of that man-boy Jerry Kemp, Astoria’s answer to James Dean. Clad day after day in those spotless white t-shirts and heavy-duty Levi’s, his legs shuffling against the weight of his work boots, which were always grease-stained and coated with dust. She would have understood her attraction to a true rebel. But from what she could tell, Jerry Kemp’s likeness to James Dean was merely superficial. He possessed neither the imagination nor the courage to challenge the status quo. She was fairly certain, too, that it was this lack of imagination that kept him from seeing her as anything but a freak of nature. On alternating days she wondered how such a boy could hijack her thoughts and emotions, even as she scrambled desperately to re-fashion herself into an object of desire for him. She gave her eyes time to adjust to the darkness and gathered the odors of Benjy’s youth in one long inhalation: thick leather, Old Spice and nicotine, motor oil, and the faint mildew emanating from his closet. Smells that could only be preserved, her mother said, by keeping the windows of his room shut tight, the door closed. Preserved, yes, Cheryl thought. But never enjoyed, never contemplated. She took his football off the unfinished oak shelf, a modest piece of woodwork he made with their father a year before the old man’s heart gave out. Cheryl grasped the ball between her long nimble fingers, closed her eyes and brought it to the tip of her nose, thought she could pick up the faintest odor of sweat from Benjy’s hands. Because she was only eleven when her brother left for Vietnam, and his disappearance came so soon after his deployment, Cheryl wondered if he hadn’t simply become separated somewhere in transit, maybe got on the wrong airplane and was flown to a country where no one spoke English. Some remote place in Africa, perhaps. It would take him a while to find his way back. But once he did, he would realize what a mistake it had been to enlist in the army instead of taking that scholarship to Notre Dame. Surely he would recognize something as simple as that. She turned the football over in her hands three times before replacing it, then picked up the photo of the 1968 Columbus High State Champions and stared at her brother’s sly, gap-toothed smile, the way he held the football in the crook of his arm, the elbow of his other arm perched jauntily on the shoulder of his best receiver, Dave Kemp. She recognized the Kemp nose, short and crested like a sun-dial, a precursor to Jerry’s. Her shoulders collapsed. The boy had invaded the closest thing she had to a temple.

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It had all started, benignly enough, with a stance, a pose. By Cheryl’s own reckoning, both a ridiculous and miraculous thing to behold and no doubt unintentional on his part. She saw it one day as she moved languidly between classes. He stood in the hallway talking to one of his shop buddies, one foot planted at a twenty degree angle ahead of the other, a slight contrapposto through his torso and hips, his shoulders back, muscular arms splayed from his side—a Renaissance David, Cheryl thought, poised for combat against an invisible Goliath. A classical pose she doubted anyone at Columbus High could have possibly noticed in such an unlikely specimen. And once she recognized it, she found herself looking for it day after day, until she gradually began seeing things in him she never thought possible. On the far wall, among posters of Led Zeppelin and Johnny Unitas, hung a display of her early drawings, most of them ambitious renderings of Benjy’s favorite muscle cars, labeled by year, make, and model in her exacting script. She sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the ‘70 Dodge Challenger, a fair representation of the one he eventually purchased. She thought of what he had said to her before he left. It wasn’t a promise. A promise was something you made, and man-made objects, Cheryl knew from experience, had a tendency to crumble and fall apart with the passage of time. No, Benjy never made promises. When he said he was going to do a thing it was as good as done. And so it never occurred to Cheryl to doubt her brother’s ability to follow through on anything. “When I come back,” he had said, meaning back from the war, “and I think you’re ready . . . I’ll teach you how to drive the Challenger.” She stood and turned to the eastern window. Did she dare? Wasn’t she a little too old for this? It was fine when she was just a kid with a lot of hope, looking out his bedroom window, believing a day would come when she would see him walking home. Not driving, or hitching a ride—but walking. Because that’s what would account for him taking so long. One more time couldn’t hurt, though, could it? She raised the vinyl shade and pushed apart the drapes. At once she saw that it was Benjy, and it was not Benjy. The half-swagger, half-shuffle of his gait, but not animated by him—but by an impostor wearing a white t-shirt and heavy-duty Levi’s. She watched his approach from a hundred yards, saw the tiny wake of dirt left by his work boots, and remembered the stupid little game she had invented at the start of summer. It was more of a prognostication than a game really. If he didn’t make it to her house by the time she left for Providence, it would be a sign that she had been wrong about the two of them, that the past year had been nothing but her first—and hopefully last—romantic delusion. She could then go to school and forget about him, probably more quickly than she cared to admit. Forget about Astoria and everything it had come to represent. And she could return to the life she had imagined for herself before Jerry Kemp captured her attention with his Renaissance David pose. But if he came to her before she left for Providence, that too would be a sign, an irrefutable sign that they had a Page 66

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future together, no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched it seemed right now. She would return to Astoria after four years and find him nearly unchanged, only he would have come to realize that he loved and needed her. They would build a life together, like laying a train track, one rail at a time, looking up on occasion—not to see where they were going, but to see where the tracks had taken them. And in that way Jerry could never feel lost. Cheryl pressed a forefinger against the glass and made the small figure disappear. She advanced her finger against the glass until he was securely hidden behind a solitary stand of trees. Only after he walked out the other side did she lower the blind and shut the drapes. Cheryl looked about her brother’s room with the regret of a final farewell. You never made promises, she said to herself. After one last deep breath, she closed the door behind her and headed downstairs. ************************************* Jerry reached the foot of the drive and stood with his hand anchored atop a wooden post where a mailbox used to be. Cheryl sat in the shade of her front porch, flipping through a magazine and eating cubes of cantaloupe with a fork. Her blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail, a few loose strands fell across her face. Every so often she waved at a hovering formation of flies. When she finally looked up and saw him, he was struck by the lack of surprise in her face; her bright green eyes betrayed nothing. She took her time getting to her feet and walked down the gravel drive in that careless way of someone with no real destination in mind. Before she reached him, she called out, “I bet you’re thirsty.” He felt the starchy dryness in his mouth and throat, and barely nodded. Cheryl offered her hand. His abandoned the solidity of the wooden post and found hers. She felt cool to the touch, the delicate bones of her fingers like his grandmother’s fine china. “Let’s get you a glass of lemonade,” she said, leading him to the house. “Then, there’s something I want to show you.” Silently, she made her way down an uneven dirt path bordered on either side by waist-high weeds and clusters of rocks. Gone was the casual saunter that had taken her to the foot of the drive. Now she walked as if a pair of iron shackles required her to measure the exact placement of every step. Jerry respectfully trailed by a distance of three feet. He could already see up the path that they were not headed toward a barn exactly. Barns were red and made of wood. What he saw looked more like a large aluminum shed. He hoped this minor deviation in the rumor was not indicative of other, more important, discrepancies. God help him if he came all this way for a Ford Pinto. He tried to override his uneasiness and excitement by concentrating on Cheryl’s figure. He hoped she would gain some weight while at college. Not as much as his two older sisters had—not quite that much weight—but a good eight or ten pounds throughout her hips and thighs would go far in allaying his fears of breaking her in two like a twig.

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When they reached the shed, she produced a set of keys from the pocket of her handembroidered denim shorts and worked the padlock with a commanding series of maneuvers before the U-shaped shackle broke free. Jerry scratched the two-day stubble on his chin and cleared his throat of its Camel-induced phlegm. He wished he had a cigarette now, although God knows he was trying to quit. He stood to one side as Cheryl pushed the door along its rusty metal track, its screech creating a flutter of activity among the weeds. He was greeted by a waft of stale, cool air that made him sneeze three times. Cheryl motioned for him to enter, and before his eyes had time to adjust to the darkness, she had found the switch to the low-hanging fluorescent fixtures. They flickered warily before casting the room in a bluish aura. By the time she finished pushing the door back in place, Jerry was making his first orbit around the Challenger. It was in great condition, he had to admit. But it gave him the uneasy feeling of gazing upon a wild animal that had lived too long in captivity. “My god,” he said. “It’s an R/T! Like in ‘Vanishing Point’!” Cheryl smiled. “I know.” “And Plum Crazy!” he went on. “Look at how that color just pops with the black billboard!” “I know.” She could barely contain her own giddiness. She watched him circle the car, his movements taking on the jerky animation of a wind-up toy, his mouth launching rapid bursts of admiration for this pinnacle of automotive design. “God knows I’ve been jonesin’ for a ‘Cuda,” he said. He crouched at the rear of the car and examined its low, sleek body. “But the Challenger’s built on the same platform as the ‘Cuda. The E-body. They’ve both got that great line down the side,” he said, motioning with his hand to indicate the slight flare along the rear quarter panel. Then he moved toward the front and bent at the waist to peer through the driver side window. He heard Cheryl’s thin, raspy voice say, “It’s unlocked.” He wheeled around. “Are you sure?” Cheryl laughed. When she saw the serious look in his eyes, how dead-pan his face was, she changed her demeanor. “Yes, of course. Get in.” Now behind the wheel, Jerry cried out “Rallye gauges” and “Hurst pistol grip” before embarking on a litany of the car’s other attributes. Cheryl didn’t think she could be any happier if she tried. It was times like these when all the differences between them seemed to melt away. If Jerry Kemp wasn’t the smartest boy in Astoria he was, among his own kind, exceptional. Hard working. Determined in the face of his intellectual obstacles. Kind and considerate, a gentleman among a group of boys not normally associated with sensitivity. And yet the child in him still played close to the surface. It sometimes led him wide-eyed into mishaps like that of the discarded frog intestines. Outside of these general observations, though, Cheryl’s attraction to him mystified Page 68

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even her. A few of her friends had allowed that he was “good looking enough,” but nothing more. She could do better, so much better, and undoubtedly would once she got the hell out of Astoria and into a more sophisticated gene pool. But how could she think about all those East Coast intellectuals when Jerry Kemp was telling her how “danged ate up” he was over a muscle car? His eyes left the interior and found Cheryl’s face smiling down at him. She extended the set of keys in her hand and said, “Go ahead. Fire it up.” He ran a hand down the side of his face. “Uhhh . . . that’s probably not a good idea.” “How come?” He hated having to ask but couldn’t see a way around it. “Well . . . when was the last time somebody started it up?” Cheryl’s eyes darkened. “I guess it’s been about . . . six years.” “Yeah.” Jerry felt a heaviness inside his chest. “That’s a long time for a car to sit without being run.” “I didn’t realize that.” She tucked the keys back into her pocket. “That’s alright. I mean, it’s a Mopar. It would probably start after six or seven tries. But we might damage the engine in the process, and we sure don’t want that.” He saw her eyes come back to life. “No,” she replied. “We sure don’t.” After a painful lesson in the mechanics of the hood latch, Jerry embarked on a recitation of the Challenger’s inner workings. “Your brother even replaced the stock manifold with headers.” She liked that he assumed she knew what they were and what the difference was between them. He spent the next twenty minutes under the hood, explaining in truncated terms what needed to be checked before starting it. First of all the battery. Check the engine for rust. He had noticed a little bit under the frame. It might be best to just rebuild the engine from scratch. The fuel system would have to be drained since the gas in the tank wasn’t good anymore. Test the distributor for spark. And then, once it’s running, check the “tranny” fluid. “That’s a lot of stuff to take care of,” Cheryl said. “It is a lot of stuff,” he replied, fitting the air cleaner back into place. “But it’ll be worth the time and expense. These cars are going to be worth a lot of money some day. I just know it. But you get it on a flatbed, take it over to Greg Helms’ place in Blossom, and I guarantee you he’ll fix it right up.” He backed his head out from under the hood and stepped away from the car. “What’s the matter?” “Oh. Nothing.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and shrugged. “I just thought, maybe . . . I don’t know . . . you could do some of that here.”

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Jerry cracked his knuckles. Damned if he hadn’t walked right into that one. Hadn’t he told Bob and Chuck there’d be a hitch? That the girl wouldn’t just up and give away her long-lost brother’s muscle car without throwing something for herself into the bargain? Now here he was, right in the thick of it. He ran his fingers through his hair, and felt the fine grittiness of dried sweat. “I don’t know.” He grimaced and shook his head. “I mean—I’m okay with doing small stuff. Changing oil and spark plugs and whatnot. But something like this.” He shook his head. “No. I just wouldn’t feel confident doing it on my own.” “But you wouldn’t be doing it on your own!” She saw how her enthusiasm frightened him and quickly down-shifted into reserved optimism. “I’d be here to help. I’ve been reading up on car restoration and everything. I even went over to Greg Helms’ place myself and talked to him about it.” Jerry looked at her with a measure of surprise that she foolishly interpreted as admiration. “Really?” he said. “And Greg didn’t tell you not to try to start it?” She found a small stone on the cement floor and pushed it with the toe of her sandal as if to determine whether it was dead or alive. “Well,” she said. “Not exactly. Not in so many words. But I didn’t give him the whole story.” With new-found expertise Jerry lowered the hood of the car. He carefully reinserted the hoodpins, pulled a small section of t-shirt from the waistband of his jeans and wiped his fingerprints from the small circle of chrome. Only after he had tucked his shirt back in did he return his attention to Cheryl. He assumed his signature pose and regarded her with a combination of curiosity and skepticism. “So, if you don’t mind my asking . . . what is the whole story?” No doubt she had flubbed. In her excitement she had stupidly mentioned talking to Greg Helms and had provided Jerry an opening through which to spot her deception. At the same time she realized that despite her claims that he was much brighter than anyone gave him credit for, she had completely underestimated Jerry Kemp’s intelligence. As a result, she was unprepared for this moment of confrontation. She tried to hold his stare for as long as possible before stumbling through a confession she never wanted to make. “Well . . . I-I guess I just really like you, that’s all.” “Uh-huh,” he replied. “I guess I already knew that.” To his credit, Jerry also recognized that Cheryl had not granted him enough intelligence to figure out what she had been up to this whole time. That she had planted the rumor at his favorite fast-food hangout, that she had spent the past year playing dumb, and that her suggestion to start the car was her way of letting him be the “smart one” for a change. But he figured even the brightest girl might dim considerably when lovestruck. He could certainly forgive her that. What he couldn’t abide was this altogether new Page 70

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expression on her face, a look of evaporated hope, a loss of faith in herself, in him, and in the situation she had worked so hard to create. With so little else to lose, she might do what he feared from the start and just give him the car, no strings attached. He’d be damned if he’d let her do something that stupid. He propped his hands on his hips and asked, “So what happens after we work on the car and get her running again?” She shrugged. “What do you mean?” “What happens when the summer’s over and you’re heading off to school?” Cheryl stepped back from the Challenger. “I . . . I don’t—” “You just going to hand over the keys and fly off like nothing happened?” She looked wildly about the shed for something to anchor her thoughts, something other than the figure of Jerry Kemp standing so oddly sure of himself, arms folded across his chest, a naked glimmer in his big, brown eyes. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t—” “Don’t got it all figured out?” “I guess I thought, maybe, once we have it running—” She took a deep breath. “You could teach me how to drive it.” “I’ve seen you drive that pickup through town. You know how to work a manual transmission.” “You don’t understand,” she said. She considered telling him what Benjy had promised before he left, and then remembered that it hadn’t been a promise. Benjy didn’t make promises. “It’s not that simple,” she said, knowing full well she had a knack for complicating simple matters. “I-II just need you to teach me drive it. Just once. That’s all. After that, you can have it. It’s yours.” Jerry pivoted on his heels and looked over the Challenger once more. A beautiful piece of machinery. Four-on-the-floor like he always wanted. Three hundred and thirty-five horses under the hood. Dual exhaust and wide-tread tires that could leave a cloud of choking fumes in its wake. It could be his for the asking. And she wasn’t asking a lot. A simple enough equation on the surface. But how many times had some girl come along and complicated what had been, at least in his mind, a simple equation? And when he thought about it later that night, he realized there was only one girl who had done that. He scratched the stubble on his chin and knew right then that it wasn’t just about the car anymore—if it ever had been—and it gave him the unsettling feeling that what transpired here could dog them for the rest of their lives. Or if not for the rest of their lives, then for a good many years to come. So he gave her what he thought the circumstances required, an admonition his father had drummed into his head a thousand times. He asked her if he could give the matter some thought. “I can let you know tomorrow,” he said. “Tuesday at the latest.”

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In her mind, she knew he was being reasonable. But something tugged at her insides, making it impossible for her to accept his deferment without a fight. “What is there to think about, for godsakes?” She gestured toward the car. “What do you possibly have to lose?” “Why do you need an answer right this minute?” He did not attempt to hide his agitation. “You’ve waited this long. What’s one more day?” “Don’t you dare talk to me about waiting!” Her eyes were wild now, her arms flailed against the strength of the undertow she felt tugging at her waist. “I understand—” “No, you don’t! Jesus Christ, Jerry, he’s never coming home!” She clapped a hand over her mouth and turned away from him. Jerry watched her slender body shake as if she was on the verge of vomiting. He looked about the shed with reclaimed helplessness and confusion. Finally he did what he had seen on countless episodes of “Bonanza.” He reached into his back pocket, gave his starched white handkerchief a perfunctory glance, and dangled it before Cheryl’s face until at last she saw it and took it. After a long moment she said something, but her words were muffled. Jerry let them be, with the hope that they were not of pivotal importance. He doubted he could get into a worse mess than this. When he felt the time was right, he told her he was sorry about what had happened to her brother. He really was. He also wanted to tell her that it wasn’t fair to pressure him into an answer right there on the spot, that she had had months to think about the offer and all its implications, while he had been given only the past few minutes to consider it. But he didn’t. He knew the moment was lost, now that the spirit of Ben Montgomery had been invoked. Jerry thought about what he would tell his father once he found out about the deal he struck with Cheryl. He would rebuke Jerry for not coming to him first to discuss it. But in time he would hopefully regard it as an intuitively sound business decision. “Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll do it.” Cheryl cleared her throat and found her way back to where Jerry stood. She folded his handkerchief into fourths before returning it, and told him she would drive him back home. He said he didn’t mind walking. “No, let me drive you. You’ve come a long way already.” On their return to the house, Jerry asked her if she was going to watch the fireworks that night. “We’ve got a good view of them from our back patio,” he added quickly. “You’re welcome to stay and watch.” “That would be nice,” she said. Once inside the pickup he asked her about the day Benjy bought the Challenger, and Cheryl told him how upset their mother was, especially because he had used part of his father’s life insurance money for the purchase. “He told her over and over that he hadn’t spent a lot of money Page 72

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on it, that it wasn’t an expensive car. But she threw a fit all the same. Said it was frivolous and wasteful, considering he was going into basic in a month. Didn’t want to see the damn thing sitting in her drive.” She laughed. “Funny how people change once someone’s gone missing.” A bead of sweat made its way down Cheryl’s temple as she shifted into third. Jerry reached across and brushed it off with the back of his hand. Strange to find himself missing the view of her straight-on, the view that allowed him to chart the migration of that vagrant, crooked part in her hair. Six weeks later, a new crop of rumors circulated among the grease monkeys at Columbus High. Among those who knew Jerry Kemp as an oddly sentimental sort of guy it was asserted that the ‘70 Challenger he was cruising around in was not just a gift, but a promise on the part of his new girlfriend to return to Astoria after she finished college. It was also rumored that Jerry’s possession of the Challenger caused Mrs. Montgomery’s fatal stroke three days after he drove the car off the property. And although it was largely speculation, it appeared that, somehow, somewhere along the way, Wrong-Way Kemp had finally found his sense of direction. These assertions contained mere particles of truth, for they were not the creation of a talented young designer in the throes of her first love. Mrs. Montgomery’s stroke had multiple causes, alcohol a major one. Jerry continued to make wrong turns, although it didn’t take him nearly as long to realize it. And as for the Challenger’s role in getting Cheryl to return to Astoria, she would contend that, like her brother, she never made promises.

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Rayme Waters The Watertower Now I’ve got my chance at the bad guys. At 28, I’m not the youngest assistant DA in San Francisco, but I’m not far off. My office looks like those you see in a newsroom: half walls, half glass. Stedman’s is catty-corner, which was great for a while, awful when the intern was here, and has now gone back to being okay as I can monitor how hard he’s working, which is pretty hard. He’s here now, late, and we are the only two in the office. Around midnight, I took a stale doughnut from the box in the hall and lay on my office floor, corpse-like, resting my eyes between bites. My phone rang mid-cruller and I banged my head on my desk getting up. “Ouch. Hello?” “Miranda?” My stepfather. Don’t worry, I like him, this isn’t one of those kinds of stories. I started to tease him about calling me at work, trying to pre-empt his concern about what I was doing at my desk this time of night, but he didn’t play along. “Elliott,” he said. In the accent he’s not lost after thirty years in the States, Alistair told me that Elliot Spring, our neighbor and my childhood friend, hung himself from the rafters of his barn. “I’m sorry to tell you on the phone, Miranda. I’ll fetch you tomorrow.” My surroundings became watery, shifty. “I can’t wait until then,” I said. “I shouldn’t have called. Do you still have some of the pills?” I did. “Take one, rest tonight. I’ll be there early.” I don’t know how long I sat holding the receiver, but when I snapped out of it, Stedman was leaning against the doorjamb. I heard the recorded voice asking me to hang up or make a call “Webber,” he said, kneeling before my chair. “What happened?” I couldn’t answer. He held my face in his hands and repeated his question. I had spent so many months pretending not to notice him, not looking him in the eye, that his proximity shocked me into saying, “I want to go home.”

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He led me to the garage, holding my jacket and bag. I protested as I was put in the passenger seat, but Stedman shut the door and by the time he’d come around the to the driver’s side, I’d gone silent again. He wove through Lombard Street traffic and crossed the Golden Gate. An hour north, we exited the highway, heading west. The radial strip malls of Santa Rosa behinds us; Stedman sped across the llano, through Sebastopol, and climbed into the hills beyond where the pine and cypress gave way to apple orchards. When I was eight, my mother met Alistair, a professor of physics at Sonoma State, at the Coffee Cantata on Fillmore. He’d been stood up by a blind date. My mom, pale with wavy red hair to her waist, felt sorry for him. She sat him next to her hostess station and they talked until close. He came in every night after that, and then he drove down on the nights she wasn’t working and took us both out. He paid for an exterminator for our apartment, he took us up to his farmhouse on the weekends, he brought me a chemistry set which I made a point of throwing away the minute he left. I’d hated him. He had a big butt, thick glasses and his leather jacket squeaked when he walked. I moped on weekends at his place and after they got married I pouted through the honeymoon, a trip to Disneyland, which Alistair planned so we could all be together. But he was patient and, eventually, I thawed. My mother was happier and having him around meant the end of the other, creepier boyfriends. Even though I still pretended to be unhappy, summer at Alistair’s place—where I could eat crisp apples off the tree and it was warm enough to wear shorts everyday—was a thousand times better than another foggy summer in our cramped apartment. As I grew to love the land, I began to love Alistair, too. Now, he is all I have. He still lives in the farmhouse. Around him, the land has been converted to private vineyards and ego mansions, a rush of new money choking what had once been a patchwork of orchards and fields where an assistant professor could buy some land and apple farmers could get by. When Stedman pulled up to the house, Alistair came to the porch, looking relieved when someone other than myself got out of the driver’s seat. I shook off their help as I unfolded my legs from the little car, but stumbled when I stood. Stedman got me inside and I sat on the couch staring into space as the two of them talked in the kitchen. “I’m sorry,” Stedman said, sitting beside me before he left. There was his shoulder, right there, but instead I said: “Don’t think I won’t be back on Monday.” “Monday’s a holiday, Webber,” he answered. “Oh,” I said.

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Alistair put a little white tablet on the end table and handed me a glass of water. I heard the gravel popping under Stedman’s tires as he drove away. Then I heard Alistair upstairs making my bed, and I remembered why I was here. All that it entailed pumped through my veins, chased mercifully by the Ambien and I got a familiar four hours of quiet from thinking. I woke in my rosebud room. Impressive, because Alistair must have carried my dead weight and he’d not lifted me in fifteen years. I padded into the hall and saw his feet hung over the end of the sofa downstairs. After my lack of functionality last night, I felt very capable today. Elliott was dead. There would be a funeral where I would go and pay respects. I wouldn’t go to the apple tree; I wouldn’t go to the creek. I wouldn’t go to the wake and make Jennifer talk to me. And then I would go right back to work, thank Stedman, and bulldoze him for the Mendoza case. “That John’s a good guy,” Alistair said from behind me. I turned, the measure of coffee held over the pot, “John?” And then I realized not everyone called Stedman Stedman. “He’s competition, that’s all.” “Competition doesn’t drive you home,” Alistair said. We sat for a moment, waiting for the coffee to brew. We’d agreed long ago to stop asking the other how we’d slept. “So when’s the funeral?” I asked as if I were offering sugar. “Probably Monday, right?” I answered myself. This had become business for me, some other loose end to be snipped off. “I’m not sure,” Alistair said. “The cause of death is uncertain, I think it might take some time.” “Uncertain? He hung himself.” I said in my opening argument voice. “That makes it clear unless there are lynch mobs of land-hungry tech entrepreneurs roaming the countryside.” “What’s clear to us isn’t accepted by St. Dom’s. They won’t bury him if it’s suicide. Jennifer is trying to have the corner rule it an accident.” I went into cross-examination. “He was hanging in his barn, with rope tied around his neck, right?” I said. Alistair just looked at me. “So unclear, so unclear,” I said. And then made the mistake of picturing Elliott, calm, capable Elliott, looking for the right length of rope in his tool shed, hanging neat bundles back when they proved to be too short. I stopped talking and concentrated on the mug I was rinsing. I set it down in the sink just before the black Ford came up the driveway.

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“Mary Mother of God,” I said. And I was back in my uniform, downing my orange juice ready to grab my backpack and head to school. “Alistair,” I cried and he was at my side in a motion. But instead of it being the worst practical joke of my life, or the ghost of the boy I once knew, Jennifer Spring—Elliott’s widow—climbed down from the cab. The first summer at Alistair’s I was still a city kid used to being on my own. The Springs, our nearest neighbors, had a white clapboard house with red gingham curtains in the kitchen and hydrangeas along the front walk. Behind the farmhouse there was a barn and a water tank built above a two-story outbuilding. This watertower was the only part of Spring Farm I could see from my window. Alistair said the tank was dry since the Springs had dug a well. Mr. Spring kept an office in the outbuilding, and later, when the tavern in town started serving microbrews instead of 99-cent Stroh’s, he’d gotten a couch and a bumper pool table for him, Mr. Meneni and Mr. Rossi to enjoy a Saturday night ball game on the radio. The Springs had one child, a boy, just my age. “I don’t like boys,” I said. And at the Saturday picnic Mrs. Spring invited us to, I made this clear, sitting tight by my mother’s side when Mrs. Spring suggested Elliott show me his train set. “I don’t like trains,” I said. Mrs. Spring, a country farm wife, and my mother, a woman who spent the 1970s in San Francisco, didn’t know what to do with each other. Alistair worked at making agricultural conversation with Mr. Spring. I ignored Elliott. The evening ended early, and I spent June alone. I saw Elliott now and then, but only from a distance. Once, I happened upon him when he lay on his back underneath the biggest apple tree in the valley. He went up on one elbow and didn’t look surprised to see me. “I’m in your way,” he said. I shrugged. “It’s a free country.” “You like to be alone. I stay away.” “I never see you,” I said. “That’s ‘cause I hide when you’re near. I see you everyday, I see you all the time.” “Where do you hide?” I asked. “Lots of places.” He got to his feet “I look for where the animals go. How they creep along so they can’t be heard, and I do that, and I can practically make myself disappear.” “Prove it,” I said. “Okay,” he said. “Close your eyes. Count to ten. Try and find me.” Behind me were rows of apple trees with trunks too thin for hiding. In front of us was an oak thicket. He couldn’t go in there without crunching up the leaves.

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“Fine.” I said, “One Mississippi.” I heard nothing in the silence between counts and realized that he might be standing inches away ready to scare the bejeezus out of me when I opened my eyes. But I was wrong. Elliott had vanished. I looked in the few bushes he could have gotten to being quiet and then I considered the situation. I could walk away and have a laugh. Hide and No Seek we’d called it in my old neighborhood. But I was bored. I’d read my library books and my mother and Alistair wouldn’t be home ‘til dinner. I made a pretense of looking in a few more bushes and then I called out, “I give up. I can’t find you.” Nothing. I realized I had underestimated Elliott Spring. He was halfway home, probably laughing his head off. My cheeks burned. I turned to go. “Wait,” he said, and he was beside me. After that we played everyday: my house, his house, the orchards, the creek. That summer, Elliot and I were rulers of all we could see. His chores, mixing spray for his father, pouring the almondy liquid into the tank on the back of the tractor and loading limb stakes were done early in the morning, and by the time I woke, Elliott would be waiting where the orchard stopped and Alistair’s scraggly lawn began, feeding birds with seed from his pocket. Our valley had orchards on its sloping sides, a wooded creek in the cleft and two farmhouses, the Spring’s and ours. When Alistair bought his place, the orchards that went along with it were sold to a company in Washington State that contracted with Mr. Spring to spray the trees. They brought in workers to prune in the spring and pick in the fall. But in the summer, Elliott and I were the sole inhabitants of the valley. Mrs. Spring stayed close to home, somewhere in the triangle of the house, the barn and the clothesline. Mr. Spring was a like a friendly specter, passing by on his tractor, waving at us with a leather-gloved hand. The creek served as the junkyard for generations of his family. We dug brown pharmacy bottles, faded tins of Spam, and a broken baby carriage from the silt. We’d scramble back to his house for lunch, where his mother put out cheese sandwiches on her own sweet brown bread. “When does school start?” I asked him as we looked at the Upton Chemical calendar on the refrigerator. “For you after Labor Day, for me, in two weeks.” “But we’re the same age,” I protested. Page 78

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“I go to St. Dominic’s,” he said. It made sense, for I saw Elliott six days a week, but never on Sunday. Sunday mornings when Alistair spread last week’s London Times out before him on the kitchen table and my mother and I tidied the house, Elliott was at church, early with his mother, tending the altar at the 11am service, and then to cousins in Santa Rosa for Sunday dinners. When my mother and Alistair took me to register at the public elementary, we were out of there faster than we’d gone in with Alistair muttering and my mother trying to calm him. “I don’t think they meant it that way,” my mother said, soothingly, as I sat stupefied in the back of the Volvo. “I’m not subjecting Miranda, you or myself to the small-mindedness of people like that front office ninny,” Alistair said. Whatever had happened in the office had unnerved my parents to the tune of $272 a month: the cost of the tuition at St. Dominic’s. My mother drove Elliott and me in on her way to the dentist’s office. Mrs. Spring picked us up in the old Ford after school. I had a uniform: a navy and green plaid pinafore. Elliott had navy pants and a white collared shirt. No fancy blazers or ties for us. We were country kids at a country Catholic school that only existed because west of the highway Italian, Irish, then Mexican immigrants farmed the land. The next summer, Elliott’s chores lasted longer into the morning until it was I who went to him and helped clean out the tanks of Alachlor and methyl bromide. Mrs. Spring gave me some of her gardening gloves and we loaded piles of limb supports on the tractor. Elliott drove the forklift and stacked the wooden crates that, come fall, would be filled with striped Gravensteins. By the summer before high school, Elliott’s work at Spring Farm lasted long enough into the day that either I worked alongside him or we only saw each other in the evenings. At Bishop O’Shea High we drove together, had lunch together and with the exception of some friends I made when I joined the debate team, were each other’s sole companion. The kids from St. Dom’s were used to that, but the new ones looked at us with suspicion. Boys and girls together like Elliott and I were always a couple: girls sneaking onto boy’s laps when the Sisters on lunch duty got engrossed in conversation. The kids from St. Anne’s, the wealthier elementary that served the eastside of the county, assumed we were brother and sister, which, when we started holding hands, must have sent a Deliverance-type shiver up their spines. For a while, I went to Sunday Mass with the Springs because Elliott asked me to. I hated it. Pudgy Father Patrick, with his crusty scalp and sweaty hands gave me the creeps. For mass at school, I just went through the motions. But at St. Dom’s, Elliott wore white and stood at the

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altar, motionless for the long sermons about gluttony and lust, the eternal punishment of hell. I itched to grab Elliott’s hand and run for it, to the orchard or the creek where he’d be free. When Father Patrick’s palm lingered on Elliott’s bent head, my skin crawled. I couldn’t stand it anymore. But my best friend remained still, eyes closed, whispering his prayers. Elliott Spring was a true believer. By the beginning of our sophomore year, Elliott had grown lanky but strong, still freckled, shy. At fourteen, he had his license to drive farm equipment, which also allowed him to drive Alistair’s old Volvo. Besides tending the altar at St. Dominic’s, Elliott was a member of the 4-H club, which he’d joined to pass the time during my debate meetings. 4-H had a lot of girls in it and there was a group of them who fawned over Elliott, bringing him cookies wrapped in tinfoil, sending him candygrams on Valentine’s Day. I despised those girls and told Elliott so, complaining most about Jennifer Malone, the dumpy blonde with big blue cow eyes. He ignored my nastiness, not smiling, not frowning, just keeping his eyes on the road. I worked summers at Spring Farm getting tan by hauling crates and 50-gallon drums. We tended the new trees, removing the burlap sacks, cleaning mites from the leaves and watching the new green unfurl. The apple conglomerate in Washington State didn’t replace their older trees, but instead sent heavy equipment to strip the land. It had been subdivided and sold the previous year and now the third house in our valley, large and angular, had taken shape. Elliott and I stopped the tractor there on our way home and wandered around the newly framed behemoth, all of its innards missing. With room for the big house, pool and motor court, there was at most an acre left and it was planted with grapevines. It was there, in the encroachment into our Eden, that Elliott kissed me. It was not what I expected, not like the Sweet Valley High books where the gentle kisses fall like rain. Elliott’s face mashed mine; I felt the two by four of the bearing wall grind into my head. His tongue thrust into my mouth with such force I thought I would choke. I pushed against him, but he pulled me closer. I pressed my thumbs against his windpipe, not too hard, but then harder. After what seemed like ten minutes, but was probably not ten seconds, Elliott stepped away. He stared at me, his eyes reading me. And when he saw that I was gasping for air, that I held out my hand to keep him away, he walked to the hole where the large picture window would soon be and sat on the ledge until I went to him and led him home. We never talked about that kiss. It had happened on a Saturday, Sunday I didn’t see him and Monday morning Elliott knocked on my front door like always, comb marks in his still-wet hair, his backpack slung over his shoulder. When we got in the car, I leaned over and kissed him

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light and soft on the cheek, and he sat for a moment holding his hand to his face, bent over until I thought he might be crying, but when I leaned forward to look, he sat up and started the car. He didn’t try to kiss me again. He let me kiss him, though. I was afraid of his mouth and so I kissed his neck, his hands, his eyelids. After my mom and Alistair had gone to bed we’d sit on the living room rug listening to Alistair’s hifi. Elliott lay on his back, as if asleep. “What are you thinking?” I asked. “I’m not thinking anything,” he answered, “just concentrating.” Sometimes on Saturdays, Elliott and I would go to the big apple tree or down to the creek with a picnic and look at the excavations we’d made over the years. We had enough nice junk to sell to the tourists and we talked about our someday shop, where it would be and how we’d run it. On the last Saturday we were ever in the creek together, Elliott came up behind me as I was tracing the words “Spring Antiques” in the muck and wrestled me down. He cushioned my head with his arm, instead of letting it hit the ground, but the rest of his body was solidly on mine. We’d arm wrestled before, often at our kitchen table with Alistair—my mom telling us in all seriousness to be careful. Wrestling came as easy for me as debate: I was small, but unpredictable. It took Elliott a while to pin me down as he wanted: on my stomach, him lying on top. For a minute, I was still laughing with the fun of it, the closeness of him. I’d been thinking about that first kiss. I wasn’t sure it was as bad as I remembered; I wanted to try again. Our breathing slowed, my laughter died down. Elliott moved against me, the hardness he’d always kept away pushed against the back of my cutoffs, his breathing grew ragged, he pushed again, let out a stunted groan and rolled off. I was stunned. He got up and, not looking back, left me alone in the muck by the creek. This can’t be right. I thought. I came home in tears, and slammed the door to my room. My mother came up the stairs and put her cold hands on my forehead. “Did you and Elliott fight?” she murmured, not needing an answer. Despite Alistair’s Volvo and my mother’s hand-knit ponchos, they never told me about anything having to do with boys or penises, or things to buy at the drugstore. When I was thirteen a package of Kotex appeared under the sink the in my bathroom; when I was unpacking my freshman year a box of condoms had been stuck in the side of my suitcase. I guess they assumed sex ed was covered in school and to a certain degree, it was; I could diagram a uterus like nobody’s business. But the only other thing I’d heard was only after marriage and then only for children. I wasn’t sure I believed that, I didn’t understand Elliott’s behavior, and there was no one I felt I could ask.

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Elliott was absent the week after what happened in the creek; the only time, with the exception of his father’s funeral, that he missed school. Mrs. Spring met me at the door and said his fever was too high for visitors. “I don’t care,” I said, “I want to see him.” “I can’t risk you catching what he has.” The following week, it was like the creek hadn’t happened. Another month went by of holding hands, driving to school, coming home. He did not kiss me; I did not kiss him, and on Saturdays neither one of us suggested a picnic, although this was our favorite time of year, when the apple blossoms swirled like twisters. We stayed around adults. That summer his father’s hack had turned hard and frequent, and a chest x-ray showed his lungs were pocked with tumors. It was in his bones, too, and he’d be gone by Christmas. It had been a good harvest that year; one of the last, and Elliott’s dad had bought a new Ford truck, shiny black with an extended cab, two weeks before the diagnosis. Jennifer Malone, or rather, Jennifer Spring, now stood on Alistair’s porch. The Ford, no longer new, parked in our driveway. I heard her decline Alistair’s invitation to come in. She asked for me. She wore faded jeans and a baggy sweatshirt. She did not look happy, but her eyes were dry. I did not know what to expect, but I did not expect this: A manila envelope, with Miranda written on the front in Elliott’s loopy cursive. “You win,” she said, turned on her heel, got into the Ford and backed down the driveway. I felt it over. It seemed empty, but I could feel something at the bottom. I opened it. No note. Other than my name on the front, the only thing in the envelope was one shiny Schlage key. I lay it on the table and stared at it. Then, the phone rang. Stedman. “Just checking on the patient,” he said. I heard him typing. “Alistair’s fine,” I replied. “Funny,” he said. “When’s the funeral?” I looked at the key. “Maybe Monday,” I managed. “I’ll be there,” he said. “Don’t, it will…” “Miranda,” he said, his voice warning me. “I’m coming.” To see if having Elliott cold and in the ground changes anything for us, I thought. Page 82

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“Maybe I’ll jump in with him and you can bury us both,” I said low, so Alistair wouldn’t hear. “Not while I’m there. If you want to follow this guy to hell, then you’ll have to do it on someone else’s watch,” Elliott in hell? He couldn’t be. “You have him wrong.” “Do I?” Stedman said. “Then tell me, who should I be pissed at?” With Elliott everything had happened organically, evolving; with Stedman it was immediate, nuclear. The office went out for drinks my first day there; we both overindulged and made our way back to his place. “Let’s try it without the six martinis next time,” he said, both our heads pounding on the MUNI into work. “Okay,” I said, but then I couldn’t. Stedman humored me, letting me have my five drinks to his two, but after a while he began to insist. “Miranda,” he said. “I want to be with you when you’re there.” This on another MUNI ride when I couldn’t fathom any of the details of the night before. “You think you’re the first female prosecutor I’ve had a crush on?” he said as we walked the block from the bus to work, “You’ve all got some backstory. We’ll go at your pace.” And he was true to his word. He gave me those Sweet Valley High kisses, but whenever his nose and mouth pressed even gently on mine, I was back in the unbuilt house, unable to breathe. He could feel my body tense and he would stop, stroke my hair and change the subject to the farthest thing from his bed, which was work or something about his family, who he liked a lot, or a restaurant he’d been wanting us to try. There were things he could do, that Elliott had never done, which I could stand, and even enjoy. I loved to touch his skin; I loved to run the inside of my arm against his back and chest and feel the electricity. But anything around my mouth was overwhelming. Any weight of him on me, especially with movement would throw me into a panic; any penetration and I was back in the truck or somewhere between Stedman’s bed and that truck, which was a very bad place to be. We spent a lot of time with me curled in his lap, quiet. He was a good sport about it for longer than I expected, but after a few months, with little progress, he started to crumble. One day, when I pushed him away, Steadman, unflappable in the courtroom, picked up a glass from my nightstand and threw it. He flirted with a new staffer in front of me at the Tuesday morning meeting. He told me, in a crowded restaurant, that a dozen shrinks couldn’t fix my problems, threw money down on the table to cover the bill and walked out. And when he started to slip away, I enticed him, but I could never back it up. And the more he slipped, the more I begged until it got ugly, uglier than

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with Elliott because Stedman wanted to talk about everything, until finally he fucked the very willing summer intern from Yale and euthanized our relationship. “Don’t talk to me about other people,” Stedman said, all business when I confronted him. “You brought someone else along, didn’t you?” And I couldn’t deny it. The last thing that happened, the end between Elliott and me, came after the best debate of my life. It was a practice, nothing big that would have had my parents there, but we were challenging Windsor High, the academic powerhouse, and I was against their toughest debater, a senior who had been accepted to Harvard. The rest of my team was freaking out, trying as hard as they could to keep me calm by overassuring me I’d be fine. The topic was development on agricultural land in our county; I was con and Mr. Harvard was pro. I had a hunch he didn’t care about the development, that his mind was already back East. I could tell he liked the bigger stakes questions of defense budgets and capital punishment, that for something as unimportant as farmland, he had no passion. I was right and I took him out like ten pins. As my opponent struggled through his final rebuttal, Elliott watched me from the sparse audience and I knew that his presence was why I’d done so well. He’d known the answers and helped me. Over time, we’d begun to talk a lot without speaking; with one word or expression I knew the beginning, middle and end of what he was thinking. Then, when Mr. Harvard put his clammy hand on my shoulder, I knew the shadow of something else, something Elliott was concentrating with his whole being to make me understand, but my line of sight was broken as the teachers and other debaters got to their feet to applaud, and Elliott’s message was derailed. As I shook the hand of my opponent who complimented me on what a bulldog I was, I was already searching for Elliott who was searching for me. His mouth was on mine the minute we closed the doors to the big, black truck. We’d parked in the back lot that morning and were the last ones there. The tongue was back, but this time I handled it. I wanted my skin against his and I worked at my buttons. But he was at my skirt, his fingers urgent up my thigh and in one motion he stuck his hand inside me. I don’t know what sound came out of my mouth, but it stopped him and I scrambled to the back seat whimpering and holding my skirt together between my legs. His fingers were colored with my blood. “I know it hurts, I’m sorry,” he said and then “Please don’t tell.” He reached for me and I clawed at the door, running a few steps away from the truck before I fell. Elliott approached, his right hand still bloody, talking low and slow until I could hear him. Page 84

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“Miranda,” he said. “Let me help you.” When I saw there was no urgency, no more danger, there was just my Elliott, I nodded and he carried me to the girls’ bathroom where I locked myself in a stall and he passed me damp paper towels. Once home, I made some lame excuse about tripping during PE, limped upstairs and drew a bath. In the DA’s office we see the worst cases of sexual abuse imaginable. A suffocating kiss or one forced penetration wouldn’t even raise our professional eyebrows. But because the person I most believed in betrayed me, things were never right after that day in the truck. It was like I’d been hacked off at my roots and what grew back was just an ugly, stunted version of what I’d been before. I drove myself to school the next day and sat with my friends from debate. Elliott was on the fringes of the lunch area, in our regular spot, where he sat alone, eating his brown bread sandwich. My new friends didn’t ask many questions, and after a few days of refusing to speak to him, Elliott started sitting with the 4-H crowd. He didn’t give up, though. He pushed notes through the gills of my locker. I don’t deserve to live. I’m horrible. I’ll do anything you say. SORRY, Elliott. I made sure he was watching—because he was always nearby hoping he’d put the right combination of marks on paper to win me back—then I’d rip his apology to shreds and toss it in the garbage. About a month after the debate, Elliott’s father died and I refused to go to the funeral. It was the only time I remember Alistair angry with me. “You’re being selfish. If you don’t go because you are angry with Elliott, you will never forgive yourself,” he said. I went, but other than giving Mrs. Spring a limp hug, I made no contact. I went to prom with Scott McGuffey who became the first of many post-Elliott failures. Elliott didn’t go, but I knew Jennifer Malone sat at home with him because she discussed it whenever I was in earshot. “His mom made me a corsage and cooked us dinner, isn’t that the sweetest?” she gushed as I walked by. She sat in front of me in English and passed notes across the aisle, tilted so I could read them. “He says he’s in love!” said one, with a happy face drawn underneath. I avoided Elliott for the rest of the year. I never told him in person I got into Berkeley. I assumed he knew. I begged Alistair and my mom for a trip somewhere far away for graduation. “But don’t you want to spend your last summer at Spring Farm?” my mother said.

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“I’m done with Spring Farm,” I said. We went to London and then up to and Dundee, Alistair’s hometown. When I got back, I heard Elliott was dating Jennifer. I saw him waiting for her outside the Sprouse-Ritz in town; hands stuffed in his Wranglers, looking pale and thin. He didn’t go to college, but he and Jennifer got married that fall at St. Dominic’s by Father Patrick. They moved in with Mrs. Spring and Elliott took over the farm and tried to make some money growing apples with foreign imports squeezing him on one side and vineyards on the other. Before the wedding, Mrs. Spring delivered an invitation to our front door. “I hope you can come, Miranda, you’re like a daughter to me.” “I’ll try,” I said tightly. “Berkeley starts early.” I didn’t go, but I might as well have. My head screamed the whole week leading up to September 12, and on that Saturday I had a migraine that leveled me for six days. Which, I later found out, was the length of their honeymoon, a cruise to Mazatlan that cost Elliott all his savings. At Berkeley, I saw pieces of Elliott everywhere. I would catch a profile of someone who had one or two of his characteristics, but when they faced me, the Elliottness about them disappeared. I met smart, handsome boys but I couldn’t kiss them without freezing, panicking. I dumped them instead of explaining they’d gotten their hands on one sick puppy. I discovered with drinking I could numb myself enough to relax, to let things happen, but only at the point I when was too drunk to care. No one worth being with stuck around for that. After enough disasters, I went celibate, but didn’t give up the alcohol. I called the Spring house drunk, late, without a plan of what to say. But, the phone must have been on Jennifer’s side of the bed. First I’d get her sleepy hello, then an angry one, then she would hang up. I imagined a negative charge between them when the call was over. This gave me the only satisfaction I could find. He came to law school once, waiting outside my Torts lecture. He wore the same shearling-lined jean jacket he’d had since high school, but before he saw me I turned and disappeared into the masses. By the time I decided to go and face him, he was gone. This happened not long after Alistair told me his mother was dying of ovarian cancer. They’d caught it late and it wouldn’t be long. Turns out she held on longer than my mother did who died of the same thing last year. Alistair had our well tested; the concentrations of known carcinogens were six thousand times acceptable levels: forty years of chemical runoff from the orchards into the water table. Alistair had himself checked head to toe, made me do the same. We were clean. He bought a reverse Page 86

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osmosis system that filtered every drop of water that came into the house. He said the Springs had capped their well and were using the watertower again. “Why don’t you just sell the place and move?” I asked. “I’ve considered it,” he replied. “But all my memories with your mother are here. If I go, I leave her behind.” Elliott was dead but with that key in my hand, he was all around me. It took me until early evening—I’d quit drinking after one particularly horrific night with Stedman and it had been a year now—to get up the sober nerve to knock on the Spring farmhouse door. Jennifer answered, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. Her eyes were still clear, no tears. I held the key out to her. She said nothing. “I don’t know what it’s for,” I said. “Don’t do this, Miranda,” she said. “I really don’t know,” I said. She walked past me into the night and I followed her to the watertower. Her fingernails scratched along the wall and the florescent tubes came alive, greening off the dark paneled walls. The cover on the bumper pool table was littered with dead moths. Jennifer motioned to a door on our right. The lock on the door and the door itself looked hardware store new. I tried the key. It turned and I climbed up. The switch at the top illuminated a lamp on the floor beside a mattress, unmade. I knelt down and Elliott’s smell—his mother’s laundry soap, sweet apples and the mustiness of boy— hit me. I gathered the blue and red quilt he’d had on his bed since I’d known him and the white-cased pillow to my face hugging the cotton tight as the sensation of Elliott faded enough to make seeing possible again. I wrapped myself in the quilt and took in the rest of Elliott’s cell. There was a desk, big and brown in front of the room’s only window; from it, you could see the expanse of orchard, the bit of wood that still covered the creek, and the roofline of Alistair’s house where the light in my room was on. The desk was not dusty. In neat stacks on top were invoices for farm equipment, seedlings and receipts for the sale of this year’s crop, in advance, at 8 cents per pound. Mr. Spring’s transistor radio was the only other thing on the desktop. I turned it on and heard Miller calling a game for the Giants. There were three drawers on the left of the desk. The first held bundles of notes and letters tied together with string. It was everything I’d ever written to Elliott, every birthday card I’d given him, every note I’d left on his windshield (Debate in room 22—done at 4—

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love, me). The papers were yellowing—they’d been handled often—the edges of some, those where I’d written more, were worn around the edges like a pirate’s map. The second drawer was filled with pictures. A grainy Polaroid taken my first summer here, pictures of homecoming where I had a dress of apple blossom pink with layered skirts that his mom made for me. I had destroyed every memento I had of us. One drunk night at college I’d taken a black Sharpie and done the death scratch on each picture of him in the yearbook. I considered taking a photo. My professional self knew there was an investigation on and I shouldn’t remove potential evidence, but in the end I couldn’t resist that first picture, where I was still a quarter inch taller and he had those short, patched jeans on. Close your eyes. Count to ten. Then try and find me. The third drawer was filled with bottles of generic Scotch. I can make myself disappear. I left the light on and crept back down the stairs. Jennifer sat on the couch in the dark. “Did you like your shrine?” My eyes adjusted to the light from the barn that came through the windows and I knelt by her side. “I didn’t win anything, Jennifer.” “Fuck you,” she said. When I realized she wasn’t going to leave, I settled on the floor and leaned against the couch. “Why’d he do it?” I asked. “Are you trying to tell me you don’t know?” “I’m trying to tell you I’ve not seen him or talked to him in at least five years.” Jennifer considered this. When she spoke again, she sounded better, calmer. “We were going to lose the farm. When his mom died, the state hit us with inheritance taxes. The only way we could pay was to sell off half the orchard, and with what we’re getting for the Gravs these days, half an orchard wouldn’t keep us.” Twenty acres with an old charming farmhouse on it had to be worth at least a million dollars, maybe two. Why hadn’t he just sold the whole thing and been done with it? I went to open my mouth when Jennifer continued. “Those guys, Mike Menneni, Jimmy Riggo, Tony Rassanelli, they came by last month to see if they could get him to go against St. Doms.” The names were familiar. They’d all gone to elementary school with us. “They said the more of them that came forward the better case they’d have.” Page 88

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Father Patrick’s sweaty hands. “What did Elliott say?” “He said they were lying.” My best friend remained still, eyes closed, whispering his prayers. “Do you think they were lying?” I asked. Jennifer didn’t answer, but continued with something only she and I could ever know was a perfect follow. “It was him, you know.” “Him what?” “Elliott. He was the reason we never had any kids. He wouldn’t.” “I’m sorry.” “Fuck you are,” she said. “Living down in the city, being so smart. You love it that we didn’t have any kids. I’ll bet you think he never even slept in our bed. That he couldn’t be with anyone after you, except so drunk he couldn’t finish. I’ll bet that’s what you like to think.” “That’s not what I like to think,” I said. She stood and handed me a paper grocery bag. “What’s this for?” I asked. “Elliott’s wish,” she said rising from the couch. “Take what you want. I’m going to burn the rest tomorrow.” And she walked to the house. I got Alistair, and with his help I took everything from Elliott’s watertower but the Scotch and the desk itself back to my room with the rosebuds on the walls. I slept that night in the bed of my beloved, his pillow against my cheek. The radio he’d listened to now on my own desk, his mementos of our life together tucked in my drawer. Stedman came for dinner on Sunday. Alistair made a roast with potatoes from the farmer’s market. Stedman brought me some of the all night donuts and warmed them in the oven for dessert. He and Alistair did most of the talking. They were both Earthquake fans and anyone who liked soccer was an immediate favorite of Alistair’s. After, while I cleaned up, the two of them sat on the porch. I poured two glasses of Alistair’s Madeira and they talked while I took pleasure in the solitude and focus of getting the pan clean. I took Alistair’s chair after he went to bed and Stedman and I were quiet, watching the star-crowded sky until he spoke.

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“Alistair was telling me this Elliott,” he choked a little on the name, “was not such a bad guy.” “No, he wasn’t,” I said and the stars took over again. “Do you have a guestroom for me?” he asked later. “Something like that,” I said. I took him to my rosebud room. I told him to lie on the mattress, Elliott’s mattress, and he did, his shirt unbuttoned so that I could see his collarbone, his Levi’s pulling against his thigh. I lay on my white canopy bed, my chin in my palm, watching him in the moonlight. “What are you thinking?” he said. “I was wondering if after all that damage, there’s hope?” “I don’t think you can really love someone over a long period of time without damage,” he said. “Don’t move,” I said, and I was beside him. The smell of Elliott had faded, blended with my things. I kissed Stedman, first on the cheek then on the corner of his mouth. I stopped. He didn’t close his eyes and play dead; he didn’t come after me either. I kept kissing him, thinking about the stubble on his chin, how the pressure from me made an indent on his lip and when he cupped my head to kiss me back I accepted it, thinking of the nights when we’d get sandwiches from the Vietnamese deli on Market and sit on the steps of City Hall, looking out over a new orchard, the grid of London Plane trees between us and the courthouse.

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Contributors Ruby T. Arnold is a mother of four who rediscovered a passion for photography in the digital age. Her primary interest is portraiture, but she is always looking to expand her repertoire.

Lisa Bruckman is a media specialist and technology teacher in a northern New Jersey district. She has been publishing her poems for some ten years and enjoyed seeing three performed as a member of the now defunct Tunnel Vision Writers’ Project ( from Montclair, NJ). Her experience with children includes her own two, and the trials and tribulations of co-parenting.

Joshua Buursma studied film and literature at Southern Illinois University and received his MFA from the University of Michigan, where he won the Hopwood Award Theodore Roethke Prize. His work has appeared in The Dos Passos Review and elsewhere. He teaches academic writing at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Katie W. Darby is an MFA candidate at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. She has published in the Evansville Review. She is also interested in writing about music, and writes reviews and interviews for the Evansville Courier & Press, as well as bios for up-and-coming singers and songwriters.

Malka Davis earned her B.A. in English at Marian University, where she studied writing under prose-poet Dave Shumate. When not writing, she enjoys running, knitting, and reading Wendell Berry.

Jenny Enochsson lives with her husband in Uppsala, Sweden, which is located near Stockholm. Swedish is her first language, but she always translates her pieces into English and post both versions on her poetry blog, Cinnamon. At the moment, she is reeducating herself to become a Swedish-English translator.

Laura Freedgood’s poems have appeared in Wisconsin Review, Journal of New Jersey Poets, The Aurorean, and in many other print journals. Her second chapbook, Weather Report, was published in 2007 by Pudding House Publications. An Assistant Professor at Queensborough Community College, Laura received a 3-year poetry grant from the City University of New York.

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Margaret Gilbert Excerpts from Margaret Gilbert’s long prose poem, Sugaring Off were selected by C.K. Williams for Third Place for the 1999 Mudfish Poetry Prize and have been published in Mudfish, The Potomac: A Journal of Poetry and Politics (online), Good Foot, Home Planet News, Bateau, and are currently online at Poets and Artists.com, as well as in their print issue. Four prose poems will appear in Hotel Amerika. “Sugaring Off in the Maple Orchard” was presented at the C.K. Williams Master Class of Poets at Poets House in April 2007. Other poems by Margaret have appeared in Callaloo, Crazyhorse, Poetry East, The New York Quarterly, Exquisite Corpse, Mudfish, The Hollins Critic, and The New Jersey Review of Literature. Her poem,“Eating Oatmeal” is included in the Everyman Library anthology Conversation Pieces: Poems that Talk to Other Poems (Alfred Knopf, 2007).

Amorak Huey After 15 years as a reporter and editor, Amorak recently left the newspaper business to teach writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poetry has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Oxford American, Subtropics, Poet Lore, Nimrod, Gargoyle, and other journals.

Wojciech Jurczok was born in Poland. He has recently fallen love with photography. He has devoted himself to photography in many forms - makro, documentary and portraiture, though street photography is what he likes most. Wojecich can be contacted at: flareproof@gmail.com

Ian Khadan was born in Georgetown, Guyana and misses, most of all, his two puppies Sam and Cheddi. He writes poetry and would like to write short fiction but has not grown up enough to have the adequate attention span for such tedious work. He has been published by a few other journals and literary magazines and finds great pleasure in sharing his poetry on the stage. For more information about Ian Khadan please visit his website at www.iankhadan.com Originally from Chicago, Ayanna Muata currently lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her interests include music, digital photography, and reading and writing poetry and prose. She performs her work at various local venues including Intermedia Arts, Patrick's Cabaret, and the Center for Independent Artists. Ayanna can be contacted at: cronemother1027@yahoo.com

David Morris Parson has published stories in Queen City Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Shelf Life, among others. He is an MFA graduate from the Creative Writing Program Page 92

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at Antioch University Los Angeles. When not working on his novel and short stories, David writes TV commercials for a national advertising agency.

RC Pirosch is a happy family man, and a lover of soy-based meat in his tacos. Jay Rubin teaches writing at The College of Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area and publishes Alehouse, an all-poetry literary journal, at www.alehousepress.com. He holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College and lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.

Karen Schubert’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Fifth Wednesday, Zoland Poetry, Redactions, Terrain.org, Reconfigurations, 42opus and others. In 2009 she received awards from American Academy of Poets, dA Center for the Arts, and Knockout’s International Reginald Shepherd Poetry Prize. Karen is a recent visiting writer at Texas A&M-Commerce and current poetry editor for Whiskey Island Magazine. She teaches writing at Cleveland State University. Her chapbook is The Geography of Lost Houses(Pudding House). Karen lives in Youngstown, Ohio, with her daughter and a soft cat.

Nina Schuyler’s first novel, The Painting, was named a best book by The San Francisco Chronicle and has been translated into Portuguese, Chinese and Serbian. She teaches creative writing at University of San Francisco.

Aditya Shankar (b.1981, Thrissur ,Kerala ,India) is a bi-lingual writer and short film-maker.He writes in English and Malayalam, and has published poetry and articles in The Little Magazine, The Word Plus, Indian Literature, The Literary X Magazine, Munyori, The Pyramid, Mastodon Dentist, The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Bayou Review, Words-Myth, Chandrabhaga among others. His first book, After Seeing, a series of poems based on cinema, is currently being translated into a couple of regional Indian languages.His short films have been included in International Film Festivals and gained nomination for Animation Awards. Currently, he lives and works in Cochin, India as the Creative Director of D3V Games, a game and animation development studio.

Carole Stone is Professor Emerita, Montclair State University. Her poetry books include Lime and Salt, Carriage House Press, Traveling with the Dead, Backwaters Press, American Rhapsody forthcoming from Cavankerry Press and seven poetry chapbooks. She received Fellowships from Hawthornden Writers Retreat, Scotland and Chateau de Lavigny, Switzerland.

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Melissa Tozier is drawn to the beauty of nature. Photography is more than just a hobby for her, it is a spiritual fulfillment. The natural world inspires her and photography is her way of sharing that passion with others. She lives in Central Florida with her family and graduated from UCF.

Rayme Waters has stories previously published or forthcoming in The Palo Alto Weekly, The Orange Coast Review and Epicenter. She studied literature at UC Santa Cruz and received a Masters in education from Stanford University.

Peter Weltner taught modern and contemporary fiction and poetry at San Francisco State from 1969 to 2006. He has published two collections of stories, two novels, and a collection of three short novels. He won two O. Henrys, in 1993 and 1998. After his retirement, he returned to writing poetry. Three books are forthcoming late in 2009 or early in 2010: News from the World at My Birth, From a Lost Faust Book, and From a Lost Gospel of Mark. He lives in S.F.’s outerlands, a short walk to the Pacific or the western woods of Golden Gate Park.

Christopher Woods is a writer, photographer and teacher. He lives in Houston and in Chappell Hill, Texas. His work has appeared recently in GLASGOW REVIEW, LITCHFIELD REVIEW and NARRATIVE MAGAZINE. His books include a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. He shares an online












Jennifer Yeatts is pursuing her MFA at the University of Idaho, where she is Poetry Editor for Fugue. Her poems have been published in The Meadow and Mary Jane's Farm.

Changming Yuan, author of Chansons of a Chinaman and twice nominee for the Pushcart Prize, grew up in rural China and has had poems published in Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, Exquisite Corpse, London Magazine and nearly 250 other literary magazines worldwide.

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The Meadowland Review www.themeadowlandreview.com

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