Volume1 7|Spri ng 201 7
01000001 01100101 01101110 01100101 01100001 01101110 00100000 01100001 011101 00 00100000 01110011 01101111 01100100 01100001 01101100 01100101 01110011 001 00000 01100001 01110010 01100011 01110101 00101110 00100000 01010011 01110101 01110011 01110000 01100101 01101110 01100100 01101001 01110011 01110011 011001 01 00100000 01100100 01101111 01101100 01101111 01110010 00100000 01101101 011 00001 01100111 01101110 01100001 00101100 00100000 01101001 01101101 01110000 01100101 01110010 01100100 01101001 01100101 011101000 000 1 0 1 11101 01 00100000 01101110 01110101 01101110 01100011 00100000 01110001 01110101 011 01001 01110011 00101100 00100000 01100001 01101100 01101001 01110001 01110101 01100001 01101101 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01101101 01101111 011001 00 01101111 00100000 01101110 01110101 01101100 01101100 01100001 00101110 001 00000 01000001 01101100 01101001 01110001 01110101 01100001 01101101 00100000 01100001 00100000 01101100 01101001 01100111 01110101 01101100 01100001 001000 00 01110000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01100101 01110100 01110010 01100001 001 01100 00100000 01110011 01100001 01100111 01101001 01110100 01110100 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100101 01110011 01110100 00100000 01101110 01100101 011000 11 00101100 00100000 01110000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01100101 01110100 011 10010 01100001 00100000 01101110 01101001 01100010 01101000 00101110 00100000 01010101 01110100 00100000 01100101 01100111 01100101 01110100 00100000 011011 10 01110101 011011 0100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01101001 01 10000 01110011 011 1 00100000 01 1101100 01100001 01101110 01100100 01101001 01110100 00100000 01101101 01100001 01110100 01110100 011010 01 01110011 00100000 01110110 01101001 01110100 01100001 01100101 00100000 011 00101 01110100 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110010 01100101 01101101 00101110 00100000 01001110 01100001 01101101 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101110 011100
There are groups of us, in pockets around the world, whose tastes lean a bit toward the eccentric... volume 17 | spring 2017
faculty editor Curtis VanDonkelaar
managing editor Lizzie Oderkirk
editorial staff Elizabeth Weitzel
special thanks Julie Taylor
Michigan State University Federal Credit Union
Copyright ÂŠ 2017 by Michigan State University The paper used in this publication meets the minimun requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper). Compton Press Industries Farmington Hills, Michigan 48335 Printed and bound in the United Stated of America. 21 20 19 18 17
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Library of Congress Control Number: ISBN: 978-0-9978151-2-2 Book design by Emily Claus and Katie Dudlets Cover Art by Eden Minnebo Visit Compton Press Industries at www.comptonpress.com
<h2> <strong>An Offbeat Editorâ€™s Note</strong> </h2> <p> Hello Offbeaters! We here at <em>The Offbeat</em> just wanted to talk about how much we appreciate and adore the support and submissions we get from you guys, our readers and writers. Each year we get better and better as a journal, and all of our submitters seem to be doing the same. Itâ€™s an impressive symbiotic exponential growth and our graph gives no sign of any incoming plateaus. We cannot wait to see where our offbeat future will take us. </p> <p> We would love to thank the Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures (WRAC) department and the Professional Writing Program at Michigan State University for helping make all of this happen. Also, we want to thank our donors: Julie Taylor, Jim Meirose, Eileen Hedrick, Ben Gilholme, Danielle Devoss, Henry Crawford, and Michigan State University Federal Credit Union. We as a staff have worked our asses off to create this zany, fantastic journal, so thanks for all your support. </p> <p> Being offbeat, odd, and quirky is our bread and butter, and we love that we can have our loaf and eat it too with all of you. Submitters, readers, enthusiasts, staff members: you are more than we could ever ask for and we are forever grateful. Stay weird. </p> <p> Sincerely, <br/> <em> The Offbeat </em> </p>
Contents Volume 17 | Spring 2017
Holding Air Mark Tucker Poetry
Unsociable Media Ken Gosse Poetry
In the Science Lab Les Bares Poetry
Life in a Box Douglas Wright Fiction
Taking Small Steps Caught in a Crosswind Peter MacFadden Bob Thurber Fiction Fiction
16 20 22 Door Prize Bob Thurber Fiction
Bump and Fork Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe Fiction
Relationship Computer Code David Sheskin Poetry
23 24 25 Estate Sale of the Century David Sheskin Poetry
Let’s Make You Let’s Be Walking Poems a Headdress Camille Thomasson Camille Thomasson Poetry Poetry
26 27 28 Let’s Have a Fire Sale Camille Thomasson Poetry
Fish Sticks Race Blazek Poetry
Concern, with Thirst and Hunger Ryan Mooney Fiction
30 37 39 The Creatures in the Dark Claire Kortyna Creative Nonfiction
Mouthful Jason Harris Fiction
it all melts down to this: a novel in timelines - chapter 12 Ben Miller, Dale Williams Sequential Art
49 51 52 The Happiness of Others Makes Me Uncomfortable Adrian Potter Poetry
Monitor Your Finances Adrian Potter Poetry
I Haven’t Taken My Pills in Two Weeks Adrian Potter Poetry
54 57 60 The Black Net Veil Russel Reece Fiction
Now You See It Nancy Ludmerer Fiction
White Whites Jeffrey Kingman Poetry
62 63 Heidi of the Alps Jeffrey Kingman Poetry
Birthday Girl Jeffrey Kingman Poetry
66 69 Tennyson Takes a Bullet Matthew Wolfe Poetry
Everything that Matters Alissia Lingaur Fiction
65 Getting Better Emily Cousins Poetry
77 Angelesque Jennifer Burnau Poetry
78 79 80 Oh Geez, Iâ€™m Writing A Poem About Blood Christine Tierney Poetry
In the Skin Stuart Forrest Poetry
82 85 Play Jonny Johnson Fiction
The Electron Goes to Hollywood and Reads the Bible Brooke Larson Poetry
Cunning Punctuations Richard Kostelanetz Creative Nonfiction
86 Why It? Eff Why Brooke Larson Poetry
88 93 Contributorsâ€™ Notes Kevin Bray Fiction
Another Chris Fried Poetry
94 Hot Sake Chris Fried Poetry
96 98 100 The Jungle Beneath David Lohrey Poetry
Stop the Forest Fires David Lohrey Poetry
Turpentine Willow Watson Poetry
101 102 110 Once Upon a Childhood Howard Gershkowitz Poetry
Small and Festive Hell Nikita Schoen Fiction
The Man in the Yellow Hat Shelley Harp Fiction
114 115 116 Facebook Andrea Bass Poetry
Lizzie Cody Cox Poetry
Regrets Cody Cox Poetry
118 125 126 Oldchella Reportage: Rum and Peanut Butter Transformational Kathryn Jensen Desert Trip? Poetry Gerard Sarnat Creative Nonfiction
The Proposal Sabrina Oliveira Fiction
129 130 132 Creation Story Sara Borjas Poetry
Psychotic Fairytales Taylor Hambrick Poetry
She Poisons Herself Darian Selander Poetry
134 140 141 My Thurberesquecapade Anthony Rubino Creative Nonfiction
Easter Island Benjamin Nash Poetry
An Expat Thinks of Cervantes Tim Suermondt Poetry
143 145 146 The Hallway of the Eye Alejandro EscudĂŠ Poetry
Different Points in Time Dustin Alexander Fiction
Fractures Breka Blakeslee Fiction
149 158 160 Underwear Adios Mark Brazaitis Fiction
Northanger Jessica Alexander Fiction
The Nalou’s Tale Aleah Sternman Goldin Fiction
166 167 169 The Kids in West End Darrin Doyle Fiction
Parable of the Sailor Dick Altman Poetry
Iona’s Nose Dick Altman Poetry
170 173 178 To Whom It May Concern Koal Gil Fiction
Excerpts from the Life and Sayings of Pescuetti as Told By Aron of The Lowlands Michael Trocchia Fiction
The Contrarian Enthuses Mercedes Lawry Fiction
179 180 182 The Hypocrite Mercedes Lawry Fiction
Sexting Marilyn Morgan Fiction
sex on the grass Marilyn Morgan Fiction
183 189 You Have One Fancy Ass Name Jay Dietcher Creative Nonfiction
Meet the Authors
Holding Air Mark Tucker
Always try your worst work easy if you work at all Rise late and eat chocolate worms if you rise at all Never plan or have goals don’t think beyond the day Don’t pay attention or study endless memes Save no money or hope for better days Leave destiny and meaning to others better to lie down or play The only time to multi-task is when reclining in the sun drinking wine and talking to friends Don’t take (this) advice (it’s pretentious) what is real? Your future is not in your hands unless you’re holding air If there’s an American Dream you’re still in it and it might not be yours Love to achieve nothing nothing ever gets done Tucker | 1
Have no commitments you cannot keep them Leave things unfinished if you even start The World is or is not what you choose
2 | Tucker
Unsociable Media Ken Gosse A crude joke that was started for fun, about what someone did to someone. Nothing new, naughty fluff, but just funny enough. With a cuss and a laugh, it was done. It wandered around several days, and it grew as it changed in some ways. Even funnier now, although meaner, somehow, and the language got worse in the haze. Now I’ve recently heard it was said (but I can’t let it go to my head!), though the rumor says so, I still don’t really know. I can’t say it—I’ll write it instead! Since I heard that they say it was said, then I wrote it, the story’s been read. Who did what? Was it true? I don’t know, but now you need to share it—this news must be spread. A strange rumor just knocked on my door, far more vicious than ever before. I did this or did that, something “friend,” something “cat,” “He should die from a plague. That’s for sure!” Oh they’re hellish, the things that I’ve done. Over time, they get worse, every one! But I guess I’m to blame for fomenting a game that’s insatiable once it’s begun.
Gosse | 3
In The Science Lab Les Bares Father Chester discovers the insides of the bell jar are smeared; the carcass of a frog exploded, skin and blood, unidentifiable organs oozing down the glass, the vacuum pump left running. He hears the guffaws, the boysâ€™ machine gun heel taps scurrying down the far stairwell. Boys who will receive care packages sent to another battlefield. Boys who will witness the cluster bombs, the trip wire landmines, the innocent astonished laughter at the separation of limbs, buried by a jargon of acronyms. Suffocating namelessness he cannot bear. His robe hung, waist cord neatly knotted. His suitcase packed, he steals the keys to the alumni Cadillac, his Hawaiian shirt hangs loose on his bones, Ray Orbison sunglasses, straw fedora, freshly shaven for the first time in years. He is off to the clean sun, off to California, where he runs out of road, blocked by the glassy Pacificâ€™s edge. The monks hire a detective to reel him in, the monastery shrink adjusts his meds, father confessor forgives him, and in his classes the projector replays Our Mr. Sun over and over until he is brought back down to earth with vinegar and a sponge.
4 | Bares
Wright | 5
of human contact. This has now made her uncomfortable in your presence for time immemorial. Once she’s gone, you whittle away the hours till lunch, nitpicking at code. After lunch, you whittle away the hours till your three p.m. coffee break. Back at your desk, you sip your double cap shot of liquid crack from Starbucks and stare once again at the bottom drawer of your desk. You think about opening it. You have forgotten about the drawer for nearly three months, almost shut it out of mind completely, which is not an easy task since it’s hexed in red tape and labeled DO NOT OPEN. Hard to miss. Somebody has obviously gone through great effort to mark the drawer as dangerous to you and, possibly, society. But there’s no resisting temptation. Not today. Not with the fax machine egging you on. BING! An email. You are saved for now. Sadly, it’s only from your mother. She’s mailing you a picture of Uncle Archie (dead two days) and wants your address. Nice guy, although kind of weird the way he used to put his hairy hand on your knee and squeeze tenderly every time he’d sit down for a chat. You think about responding, but the drawer beckons. You peel away the red tape and hear a scream. No. Wait. That’s only the high-pitch whir of Jamal revving up his PC. A few tactful rips and you dispose of the red tape, like picking melted taffy off your fingers. The bottom drawer is now exposed. Your heart is beating to the pulse of the fax machine. You wonder again whether or not this is a bad idea. Twitchy from caffeine, curiosity prevails. Inside: a mound of paperclips bent into tiny stick figures, animals shapes, parallelograms. Interruption: Prescott, your boss. He’s a skulking man who roams the office like a debutante, rarely seen except for phantom glimpses of his tailcoat or silver-fox toupee. No one has seen him in weeks, which has fueled wild speculation that he’s been murdered and that the random emails checking up on the status of the rebuild project 54 – 5B are really from his would-be killer. Alive and somewhat antsy, Prescott towers over you and looks at the mound of paperclips in your drawer, bent into curious shapes. There is an awkward moment. He breaks it by saying he just talked with Keiko 6 | Wright
and wanted to check in on the deadline for the beta launch of the Poodle Noodle app. You nod like a benevolent robot and point out exactly where the bugs appear to be in the code. You are thankful your boss is distracted when a strange creature surfaces from the mound of paperclips. Before you can close the drawer, a red devil the size of your index finger pole vaults onto your desk with its pitchfork. Panic. You slap your hand on the red devil while explaining the code problems to Prescott, and pray he can’t hear the creature calling him a “Pig F&#ker” in devil’s cant. The little devil stabs at your palm from underneath. Prescott reiterates the paramount importance of Poodle Noodle. It’s revolutionary, a game changer. It’s absolutely critical for your company that the beta launch is a success. You nod in agreement and sweat out the minutes ’till Prescott leaves with the royal, “Let’s get that done by Friday.” Once gone, you remove your hand and discover the red devil has slipped away, climbed atop your computer where it stands triumphant. Tiny horns, two inches tall, and terrifying. You lean in for a closer examination, refusing to believe this could be real. Flaming hair, feral lupine face shrunken and contorted in a crooked, black-toothed grin, the plagued skin melted and grafted onto its horned skull. Puckish and perturbing. Its eyes are blazing red. It looks like an evil action figure dreamt up by a nine-year-old boy. The red devil twirls its pitchfork like a baton and flails its red cape with a baleful panache. You are unimpressed. You dismiss the creature as a nightmarish hallucination brought on by lack of sleep and return to your typing. Devil or not, there’s still a deadline to meet. The red devil leaps onto your face with a hideous cackle and stabs you in the forehead. “TECH MONKEY!” You swat and miss. You whirl around in your swivel chair, searching for where it has run away. “TECH MONKEY.” The devil pokes out from a filing folder and taunts you with its pitchfork. “Typing in boxes, eating in boxes, screwing in boxes, looking at boxes and the boxes in boxes.”
Wright | 7
8 | Wright
“TECH MONKEY. Idle brains are the devil’s…” “Quiet!” “What’s going on? Is something wrong?” Alex calls out, cubicle ahead of yours. “You just knocked down my bulletin board.” “Sorry about that, leg spasm.” You smile, but there’s no defusing the situation by words alone. There’s a pandemonium in the room. You’ve disturbed the order. And now they are coming for you. The devil starts throwing papers everywhere. The log book, stenopad notes, email printouts… “What are you doing?” BING! An email, your mother with the funeral details on Uncle… “TECH MONKEY. Living in boxes, working in boxes, sleeping in boxes, loving boxes, caressing boxes, boxes soaring to the sky, squeezed against boxes, with boxes to look out at other boxes…” “Shut up right now, you pathetic little devil!” “What’s going? Get a hold of yourself.” “Could you keep your voice down, please? Some of us are trying to work here.” You must act. You must act now. You pull out your top drawer, where a secret pack of cigarettes lay hidden for those stressful days at work… and a lighter. There’s only one way to stop the devil, you decide. You must lure it into fire and extinguish the beast. No devil can resist a dance in the flames. “TECH MONKEY!” You ready the lighter and strike. The stack of papers on your desk ignites with a slow burn; the flames crinkle and devour the pages in a lambent feast of fiery tongues. The red devil waltzes into the curious fire and cackles from behind the Wright | 9
flames—IDLE BRAINS FOR BOXES IN BOXES. Before it can taunt you any further, you toss the coffee straight in its grinning face, expecting to douse the demon creature into oblivion, along with the impromptu fire, in one fell swoop. The splash sends the flames roaring up, incinerates the hanging pictures and code charts tacked with pushpins on the northwest cubicle wall. Turns out Starbucks double caps are flammable. Should have known. There are screams of terror from Alex, who runs off in hysterics; Madeline, who breaks your heart with a petrified look of horror; Jamal, who tries to punch you out; and Prescott, who yells “you’re fired” before fainting. The rest of the office rises from their computers to watch you at your desk. Your cubicle consumed in flames, spreading down the aisle. The fax machine explodes, finally, and sets the sprinkler off. The spraying water drenches the office, the computers, the keyboards, and the mainframe in a symphony of sparks. It takes less than ten minutes for the cops to arrive and five more minutes to drag you downstairs, wet and laughing. And as they handcuff and throw you in the police cruiser, you scream: “Man is born free yet everywhere in chains!” No one understands. You try to tell them how you vanquished the devil. But no one listens. Not the cops at the precinct, nor the doctors who take you away to be locked in a white-padded room where you continue your life in a box.
10 | Wright
Taking Small Steps Peter MacFadden Winnie Gardner paused at the door of her house, stroking a tiny plastic bottle and remembering. Her daughter, Chuffy, Charlotte Jeffreys Gardner, had been just three years old when she died, choking to death on a tiny piece of plastic from a tiny bottle of bubble liquid. It had been plastic, the size of airplane vodka bottles, and contained liquid to produce soap bubbles. Chuffy had played with the little plastic eyelet, merrily blowing bubbles. Then, Chuffy had put it in her mouth, unseen by her mother, and she had choked to death. Winnie had carried the plastic bottle ever since as a maternal scarlet letter, a reminder of her sin. She also invariably carried a silver flask of whiskey. AA (a bunch of self-deluding dupes) hadn’t worked, but Bunny Taylor (an old friend from Bryn Mawr) had said to her, “Take small steps. Maybe you can’t quit drinking alcohol, but you damn well can throw away that stupid bottle of bubbles.” Bunny was wrong on one point, though. Winnie wouldn’t throw it away; she would give it away. The following day, at a performance of The Nutcracker, Winnie saw a poor-looking woman with a crying young boy, no more than three or four. Winnie gave it to the harried-looking mother. The child took it and forgot about anything else in the world. Winnie didn’t see them again, but after the concert, she saw the empty bottle laying on the ground. The elliptical bubble blower had blood and mucus on it. The child had nearly swallowed it, but, unlike Chuffy, must have survived. For a minute, Winnie stood there in a stupor. Then, she knew what she had to do. One small step. She took the flask of liquor and poured it over the tiny bottle. She borrowed a lighter, lit the tiny bottle, and walked away. The flask was empty. Time for the liquor store. One small step at a time.
MacFadden | 11
Caught in a Crosswind Bob Thurber Nick finds no open spaces in front of his mother’s apartment, so he steers the rented Toyota into a Texaco station, quickly circles the pumps, and loops back. Broad Street is a muddle of small shops, windowless bars, and cheap housing. He veers into a space beneath a busted streetlamp, bumps onto the curb. “Good enough,” he says, shutting off the heater. He kills the engine, removes the key. His tongue feels mushy. On the ride from the pharmacy he swallowed two tablets from his mother’s OxyContin prescription. Already the pills are softening his mood. He licks his teeth, flexes, and yawns, contented to be where he is, staring through the windshield at a woman leaning against a bus stop bench. She’s underdressed for the weather—coatless and bare-armed in a sparkly outfit. Her breath streams out like she’s smoking a cigarette. Nick rests his eyes for a three-count; when he opens them again the woman is gone. “Magic,” he says, swinging the door open. The cold air stings his face but the rest of him feels a whooshing warmth. He’s rubber-legged and wobbly as he waits to cross Broad Street. Headlights flare, streaming past. He glances back at the Toyota but doesn’t notice that the rearend is jutting several feet from the curb. A truck rumbles by, gusting warm air at his face. Nick suppresses the urge to chase the taillights, which seem to be lingering. Instead, he waves his hands, blinking, cupping his hands, trying to catch them like fireflies. His feet feel lopsided as he moves across Broad Street, balancing his weight as though wading through a muddy pond. A horn honks. Nick waves without looking. He’s focused on his mother’s windows, which are dark. Nick has difficulty navigating the two flights of stairs. In his pocket the prescription bottles rattle like maracas. The hall smells like angry cats fought a battle here. A single low-watt bulb gives just enough illumination for him to fit his key in the lock. Inside, the darkness hums. “Ma!” 12 | Thurber
He slaps a wall switch. The ceiling light flickers. Another low-watt bulb. The air smells heavily of the lavender and coconut bath oil his mother has come to favor since her release from the hospital. On the couch, his suitcase is open and empty. “Ma, what’d you do, where’s my stuff? I asked you not to touch anything.” He circumnavigates another doorway, bumps against a curio cabinet full of framed photos and cheap, ceramic Wizard of Oz collectibles. He presses his hands to the glass, staring at a childhood picture of himself displayed beside a lineup of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. He ducks beneath damp laundry hanging on a clothesline strung between doorframes. “Where you hiding, Ma?” He pushes open a door and finds his mother in the bathtub, sudsy bubbles up to her neck. “Forget how to knock?” she says. On the tub’s tiled ledge, a fat candle is burning, its flame moving as though caught in a crosswind. Etched into its frosted glass is the face of Dorothy holding Toto. Nick lowers the lid on the toilet and sits. “You unpacked my things. I specifically asked you not to do that.” “You shouldn’t be in here,” his mother says. She is wearing her wig—a natural hair creation donated by the local chapter of the American Cancer Society. “People will talk,” she says, looking up. “What people?” Nick says. He is twenty-two, already divorced from a woman his mother never met. “Did you get my pills?” Nick nods, licking his teeth, which taste chalky. He probes with his tongue, trying to remember which molar started acting up on the flight from Chicago.
Thurber | 13
“Anybody give you a hard time?” “Who?” Nicks says. “For what?” “The pharmacy people.” “I showed my license and signed. No big deal.” He watches as one of her knees rises from the water. “Which pharmacist was it? Was it the blonde?” Nick stares and blinks, thinking about those white whales that look like pudgy albino dolphins. “Some guy with glasses. I didn’t get a good look at him.” “You’re lucky,” his mother says, splashing. “That blonde thinks she’s queen of the goddamn world. She gives everybody a hard time.” Nick focuses on the ceiling. He pulls a breath and watches the shadows. “How long you going to soak?” “What difference does it make?” “I’m beat. I need sleep.” “So go lay down. Nobody’s stopping you.” “Don’t you need help getting out?” She shoots him a sour look. Behind her, on the wall, wavering shadows stack themselves in layers. “I’m not an invalid,” she says. Hours later, Nick stirs on the couch. Some noise disturbs him. He stares into the darkness, trying to identify the sound. “Mom? You still up?” Somewhere water is dripping. “Mom,” Nick says. “It’s this damn light,” his mother answers. “That good-for-nothing landlord never patched the hole.” 14 | Thurber
“What hole? Where is there a hole?” “In the ceiling. The sunlight’s just pouring in.” Nick squints toward the doorway. “It’s after midnight. There’s no sun.” “The moon, then. Big and full. It’s too bright to be a streetlamp.” “Close your eyes and try to sleep.” “How can I with this goddamn crazy light burning my eyes?” Nick finds his wallet, digs out the card the hospice nurse gave him. He picks up the phone and dials. “Come and see this,” his mother says. “It’s crazy how bright this light is.” The phone rings twice before a woman answers, “Home and Hospice Care. How may I direct your call?” Nick is trembling. The phone feels spongy against his face. He steadies it with both hands, waiting for words to line up. His vision is blurred, and his belly is blasting heat into his throat, making his head swell like a hot-air balloon. Not just any balloon, but the specific contraption Professor Marvel used to make his escape from Oz. And just like that old charlatan, Nick feels himself untethered, effortlessly rising, rescuing no one but himself.
Thurber | 15
Door Prize Bob Thurber I wasn’t home two seconds before Carol shoved the newspaper in my face. She had the baby on her shoulder. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be looking at. Carol pointed to the legal notices: the Millers’ place was in foreclosure. “Hmm,” I said. She wriggled her eyebrows. “Told you.” The Millers’ Victorian, the largest, grandest home on our street, was a stylish landmark. Though Carol and I had never been inside, we’d seen pictures. Over the years Jordan and Martin Miller had visited our home for cocktail parties, sit-down dinners, holiday get-togethers, and a few birthday barbecues—all without a single reciprocal invitation. I felt cheated by that lopsided score. We lived just five houses away, in a two-bedroom cottage centered on the curve of the cul-de-sac. Jordan, who’d always been snotty, had been a no-show at Carol’s baby shower. No card, even. Shortly after our daughter was born, Martin went missing. His two boys disappeared. Neighborhood gossip gushed. Bankruptcy. Divorce. Infidelity. Supposedly he’d caught Jordan doing something too perverse to speak about and was now living with his sister in Albany. How reliable any of this was, I didn’t know. Jordan maintained a low profile. Her car seldom left the driveway; her drapes remained closed. My guess was sooner or later she’d be discovered floating facedown in her giant swimming pool. Then one Saturday, Carol and I spotted her across two checkout lanes at the Stop n’ Shop. I nearly didn’t recognize her. She had dyed her hair stark white. It was chopped as short as mine and looked slightly ridiculous with her spray-on tangerine tan.
16 | Thurber
Jordan blew a kiss across lanes. Carol blew one back. “Check out the ping-pong ball earrings on Miss Tubby,” Carol said. Jordan had added a few pounds, but she still had plenty of curves. “Pinch me so I don't laugh,” Carol said. I waved and waved. The next morning, mixed in with our mail, was an invitation, handwritten, in an envelope without postage.
Dear Carol & Bill, Please Attend My “Sayonara” Party, Friday: 7 p.m. Food, Drinks, & Door Prizes. Love & kisses, Your future Ex-Neighbor, JM “Your call,” I said. “Snub or go?” Carol arched her eyebrows. “Oh, we’re going. That cow still owes me a baby gift.” Friday night, Carol said, “Guess her measurements. Win the door prize.” We were beneath an archway of inlaid marble in a vestibule as big as our bedroom. Jordan was nowhere in sight; her guests hadn’t noticed us yet. The living room was enormous, framed by a stairway that curved upward on both sides. Looped across the railing was a banner with foil lettering: GOOD LUCK JORDAN! “Buy me this house,” Carol said. “Sure,” I said, “I’ll write a check soon as I get my coat off.” “A coat was a bad idea,” Carol said. I twisted out of the sleeves. “Who knew we’d be driving over?”
Thurber | 17
“Don’t forget milk, Pepsi, and Pampers when you take Larissa home.” Larissa was our babysitter. “Not my turn,” I said. “I drove her last time.” Carol moved ahead, stepping onto plush cream carpet. She stood poised, arms outstretched, presenting herself to the room. “Is that Carol?” someone shouted from a corner. Carol did a half-curtsy followed by a smooth ballerina turn. There was giggling, a couple of wolf whistles. “It’s the Carsons,” said a voice thick with booze. “The crazy Carsons,” someone chimed in. I lingered behind, clutching my coat, disappointed that there wasn’t a single person I wanted to talk to, or a coat rack or closet anywhere in sight. Jordan bumped through the crowd and came towards us. “Hallelujah,” she cried, “Finally, someone to dance with.” She took rapid baby steps, teetering on thin heels—a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Carol performed another sweeping curtsy; on the half-turn she exaggerated a wink in my direction. “Careful, cowboy,” she hissed. “Here comes a stampede.” “No secrets, you two,” Jordan said and laughed a high laugh. The closer she got, the more her dress rippled with light. Carol murmured through a crooked smile, “Who does she think she’s fooling with that outfit?” I said, “Jordan, you look fantastic!” To Carol I whispered, “Behave for one drink.”
18 | Thurber
“Wanna bet she can crack walnuts with those thighs?” Carol said. The rest is uncomfortable to admit. After three rather strong martinis and two sluggish dances I ended up screwing our gregarious host—a quick, frantic fuck—between a stockade fence and the pool shed with a heavy branch of pine needles in my face. After which, without a word between us, we returned to the party. “Hey! Who wants to see my high school yearbook?” Jordan said. Of course I didn’t. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I found Carol in the hall holding an olive on a toothpick and wearing my coat like a cape. “Who’d you get in a cat fight with?” she said. She steered me towards a mirror. Blood was oozing from my forehead. “Your fly’s unzipped,” she said. The mind is incredible under pressure. Barely one hundred feet from the scene of the crime, while my wife dabbed my wounds with a cocktail napkin, I told a hastily made-up tale about stumbling over a garden gnome while pissing on a patch of rosebushes. I apologized for my drunkenness. She called me “poor baby” and led me to the door without offering goodbyes. She drove us home, delivered the babysitter across town, and brought back milk, Pepsi, and Pampers. I was stretched across the bed when she came in with a scented candle and a tin of pink gel. “What’s that?” “Antiseptic salve,” she said. “Sit up.” She smeared a gob over my forehead. She dabbed both cheeks. The odor stung my nostrils. I’d worked part-time through college as a caterer’s assistant, so you’d think I’d remember the smell of Sterno. “Close your eyes,” she said, lifting the candle. “This is going to sting.”
Thurber | 19
Bump and Fork Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe I hit my head and lied about it. I’m too old to drink like that. And too young to stop. I’m too alone to stop. I’m too in denial to say it: I hit my head. And so, I lied about it. Lights and sounds were the night. Not feelings; not embrace. Don’t you dare feel bad for me. Don’t you, dear. Don’t you? Aches and twists were the morning. Nothing else. I gathered my too-old-to-drink-like-that wisdom and a clinking mess of Swedish Kroner and walked my pathetic immigrant ass to the nearest Netto. I needed one yogurt drink with a name I didn’t bother to pronounce, a cucumber—the designer Swede’s surprisingly tasteless treat—and a can of folk’s beer, or however they translated the cheaper and lighter version of beer. A concoction to boast not of. I burst out of the sleepy, sliding doors, inevitably slowing my burst, my enchanting brew in tow. Traffic wasn’t an issue where I lived and certainly not where I walked. The sun usually kept a kindred absence, too. Today it shone. And although the path was familiar, the ritual too, the sun was not. As I cast my simmering retinas on through the mysterious shining, onto a path I should have seen or should have noted that I didn’t, another light entered the scene. Lights and sounds were my face. A pole, my object of affection, I embraced. And though it longed for the affair, I tossed our dirty love aside and walked on, items of 20 | Landgrebe
concoction guiltily gathered like the scattered lover’s fabrics they were. I ran into a pole. It was sunny, and I ran into a pole. But as I explained away the lump, I mistakenly mistook then mistakenly misspoke the pole for a drunken night’s lights and sounds.
An unexplainable bump from an unexplainable night. Yes. That’s right. Not a bump from this day. Or any. It belonged with the night. And it belonged not too alone. I found a fork. It turns out, the bump wanted a fork and the night agreed. It was a smirkable circumstance delightfully free of explanation.
How silly, that night. And so, it’s just like I told you: I hit my head. Then, I found a fork in my bed. And they lived happily ever after in lights and sounds. Bump and fork.
Landgrebe | 21
Relationship Computer Code David Sheskin 1. REMARK: DEFINE PEOPLE 2. Let B = Baby Billy, C = Charlie, E = Erica (Original), E2 = Erica (Transformed), F = Baby Felicia, J = Jessica, K = Kurt 3. REMARK: DEFINE RELEVANT EVENTS 4. Let A = Abortion, D = Divorce, H = Hookup, I = Intercourse, L = Love, M = Marriage, N = Nervous Breakdown, P = Pregnancy, T = Psychotherapy 5. REMARK: DEFINE EXTRANEOUS VARIABLES 6. Let X = Duration of Time, Y = Blended Family, Z = Custodial Conflict 7. REMARK: FIRST SET OF INTERACTIONS 8. K + J = L and K + J → I 9. As Magnitude of L >, Then Frequency of I > 10. When I = 20, K + J → P 11. Then P → B 12. K + J → M 13. REMARK: SECOND SET OF INTERACTIONS 14. C + E = H 15. When H = 1, C + E → P 16. P → A 17. Because of A Then E → N 18. REMARK: PSYCHOTHERAPY SUMMARY 19. E + T → E2 20. REMARK: FINAL INTERACTION SEQUENCE 21. X = 2 YEARS LATER 22. K – J = D 23. K + E2 = H × 10 24. When H = 11, K + E2 → P 25. P → F 26. K + E2 = L 27. K + E2 → M 28. Then K + E2 + B + F = Y 29. Y + J = Z 30. END PROGRAM
22 | Sheskin
Estate Sale of the century David Sheskin The public is invited to The Estate Sale of the Century Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. At 1500 Cavendish Drive Among those items offered: Goblet from which Socrates drank hemlock—$8,750 Quill pen used by Shakespeare to write Macbeth—$4,000 Confucius’s first saying engraved on a three-inch wide bamboo strip—$9,490 Loincloth worn by Gandhi on the day he was assassinated—$1,675 Half-smoked cigar of Sigmund Freud’s—$250 Marie Curie’s toothbrush (Caution: Radioactive)—$4,995 Slide rule owned by Albert Einstein—$1,250 Rotted core of Sir Isaac Newton’s infamous apple—$6,500 Vincent van Gogh’s severed ear—$43,300 Lower left quadrant of stone tablet containing five of the Ten Commandments—Price on request Gold braided brassiere worn by Cleopatra—$6,000 Cup containing saliva secreted by one of Pavlov’s dogs—$200 Aesop’s handwritten first fable—$250,000 Chisel used by Michelangelo to carve the Pietà—$2,000 Truss worn by Henry VIII—$600 Condom containing dried semen sample of Mao Zedong—$1,300 Thomas Edison’s first light bulb—$1,500 Pythagoras’s first theorem engraved on papyrus—$45,000 Splintered remnant from the foredeck of Noah’s Ark—$16,666 Half-eaten and discarded remains of the forbidden fruit from The Garden of Eden—Price on request Cash or certified check are the only acceptable forms of payment.
Sheskin | 23
Let’s Make You a Headdress Camille Thomasson Look, here’s the fabric I’ve been saving under my bed for thirty-eight years. Let’s make turbans and tassels and streamers— best of all the streamers— to sew onto your sunhat. And if someone asks What is that? you say, These are my kite tails. Can’t you see I’m flying?
24 | Thomasson
Let’s Be Walking Poems Camille Thomasson Let’s put on our headdresses and be walking poems. We won’t say much, but what we say— every word and every not-word— will be true. I am looking for a box. Honeybees are dying. You are beautiful. Let’s try without trying.
Thomasson | 25
Let’s HAve a Fire Sale Camille Thomasson Let’s have a fire sale. Only there’s no fire and no sale. Instead of price tags we’ll make tags of appreciation: Book, thank you for introducing me to Walter Murch. Salad Tongs, you deserve a home that entertains. Hammer, there are no words . . . thank you. I’m so excited, I can hardly sleep.
26 | Thomasson
Fish Sticks Race Blazek I search here and there. “Where’s my underwear?” I turn over colored rocks . . . nothing. “Mom, where are my socks?!” I look high and low. “Ouch! I stubbed my toe!” “Will you be quiet?! I’m looking for my fish!” “Were our ancestors British?” “You’re going to be late, Liam!” There is my mini empty aquarium. “What am I to do for show and tell?” Then came a smell. It was from the kitchen. It wasn’t bacon. Dad was hungry.
Blazek | 27
Concern, with Thirst and Hunger Ryan Mooney The apartment is beginning to smell—or reek, I should say—of curdled milk and unwashed skin. My roommate has been asleep for four days now. The lights are off and the refrigerator door is open. Even that light has gone out. I have been dining on leftover beef casserole, which is quite delicious and better than the tablespoon scoops of minced lamb I am often fed. My roommate never puts down the toilet seat, so there’s plenty of water. Sometimes the basin makes a gurgling sound before it fills up again, and that’s when I like to go for a drink. I have to perch on the rim and crane my neck to lap up the water. It may seem precarious, but I have never fallen in. Not once. The curtains are drawn, so I have to paw at them to see what’s going on outside. It appears to be morning, but I can’t be sure. My sense of time is warped. Maybe it’s afternoon, when my roommate usually returns from wherever he goes. I pan the street and follow the blur of motion. A bird flew into the window and fell onto the sill when I was young. It didn’t move for several days, and my roommate pushed it off the ledge with a broomstick. I thought he was going to give it to me, but he just nudged it until it dropped out of sight. I stared at him without blinking to ask why he had teased me. I circle the couch and then slide my leg underneath it to corral the stuffed mouse, but it’s just out of reach. If my roommate were awake he would toss it to me and I would bat it away. I recognize the difference between an animal and a doll, but there’s something irresistible about the toy that I cannot define. My choices of entertainment are limited, so I can appreciate the simple pleasures of a good scratch at my carpeted post and a stretch after a long nap. A minute of attention from a hand behind my ear is even better. The coolest part of the house is a tiled corner of the kitchen, though it is sticky from spills and has been chipping away for years. That is where I rest and wait, beating my tail against the splintered baseboard. Before I get comfortable, I take account once more: it has been another slow day of chasing moths and bathing. I have sniffed and licked and nuzzled my friend, but I haven’t been able to wake 28 | Mooney
him. I have been waiting for a visitor to come by and rouse him, and I would be grateful for the company, too. Although he is here, it is as if he is not here. Usually there is music, but since he has been sleeping I have only heard raps and rings and stomps. The house is quiet, and I am a little worried.
Mooney | 29
The Creatures in the Dark Claire Kortyna the moon understands dark places. the moon has secrets of her own. she holds what light she can. —Lucille Clifton, “moonchild” Something about the full moon tantalizes. I was often energized by it, compelled to go for a run with the moon as my lodestar. On quiet evenings I’d wind my way along the empty paths of Southern Maryland’s Historic St. Mary’s City. The cool night air burned deep in my lungs while the bay river rushed past below. A crisp breeze swirled through the shadowed boughs overhead and flickering moonlight checkered the darkness. All color was leached from the world, leaving behind a terrain of empty silver, seemingly lifeless except for my laboring body. It’s a different kind of day under that anti-sun—a wildness and a freedom illuminated there. Just the darkness, the moon, and me: a creature to be feared. Ghost frames of colonial homes stood stark upon the fields as I blurred past them. I pumped my arms and churned my legs, feeling as if I could kick a hole through time itself to where the landscape was rougher and the shadows were thicker—when the moon was the only true light in the darkness. *** In 1985 a meta-analysis called “Much Ado About the Full Moon” permanently debunked all remaining theories on the full-moon effect, or “lunacy.” Even today, people still claim that the full moon causes jumps in the number of murders, suicides, accidents, dog bites, and women going into labor. Psychologists James Rotton from Florida International University, and Ivan W. Kelly of the University of Saskatchewan, scoured through 37 different moon-effect studies and, as it turned out, nothing special happens when there’s a full moon. Nothing at all. It’s just a regular night on good old Earth. But 30 | Kortyna
the mystery persists and the wonder lingers. Awe and superstition continue despite the hard facts of science and the ever-diminishing effect of moonlight due to light pollution that threatens to remove all pockets of true darkness from the world. *** Although I love the nighttime now, as a child I was terrified of the darkness. At my bedside table the cheery little lamp with its yellow gingham shade stayed on so I could sleep. My room was soft lavender and edged with a wallpaper border that depicted a pastoral scene: three teddy bears, all dressed in lace-edged pinafores, having a tea party on a warm summer day. In my bed I waited for slumber to claim me, staring hard into that endless afternoon. We moved to Pennsylvania when I was eight and in our new home I began using a nightlight instead. Eyes ever-fixed on that tiny filament, glowing gold, I would try to send myself to sleep by sheer force of will while tears streaked sideways across my face. I knew I was too old to fear the dark. I knew it was irrational—lunacy. *** “Lunacy” is an old word, one that can be traced back to the fourth and fifth centuries. Astrologers used the term to refer to diseases that they thought were linked to insanity caused by the light of the moon. For a long time, “lunatic” was the standard term for legal insanity— for a very long time actually. It wasn’t until December 5, 2012 that the U.S. House of Representatives finally passed legislation removing the term from federal laws. With President Obama’s signature it became official later that month. The current phrase for referring to the mentally ill, which has been popularly used since the late 19th century, is “of unsound mind,” and makes no reference to the moon whatsoever. “Lunacy” lingers only in colloquial usage. Throughout evolution, humans have always feared the dark, but it’s a night lit with a full moon that truly inspires horror. The shadows are what haunt the human mind. Blindness is preferred. Nights when the moon shines bright and unrepentant in the sky give face to a thousand previously unknown terrors. Surely it pulls at the brain, coaxing insanity. In the ’60s, American murder expert Dr. E.A. Jannino suggested that “moon madness” was a possible explanation for the murder of five Boston women by an unknown strangler. He also theorized that Jack the Ripper, who killed five women in London in Kortyna | 31
1888, suffered from this malady as well. But we know the real cause of these horrors is not the moon, only man. *** Not long after we arrived in Pennsylvania, I began to have nightmares—despite the nightlight, despite my clenched-fist determination to be a big girl. Or perhaps my dreams had always been fearful, but sleeping in that strange place meant that I often awoke in the middle of the night, interrupting my sleep cycles. Now the remnants of those dreams were left raw and exposed in my waking mind. Tossing and turning, I sought peace. But anxiety surrounded me—eyes open or eyes shut. With no other recourse I’d creep toward my parents’ bedroom, hardly daring to breathe.
“Mom,” I’d whisper, no louder than an exhale. The black remained unstirred. I couldn’t bring myself to speak again. I knew I was too old for this—I felt too old. So I would lower myself to the carpet on the edge of their room and sit, knees pressed tight against my chest, listening to the hush-hush of her breathing until my eyes felt heavy and my lungs strained against my thighs for a deeper, more restful inhale. It was then that I would return to my room and wait for the haunting images to be defeated by exhaustion. *** Both Aristotle and Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, wrote about the watery nature of the human brain in relation to the moon’s ability to influence the tides. They imagined parallel pulls influenced the human body during the full moon. Given that people are eighty percent water, these ancient theories aren’t that unreasonable. However, scientists now believe that the moon has such miniscule gravitational effects on the human body that it is certainly unable to cause any change in brain function. Since the moon doesn’t affect closed-off liquids, tides only ever occur on open bodies of water. Imagine seeing tidal shifts in a pitcher of tea. The proverbial nail in the coffin of these particular theories comes from the simple fact that even if gravitational forces could affect the brain, it would be just as potent during a new moon as a full one. Even so, humans have long feared the monsters of the full moon. The chilling howls of wolves echoed across field and mountain, slipping with the wind through the tiny cracks in the wood and peat and stone dwellings of early humans and unsettling the subconscious. Sleep 32 | Kortyna
deprivation further twists and warps seemingly normal events. The werewolves that haunt human imagination may reflect our necessary wariness of actual wolves throughout evolution, given that nocturnal predators are more active on nights with a full moon. The culture of belief in the “lunacy effect” continued throughout the Middle Ages and well into the 1700s. It seemed plausible that the full moon had the power to cause madness or transform seemingly ordinary people into werewolves, vampires, and other monsters. The persistence of these superstitions most likely comes down to illusory correlation—the belief that two coinciding events are related when they aren’t. People expect something odd to happen on nights of the full moon, so when something actually occurs the event is remembered and then associated with its timing, even though on another night this moment might not have even been remembered. Then the coincidence gets retold again and again, “proving” to people that strange things occur on the nights of the full moon, even as countless uneventful full moons continue to pass. But while Rotton and Kelly’s work in “Much Ado About the Full Moon” successfully disproved all existing theories on the full moon’s ability to affect human behavior, they weren’t able to prove that the moon doesn't affect us in any capacity. This is where Dr. Cajochen and his team of scientists from the University of Basel come in, using their sleep study conducted in windowless rooms to finally shed light on the mystery. *** In fourth grade, I made a decision: I was going to stop being afraid of the dark, once and for all. One night I rose from my bed, where I hadn’t been anywhere near sleeping, and crept downstairs. The full moon outside cast pallid light on the darkened hardwood floors. I headed toward the piano room, where the shadows were the deepest. Each inky crevice held countless horrors. I was shaking, body taut and armed for panic. But I continued. I was ready. It was time. The once familiar room had become foreign territory: silver-shaded and lunar. In sweating steps, I made my way toward the deepest shadow. Air refused to enter my lungs—short gasps hovered near the roof of my mouth. Dizziness made the room swirl. As my pupils dilated, the looming shadows began to shrink. This Kortyna | 33
place was familiar to me, full of things I knew well. No closets or beds where shadow creatures could hide themselves. There was only me. I had been terrified of the unknown, but nothing was there. I was the only creature in the dark and I had no need to fear. Into that wild darkness I had forayed, plumbed its depths, and emerged cured by the surety of reality and logic—a lunatic no longer. *** It was a moonlit night when Dr. Cajochen, a scientist at the Centre for Chronobiology, realized that he possessed data that would reveal whether or not the full moon had any physiological effect on the human body. Over a decade ago, Cajochen had conducted experiments on human body clocks, including both menstruation and sleep patterns at the University of Basel. The results from his 33 volunteers could be re-examined for changes correlating to nights of the full moon. Volunteers in this experiment went for days on end without any sunlight—and thus also without any moonlight. Under these conditions, their sleep patterns could be studied without the interfering light a full moon might bring. The experiment was, by accident, double blind—neither the volunteers nor the scientists were looking for full moon effects, so they hadn’t accidentally skewed their analysis or data toward any specific results. *** One summer evening during a family weekend in a cabin alongside the Allegheny River, my youngest sister, twelve at the time, suddenly found herself afraid of the dark. I tried teasing her out of it while we finished played cards. After all, she hadn’t ever been afraid of the dark before, I reasoned. Nothing had changed. She understood—she knew it was irrational. But it didn’t matter. She had read one too many popular young adult novels featuring post-apocalyptic scenarios. And now? She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t even go upstairs to the bedroom we shared. So, we went up together. Getting ready for bed and dodging elbows as we navigated around the two twin mattresses that dominated the small slant-ceilinged loft. She lay rigid in her bed, wide-eyed as I turned off the light. I felt my way over and sat on the edge beside her. “Look,” I told her, gesturing to the shadow-cast room. “It’s just you 34 | Kortyna
and me here. Only us. You know that. We are the creatures in the dark. See?” I made out the shifting glint of her eyes as they scanned the tiny room. She nodded. I said it again: “It’s just you and me in here. We are the ones in the dark.” She seemed to relax so I travelled the scant two feet to my bed and shrugged under the quilt. She turned toward me. Her face was a moon-blank roundness in the growing quiet of the house, freckles and features dulled to a blur.
“I am the creature in the dark,” she said with a small fierceness. “Other things should be afraid of me.” “Exactly.” I grinned and together we drifted off. *** After a few days of intense calculations, Cajochen’s study proved that the full moon actually does affect human sleep patterns, even when that human cannot see the moon. The brain-activity scans of the slumbering volunteers showed that on nights of the full moon, participants got about twenty minutes less sleep. Not only did they get less sleep, but it took them an extra 5 minutes to fall asleep and they slept 30% less deeply through the night. In the sleep logs written by participants, they mentioned not sleeping as well on those particular nights, while being completely unaware that their sleeplessness corresponded with the full moon. However, despite the cultural association of the moon with menstruation, there was no connection between the full moon and the female cycles of participating women. Cajochen thinks he has found another facet of the human body’s clock, which operates on a daily cycle. This evidence that human slumber is affected by the full moon implies that humans also have an internal monthly cycle. Lunacy! Or is it? There are other species throughout the animal kingdom that are known for using internal lunar clocks, but many of them depend on tidal knowledge for survival. Given that predators hunt more actively on nights of the full moon, sleeping lightly could have developed as an evolutionary survival tactic. This new data might also help explain the association between nights of the full moon and madness since sleep deprivation can elicit outbursts of abnormal behaviors in people susceptible to different psychological conditions, such as bipolar disorder. So, although nights of the full moon are no different from any other night, humans are Kortyna | 35
internally attuned to them and pulled, in our own way, to its alluring seat in the sky. *** Late one night I walked down into the woods after finishing my evening run, the sharp smell of pine crushed from the needles beneath my feet. I approached the shore, wind roaring through my hair, buffeting the shoreline. A full moon had only just begun to rise. I stalked crane-like into the inky black of the river. The icy waters numbed my ankles. With each step infinitesimal sparks lit within the swirling waters. I kicked harder and the light magnified: bioluminescent algae. It flickered around me like a galaxy of stars. I gloried in being alone there in the dark; the light was all around me. After that night all those years ago, I no longer fear the night. I welcome the dusk and the moon like a friend. Yes, there are creatures in the darkness, and I am grateful to be one of them.
36 | Kortyna
Mouthful Jason Harris Evan met Amelia at our downtown’s Winebar on Friday the 13th. The conversation hit upon superstition. “Triskaidekaphobia,” Evan proudly pronounced. How surprising to see Amelia spit-up! A strawberry stain soaked her blouse. “I’m sorry. I can’t handle hearing big words like that.” Startled by her sarcastic recovery, Evan flipped around the Web on his phone. Then, he puffed up—a patriarchal frog of the pond’s thickest lily pad. “My dear, clearly you are suffering from ‘Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.’” The retching? Terrible. Amelia yanked at something invisible in front of her mouth. Evan stared as though she must be utterly insane. I knew a thought-form even if I didn’t see it. Dashing to the inept couple’s side, I pulled at the viscous clump of transparency that dangled from Amelia’s mouth like a rat’s tail. After a good tug I had removed the reified verbosity, but I hesitated to relay it as such for fear of a relapse. I plunged the wriggling faux pas—a culinary delicacy—into my suitcase. I bowed. “Uncanny diction? My specialty.” Amelia thanked me and explained once more to Evan, “I literally choke on big words.”
Harris | 37
“Oh.” Evan looked glum. He wondered what the limits were. Did “big” mean “erudite,” “pedantic,” or merely “unusual?” For instance, “chthonic” appealed to Evan. Perhaps because he dressed as Hades for Halloween once in college. Or the resemblance to the Lovecraftian entity, “Cthulhu?” Would three or even two syllables be too many? Would he nauseate her with anything not typically seen in a meme? Would “pomposity” demand an EpiPen? “Don’t worry.” Amelia squeezed Evan’s forearm. “We can talk, but please be as concise as possible.” Evan nodded. I peeled away angel hair intimations of their incompatibility, winked at the happy couple. I looked forward to going home, opening my suitcase, and oiling up my Dutch Oven to boil a bouillabaisse of chagrin.
38 | Harris
it all melts down to this: A novel in timelinesâ€” chapter 12 Ben Miller Dale Williams
Miller, Williams | 39
The happiness of others makes me Uncomfortable Adrian Potter So I crawl underneath my fuzzy blanket of self-loathing and pretend to be well adjusted. Despite its hollowness, my presence fills a void. I’m always here but never really present. The past hasn’t been the wise teacher I hoped for. Countless versions of me have perished only to be resurrected later. I blow through excuses like cigarettes and then wonder why I can’t breathe. Don’t call me bro if you don’t know me, stressing the vowel so the word echoes. Seven beers deep into the last keg of summer, I untangle my identity like headphone cords—but when I get close, I discover new knots. Doubt hangs as heavy as a winter coat on a wire hanger. I’ve grown accustomed to rehashed trends. Eschewing candor in mixed company to uphold a veneer of political correctness, false comfort. In this age of selfies, I sing anthems of swallowed pride and stay in my rightful place. Honesty is unnerving but necessary. Face me and I will pantomime your fears. If there is a parallel universe, then I am better off in it. Despite prescriptions, the myth of contentment keeps me up at night like a crying newborn. It takes thirty days to make or break a habit, or a person, psychologically. So how do you feel during sunrise, the stomach growl of life slowly waking? I electric slide into each morning, strutting with the entire game on lock. Get on my level. A nation of haters assembles outside my door to indict me on some spiteful shit. Clutching rosaries while imagining my downfall, my name as a social media mention, a hashtag folded into another story until the entire narrative becomes warped. Dear America, put down the potato chips and I swear no one will get hurt. There’s an order to what we call chaos, a right way to disintegrate, and you need to learn it quickly. We’re too good to be defined by the pain we’ve inflicted. Like others, I’ve evolved backwards, a Type A stuck in a cubicle craving more. Before school, I listen to accidental prophecies from my daughter’s kindergartner mouth. Like me, she’s all bad Potter | 49
attitude and backtalk. While I comb her semi-nappy hair, she cries. Being a parent, I comfort, then bestow out-of-context advice: give people what they need, but never when they expect it. Life is an arrangement of estrangements. Inevitably things fall apart like a knockoff purse bought at a swap meet. I guarantee youâ€™re going to miss me when youâ€™re bored: I am broken.
50 | Potter
monitor your finances Adrian Potter Throwing money at problems won’t make them disappear. Our economy is a wobbly staircase with a broken railing; ascend with caution. Cut through bullshit awkwardly like a righty using lefthanded scissors. Overstretch your rubber band paycheck until it’s permanently malformed and then cobble together a monthly budget. Nothing’s more American than arguing over finances with your spouse. But fighting never resolves anything, so just get naked. Seriously, you can’t afford to miss an opportunity for makeup sex. Life’s like a Tarantino flick—you’ll say the word fuck far more often than you’ll actually get to fuck. You must accept this. And this: throwing problems at money will make it disappear.
Potter | 51
i haven't taken my pills in two weeks Adrian Potter So I taste uncertainty on my tongue, feel insecurities caught in my throat. Breathing can be an intricate task when pharmaceuticals are suffocating your spirit. Maybe you can relate. Fuck off if you can’t. The hands choking my soul could be demonic or angelic. I see heaven in front of us, but everyone else says there’s something wrong. With me. A person accustomed to disaster will scour each instance of joy to find its flaw. Vulnerability is a cracked door, terror reincarnated in various forms— a child’s boogeyman, or his hard-drinking father who returns home angry more often than not. Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about. I need a hug but my friends exist only as phantoms on Facebook. Doctors say I have a chemical imbalance. I dust it off for new acquaintances, carefully prop it on my knee like a ventriloquist’s dummy, talk for it, force it to tell jokes that aren’t really funny. This isn’t a suicide note, but we’d both be more comfortable if it was. I enjoy getting laid but don’t understand why my favorite part of sex is before your clothes are off and I already smell what you’ll taste like. My heart stays with a puff, puff, pass kind of feeling. Don’t publish my pain across the grid of your opinions. If I start over, maybe this could make sense. But incoherent thoughts beget lucid ideas. Dear everyone: please step aside and let me be great. I am hazardous, risky as a shortcut through a dark alley. All our counterfeit gods look like poor excuses and even righteous folks keep deceit tucked under their tongues like a razor blade. I am a human misnomer. I say yes involuntarily when I mean no and no and no. I spoil everything with words, the stilted grammar of sealed promises that are inaccessible like deadbolted doors. Thoughts are saddled with the body’s familiar gospel, the dogged ache of anger in my bones. For now, I let my pain breathe like a red wine and paste paradise 52 | Potter
together from the fragments of reality Iâ€™ve reluctantly inherited. Some people once had it all, but they now have what everybody else has. Nothing. I open the door and the space between optimism and despair blisters, refilling the void of my emptied prescription.
Potter | 53
The Black Net Veil Russell Reece Last night, as I was getting into bed, a big man looked in my window. I caught my breath as the scene behind the glass began to move and a huge eye appeared. Stretching from one side of the sash to the other, the eye scanned the corners of the room and stopped suddenly when it came to me. I froze. The large brow lifted. A blink. I pulled up the sheet to cover myself. My room is on the sixth floor of a seven-story apartment building. I imagined the man leaning against the outside wall, his hands resting on the edge of the roof, his nose pressed tight against the brick façade. He stared at me for the longest time and then turned away. Rolls of skin at the back of his neck and the edge of his earlobe filled the window. He looked back for a moment and was gone. I waited. Nothing—just the familiar lights of the building down the block. Dropping the sheet, I rushed to pull the blinds, but then the eye was back again, and I stopped dead in the center of the room. I crossed my arms over my breasts and stared at the carpet. A siren sounded far off in the distance. When I looked up, the eye was still at the window. It was hazel with little red veins at the corners and a sparse blond lash. I probably should have been frightened, but I wasn’t really. The eye glanced toward the door and then at me again. Goosebumps formed on my arms, but I put my hands on my hips and stared back. The eye blinked and moved away from the sash. The bridge of the man’s large nose and the inside corners of both eyes appeared. Then the eye pressed in close to the glass, brow raised high.
54 | Reece
I turned, walked to the bureau and opened the top drawer. I put on underwear and a slip, and glanced at the window. The eye, now moist and very round, blinked several times. Grinning, I sat down on the chair and slowly pulled on stockings. Men are so easy. At the closet, I flipped through dresses until I came to the black-andwhite one. In front of the floor-mirror, I stepped into the dress, pulled up the zipper, and straightened the waist. Then, standing, first on one foot, and then the other, I slipped into matching heels. I tossed my hair and fastened an old, beaded necklace. Then with great drama, I carried my glass and a red lipstick to the center of the room and slowly applied. Through the looking glass, the eye flared behind the sash, and as I blotted my lips, large fingertips stroked the closed lid. I switched on the music and put on my wide-brimmed hat, the one with the black net veil. As notes floated through the room, I stole a glance and smiled at the onlooker. I moved my hips and swayed to the beat. I had on the black-and-white dress and my wide-brimmed hat, and the room became a blur as I danced and spun in flourishing whirls. And then the music stopped, the notes faded away. I extended my open hand toward the window. “Me joindre, mon amour. Join me, my love.” But the man was gone. Faraway, another siren sounded. Clutching the window casing, I looked into the empty parking lot below and down the long street toward the river. A lone taxi drifted by and as it did, the on-duty light switched off. You might have known he’d be like all the rest. I unclipped the necklace and it clattered onto the bureau as I angrily kicked off my shoes. But then, I caught my reflection in the mirror and turned from side to side. It’s always been a winner, the black-and-white dress. I unzipped the back and hung it carefully in the closet. I smoothed a wrinkle and then switched off the lamp. From my bed, the tall building down the block seemed further away. A handful of dim lights glowed behind yellowed curtains and partially shut blinds. I closed my eyes. As I drifted off, I thought of the man leaning against the building, his hands on the roof, his face pressed to the window, and I was dancing again. Reece | 55
The room was spinning behind the black net veil, and I was laughing as the hem of my dress lifted and pulled against my waist. I was laughing through the dizzying blur of windows and doors and the music tumbling off the walls. And when the music stopped, the man was inside, standing by the window. He wore a dark tuxedo and casually twirled a monocle on a bright gold chain. His thinning hair lay slicked-backtight against his head. He inserted the eyepiece and leaned toward me. “You are very beautiful,” he said. I looked in the mirror and, struck my best pose. “Yes,” I said.
56 | Reece
Now You See It Nancy Ludmerer I cannot recall the moment when my relationship with William disappeared. First to go were dinners at a candle-lit table. As the candles burned down, as we spoke about our lives, he might praise my hazel eyes or my shimmering auburn hair. But the day came when his attention moved elsewhere, to my breasts and the smooth silk of my thighs. He lost himself so totally in the pleasures of the flesh that I wondered if he saw me anymore. Except in bed, his expressions of affection were rare. No longer would he grab my hand while we walked down the street. He would sooner kiss the top of his cat Valerie’s head, murmuring, “How’s the pretty putty-kins,” than he would hug me or call me “darling.”
It’s only a phase, I thought. Be patient. So I tried. One Saturday morning I sat on his bed wearing only a sheet, waiting for him to finish a business call in the other room, wondering about our future. I stared into the faces of William’s ancestors, whose photographs hung over his bed: a stern-looking man, his father, in one photo, and his mother and aunt, wearing flowered dresses, in the other. I didn’t like having them eyeing me—members of a family it seemed I would never join. William’s bed had a heavy, wooden headboard like a ship’s prow, and was high enough so that I (being small) could have crawled underneath it. Impulsively, I lifted the two framed photographs off their hooks and slipped them under the bed, behind the dust ruffle. William didn’t notice anything when he returned. Instead, he immediately began caressing me. When it was over, when he disentangled our limbs and went into the bathroom, I reached under the bed to retrieve the photographs and mount them back on the wall. When I couldn’t reach them, I got on the floor and peered behind the dust ruffle. They weren’t there. I checked both ends of the bed to be sure, running my hands over the dusty floorboards. When William brought in our post-coital coffees, I almost said something. We sat cross-legged on the bed and drank. For a moment I felt the companionability that had eluded us; then Valerie jumped between us and William kissed her Ludmerer | 57
silky head. I experienced a horrible surge of jealousy. Before long, William wanted to make love again. He took our half-finished coffees and Valerie into the living room, but left behind a teaspoon on the night table. I shoved the spoon under the bed just before he returned. This time his passion was even greater, my own ignited by his. Afterwards, while he showered, I looked for the spoon. It too was gone. Soon, I experimented with other objects. A torn shoelace, a dried-out pen. Items only disappeared when we made love. When we simply slept or read in bed, they remained there, dusty but intact. William didn’t notice the missing photographs for days. When he finally mentioned it, I professed ignorance. Once when we made love, I took a fresh tube of K-Y Jelly and pushed it behind the dust ruffle. It, too, disappeared. One summer’s day, while we sipped wine in the living room, I thought William seemed unusually tender. I waited, hoping he’d tell me he loved simply being with me. “I have to get inside you,” he muttered. I got excited then, too, and we stripped off our clothes on the way to the bedroom, forgetting to close the door behind us to keep Valerie out. When she leapt onto the bed and tried to wriggle between us, I growled, “Get her off.” William dumped her off the bed. I opened my eyes just in time to see her make a beeline for the dust ruffle. My face pressed into the mattress, I listened for mewing beneath us. For the first time in my life I faked an orgasm, my voice, almost catlike, ending in a final yelp.
No more Valerie. William speculated that, offended by his rough treatment, she’d gone back into the living room and out the window. William’s apartment was only three floors up; no smashed little body was ever found. William comforted himself that Valerie had wandered off and been adopted by another family, who was taking good care of her. I thought William’s grief was something we could share, an emotional bond between us. It didn’t happen. William actually said at one point, “Marian, I know you’re trying to sympathize, but you can’t understand how I felt about her. She’s been with me since she was a kitten.” He wasn’t in the mood for sex or companionship. I moved out in pained silence. William was right. I didn’t know how to comfort him. I’d tried to be there for him always, but he only wanted me—only saw me—one way. 58 | Ludmerer
I sent flowers, but got no response. So, it was with some surprise that I answered the phone a month later to find William. “I’m through the mourning process,” he said. “I’d love to see you.” I was silent for what seemed a long time, but was probably only a minute or two. “Shall we meet for dinner?” I asked finally. “Actually,” he said, “I’d love it if you came over.” I thought about saying no, about shouting at him, about revealing everything in my heart. Instead I went to him. He seemed lighthearted; the only sign of his mourning was that he’d lost some weight. He hugged me, bony and hard. “Come,” he said. “I even got a fresh tube of K-Y.” Can you blame me if, in the middle of his passion, when he reached for the K-Y, it wasn’t there. “I think I dropped it under the bed,” I said. “Don’t worry, darling, I’ll get it,” were his last words to me before he crawled underneath the dust ruffle. I have always remembered that “darling” and wondered, sadly, if I misunderstood him after all.
Ludmerer | 59
White Whites Jeffrey Kingman White Whites Tiny bits of cracked leaves, alphabet specks, potato skins, shard of plastic shoelace tips, saltpeter, commas, all spilling through by the handful. Everyone rushed right along, didn’t know better. One old woman they called crazy. She left the group and turned up the walkway, wanted to enter the little white, which was not very white, house. She tried to imagine herself already inside. Once in, she made a point of imagining she was back out. A teenage girl chewing gum downstairs. She tried to help the woman, had her face forward while walking backward. This caused neck strain. “Babies are the ones with rubber necks, but they can’t walk.” “That’s true,” the girl replied. “When I was born I could multiply fractions, though I had no memory.”
60 | Kingman
She swallowed her gum made way for a wedge of brie, much whiter than average, and the people came after it. Perfection spills. Shredded muscle, white matter, clatter of elbow macaroni, opinion grater, conundrum bubbles, fall-down granny, tears. â€ƒ
Kingman | 61
Birthday girl Jeffrey Kingman FAO Schwarz for a trembling tricycle and smoke coming out of her mouth. She trembled, riding around inside the garage. In the old days little girls smoked Camels. Her little party dress and green soda, a Camel hanging from her lip. She almost choked. There weren’t any filters, everything just came right along. Her mother and father were twins, even their shoes. “This is a good idea.” But it wasn’t. They wouldn’t listen. Riding with her knees pointing out, hair shriveling as the days grew. She pointed the clicker at the door and complained, “This doesn’t move. Like fingers on the window.” She got her alone once, the fumbling mother. “Where’s your cookies? Your dish drainer?” The mother masked her anger with clichés: “I drank water for a week, but I never heard the words.” Father broke it, but that only worked for a while. He kept quiet. In eighth grade the kids tried to offer her a dirty dot. Nowadays she looks back on it all, wanders the house crying, and you try to think of something you can do for her, but it’s so hard.
62 | Kingman
Heidi of the alps Jeffrey Kingman 1. She could climb it even now, though still little, she would show them. Awoke to a special opening. She suspected the sunlit mountain kept out-things out, but no use fretting; the clock never whistled. Heidi laughed at the tub of water—as if a bath had any meaning to a goat. In the pasture, she put in her hair a blue feather the wind blew against a crag. Peter called her featherhead. But she would show them. Goats already knew. Mountainside keeps out all things that are easily blown. Paper bags and smokestacks. Little girls have strong feet. Along the footpath, the pungent morning air lifted the two youngsters and goats until the grass gave way to boulders chiseled by harried giants. Peter yelled, “Far enough!” for Heidi had toiled up the steep mountain ahead of him. The Grandfather had warned Peter to look out for Heidi at the sheer overhanging rock. Eyes on the jagged peaks beyond. Below them, wild rustling of the firs. 2. Cooperation is needed or a poke from the horn. No need of a cup. The moon opened and laughed at her, but she didn’t wake up from the violent gusts, her milk-supper sleep. Peter did that, straight from the teat. The next day it was clear. If there was ever need of a baby, Grandfather would keep an ear out for the bleating. Meantime, he took Heidi’s hand. On the walk down, the greenest rocks were a perfume against the white above. Near the bottom, their visit to the village—the people behind doors. They went past them all, confused by the quiet. When Heidi entered the old blind woman’s house, then she understood: the other villagers thought Heidi looked like a witch.
Kingman | 63
3. If she played too rough she was sent from the solitary hut to stomp with the beasts—“Ay! ay! hie!”—though she was forbidden to wander off. Nevertheless, past the afraid times she climbed, up and up in the winter air until there was no more path, just jagged gray and her dress come off. Goosy dimpled arms in the cold, and her petticoat the color of the few floating flakes. Peter and Grandfather had spotted Heidi’s escape and were close behind when she reached the overhanging rock. They watched her scramble up as they raced to beat her, but—so quick—the wind blew her off the cliff. She felt the sudden push and went over the edge, admitting with chagrin that Grandfather was right. The wind, which she loved, was too much for her. She imagined their mouths hanging open, watching her fall to her death. But she fooled them both and flew back up with a wriggling field mouse clenched in her beak. She cocked her feathered little head as she glanced down at them, pleased to see their shocked faces.
64 | Kingman
Getting Better Emily Cousins everyone assumes it’s one way up the slope if Timmy sells bikes for $499/bike how long before Timmy has earned $100,000 how long until happiness amount of dollars how long until Timmy knows it’s okay no one thinks there are things to enjoy living/to not enjoy living I have lost everyone wants to know about the rise/the run & maybe Timmy doesn’t like bikes maybe Timmy can’t sell worth shit maybe Timmy isn’t meant to be happy no one asks can you objectively gauge your insignificance
Cousins | 65
Tennyson Takes a Bullet Matthew Wolfe Once upon a midnight dreary, in a basement dank and eerie, I stumbled over a volume of poetic lore. With eyes so red and weary, I examined a book quite dreary for there was a hole in its spine no worm could ever bore, a hole so deep and ratty, every page was creased and tore --- N Only this and nothing more. Thumbing through its many pages, looking for some hermits and some sages, I found Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a poet whom I never did adore. His photo showed a figure bald, also unsmiling and unribald. Such a sorry visage recalled a poet me thought to be a snore (though commentary by Charles French was equal on that score, more or less forgotten, forever more). Guinevere and the Grail, Lancelot and some ale were the subjects of this dusty book of yore. Upon the title page I started peering, long I stood there fearing Idylls of the King, Macmillan and Company, 1934. Truly, thought I, this is a book I should ignore. ‘Tis only dullness here and nothing more. Still, the rips in the gutter which made Arthur stutter thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors I never felt before. What bit of violence could attempt to silence Alfred, Lord Tennyson, like nothing heretofore? Perhaps it was a raven’s beak and nothing more. Perhaps a raven’s beak, nothing more. Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, I crept upstairs and down the hall to my father’s chamber door. There I caught him napping, so gently I started rapping, but gave up, went in, and tap, tap, tapped him with that book of lore. “This book has tasted disaster, ‘tis a mystery I must explore.” Quoth my father, “Nevermore.”
66 | Wolfe
“But surely,” I snipped, “you know the saddle stitch is ripped and there’s a small hole in its backside leading to its core.” “Don’t call me ‘Shirley’,” came the reply a tad bit surly. “T’was an accident before you were born and nothing more. T’was an incident without rhyme, just a bore. Oh, and on your way out, close the door.” “Prophet,” said I. “You do know! Could you not your eldest son show?” (A smile spread across his face as the memory reached its shore.) “This volume reveals Arthur’s passing and the treasure he was massing, but this hole, this hole! Forgive me but I must implore! There’s family history here, and I really must know more! Quoth my father, “Ah, what the hell.” He said, “Distinctly do I remember, t’was some dark and bleak December When my evil step-mother came rapping at my bedroom door. She held aloft her trusty revolver, her handy little problem solver, for she filled her time shooting rats at river’s shore. Tin cans too, but mostly rats at river’s shore. Only this and nothing more. “‘Son,’ she inquired sweetly, ‘would you help me,’ she added meekly, ‘would you clean my little gun, the cylinder, and the bore?’ ‘Golly,’ I replied. ‘I’d love to,’ I lied. Peace in the household was worth the chore. She handed me her worn revolver then waltzed back out my door. Darkness there and nothing more. “I pulled out a rod and some patches to wad, and the skinny brush with the stiff bristles of a boar. Then I picked up said gun, and BANG!, my head, it spun, For the weapon went off with an echoing roar! For the weapon went off and a bullet did soar! I perched. I sat. I did nothing more. “I was certainly stunned and significantly out gunned, and smoke slowly settled upon the clothing that I wore. My ears were brightly ringing from the bullet’s wayward zinging, and I searched myself for blood and some gore. Then I searched the room and of my step-mother I swore, ‘Frosty old hoar!’
Wolfe | 67
“I searched the shelves upon the wall, looked for a hole and leaden ball, and found that book knocked from his seat and laying upon the floor. The spine was still smoking, Lord Tennyson near choking, and again I cursed that matronly conspirator, For the bullet got through more of Tennyson than I ever had before. Only this and nothing more. Now: on your way out—close that door.” The End
68 | Wolfe
Everything that matters Alissia Lingaur All night, all day, angels watching over me, my Lord . . . Below me, there’s a body. Blood seeps from a neck slash, more oozes across her tank-top, her unbuttoned jeans, zipper torn revealing a jagged cut below her belly-button. Ouch. And she’s glaring, her eyes beseeching me without blinking. There’s heat, fire. She’s about to be eaten by reds, yellows, oranges, all the colors my art teacher okayed for suburban blazes. Yet she doesn’t move. Her eyes, almost black in the smoke, follow me, still no blink. I can’t save her. In three steps I’ve found the way out and escaped into the night where flames lick the house trailer’s cheap plastic siding, covering the windows, swallowing the porch. A man’s silhouette strides toward a rusty brown pick-up, gasoline can in hand. I shiver. Cold summer night, my arms speckle with goose bumps, especially since I’m only wearing a tank and jeans. I didn’t plan to be outside in the middle of the night. Even crossing my arms doesn’t help, and my teeth chatter, somehow increasing the prickles on my skin. “Are you ready?” a voice asks behind me. I turn. She’s waiting in a ’67 Ford Mustang with a hardtop. I’ve always loved those cars. My Grandpa Hank used to take me and my twin sister, Lara, for drives in his blue one, a convertible. We’d sit in the backseat, Grandpa Hank up front, the car thundering like wild horses under our legs. That was fun and it felt good, not like when my stepdad Chip pushed me open wide. “I don’t know,” I tell the driver. She slides a pair of aviator sunglasses up into her hair. Much better. She doesn’t need those at night. Her eyes are black too, reflecting the burning trailer behind me.
Lingaur | 69
“Have to go soon,” she says. “Before they come.” Sirens sound down the road. Someone must’ve called 911. I look up, squinting against the raging heat behind me, trying to spot the rescue vehicles. Maybe they can help that girl inside. The driver leans across the Mustang’s passenger seat and opens the door for me. As she rights herself, she drapes her arm across the steering wheel like she’s the best option I’ve got, so I walk to the car and get in. The seat’s white leather warms my legs through my jeans. The car rumbles, more like a lion than a herd of horses. I shut the door with a quiet click and rest my hands on my knees. The driver places her brown hand on top of my left one. “I’m Angel,” she says, and her voice tastes like chocolate, the good kind Grandpa Hank hid in our Christmas stockings every year before he died. I open my mouth to speak my name, and she smiles and says, “And you’re Charlie.” A boy’s name on a girl, my stepdad Chip always said, but that didn’t keep him from yelling it when I’d sneak beneath the trailer, far from his jabbing fingers. Angel slams her foot on the gas pedal and we speed down the driveway. When I turn around, the furious trailer grows smaller and smaller in the rearview window, like a match just waiting to be snuffed out. “What a relief,” I say out loud, though I don’t understand why. “You got that right,” Angel says. Then she drags on a cigarette I didn’t see before and adds, “People are fucked up.” “My stepdad Chip smokes Pall Malls,” I say real fast, before she can stop me. “They make his breath stink.” I frown at the silver mats on the floor. “I hate cigarettes.” Angel smiles again and flicks her smoke out the window. She waves her hands above the wheel, her knees steering the car. “All gone,” she says in her chocolate voice. “Shouldn’t have to deal with crap you hate.” I glance out my window and almost smile. Maybe she’s for real.
70 | Lingaur
Minutes pass. No talking, just comfy silence. There’s not much to see beyond the Mustang’s headlights on the road. I make out the treetops, a star or two. Finally, I ask, “Where’re we going, anyway?” “There’s other pick-ups tonight,” Angel says, hands back on the wheel. That makes me feel better, seeing her drive the car with her hands. We wouldn’t crash then, for sure. Chip did that with Lara and me, drove crazy, when he was supposed to be picking us up from school. We’d scream, but he didn’t mind that. “Where’s my sister?” I say. We were together tonight, I think. Or maybe not. I can’t remember the last time I saw Lara. Angel stares ahead, eyes on the horizon. She doesn’t answer, and I want to touch the hair that waterfalls down her shoulders. I don’t see people with shaded skin very often. Only on TV. Chip didn’t like most people, but especially, brown-skin folks. Angel turns the radio dial and electric guitars crash through the speakers. She bobs her head as she drives, her lips mouthing the words. The music swells and clangs around us. Loud. Fills the car with a beat that matches my heartbeat. Thump, thump, thump and I’m lighter, freer. I almost smile. Again. “We’re here,” Angel eventually says. She dials down the rock, and the Mustang creeps toward a small house, lights bright in every window. She parks but doesn’t turn the car off. She stares at the house. Waiting. Far from anyplace I recognize. No sounds except the engine’s muttering. I look at the house, too. Right in the middle of a field with trees off to the edges, maybe maples. Pretty in the fall, but they’ll have a huge electric bill, leaving all those lights on. Mom always yelled at me and Lara to turn the damn lights off! Did we think she was made of money? That was before she married Chip and his paycheck. We should’ve flicked more switches. Angel opens her door. She places one foot on the ground then swivels to me. “Stay here, okay Charlie?” Her voice is quiet and maybe a little bit worried. “I’ve got to go in there alone, but I don’t want you getting hurt or lost.” She runs a finger down my chin then beep-beeps my nose. Grandpa Hank did that when he’d tuck us in at night, before he Lingaur | 71
died, of course, and left me and Lara and mom to fend for ourselves. It’s easy to smile at Angel now. “Okay, sure,” I say. “Can I turn the radio up?” “Better not yet,” Angel says. She stands up out of the Mustang and walks to the back corner of the house, to a window where the light is less bright, maybe just a lamp instead of the overhead. I watch her raise the pane and shimmy across the sill, disappearing into the room. She must know these folks, so they won’t care if she drops in for a visit. Waiting. Waiting. Once my hand moves to the knob and almost turns up the volume, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, me and Lara love that guy. I stop myself just in time. Still, no Angel. I’m about to close my eyes and sleep a little bit, when the house’s front door opens and a guy carrying a garbage bag over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes hunkers down the steps. It’s a big sack of potatoes. Long and skinny. He staggers to the woods and tosses that garbage bag onto the ground, right next to a big tree. Then, a lady leaves the house carrying a shovel. She doesn’t shut the front door, and that means bugs. Michigan’s big on bugs. They’ll be overrun with mosquitoes and moths and anything else flying around at night that’ll see their huge yellow light shining into the yard. I wouldn’t want to sleep in their house tonight. While I watch that lady and guy digging near the woods, Angel appears at the side of the car. She opens her door and props the seat forward. She leans halfway in, depositing a boy onto the backseat. He’s sleeping, but tear streaks cover his cheeks. Angel straightens her seat before climbing behind the wheel again. “Charlie, Donny,” she says, pointing from me to the boy behind us. “Donny, Charlie,” she adds though I doubt he hears since he’s snoring. Before she slides the Mustang into reverse, Angel frowns at the couple near the trees, their shovels glinting in the headlight glow. Neither look at us though. The lady grabs one end of the garbage bag and the guy grabs the other. They swing it slightly over the hole they’ve dug before dropping it. I can’t hear the thud, but I’m sure there is one. 72 | Lingaur
“Shit,” Angel says. “Shit, shit, shit!” She places a hand on my seat’s headrest and turns to look over her shoulder, maneuvering the car backward down the driveway. Her eyes search the darkness and her lips move. I swear she says, “I’m getting too old for this job.” Back on the road, Angel drives silently. She doesn’t turn the music up. Probably because Donny’s still sleeping. There’s nothing familiar out the windows. More trees, one or two buildings, but as my eyes feel heavy, like I might fall asleep, the road changes color, from brown to gray, and then I blink and it’s darkened by rain. The forest is gone. We’re on a city street, identical red-brick houses butting against each other up and down the sidewalks, standing on tiptoes, like they’re all trying to see what’s just beyond the next block. Angel slows the Mustang and swivels her head left and right, looking for something. There’s an occasional tree, flowering, as if the neighborhood once was beautiful. And the occasional street lamp. But a lot of lamps are dark, no bulbs. Angel flips on the wipers. Swish, swish against the misty rain. “I’m gonna need your help on this one,” she says, real low. She pulls the car to the right, just along the curb, and settles it behind an old gold Cadillac with a broken taillight. “This one’s a little tricky.” I stare out the window at the building we’re parked in front of. Townhouse, I think. My cousin lived in one near Detroit when we were little, and before Grandpa Hank died, he’d bring us to visit. He took us downtown to Tigers’ games, and even to see Annie at the Fox once. Everything that matters was before Grandpa Hank died. My life before, and then, my life after. When mom brought home Chip. “What can I do?” I ask, still studying the brick house. Angel squeezes my left hand where it grips the seat’s edge. “You’ll just need to carry the baby. I’ll get her brother.” She tugs on my chin gently ‘til I turn to face her. Her black eyes. “Have you held a baby before?” I swallow hard. “Almost,” I say. There was going to be a baby, I think. I felt it when I ran laps in gym class. “Just support her head with your hand and tuck her close to your chest, so she feels safe,” Angel says. She holds up her hands, fingers together as if she’s a ballerina, but then brings them in close to her Lingaur | 73
chest like she’s got a puppy or something. It looks right, like babies should be held. I nod, got it. She opens her door, and I open mine. I wait on the sidewalk for her to around the car and lead the way into the dark house. I can’t see the stars anymore, but something’s smoldering in a working streetlight nearby. Angel climbs the porch steps and waves me forward. I follow. She turns the knob on the front door and it swings open, no lock or anything. We enter a living room, books on tables, two couches facing each other. Pretty tidy. Angel stands and listens. Then she glances up the stairs to the second floor. A quick chin flick shows me that the kids we came for are up there. No creaks on the steps as we climb to the bedrooms. I don’t even need light. Everything kind of radiates. At the top of the stairs, Angel pauses and listens again, her head tilts. She frowns and steps to the left. She opens a door. The bathroom. Angel goes right in, but I can’t because my hands are shaking, my skin dimpling again. I hear a siren. Maybe I should go get help, find a fireman or police officer, somebody who can do something. “I need you, Charlie,” Angel says. She’s kneeling by the bathtub, one hand on the edge, the other held out to me. Instead of chocolate, her voice tastes like my Grandpa Hank’s funeral. I lick my lips and there’s salt. I’m crying. Angel’s hand reaches for me. Finally, I stretch over the threshold and touch Angel’s warm fingers. She closes them around mine and tugs me forward. Beside her, floating in the bathtub, are a baby, maybe four months old, and a little boy with red hair, maybe two. Their eyes are open, but they aren’t breathing. I kneel next to Angel. Those screaming sirens are closer, I think. “Are you ready?” she asks, her eyes focus on mine. She’s crying too. “We have to hurry.” I nod. Angel reaches into the water and places her hands beneath the baby. 74 | Lingaur
There’s a tiny crack of iridescent light, and as she lifts, part of the baby comes too. The little one’s body still floats, lifeless and dull, but in Angel’s hands an infant yawns, as if she’s been asleep and had the best dream. Angel passes her to me. “This is Elaine. Remember how to hold her, Charlie?” she asks. I place a hand behind the baby’s soft head and the other, I slide onto her diapered bottom. She looks at me with wide, green eyes. Then I cradle her against my shoulder like I saw Angel do in the car. Her body is so light, nothing like Lara when I’d give her a piggy-back ride around Grandpa Hank’s dining room table. Round and round we’d go. Elaine breathes on my neck, warm and wet. I stand and back up a little bit, so Angel can reach the boy. Another siren, this one the beeping keen of a fire truck, joins the first. Angel places her hands beneath the boy, sparkling flash, and there he is. A sleepy-eyed toddler in overalls. Angel stands and lifts him onto her hip. He snuggles into her collarbone and sticks his thumb in his mouth. “Let’s go for a ride, Joe, okay?” Angel asks real quiet. The toddler nods and closes his eyes. We leave the kids’ bodies in the tub and step down the stairs carefully. At the bottom, Angel pauses and does that listening thing again. There’s more sirens, more blips and beeps, but she bites her lip like she’s trying to decide. Then she walks past the couches and end tables piled with books and into the next room. I don’t want to be left alone in that sad house, so I hurry after her. The kitchen, that’s where she’s gone. I sniff. Gas. All the burners shimmer on the stove and the oven door’s wide, flinging heat into the room. Right next to the open oven is a woman flat on the floor, her wrists leaking blood. Kind of like what happened upstairs, when Angel touches the woman’s shoe with her foot, a gleaming spark circles the woman and she sits up, but her body stays on the linoleum. She looks at Angel and whispers, “I’m so sorry.” Angel holds Joe tighter. She grits her teeth and says, “It’s too late for that.” “It’s not my fault,” the woman sobs. “I just didn’t know what else to do.” She crawls toward Angel, pulling on Angel’s jeans and gazing up at her. Lingaur | 75
“Please,” she bawls, “please take me with you.” Angel places a hand on the woman’s head, and for a second I think she’s going to agree. But then in one quick shove, she pushes the woman backwards to her body. Another flare and the body on the floor coughs like the woman’s about to wake. Sirens! So close now. Angel grips Joe and jogs out of the kitchen. I’m right behind her, still holding Elaine close to my heart. We hurry ‘til we’re back at the Mustang. Angel slips Joe in next to Donny, and the two boys lean against each other as they sleep. She darts round the car and opens my door, so I can crouch and get in without bugging Elaine. Inside, I move the baby so she’s in the crook of my right arm. Without even turning, Angel backs out of the parking spot and onto the street. The Mustang leaps to the stop sign at the end of the block, and I see an ambulance, fire truck, and two police cars in my side-view mirror. They’ve slammed up over the sidewalk in front of that lady’s house. My eyes still on the mirror and the men sprinting up the steps. The firemen hit the front door with an axe. “Why didn’t you bring her?” I ask. Angel drives the car through the intersection, heading east. “I’m here for the kids, even the teenagers,” she says, winking at me. Before us, the morning sun peeks over the world’s edge, shading the sky pink. Elaine blows spit bubbles, her eyes still wide, taking it all in, and I run a finger over her lips, popping them. Her little tongue sticks out just a bit. “She seemed so sorry,” I say. The car speeds up, heading straight into the light. “She needs to be judged,” Angel whispers. “They all do.” She looks over at Elaine and me and smiles. Then she slides her aviators down over her eyes and laughs. “But that ain’t my job.” We gallop faster and faster toward the sunrise, and my skin warms in the glow, tiny dots blurring my vision.
76 | Lingaur
Angelesque Jennifer Burnau They said it was crucial how the parts were assembled, intricately determined, yet in-retractably detrimental. Then, the beginning was lost. They shed their short white wings before they could fly to where the moon used to be before we discovered what it was. They followed last winter down to a place where no one could go to buy a drink without getting out in the cold. Their ineffable nightmares dissipated, flickering above their eyelids, static dripping from slick, wet orbs. They sang orange songs and laughed, speculating about whether the drunk and naked morning would still come. Sometimes they are afraid to look out from the corners of their books, where they hide under layered blankets with gelatin amorphous bodies forgetting often and without sequence.
Burnau | 77
oh geez, I'm writing a poem about blood Christine Tierney my favorite phlebotomist is not a sunflower or a lily, or a geranium petal, or a pansy, or a mum. she’s a needle sticker, a needle slider, a neat ladyflower. and she knows my name. and when it’s cold out she rests a warm gel pack in the crook of my arm to relax my scaredy veins. my favorite phlebotomist gets a little moody sometimes, but it’s okay with me, she has her life too— three adopted kids from sierra leone, a chain smoking tenant whose doberman shits on the front porch and needle, after needle, after needle—all that blood must get vexing. imagine her dreams! my favorite phlebotomist doesn’t bruise me. it’s like she can see underneath my skin— it’s like she can see inside my soul. she’s kind of like a snake whisperer. she coaxes the elusive vein out of hiding with a gentle two finger rub, calmly extracts what she needs, and without a fuss—sets me free.
78 | Tierney
In the Skin Stuart Forrest I learned that color is an odor that repels, partially disbursed by wealth and fame. I’m told my sin is in the skin. A people float within the depths of a spittoon, and drown each other for clean air. I’m told my sin is in the skin. From oppression, to suppression, to depression, I self-loathe, self-destruct, self-annihilate. I’m told my sin is in the skin. I’m told that my genetics are septic. I’m declared defective and damned. I’m told my sin is in the skin.
Forrest | 79
Cunning Punctuations Richard Kostelanetz I know you’re kind. I know your kind. Population broken down by age and sex. Population, broken down by age and sex. Where can we see a man-eating shark? Where can we see a man, eating shark? I'm sorry you can’t join us. I'm sorry; you can’t join us. Let’s eat, grandpa. Let’s eat grandpa. Absent-minded men proceed obliviously. Absent-minded, men proceed obliviously. She enjoys cooking her family and her dog. She enjoys cooking, her family, and her dog. Most of the time, travelers worry. Most of the time-travelers worry. A woman without her man is nothing. A woman: without her, man is nothing. Slow children at play. Slow, children at play. She was pretty gregarious. She was pretty, gregarious. Mommies make good sandwiches. Mommies, make good sandwiches.
80 | Kostelanetz
Police save us. Police, save us. Police save us? You will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts. You will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts. You will be required to work twenty-four-hour shifts. I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happyâ€”will you let me be yours? I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When weâ€™re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours,
Kostelanetz | 81
Play Jonny Johnson Observations and musings of a world. A world called Earth. Too large to walk across. And too small to hold celebrity status among a galaxy. Where plants, paper cups, human beings, and nuclear weapons coexist in harmony. *** I see the plants, ha-ha, you see, there it is “I see the plants.” I’ve altered reality. Go ahead. Try it. What’d you see? What’d you make? I turned my head away from you, if I discontinue thinking of you—which I did—you don’t exist! Ha! Please don’t take that offensively. I don’t mean to be rude. Also, I prefer to create the existence of the things around me. It keeps it simpler. So don’t go calling or texting or showing up too much. A schedule is nice. I can brace myself for your creation, your birth back into my awareness. I’ll be ready for the full cycle of your presence. Your birth. The phasing of your excitement and calmness; your sadness and your anger. Then, finally, your departure. Your departure back into the nothingness where my bereavement will ensue. Let’s check the schedule to see when this can happen. Tuesday’s no good, but Thursday I’m free. *** Why? Why? Why? Ya little shits. My level of caring has dropped beneath the knees, below the feet, beyond the sands, and into the cute little pockets of the gutter mice. All the cares in the world can sit safely with them; jangle in those pockets with the egos, the wills, and the wants. I dropped the stories, too. What use have those been anyways? So much figuring. I dropped that, too. That rests next to the half-eaten dove's corpse the rats pulled to their post last week. It had a sweet letter in its mouth—unto all, thy dove hath fallen. 15th seen this month. Good source of paper to fuel the fires and keep warm.
82 | Johnson
The methane and the neon lights have descended upon this earth. They’re around me. I walk in it as I go through the store. I breathe them in at the shower. I swim in it as I drive my car. *** The paint has become my playground. It’s the experimental land for my word-scapes. Two strokes up. Three gashes down. Moving around. My mind dances on the paper. Dance away with the tango, the waltz, the polka (thank you, Czech heritage), swing . . . swinging . . . They oscillate back and forth across the pages, tapping only at their point of maximum kinetic energy, interjecting some communication through word or color. A letter? A symbol? Yes, use symbols! Plural symbols with lots of meanings! It’s high time! Throw in a high-hat while you’re at it. Sprinkled across a bass muffled in black. Black basses, black holes, black strokes. Lots of black strokes are needed. They go here and they go there. Static-like. Television static. It’s more a dynamic representation rather than static. Full of pianos and fortes and mezzo fortes. Moving and playing. Do you really believe the moon doesn’t exist when you don’t look at it? A huge, yes! *** Hellllooooo . . . hellloooo . . . I went down to the forest area, the place was burned and black and green. There was wood everywhere. Behind the field, behind the shed. Behind the clouds, behind the box. The little blue box. Full of wonderment. What the hell is that? Full of stars and blocks and fleas and rocks. Bronzed steel were the edges, if you could see them. A burnt offering it all is, if you could hear it. It sounds like scribbling. It looks like this.
Johnson | 83
Red badges in the corner. Two steps and three steps make the box dimmer. Then it shifts to the side. The manipulative tools: wink twice, smirk never. The box blows away. Cool hack, isn’t it? Around the merry-go-round the box plays. Hanging on for life as the forces throw them to the outside. The box edge can’t handle it anymore. It collapses to a triangle maintaining its force, sticking to the outside. Then the equilibrium releases and the boxes fly. Fly they will, fly they must. Floating they are. Nowhere to go from the inside. Happy as can be. Turmoil around as their objects within fall out into place . . . into the woods, into the ashes . . . into the ground, the fertilizer, plant food, millennium, millennia, millenn, mill, mi, m . . . *** 50 50 fifty tin. The world is rolling and this story is being told. What story? Who are the characters? What’s the plot? There’s no point, you might say. It’s all related though. Ten tin 10. I’ll tell you what it all is. Here it is. It is. *** Everything is delicate! This situation. The words I use. How I walk one foot in front of the other stepping over the cracks, the rocks, the ants . . . those twisted strong mother fuckers and their modern two-toned bodies. I swing my arms delicately at my side. It’s handled with such care. It makes me have to laugh. Hahahahaha over and over I have to laugh. It’s all so funny. The delicacy of everything. My roommate’s friend died. A precarious situation . . . maybe! She lies on the sofa. Her head in the pillows. Makeup dribbled upon the floor, picked up and played with by the ants. What to say . . . how to behave . . . Tenderness? Bedside manners? Delicacy! I just have to laugh.
The electron goes to hollywood and reads the bible Brooke Larson May God us keep / From Single vision & Newton’s Sleep! —William Blake Here goes nothin’, the electron says, and / in the act fashions a mouth out of clay / mation equations, enunciating / particularly the nasal and gut / teral, the stop and go in forward fash / ion. Though the electron can’t personal / ly feel the Holy Ghost of macro / ramp beneath its figure of speech feet, there / are particles who gather, singing praises / to linear life. So here goes nothing, / all of it. (Getting used to the drone of de / facto lips.) Electron must learn to fit ex / periences into Newtonian / terms. Like a camel through the eye of a / needle, as it is said by some gazill / ion electrons of black ink linking / arms on an old kidskin scroll. If only / electron could just focus harder, or / let go more, oh it too would see the light / as either particle or wave and not / the absurdism of both. All discord, / wrote the unionized particles of Al / exander Pope, is harmony misun / derstood. The electron has black blindfolds / up and down its eyeless body: dark ar / eas of discontinuous leaps be / tween blinding bright bands of color. It puts / eyeglasses over the black blindfolds in / hopes to appear smart. Dark sunglasses over / the bright bands, trying for inaccessible / in an acceptable way. Pays to be / a harmony whore, electronic cleric / says. Five Hail Marys for making no / sense. Ten for being in two places at / once. Electron grows knees to pray like a child, / tantrums up and down perishable aisles / of Cosmos’ grocery: gimme gimme / sugarhardened closures! Electron pre / tends to be fed by Father Newton’s frozen / dinners. Forget ultraviolet hunger, kid, / way beyond the reach of thermal energy. / Electron takes solids to sleep and liquids / to wake and gasses get it excited, / Larson | 85
does it again, electron getting a pre / dictable pattern. Electron at large! / Buys a watch, swears by a cause, affects a three-/ dimensional face, decays same things at i / dentical rates, breaks up with entangle / ment and is afterward sure to subscribe / to before and after. Nevermind the / Ultraviolet Catastrophe! Erase it / in a frenzy of hype to be less chao / tic. What does electron know about real / events anyway? So, how does it feel, / the saved particles ask, to finally be / known? To come home to position, momentum / intact? Measured clean of all those loud simul / taneities of leaping uncertain / ties clouding and transgressing and bedevil / ing your nature? Doubting in its mouth a / gain, electron can’t tell them: the leaps are / largely silence. Like the dark beat, it thinks, / between rain drops. Electron itself a / tiny wide-open ear, listening to / the betweening, each blank note of storm an / eye, a lucent nebula, unblinking / and making bottomless eye contact with all / of electron at once, electron listen / ing to all that intrarain, interthun / der, spaced amidst the bodying storm fall / of all rain that has or will or didn’t / or won’t or shall yet always already, / fall upon this earth, every earth, and / her every sea, that is and isn’t, / you hear it: the silence raining between. / Entanglement quiet as a dance with / what you don’t know you love wholly between / rain drops. The day is over. Thank Newton’s / stars! Appointed time has its perks. Goodnight / and God speed, Macro-micros! The electron / knows now not to wave. It strikes a pose.
86 | Larson
Why it? efF why Brooke Larson fecundity ecundityf cundityfe undityfec ndityfecu dityfecun ityfecund tyfecundi yfecundit fytidnuce efytidnuc cefytidnu ucefytidn nucefytid dnucefyti idnucefyt tidnucefy ytidnucef
fecundityfecundityf ecundityfecundityfe cundityfecundityfec undityfecundityfecu ndityfecundityfecun dityfecundityfecund ityfecundityfecundi tyfecundityfecundit yfecundityfecundity fytidnucefytidnucef efytidnucefytidnuce cefytidnucefytidnuc ucefytidnucefytidnu nucefytidnucefytidn dnucefytidnucefytid idnucefytidnucefyti tidnucefytidnucefyt ytidnucefytidnucefy
ecundityf cundityfe undityfec ndityfecu dityfecun ityfecund tyfecundi yfecundit fecundity ytidnucef fytidnuce efytidnuc cefytidnu ucefytidn nucefytid dnucefyti idnucefyt tidnucefy
Larson | 87
Contributors' notes Kevin Bray Contributors’ Notes Best Unrequited Writing 2016 Forward from the Series Editor b.p. silver In order to qualify for inclusion in Best Unrequited Writing 2015, writers had to submit their work to at least fifty print or online publications and five of those had to be “top tier” (e.g. New Yorker, Harper’s, Tin House, Paris Review), and receive fifty rejections. The following six outstanding writers worked hard throughout the year, but failed to publish their stories in highbrow or lowbrow publications, online or print publications, or small presses and zines. Since 2001, this series has provided the raison d’être for a writer: readers (and publication!). Every contributor tried to get published, to find a reader outside their Facebook circle, and this series is a stay of execution, a reason to push the power button, tap the keyboard, to avoid Google for an hour or two a day and dream. We deliberately read the pieces with names attached, convinced that a name can influence an editor. Imagine opening a submission from Garfield Zutz without giggling about the high school nickname you’d utter from your cruel fifteen-year-old mouth. Or John Smith, burdened with blandness; he might as well have been named “John Doe”. Even a name like Usha Quist-Tipp, known as “Q-Tip’ to her friends, a powerful but indefinite ethnic name, could not sway an editor who wants exotic bylines and inclusiveness.
Introduction from A.N., Guest Editor As you can see, my name is not revealed. I want readers to know that my six choices did not reflect the aesthetic of the no-residency creative writing program in which I teach. Our popular online program does not adhere to any style or genre. Where preconceived ideas percolate to the top of readers’ minds, “oh, another speculative 88 | Bray
story” or “I guess A.N. only likes stories with dogs or a linear narrative," I quell these by remaining anonymous. These writers are like athletes who just missed the podium by a thousandth of a second. Who knows how far out of the slush pile they wiggled, how close they came to convincing a fiction editor—say, a third-year university student bloated with praise from their novel writing workshop professor, the professor who is about to be censored for indiscretions—who felt that their story would be stronger if it were set in academia or had a strong female narrator, written by a woman. (If only they had not appropriated the voice of a shepherd or a dog, if they had just stayed within the borders of their birth, they might have heard “yes” instead of “we regret . . .”) I want writers and readers to impose their imagination on me, to conjure my existence, to create the benevolent editor they desire. CONTRIBUTORS ROMY COUCH is the author of seven self-published story collections and six novel drafts (part of a series modelled after the Hardy Boys). He studied dentistry at the University of Sydney, but left Australia after the country instituted an effective gun ban. Romy has applied to some of the country’s best workshops, including Breadloaf and Sewanee, and received rejections from Iowa and Stanford. His story “There’s a Fly in my Chardonnay” was rejected by the New Yorker and Word Riot. “I love to drink. Life on the edge is the only one worth living and I step outside guidelines, colour past the lines. They say fifteen drinks per week is a healthy limit, but I go through that much every summer weekend. One Saturday morning last August, I was having a glass of wine with my toast and a fly kept moving around me in circles, sort of like a jet in a holding pattern over JFK, and then suddenly it lost lift and plunged into my glass. I imagined the fly had committed suicide, or the wine fumes incapacitated it. Then I saw myself as a passenger on the fly, a terrified Zika virus, hoping to land on a host, but incinerated in the oaky white froth. “The first draft was the only one I wrote. I never revise, preferring to harbour creative impulse within my rampant first thoughts. They say you are honest when drunk, and I think the same is true in your first sentence. My writing is honest, if nothing else. That’s what all my creative writing instructors told me: be honest.”
Bray | 89
USHA QUIST-TIPP (“Q-Tip” to her school chums in the 60s) leads a creative writing workshop every Thursday evening in her studio apartment. Usha graduated from an online writing workshop, where she worked with some of the country’s best self-published authors. Her work has been rejected by over two-hundred publications and she rents a storage locker to contain her manuscripts. Her story “One Hundred Days of Crowds” is a rejoinder to a better-known novel. “I hate being alone. My parents often refused to eat dinner with me and would take their plates and go to their bedroom, without dessert. I used to watch television shows by myself, shows like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, cultural touchstones, and had to share these funny episodes with my only friend, who was tone deaf to humour (my friend later admitted their psychopathy and revealed that they could only laugh at cruel misfortune). Once I came home after school and found a birthday cake in the kitchen with a note from mom ‘welcome home, another year.’ “This story was an antidote to Marquez. I haven’t read his book A Hundred Years of Solitude, but the title is enough. A hundred years of solitude is my version of hell and the story I wrote, through fifty drafts over ten years, is heaven.” JOHN SMITH graduated from The Warren Wilson low-residency MFA program and has spent over two decades trying to write more than a thousand words per year. Mr. Smith went to Washington where he worked in communications and redacted sensitive government documents. “Black is Not a Word” is his first story, ever. “Striking out words with a black Sharpie since the Reagan years made me consider how much writing is wasted. People talk about food waste, but think of the number of words thrown out by the U.S. government, year after year. I must have destroyed the equivalent of a thousand copies of War and Peace. One day, I am sitting in my office, working through my pension calculations, and it hits me: what if I could undo it all? Peel back the black and reveal those words? “The main character in the story is me and all the details pretty much match my work life, but of course, there is no Magic Eraser that reverses censorship.” GARFIELD ZUTZ has attended over thirty summer writing conferences in the past decade, working with some of the best-known fiction writers. He received financial assistance from family and 90 | Bray
friends and has gone into debt to support what he calls his “midnight disease.” “Perseverance. And marshmallows. That’s what makes you a successful writer. I had one but not the other. You know the famous test where the kids are given a marshmallow and told to try and save it? And the ones who did went on to greater success in life? I was the kid who ate the marshmallow. I actually told the researcher I never even got a marshmallow, that they’d made a mistake. I didn’t know they used hidden cameras and since then I have avoided public areas with security cameras. “My story is told from the second person POV, a technique that allowed me to write truthfully about writing workshops, in a nonthreatening way, to avoid litigation.” ATUL GINI left India as a child and has lived in Boston since then, working as an adjunct professor of mathematics. He recently discovered that tenure is a diminishing prospect and has redoubled his efforts to create an Amazon bestseller in one of its more obscure niches. Atul is the author of a forthcoming chapbook (Make-It-Up Press) entitled “One Day I Will Quit.” His story “Told with Indian Names, Phrases and Food; Makes This Literature,” was mailed to fifty publications that still accept snail mail, but without sufficient postage. Except for the Paris Review, all manuscripts were returned to him by the Postal Service. “There is a market for stories that use exotic locations, foreign names . . . food, places, people. Readers love this. Would you want to read a story about John Smith and apple pie and baseball? No, this has been done to death. We live in a global world and people want global stories. I wrote this story without any punctuation, except for the semi-colon, which is the least understood punctuation. “The protagonist loves to eat and has a habit of naming everything she eats or cooks, to show off. She is in her kitchen telling everyone within earshot the ingredients she used and she makes daily trips to the tourist areas in Hyderbad to find English people to mesmerize with her Indian words. The character meets an untimely end when she visits New York and is struck by a car but uses the wrong word to describe to the 911 dispatcher what has happened. Her last word is ‘jugaad,’ which she uses for an American’s Hummer vehicle. The dispatcher confuses it with ‘Jewish dad.’”
Bray | 91
EMILY FEIST lives in Toronto. Because America includes Canada, her story “I Hear You Best When You Sleep” is part of this collection. Emily attended the Don Valley School for Writers and received a certificate of participation. Emily is sixteen and our youngest contributor. “I can’t believe I received an email saying I was given this reward! I texted my mom and she freaked! She replied ‘WTF,’ ‘OMG’ and then when she got home from work she read my story and tore it up. She thought I’d written about her but it was really about my therapist. When I sit in my therapist’s office and talk about life, she falls asleep and that’s when I can clearly hear her voice, giving me instructions. This story is about an imagined conversation between a sleeping therapist and their patient.” Editor's Note: The writers in this collection have vowed to continue their struggle together in an online “writing salon,” in which they will share words and wit. You are invited to join them at www.sometimeswordsarenotenough.net.
92 | Bray
Another Chris Fried ANOTHER day ANOTHER dollar. ANOTHER unarmed American was killed by ANOTHER armed American. ANOTHER family has ANOTHER empty place at the table for ANOTHER meal. ANOTHER family has more time together for ANOTHER paid vacation. ANOTHER foreclosed home. ANOTHER new Lexus. ANOTHER sick-day taken is ANOTHER teary-eyed conversation. ANOTHER child playing is ANOTHER force to fear. ANOTHER family’s wedding in ANOTHER country is ANOTHER state’s target. ANOTHER thirty-eight billion dollars on warfare. ANOTHER city razed, gone like ANOTHER Black Wall Street. ANOTHER blind eye, ANOTHER blinded pedestrian. A new year, ANOTHER 173 phantoms. ANOTHER day ANOTHER name.
Fried | 93
Hot sake Chris Fried With sweet cobwebs digging into your gums and lemon-rice cotton balls filling your cheeks, your laugh is a sloshing bucket. Porcelain rings like copper wind chimes as you pull the last broth from the bowl’s belly. “It is too damn hot in here.” The five of you venture outward. Metal silk stretches upward from patches of browniecrust earth to forge honeycomb tessellations cusping the sky like a jungle gym. Submerged in egg-yolk light, it is easy to breathe and understand the oozing smiles of everyone you see rolling by. Toddlers on the curb are constructing cabins from a mountain of empty gin bottles. Evan grabs a clear brick and throws it directly above, where it keeps ascending. It twinkles as it rises, all of you laughing until it becomes a star. That night you are watching the star on a rooftop where you decide you’ve spent two hundred dollars on coffee, just today. Black-pepper warmth saturates the space between each layer of your skin. Your friends turn inward; “How many cups of coffee have you had in your life, do you think?” “I can’t get the taste of seaweed out of my mouth.” “It was like a trash compactor in there!” The conversation envelopes you like a deep sofa. K pivots and asks you “What do you want? And I don’t just mean right now.” as he fills your cup with more of the steaming tonic you wear like perfume. 94 | Fried
The answer is so far away it seems like it can only be a memory about a family vacation you are sure happened but you can’t know when or where. You are a child in water so clear and free that you are convinced you are suspended in crystal. Straight down is an endless sandbox. It seems so close. Your mouth is salt. You never have enough breath to make it. Lapping your sake like waves, you have the answer. “I want to touch the bottom.”
Fried | 95
The Jungle beneath David Lohrey Say what you will, the Amazon is not the Mississippi. It may be long and merry, but it is not muddy or murky. It’s sleek and shiny like a child’s string of licorice, a blend of whiskey and coffee. The Amazon runs black, not brackish, but laps beneath the cashew groves in a hue, something like copper. Piranha, remember, are carnivores, like hyenas and humans. They swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim swim in schools crowding and jostling like kids at dismissal. They assemble just beneath the surface that looks as flat as a classroom blackboard. They don’t hunt alone as sharks do, circling for attack; the school moves as one. They crowd the depths, massed and swarming, hysterically, like disturbed bees. The same as little boys, they can’t stand to be left behind. Once they smell blood, they make their move, attacking as a gang of teenage thugs, delivering blows and landing sucker punches. They run in vicious packs like their cousins in the forest, wolves.
96 | Lohrey
It’s a cowardly wish that prefers to cut and run. It’s a reluctance to take responsibility. The key is not to go in for the kill but to strip the naked carcass to the bone. Into this ravenous mass the fisherman lowers his baited hook like a teacher’s stick of chalk. His line descends into the watery darkness, black as ink, weighted with chunks of raw red meat. The fisherman drops his line, like a miner down the shaft. The water’s color is sinister. To fall in would be like diving into an open grave, not drowning but disappearing. The river water runs like mascara. One waits and waits as on a country road at midnight. If lucky, a toucan will fly by, delivering a rainbow; otherwise, it promises to be a dark day. Once caught, the little monsters, with jaws like bear traps, are scaled and gutted, then grilled on an open fire. One is ecstatic with one’s catch, grateful to have made it. Being attacked and eaten by piranha would resemble an elegant giraffe brought down and picked apart, except that giraffe seem so calm and still when being devoured, while humans tend to flail.
Lohrey | 97
Stop the forest fires David Lohrey I have a mind to cut your neck. There are no apples in this poem— not a lot of mist either, save for the spray of blood that decorates the corridor from the slit in your fatty flesh. There’s an ugly image for you. I’d call that gratuitous violence; far more so than blowing someone’s head off. Cutting flesh is surely harder than setting fire to a charger. Kaboom! Ratatatat. Those sounds belong to a different era, no doubt sounds familiar to Al Capone, when killing was done neatly; corpses were left to rot intact. Now killers eat their victims, not only burying their enemies in the ground, but climbing down in there with them. We’ve become violent. Everyone tries his best to be kinder but decides meaner is wiser. Being nice won’t get you far; pursing one’s lips won’t get you past the bouncer, and without that, you can’t get inside. Better learn to kill. Lady Gaga (I saw her) praised Hillary for being made of steel; a tough broad she is, ready for anything. That got my attention. I thought, wow! 98 | Lohrey
She’s even better than Marie Antoinette; she’s offering fans two slices of cake, not just one. But the violence stays because it’s fun. If you can’t bring yourself to do the deed yourself, at least you can watch. Americans love a close-up; it’s the only way to see death. Snuggle up; we’ll look together. Meanwhile, the apple tree is hibernating. The little bears are sleeping through the season. They’re waiting for the killing to stop. Their eyes are misty; they’re tearing up, in point of fact. It’s not easy seeing your mother skinned alive. Where are the park rangers?
Lohrey | 99
Turpentine Willow Watson Turpentine. Turpentine. Secret Poison. Bathwater. that you keep in a jar right in between the good stuff and the real stuff So that if we put it all together one day we may say We found a real good way to go And come rigor mortis nine a.m. Tuesday morning The neighbors donâ€™t even have to know I love you I love you I love you I love you I say it so many times that it beats like a drum in the back of my skull or an army of artisans equipped with hammer and chisel striking the faces off of Mount Rushmore and from the rubble erecting a thousand-foot statue to the goddess naked and weeping in my front yard I pray to you And if salvation could be found in the bottom of a bottle then we hath been righteous.
100 | Watson
Once upon a childhood Howard Gershkowitz He flies by on his scooter, round and round; seven years old; arms and legs and giggles. Playing on the monkey bars, jumping off the swing; he is me, I was him once upon a childhood, a long, long time ago. A journal is my playground now, a pen my substitute scooter. Words and concepts my pretend tractors and dump trucks; I dig up clichés and slide down chutes of imagination from my once upon a childhood, a long, long time ago. I’ve traded my two-wheeler for four, my OshKosh B’Gosh for Hart, Schafner and Marx. My Ked’s Fliers are now Michael Jordans, though I got more use from the former and paid too much for the latter. Playing with grass has new connotations and don’t get me started on mushrooms. Make believe castles and tree forts replaced by retirement accounts and prostate exams; The games I play have unintended consequences and my sandbox tussles aren’t assuaged by tearful apologies or Grandfatherly admonishments. Yet, a part of me sings and the burdens are lifted at the clackety-clack of wheels on cement; He waves as he passes for the seventeenth time, all arms and legs and half-toothless grins ‘cause he is me and I was him once upon a childhood, a long, long time ago.
Gershkowitz | 101
small and festive hell Nikita Schoen May eats phenobarbital with breakfast. She is chewing eggs scrambled together with fibrous spinach. Her stomach cannot take toast anymore. She breathes while she chews, giving herself hiccups. A pain shoots through her diaphragm with each spasm. She swallows the fat white pill with black coffee and lights a cigarette. Her hiccups make her squeal. The cigarette makes it worse. She picks spinach from her teeth. May works at the recycling plant at the edge of the city. The plant smells of beer and bleach. Before it was a recycling plant it was a sugar factory, but there’s no cane anymore. In the early mornings, the factory’s lights twinkle a celestial outline of weak, blinking bulbs to warn away the heavy planes. Shoots of light draw bright columns out from flat walls. May rinses the jars that have not been rinsed out. She picks styrofoam and plastic bags from the piles on the belt. Her bike horn hiccups echo off the concrete. She takes a hose and sprays at the dust and garbage at her feet, shepherds it down the dip in the floor that leads toward a drain. Most processes in the plant are automated now. May and three others share this post on the incoming belt picking non-recyclables from the piles. A supervisor whizzes by on an electric cart once an hour, squinting into their faces and watching their hands, which are encased in yellow rubber gloves thick as pancakes. Sometimes the workers find something of interest on the belt. They always set it aside to show at lunch. “Is-ay at-thay a ead-day abbit-ray?” “A aby-bay unny-bay.” “Es-yay.” “Oh o-nay.” 102 | Schoen
“Ook-lay at it all rumpled-cay up ike-lay at-thay.” The supervisor whizzes by and they hush. Dennis, the man who found the rabbit, holds it low beneath the belt. May does not remember when they decided to speak in Pig Latin, or if Dennis was the one who decided. It was something that started when it was just the two of them at the belt. It seemed to help them get over their shyness. When the other two workers joined, they had laughed and said they had both spoken it as children, and so the game continued. At three o’clock May asks Dennis if she can take the rabbit home. She wraps it in a plastic bag. She tells Dennis in Pig Latin that she wants to bury it in her backyard. There is a shuttle that goes from the plant to the center of the city. It is a large van. The other employees drive to work, so it is usually only May and the supervisor who take the shuttle in. The supervisor, a hulking man with gleaming pate, boards a stop before her. He comes from the lush administration building where he has a desk. They smile thin lines at each other as she boards, and she always sits in the row behind him. The supervisor, May, and the driver ride the whole way in silence. Outside the windows fields lay flat and wide, and rocky dust blows against the shuttle doors. It sounds like heavy rain against the metal. The sound makes May sad, and the pain in her knees burns white, bringing her near the point of tears. She reaches up to her neck and rubs at the small knots there, her elbow high and reflected as a disembodied point in the dark window. Halfway down the cracked and potholed expressway the supervisor sniffs and turns almost all the way around toward May. The van smells of wet fur and something sharp. She realizes that one of the rabbit’s ears is almost visible, poking out from the white plastic which has begun to spill from her canvas bag as it droops forward. She presses down softly on the skull, pushes it deeper into first one bag and then the other, and holds them tightly closed. The shuttle drops her in front of the ghost of a car dealership just a few blocks from her apartment. Some days the supervisor turns to smile at her, tight lips pressed together and digging up into his cheeks, but today he doesn’t. She steps down from the van in silence, the landing of her foot on the pavement a small and festive hell. Her knee wobbles, but holds. The early evening air is muggy and has an oily scent, and the sky is uniformly gray as the sun sets. May hooks the straps of her bag over her shoulder and brings the bulk of it against her stomach. The rabbit has begun to stiffen. She limps up Schoen | 103
the street, toward the corner. Reaching the corner May notices a small broad-shouldered woman. The woman holds two paper bags of groceries, one in each hand, and her wrists quake with the strain. The woman looks back and forth up and down the street, the jerking movements of her head precisely timed like a metronome, though slower, as if she were simply stretching her neck. May watches her for a while, and the turning of the woman’s head does not stop, nor does she cross the street when it is clear. May approaches the woman with the grocery bags. She is looking up and down, up and down the street. “Excuse me,” May says to the woman. “Can I help you?” The woman’s silver hair is coming loose from a bun, working its way out from under the stretched band. Finally, the woman’s head stops. She is still. She looks up to the sky. “Are you lost?” May asks. The woman with the grocery bags turns her eyes back from the sky, fixes her gaze on May. “I’m not lost,” she says. Her voice is full of air bubbles like she hasn’t spoken all day. The woman clears her throat. “I just can’t seem to remember which way Harry’s is. You know it?” May reaches a hand behind her neck and scratches, looking up into the sky where the woman had been looking. May has lived on the same street for seven years, but she can’t think two blocks past this corner. She shakes her head. “Do you know what street it’s on?” May asks. “Can’t seem to recall,” the woman says. May throws out an open hand toward the woman’s bags. “Would you like me to take those?” she offers. “We could walk together some and see if we can find Harry’s.” The woman looks at May for a long time, her eyes squinting tight and sharp and locked on May’s outstretched hand, like she doesn’t trust the gesture. May keeps her hand out, extended. She begins to feel some strain in her shoulder, and she rolls her wrist in small circles 104 | Schoen
releasing a set of cracks. The movement of her hand looks theatrical. The sun is completely set now and the chill fully upon the city, hugging low and close to the cement. May can feel it in her ankles. The woman is dressed only in a light blue sweater and skirt, and May realizes now that the woman’s feet are tucked sloppily into little red house slippers. May tries a smile. The parentheses around the woman’s mouth deepens for a moment and then smoothes out, and with a reluctant little sigh she hands May the bags. They are much lighter than they looked. The woman takes May’s elbow and turns her in the opposite direction from May’s home. “What’s your name?” May asks. The woman looks at her a moment, then back down at her feet. “Is Harry’s a restaurant?” May tries again. They shuffle forward. “A bar,” the woman answers. “My brother works there.” “Oh, that’s nice.” They come upon a liquor store May knows. The owner is standing outside, cranking a handle to lower a metal gate down over the plate glass windows. He recognizes May and waves. The apples of his cheeks are bright, almost neon pink in the deepening cold. “Hey Chester,” May calls, “you know a place named Harry’s?” “Oh yeah, Harry’s, sure,” he says. “The old bar. It’s closed.” May turns to the woman at her arm who stands looking straight ahead down the street. “Are you meeting your brother there so that he can walk you home?” May hears the high pitch in her voice, as if she were talking to a child, and her face goes hot. The woman doesn’t answer. May turns back to the owner. “Where is it, Chester?”
Schoen | 105
Chester points back the way they’ve come. “The place is back there, on Second Street,” he says. “But I’m telling you, it’s closed.” “That’s okay,” May says. “We’re going to try anyways, thanks.” She turns her head toward the woman. “Okay, Second. Not so far now.” Every forward swing of her legs throbs hotly in her knees. Each step a tear and rub, tear and rub. She feels a tiny wet drop on her face, which she lifts to the sky. Nothing more comes. “No rain anymore,” she says to the woman. “Did you feel a drop just now?” The woman looks at May for just a moment before turning her face forward again. “I thought maybe it was the start of something,” May says. “Didn’t feel anything.” They walk further. “It is starting to drive me crazy. Doesn’t it drive you crazy?” May asks, looking up at the sky. There is only one cloud. It must have had a tiny tear, small enough for only vapor to escape. “Every time I feel one of those single drops I think maybe the drop thought it was going to be the start of something. Like maybe it thought it’d be followed by other drops. Or like someone told it that it would lead the way, and that it was the plan to rain, really rain, but then at the last minute the cloud decided otherwise. So now only that one drop is down here, evaporating on the sidewalk while all its friends float away.” The woman says nothing, her hand lightly wrapped around May’s elbow. “It just makes me sad,” May says. They come up on the turn to Second Street. Something in the bags is clinking each time she takes a step, and with each sound May is reminded of milkmen, something she used to see in movies. Men dressed all in white, with white smiles, and white milk. The women turn. Second Street is a dark and empty stretch before them. 106 | Schoen
The woman’s face seems to relax its pinch. “Yes, this is it,” the woman says. “Just a little way down here.” There’s slight laughter in her voice. As they walk they take in each building slowly. The woman turns her head from one side of the street to the other, very slowly. The houses on either side are dark and boarded, graffitied and stained with urine. At the end of the first block she turns to May and says, “Just a bit further.” They are a little way down the second block when one of the woman’s bags tears open and label-less cans and empty glass bottles tumble to the sidewalk. May drops down too quickly to gather them, and her knees hit the pavement too hard. Flashes of lightning blind her for an instant. The bottom of the paper bag is blown open. May opens her own bag and begins to pull on the white plastic near the top, but feeling the weight of the rabbit inside, she presses the bag back down. There isn’t enough space in the canvas bag for all the cans and bottles. She begins to stack them on the sidewalk, cans first, then bottles, making a pyramid. The woman is standing still as carved marble, facing the other side of the street. Beside a wide lot of flat dirt there is a short brick building with plywood over its windows. Dandelion weeds stand tall and proud, growing between the cracks in the sidewalk and along the foundation of the building. Above the padlocked door, the remnants of a dark neon sign, the name spelled out in a loopy cursive: Harry’s. May is busy stacking the last of the bottles, a row of three, then two, then one. Bent over, she finally notices the woman’s wrists are quaking again, as if they were holding something heavy. May stands and moves her eyes toward where the woman is looking. She sees the dark neon, the boarded windows. For a moment, she doesn’t quite understand. Then she realizes. “Oh. It’s closed,” May says. “Closed.” The woman turns to look at May, her eyebrows raised in surprise. The moon peeks its face out from between thick clouds, and for a moment they stand in a bright spotlight. The sign reading Harry’s seems almost buzzing with electricity. Then it is dark again. The woman looks down at the pyramid of cans and bottles. She shakes her head. “I’m going to make stew tonight,” she says, looking at May to explain. “For my brother and me. He likes turkey, but sometimes I can get him Schoen | 107
to eat beef.” The woman tilts her head, a smile like someone humoring a child on her face. “It’s better for him.” The woman moves to the pyramid, picks up one of the bottles, and slides it down carefully into her skirt pocket until it settles against her thigh. She puts another in the second pocket. She disassembles the pyramid, placing the bottles in neat rows instead. She then picks as many of the cans off the street as she can hold and starts to move toward the building. May lifts the second, unharmed bag, holding it from the bottom, and follows her. May searches the edges of the boards over the windows for light. She listens for music, or the creak of a floorboard, but hears none. The woman reaches the door and shifts the cans so she can clench them all to her chest with one arm, but two pop out of her grasp and roll away into the gutter. An empty sound bounces and echoes out into the street. The woman knocks. With the same hand, she reaches up and pulls the band from her bun, letting her hair fall to her shoulders. It is slightly damp, and it gleams dully silver, a hazy metallic like the moon through the clouds. She turns to May and nods at the bag in May’s hand, gestures for her to set it before the door. “Thank you,” the woman says. There is some ease in her face, clarity in her gaze. “Are you sure—” May begins. “I have to start the stew,” the woman interrupts. May tries to argue. She stands there and with her empty arms splayed wide, trying to explain. She offers to take the woman home, or back to the street where May was dropped off by the shuttle. May offers her own bed. The woman does not respond. She stands before the door of the dark building and looks calmly at the wood there, the paint flakes like dead skin peeling away. “Ease-play,” May pleads to the woman. “Ease-play, ease-play.” They stand there, silent and still. Eventually, May gives up on trying to convince the woman, turns and walks back down Second Street. She thinks to herself that when she 108 | Schoen
gets home she could call the police, or she could call Dennis. Her hand is in her bag and stroking one of the rabbitâ€™s ears. Her fingers follow them down to the skull, along the ridges of the spine. They fixate on the jutting scapula. When she reaches the end of the street, May turns her head to look back. The woman with the cans stands sure before the door, arms held tightly, posture straight and regal. May can barely make out the woman shifting the cans again to raise a fist and knock on the door once more. The knock echoes back down the street to her. It lodges in her knees. It billows through her sweater. It wraps itself around the teeth of the dead rabbit, twisted, bundled in plastic, and soon to be buried beneath a shriveled cactus. There will not be rain.
Schoen | 109
the man in the yellow hat Shelley Harp She traces the edge of her wine glass with the tip of her finger, the way she does when she’s thinking or upset, as the sushi arrives assembled on the deck of a small boat. I grab chopsticks and plop an eel roll into my mouth. “Tastes like chicken,” I say. “You should’ve told them before about the monkey,” she says to me. Her finger pauses its trip around the rim. She eyes the boat. She’ll eat soon enough. I shrug. “You have seventeen snails,” I say. “They have thousands of followers on Instagram. It’s different than a monkey who flings feces. Snails are cute and contained. Besides, they’re for the museum.” “He didn’t fling feces.” “You’re in denial.” I try the salmon sashimi. It’s delicate and not at all fishy, and I fill the little dish with soy sauce as The Professor resumes the winding finger. I look up and absorb her stare. “Try the eel,” I say. She looks at me like I’m pathetic. Not an unfamiliar look these days. “Your poor parents,” she says. I take a large swallow of cooled green tea, realizing it could very well keep me up tonight. I get another look.
110 | Harp
“What?” I ask. She leans her head towards me, emphasizing her thoughts without words. “Will you eat?” I ask. “Eggplant parmesan.” “Oh, please.” “Not sushi.” I stuff a cucumber roll in my mouth. “We’re here. Might as well eat,” I say. I wipe my mouth and toss the napkin on the table, knocking the chopsticks from the deck of the boat. Man overboard, I think. “Okay. Let’s have it out.” I wave my fingers towards me like she should take a punch. Her eyes, like her angular hair, are dark and still. Her lips are red like Christmas. I have an urge to bite them. “You can’t just show up to someone’s house with a monkey and expect them to be excited for you.” I rearrange my chopsticks on the deck, thinking of my mother’s face when we arrived. He had climbed on the couch and jumped from there to a dining room chair before leaping to the chandelier. Mom hollered something inaudible and The Professor squeezed my arm so hard that later, in the bathroom, after animal control had left, I found her fingerprints on my bicep. “He’s just a little curious,” I say. She shakes her head. “He didn’t do anything wrong,” I say. “If you’re like this about a monkey, heavens knows what having children would be like with you.” Harp | 111
Children. There it is again—the subtle nag for progeny. “You’ll raise them to be feral. They’ll steal things. They’ll refuse to bathe. They’ll flood the building.” “The lawsuit is still pending and the odds are good because even the doorman said my building’s inspections aren’t up-to-date.” “You can’t inspect for monkeys.” “It was a simple accident.” “Stuffing wads of paper towels in the drain and running the water is not an accident.” “He wanted to make a pool.” “Of the entire floor below you.” “I’m moving anyway.” “Somewhere monkey-tolerant?” “Maybe you should be tolerant.” “I didn’t choose for you to come back from Africa with him!” She grabs her glass and takes a furious drink. I inhale maki. Everything seems wrong right now—him locked up, The Professor over there guzzling booze. What difference does it make? “Your poor, poor mother,” she says. “Yeah, well, happy Thanksgiving.” I chew a clump of seaweed feeling it wedge between my left second and third molars and wonder if I could ask her for some floss. “Maybe I shouldn’t feel sorry for your mother. Maybe you are entirely her fault. The wearing yellow. The weird way you eat. Chew, chew, chew, chew, swirl your tongue around your mouth and chew some more.” I swallow. “I don’t eat like that.” 112 | Harp
“It’s entirely un-sexy. And that’s coming from a scientist. Maybe I should be thankful your appliances aren’t yellow. But your car, your bowling ball, your stupid yellow hat. You’re like a freaking banana.” “I thought you liked my coordination,” I say, reaching for her sake. She slaps my hand. “You’ll wind up asleep by the subway, knowing you.” I sit back and examine her. I’ve never seen her like this—everything in her face seems to pulse, her tan skin glowing. She would look good in yellow. “Why am I being attacked?” “It’s your mother who was attacked. Your poor, poor mother.” I close my eyes and rub my temples. “He’s a good little monkey,” I say. “When he’s in a cage.” Her finger resumes the path around the edge of her glass. I rest my head in my hands. “Get your act together,” she says. I pick up a chopstick and use it to poke at the side of the boat. “Just think if you’d been the one chosen for Africa,” I say, “how different this conversation would be.” I hear her chair scoot and feel a sudden emptiness at the table. First thing tomorrow I’ll pick him up and explain why we don’t climb up people’s legs. He’ll feel sorry. My mother will grow to love him. The Professor doesn’t know what he’s really like. How excited he is for donuts in the morning. How good he is at making things from stuff around the house. How close he gets to talking sometimes. He’ll promise not to do it again. My little monkey. Then I’ll take him home, or maybe to my house in the country. It might be warm and we can fly a kite, or maybe make newspaper boats and sail them in the lake. Either way, things are going to work out fine. Somehow, they always do. Harp | 113
Facebook Andrea Bass
These are the lyrics to a blues song about Facebook written in traditional AAB 12-bar format. “The Blues” is a musical genre that originated in African-American communities in the Deep South after the Civil War. Blues is a combination of traditional African music and European folk music, which encompasses gospel, work songs, call and response, and simple narratives, reflecting anything and everything we feel when we are blue. You just click agree, But then you can’t see What Facebook is doin’ to you. They know your name, And when you just came. What Facebook is doing to you. They knows all your friends, The girls and the mens, Facebook gonna stick it to you. You got busted for weed, The cops they just seed, Facebook’s got a whole ALBUM on you.
114 | Bass
Lizzie Cody Cox Based on the real life events of Lizzie Borden Congestion killed her mother when Liz was only three the rotting body still remains under the cherry tree Early Sunday mornings, she taught Cain’s act of smite stories carried with her to be remembered late at night Her father remarried, with Liz it struck a chord a visit to the chopping block for a friend she did implore Her deeds were done a hot day, summer 1892 leaving a town to speculate the plans she did see through Her mother’s blood was shallow and her father’s glossed like gold rumors weave a story of homicide two-fold The blue batons were ringing to start pursuing facts 37 swings, two body bags and a bloody broken axe She shifted in her trial but alas, they could not pin. God gave her a mark, a damned spot splintered in her skin. Cox | 115
Regrets Cody Cox Looking back, I probably wouldn’t choose to be born in the middle of Indiana. I wouldn’t have gone to the 1986 county fair, and if I did, I sure as hell wouldn't go on Omega-Orbiter. If I could go back, I’d run just a little bit faster to get away from Mr. Learey’s Dane coming home from school and I would’ve tried out for the varsity team. In high school, I’d never fall in love with Emilia Thomas (who’d end up cheating on me with Jacob Spencer at a party I wasn’t invited to), or Julia Wagner (who’d also end up also cheating on me with Jacob Spencer, only this time the party was one I hosted). I would punch the bullies a little harder and my brother a little less. My attendance would be better and my permanent record shorter. I would go back and burn the purple paisley polo— I’d burn everything paisley. I’d get a haircut. I’d get nice clothes and not feel guilty for doing it either. I’d make sure to study hard, drink less, and get into a good university. . . . And if I drank, it’d be something a whole lot better than Old Style. Shit tastes like piss . . . Going back, I would learn to talk to people not like me and get real good at telling stories like Granddad was. Oh, and I’d save him from dying too!
116 | Cox
I’d invest in Apple and tell my friends about water on Mars. I’d stop 9/11, the Oklahoma bombing, and Columbine. I’d eat kale and tell the world about trans fats and processed sugars, and to avoid investing in subprime mortgages. I would have married sooner and it would have lasted. I would have called my brother more.
Cox | 117
oldchella reportage: transformational desert trip? Gerard Sarnat
. . . Go to him he calls you, you can't refuse When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose You're invisible now, you've got no secrets to conceal How does it feel, ah how does it feel? To be on your own with no direction home Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. —Bob Dylan
Sure, there’s plenty to get hung about, daily crowds of 75,000+ mostly cranky oldsters gathered near Palm Springs in Indio’s 105-degree heat for three days of basking in Dylan, Stones, Neil Young, McCartney, The Who, and Roger Waters (Pink Floyd). For truculent starters, the golf cart driver (a barista from Santa Monica) who meets us in the parking lot is wrong about exactly everything spieling the company shtick or answering questions offthe-cuff, including: Q: Is it walking distance back from our tent? A: No (it’s twenty yards of flat grass) Q: Do we need jackets at night? A: Yes, it gets cold (mid 70’s and sweaty at 2 a.m.) Q: How to get to the amphitheater? A: Ten minute easy walk (can’t; need a pass to catch a special tram) Q: Should bring my laptop? A: Leave in car. (Locked tent with tight security safer than frying in trunk.) Q: Food? A: Must buy at concert venue (tent area breakfast/ dinner part of Safari package). 118 | Sarnat
Q: How do we deal with the heat? A: Great A/C (dead all over; fuse blown and tent remote had no batteries) But the obviously just-hired staff is uniformly amiable, polite, wellintended and trying like hell to learn enough to help us guests. I figure we’re guinea pigs to assure that the last five day’s paying guests (and I mean paying big-time—our package cost an insane $10K, others cost at least $25K) have an enhanced experience. The festival opens Friday at a tame 6:15 p.m. with an almost dead, almost hidden piano-benched Dylan, a once-in-a-generation or two’s genius. Some say Zimmerman forbade projecting his image on the Jumbotrons, really the only way to see, even though we had “good seats.” Others say the A/V was broken so insane videos were on the big screens instead of Bob. Most say Bob Dog just doesn’t have the performance chops any more—that he sounded like a rain barrel full of rocks more than a rolling stone. I have no idea—his enigmatic, elusive persona is part of the appeal for me. As always, and perhaps for the last time, it is an honor simply to be in Bob’s presence, which has fueled my life. The first and only occasion I ever charged a stage was as a young man when Bob sang the epigraph’s “Like a Rolling Stone” lyrics at the San Francisco Bay Area’s Shoreline Amphitheater in the 70’s. No thought, just an uncontrollable urge to get close to the origin. Now, we old men are bringing it all back home for maybe the twentieth time together, singing, “You would not think to look at him, but he was famous long ago. For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.” After barely an hour’s perfunctory black and white gloom and rendering of an undecipherable yet meaningful “Masters of War”— reincarnated in its umpteenth arrangement as if it were new— Mr. Dylan ended abruptly without a word. Not even a sideman (no women) intro. Dylan’s a hard-touring road warrior who’s put on hundreds of shows annually. He instructs his agent to book him into surprising venues— Berkeley’s business school quad one night, the next a minor-league baseball diamond at which he strums a quirky instrumental cover of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” then strawberry fields. Sarnat | 119
And if Bob in fact headed home to spend Friday night in Malibu, he was soon off to tuck in his first concert in twenty years in Israel Monday night before Yom Kippur, the holiest day on our Jewish calendar. Thursday of the same week, the day before Dylan’s return to Desert Trip for consecutive Fridays where the feckless naysayer frontrunners will no doubt give him a redemptive standing O, Dylan got the call from Stockholm. The casino didn’t sell out until afterwards. After I wish aloud that Hendrix and The Doors could’ve replaced The Who and Roger Waters, the dude next to me passes a joint while offering a cogent, and as it turned out, prescient, way to consider the event:
This is the best talent of what’s left. Bringing back The “You Really Got Me” Kinks’d draw fans of punk derivatives but the Davies brothers can't stand each other. Chatter is the box office suites wanted Led Zepp 'stead of Bob but I choose to believe the other artists insisted on his presence. Once they landed Jagger, everyone else fell into place. Mick’s maybe the clever one who nicknamed the event “Oldchella,” since its old performers and elderly audience at Coachella which is known as a kids’ rock concert haven. The crotchety richerthan-God artists can’t refuse a hundred mil to split for two not-long concerts in two consecutive October weekends. They couldn’t resist making history at the world’s finest venue to accommodate epic crowds with a state-of-the-art wraparound corporate entertainment product. The humungous sound system makes the Grateful Dead’s vaunted acoustics seem like a homemade crystal set. The overseer who masterminded this will make Bill Graham look like a high school impresario if he executes. If you pull it off, definitely Presidential material. But what I heard is that the boss got greedy, this gig is a bunch of low-bid contractors, and you’ll find the package-deal food sucks and worse. When the press gets wind of logistics nightmares, the second weekend last-minute sales’ll be in the toilet. Then, there’s a break between sets that’s so long Dylan’s probably been ‘coptered back to his Malibu home and is in bed by the time the best-performer-ever hits the runway. Never the best singer or dancer, but yes, he’s the best performer. Unlike the other 8th-decade rockers, Jagger preenly prances his androgynous teenage body onto the stage. Except for Keith’s momentary near-strokes, badboy Ronnie, Charlie, and Jagger himself kick ass like a half-century ago in the all-time survivor band of midnight ramblers’ howling that concludes. 120 | Sarnat
After surviving external and internal wilderness adventure travel for fifty years, including Burning Man four or five times with my son, I thought Desert Trip'd be a cushy kind of BMan Lite. Tanker trucks here to wash the dirt roads were used in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to hose down the willing. Here, there are pre-fab, portable, wood-paneled private showers and bathrooms (even if in fact, as predicted, the toilets were clogged), but we still almost died of exhaustion and dehydration trying to get back to our Safari tent. No staff person (and I asked maybe 20) has any comprehension of the massive geography of this World War II Dunkirk Landing-level undertaking beyond his or her own small area, nor the communication system in place to bigger-picture higher-ups. It was like a thousand blind men separately feeling an elephant. Eventually my wife, who had total knee replacement six months ago, and I locate the tram (which venue staff never heard of) to take us back. On the way through the dark, I trip on an unsecured black electric cable. I tell staff some frail person’s going to break a hip and am told, “Don’t worry, we reported it before the concert began.” And people who’re staying offsite at local hotels and Airbnbs say it takes hours to shuttle to the venue, Ubers are unavailable, etc. After a crapola cold cheeseburger and ice cream dinner back at the tents and shooting the shit, it’s 3 a.m. before I hit the sack. Still wired, I’m up and at ‘em pre-dawn. Breakfast is these little boxes of dry sugared cereals, brown bananas and whole milk I’d complain to my grandkids’ camp director about plus watered-down coffee. But despite obvious shortcomings, I’m pleased to find my state of mind’s more generous than usual. My brain’s okay with settling in a less-than butterfly-life-spanned cohort of financially sound and perhaps otherwise comfortable mainly whites, a number of whom are looking to have a communal experience. It is discomfiting to me that we are served predominantly by those of color. Grueling sun on top of little sleep. Although many enthusiasts are wiped out, I enjoy the dry air and vistas. Bird chirping is interrupted only by gorgeous, temporarily fixed-A/C hum. To an extent, I may exaggerate the good will in spite of differences in politics and religion and position—in the Common Space mega-tent. There’s a healthy dose of implicit trust and community that goes beyond the random groups back in the city. Sarnat | 121
Met lotsa nice folk who sat down to share a bowl outside my place or have our afternoon treat add-on. Seems after the bigwigs got word of the looming PR disaster, they upgraded our hospitality suite fare to farmers’ market fresh fruit cocktail with cilantro, organic trail mix and trippy Rice Krispies bars for those of us watching the loop video of The Rolling Stones from 15 hours ago. Safari tenter feedback musta kept getting worse because the next day, the no-host liquor bar became gratis and we were given unlimited free access to the music venue’s previously restricted and even further upscale hundreds of Culinary Experience premier stations that foodies and wine aficionados of means had paid an extra pretty penny for. Night two, Young opens for McCartney. I've always been into Buffalo Springfield’s family tree, particularly Neil’s acoustic solos. Unlike with Dylan’s sui generis, Young inspired Seattle grunge and its offshoots that servo looped back to encourage younger Americans to take Neil in like a Canadian plains prophet—I like to believe his young ensemble is from back home's town rather than an LA studio scene. With topical songs like “Terror Suicide Hand Gliders” and “Seed Justice to the Land,” Young arguably may be producing his best work, having his greatest appeal now in contrast to the legends who've seen it all as the transition from Chuck Berry’s origins of modern rock ‘n’ roll. Neil can be testy. “I can’t see or hear you. How's the other person out there doin’?” He rips the organizers because both of the stage fans and the A/C have broken down. When a functionary whispers he needs to wrap it up to keep on schedule Neil relays the news to our “boos,” then snorts to the band to do the “45-second version” of the last song, which lasts 15 minutes. During intermission, I knock back a couple ‘o brews with “Bob.”
122 | Sarnat
Saturday’s closer is given the ultimate position of primacy and honor. At first, McCartney droned (as in robots that showed up in the sky, too), and was charming and winsome, but generic. If Neil were there he woulda half-jokingly asked if he could send a weaponized drone to take down Trump. (I smoked a little with a developer who actually worked with Donald for a quarter century. Said he was a “pure sociopath.” (“Savvy vendors knew he always stiffed you on the last payment so we overcharged.”) But Sir Paul wanted to give Mick a run for his money with a masterful and energetic three hours that included jamming with Young. Dylan’s a distant memory amidst the brilliant outpouring of the three acts over the two days that followed him. Both nights so far have a gritty populist opening for primetime’s polished performer. Not a Who or Waters fan in the past, I’ll stop reportage on the music at least for now. Back at base camp, I got a text from a pal with this link I easily coulda missed. Our grandkids got a kick seeing me in my Bernie Sanders tie-dye and Bubbe’s picture in the paper. Our kids got a kick how the preeminent New York Times garbled details of my life. During his last days, I asked my 99-year-old dad, an internationally prominent surgeon and professor, what I could do for him. Notwithstanding pulling every available string, I failed to get him that New York Times obit, ostensibly because their rules required the deceased’s name to have appeared before death. Wish I could offer Dad his son’s random golden key. After driving back to LA, we were asked if there were older attendees. Certainly likely, but we didn’t meet anyone self-identifying as 71 or older. Who knows? Not to speak of our kids and grandkids’ delight, friends have also acknowledged this significant week variously: A girlfriend currently in federal prison whom I informed about the Nobel: “You shittin’ me? No kidding?!!!! Fabuloso!!” One buddy: “My initial response seeing the newspaper photo? Who are these old people?” Sarnat | 123
Another friend from high school: “Leading the charge, Dylan today, Sarnat tomorrow!” And a college roommate: “Love it. But how did you let Bobby beat you out?” From a medical school classmate, after coming across the NYT piece: “As usual, The Times got the facts wrong, this time about you. And the Nobel announcement was consistent with the mindset of awards for a number of decades, I suppose. We are still in Idaho, testing the limits of our tolerance for wind, rain, low lake-levels (thanks to the Army Corp of Engineers). Have not received our mail-in ballots yet. Not anguishing much, since our votes will be irrelevant vis-à-vis the Electoral College. Our favorite came in second in the nomination process, and his name was not Bernie. With my Romanov ancestry it is a simple decision to oppose Marxism, utopianism, progressivism, statism, and all the other ‘-isms’ that are not Constitutional Conservatism.” A Stanford academic and neighbor emailed half-mockingly, perhaps a tad jealous: “Doc, I'm impressed. You're famous. Was Harvard’s cool kids’ Dylan class offered when you were an undergrad?” A well-known movie critic: “Deep in screening process for film festival, nice to see you & Lela in The Times!” A colleague of Dylantologist Griel Marcus sent me an advance copy of his piece solicited by the New York Times. My favorite so far, subject line, “High times”: “I'm thinking it's a pretty great time to be you, with the desert concerts complete with NYT interview and the Dylan validation and the article about Leonard Cohen in the current New Yorker1. Yep, you're on my mind.”
124 | Sarnat
Rum and Peanut Butter Kathryn Jensen It is said that if you wake up in the morning and vomit rum and peanut butter, the rest of your day is blessed with good fortunes. If you vomit carrots— particularly if you have not eaten carrots within the last two days—you will be visited by an elder relative who will offer unsolicited guidance over a seafood dinner. If you vomit the seafood, don’t take their advice.
Jensen | 125
The Proposal Sabrina Oliveira “There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for some time now.” I clutched her hands across the table and rubbed her knuckles. The tiny candle flickered brightly between us. “I’ve been waiting for the perfect place and time. Finally, I've found the perfect person. I want to tell you something I’ve been waiting my whole life to say.” Her cheeks flushed when I said it and she laughed a little. The remnants of the dessert we had split sat awkwardly in the middle of table. “Well here it goes.” I caught her eye and she gave my hand a squeeze. “I can see the dates of people’s deaths above their heads.” I held my breath and waited for her response. She froze, still smiling and eyes wide open. “What?” She spoke so loud that the other restaurant patrons looked up from their meals. I continued on. “I’ve seen numbers floating above everyone’s head since the day I was born. At first I—” She cut me off. “What?” Her voice came out hoarse. She pulled her hands out of mine. I pulled my hands back as well. “It took me awhile to become accustomed with seeing death everywhere and in everyone. But there is a reason why I’m telling you this.” “Is this some sort of prank?” Her eyes darted to corners of the room. “You’re not being funny. Is this some project you’re working on?” I took the last sip of my drink and stood up. “Let’s go. I have something to show you.” She stood up as well. “Maybe we can just go home. I think you might be getting sick.” The car ride was silent. Every so often, she would turn and throw me a concerned glance. She twirled her phone in her hand and took a 126 | Oliveira
second look out the window. “This isn’t the way home.” “We’re making one more stop.” I tried to smile reassuringly but she only looked more concerned. “Is this the hospital? Are you really sick?” She sat up straighter in her seat and forced the back of her hand against my forehead. I pulled the car to a stop and reached behind the seat. “No, I’m fine. Just come on.” She rolled her eyes and left the car. Before I followed her, I took my briefcase from the backseat. Inside the building, the smell of disinfectants assaulted us and she gave me a look of annoyance. I led her past the reception desk into intensive care. And there he was. The lights were off inside the room, but the window let in some light in. I led her next to the bed and pulled up two chairs. She watched the man lying in the bed. A beeping sound came from a machine. “Why are we here? Do we know this man?” I wiped my sweating palms on my jeans and took a deep breath. “I didn’t know what the numbers meant until my father's death. He died on the same date that I saw above his head. I was six and my mother and I took his death badly. School was awful. Do you know how hard it was to see children with death above their heads? I stopped spending time with my friends. Paintings and drawings were the only way I could see people the way that everyone else did. To see them as normal people. I don’t know if the dates can change or if they are fixed points in time.” It was dark inside. A new light shone in the room as the numbers floating above both the old man and my girlfriend illuminated lightly. “You sound crazy.” Her words came out quietly, as if she didn’t want to break the silence. “Have you been drinking again? I thought we had been over this Alexander; wasn’t one withdrawal enough for you?” I buried my head in my hands as she continued to speak in harsh whispers. “I can’t believe anything you’re saying. Death dates? You didn’t think that I would just believe you.” “Of course not, why do you think we’re here?” I gestured towards the bed. She looked from the man to me, then back to the man. Oliveira | 127
“What are you saying?” She stood quickly, sending the chair falling back loudly. “Alexander you answer me right now.” I also stood and looked down on the old patient. “Goddammit is this man going to die?” She was getting riled up. Another sound broke the room. A loud flat beep. She looked horrified at the man as nurses and doctors ran past us. I pulled her back as they surrounded the bed. “Three people were going to die today in intensive care. Nicholas was one of them. I’ve talked with him, Kasey; he wished to pass away peacefully.” She wasn't listening. “I’ve never interfered with or tried to change anyone’s date. Even when an old friend of mine in middle school only had four years left to live. But I want . . . no, I need to do something, and I need your help.” I unlocked the briefcase and took out a sketchbook. I flipped through it before handing it to her. She looked at the pages, at the sketches I had drawn. There were drawings of strangers, neighbors, businessmen in suits and children at the park. Above each person hung a tiny set of numbers. I wanted my art to show how I saw the world, death dates and all. I grabbed her hand as she moved to a new page. “Skip this one.” Kasey stopped turning the pages. Her hands trembled and she wiped her eyes. “I thought you were going to propose.” Her voice caught in her throat. My chest felt heavy. I took the book out of her hand and looked for a certain page, flipped through the pages, searching. “How about we save New York first.” The book page held the image of a busy city street. With crowds full of people with the same date, matching numbers floating above their heads like halos.
128 | Oliveira
creation story Sara Borjas after Natalie Diaz What if Eve was a bartender & Adam was her bar-back & terrible & each time Eve reminded him to score the lemons or pick mint or stock cups or risk control over more than one task at a time, however small was one more night he got to remain the Father of Man? What if Mary was a bartender & when Gabriel came to visit her twat spot she was in the walk-in changing a keg crawling over the empty ones, frustrated from the lack of organization most of us learn to ignore? What if God was a bartender with a really good wine key & long arms to reach all the garnishes and every time she made her signature drink with no name, the mystery kept patrons returning, asking always for that special concoction that tasted like warm blankets and answers and patched sky? What if the Earth was a bartender and when she was on her second shift she had to cut humans off because they were too drunk & slurring & hitting on everything they saw and trying to pay their bill for at least thirty minutes and telling the same story over and over again?
Borjas | 129
psychotic fairytales Taylor Hambrick A smile faded to a frown glazed eyes turned towards the clouds. the downward spiral is slow, then sudden my vision fades then I am woven into a dream gone away from here. Fairies dance along my path they lead me through a meadow of grass so tall it grazes my fingertips The sun is dull and barely lifted the moon gives an encore for the last visible stars. I am here you are there neither of us exist like aliens 130 | Hambrick
among humans far away yet so close by. I hear your voice but cannot reply. Drag your fingers through my skin. I am smoke fading. substance pervading. I am a memory not a reality. Follow me into the light past shadows and nights filled with fright. you are safe hereâ€”angry fists left in the past I am safe here away from sounds of breaking glass. Take my hand let us see what can happen within a dream.
Hambrick | 131
She poisons herself Darian Selander She poisons herself On purpose Last week She found mouse droppings And blended them into a kale smoothie Just to see what would happen. She likes the attention That comes from Being a Sick Person The starch white The safety of a hospital bed There are no closets In hospital rooms She likes the sanitization And yet eats dust bunnies with her cereal She fantasizes about Clostridium Difficile A difficult to diagnose disease Last year was a good year She was bitten Twice By wild rodents Once on the breast Like Cleopatra She has never been interested In traditional self harm That would be Pedestrian And solvable They would want to root around her head Like she roots around her refrigerator At 2 a.m. Looking for moldy cheese bits
132 | Selander
By consuming The undesirables She feels in control Busy week at work? She staves off hunger With imaginings of hospital pajamas How many pairs Folded nicely in her drawers at home Slow news day? She volunteers to clean out the fridge at work The treasures Are unbearable There’s one doctor In particular Such kind spaniel eyes He looks more like a plumber And reads Shakespeare, a modern translation He’s an enigma She imagines them having dinner By candle light She would do all the cooking Three days earlier The meat Would sit on the counter Raw An invitation to bacteria Come, dance with me And after dinner While the poisons Waltz away in their lower intestines The mismatched pair will hold hands On her porch And speak of work and weather And finally When she grimaces And clutches her abdomen He will ask “What’s wrong?”
Selander | 133
my thurberesquecapade Anthony Rubino I wonder sometimes if reading too much literature can prompt our daily lives to take on the character of fable. A taste for lit, be it light or deep, may start to color our days in unexpected ways. Say for instance you’re reading about elephants. That night you flip on the National Geographic channel, and herds of elephants are trampling across the Serengeti. The next day, while sitting in the park, the couple on the bench near you is listening to a nature CD of elephant calls. It’s as if reading about these large, personable creatures has suddenly made the world all about elephants. This brings me to my ThurberEsquecapade, where the short story I’d just read bubbled over into my day. I was carried on an escapade, similar to those of Walter, the daydreaming character in James Thurber’s story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Did I tell you about my day as Walter Mitty? It was one of those sunny autumn days that graces New York City in October. Things were going along just fine until about 3:15 in the afternoon. That’s when the Trickster decided to have a little fun with me. I was catapulted through a series of events that began with the simple purchase of four juicy looking tangerines and ended with me breaking the law in order to get home from work. I’m an art teacher and my class and I were returning from a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Emerging from the darkened subway stairs into the bright blueness of the day, we spotted a fruit cart. Buying fruit on the street is a real New York treat. Being in season, the tangerines, with their shiny orange color, looked delicious. The vendor assured us that they were tasty, too. Another teacher and I, along with two students, began to make our selections. “Let me treat,” I said, buoyed by the moment. The students replied, “Mr. Rubino, we’ll pay for our own.” “Naaa, let me pay,” I insisted, acting all Italian, with the hand gestures and everything. “Put your money away—I’ve got this.”
134 | Rubino
Mr. Big Spender counted out a dollar in quarters, and without realizing his folly, paid the fruit vendor. The teacher and the students thanked me and I made a note to myself to get to a cash machine as I only had change left in my pocket. I then went to proctor my after-school art club; they’re painting a mural. It’s a big canvas and the kids are really into it. One of the 6th graders, Sasha, is a little over four feet tall. She wields a large painters brush with the confidence of a pro. By the time we are ready to go, paint is splattered all over the room and the students. Regardless, a good time was had by all. It’s about 5 p.m., and I head back onto the streets. My first thought is to find the nearest ATM. My Metro card is empty and my big 50 cents isn’t getting me on the subway. It’s pretty quiet on the side streets of Chelsea today, until I hit crowded Sixth Avenue. Everyone’s out doing something, all going somewhere, and they’re usually in a bit of a hurry. Not racing mind you—that would be uncool in this artsy neighborhood—but let’s say they’re pedestrians with pep in their step. No lingering except to window shop of course. I spot an ATM machine and take out my wallet, but there’s a glitch; no ATM card. Oh yeah, I gave it to my wife to get the rent money. Hmmm . . . that’s a problem. But no worries, my bank is open late on Thursdays. Relieved, I begin making my way down to my bank in the Village. But, do you ever get the feeling that this is just the beginning? I enjoy walking, and sometimes as I walk I ponder life’s deeper mysteries like, “Why the heck did I have to treat for those tangerines?” The headline reads “Art Teacher’s Foolish Folly”. As I get near the bank I start to lighten up. I want to take out some money, hop on the train and go home. It’s been a long day. But the bank is CLOSED! I think, “This is too crazy,” and I scrutinize the sign: “Open Late Thursdays until 6 p.m.” I read and reread it, with utmost concentration, trying to construe Rubino | 135
why the bank is closed. Open late on Thursdays . . . And then the Aha moment; hello, Mr. Rubino, it’s Wednesday! As Mr. Thurber would say: some people, nobody knows why, have a genius for getting themselves into minor difficulties. Times like this denote the appearance of the wily Trickster. In Native American lore this can be the Coyote or a crafty Hopi Kachina. They may ask you in a mock innocent way, “What’s the matter—something wrong?” From reading Native American tales, I gather that these Trickster spirits cook up these offbeat situations to put us through trials of endurance. It’s their way of testing our mettle (and having a good laugh on us!). Bugger! Now I’m in a jam. I begin walking again, but my previously jaunty “what a great day” step is gone. I wonder how said citizen (moi) is going to get from bustling Manhattan to home in Queens. I usually enjoy walking around the Village, checking out the architecture and the shops. But the glamour of the city quickly fades at rush hour. The crowds of hurrying commuters and streets are filled with yellow taxis, honking their horns. In the back of my mind I can hear George Benson singing his great jazz song “On Broadway.” It’s about a musician with very little money trying to make it in New York. To the sound of his melodic guitar, he sings, “And how ya gonna make some time, when all you got is one thin dime, and one thin dime won’t even shine your shooooes.” You can try humming the scat-singing part to yourself while I try to figure a way out of this mess.
Since I’m actually near Broadway, if I were in a better mood, I’d probably head over to 12th Street for a visit to the venerable Strand Bookstore. Out on the sidewalk, they have carts of reduced priced books. There’s usually a small crowd of book nuts milling around and I’d be right out there with them. But I digress. I looked for a quiet place where I could collect my thoughts, and figure out a way to get home. On 10th street I found a brownstone stoop and sat down. I hope the owners don’t mind; sitting on stoops is a tradition in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. It helps you to think. Sitting on the stone steps, my mind went into Walter Mitty-mode. I started daydreaming. I recalled a time when I was far from home, with very little money. It 136 | Rubino
was the 1970’s and I was in college. My friend Ray told me and a few friends that he could book a round trip train ticket, from Montreal to Vancouver and back for 150 dollars. The vivid memory of that journey began rolling in my mind. One August day, four friends and I boarded a train in Montreal destined for the west coast city of Vancouver. A gong sounded, and the doors closed. The train chugged slowly out of the station, embarking on its 3,000-mile journey across the magnificent Canadian landscape. The conductor collected our tickets and wished us a good trip. “But where’s our return ticket?” we asked. “These are one-way tickets, guys,” he casually replied, and moved on to the next customer. We sat there, stunned. One of the guys, Ricky, let out an anguished cry, “One way tickets?” Poor Ricky; he was a confirmed city kid. This was his first jaunt with us. Can you imagine your first time out on the road and you find yourself on a train to Vancouver, British Columbia with no return ticket? Ricky became enraged. He jumped on Ray (who had bought the tickets). He started choking him and yelled in a panic, “How are we gonna get home?” It was pretty crazy. We separated them and calmed Ricky down. Then, in harsh, colorful words, we told Ray what a nut he was for buying one-way train tickets. Ray looked dumbfounded and was as genuinely apologetic. Shaking his head in dismay he said, “Sorry, guys. I really screwed up.” After that, we all had a good laugh about it. This was going to be some adventure, and we’d have to hitchhike home! It’s a five-day train ride to cross the continent and we met interesting folks on the way. Bob Levi was a student at Columbia and a really good chess player. As we headed west, we whiled away the slow steady hours playing chess, reading, and goofing around. We camped at Paul Lake in British Columbia, and then continued on to Vancouver. When it was time to go home, my friend Jack and I first headed south to Los Angeles. There we turned east and started to hitch hike our way across the continent. Willa Cather’s Nebraska was the longest stretch. It was beautiful though, traveling on Nebraska’s flat prairie. You feel so close to the sky. One night we slept in a Rubino | 137
Kansas cornfield. Jack and I were awakened by the loud roar of tractors plowing the field. It was a magical dawn; we got up early, and drank in the farm’s earthy fragrance as the sun was coming up. Its yellow light painted a warm glow on the verdant cornfield, lighting it up like a vision. It was a Wizard of Oz moment. You learn a few things when you hitchhike 3,000 miles. For one, the kindness of strangers takes on new meaning. Car drivers bought us dinners and cold beers. I gained a new respect for those wild but generous tractor trailer drivers. They livened up our road trip, and quickened our pace considerably. We finally made it back to New York. It took about eight days. Although I was traveling around the country in my mind, I was still sitting on the stone steps in Greenwich Village. I was startled out of my reverie by the sound of voices and laughter. A group of young office workers was passing by the stoop where I was sitting. They were talking loudly and joking, probably on their way to have a drink after work. Not a bad idea I thought. It was just becoming twilight and I felt a wistful longing for home. I looked across the street above the row of brownstone houses. A few stars sparkled in the azure sky. I reconsidered my financial situation. I took out my wallet (which I knew was empty) and began to work through every crevice, every nook and cranny, and all those little hidden pockets. My futile attempt to make money magically appear ended where it began: to my dismay, my wallet was still empty. The contents of my pants pockets were my keys, 50 cents, and a few seashells. I really don’t know why I carry the seashells around. I just like them. With my prospects looking very dim I said my mandatory prayers. Right now, a little divine intervention wouldn’t be a bad idea. I also consider panhandling, but I’m just not up to it. Not tonight, anyways. I ask myself what the folks in the stories I read would do in a case like this. They would pretend to have options; I could jump the turnstile or maybe I could jump the turnstile. Both options, if you’re caught, end up with a pricey 100-dollar ticket along with the cop taking an embarrassingly long time to write it. This is so that everyone in the station knows you tried to beat the fare. I cringe at the thought. After all these years of quasi-respectability, it’s back to teenage tricks. I resolve to approach the inevitable turnstile jump with an air of professionalism. All those years working with streetwise students, listening to all their excuses and pleas for another chance, has taught 138 | Rubino
their teacher that a little honest begging doesn’t hurt. I approached the token collector and told him that I didn’t have the fare. I noted that I was an art teacher and was really in a jam. He looked at me with the calm composure of a Zen master who had seen it all (and I’m sure he has). He said plainly, “I can’t let you go through without paying.” In my best attempts to be wily I nonchalantly leaned against the station’s tiled wall. It was obvious what I had in mind, but I thought I was being stealthy. Another “commuter” with similar designs slid in next to me. We wished for the same things: a nice noisy train, a scuffling crowd, and enough diversion to increase our winning chances. I know, it sounds simplistic, turnstile jumping 101. But it was the best I could do in a frazzled moment. Finally, a nice noisy train came rumbling into the station. A little crowd shuffled about, making their way towards the exits. With my adrenaline surging, I made my move and scooted under the turnstile. The toll collector called out, “Pay your fare,” in a mercifully low voice. I appreciated his kind gesture as I ran like hell for the train. The last thing you want to do as a fare jumper is miss the train. As I thrust myself through the train doors I gave a quick look back over my shoulder. No one chasing—I’d made it. I felt exhilarated. “Ah,” I thought, “this is why people do things like this—for thrills. Maybe I’ll try it again sometime.” On second thought, “Naaa—probably not.” As the train rumbled along, I pondered my fondness for reading stories and folktales (perhaps too many) and buying tangerines (definitely too many). I also mused about long, thoughtful walks through the city and glorious subway rides home. Some would take the unfolding of the day’s events as a cautionary tale, that it was time to become more realistic and “get with it.” But that’s a tough call for an artist. I guess I knew that in the spirit of Walter Mitty, my forays into folktales and stories would have to continue, no matter what their effect. When I finally reached home base, my long journey concluded. I could see now that a Thurberesque atmosphere had snuck into my day and charmed it in a whimsical way. Then it dawned on me; I really need to find myself some hobbies.
Rubino | 139
EASTER iSLAND Benjamin Nash It’s persecution, no one talks, all of them are in on it. I can’t see their faces, feet, or what they do with their hands. I was pushed, fell over, and now I can’t see what they do with their mouths. I can’t hear them, but I know they are all scheming, planning, a mind-control project, to see if they can use silence to get me to conform, lose my spirit, a rationalized man, rules, norms, and big institutions.
140 | Nash
An Expat Thinks of Cervantes Tim Suermondt I’ve been divorced two months. But today it feels like two years. I attribute my good fortune, this sense of distancing, to the sea air that balms me as I ride the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. I think of big things: the curvature of space, the mechanics of stars. And I think of smaller things: holding lightly to a boat rail, watching the day turn slowly into night with a bright moon. When I disembark, I almost dash down the gangplank and travel the long, crowded corridor to reach Harcourt Road where students and their yellow umbrellas briefly ruled. It’s bizarre seeing the new carnival grounds plying its entertainments near the financial district, but perhaps not so bizarre after all, the Ferris wheel alone looking like a monument to money overspent. I walk on to the rhythm of doubledecker buses, the cart peddlers flying by and couples having a bite at restaurants they know as intimately as they do each other. “I love it here with you,” you can imagine
Suermondt | 141
them mouthing, everything almost perfect. A woman waves from across the street, I know she isn’t waving to me but I wave back as if this was meant to happen. I cross the boulevard and wave at everyone and everything, maybe even to the world itself like Cervantes might have done when he first thought of Don Quixote, like a man who’s finding again a certain kind of happiness. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.
142 | Suermondt
The Hallway of The Eye Alejandro Escudé Cave, cave, Dominus videt It is available, a kind of currency, or a C language, as they say. A guia, meaning guide, Christ in the middle of the tabula, surrounded by lustful scenes; one man dressed as a nun, the fife player drunk. Oh Hieronymus! Accidia, Avaricia. The dust in our human environments rushes in and detonates in our loins, slow detonations, pulverized, glitter détentes. A sun-baked woman walks by, loose gray skirt swinging, heels as high as her tan cheekbones. The passion that does not belong to itself and the poor black woman sings, "Help the homeless, C’mon, c’mon, help the homeless C’mon, c’mon." And when the sun rises, it rises with the ignorant, mote of dust to the galaxy. Nothing denotes itself. The novel is in the pothole. The city doused in various colognes of bureaucracy, our celestial embrace, maintaining order—Superbia, Ira, Luxuria. Knife-edged youths, street cauldrons, programmed stalks, burning pylons of misery. "I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be." And below, on the ground floor, a committee meets, laptop computers, keys, designators of a generation. And on a street known as “hipster central,” an unmarked dining room, where the clear-eyed celebrity chef Escudé | 143
stands inside the volcanic kitchen with huge biceps, god of fire, preparing meals for the bearded poor men of Venice Beach! “Be gracious, Hephaestos, and grant me success and prosperity!" Weaving through the cry-crusted corridors toward the buses, we, the zeroes and ones, who do not merit the attention of the Big Gifts Department, the wafting meritocracy, we watch the patient avuncular man, the dirty, gray-suited man, stand astonished in the hallway, waiting to inhabit a cubicle home for the six years it takes to run for Representative of the Living. Oh Hieronymus! Accidia, Avaricia. Death on a stick, perpendicular, like the adjoining hands sketched beneath the hymn: “Many the gifts, many the works, one in the Lord of all. Grain for the fields, scattered and grown, gathered to one, for all.” “We provide at least a safe home to die in.” In the urban kitchens what other work could there be? No rust, only the clean, shiny pots, and the split-scenes of actor Martin Sheen, jacketed, tieless, pleading for the silver coin from the coinless, though hardly penniless. “This is where they shower. They get twenty minutes.” All manner of mannerisms, all passive aggression left out on the streets: “He managed to smile once.” “I am worried about you.” A wash of cars floats by, each like a tightly folded galleon; the flag of another wounded empire, smoke-heaped horizons. This dirty, gray-suited man stands astonished in the hallway of the eye. A divine sunray over the last bed, the last meal, the last of the leafy courtyards where the leopard woman smokes a cigarette tossing up faux silk scarves, red and yellow shades of scarves like the flames of Vesuvius. 144 | Escudé
Different Points in Time Dustin Alexander He sat reading a book at a table in an empty food court as she approached him. Before they began . . . “You’re always sitting here alone,” she said with a warm smile that wanted to cure him of his isolation. He spent nothing on anything, content in the state of his life, nothing more or nothing less. It seemed as if he looked toward the distance, as if it would aid in seeing things clearer. When with her years later, he spent excessively. It slipped between his fingers, uncertain where it went. But that was their love; a tornado that left and returned and sometimes they called for it.
Moments like these, he thought. He could trace them throughout any point of his life. The nervousness in his stomach, the quickening of his heartbeat; people of every face and every sort went through these feelings at some time in their life. Thinking about that made him imagine it with every person he saw. Somehow, he tried to look at the sum of these different points in time; unstable, fluctuate and continuing far from where it was left. Only one thought came through, a declaration: I am the melting face to your acid stare, daydream of the setting light always flirting an end at any chance. He’s damaged goods, I’m sure they say of me. Either way I’m prepared to be burned, always, in different beginnings, middles, and ends.
Alexander | 145
Fractures Breka Blakeslee She really only saw herself in store windows, or puddles, or bus doors, or the surfaces of lakes. Places where she was refracted, broken, little pieces warped and smoothed together in odd ways. Places where she was shadowed and blurred, or rough and jagged. Places where for an instant she thought it wasn’t her, but a stranger, and then in the next instant she’d realize no, it was her. But she didn’t exist in other places. Not mirrors or photographs or any place that showed things too clearly. She liked the shadows, the evenings. She liked little fractured pieces of herself, reflections in shards or a few half-inches that she could hold or stroke and think, well, that’s okay then. She collected the parts of her that she could find. She collected the way her legs looked in a certain pair of pants paired with a certain pair of shoes. Her eyes when her coloring was just so and her shirt color was just so. The smoothness of her chest under a certain shirt with a certain bra. Her jawline from one angle but not the other. Her finger flexed in a reflection. Her silhouette elongated and from a distance. Her shoulders in some tightly fitting shirts but not others. Her face with its details hidden deep in a hood. Her feet, barefoot or in some shoes, but never in sandals. If she put all these pieces together in her mind she felt whole. She would keep the image in mind and that was how she could leave the house. But it was fragile, only pieces. A word or a glance or a glimpse in a bathroom mirror and she had to hide, to leave, to gather—quickly—those pieces she could still find and hold them in place long enough to get home. It was why she wore so many layers. In the mornings, she put on clothing until there was enough fabric between her and the world that no matter what happened, some pieces would stay in place. Or at least, the clothing would hold her up long enough to escape. She used makeup and fingernail polish and hair gel and tattoos and scars for the same reason: they held her together. But it was hard to remember sometimes what came from where, which pieces belonged to which other pieces, what pieces needed to be put 146 | Blakeslee
together to make a whole. Once, angry and in pain because none of the pieces would go together no matter how she squeezed or puffed or smoothed or squinted, she threw a shoe at the bathroom mirror. It was a black oxford, with the slightest bit of a heel. The mirror cracked. She felt more at home in the broken reflection. Some days she couldn’t leave the house at all because she couldn’t find the right clothes or the right shade of nail polish or her breasts kept getting in the way or her feet looked too large in those shoes but she couldn’t take herself seriously in any of the others. Sometimes she got on the bus and when she reached her destination she just got back on the bus going the opposite direction because in the stores they might look at her, but in the reflection of the bus window she was safe. More and more things became safe and not safe. The wrong neckline could ruin a week. Shoes broke her completely. Nail polish or plain nails or the wrong color made her hands alien to her. She forgot how to type with her alien hands. How to tie shoe laces. How to turn off the alarm clock. They were lumps of meat on the end of her wrists and she couldn’t remember how to control them, couldn’t figure out the spell to reclaim them. It was as though pieces of her body had been grafted on, and grafted incorrectly, the work of an amateur surgeon. Her toes didn’t match her ankles, her teeth were jumbled in a stranger’s jaw. She spent whole days waiting for her body to coalesce so she could make the morning’s coffee. She would sit in the stillness of her mind, absent from her body, and then return to discover hours had passed, it was already evening and she’d done nothing but stare at the wall. She tried to make herself smaller. A smaller body was easier to control. There was less to keep together. More bits of her fit onto each glass shard. She flattened what she could flatten, wore tight what could be tight, chose quiet colors, subdued styles—anything to hide, to disappear, to make it so there was less to hold together. What she couldn’t hide she stole: her cousin’s walk, her father’s manner of eating, the intonations of a friend, the gestures of a neighbor. She could blend into the background of an office or the bus stop; cashiers never saw her standing in line. Oh, people said when she spoke in a half empty room, Oh, we didn’t see you there. At Christmas dinner, the plates passed by her, turkey just beyond her Blakeslee | 147
reach. The potatoes passed from one relative to the next. People talked over her and under her and around her and sat where sheâ€™d been sitting moments before. Her aunt apologized for drinking from her wine glass. She asked for the butter and someone passed it to the opposite end of the table. Her mother served the cousins on either side of her and forgot to serve her.
Iâ€™m a chameleon, she thought. I eat the air. I can blend into anything. And this is what people love about me: that I change with my surroundings, that I am easy to ignore. Her hands were no longer alien lumps of meat but lizard claws. They gripped tightly to the cane chair in her parentsâ€™ dining room, keeping everything together in her lizard skin until it was safe to leave.
148 | Blakeslee
Underwear Adios Mark Brazaitis The signs, Paul decided, were favorable. It was Saturday night, and the children were asleep. Standing outside the door to the master bedroom, he was certain he heard his wife changing into her black bra and black underwear, although he realized a) his sense of hearing might have been prejudiced by his desire, which, for a week and a day, had gone unfulfilled, and b) his ability to hear color had always been suspect. No, he swore he heard the delicious, dark snap of her bra straps and the evocative, ebony whisper of her underwear as it ascended her slim legs. He and Rosario would be married for fifteen years in July, and he had never desired her with a degree less than broiling. He could picture her now, sitting on the edge of their king-sized bed, her black, wavy hair falling over her shoulders, her mouth wet and waiting, her night-dark eyes gazing at the door, eager for his entrance. (This had been the scenario on their wedding night, when they were both virgins. Striving to settle his nerves, he was holed up in their hotel bathroom, gargling with Listerine and speaking to his manhood like he might to an overexcited dog.) He anticipated her body’s warmth and its sensual smells. Rosario smelled of Puerto Barrios, the seaport in Guatemala where he’d met her, of its saltwater and sand and tropical fruit (minus mangoes, which he found too tangy). Sometimes he thought she smelled like the sky, or what a wind would bring down from it, a scent of the lofty, the airy, the heavens. In less than a month, they would return to Guatemala—forever. For a long time, Rosario had wanted to go home, and at last he’d given in. They had both found good jobs in the capital. Lately, as he’d been contemplating leaving his country, he felt both nervous and nostalgic. On occasion, he would pause to think about all the places he’d wanted to go in the U.S. and hadn’t: the Everglades, Joshua Tree National Park, Darwin, Minnesota, home of the world’s largest ball of twine. At other times, he paused in whatever he was doing to wonder if it would be the last: the last Odyssey Oatmeal Stout he would drink at the Book and Brew, the last round of golf he would play at Pale Ponds Brazaitis | 149
Pitch and Putt, the last bike-ride he would cycle on the rail-trail beside the Sky River. He wondered if tonight would mark the last time he would make love to his wife in the good old U.S. of A. If his all-encompassing emotion hadn’t been desire, it might have been patriotism. Blissfully, heatedly, and with a wedding-night eagerness, he opened the door. Rosario was standing in the middle of the room. Instead of the prelude-to-passion outfit he’d anticipated, she wore blue jeans and a stop-sign red blouse. She had yet to remove her shoes. But there was hope; she held in her hand a pair of underwear. His face birthed a grin. But then he observed how she was holding the garment, not as a stripper might, as if she were about to loft it into a sea of adoring hands, but as if the underwear were a dead mouse. “Could you please explain this?” she asked, although her “please” had all the politeness of a punch. “It’s orange,” he said. He’d never seen Rosario wear any but white or black underwear. “What I want to know,” she said, “is who it belongs to.” “To whom it belongs?” He had a habit, even now, a decade and a half after their wedding, of amending her English, although she spoke the language as well as he did. Worried his Henry Higgins act would annoy her further, he said, “I’m sorry.” “I don’t think ‘I’m sorry’ is good enough.” He saw his night of lovemaking evaporating. “I am deeply sorry. I keep correcting your English when it doesn’t need correcting. What a fool me is.” He smiled, hoping his humor, weak as it was, would win the night. “I’m not talking about grammar,” she snapped. “I’m talking about you sleeping with some woman—sleeping with her right here in our bed!” “What?” he asked. “I’m talking about this.” She shook the orange underwear in her fist 150 | Brazaitis
as if it were a chicken’s neck she was trying to wring. “I’ve never seen that underwear in my life,” he said. It was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But he could tell she didn’t believe him. “Whose is it?” she demanded. “It isn’t . . . yours?” “You know it isn’t.” “Could it be Alida’s?” Alida was their daughter, who was twelve. “Do you think it would fit Alida?” Grimacing, Rosario held the underwear in front of him with both hands and stretched it. “It wouldn’t fit Alida even if she were a whale!” “Could they belong to one of her friends—or yours?” “Alida hasn’t had a friend over in a week. And her friends aren’t opera singers. Neither are mine.” She stared fire at him. “Maybe Marcos brought it home as a prank,” Paul said. Marcos was their son, who was eight. “Marcos would rather die than touch a girl’s underwear.” “Maybe he’s in a new stage in his life,” Paul speculated. “I think you are in a new stage in your life,” Rosario retorted. “Please,” he said, cupping his hands as in prayer. Was it too late to call on Aphrodite to restore what he’d thought was in store? “I swear I’ve never seen this underwear in my life.” “You might be telling the truth,” she said. For the first time since he’d stepped into the bedroom, he felt relief. Brazaitis | 151
“But only,” she said, “because you were probably with her in the dark and didn’t see what you pulled off her ass.” “Rosario, this is . . . this is . . . ” He was about to say “crazy,” but this would have put him deeper in her doghouse. She objected to portrayals—on TV, in movies, in books—of Latin American women as hot-blooded, temperamental, lustful, and most of all, crazy. “When am I supposed to have had this affair, anyway?” he asked. “Today,” she said. “But you worked from home today,” he said. “You would have seen . . . heard.” “I was gone from 12:30 to 12:55.” “That would hardly have given me time to . . .” “Oh?” she said, arching her eyebrows. “I seem to recall, a couple of weeks ago, a two-minute performance.” “Only because it had been so long since the previous performance.” “Twenty-four hours?” “One man’s day,” he moaned, “is another man’s eternity. You know how irresistible you are.” This didn’t admit him back into her good graces. “I’ll show you eternity,” she said and left the room. *** Paul woke up the next morning to an empty bed. It was Rosario’s turn to drop off their children at school before going to work. He stepped into the master bathroom. On the hook where his bathrobe usually hung, he found the underwear. His wife had left it as an effigy, or a warning. There had been women before and since his wedding to whom Paul had been attracted. On a family trip to Ocean City, Maryland, in his freshman year in college, his older sister had brought her friend Candy, who was short and round and had streaks in her hair the color of construction cones. He’d failed to appreciate her beauty until he heard her laugh, an exquisite and extended music. She chewed 152 | Brazaitis
orange-flavored gum, and he’d envied its place in her open, ecstatic mouth. He pulled the underwear from the hook and stretched it in front of his eyes. It could have fit the average horizon. It certainly could have fit Candy. Given the orange highlights in her hair and her taste in chewing gum, it might have been exactly the pair she would have chosen. He glanced around the bathroom, as if Rosario might be crouching in the bathtub or clinging to the ceiling like a spider. Satisfied he was alone, he drew the underwear to his nose. It wasn’t possible—it couldn’t be—but he smelled oranges as channeled by Trident. *** Paul had met Rosario on his first afternoon in Puerto Barrios, at the annual conference of the international religious organization they were both in. A student in Guatemala’s national university, she was nineteen years old and the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Two nights later, they stood at dusk on the screened-in back porch of the Hotel del Norte, a three-story wooden building overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Mosquitoes buzzed outside the screen. The sunset shot crimson into their eyes. The place smelled like overripe bananas and saltwater. As brave as he’d ever been, he slipped his hand into hers. She drew in a breath—of surprise, of pleasure—a sound he would never forget. During his two-week trip, they did no more than hold hands, but over the subsequent six months, they wrote to each other three times a week. In the summer, he returned to Guatemala to visit her. The next summer, before his senior year in college, they married. From time to time, Rosario teased him about the American lovers he’d never had. One night, when their children were with his parents and he and Rosario had too much Malbec, she’d invited him into their bedroom and told him to close his eyes. When he opened them, he beheld her transformation; she was wearing a blonde wig. There followed a pause in which her lascivious grin curled into a suspicious frown. “You’re far too happy,” she said, tossing the wig into a corner. He made love—with his usual passion, abandon, and gratitude—to the un-blonde Rosario he loved. In the days immediately following, when the two of them were in Brazaitis | 153
public, she occasionally nodded toward a blonde woman and inquired, “Was I that one?” One of the blondes to whom she’d pointed, he remembered several days into his disquieting, in-house exile, was Missy Witherspoon, someone he’d known in high school. Missy was slight and willowy, and her mouth was always turned down in what seemed to be perpetual dissatisfaction. She sat in front of him in two classes, and he found himself tempted at times to touch her long, silky hair. He’d never found what Missy said in or out of class anything but insipid, but he nursed a crush on her anyway. One morning, his feelings prompted him, in a fit of unprecedented juvenile delinquency, to write his name and hers surrounded by a giant heart on the synthetic seat of the school bus . The bus’s bouncing jarred his hand, and his heart looked, in the end, like an amoeba. On the day of the homecoming dance during their senior year, Missy’s boyfriend fell ill with the flu, but Missy showed up to the dance with several of her dateless friends. Her white dress, with its circle of strawberries around the neck, was distinct amid the effervescent peppermints and violets and scarlets. He wasn’t brave enough to ask her to dance to a slow song. But the fast song to which he’d invited her evaporated, replaced by a song so deliberate and mournful there was no other way to dance to it but chest to chest. He was surprised at how ferociously she clung to him. For weeks— months—afterward, he recalled the closeness of their bodies, her breasts against his chest, his heart thundering in its elation. *** The following night, in their bedroom, Rosario held up another pair of underwear. He thought it might be a peace offering. He grinned, prepared for a happy settlement of their seven days’ war. But her eyes told him she wasn’t in a pacific mood. Her words confirmed it: “So you did it again.” “What?” he said. “I can read your face like a book by Dr. Seuss,” she said. “It says, ‘I’m a liar whose pants are on fire.’” “I haven’t . . .” He scrutinized the underwear in her hands. It was white, 154 | Brazaitis
with thumb-sized depictions of strawberries. With relief, he saw that the underwear was half the size of the orange underwear she’d brandished the week before. He announced his observation. “And what does this prove?” she said. “Either your mistress has gone on a crash diet or you have two mistresses!” The underwear looked, he realized, like what Missy Witherspoon might have worn to accompany her homecoming dress, if such synchronization was even conceivable. He felt an impulse to reach for it—the same impulse, he realized, he’d felt when he sat behind Missy in class and wanted to touch her hair. “I don’t have a mistress,” he said, “much less two.” He’d intended to speak with defiance and conviction, but after his first few words, he’d remembered his homecoming dance with Missy, remembered the stunning firmness of her breasts against his chest, remembered the smell of her hair, like wildflowers. By the time he finished his sentence, it didn’t seem so much a denial as a confession. “Please,” she said, with exasperation. “Please tell me the truth.” “There’s no one but you,” he told Rosario. “There has never been anyone but you.” But the truth he spoke had the overwrought insistence of a lie. She frowned, turned from him, and extended her hand toward the door. In the living room, he fell onto the couch. It acknowledged him with a disapproving sigh. Whatever anger he felt toward his wife for failing to believe him quickly and inexplicably transformed into a fever of fantasy. Its initial protagonists were Candy and Missy, but they were soon joined by a chorus—no, a cheerleading squad—of others, beginning with the captain of his college’s cheerleading squad, Doris Pope, who was a senior when he was a freshman. She had brown hair cut pageboy style, a button nose, and gray eyes whose blank stare suggested an indifference to mortal concerns. Her performances at football and basketball games were nothing less than high art—literally, because she stood at the top of the pyramid in the cheerleaders’ signature act. She was the epitome of the unattainable woman. There were many, many more: Ms. Burkett, the student-teacher in his third-grade class who wore blue lipstick and draped the snake Joey Maconey had brought in for show-and-tell around her neck, cooing to it like Brazaitis | 155
Cleopatra seducing an asp; Anna Appelstein, who, in eighth grade, used to draw orchids on her forearms in imitation of her favorite artist and was said to be indifferent about whether she used the boys’ or girls’ restrooms; Samantha (Smitty) Smith, who, one afternoon in ninth grade, accused him (perhaps accurately—on the cusp of puberty, he was ruled by feral hormones and a loneliness so familiar it might have been his Siamese twin) of following her home from school. Soon his fantasies embarked from the past and journeyed to the present. There was Michelle, the UPS delivery woman who at least twice a week dropped packages at his office. She was ten years older than he was, and her face didn’t disguise it, but her smile was frequent and spectacular and she had a habit of grasping his shoulder—familiarly, warmly—when she wanted to emphasize a point. There was Veronica, the butcher at Food World, who wore her plastic cap with the same elegance that Jackie Kennedy wore her pillbox hat. There was Katrina at Silver’s Gym, who occasionally pedaled at the stationary bike next to his, each labored inhalation like the magnificent sound of a church organ. There was Martha and Vanessa and Betty Jo and . . . His ruminations were accompanied by a soundtrack, a mash-up of “America the Beautiful,” “Yankee Doodle,” and a series of one-hit wonders from his high school and college years. If this was betrayal, he thought, it was betrayal of the mildest kind, although he knew Rosario wouldn’t only disapprove, but condemn him as an adulterer in all but reality. From the start of their relationship, she’d insisted he was her one and only—her friend, her lover, her midnight, her noon, her sun, her moon. At first, he’d considered her words merely romantic hyperbole. But he’d been married to her long enough to know she’d spoken the truth. She was fidelity personified. If he’d found a pair of men’s briefs in their bedroom, he would have believed that they’d been made by the mice who occasionally haunted their basement before he would believe that she’d betrayed him. *** With three days left before their departure to Guatemala, with most of the house packed up and moved, he stood again outside his bedroom door, again with the hope of making love to the only woman he’d ever made love to. His desire was, if anything, stronger than ever. If he could make love to Rosario with the greatest passion of which he was capable, perhaps she would abandon the mystery of the underwear and conclude he was, as he’d always been, faithful and true—and 156 | Brazaitis
therefore, as they began the second half of their romance in the place their romance was born, worthy of her renewed devotion and love and trust. But when he opened the bedroom door, he knew reconciliation was a long, long way off. Standing in the middle of the room, Rosario was chest deep in underwear. “An orgy,” she hissed. “You threw an orgy! Unbelievable.” As he plowed toward her as if through the aftermath of the biggest snowstorm of the century, she made a sound like a tiger contemplating whether to eat its prey immediately or torture it first. “You could have shown a little decency,” she said. “You could have rented a hotel room. You could have rented a brothel!” She told him that she and the children would be spending the rest of their pre-departure days with the neighbors down the street. “And don’t bother to join us in Guatemala,” she said, “unless you’re ready to confess. And . . .” But her voice was muffled by underwear that had tumbled off the ceiling fan, burying her up to her eyes. She thrashed her way past him and to the door. He thought he heard it slam, but with underwear against both of his ears, he couldn’t be sure. He did hear her car start up in the garage, however. He did hear it roar down the street. Confusion, frustration, and rage filled him. But presently, deep in the cotton-soft and colorful collection, as he inhaled the scent of women he’d known only as intimately as his imagination would allow, he felt a kind of wonder. There would be time to make amends with Rosario, to confess all he was guilty of and wasn’t guilty of—love, he was learning, was always having to say you’re sorry even for crimes you hadn’t committed—and to recover everything they had created but seemed, in this strange time between two worlds, to have misplaced. He would soon navigate—or, given what surrounded him, tunnel—his way back to rectitude and responsibility. But first, he would allow himself a final indulgence. He reached up, grabbed hold of the ceiling fan, and pulled himself free of the underwear. Above the rainbow-beautiful island of his unfulfilled desires, his exotic, undiscovered country, he swung himself once…twice. At the apex of his third swing, high above his savory vista, he shouted, “Ladies, here I come!” and let go. Brazaitis | 157
nORTHANGER Jessica Alexander Northanger Abbey stands low in a valley, sheltered from the villagers’ eyes by the rising woods on either side. This, to our chagrin, does not keep the villagers from whispering of the ill-fated groom and the ill-fated nurse, whose memories haunt these narrow cells. Would that you’d come visit us! Would that you’d come quick! In the parlor, I shall wait. I am always in the parlor, waiting. If you come midday, there will be tea. If you come in the evening, there will be sturgeon and cheese. If you come at midnight, there will be a cleaver on a silver tray. The cook will hack you into bite-sized bits and fold you into a soft milk bread. O, I tease! Do come! Come quick! If you take the road from Woodston until it dips into a basin, if you take the rough-hewn street until it narrows and the lamps burn behind drawn windows, though I bid you not to, you will come upon a tavern wedged between two houses. There will be a door bearing a pleasant missive, such as “welcome” or “come in.” Though I bid you not to, should you choose to enter, they will sidle up and thrust a tumbler at you, and then commence their idle whispering. Father was partial to his groom, they’ll tell you, Mother was partial to her nurse. Everyone knows this. For Mother and Father were scarcely seen together. They neither traveled, walked, nor entered any shops, save in the company of their respective domestics. And then Father slaughtered the Nurse, and Mother slaughtered the Groom. How did this come to pass? They’ll ask, and each of them will tell you their own ailing truth. A knock in the night woke the Nurse. The Groom turned a drawer over, shook its contents to the floor. The Nurse screamed. “Hush!” Said the Groom, but the Nurse screamed again. Then the Groom realized her gaze had shifted to his right. Cautiously, he turned around, and Mother ran the fire poker through him.
158 | Alexander
No, the Nurse woke because the Groom had his hands around her throat. No, the Groom stroked her throat. No, the Nurse, it was said, had a fresh scar on her neck. The Groom brushed her hair aside. “There it is!” He cried. Mother and the Nurse shared a bed. The Groom overturned a drawer. What was he looking for? No, the Groom stood over the bed. The mark was on her neck. He aimed a stake at her chest. No, the Groom and the Nurse shared a bed. Mother was jealous. She killed the Groom. She bit his neck. The Nurse fled. Father killed her in the forest. Mother could not do it. The villagers will bicker and ply you with liquor, rumors, perhaps, a crucifix or two. Then they’ll place their bets. For that, too, is part of their pleasure, speculating as to whether the rough road will ever steer you again into this banquet of myth, the whole wide world as you know it.
Alexander | 159
The Nalou's Tale Aleah Sternman Goldin The nalou’s neck bobbled out of the water; she was forever flashing her teeth. Her human was the practical sort. He went to the river to wet his clothes, rub them with a metal board, and wring them out. Some of the other humans swam in the river, and flashed their arms as they searched for a glimpse of the nalou. The nalou snarled at them because they were unseemly. The human who wet his clothes in the river had nothing unseemly about him. He had teeth lined straight in his mouthpiece, and his neck was a dark brown, like the river bottom, and he had stubble all around his chin. She imagined squeezing her tail around his waist, his hip collapsing underneath its weight, and his square teeth popping out one by one. One of her siblings, she couldn’t remember which of the ten, had fashioned a necklace of human ankle bones and she wore it under her jaw. She wore it proudly, and the men pointed to it sometimes, and their faces became drawn, eyes and noses long. She knew they talked about her over campfires and she felt proud. They feared her. How could they not? Her siblings understood what was happening and warned her. They told her to swim upstream and find a different territory. They would cover her territory here, until the man was gone. Men live for a short period of time. A breath or two. Her siblings reminded her that their mother, the poor soul, had fallen in love with their father. She’d wrapped her tail around his hips and stung him ten times with its tip. Then she’d found ten whiskered fish, formed a hole in her tail and sucked the fish up into that hole. Inside her, the fish became nalous. Their mother, the poor soul, couldn’t bear to leave their father for the salty water where nalous must be hatched. She convinced the man to leak salty substances from his eye ducts and hatched all ten of them in those substances. That is why all ten of the siblings are so much smaller than their cousins. Fool mother. Falling in love. After the hatching, their father went crazy and tried to eat them because he thought they were abominations, though they were perfectly perfect. He shoveled them into his mouthpiece, far too small to fit them all. Their mother didn’t even stop him, the poor soul; she let him try to do 160 | Goldin
that because that’s what love does. “Better to swim upstream when you feel it tugging you,” her siblings reminded. “Leave your patrolling to your siblings who know better. That’s why there are always nine of us.” “I know the tale of our birth,” the nalou gurgled, arching her neck out of the water, then back in. She stayed in her river with the camp of men. Her man wore trousers with holes in the knees, and the hair of his exposed skin always stood up straight when she came close. She had an effect on him, did she not? She stopped submerging her neck, and her skin began to flake. All she could think about was him. Him! The flakes glistening silver like scales, reflecting the moon ring overhead, her siblings insisting she’d disintegrate completely unless she changed her ways. Creatures she should not have let in her river, like rengrodents and muskgents, began to saw trees and drag them into the water, creating dams. Eddies became larger, and algae began to bloom, its red the tint of her mouthpiece. The whiskered fish became scarce, migrating to her siblings’ territories, but she didn’t seem to care, or at the very least, notice. She held her shoulders back like a human and lifted her chin like a human, watching the shore every moment of every day for him. Sometimes she imagined him wading straight out to her, his legs buckling as the water became colder and colder, until the river bottom dropped off, and he could no longer wade, but had to swim, and he treaded his legs, up and down, as she circled him and wrapped her tail around his hips. Once, when he was wringing his trousers, she swam close enough to hear his conversation with another man. “I am leaving,” she heard her man say. Traveling up, North, wherever that might be. Her siblings told her it was good. That his leaving would save her, that she would come back to herself—to them. But, she was beyond reason, and when the rengrodents started on their third dam, she left her station to swim out to the algaebreathing qernao, a river creature even her mother hadn’t dared turn to. For the first time in a long time, she submerged her head underwater, hoping to see where she was going. Her eyes stung. She could only see the silver flakes of her skin. The nalou wound her Goldin | 161
tail around her neck and let herself sink deeper than she’d ever had before. At the bottom, where darkness limited sight, she made a bargain, a terrible bargain. She promised the qernao all ten of her siblings in exchange for the man. And so it came to be that this nalou swam to each of the rivers her siblings guarded, and she bubbled lies, and she bubbled truths, and she convinced them one by one to follow her to the qernao’s den, where the qernao expelled a sticky substance. The algae-breathing qernao swallowed her siblings in its mouthpiece. When the last sibling had been caught, and the last sibling had been swallowed, the qernao flared fire, and the den became very bright. The nalou could see that the qernao looked very much like a whiskered fish, only much larger and with sharper teeth. The nalou felt guilty. This was not how the world should be. The nalou felt her body stiffen. She fell into a very deep sleep. When she woke, she was very dry. She looked around her and found that she was not in the river, not even in the water, but on land. She reached her hand to the ground, rubbed the dirt with her fingers, and tried to lift herself up on her tail. A man from up on the hill shouted and came to help her, but when he saw that she was unclothed, he shrieked a little and ran to get an old woman who didn’t have straight teeth. The woman helped her stand. The woman had long, long gray hair, and she had long, long gray teeth. “You are beautiful,” the old woman said. “Where did you come from?” “The water.” The old woman looked at the water, then back at the nalou and her tail. “Very well,” said the old woman, “We all have our secrets.” The old woman took the nalou to a clay structure that was awfully rectangular and gave the nalou some clothes to wear. The nalou wore them wrong. The skirt inside out. The shirt backwards. Regardless, she remained the most beautiful creature anyone in the camp had ever seen. In the light on the moon ring, it seemed as though her skin shone silver. Everyone stayed up late into the night, and when one man asked to see nalou unclothed, for she had such a beautiful bottom, she lowered her skirt right there and then. Everyone gasped, and everyone laughed, until the old woman swooped over and dragged the nalou to bed. 162 | Goldin
The man that the nalou was in love with was no longer at the camp. She described him over the next few meals, and the men shook their heads and said, “Who is he?” Finally, one admitted he knew, “He’s gone to Camp Lengtha.” The nalou knew the length of most rivers, and she knew that they were expansive, but she hadn’t expected land to be so too. She took only twelve human meals with her. “You’ll be back,” the old woman said. “You’ll be dead before that.” The nalou climbed up a hill and around a mountain. Walking took time, and she never seemed to get very far. Soon she was hungry. Her love farther away than far should be. The nalou went to the nearest river and dangled her tail in. She tried to catch a whiskered fish. She leaked salty substances from ducts she didn’t know she had, and she licked the substances with her tongue, until she felt asleep. Is this my life? Is this what I exchanged my siblings for? The other nalous had heard what she’d done, and they came from near and far to glare. They warned her that if she ever went deeper than her waist, they would wrap their tails around her hips, and they’d sting her and crush her bones. The nalou left the riverbank. The nalou crossed countless more hills and went around several more mountains until she found a man who was in a small clay rectangle with nine children. She asked if she could spend the night. The man said, “It would be our honor.” He sent one of the youngest children out to the well to bring a bucket of water and the nalou drank deeply. As she drank, she became hungry. The human food did not look appetizing, only the boy, so she convinced the boy to follow her out to the door and into the meadow, where she wrapped her tail around his neck, and ate him. She strung his ankle bone to her neck and walked over several more hills. This became her pattern. The humans, spread out as they were, began to notice, and they warned each other that there was a shiny woman who was so beautiful she was hard to refuse.
Goldin | 163
The man the nalou was in love with heard this, and a shiver crept into his bones because somehow he knew she was after him. He was at a camp of small-scale mining, and the skin of his fingers had begun to peel. He slipped some supplies into his bag, and he crossed into the great expanse of the Lenya Coast. The peels of his fingers’ skin scattered in the hill-wind. The nalou kept walking. The world was large; if only her siblings had known its vastness! To think that they’d spent their entire lives knowing the extent of the rivers combined yet never exploring them. In fact, the nalou was glad her obsession had not disappeared, glad that she had a very long life. Her body was supple, and she could go anywhere she pleased on land. She could fit into even the tightest passageways, squeeze inside the most back bending caverns. The first peel in the grass she didn’t think anything of. It was only when she’d climbed another hill, she thought back to the color and texture and smell of the skin. My man? She’d never forget him. She retraced her steps, found the peel with its wrinkles, and collected it in the sack she’d taken from the old woman. Soon there many peels. The sack became heavy. She had to stop often to catch her breath, sometimes dragging the sack beside her. Only one day she sat down, and her tail didn’t want to go anymore. What’s wrong with you? She shook out her tail, which over the course of her walking had become muscular and strong, and noticed it was covered with wrinkles too. Have I grown old? She looked at her arms, but their skin was smooth; they hadn’t aged. She spat her confusion in the sack, and with it, the peels began to stick to each other, and her man began to form. As he formed, she understood her time on land was limited. Soon she’d have to return to the rivers, and there her cousins would kill her. His legs burst out of the sack’s bottom, and his arms punched out the sack’s top, and his head ruptured the knot she’d so carefully tied. “You’ve been looking for me,” he said. He drew his mouthpiece together. He looks less beautiful than he did before. She dragged him to the 164 | Goldin
nearest riverbank, the stubble of his chin beginning to grow on his newly stuck skin, and she wrapped her tail around his hip bones, and she stung him with the bottom of it ten times. Then she crushed him until his bones became flakes. She sprinkled these flakes in the water and watched the current take pieces of him away. Could I have been in love with this? She remembered long, long ago how she stopped submerging her neck, and her skin began to flake, for all she could think about was him, him! The flakes glistening silver like scales, reflecting the moon ring overhead, her siblings insisting she’d disintegrate completely unless she changed her ways. She left the riverbank as fast as she came. Already her cousins were scaling it, roaring for her to leave. She shook out her tail and stood on the hard land. These were hills with human houses. My body will fail me soon. She found ten rectangular clay homes, and one child inside of each she liked well enough to keep. She made a hole in the tip of her tail, she put each of them inside of it, and they hibernated for many, many moons. There was no salt, not even tears, and she knew her children would be small. Life would be difficult for them, but there was nothing she could do. She went to the riverbank and found a nice patch of water that was not too fast nor too slow. The nalou closed her left nostril, and she opened her right nostril. She dangled her tail in the water and released the children, one by one, so they were forced to look up at her and hear her silent words. The children wiggled their skinny tails. They submerged their beautiful necks and tried to rub her touch from their being. They swam to the other side of the river. They blew bubbles in the water, so many that the river began to froth, and she couldn’t see her children very well. Her children didn’t like her very much. Life was unfair by nature. Hadn’t she just witnessed that with the disappointment of her man? Her body prickled at the air’s cold and moved too slowly for comfort. She could see her bulging veins and knew that her end was near because of the choices she’d made. She lifted her dangling tail and peeled off the final pieces of herself. The world is vast, but for all its vastness, there is little besides rivers and hills.
Goldin | 165
tHE kIDS iN wEST eND Darrin Doyle The kids in West End make skid marks with their bicycles in the shapes of dogfish and parsley. At night they float out of their bedroom windows. They hover above the dam, watching for spawning salmon, wondering if and when. The kids in West End are on fire. At school they sizzle in their seats, triggering alarms, compromising test results. Their charred skin peels away, revealing a settlement much like an early American colony. The kids in West End were born in a stand of trees near the highway. They burst out of their mothers like cannonballs and punched holes in a silo with their fleshy newborn selves. Each day the kids in West End swap heads with one another. Nobody knows whose is whose. The gym teacher tells them apart by their elbows. They tell fortunes by reading the cancer cells in their mothers’ breasts. One thousand times an hour they are distracted by chewing gum. They must wipe their feet before coming into the kitchen, to erase the dissatisfaction from their soles. They climb inside tractor tires and roll down the highway, ushered by breezes all the way to the ocean. In summer months they mimic cicadas and curse eternal life. The kids in West End have been flagged for removal. They’ll thank you for this later. They are touching you in tender ways. One day they will open a book about long times coming. They’ll know the ending even before it’s read. 166 | Doyle
parable of the sailor Dick Altman He has sailed alone for five years. Wherever he stops, no one recognizes him as the former king. He sails to forget. When he remembers, he envies Ulysses and Circe, Dido and Aeneas. He wishes his betrayal soared to the heights of their wreck of hearts. Unlike in many arranged nuptials, his bride, the queen, enchants with rare beauty and wisdom. But not enough. Sometime between the banquet and the royal bedding— it’s still vague to him— the queen discovers him pushing himself on the queen’s younger brother. Before he can withdraw, she rushes to the balcony, leaps or falls to her death. When he thinks of it, he’s never sure. Consumed by guilt and grief, he renounces the crown. He is the last of his line. Civil war breaks out. A twelve-year-old ascends the throne. In the sixth year of his voyage, now a quest for self-forgiveness, the former king runs aground at night, falls overboard, and drowns. Two millennia later, a deposed head of state sits before a fire. He reads a novel based on the king’s wave-tormented search for inner peace. Altman | 167
He knows what it’s like to lose an empire, to cut short a dynasty, in a moment of blind, reckless—some would say sordid—passion. The man of the people weighs land and sea. A penthouse in New York wins, hands down.
168 | Altman
iona's nose Dick Altman Santa Fe, NM She’s sifting, tracking, reading . . . cataloging, remembering every molecule of high country dusk spinning by. Her nose throbs like the drawn-out vibrato of a cello. It’s her first mid-September. She doesn’t know the weather has been abnormally wet. Earth blooms, and the river of air racing over the desert plain erupts in a flash flood of scent. Her head revolves like a searchlight, a radio dish scanning starward. From the cooling, descending ether of evening, a meteor shower of alien aromas ignites her senses. She pauses to inhale history—the rattler last year on the doormat, the bobcat visit, the hawk cavorting with its image on the truck windshield. Each trace an ineradicable footprint in her mind. She sleeps, nose twitching, dreaming perfumed dreams. Purple hued fragrances of Russian sage tempt her. Bees too busy to notice let her sample a sunset redolent of lavender. She rewinds the scene.
Altman | 169
to whom it may concern Koal Gil This isn’t a poem, but a eulogy. I awoke this fine morning with the epitaph already chiseled like the sweet abs of Christ; awaking to the rustle of the crows as they flapped the mud from their backs as heaven wept, washing the blood from the cherry blossoms and the coyotes’ stained, ivory smiles. I was alright and all ready. I had my trousers pressed and ironed as they hung neatly over the back of my desk chair with the creases facing east (toward Mecca, naturally) and my spitshined Cole Haan shoes standing at the door to Hell with two shiny new pennies for whoever awaits me. Shit, I ain’t religious. But I am superstitious. And they’re always tossing change at Buddha down at that old Chinese joint on Second Street. But, besides the change in my loafers, I got some big bills for that Big Man Upstairs, too, just to be safe. Anyhoo, I’ve filled the tub, so the hound should have plenty of water until whoever you are finds me. Sorry about the mess, by the way. I’ve been listening to that two-bit devil on my shoulder for too long. And that son-of-a-bitch owes me seventeen bucks, can you believe? You ever wanna shake hands with Satan? All you need is enough speed to last you a good couple days and enough gas to get you to Hep City. And if that don’t do it, you could always cop a shot in Sodom to help ease that transition. When my old man (bless his heart) was on his way out, the doc put in an order to have his arms stuffed chalk full o’ morphine to help ease his transition. The transition between Happiness and Bliss. The transition between the Fish Tank and the Toilet Bowl. Between our empty hands and dirty fingers he slipped like the ink onto this page. It was there in that old hospital they had hand-painted that cold, blue sky onto the ceiling. So when patients slip away, the last thing they see is the best we’ve got. And the best we’ve got for a heaven is just that: a parody. It fits the dead as well as the tailored suits they’ve been buried in. The tailored suits they couldn’t afford to wear otherwise. As they all died in search of that word: Bliss. And because Happiness is merely a free agent alongside Deputy Death himself, we can only score the by-product. A substitution. Like ketchup. To get close to 170 | Gil
Bliss, we can only cope. And that’s as much of a cheat as that old hospital ceiling. Now, now my old man sits on a shelf collecting dust. And every time I glance over at that martini shaker which holds his ashes, I can’t help myself but think: how long until we all lose that meaning? Give it a few generations. It’s hard to love someone you don’t know, unless you’re the one hanging on that cross above the mantel. Even the dead have a shelf life. And in this day and age of digitally enhanced, Hi-Def peepshow dreams pulsating through the auxiliary cables to our over-anxious, under-stimulated minds while we fish for that “LIKE,” for that purpose . . . For meaning . . . We tend to forget that our pockets always start out empty. That there is no such thing as a “meaning of life,” but the meaning we give it. While we lie awake in our beds, the dead lie awake in us. As the shadow of Dolor embraces the dreams, the sun still shines for those who’ve got the guts to crack the shutters . . . To peer out over the slum catacombs of lost horizons and the tenements of anxiety. It shines for those who refuse to let the fear of Deputy Death castrate, cage, and tame The Animal Within. And to rise over the courthouse and county jail of Bliss, as those we know hold their arms out from between its bars. As Bliss only exists when you’ve grown numb to the suffering. We can never grow numb, because when we suffer, we watch the face of Lost Hope wash away like rain to the chalk drawings of the slum sidewalks. When we suffer, we create something beautiful. And as Mr. Lost spits his Hope over the toilet seat, Heaven smiles. Heaven smiles for the dead kids whose marbles are falling over the tin roof above. Heaven smiles as it won't get another hand cramp from the potential arrest warrants it would have to fill out. Heaven smiles as it knows the brave are nothing without the cowards and it’s merely the cowards that look toward the rain for a Heaven . . . . . . And, as Heaven pours down upon The Land of the Free . . . The Home of the Brave . . . Heaven smiles . . . As it knows Heaven is only masturbation . . . O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant . . . But, I digress. This is a suicide note after all. And if there is a meeting scheduled with ol’ Saint Peter, this isn’t helping my case. But, as I learned in Sunday School, you can always pay the old fella off. And besides the change in my loafers, I got some big bills for that Big Man Gil | 171
Upstairs, too, just to be safe. It’s the devil you gotta give more than just your lunch money. If the hound’s outta food, there’s a bag in the cupboard. Thanks, again. Truly yours,
172 | Gil
Excerpts from the Life and sayings of pescuetti as told by Aron of the lowlands Michael Trocchia They called him Pescuetti. None could recall if he had ever called himself such. Yet as one called him, so did another, and another—the last syllables resonating off the trunks of trees, sunk into the rings of fallen leaves. And he gathered the leaves into a bed for day-naps, the dreams of which took on the leaves’ color and frailties. Thereafter, more than once did he raise his stony head to the name; more than once, his grey eyes like vowels lifted in the air’s soft accent. *** Some say he favored his left leg and trained himself to walk with a limp. On damp evenings, he’d unshutter the house, drag his lame leg to the unlit square and circle pools of rain, counting the dim stars drowned within—his reflection shrugging off the wet and wavering light. *** From behind, a drunken man once mistook him for an escapee. When the drunk tried to turn him in, he found that Pescuetti had already surrendered himself long ago. *** The thoughts of Pescuetti were never far from flowing water. For this reason his eyes watered at certain heights, so concluded women in their altitudes. *** Almost indifferently, he raised the one-eyed son of another man—yes, Trocchia | 173
the same man whose wide-knuckled fist banged and banged on his door in a time of need and thereafter was seen always with the doorknocker hanging from his neck. When the son, all grown and full in stature, set sail for youthful adventures at sea, Pescuetti gifted him the door. It would, in time, make for a fine raft by which to escape, or drift without end. The son bore the door on his back, boarded his ship, and then, at its prow, sailed tall into a tale blown forever off course. Meanwhile, Pescuetti’s home remained doorless and thus none could properly break in, though many tried, thrashing their hands on the threshold. When word of the one-eyed son’s fate reached him, Pescuetti tied this word to an anchor and watched it sink to the bottom of an elegy. Pescuetti buried the door’s key behind his house, at the edge of a stone garden. There sprouted a duplicate door, by which, it is thought, Pescuetti entered into a heated argument on the hereafter. *** He had never, it was said, misplaced a word. Yet he found one or two daily underneath the gestures of his most loquacious friends. It was also said there were words he would never use, but kept preserved perfectly in moments of profound silence. *** He kept certain words literally on the tip of his tongue, set there for his would-be lovers, so they alone might mouth them when alongside him. *** All this to say, he spoke as if by definition. His voice, like a fine analysis of sound, opened the sense of each utterance and fell away. In brief, there was nothing he could not have meant. *** 174 | Trocchia
Pescuetti, a follower? Yes, in that others never failed to lead him back to himself. *** He stood within himself at the pier, an intrinsic finality to his bearing, as if the legends of those who’d come before and those who’d come after concluded in each of his taut gestures. *** From the side, a sober man once confused Pescuetti for an engineer, bringing him several difficult problems on the nature of drawbridges. Pescuetti talked with him with great command not of the subject, but its metaphors as the two walked slowly along the canal, the bare backs of rowers at rest floating up ahead, passing under pelicans perched on opposite posts. *** Rumor still drifts about that, if approached predawn by a man whose cap is at an obtuse angle, Pescuetti could foretell six follies the man would commit by midday. *** Some believed Pescuetti would be the last philosopher to die, without a single peer to mourn him, as he would have it. Yes, some believed Pescuetti to be a philosopher, a sort of language-stoic; some took him for a master of black arts or word-conjurer; and others deemed him a logician outside the times, despite his pamphlet of proofs that a man can never quite be what others take him to be. *** To him they were but whispers, belonging to a faint world. *** Men from the north have claimed Pescuetti’s shadow appeared only in natural light and never indoors. A young artist from a colony up there concurred, having confirmed it after Pescuetti’s brief stay at his secluded cabin, which on that very night, balanced on the cold horizon, burned like a boat out on the water, canvas and wood aflame—embers and ash instead of tomorrow. Trocchia | 175
Swiftly it burned, while the young artist and Pescuetti had gone out to unbury two hollow boxes, the rough painting of a child-bride on one and a rhyme about nightwinds on the other. The young artist lost everything that evening, even the smoke, for Pescuetti had carried it away in his box of nightwinds to the nearest town and there made black dye of it for the hair of old wives. Their husbands paid top dollar and Pescuetti later sent the proceeds to the painter, who, with the money, built another cabin. It was further south a bit, among the windblown reeds where the years, like his oils, blended into one another. There, amid the replaced furnishings, he aged into The Old Artist, dreaming up a series of landscapes under a less pleasing light. *** Pescuetti carried himself as one carries a body out of sacred waters. *** Of words, he uttered the following from the fertile foot of a volcano, figured to be one or two miles from his birthplace: Some words are within our power, while others are not. Words within our power are in school dictionaries, on museum signs, on grocery lists, in textbooks and more. They are printed on leaflets and they are tacked over entrances and exits; they appear on business cards and safety warnings, and sometimes in manuals for machinery. They are—in just a word—words, words, words. Words not within our power are on gravestones, in prayer books, crossed out of drafts but then added back in. They are tattooed on fallen bodies and written in the margins. They are found within the opening of poems and the closing of love letters. They are cried out on battlefields, or heard somewhere in the dark. They often appear in riddles, or in a speech spoken in dreams. They are lost in burned books, uttered in oaths, and sung at daybreak. They are—in more than a word—words, words, words. Remember, then, if you regard that which is just a word as more than a word and that which is more than a word as just a word, you will undoubtedly twist your tongue, entangle your thoughts, and disquiet the voice inside you. But, if you regard that which is just a word as just a word, and that which is more than a word as more 176 | Trocchia
than a word, then what you can put into words you will put clearly and what you cannot put into words will make itself manifest. *** Pescuetti appeared delighted—at what, no one could say. *** There is much to suggest Pescuetti preferred soup for after 5 p.m., but gratefully took from whichever platter was passed his way. At supper he was often seated across from a window, half-lit with the distant town at sundown. During a lull in conversation, he was said by guests to gaze out the window, tearing the bread on his plate into the smallest of pieces and twisting them into the shapes of insects, as if to feed nightingales and nightjars. “His eyes could pull the world toward them and then gently let it go,” a dinner guest of high distinction later remarked to another dinner guest of greater distinction. “It is true,” agreed the latter, holding up his glass and adding, “In his eyes glints a time-lapse in which the sun and moon are seen zooming through gathering skies, the spheres flashing in an ordered frenzy, the quiet lightning of the world rushing back on itself, the miniature and monumental claims of men breaking apart and rejoining in the mouths of later generations, the roar of invisible engines and industry in accord with the pulse of slow and laboring hours, the inevitable passing and blinking of ages scaled down to the vibrations of one’s minute human view of it.” He took a sip of his wine and set the glass down swiftly—a little too forcefully, for the stem snapped under his hand. *** Pescuetti’s eyes, the bread, unseen birds, and one more thing—nearly the evening’s first principles.
Trocchia | 177
the contrarian enthuses Mercedes Lawry It was a bad Thursday. Laura’s dog died and I said the wrong thing. My rash was back. The African violet looked peaked and I didn’t have the energy for any rescue measures. The cold February rain was pooling in the driveway. The recycle bins were overflowing and had to be hauled out to the curb. I had too much stuff and people kept giving me more. I was not a hoarder, but I might be mistaken for one. I just wanted to watch a BBC detective series. I could happily spend the rest of my life in this activity, imagining that I would have made a splendid constable from Sussex with a saucy attitude. I loved how the higher one rose in British law enforcement, the more titles were attached—Detective Chief Inspector Superintendent WhistleforthJones. This practice might improve police relations in the U.S. I divorced Facebook, but I still kept a casual relationship with Twitter. It was the fastest way to learn about a celebrity mishap or the most recent blunder by a political bozo. This kept me engaged with the larger world. Last month I knit two scarves for the homeless. This was how I justified my existence. I should volunteer, but I was afraid I’d have to be cheerful. I used to have empathy. As a child, I cried when reading about injustice. I dreamed of becoming a martyr. Life beats it out of you. Tomorrow I will have to go to Laura’s dog’s funeral. She’s my last friend—I have no choice. That means Friday will be ruined. I hope she doesn’t expect me to say a few words. I better dig up some dog poem on the internet. Years ago, I would have written one and it would have been heartfelt.
178 | Lawry
the hypocrite Mercedes Lawry The Hypocrite laced his alleluias in a mock crochet pattern and set to luring the weak and suggestible. He was adept at concealing the toothy creatures who scuttled under his bed, the oily words that slept in a rusting bucket by the stove until needed. He fancied himself a painter of sorts—not quite an expert in trompe l’oeil, but clever in portraying this for that. He felt one thing, shouted another; benefited from one thing, preached another. No consequence could not be massaged, distorted, disguised. The Hypocrite had piercing eyes that were used to his advantage. He slept like an innocent, enjoyed a healthy appetite and dutifully stretched his limbs daily. The Hypocrite had delusions of grandeur, but knew how to couch them in nonthreatening terms, how to look humble and how to self-deprecate to the proper degree before it became annoying or suspicious. The Hypocrite had long ago forsaken family and friends for an existence fraught with fracture and schism, but somehow sustainable, even comforting. For a sour righteousness ran in his veins, along with the milky fluids of a con artist. He had found his calling, his place in the world. He had acquired one sort of power and he did not mind the stink or the weary bleats that filled his halting dreams—no doubt the mewling of fallen angels.
Lawry | 179
Sexting Marilyn Morgan “First lines aren’t as easy as you think,” she said aloud to herself as she sat dreaming of the thin dark man with long black hair across the air-conditioned room. But even at this distance she could feel his heat, and so she thought she’d better think of something fast. She reached for her wine glass and her gaze sideswiped Joe, seated next to her, chattering with the baseball cap dude next to him. No heat there. She turned ever so slightly on the barstool so Dark Hair was directly in her line of vision. His skin glistened and stood in sharp contrast to the yellow shirt he was wearing, sleeves rolled to his elbows and his gold watch catching the ceiling light as he poked at his cell. He glanced up, his eyes flying across the room for a soft landing onto her lap before traveling down her crossed legs and coming to rest on the floor. She fingered the hem of her short black skirt that skimmed the top of her knees. He looked up again, picked up the cell and shoved it into his shirt pocket. “What’s going on?” Joe’s words startled her. She turned and glanced at him, the nicest guy in the world. Or was he from some other world? “Nothing,” she muttered and Joe resumed chattering with Baseball Cap. Dark Hair raised his glass in a “here’s to you” toast, and took a long slow drink. Quiet soft jazz was playing. She couldn’t sit still, her skirt stuck to the vinyl barstool. “Another glass of wine?” It was the bartender. “Thanks.” She gazed across the room, raised her glass, and savored a small sip. Dark Hair nodded and took a drink as a hint of a smile crept over his face.
180 | Morgan
Finally, she could stand it no longer. She stood, shaking her skirt free, picked up her wine glass, and clicked across the wooden floorboards straight through the heat to his table. “First lines get caught in your throat,” she said aloud to herself. “Second lines are easy.” “I’m Elena.” She slid into the seat next to him.
Morgan | 181
sex on the grass Marilyn Morgan Last night, hanging out with friends in a local watering hole, Jolene ordered a Sex on the Grass. Not once, but twice. Served in a tall iced glass was the following: 1 oz vodka 1 oz peach schnapps ½ oz Southern Comfort peach liqueur ½ oz Blue Curacao liqueur ½ oz Medori melon liqueur orange juice “Wanna taste?” Jolene asked, then added, “Nothing better on a hot night.” “Sure,” I answered, thinking nothing better than Sex on the Grass as I slurped the sweet, syrupy green liquid through the extra straw. “How ’bout it?” asked the bartender. “No thanks,” I said. “I’ll have my Sex on the Grass straight.” Rumbling through my head emerged the real recipe: 1 sunny summer afternoon 1 soft blanket spread out on a patch of grass all clothes stripped off and tossed aside 2 bottles of wine a hard dick a wet vagina a long slow ticking clock served with an orgasm that’ll blow the top off the nearest mountain And I’ll have not one, but two, thank you very much.
182 | Morgan
You Have One Fancy Ass Name Jay Deitcher If I were to leave you, I would have nowhere to stay when I go to New York Comic Con. I would be too stingy to pay for a hotel and end up crashing at my cousin’s spot. It would be depressing to ride the L train without you. Instead of sleeping in your bed, I would lie on Ari’s worn couch, his paranoid dog grilling me and barking throughout the night. If I were to leave, my mom and dad would think I was the biggest schmuck on earth. I would have to console my mother more than she would console me. If I were to leave, I would miss roller skating. I would miss Thatcher Park. I would miss the outlets. I would miss apple picking, too. I never took you to any of these places, but I would miss having you ask me to go. If I were to leave, I would be stuck with all your pictures, and by stuck, I mean I would keep them close to my bed and look at them each night. I loved you with that tilted Minnie Mouse hat on. You always call me childish, but at Disney you acted like a giddy five-year-old. It was the best. I was so proud to be with you when you graduated from SUNY. The pic of me and your dad is hilarious—taken immediately after I survived his 50 questions on the car ride to your ceremony; I felt like I was initiated into the fam. I loved when you first went natural; you were wearing that poof. I was so proud to be seen with you when you would rock the fro-hawk, when you had your hair in yarn braids, when you had your hair in flat twists, an afro, Senegalese twists, crochet braids; when you rocked your hair any way at all. I would probably keep those pictures up for a while just to show off to my friends, who I would never invite to my apartment. If I were to leave, I would go on your Facebook every day. I would click on the profile of every dude who likes your posts, spying to make sure they are all your cousins. I would click on the profiles of every girl who likes your posts to make sure they didn’t post any picture of you with guys who are not your cousins. Deitcher | 183
If I were to leave, I would accidentally call other people your name. You have such a fancy-ass name. If I were to leave, I would be able to finally have relations with all those girls who want me. I’m not actually sure if any of them want me. Either way, I would never have relations with them. If I were to leave, I would listen to Phil Collins. If I were to leave, I would suddenly care about the dream house you love planning. I would wonder if you’d buy it once I’m out of your way. If I were to leave, I would miss you in that white dress. I would miss you in your polka-dotty dress. I would miss you in your jean shorts, your Nigerian skirts, your quasi-dress shirt, your red fancy coat, your Puerto Rican pants, your ugly pajamas, your Jew stuff. If I were to leave, I would miss you in none of that. If I were to leave, I would listen to Otis Redding. I would listen to his entire catalogue except his three happy songs. If I were to leave, every day would become Fur Coat Friday. This would turn out to be a bad thing. If I were to leave, I would say it was because you always pressured me. I would say this after I forced you to put off our engagement for five years because you were waiting for me to be ready. I would say this two years from now, when I am 35 and haven’t moved on. I would say this when I am 40 and live in the same apartment, with no wife or kids. I would say this when I am 50 and still chill with the same friends on the same street. If I were to leave, I would blame Tasha. I would blame your mom. I would blame my sister. I would blame Tyrelle’s dog. I would blame Keisha Cole. I would blame that fucker from the mall. I would blame VH1. I would blame you. It would be all your fault. If I were to leave, I would tell myself I would get the opportunity to hang out more with my friends. I would then remember how much I hate hanging out with friends; I would stop talking to humans completely. If I were to leave, I would miss your conservative tirades. You always voted Democrat, but most of the time you would sound like an old 184 | Deitcher
white dude from Alabama. You, the daughter of a working single mother who emigrated from Jamaica. You, the first college graduate on your mom’s side—an Africana Studies major. You, the only person I ever loved that could go on about welfare abuse for hours. Even when I disagreed with you, I always respected that you never fit into a political box. If I were to leave, I would never iron my clothes again. I would always look like a crunched-up paper ball. I would wear the same scuffed shoes for a year, the same black sweater every week. No one would notice because I would change my hat each day. If I were to leave, I would judge your future kids. I would hope you have four kids, like you said you wanted, and that they all become drug addicts. I would hope their noses were crooked and their eyes were all crossed. If I were to leave, I would have no one to tell about the emotionally disturbed children I work with. The next time a five-year-old tells me to suck his fucking pussy, the story would go to waste. If I were to leave, I would care how your day went. If I were to leave, I would worry about that fancy John Legendlooking motherfucker you work with, the one who is so good looking that even I feel attracted to him. I would think about how much better that douchebag talks than me, how he isn’t afraid of marriage, how he wants kids and already has a savings account. I would assure myself that he will cheat on you. If I were to leave, I would have time to do everything I couldn’t while I was with you. I could talk to all my exes. I could spend my money on bullshit. I could listen to sad music and write lame-ass stories about heartbreak. I could move back to Israel and find me a sabra. If I were to leave, I’d probably just masturbate. If I were to leave, eventually you wouldn’t remember how cute you told me I was. Eventually you wouldn’t remember how much you said you appreciated me. You wouldn’t remember how you used to call me childish, creative, sweet, motivated, and absolutely insane, all in one sentence. You would remember the tension. You would remember the frustration. You would remember me in tears, freaked out about a potential future with kids, with family, with you. Deitcher | 185
If you were to leave, I would break down. I would chase after you. I would give you my grandmother’s ring. We would buy your dream house by Buckingham Lake and have a family: four little Jewy brown babies like you said you wanted: two boys, two girls. If you were to leave, I would have the balls to do something. If you were to leave, I would blame Tasha. I would blame your mom. I would blame my sister. I would blame Tyrelle’s dog. I would blame Keisha Cole. I would blame that fucker from the mall. I would blame VH1. But I wouldn’t blame you.
186 | Deitcher
Meet The Authors Douglas Wright is a former small-town New England reporter
turned writer/editor living in Brooklyn with his partner Charlotte and a mischievous rabbit named Hazel. His work has been supported by the Tin House Writers Workshop and has appeared in Popular Science, Apocrypha and Abstractions, All About Jazz, and American Journal, among others.
Matthew Wolfe’s writing has appeared in Newsweek, Writer’s
Digest, Yellow Medicine Review, Animus, Motif, and The Chaucer Review, to name a few. He received the 2005 West Virginia Artist Fellowship for his memoir writing. Wolfe, a life-long Gemini, teaches English at Ohio University-Southern and Religious Studies at Marshall University. The now-disabled gun and the book described in the poem currently reside in harmony on bookshelves in Wolfe’s home.
Dale Williams has exhibited in the New York City area for more
than 20 years. His one-person show, “Fear Not To Appear,” highlighting early paintings, drawings, and books from 1980–1997, was held at Gowanus Loft (Brooklyn) in April 2016. He exhibited all 81 paintings from Phase One of “Cage Dies Bird Flies”, his on-going collaboration with writer Ben Miller, at the Gowanus Loft in 2015. His images have appeared in the journals BOMB, Ecotone, weirderary, Superstition Review, and are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Bombay Gin, SLAB, and Hotel Amerika. For his work on the Cage Dies project he recently received a fellowship in Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Willow Watson is a North Carolina-based writer and visual artist. Mark Tucker lives in Geelong, Australia, and is a writer of poetry
and short-fiction. He also writes non-fiction irregularly as a columnist for www.runnerstribe.com and as a contributor to www.craftypint.com. Most recently, his poems have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Poetry Quarterly, and The Wax Paper. He received his Master’s degree in education from Butler University (Indianapolis).
Authors | 189
michael trocchia is the author of Unfounded and The
Fatherlands. His work has appeared in journals such as Asheville Poetry Review, The Baltimore Review, Colorado Review, Fourteen Hills, Mid-American Review, Tarpaulin Sky, and The Worcester Review. The piece here belongs to a larger work, a hybrid novella which combines elements of Greek myth, ancient stoicism, and the philosophy of language. He teaches philosophy at James Madison University and works in the universityâ€™s library.
Christine Tierney (christinetierneypoet.com) is a poet, childcare
aficionado, disco lover, and closeted comedian. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, The Pushcart Prize, and the Best New Poets anthology. Her first full-length poetry collection, numbering the gruesome, is forthcoming from Sagging Meniscus Press in 2017, and her chapbook make me unsick was a finalist for the 2016 Gambling the Aisle Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in Fourteen Hills, Poet Lore, PMS, Sugar House Review, LUNGFULL!, Monkeybicycle, inter|rupture, The Boiler, Dirty Chai, Fog Machine, LEVELER, The Nervous Breakdown, and other cool places.
Bob Thurber is the author of Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel and
other titles. Over the years his stories have received a long list of awards and honors, appeared in Esquire and other notable publications, been selected for over 50 anthologies, and utilized as teaching tools in schools and universities throughout the world. Nothing But Trouble, a story collection accompanied by photographic images, was released in April 2014 from Shanti Arts Publishing. Bob resides in Massachusetts. For more info, visit: BobThurber.net.
Camille Thomasson is an inveterate scribbler of poems on
cocktail napkins and grocery receipts. Her poems have been published in Southwestern American Literature, Pinyon, The Wayfarer, and SheilaNa-Gig, among others.
Tim Suermondt is the author of three full-length collections of
poems: Trying to Help the Elephant Man Dance (The Backwaters Press, 2007), Just Beautiful (New York Quarterly Books, 2010), and Election Night and the Five Satins (Glass Lyre Press, 2016)â€”along with three chapbooks. He has poems published in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Bellevue Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, december magazine, Plume, Poetry East, 190 | Authors
and Stand Magazine (England), among others. He is a book reviewer for Cervena Barva Press and a poetry reviewer for Bellevue Literary Review. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
David Sheskin is a writer an artist who lives in Bethel, Connecticut. His work has been published in numerous publications over the years.
Darian Selander is an Albertan poet finishing her last semester of a degree in English Literature at the University of Victoria. She is currently the Editor in Chief of a campus magazine called The Warren.
Nikita Schoen is a writer and bookseller living in ever-changing San Francisco, California. She is a fan of public transportation, fried eggs, and bricks.
Gerard Sarnat has been nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize.
“KADDISH FOR THE COUNTRY” was selected for Inauguration Day pamphlet distribution. Gerry’s a physician who’s built/staffed homeless clinics, a Stanford professor, and a healthcare CEO. Collections: HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burningman (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014), and Melting the Ice King (2016). www.gerardsarnat. com
Anthony Rubino is a nonfiction writer and an artist. Young
Ravens Literary Review has published his story “Crystalline Thinking” in its Winter 2016 issue. In December 2016 his personal essay “Brooklyn, Circa 1970’s” was a semi-finalist in the Brooklyn Film Festival nonfiction contest. Anthony has just completed his memoir Looking for Wonder; A Teachers Unexpected Journey. It is the story of his adventures as an art teacher in the New York City public schools. He lives in New York City with his wife, and his trusty research assistants, their dogs.
Russell Reece has had stories and essays published in Memoir(and), Crimespree Magazine, The 3288 Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Sliver of Stone, and many other print and on-line journals. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, most recently The Boardwalk (2014) and Currents (2015). Russ was awarded fellowships in literature from both the Delaware Division of the Arts and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. He has received three Best of the Net nominations. Russ lives near Bethel, Delaware, in rural Sussex County along the beautiful Broad Creek.
Authors | 191
adrian potter writes poetry and short fiction. He is the author
of the fiction chapbook Survival Notes (Červená Barva Press, 2008) and winner of the 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild Poetry Contest. Some publication credits include North American Review, Jet Fuel Review, Obsidian, and Kansas City Voices. He blogs, sometimes, at http:// adrianspotter.com/.
Sabrina Oliveira is a homeschooled student in her senior year of
high school. She lives in Boxford, Massachusetts, a small woodsy town north of Boston, with her family. She enjoys playing the oboe and taking writing courses. Her most recent courses being Writing Fiction (Harvard University) and Creating Characters (MIT). She also works as a freelance photographer. Currently, she’s waiting anxiously by the mailbox for college acceptance letters . . . To see some of her work visit https:// sabrinasspace.wordpress.com/.
Benjamin Nash has had poems published in Southern Poetry
Review, The Cape Rock, Blueline, The Chaffin Journal, and other publications.
Marilyn Morgan is a retired English teacher. She spends
winters skiing and keeping warm by the fire in central New York State and she spends summers at her cottage on the St. Lawrence River. Marilyn's prose has been published in EDGE, KYSO Flash, Minerva Rising, Thrice Fiction, Motif, Star 82 Review, and others. Her poetry has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Skylark, A Hundred Gourds, and other poetry journals.
Ryan Patrick Mooney is a Brooklyn-based fiction and arts
writer. He is the author of the young adult novel Anti-Hype, and his stories have appeared in Pacific Review, Every Day Fiction, and The Higgs Weldon. He has also written extensively for Tiny Mix Tapes and is the editor of the Anti-Hype zine series. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @baronmooney.
Ben Miller is the author of River Bend Chronicle (Lookout Books).
His writing has appeared in Best American Essays and many literary journals, including AGNI, The Yale Review, the Kenyon Review, the Antioch Review, Raritan, One Story, and the New England Review. He has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts (fellowship), the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (fellowship), and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America (research grant). Each chapter of it all melts down to this was created in 192 | Authors
response to a drawing by painter Dale Williams. His other collaborations with Mr. Williams include the on-going multiphase project Cage Dies Bird Flies and Meanwhile in the Dronx: a panoramic novel.
Peter MacFadden has degrees in English and Rhetoric from the
University of Pittsburgh and from Indiana University. He has taught at different institutions of higher education in the United States, as well as teaching English in Harbin, China. He has written a dystopian novel and is currently revising it. In the near future, he will outline two sequels to complete a trilogy, possibly joined by two more books to become a pentalogy. Apart from writing, he strives to be wise, like Carl the janitor in The Breakfast Club.
Nancy Ludmerer’s fiction appears in Kenyon Review, Cimarron
Review, Green Mountains Review, North American Review, Sou’wester, New Orleans Review, KYSO Flash, Vestal Review, and The Masters Review’s “New Voices” series. Her essay “Kritios Boy” (Literal Latte) was named a notable essay in Best American Essays 2014 and her flash fiction “First Night” (River Styx) is reprinted in Best Small Fictions 2016. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. She practices law and lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and cat Sandy, a rescue from Superstorm Sandy.
David lohrey graduated from U.C., Berkeley and is now teaching
in Tokyo. His poetry can be found in SOFTBLOW, Sentinel Journal, The Blue Mountain Review, Otoliths, Cecile’s Writers Magazine, and The Quarterday Review. In addition, his recent poems have been accepted as part of anthologies published by the University of Alabama (Dewpoint), Illinois State University (Obsidian Lit Journal) and Michigan State University (The Offbeat). He recently joined the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective in Houston. His work can also be found in Irish publications such as in The Stony Thursday Book (Limerick) and Hidden Channel Zine (Mall Sligo).
Alissia Lingaur’s stories and poems have appeared in the Crab
Orchard Review, The Villa Straylight’s Online Magazine, and the NMC Magazine. She is also the author of the novel The Trainstop. Along with teaching creative writing and advising the student-run literary journal at Northwestern Michigan College, she lives in northern Michigan with her husband, three children, one dog, six chickens, a blue beta, and a hamster.
Authors | 193
Mercedes lawry has published short fiction in several journals
including Gravel, Cleaver, Garbanzo, and Blotterature and was a semifinalist in The Best Small Fictions 2016. She’s published poetry in journals such as Poetry, Nimrod, & Prairie Schooner and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three times. Additionally, she’s published stories and poems for children. She lives in Seattle.
Brooke Larson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and is currently a PhD student in Poetry at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Swamp, Gravel, Cactus Heart Press, Dialogue Journal, Deseret Journal, Scribendi, and NoiseMedium. Often, she runs away to teach primitive survival skills as a wilderness guide in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.
Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe is an accidental teacher by trade and an
artist and writer by otherwise. Her birthplace in the Midwest was a conservative start to a life of wander. She’s recently settled down and commutes between Sweden and South Dakota. Her artwork and publications can be found at www.jhakijhaki.com.
Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various
editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, MerriamWebster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster’s Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in American Art, NNDB.com, wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed, and thus overworked.
Claire Kortyna’s nonfiction has been published in Crack the
Spine and The Daily Palette, and her essay “Lunar Musings” won Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment’s Home Voices Contest. Her poetry has appeared in Avatar Review Literary Magazine and Minotaur Online Literary Magazine. In addition to being a creative writer, she teaches English at Iowa State University.
Jeffrey Kingman lives by the Napa River in Vallejo, California.
He is the winner of the 2012 Revolution House Flash Fiction Contest, the winner of the Red Berry Editions 2015 Broadside Contest, a finalist in 194 | Authors
Island Verse’s 2017 Lily’s Pond Poetry Chapbook Prize, and a finalist in the 2015 Blue Light Press Chapbook Competition. He has been published in PANK, Crack the Spine, and others. Jeff has a Master’s degree in Music Composition and can be heard banging his drums in a band called O Happy Dagger.
Jonny Johnson grew up performing magic shows with his dad in
the small towns of Texas and continues to travel from Texas to California chasing love in the spaces between.
Kathryn Jensen is an MFA candidate in poetry at Boise State
University where she also works on the editorial team for Ahsahta Press. She has trouble resisting the urge to provide boldfaced lies for bios, like being a 300-year old witch who is just trying to lay low and pursue an education. Something about her that is definitely not a lie is that she loves dogs.
Jason Marc Harris graduated with a PhD in English Literature
from the University of Washington, and an MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University, where he served as Fiction Editor of Mid-American Review. Stories in Arroyo Literary Review, CHEAP POP, Every Day Fiction, Gris-Gris, Masque and Spectacle, Midwestern Gothic, Riding Light Review, Psychopomp Magazine. Books include Folklore and the Fantastic in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction and (with Birke Duncan) Laugh Without Guilt: A Clean Joke Book and The Troll Tale and Other Scary Stories. He teaches creative writing, folklore, and literature at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.
Shelley Harp was the 2013 winner of The Three Arts Prize of
Homeland for fiction at Towson University, and her story “The Man in the Yellow Hat” was a finalist in the The Offbeat’s Flash Fiction Contest last year. She’s currently at work on two novels: the first will be finished in summer 2017, and the second is about zombies, so who knows. You can follow her on Twitter at @HarpShelley.
Taylor Hambrick is a writer residing in the Midwest. She lives
with her sister and a cat. Taylor is a fan of non-fiction. She works for a special needs program. Taylor is a high school senior inspired by Dante Alighieri and Walt Whitman. She spends her time advocating for mental health awareness, which reflects her unique writing style.
Authors | 195
Ken Gosse’s use of traditional meter and rhyme is frequently ex-
pressed in limericks. Often considered a bawdy, low-life cousin to poetry, the format offers interesting challenges for the writer, readily absorbs casual readers, and can express far more than the lewd punch lines it is known for. Consider his “Unsociable Media.”
Aleah Sternman Goldin was born in a space shuttle used to
transport miners to and from asteroids. Because of her childhood encounters with alien life, she has become a collector of galaxy folktales. You can find more of her work in DIAGRAM, Knee-Jerk, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. She is a MFA candidate at University of Alabama.
koal gil lives on a farm on the outskirts of San Diego, California,
where he writes, grows stuff, shoots cans, and makes soap. You can find his work among the archives of Misfit Magazine, South 85 Journal, and Gambling the Aisle.
Howard Gershkowitz is 60, married 37 years, with one child
and two grandchildren. He has lived in Arizona since 1981, but in 2011 it was time to get serious and start pursuing his lifelong desire to write. He has maintained a journal since he was sixteen, and loves to write from personal experience and observation of the general human condition. Particularly of family, friends, and co-workers who won’t mind seeing themselves in print, so long as the names are changed to protect the potentially embarrassed. His goal is to write and publish poetry and fiction that points out human folly through friction.
Chris fried is an undergraduate student studying English at the
College of Wooster with an emphasis on post-colonial studies and creative writing. These are his first published pieces, but he is hoping to publish a collaborative collection of art and poetry in the near future. Chris’ favorite pasta is fettucine.
Stuart James Forrest was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1951.
He is now a retired public servant living in Foster City, California. Two years ago, he developed a passion for creative writing while attending the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He enjoys writing poetry and short stories and hopes to develop enough skill to be a strong, creative representative of his generation of Black Americans who lived through a very tumultuous period in American history.
196 | Authors
´ first book of poems, My Earthbound Eye, Alejandro Escude’s
was published in September 2013. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from UC Davis and teaches English. Originally from Argentina, Alejandro lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Find more at alejandroescude.com.
Darrin Doyle’s most recent book is the story collectionThe
Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books). He is the author of the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s Press) and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story (LSU Press). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan and teaches at Central Michigan University.
Jay Deitcher is a writer and Licensed Clinical Social Worker from
Albany, NY. He attends Stony Brook University’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program. His writing has appeared in The Jewish Literary Journal and his computer.
Cody Cox is a student at Palm Beach Atlantic University studying
Communications. He enjoys writing and performing comedy, as well as hiking and traveling.
Emily Cousins lives, teaches, and writes in Denver, CO. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Laurel Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Word Riot, Axolotl, Palaver, PANK, and elsewhere.
Jennifer Burnau is involved with the organization Madwomen in
the Attic at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and her poems are published in their anthology, Voices from the Attic. She has also published poems in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the online journals Mirror Dance and Jazz Cigarette. She has participated in readings at Carlow University and Delaney’s Coffee House. She teaches in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Mark Brazaitis is the author of seven books, including The River
of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award; The Incurables: Stories, winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize and the 2013 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Prose; and Julia & Rodrigo, winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award. His latest book, Truth Poker: Stories, won the 2014 Autumn House Press Fiction Competition. He wrote the script for the award-winning Peace Corps film How Far Are You Willing to Go to Make a Difference? Authors | 197
Kevin Bray writes and teaches in Toronto. He studied at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His essays appear in How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting and the Ford City Anthology. You can find him at www.kevinbraywriter.com.
Sara Borjas is a Fresno poet and 3rd-generation Chicana. She digs
space & time, memory, aromatics, poems in the form of cocktails, tiny prints, and oldiez. She is the recipient of the 2015 Blue Mesa Poetry Prize, a Community of Writers at Squaw Valley Workshop Fellowship, and a 2017 CantoMundo Fellowship. Her most recent poetry can be found in Calamity, The Acentos Review, and Luna Luna. She currently lectures in the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside. Her website is www. saraborjas.com.
Race Blazek was named after a cartoon character. He was born and
raised in Houston, Texas. Race graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in creative writing and a philosophy minor. He likes to combine philosophical thought into his fiction and see how the universe reacts. Race is currently a substitute teacher and is seeking new avenues. He is part of a small writers group. In his free time, he does taekwondo, which is another way of saying, he kicks people for fun. His future goals are to compete in the Olympics and to one day write a novel.
Breka Blakeslee is a co-founder of Letter [r] Press, a collectively
run micropress that publishes the journal Small Po[r]tions. Recent work appeared as part of Poems for a Street Corner and The Poetry Dispensary, and in Golden Handcuffs Review’s “We Have a Jones for You,” and ink&coda. Breka has an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from the University of Washington Bothell and keeps multimedia works online at brekablakeslee.com.
Andrea Bass is an MFA student at The City College of New York’s
Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice (DIAP) program. Andrea conveys ordinary things in unconventional ways. Andrea’s prior life in consumer marketing informs her work, but she is not selling anything . . . or is she?
Les Bares The son of a Wisconsin milkman, Les Bares learned how
to jump from a moving milk truck at an early age. Going house to house before settling down in Richmond, Virginia, he now lives with his wife, the poet Roselyn Elliott. He has been published in cream city review, The Evansville Review, Stand Magazine (U.K.), Spillway, Pinyon, Illuminations, and other journals. 198 | Authors
dick altman lives in New Mexico. He first appeared in The Santa Fe Literary Review, in 2009, and won first prize for poetry in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s 2015 writing competition. A number of publications have featured his work, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal in Australia joins the list in 2017. Studying for an MA in English at the University of Chicago, he says, “put me in poetry’s grip, and it never let go.”
Jessica Alexander’s story collection, Dear Enemy, was the
winning manuscript in the 2016 Subito Prose Contest, as judged by Selah Saterstrom. Her fiction has been published in journals such as Fence, Black Warrior Review, PANK, Denver Quarterly, The Collagist, and DIAGRAM. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she teaches creative writing at Franklin and Marshall College.
Dustin Alexander, both poet and author, has had a few contri-
butions and works in prints. These have included poems in Taj Mahal Review and Harvests of New Millennium as well as his first poetry collection, Thoughts Seen in an Hourglass (Cyberwit Press). He lives in Los Angeles and is currently working on the final draft for his first novel Nothing But Pennies. His novella A Taste on the Bottom is currently under consideration.
Authors | 199
CAll For submissions Calling the eccentric, the witty, the whimsical, and the captivating: we want to read your writing! The Offbeat literary journal specializes in undeniably unique works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and sequential art. We are currently accepting submissions that cater to the curious and captivate the reader. Show us writing that strays from the beaten path in intriguing and unusual ways! Visit offbeat.msu.edu to see guidelines and submit your work.
Building Dreams. Building Community. MSU Federal Credit Union is a long-standing supporter of our community and is proud to invest in programs at Michigan State University. MSUFCU is pleased to support the Offbeat literary journal. Help us give back by joining the Credit Union today!
Federally insured by NCUA
www.msufcu.org 517-333-2424 â€˘ 800-678-4968
Volume1 7|Spri ng 201 7
01000001 01100101 01101110 01100101 01100001 01101110 00100000 01100001 011101 00 00100000 01110011 01101111 01100100 01100001 01101100 01100101 01110011 001 00000 01100001 01110010 01100011 01110101 00101110 00100000 01010011 01110101 01110011 01110000 01100101 01101110 01100100 01101001 01110011 01110011 011001 01 00100000 01100100 01101111 01101100 01101111 01110010 00100000 01101101 011 00001 01100111 01101110 01100001 00101100 00100000 01101001 01101101 01110000 01100101 01110010 01100100 01101001 01100101 011101000 000 1 0 1 11101 01 00100000 01101110 01110101 01101110 01100011 00100000 01110001 01110101 011 01001 01110011 00101100 00100000 01100001 01101100 01101001 01110001 01110101 01100001 01101101 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01101101 01101111 011001 00 01101111 00100000 01101110 01110101 01101100 01101100 01100001 00101110 001 00000 01000001 01101100 01101001 01110001 01110101 01100001 01101101 00100000 01100001 00100000 01101100 01101001 01100111 01110101 01101100 01100001 001000 00 01110000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01100101 01110100 01110010 01100001 001 01100 00100000 01110011 01100001 01100111 01101001 01110100 01110100 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100101 01110011 01110100 00100000 01101110 01100101 011000 11 00101100 00100000 01110000 01101000 01100001 01110010 01100101 01110100 011 10010 01100001 00100000 01101110 01101001 01100010 01101000 00101110 00100000 01010101 01110100 00100000 01100101 01100111 01100101 01110100 00100000 011011 10 01110101 011011 0100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01101001 01 10000 01110011 011 1 00100000 01 1101100 01100001 01101110 01100100 01101001 01110100 00100000 01101101 01100001 01110100 01110100 011010 01 01110011 00100000 01110110 01101001 01110100 01100001 01100101 00100000 011 00101 01110100 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110010 01100101 01101101 00101110 00100000 01001110 01100001 01101101 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101110 011100