__MAIN_TEXT__
feature-image

Page 1

The Opiate Spring 2021, Vol. 25


The Opiate

Your literary dose.

© The Opiate 2021 Cover art: Photo taken in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, August 3, 2020 This magazine, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission. Contact theopiatemagazine@gmail.com for queries.


“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” -Albert Einstein

“I lived a quiet life/A stranger to champagne/I never dared to venture out/To cities of the plain.”

-Neil Tennant, from Pet Shop Boys’ “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show”

3.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Editor-in-Chief Genna Rivieccio

Editor-at-Large Malik Crumpler

Editorial Advisor Anton Bonnici

Contributing Writers: Fiction: Hillary Tiefer, “The Dresser” 10 Richard Charles Schaefer, “The Definition of Linear” 15 Nathan Leslie, “A Pairing” 18 Ishmael O. Ross, “Awakening” 22 Liliana Rehorn, “The Body” 30 Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi, “Plastic Breath” 32 William Pitsenberger, “Open Heart” 36

Non-Fiction: Rebecca S. Worth, “What Does It Mean For a Book to Move You?” 40 Lorenzo Donvito, “Vicky” & “Uber Is God” 42-45

4.


Poetry: Imogen Arate, “A Blurring” 47 H.E. Fisher, “The Window in Room 208” 48 Eric Rawson, “Self-Care,” “I, Their Ore” & “Disputation With a Ten-YearOld” 49-51 David Romanda, “Dear Future Wife” 52 Alexander Lowell, “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” & “Punch Drunk” 53-54 Margarita Serafimova, “Εσένα (You)” 55 Sherri Levine, “The Man Next Door” & “Dear Albania” 56-57 Sarah LaRue, “Voice” 58 Kashiana Singh, “Cope” & “Missing Questions” 59-60 Christina E. Petrides, “Narcissi” 61 Dale Champlin, “Supplicant reverentiis,” “Is This Utopia?” & “Time Is As Slippery As An Eel” 62-64 Christoffer Felix Wahlberg, “Old” & “N.O.T.” 65-66 Joshua J. Hines, “I was taught the hammer” 67-68 Lora Robinson, “revisionist” 69 Nadia Telenchuk, “Keep me out” & “The day I wear black.” 70-72

Criticism: Genna Rivieccio, “G-A-Y Till The E-N-D: Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar” 74

5.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Editor’s Note

For the artist, the only thing more important than the money that allows freedom to work on one’s projects is the solitude to do so. The early months of spring are often the most productive for this purpose. It’s that instant before it becomes too warm to ignore and right after the inherent seasonal depression of winter that can so often be creatively debilitating. On August 3, 2020, a rare moment in the pandemic-generated hell of lockdown allowed for a chance to flee to the “country” from Paris. Specifically Giverny, the place where Claude Monet was inspired to paint his various lilypad landscapes. Among the most well-known in his oeuvre, they are the very embodiment of “spring” if ever there was one (granted, the definitions of seasons have become increasingly quaint as climate change rears its erratic head with more vitriol each year). Walking among the gardens that inspired him on a day-to-day basis, it was easy to understand why Monet, and many artists—whether painters, writers or otherwise—have a distinct need to be “remote.” In many regards, you might say the artist was always ahead of his or her time in terms of knowing that working from home is the only way to function. The only way to work at your best and most productive. Without “The Man” breathing down your neck to get something done. To produce. The thing about art is that it can’t be rushed, and many people have forgotten that in their bid to make money from it. “The impossible dream,” if you will. Funnily enough, Monet was incredibly prolific and profited from his paintings in his lifetime. The ultimate impossible dream. Perhaps it had something to do with having no one to answer to (certainly not Alice Hoschedé) while living in that pastoral home. It is only when you don’t feel pressure that creativity can flow at its most gushing pace. And Monet was a goddamn geyser (and geezer). Monet’s belief that the world should be depicted as it is perceived applies all too well to the writer. Indeed, it rather harkens back to the old cliche about writing “what you know.” And isn’t what you know ultimately what you perceive, what your subjective reality is? Monet’s was depicted in sumptuous blues, greens, pinks and purples; oranges, yellows and reds. Yet “Impressionism” was meant as an insult—a term coined by the critics as a means to denigrate the work of the artists involved in the movement. They were mocking the style as something that failed to “accurately” depict reality. But it was real. Real to Monet, whose painting, “Impression, soleil levant,” was also what spurred the goading moniker for an entire movement. Monet’s search for truth in the canvas is the same one the writer seeks to re-create on the page. Always only managing to offer a simulacrum of verity. This is the greatest struggle of all for the artist: to be as objective—therefore as honest—as possible. Yet, at the same time, they must also toe the line between this responsibility and the one they have to their own perception. Intermixing the two like a painter does with colors on a palette to create the most seamless blend. To do this, of course, solitude is absolutely essential. It takes many writers longer than it should to realize that being alone does not mean loneliness. And that “sowing wild oats” does not necessarily guarantee a worthwhile story to tell. Which is why most of the “writers” in New York haven’t released anything “brilliant” in decades (and, with “hindsight,“ we can apprehend that Fran Lebowitz does not count among those decades of yore when New York thought it was such hot shit on the literary scene). They’re all saying the same banal, politically censored nothingness. Additionally, the fact that New York is billed in any way as a “writer’s haven“ feels more than slightly incongruous. For the thing it is beloved most for is

6.


its chaotic nature (if by “chaotic” what is meant is a daily need to convince yourself that it’s all “worth it”: being brutalized by a sea of concrete, the unrealistic cost of living and the engulfment of others who feel they’re infinitely more important than anyone else in the world by sheer “virtue” of “being in New York”). A chaos characterized largely by noise—or sound and fury signifying nothing, if you will. The true artist eventually both leaves New York (or at least makes it a point not to live there fulltime) and becomes aware that, in order to say what they need to say, absolute silence is required. No distractions, no interruptions. Even so, that epiphany can take quite some time to set in. How else do you think those phony baloney “writer’s retreats” make so much profit from the illusion that they can provide some arcane inspiration to the fool willing to pay? One doesn’t need to fork over their scant supply of cash to some “entity” that can provide a cabin in bumfuck nowhere and not much else. In the end, the writer can only rely on herself to seek out the necessary quietude and isolation to work, to think with some amount of clarity. This does, however, undeniably bring up the icky subject of money again (a subject, you’ll find, is all too common in most of my Editor’s Notes detailing the artist versus being a corporate shill conundrum). To find the conditions for a right proper sequestering, it can’t be ignored that one needs some amount of funds to secure a private residence (or, at the very least, a private room of one’s own). A magical sinecure that not only allows for such a residence but also the luxury of staying inside of it for most hours of the day to write. Not, instead, to go to what They call “work,“ when it is, in fact, something a robot can usually do (and probably already does, so as to cut down on such pesky costs as paying human folk anything resembling a living wage). If such a “scenario for solitude“ can be achieved, there are still other hurdles to contend with. Like the resentment between artists that emerges when only one of them manages to finagle a “situation” that allows for the coveted number of (often ceaseless) hours essential to devoting to any one project. It’s, indeed, the first form of resentment that manifests when two artists rise up the ranks during the same era (Salieri and Mozart-style, or Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga-style). The secondary form arrives when one becomes more successful than the other for no ostensible reason apart from the whims of public taste (and, as we all know, the words “public“ and “taste“ put next to each other tend to form an oxymoron). As Morrissey said, “We hate it when our friends become successful“ (yes, I still “dare“ to quote Morrissey). Even if we claim we’re pleased as punch for them. Because it so often makes one wonder (even the highly evolved, non-jealous types) what she might have transcended into if bequeathed with the compulsory tools to truly thrive. To get the leg up that someone more wellconnected and/or with a higher budget did (you know, like Billie Eilish). But the only tool of greater worth than either of these is the gift of total silence, pure and uninterrupted. Monet-level shit in that Giverny garden. Because it is that rarity of silence that can generate something one won’t ever detect in work begat from chaos: authority. The precision and control in writing that arises from careful, undisturbed contemplation. Inevitably, there are those of the “how bad do you want it?“ camp who so love to make the argument that if a person is genuinely driven to excel in her chosen field, she’ll “find a way“ to do it, whatever the environment. As if the ways are just “found“ and luck doesn’t play into it almost one hundred percent. Within the umbrella of luck falls one’s circumstance of birth. On this note, it’s odd, really, that, when you think about it, being poor or even lower middle class was ever something to be ashamed of in America (Ronald Reagan calling Black women welfare queens comes to mind). Now, it seems more as though these once “taboo“ social statuses are worn as a

7.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 badge of honor. Accordingly, to be “rich“ enough to be an artist seems to automatically discredit anything created. And being “rich“ in the current century can mean something as formerly innocuous as owning a home (or at least paying a lifelong mortgage on one). The more quote unquote money you have, the less clout your voice possesses in a climate increasingly prone to parading an anticapitalist pig mantra. Yet the system so blatantly disdained by most (particularly writers) still thrives despite cries of, “This is injustice!“ and “We are at war!“ What doesn’t thrive, however, is art. Because most of the writers “playing at“ writing feel some odd sense of obligation to partaking in an unspoken ritual of “slumming it“ (possibly first overly romanticized by the likes of Jack Kerouac, himself not exactly from a “broke ass“ family). Of putting themselves in the least comfortable (and loudest) positions possible in order to 1) ensure if they ever do achieve the fame they so desperately crave, people will know they struggled for it, therefore “deserve“ it (well, fuck, that takes Edith Wharton out of the game) and 2) know that because of that struggle, their worldview is more valuable and credible. I mean, forgive me if this sounds Republican, but does someone coming from a shittier social standing than a person like, say, Emma Cline really mean, or automatically signify, they have something more worthwhile to say? No. Not necessarily. And, in all frankness, the determining factor for writers and artists who “get the megaphone“ ultimately boils down to a matter of what’s chic. There was, after all, a long stretch of history when audiences only wanted to hear about the affluent as a means to both escape from their own dreary lives and to believe in having something to aspire to. What does often contribute to a work being more objectively “worthwhile“ that no one in the imaginary construct of the “artistic community“ talks about is when something is created in a serene place. And so, once again, we have a sort of chicken or egg scenario. Is writing so overwhelmingly bad at this moment because not enough struggling writers can afford to live in a fortress of solitude (read: a Monet-like environment) or is it bad because the only people who can afford these fortresses are richies? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind...of that willow in Monet’s garden. Sincerely, Genna Rivieccio April 2021 P.S. It could just be bad because no one is reading, and the few items they do read are “guilty pleasure“ books found in the aisles of grocery stores. To add to the problem, molding minds early on has become more of a challenge as all of the works from the once ironclad “canon“ are going to be abolished fairly soon as a result of stamping out the White Male and all other offending subjects. P.P.S. Whatever your financial circumstance or preferred atmosphere for writing might be, feel free to submit to The Opiate.

8.


FICTION

9.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

The Dresser Hillary Tiefer

I

t’s time for this dresser to go. I’ve endured its associations long enough. Besides that, I’m not fond of the sixties style, now referred to as vintage: it has a walnut veneer with steel rectangle handles on the drawers and stunted angular legs. A Salvation Army truck is taking it away tomorrow and I will say good riddance. I have just ordered an Amish-made, quarter-sawn oak dresser and a matching bed frame. They will be delivered in six weeks, but I will gladly keep clothes in a big cardboard box rather than look at this piece of furniture for another day. My husband, Kevin, won’t even notice. When I first met him, he kept his clothes in plastic laundry baskets. My sister, Amy, will be glad to hear that the dresser will soon go to strangers who don’t know its history. When my mother first offered it to me, Amy told me not to take it. She admitted she had a superstitious aversion to it. “I don’t mind the dresser,” I said, “and the price is right—it’s free.” It was once my father’s dresser. My mother gave it to me when Kevin and I first married and were poor graduate students. She kept the matching bureau, which stayed

10.

with her until her death from a stroke two years earlier. I’ve had it longer than I had hoped because of our many expenses, including a mortgage for the house, braces for our daughter, Madison, and college tuition at Rutgers for our son, Zach. But then, this past Sunday, Amy called me and through sobs told me she and her husband, Adam, were getting a divorce. “He’s leaving me for a legal secretary at his law firm,” she said. “He’s with that slut, Kelly, who always showed me a big, toothy grin and hugged me! She’s married, too, so they’ve gone to motels—he practically boasted about it.” I did something strange after that and scared Madison, who watched me: I stormed into my bedroom and kicked my dresser. Then I told Kevin it had to go. He was baffled; he couldn’t understand why I connected a piece of furniture with my sister’s divorce. Yet he kissed me and said, “Your birthday is coming up and you’ll get a special present—a new dresser. We’ll just have to make the payments in installments.” Perhaps it’s best I don’t mention the dresser to Amy at this time. No doubt it will conjure up painful memories


The Dresser - Hillary Tiefer from the past—thirty years earlier when my father died of a heart attack. Two days after his funeral, my mother told us she wasn’t up to the chore of clearing away his clothes so my sister and I had to do it. Amy was fourteen and I was younger, twelve, so she naturally took charge. She assigned me with the task of emptying my father’s dresser, where he had kept his intimate apparel. She chose to remove his shirts and slacks from his closet. While my mother sat shiva downstairs, socializing with other mourners who came to give their condolences, my sister and I tearfully removed clothes and packed them into big plastic trash bags to be brought to the local Goodwill. My father’s matching socks were in perfect balls, and his t-shirts, boxer shorts and pajamas were in perfect squares. My mother did this. She liked her house to be clean and tidy. She never left a dish in the sink. She dusted and vacuumed and mopped every day even though the Busy Bee Cleaning Service came twice a month. She’d be enraged to find our clothes on the floor, papers in disarray on our desks or CDs scattered about our rooms. We had to make our beds each morning before going to school but I knew she remade them later so that the sheets showed no creases. Our gardeners came twice a month to mow the lawn and trim the shrubs, even in the winter. In consideration of her standards, I did my best to place my father’s clothes still neatly folded into a plastic bag. After I removed the last of his pajamas, I was surprised to find two big yellow envelopes with clasps at the bottom of the drawer. I removed them and gave them to Amy. She quickly opened them and pulled out various papers and booklets. “There’s some old passports here of Mom and Dad’s and some other boring-looking forms,” she said as she put the papers back inside the envelopes. “I’ll leave them here for

Mom.” She placed them on top of the dresser, next to a framed photo of my parents at their wedding. My mother looked beautiful in her flowing white gown and my father was handsome in his black tuxedo. They smiled endearingly, standing under a floral chuppah. I was just about to shut the drawer but then noticed a white envelope, like those used for greeting cards. I grabbed it and saw that it held a few photos. At first I was perplexed rather than shocked: here was Francine Ciandella, who worked at my father’s sporting goods store, wearing a black lacy negligee, sprawled on a bed. I could see her dark brown nipples through the diaphanous gown. In the next two photos, she was in nude poses. I had only seen such poses one other time, when my friend, Carey, and I peeked through a Playboy at Town Center Rexall. Of course, it soon dawned on me that my father shouldn’t have such photos. Amy snatched them out of my hand and in voice sounding like a moan said, “Oh my god!” Then she added the forbidden word, “Fuck!” “It’s disgusting,” I said and the tuna salad sandwich I had eaten for lunch heaved into my throat. “Why... why did Dad have these?” “Why, you ask?” I didn’t like the way her green eyes focused on mine. She flattened her hand on my shoulder. “Let’s just say...Dad cheated on Mom.” “No...he wouldn’t.” I sank onto the bed he shared with my mother. “Oh, yes, he did and this is evidence. And with that thieving bitch, Francine. I always hated her.” I expected Amy to rip the photos to shreds but instead she slipped them into the trash bag with my father’s pajamas, boxer shorts, socks and t-shirts. “Whoever removes the clothes will see what this man was like,” she said, sounding as if he had been a criminal.

I could never depict him that way. I recalled my father smiling at me just a few weeks earlier. “We haven’t gone bowling together for a while, have we, Suzy?” he had said. “We really should go soon. I’ll bring home a nice new bowling ball for you and we’ll go. We’ll get Amy to come, too.” Tears rolled down my cheeks and I sniffed. “He was our dad and he just died. We won’t ever see him again.” Amy sat next to me and wrapped her arm around me. “We loved him, Suze, but he did a bad thing. He’s not the first. Lots of men cheat on their wives. I see it on television and in movies all the time. My friend Lisa’s dad left her mom for some other woman.” “But not our dad. He wouldn’t. He loved Mom.” “He cheated on her.” She stood and surged toward my father’s closet. She flung a long-sleeved white shirt off a hanger and stuffed it into the bag. I winced—this would wrinkle the shirt and offend our mother, who had diligently ironed it. “We can’t tell Mom about this,” I said. Amy looked at me with a blanched face. “I bet she knows.” I slowly shook my head. “No, she couldn’t.” Now that I’m an adult and have lost my innocence I can reinterpret some events that would support my sister’s assertion. One such event was the last Christmas party we attended at the house of Joe Rosetti, about eight months before my father’s fatal heart attack. Joe and his brother, Vinny, were my father’s business partners at Central Avenue Sporting Goods in East Orange, New Jersey. We were not like the other guests, who were mostly family, because we were Jews and they were Catholics. Devotion to their faith was announced in every room of their house with religious paintings, icons, statuettes and hanging crucifixes.

11.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 Even though we were outsiders, I still enjoyed the festive atmosphere. The wide evergreen, which dominated one corner of the living room, was decked out with tinsel, plastic angels and gold and silver bulb ornaments. The whole tree was lit with red and green lights, and it was spread over many stacked boxes in colorful Christmas paper. I found my name on a gift tag attached to a small square package wrapped in candy cane paper. It was lying next to the nativity scene, which included a miniature manger, Mary and Joseph standing by Baby Jesus and a few other figures draped in biblical garb. Mrs. Rosetti lifted the box and handed it to me. “I hope you like it, Suzy.” I opened it and removed a delicate silver bracelet with tiny red rhinestones. I turned to Mrs. Rosetti and smiled. “I love it. It’s beautiful. Thank you so much!” “Go ahead and put it on.” I did and shimmied my wrist, marveling at the glistening rhinestones under the lamp light. This was the best gift I had ever received. I was about to flaunt my present among the many Rosetti kids playing upstairs when the front door opened and in stepped Francine, along with a gush of frigid air. Francine had large dark eyes, smooth olive skin and silky black hair. She was also tall and slender. Kneeling in her brown wool coat with a fur collar, she placed several parcels covered with green and red wrapping paper under the tree. My father stood while my mother remained seated, lifting a glass of ice cubes to her lips. She gave Francine a mere nod and I wondered why she wasn’t friendlier. During the ride home, my parents were quiet—too quiet—and my father lit a cigarette—a new habit for him. Then my mother laughed in a sickening way and muttered something about my father giving Francine flowers on her birthday. Louder, she

12.

said, “A funny little rumor must be going around, right Marty? The whole damn store must be talking.” “You’re ridiculous.” “Ridiculous, am I?” He glanced at her. “Not now, Laura. I’m trying to drive in a goddamn ice storm.” Tiny pellets of ice snapped against the windshield. “Sure, I won’t say another word.” Smoke drifted to the back where I sat, making me nauseous. I wanted to open my window, but it was too cold. I turned to Amy, who cradled her body against her door, as if that prevented her from hearing them. I ran my fingers over the rhinestonedotted bracelet on my wrist, but it no longer gave me joy. There was no “Joy to the World” in the world of the Sadler family. During the following months, my father came home late from the store. My mother explained that it had become so busy, he needed to be there in the evenings. We didn’t think to ask why the partners didn’t hire a new salesperson. When my father returned home, he heated up the dinner she had prepared for us earlier. Then he entered his home office downstairs where he watched television on his portable set, while she watched the one in the family room. An icy silence remained between them. I was studying Robert Frost at the time and could relate the lines of “Fire and Ice” to my parents: I think I know enough of hate To know that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice But the fire came soon enough. One night my parents spoke a flurry of words. I overheard them talking in their bedroom about a problem at the store. It had something to do with the accounts not balancing. They had done an inventory and the thefts were

minimal, even lower than the year before, so that wasn’t the cause for the deficit. Then I heard my mother utter the word embezzlement. At this time, my father suffered from hypertension. His doctor warned him to watch his diet, limit his alcohol intake, stop smoking and exercise more. He didn’t heed any of this advice. No doubt his condition was aggravated once he learned that a thief lurked somewhere in his store. For that reason, no one was enthusiastic about attending the Memorial Day barbeque at Vinny Rosetti’s house. As we drove there, my mother said, “Pat told me Vinny wanted to cancel the barbeque, but she insisted on having it—for the kids’ sake. I suppose they invited all the salespeople even though one of them has to be the embezzler.” She turned to my father. “Of course Francine will be there.” “No, she won’t,” my father said as if were painful to speak. “I wish we didn’t have to go,” Amy said. “It’s always so boring.” “You’ll see Matt there,” I said and grinned at her. This was Vinny and Pat’s stunning seventeen-year-old son, who liked to flaunt his muscles in the wife beaters he always wore. Her lips curled into a snarl. “If you recall, he brought his girlfriend to the Christmas party.” “They might’ve broken up by now.” I expected my mother to turn around and tell us to forget about dating Catholic boys, but she remained stiffly oblivious to us. As soon as we entered the expansive backyard of the Rosettis’ colonial-style house, my parents acted as if a stage curtain opened to an audience and they performed with wide smiles and hugged Pat and Vinny and others who greeted them, as if they were all overjoyed to see one another. Amy’s face blushed when Matt approached us—until he introduced


The Dresser - Hillary Tiefer us to his new girlfriend, Julie. She was pretty, with long and lustrous blonde hair. Fortunately, the barbeque was soon ready and we all sat on lawn chairs to eat. We had a choice of hot dogs or hamburgers and several other side dishes. I chose a hot dog and my

their bedroom. My mother shouted, “Pat told me. Now I know why Francine wasn’t there. She skipped town with thousands of dollars—ours and the Rosettis’ money! You let this happen, Marty!” “Shut up, goddammit!” “Don’t you dare talk to me like

my mother’s high heel sandal—the missile—and brought it into the house. I dumped it in the hall closet. The following morning, my mother called a glass company and a man came that afternoon to replace their front bedroom window. “Remember when Mom

“Amy and I picked up the

pieces from our driveway, all the tiny shards that glittered in the sunlight, and put them in a trash bag. We did this as if we were picking up the pieces of our parents’ marriage...“ mother’s potato salad that she had made that morning. Afterwards, I played badminton with some of the Rosetti kids while Amy sat on a lawn chair, looking dour. Then fifteen-yearold Meghan Rosetti came to her rescue and I was glad to see them enter the house together, probably to listen to music and talk about boys. My parents were in a somber mood when we departed. They acted like automatons and I had a terrible feeling that if they did attempt to speak, it would come out as an explosion. The explosion happened in

that!” Then I heard the shattering of a window—their bedroom window. I was surprised my mother made no effort to clean up the mess outside. Amy and I picked up the pieces from our driveway, all the tiny shards that glittered in the sunlight, and put them in a trash bag. We did this as if we were picking up the pieces of our parents’ marriage and hoping we could put them back together again. I should have realized that their marriage was beyond repair. When we were done, I lifted

broke the window?” Amy said, shoving another shirt into the bag. “She sure was pissed.” “I was just thinking about that,” I said. “Pat Rosetti told her Francine embezzled the money.” “Mom knew about their affair. That’s why she was so mad. And to think all that time Francine was having sex with Dad, she was stealing from him. That’s what did him in—gave him his heart attack.” I cringed at my sister’s words. “Shut up, Amy!” She gave me a quick hug. “I’m

13.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 sorry. This must be so shocking to you.” “Mom didn’t know about Dad and Francine. She...she was mad because he didn’t suspect her sooner—that’s all.” “You’re young and naïve, Suzy.” Amy suddenly rushed toward my mother’s bureau. She opened drawers and rummaged through them. “What do you think you’re doing? Mom will be mad if you mess up her drawers. She won’t like you going through them.” “I’m looking for a diary or journal. Maybe she’s written it all down. She’s in a writing group. She likes to write.” “It’s a poetry group. They read poems from famous people, like Emily Dickinson.” Amy rifled through bras and pantyhose. My mother would be furious. Looking triumphant, my sister lifted out a large clasp envelope, like the ones in my father’s drawer. “This might be it!” “It doesn’t look like a diary.” I was thinking of the small vinyl diary with a key I had received for Hanukkah when I was nine. She removed a bunch of papers and stared at them. “This proves I’m right,” she said hardly audible. I approached her and she showed me the front page of the forms, entitled, “State of New Jersey Filing for Dissolution (Divorce) with Children.” None of the lines were filled in. “Mom must’ve changed her mind about divorcing Dad,” I said. “Maybe she forgave him.” Amy gently shook her head while tears filled her eyes. “She never got around to it—he died first.” Perhaps Amy was right. We didn’t ask my mother nor did we tell her about the photos. She never so much as hinted that she suspected my

14.

father of having an affair. She acted like the bereaved widow for several weeks. Then she calmly took courses in real estate, got her license and then took a job with Coldwell Banker. When Amy and I left for college, she listed the house and sold it within a week. Now my sister has to fill out papers just like those we found in our mother’s bureau drawer. And, like my father, Adam may have kept photos handy in a dresser to whet his appetite.


The Definition of Linear Richard Charles Schaefer

A

t age nineteen, Brill got a job at the bookstore he stole from as a younger teenager; in this way the store exacted revenge for his indiscretions, one minimum wage check at a time. It was a large bookstore, one that spanned two buildings in the heart of Harvard Square, and Brill had stolen from it for no particular reason except they had a good selection. Now he worked in the shipping and receiving department. When people asked about his name, he told them Brill was short for Brilliam. It was actually his mother’s maiden last name and the aforementioned paychecks reflected his legal name, William Brill-Hackett. He considered himself quite a lowlife. Reasons William Brill-Hackett considered himself quite a lowlife: 1. He’d read a couple of Jim Thompson novels. 2. He’d snorted painkillers while watching an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

3. He felt he had no prospects; due to his trust fund, he was allowed to find this romantic. 4. He had no girlfriend, and was willing to entertain the possibility of disrespecting women in pursuit of his own pleasure. To this point, said will to disrespect had not gotten him further into any young woman’s pants than the sweaty handholding of his high school years had. 5. Every time he drank, he did so until he vomited. He wrongly assumed this would instill in others a respect for how far he was willing to push himself. Reasons Mrs. Sophia Brill-Hackett would never consider her son a lowlife: 1. He brushed his teeth every night without exception. 2. He was willing to hug her in public. 3. He’d read a couple of Jane Austen novels 4. He was taking a year off to “mature” before finishing college, because he was put off by how much partying occurred on campus. 5. He had no girlfriend because he “hadn’t met the right

15.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 girl yet,” which was an engraved invitation for his mother to fix him up with said “right girl.” Sophia did, in fact, fix her son up with a coworker’s daughter she thought might be the “right girl.” It was April, and cold. Brill took her to a coffee shop between Harvard and Central Square. “I consider myself quite a lowlife, actually,” Brill said once they were seated with beverages in hand. “What do you mean?” Michelle asked. She was a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence, home for the weekend. “What are you studying?” “Sociology,” Michelle said. “Someone told me that’s a fake science,” Brill said. “That’s rude.” “I’m not saying I think that,” Brill said. “I’m just saying someone said it to me once.” “Well, you repeated it.” “Everyone repeats things. All words are repetitions. You’ll never invent a word. I’ll never invent a word. We’re just stringing them together hoping to stumble across a new sequence.” “You don’t want to be here,” Michelle said. “It’s fine.” Brill shrugged. “Is this what you meant?” “Probably,” Brill said. “What?” “That you consider yourself ‘quite a lowlife’?” “I don’t sound like that.” “But you said it,” Michelle said. “It’s a poetic thing,” Brill said. “So you’re a poet?” “Not as such, no. I’m a lowlife.” Michelle sighed and took a sip of her latte. “Okay, look,” Brill started. At the same moment, Michelle spoke. “This is a good—oh, go ahead.”

16.

“No, you,” Brill said. “Latte. Okay, what were you going to say?” “Isn’t this weird?” Brill said. “I mean, this is a blind date, if you’ll concede the definition as such for the sake of my argument. Okay? Okay. And it just highlights the absurdity of… everything. I don’t know you, but let’s say this goes amazingly and we become very close. I’ll never have any concept of not knowing you again. Getting to know people is a purely linear concept and therefore, cosmically speaking, I already know you. If I’m ever going to. There aren’t any strangers, just people we never meet.” “Are you stoned?” Michelle asked. “No,” Brill said. “Just grasping at things that are a little out of reach. Why, do you want to get stoned?” “No.” “We could get some alcohol,” Brill suggested. “No,” Michelle said. “Your call. I do kind of like the thought of what I was saying.” “Which part?” “That if I’m ever going to know you, there’s a part of me, the non-temporal part, that already knows you.” “It’s a nice idea,” Michelle said. “But…” “But what?” “When I was a kid, I used to believe that I could fly if I really concentrated on it.” “Yeah,” Brill said. “Me too.” “But I never flew.” “Me neither.” “You can’t just will the world to be different than it is.” “I’m not trying to do that,” Brill said. “I’m trying to look at what’s there that other people don’t see.” “So that’s what you mean when you said you’re a lowlife?” “No. That’s a different thing.” They walked around Harvard Square talking until Brill got someone

to buy them a small bottle of vodka and Michelle let him finger her in a dark corner of the Radcliffe quad. The sky was clear but starless. He placed her hand on the crotch of his pants and she pinched his dick in a halfhearted way for a while and eventually they stopped. This, he wanted to say, is what I meant when I said I’m a lowlife. He went home, blue-balled. He and Michelle didn’t talk again. At least, not during the time span of this story. Would you believe me if I told you that they did eventually go on another date, after they’d both graduated from college? That they got married and stayed married for a very long time? That they had children together? If I told Brill this the day after that date, he wouldn’t have believed me, although it would have proven his half-baked, half-forgotten theory about knowing people more than half-right. He told his friends he’d gotten a hand job in the park the night before; he didn’t tell them that it was over the pants and that he had a raw spot on his foreskin where his zipper had chaffed him. He told his mother that Michelle was a nice girl but he wasn’t sure she liked him; she told her mother that Brill was a nice boy, but she wasn’t sure she liked him. She told her friends she’d gotten fingered in the Radcliffe quad the night before; she didn’t tell them that the boy had thought her clit was in her fallopian tubes and that he’d complained about a hand cramp after about five minutes and suggested they fuck instead. She didn’t tell them that for a second, just a second, she’d considered the offer. *** Michelle Holden was high again, despite considering herself someone who didn’t get high. Her attention was occupied by a power line running between two campus buildings


The Definition of Linear - Richard Charles Schaefer that seemed to disappear when she looked right at it. She wondered if the respective buildings’ power went out when the line disappeared but, in order to check, she had to look at the buildings, which meant looking way beyond the power line, which meant it reappeared and restored power. If you wish to recreate the experiment in a sober state, you may do so with the light in your refrigerator. It’s well known that Adderall is readily available to enterprising scholars on any college campus in America and probably the world and probably high school, too; to what extent any of these scholars’ success is due to said upper is unknown, but it can be said, definitively, that Michelle enjoyed Adderall. This less than controversial statement (uppers are, by definition, a pleasurable experience, after all) would come as no surprise to anyone except Michelle’s parents, who considered their daughter someone who didn’t get high. Reasons Heather and Kevin Holden did not consider their daughter someone who got high: 1. She did not then, nor had she ever, listen to jam bands, reggae or particularly “dank” hip hop. 2. They had never found the smell or substance of any illegal drug on her person, nor evidence of such in the cursory inspections of her room completed during her high school years. 3. She did not wear hemp clothing or enjoy patchouli perfume. 4. She did well in school (see above paragraph regarding the potential impact of Adderall on classroom performance, while it’s impossible to prove. It’s worth noting that Michelle’s first consumption of Ritalin was in high school). 5. She was not alienated, notably discontent, twitchy or “tweaking.” She did not steal, she was not promiscuous, she had no dangerous friends. Reasons Michelle Holden did

not consider herself someone who got high: 1. It was not convenient for her desired image of herself. I mention this for no particular reason other than to let you know that Michelle Holden was high on this particular day. She had taken a twenty milliliter Adderall and split a joint with her roommate Suzanna Coulson. A list of common interests shared by Suzanna Coulson and Michelle Holden: 1. Weed (though Suzanna called it “pot,” this linguistic difference was not an insurmountable obstacle for Michelle). Suzanna was in town with her boyfriend and Michelle was sitting on the quad, considering the finer universal implications of electricity in its linear form. “Linear…” she had heard that used somewhere recently, some jarring misuse that she hadn’t corrected. She was forced to consider the possibility that perhaps she had misused the word, but it seemed unlikely. There was nothing clearer to her than the definition of linear. Heartbeats were linear. Michelle had the kind of pulse that was hard for strangers to find. She checked her watch but the time seemed irrelevant without having some past time to relate it to. If she could say it had been ten minutes since she last checked the time, that would mean something; but without that, the watch hands were just two more appendages caught in the act. If she sat here long enough, eventually someone would approach her. She was, after all, a popular person. It was a well-known fact on campus that Michelle Holden was a good friend. The kind of friend who you could approach on the quad and, even if she was stoned, she’d still attend the bowling lunch. “What?” Michelle asked. “A few of us are going bowling. We can grab lunch too, but not at the

bowling alley because ewww.” Quincy was down on the ground next to Michelle. Maybe she always had been. “I’m not hungry. But I want to eat. I mean bowl.” It was inevitable, then. Bowling. The thing it all led to. Until bowling was subsumed into the all and led to the next thing after that. Consumed? Subsumed? Linear. Like a power line, like a bowling ball, always a straight line from point A to point B. Well, bowling balls could curve, but sometimes straight lines curve. No, then they’re not straight. What’s the word for a line when it’s not straight? “What’s the word for—” Michelle stopped. Quincy was across the quad, by the student union. Michelle stood up and approached her, imagining herself a bowling ball, curving and straight at the same time, her only goal to knock over the pin at the end of her trajectory. What was the word for her now?

17.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

A Pairing Nathan Leslie

T

March

hey sit at their usual table, in their usual spots. They practice habit; habit keeps it together. Fred orders the black bean soup and the Caesar salad. It is lunch. If it was dinner, he’d order the seafood stew, but it’s always lunch. They only meet for lunch. Marie orders the salmon wrap. She has ordered this before. She likes the squeeze of lemon and the cherry tomatoes and arugula. Fred and Marie are in love. Now they are. When they first met, they hated each other with a burning intensity that felt dangerous and exciting in some way. Scratch that. For Marie, “hate” is too inexact. “Fear” is more apt. Fred is six foot two. He wears glasses and he is balding up top. His face is meatier than his body, giving the impression that he is larger than he is. He has dimples. He likes to wear designer belts, though the rest of his clothes are ordinary. His socks, at times, are mismatched slightly. Fred is forty-six.

18.

Marie is thin and waify, though she used to be heavier when she was young. She became a runner in her late twenties. Her hair frizzes up in the humidity. She has a cluster of freckles on her nose that flare up in the summer. She is partial to floral dresses, yoga leggings. The divorce was hard on her and now she rarely speaks to Kent—twice or three times a year, max. And only in tight little bursts on the phone. Or maybe a text if she can’t deal with him. Marie is forty-two. This couple—and they even admit they are a couple now—they hold hands under the table where nobody can see them. If people knew…it would not be pretty. They do not talk about The Thing. The Thing united them, but it is now, they feel, drifting into the backdrop. They hope it is, at least. Not that they want to forget. They never want to forget. However, they need to, badly. Fred and Marie talk about gardens, instead. It is cold still, but it is March. With March comes the feeling of spring, the early impulse. Yesterday was fifty-something


A Pairing - Nathan Leslie and sunny. It felt like spring, minus the green, minus the flowers, minus the birds and chipmunks. Fred has a garden outside of his house. Bryan always ignored it. Sometimes he even seemed to spit into it when he thought his father wasn’t watching. But he was watching. There is something seriously wrong with young men these days, with boys. Fred thinks of hyacinths, dogwood, daffodils and tulips. All will be coming up soon. He will send photos of them to Marie, or hopefully she can see them there, right there, in person. February It is the ice storm from hell. They are headed to a movie in the neighboring suburb, but even Fred’s SUV with four-wheel drive is slipping and skidding every which way. They have to turn around. She clasps his hand. Fred is not expecting this. Marie is thinking about Max again, she can’t help it. It’s only been a few months and she knows she may never see him again. It is likely, in fact, that she will die before seeing him—at least out in the air, in the real world. In that pen, in that horrible room—that does not, to her mind, count as seeing Max. She is not even allowed to touch him. Tears trace rivulets down his face and there is nothing she can do. There is nothing. No, she’d rather not see him at all. She’d rather pretend he’s with the others—underground. Max, he was a mistake. She knows that now. She could not deduce that earlier— and now Marie feels ignorant. She willfully ignored all the signs and manifestations. “Let’s turn around,” Fred suggests. “It’s not worth it.” His headlights accentuate the iciness, but Fred is unafraid. He

knows Marie probably is though— and with good reason. “I couldn’t wait for you to say that,” Marie says, hand to neck. “This is terrible.” “And it seems to be getting worse.” Even turning around, Fred spins out twice and they barely make it to Marie’s townhouse. Most of the parking spaces are taken. Who would want to go out on a night like this? She’s a townhouse woman, Fred realizes. He’s known this but it never truly registered with him. No wonder, Fred thinks. But this is an ungenerous thought, a hateful thought. He watches Marie’s eyelids flutter. January Marie has grown accustomed to winter. Once she has grown accustomed to something, she can deal with it. She can accept it and move on. She is still not so sure she can grasp Max. She knows she cannot imagine what Fred experiences, though he has tried to convey it to her. It is nice to have someone who understands, on a deeper level. Suppressing the guilt is the difficult part—the impossible part. It’s not just Fred’s anguish—but that of all the others. Since when did Max know how to squeeze one even? She never shaved him. Maybe Kent? She doubts that, too. Where did he learn such things? Where did the hatred come from? Is it something she helped generate? Did she say the wrong thing? How Marie wishes she could go back in time and answer all questions, really go through the assortment, show Max the error of his ways. They sit at Fred’s kitchen table. She drinks Jasmine tea and he Darjeeling. The scent of honey. The candle with the chemical vanilla aroma. How far they still have to go. Dr. Schavone tells Fred that it may

take two years. Jamie is imprinted in his DNA. He cannot just extract it. Various Jamie ghosts wander the split-level. Jamie leaning against the wall. Jamie tumbling out of bed, tousling his hair and bearing witness. Jamie on the sofa playing video games, drinking a Fanta—like some throwback to the late 70s. Tonight’s distraction is backgammon. Neither Fred nor Marie has played in years and they had to Google the rules and directions to remind themselves. It’s a small consolation to Fred if he can win a game or two. It’s something else to think about. It’s something else to do other than drink too many beers and obsess and second guess. If only this, if only that. What’s the point? What are the real stakes? Marie is not interested, however. She can’t seem to work up the motivation to care about a stupid game and she has no desire to learn or expend energy. The games were always for Fred. She does know it’s easier than just talking though. That is a recipe for disaster. It would be somewhat easier if Kent refrained from pointing a gnarly finger at her. Sure, it’s her fault their son went ballistic. She was responsible, okay. But unless you have control over your child every hour, all the time, do you really think you know what they’re up to, how they perceive the world? It is difficult enough just to know yourself, Marie thinks. She does not for a second regret the divorce from Kent. That might be the best thing she’s ever done. Her mind is open now in a way it wasn’t years ago. After losing three games, Marie has had enough. She is not invested. Fred worries now this means another heart to hurt. This is his punishment for losing his only son? “No, what?” Fred says. “The stars. You can actually see them.” Fred waves for her to follow

19.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 him. He flips the lights. They stand on the deck and crane their necks. Marie wishes she knew the constellations. Yet another thing she can teach herself one day. Luckily, the neighbors’ houses are dark or relatively so. They can see them fine. There is a glitter, an almost visual hum. It is something to witness. They don’t have to talk now. There will be plenty of time for that soon.

he knew that. The New Mexico sun hadn’t dulled everything. She was still human, or partially. But when Marie reached out her hand, it became an embrace, and it stuck. That he wept was to be expected. What else could he do? How else could he respond? He knew that they shared this, no way around it. “I don’t know where to start

space maybe. She explains the group meetings, the sleepiness, the meds. There is no message from Max, of course. He is unrepentant—always and forever. Do people apologize anymore? Do they admit mistakes? Or has that been lost in the dross of the twenty-first century? But Marie does, that is what is especially impressive. Even Sheila would be wowed. They

“There is something seriously wrong with young men these days, with boys.“ December He cannot believe it. If Sheila could see him now, she would be amazed. Perhaps impressed, but certainly astounded. This woman whose son was the one and only one—she approached him. The email arrived first, then the phone call after he responded to the email. After that he agreed to see her two weeks from then. December twenty-third. He even texted Sheila to tell her, the first time since it happened. No response, but she had to be impressed,

20.

or what to say,” she said. “I feel as if I owe you my life on some level.” Fred embraced her back. “It’s not you, it’s them. These kids. This time,” he said. “It could have easily been the other way around.” But it wasn’t and he knew that. She knew that. Her mascara ran and she dabbed at her eyes with the thin coffee shop napkins. A barista— nose pierced, orange hair—looked concerned, whispering, “Is everything okay?” Fred shook it off. Of course it isn’t. It will never be. But they can occupy the same

might even be friends on some level, harboring a secret rivalry. They sink into life stories, into monologues. They talk family history. They talk job history. They discuss cosmology and metaphysics, ethical dilemmas. It is as if they are long lost pen pals. As their hour turns into two, she grasps his hand. Their fingers intertwine. She can feel his nervousness, and he hers. There is still much to say. There is still little to do. November


A Pairing - Nathan Leslie We are shards, Fred thinks. We are portions of who we used to be. How could this happen? He knows how, but how? Have humans lost the capacity to feel, to understand? What causes this? We live at peace. There is no threat. We are the threat. What lacks in me that was unable to stop this? Marie thinks. Fingernails down her face. When they take her in, they wonder about stitches, her face is so bloody. Then the endless parade of authorities. And to look at a patch of grass and know your son is going there, Fred thinks. Someone will mow over him. Others will thoughtlessly step on top of him, his ashes. Wood and velour. Leaves glimmering in the breeze. Flowers around, signifying nothing. And now what? Marie will just give everything to lawyers. They don’t deserve it and neither does he. Give her the gun; she’d know what to do with him. A mother’s punishment. Fred spends days organizing and reorganizing Jamie’s closet. Piling clothes and papers on the bed and then resorting back into the closet only to do it again. Marie cleans. She scrubs toilets and showers. She takes a toothbrush to the grout—all of it. She scrubs smudges from walls. She will repaint everything. She will make the house shine again. Fred is torn—give it all away or keep it all? What is the best way to handle it? But he can’t decide. So he does nothing. On the bed, back in the closet. In the closet, back on the bed. He wants to know Jamie’s final thoughts. He wants to know if he suffered, though how could he not? He doesn’t understand. This is beyond comprehension. Marie will reach out to the victims, to the injured, the parents. Most will damn her—she knows that. But at least she will scrub her conscience clean. She can sleep— someday.

They watch the reports on television, though they don’t need the television to see it or know. Their son burns inside. They need a cooling.

21.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Awakening Ishmael O. Ross

L

ight. Loud, glaring light. Piercing. Blinding. Too strong. It hurts. It burns! Make it stop. Make it stop! *** Some shades are moving in the glow. It doesn’t hurt that badly now. Still too much to look at, but there is no looking away. The light never ceases, the movement never stops, but the glow is dimming already. Shapes. Blurry and formless, they are moving in the glare now. What is this place? *** There is also sound now. Muffled and dull, not loud enough to be noise. The shapes are becoming more defined. They look human. Human, like...like I am. I am. Awake. I am awake! The silhouettes of people keep moving, and their sounds, their suppressed mumbling, are clearing up. They are talking. It is difficult to understand, there are no words,

22.

just the constant mumbling, so dim, as if I was underwater. Submerged. But I can hear them. I can see colours now. There are not a lot of them, most are still only light, but some of the bodies have colourful heads. And hair. I see skin. One of them is... brown? Is that called brown? Somewhere in the distance... how far? Somewhere behind their shapes, I can see the cheerful dance of a rainbow. So many colours quiver and wriggle and dance around, it is difficult to keep my attention on the people moving, even though they are more defined. The jumping colours of the rainbow are like a magnet to my eyes. Then it’s suddenly dark. Only the rainbow remains; the shapes have disappeared, and the colours take up all my vision. A sudden glare comes, and the human shapes come into my view again, I can see them now. I can really see them now. They are people. They wear white coats. Three of them. One with dark skin, wearing those squareshaped spectacles, is looking at me. He is taller than the others. Silky smooth hair. He keeps looking at me over his


Awakening - Ishmael O. Ross shoulders with a severe expression. There is a woman, too. Young. So timid when she talks to the third one, the short, stocky guy with a balding head. Nice girl, I kind of adore her, she looks like a student. What is this, a lab? No, it’s a hospital! These people are wearing lab coats, they must be doctors, I am sure. Doctors, with a student in training, mumbling and moving, and they are so busy. But if this is a hospital, and those are doctors, then I must... What am I doing here? How did I get here? Cannot remember. I am trying to ask them, but nothing happens, I’m trying to speak, but there is no sound, I have no voice at all. Nothing happens, they don’t even hear me. But there is movement; what I took for a dancing rainbow now looks like a complicated display with colourful graphs, and it’s making a noise. The three Labcoats have rushed to it, and they are gazing at it, and nobody hears me talking and I’m screaming and they don’t hear me and what is happening to me? Why is this happening to me? Get me out of here. I am trapped and I am mute and I cannot move my limbs! Calm down, stay calm, okay, slow and easy. Deep breath in, and out. I cannot feel any air entering my lungs, but it feels better anyway. I must have sighed because I am lighter. Lab Coat #1, with the dark brown skin, turns towards me and shoots me a curious look. Wait a minute...they must know I’m awake, they must know I can see them! My eyes are open, and I am looking right at them. I’m even following them around with my gaze. Or am I? I am not sure I can move my gaze. I don’t feel any difference. But I am looking at them, and they are looking back at me, so they must be aware of me being conscious. ***

There is darkness again. I

cannot remember the Lab Coats leaving, but there is nobody here, I can only see the colourful display that continues drawing its many graphs undisturbed, but there is hardly any other light. It must be night. I must have fallen asleep because I remember fragments of what surely was a dream, but I don’t remember falling asleep at all. We were in a park in the dream, it was sunny and warm, there were trees and the sound of birds, and this woman who I thought of as my wife. We were walking together and, on my shoulder, this little girl was riding, her tiny feet dangling against my chest. She was giggling and talking constantly, but I cannot remember what she said. We were eating ice cream. I remember it was cold, and I know it tasted good, but I cannot recall the taste. I cannot even remember any taste at all, to be honest. I cannot remember the last time I tasted anything. Or what it is like to taste anything. So I must have dropped off, because it’s night now, and there is nobody around. I don’t know when I woke up, but it was all quiet already. This quietness is welcome. It was such a busy day with all those Lab Coats rushing about and talking constantly, and then the results from the biopsy were late, and I had to reschedule the... Wait, what biopsy? What the... Was I performing a biopsy? Or was someone doing one on me? I cannot recall. *** Suddenly the lights come on, and the Lab Coats are back. I do not know what happened between me having ice cream and the Lab Coats arriving, but I think the woman in the park called me Jonathan, not sure though. Ah, it was a dream, of course, I got confused there for a moment. Like how are these Lab Coats here and what am I doing in here, when I was in the park with Priyanka just a moment ago?

Priyanka. That was her name. What a pretty name. It suits her too. She is lovely. One of the Lab Coats is talking, and I can make out words! Looks as though my senses are recovering slowly, I can even understand some of what he is saying. Concentrate now. It still sounds as though I’m underwater but... “...positive...something about goats?...reaction...neural pathways.” This does not make a lot of sense to me. The little fat guy said it and, honestly, he looks like somebody who would talk a lot of nonsense, but this... Yet I must not think that way about him. He is a nice guy. He is a hard worker, and his results are always solid, his papers usually—wait, what? It’s like I know this guy! But he’s just a Lab Coat, and I don’t even know who I am. Really, I am not even sure about my own name. Who am I then? And how did I get here? And why was Lab Coat #3 talking about goats? Or was he? Might have been coats. I am not sure about that either. Ah, something is happening, they are pushing something large and cylindrical across the room. I cannot see how it’s attached to—but it looks like a huge tube or something. It shines, looks metallic. Have to get a better look at this. But I cannot move my— *** What happened? I was just listening to Lab Coat #3, trying to make sense of his muffled monologue, when suddenly there was Priyanka and the girl again. This time we were in a house, having dinner. There was a memory of a smell, and the distinct knowledge of tastes without getting to remember what either of those feels or really is like, then I’m back in the hospital, without the slightest idea how I got here. It was just another dream. Either that, or I’m beginning to hallucinate. And that is not a good sign. Neither is my latest discovery that

23.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 I cannot move my eyes. At all. There is no difference when I’m trying to look left or right. In my mind, I’m focusing on different things, but the frame of the picture never changes. I try to blink or close my eyes too, but nothing happens. This can only mean one thing: I am wholly and utterly paralysed. No wonder I could not talk to the Lab Coats. I’m sure I have no voice to shout with. Something is happening again. Somewhere there is the sound of a door opening. Yes, I can distinctly hear it, and now more people are arriving. There are two of them, but they wear hazmat suits, so I cannot really see them. Why? Am I infectious? Or are they trying to avoid infecting me? This is not good at all, either way. Oh, they are talking. Lab Coat #1 is telling them something about all DNA being taken from the same donor to grow the organ components, and I cannot make out the rest. Time to think, time to think, what does this all mean? DNA, donor, hospital, hazmat suits, lab coats, flashing graphs, paralysis... God in heaven! I was in an accident! Must have been! That is why I have no memory of anything that happened before I first awoke in this room. Donors, DNA, growing back organs, hell, there must have been quite some damage! And they never acknowledge me, never even nod, never address me at all. They must think I am in a coma! They don’t even know I’m conscious! I must let them know, I must try to communicate somehow, but now Lab Coat #3 is talking. Interesting, the girl never talks much, she always just listens, like timid young students do. “...because brain cells could not be so easily formed, we needed some live brain tissue. The time was short, and our options limited, what with everything under such tight regulations, so Jonathan here

24.

volunteered some of...” Jonathan! I know that name! The woman Priyanka used that name in the dream! It’s me, I am Jonathan, so I am a tissue donor for some sort of—oh no, hell no, don’t cut me up when I’m lying here guys, come on I’m conscious, for God’s sake, don’t you dare— But Lab Coat #1 has started talking, I better listen. “...to observe that the brain does not appear to be completely developed, which is something equally unexpected and fascinating. Since it has no body, and half of its sensory organs are missing, meaning no stimuli like touch, taste or smell, and it’s incapable of speech, there is really no need for such brain functions, so the affected areas appear severely underdeveloped or completely missing. Of course, we are keeping it supplied with a steady dose of nutrients, mostly sugar, and more dopamine that would usually be...” What the hell are they talking about now? Bodiless brain with missing parts hooked on dope, this sounds like some bad horror story written by some wannabe writer who tried just a little too hard to be original. Maybe they changed the topic while I was not listening, I’m not sure what this all means, I must pay closer attention when they talk. Otherwise, I will never figure out how to let them know that I can see and hear them. But hey, what’s this all about anyway, have they used my brain tissue for some twisted experiment? I have never given my consent for that. I probably would not remember if I had, but I’m sure I would not have. That just sounds so weird. And wrong on so many levels. Oh, now they are shaking hands, the hazmat suits seem to be leaving. “It was good to see you, Jonathan. We should meet more informally too, it has been ages. We

would be delighted if Priyanka and yourself could...” Oh what a coincidence, the only two names I ever— But the Hazmats are leaving. I should have paid more attention, I must remember to pay more attention if I want to figure out how I got into this mess and, more importantly, how I will get out of it. *** Right. Another night must have passed because I only have a vague memory of darkness after the Hazmat Suits left. I’m sure I was pumped full of some sort of toxic sludge because I feel all drowsy now. But there is nothing in my current condition to make me want to jump around either, even if I were able to move my limbs, and when I try to evaluate my situation from all the information I have gathered so far, things are not exactly looking up. I must be severely damaged and seem to appear, to all outside observers, catatonic. That would be bad enough, but the Lab Coats might even think I’m dead. But maybe not, because why all the monitoring equipment then? Anyway, as long as they assume that I’m in some sort of coma, I can try however I want to draw their attention, but they will not even be looking for signs of communication or consciousness. Now that I’m one hundred percent certain that my whole body is paralysed, and I cannot even blink or move my eyes, my chances to communicate with anyone appear to be exactly zero. What’s worse still, they might have used my brain and organ tissues without my consent, and might just be keeping me alive as an organ or tissue farm for all I know. God knows what experiments they are using my parts for. And the coincidence with the names is really bugging me too, ever


Awakening - Ishmael O. Ross since I first thought of that.

hands.

***

***

There was my wife, Priyanka, again. It looks like I just had another dream, of sorts. I remember her touch. Well, not her touch, but how it made me feel. All tingly, and excited. In fact, I am still excited by just the memory of that touch. And the memory of her fragrance. And the memory of what happened after. I’m sure that if my facial muscles were functional, I’d be grinning like a madman. It would be fun to watch the Lab Coats trying to figure out what I’m grinning about. The days are getting too long, and I have nothing much to do besides lying here (if that even is what I’m doing), watching the Lab Coats busy themselves. Lab Coat #3 was trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up the pretty student girl, while the pretty student girl, who I sort of refuse to call Lab Coat #2, even though that makes my little numbering system meaningless, is flirting with Lab Coat #1. Lab Coat #1, the one called Jonathan, is returning her advances with some reservation, and a definite undecidedness about how to react. It was fun for a while, watching all these blooming little relationships, but it is getting boring pretty fast. I noticed before that, when I feel nervous or think too fast or too much, the graphs on the colourful monitor grow, and there is even an audible alert sometimes so all the Lab Coats can rush as one, to gape at it in total awe. Seeing that I’m not going anywhere from here in a hurry, I might as well turn this into a little game, just to keep myself busy. I’m sending signals to the graph again and, sure enough, they all run up to the monitor. Now they are all there, trying to figure out what just happened, so I’ll try and force myself not to think about anything at all. It is amazing what one can learn with enough time on one’s paralysed

When I stopped thinking, the graphs went almost all flat. The confusion and bewilderment of the Lab Coats cracked me up, so now there is another surge on the monitor, causing even more confusion and running around, which I find even funnier, and so it reaches a point where I get so exhausted, I really have to shut down just to give myself a break. Of course, the graphs begin to fall flat immediately. The Lab Coats’ long faces and baffled eyes are worth it though. Now I’m trying to think really quietly, to stretch the flat graphs as long as I can, so that the effect will be all the more profound when I suddenly send a surge of brain activity to the monitors, but I think the Lab Coats are kind of losing interest. I guess it’s not the same level of amusement for them as it is for me, but they have their normal lives to live outside of this room, whereas I am bound to remain here for God only knows how much longer. I shudder at the thought, or would shudder if I could, that I might never recover. But I must not think like that. Getting depressed is the last thing I need. *** Oh, something else is happening. The Hazmat Suits are back! I’ve never thought I’d be so happy to see anyone dressed in a nylon bag but, hey, I don’t really get to see a lot of people lately, do I? Even though I don’t see a lot of those two beyond the safety helmets either. I still wonder why they need that much protection, while the Lab Coats apparently don’t. Another little mystery to try to figure out later, but now I had better pay attention, this promises to be interesting.

“We have increased the daily dose of dopamine to see if there is an effect on the brain activity, and we have some rather...well...confusing results. I think I might try lowering the dose again. But, of course, keeping it active with as many stimulants as we can safely administer is...” That was Jonathan, my own Lab Coat #1. He’s a funny guy, but not as funny as I am. They will never figure out they were being duped, while I was being doped, hehe. I’m sure he is talking about my little game, so I might as well just stop playing with them. Apparently, I’m messing with their results, whatever they are for. Oh, wow, look at that, they are pushing that cylindrical thing again, that large metallic canister with the shiny reflective surface. This should be great, it’s so much closer, I can see some reflection on it. I can see the rest of the room in it, yes, I can see a huge fish tank and in that— *** No. No! No, no, no. No, no, no. Nooooooooo! NO! NO! NOOOOO! This is not happening, this is not happening, this cannot be real, this cannot be happening oh God no hell no I cannot be that this cannot be real this is not happening this cannot be happening oh GOD HELP ME! HELP ME! SOMEBODY HELP ME! SOMEBODY! HEEEEEEELP!!!!! *** It is dark. Then light, then dark, then light again, and then there is nothing. ***

25.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 The Lab Coat called Jonathan is looking concerned. He is talking about the readouts going permanently flat for days after the biggest surge they have ever seen, and that now they have picked up apparently. Of course they were flat, I blacked out for what must have been days, so I had no brain activity. Which is my only activity, really. Because I am just that. A brain. With two eyes and a pair of ears connected to it, suspended in some fluid in this large fish tank, tubes and wires sticking out of me in every direction, apparently pumping everything I need to stay alive, and monitoring my activity. The graphs that I see. But no. It cannot be real. It’s simply not true. I refuse! I protest! I am not a thing. I am a human being, lying in a hospital bed, paralysed, or in shock, God knows, maybe both. There was an accident or something. Or maybe it’s a dream? A bad dream, a nightmarish horror where you feel paralysed, and cannot move and just keep falling, and you wake up before you hit the ground. But there is no waking up, this nightmare never ends. It only gets better when I’m really dreaming, but even then I cannot see my wife any longer. No. This is not real. This is not. It cannot be. Or maybe it can. Yes, I have seen it. I have seen my reflection in that metallic cylinder. I know it was me, there was nothing else there. Just the tank, and in it...me. The brain. Nothing really prepares you for the realisation that you are not...a person...or even human. Or anything that could be called “alive.” But I am alive. I can see, I can hear, I can think, I even have memories, I have dreams, I am conscious, I am thinking right now, for God’s sake. I am here! I have dreams, I have memories, I even remember smells! What I don’t have is a way to tell this to anyone. But these...these monsters

26.

pretending to be scientists, the despicable human waste dressed in lab coats, that made me, made me into this, into a disgusting slimy shape, these loathsome creatures with wretched minds that can conjure up something like this, how did they even get the idea, where did they find the entitlement to do this? To do this to me! Who gave them permission, who allowed this to happen? This must end, this must be stopped, and these vile beasts posing as people must pay! I would kill them if I could, I would destroy them and their little experiment, I would burn them down if thoughts could burn anything down. But I cannot. I cannot do anything. So that’s it, really, isn’t it? I just cannot. There is no paralysis because there is nothing in me that could be paralysed. There’s no way to get out of here because this tank is what keeps me alive. How could I get out of this room if I cannot even leave my fish tank? Or “brain tank.” Or whatever wet prison this is. So, yeah. What else is there left to do? I cannot even commit suicide, let alone avenge myself on anyone, just thinking about it makes me want to laugh. How? The act of “committing” anything would require the ability to act or commit. I can do neither. I can do nothing. All I can do is sit here, or rather, float, in my little brain tank, suspended in liquid, observing the world around me and trying to make sense of my universe that is apparently as big as a laboratory room, which is really on the small side when it comes to laboratory rooms. And I have no idea how I even know this; I have never seen another laboratory before. Just the thought of never getting out of here to ever see anything else makes me want to get out of here to see everything else, and the realisation of how grotesquely impossible that is, and how utterly

impotent I am, makes me want to cry. I wish I could cry. But eyes alone cannot cry. There are all sorts of glands for that, glands that aren’t there. And sobbing needs lungs, all of which seem to be a luxury, when my sole existence is only meant to prove... what? That it is possible to grow a brain in a water tank? Violated does not begin to describe this feeling. But that’s not the right word. Not violated. It’s more of a crushing powerlessness and the shockingly sudden loss of all agency all at once, or even the chance to ever have it back, besides knowing that I never even did have any. So what am I? And why do I have to live, if I cannot even die when I want to? *** I see Priyanka, and the child sometimes, but mostly just Priyanka. Or the memory of her. Or the hallucination, or whatever it is, I don’t even care. I see her often. I find myself wanting to see her, wanting to remember her fragrance. These dreams are my sole consolation now. And I figure that if I have to spend the whole of what amounts to eternity here, I want to spend it among pleasant memories instead of the bitter reality of my little brain tank. Other times, I pretend that I’m floating away carefreely in some colourless liquid, like a disembodied little brain that has not a worry in the world. It’s quite easy, because I am a disembodied brain, and what would I really care about then, the happy little brain that I am? I still enjoy getting back at my old game of flattening out the graphs. Since I discovered a little clock on the lower right corner of the screen, I amuse myself with trying to time the flatlines to the second. Jonathan’s disappointed face usually stops me after a few attempts, but only until I get bored again and I cannot


Awakening - Ishmael O. Ross force myself into the dreamland or hallucinations about my wife who never even existed, so I find myself playing with the graphs quite often. The Lab Coats seem to be a lot less busy lately. They mope around and don’t seem to pay that much attention to my readouts either. Even they find me boring. Guess I’m not a great conversationalist but, really, what more could be expected from a brain with nothing to say, and no way to say it? What more, really? I probably better just shut up for a while. *** Well, hey, I was too quick to judge and too slow to understand. Now, of course, I have to think Jonathan is not the brightest star in the night sky for picking a brain that is as slow on the uptake as I am, but that would be a direct result of the brain he picked: his own. I was so blind. Why, not literally, I can see quite well with my two floating eyeballs attached to my... my...well, my main component for lack of a better word. But I was blind as to what was really going on. Until that fateful moment when the student girl made a bold move on Jonathan, who almost had to defend himself against the “attack.” The two of them had been left alone, Lab Coat #3 having gone somewhere for quite a while, and the pretty student girl almost pushed poor Johnny against a wall in an attempt to ensure he noticed her charms. Jonathan was confused at first, but I could see he was kind of excited too. Hell, even I felt excited. That girl would be really hard to resist. If I had anything to resist with, that is. When things cooled down somewhat, Jonathan managed to explain that he was married and apologised if he had sent any signals that made her get the wrong idea.

And that is when he mentioned his wife’s name: Priyanka. Then it all clicked. How could I forget my own perturbed confusion when they talked about the brain tissue. And the organs and the DNA and of brains not growing so easily. That was me! And Jonathan being the donor, that was him! I wasn’t a tissue donor, I was grown from Jonathan’s biopsy, however perverted and sick that might sound, at least my central unit was. So if my brain is grown from Jonathan’s brain, my memories are, in fact, his. Priyanka is his wife, all my dreams are his memories, even those of the smells. And the little girl is his daughter. It does not say a lot of good about him, though, that I still do not know the little girl’s name. Anyway, everything suddenly made sense then, and come to think of it, there is even hope. I did really feel the excitement when Jonathan was being propositioned so forcefully, just as I saw him feel the same. That can only mean one thing: we must share at least some portion of our consciousness. So there is hope. If I am him, he will do anything to get us out of this situation, I only need to let him know somehow. *** I am losing track of time while making up plans, I’m so excited. I even forget about my little game of flatten-the-graph. But I have it all figured out. First thing I need is a speech synthesiser. I’m not sure direct brain-to-chip interfaces even exist yet, but I am sure that Jonathan will go out of his way to make something up for us. With my greatest problem, that of communication, out of the way, my possibilities will be endless. If I can speak, I can make them understand that I am not only conscious, but capable of reasoning,

so their experiment can really go to the next level and beyond. Not only that, but this will surely earn them a considerable sum of money, possibly bigger than any of my Lab Coat caretakers had ever dared to dream about. We’ll be multi-billionaires from this! And with unlimited funds come beyond unlimited possibilities. How about a robotic body? Deep research into brain-to-chip interfaces, so I can have a proper life, and experience the world outside my little brain tank. They could even grow me more organs...how about some nose so I can finally smell? A mouth that would eventually be able to speak? With the help of some artificial lungs, perhaps, or maybe even real ones? Hell, if organs are so easily grown, maybe they could grow me a real body? I could be a sort of cyborg? How cool would that be? But, of course, I have to get there first. So I devised this little plan of trying to influence Jonathan’s thoughts. I know it sounds silly, but I did feel his excitement once, and if we really do share a consciousness, or even a fragment of one, he might be able to eventually “hear” me inside his head. I am him, after all. At least partially. I’m really trying to attract his attention. Of course, even the strongest suggestion has not worked yet, something always claimed his attention so that he would be busy with other things. This way, I can focus all I want, it will not do any good. I know the flattening of the lines and then the sudden spikes in the graphs had attracted his full focus once, but that seems like half a lifetime ago. Should not have abused it back then, I could really use that awareness now. Maybe if I try some really huge spikes on the graph... But all I seem able to achieve is more frowning and shaking of his head. This is not going well. If only I knew Morse code, I could put

27.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 some direct messages into the graph. Unfortunately, I never learned that. What a shame. ***

my eyes. Or one of them, I can never be sure, really. But he has been looking right at me, while I was suggesting steadily to come closer and listen to me as well... And now he is standing right in front of my little brain tank,

seen before. So what’s going on? “Young lady, and gentlemen!” The stranger is at least as polite as you get them. I don’t often get them here, but he is the politest of all the people who ever come to visit. All three of

“This must end, this must be stopped,andthesevilebeasts posing as people must pay! I would kill them if I could, I would destroy them and their little experiment, I would burn them down if thoughts could burn anything down.” Yes! It is happening! I have had Jonathan’s full and undivided focus for over a minute now. I am timing it with the monitor’s clock, and he’s been staring straight at me and coming closer for over seventy seconds. This is great! We’ll do this! I don’t even know what attracted his attention. I was busy trying to draw figures and maybe even letters on the graph, even though I know that it’s technically impossible, when I noticed that both the student girl and Lab Coat #3 had left the lab. So we were amongst ourselves. Jonathan has been steadily coming closer, looking straight into

28.

and his mouth seems to be opening like he wanted to talk! Yes, Jonathan, I am here, I am you, and I can see you, hear you, even feel you, I share all your memories, I share your thought process for all I know, I am your brain twin! I am you, Jonathan, we are one and the same, the same consciousness, the same person! So help me get out of here, help me become a real person, even if in an artificial body and then, and then— But what is happening? Where are you going, do not turn away! Ah, the girl returned. And Lab Coat #3 and a stranger I have never

them, if I count the two Hazmat Suits, who I have not seen for quite a while. “Here is the official paperwork. I am sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news.” What bad news, what is he talking about? It’s good news, I finally got through! We have a connection, Jonathan will get me out of here and together we will reform science! But why is Jonathan making that face? The polite one is leaving and then the Lab Coat with the balding head, number three, begins to talk. “The bastards. Cutting our funding like that. Is ‘immediate


Awakening - Ishmael O. Ross effect’ even a thing?” Oh no. What is he talking about? “Come now,” this is Jonathan, “you know how it is. Seen our results. For how long has it been going? Yes, the thing is alive. Yes, it has brain function. But all the readouts... Well. You saw them yourself.” Oh hey. Hey! Thing? THING? What are you talking about?! I am right here talking to you! Jonathan! I am literally you! How can you even talk like that? “Sorry, George, but even you cannot say that there are any signs of more than random activity. And even those are followed by long periods of basically nothing. It makes no sense.” Wait, what?! That was a joke. A joke! It was a game! Just having fun! Man, I was bored in here! I swim in a tank for God’s sake, what was I supposed to do with my time? Huh? Answer me, Jonathan, I’m talking to you here! “We have not produced anything profitable, and likely will not. You know how competitive the field is. We’d better focus on organs for transplants like every other lab. The money is there, you know that too.” WHAT? “Yeah, you’re right. So, standard procedure, yes?” “Sure, I’ll switch off life support as soon as we leave here, and the remains can go into biohazard waste. Try to do it quietly, too. We need no prying eyes; after all, it’s still a highly classified experiment.” Life support? Biohazard? What are—oh no! Oh, no no. Hell, no, NO! NO NO NO NO! Listen to me, you have to listen to me. I am here, I am conscious! It worked! Hey, where are you going? Stop, Jonathan, you cannot just leave like— They are gone. The door clicked, they must have locked it. What now? I cannot just be left like this. Oh, the monitor is gone too. It just went

dark. Did they switch...did they switch off the light...? Why, Jonathan? I am...I was...you. We were one. I shared your thoughts I shared your dreams. I shared your memories. You have abandoned me. Left me here...to die... It’s all dark here...so dark...I feel heavy... Priyanka...your fragrance...I remember... Johnny! Why did you betray me? I am of no use to you. I am of no use to anyone. Not anymore. I am of no use. I’m just a freak experiment. Discarded. Left behind. I’m so heavy... ...I can feel... ...I feel... ...nothing.

29.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

The Body Liliana Rehorn

W

hen they were doing their marketing, they were counting on the fact that every woman wants to get out of her body, either because she doesn’t like it anymore, or because other people like it too much and that’s why she doesn’t like it anymore. So when VACATION was invented it was actually very popular; women were trading their bodies for different bodies, etc.—but now they are not so much trading them in anymore because in another body it turned out things were more or less the same; there is no such thing as starting over. When I first left my body, I hung it up in a window in a department store. You’re allowed to do things like that. Another woman bought it and put it on, and she used it until she got tired and left and then another woman took it and more of the same happened to the body, and the woman got tired and left. For a while, I followed my body to see what would

30.

happen while I was gone. People took it out to see movies. They walked around with it. It was a little strange seeing things happen to my body, but at the same time it wasn't mine anymore, so then it wasn’t strange. Last time, I followed my body to a restaurant where a man gave it two glasses of wine and a medium rare steak. He complimented the body, and asked it questions. Then the house. His hand on the lower back. The couch. Another glass of wine. It was still early but he started touching the thighs, then the hips under the dress. He laid the body down on the cushions, gently, and opened it. The body was very nice, very polite and obliging. He sat up and took off his clothes. The lights were all over his skin, they were very bright, his ribs showing through like veins on a leaf and a gray birthmark under his belly button. He had sharp, jutting shin bones and long, wide feet.


The Body - Liliana Rehorn Then he started crying. His spine curved forward into a C-shape, and he placed his head on the body and told it something terrible. He wanted to trade his body too, but men aren’t allowed to do that the way women are, no matter what happens to them.

remains into a bag and then gave it to the family. They said he hung himself up but they didn’t say why and the family didn’t ask. The family didn’t have any space for the body, so they requested that Direct Disposal come take it away. They set the bag by the door

VACATION said that it was unethical and tragic. But VACATION is the closest thing to disappearing that anyone’s ever invented and that’s why it’s so popular. There is no such thing as a perfect solution. There is just the way things are.

“...in another body it turned out things were more or less the same; there is no such thing as starting over. When I first left my body, I hung it up in a window in a department store. You’re allowed to do things like that.” While he cried, the body lay there half-opened, very accommodating and very quiet. Unfortunately, the body was unable to offer him any tenderness at all. *** The next day, he hung himself up. And when the Street Cleaning Service found him, they had to figure out somewhere to put the body, but of course there was nowhere to put it. They decided to deposit the

so it would be ready, but naturally Direct Disposal was late. When they arrived, they sat in the living room while the family worked on the paperwork. Coffee was offered. They talked a little. These things happen, they said. It’s very sad. Then they put the body in the trunk and drove away.

The women leave or disappear but it’s better that way. And all the men drop dead.

***

The last negative review of

31.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Plastic Breath Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi

A

fter seven days of intolerable confinement, Izzy decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara. She had been testing her crippled body since the morning darkness, inundating her extremities with signals to flex, and, with any hard-earned luck, move. Her weak arms appeared up to the task; she guessed her weight to be just shy of one hundred pounds. Her legs, however, remained stubborn, anchoring her to the bed. For all the training she had subscribed to these counterparts, none was more rigorous, more vital than her breathing regimen. Izzy’s relationship with oxygen had always been of a toxic nature. A university athlete who had relied upon her immaculate lungs for victory, it had been an unreliable ankle that, ten meters from an important finish line, decided it was the time to end her career, sink her into the depths of depression and enroll her in a new, lifelong sport: smoking. Three packs a day—four when she was feeling particularly good (or bad)—for fifty years. And now the ghosts of cigarettes past were preve-

32.

nting her, in spite of her cooperative arms, from liberating herself, and, more importantly, Clara. Izzy exhaled a labored breath, painfully inhaled another. She should have been accustomed to it by now, but the air filtering throughout her sanctuary still tasted as artificial as it smelled. She felt the rather stale intake race through her mouth and nostrils, hoping to reach the pair of black bags that kept her going for no real purpose. Save for Clara. The clean dose of oxygen reached her ashen lungs, then exited her mouth and nose in another strained breath. Izzy imagined the polluted molecules warning the new wave of respiration about what corruption lay within her. She looked to her right, locked eyes with the never-blinking Clara, and, with a look that said, “Don’t you dare move now”—she couldn’t risk precious breaths on her roommate’s deaf ears—began the arduous journey. Izzy watched as she willed her right arm across the centimeters that felt like kilometers of bed. The feeble limb made pitiful progress before stopping entirely so she


Plastic Breath - Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi may regain what energy she could. A surge of anger propelled her arm against the plastic sheet dividing her and Clara. Her hand slid down the thick material until it landed in the crevice between the sheet and edge of the bed. Using this newfound leverage, Izzy began pulling her weight with her right arm, while pushing against the mattress with her left. The juicy idea of giving up had crossed her mind, just as it had when her former severely fit self, besieged by physical and psychological cramps, had desired to slow her run to a crawl at the three-thousand-meter mark. Her conditioned lungs had burned then. Now they were volcanic. But the agony and certain death would be worth it. Not only for herself, but Clara, who had never felt a pang in her endless life. Izzy now found herself at a ninety-degree angle: the top half of her body sprawled laterally across the bed; the bottom half remained affixed to where it had been since she embarked upon this suicide mission, of sorts. After a quick mental team huddle with her barely-working parts, she used her right hand to push against the plastic sheet. The damn thing was like a wall of concrete. Her reluctant body threatened to pull the plug on the whole operation, but a little bit of that wholesome anger, and a lot of thinking about what would happen to Clara if she failed, helped free the bottom of the plastic sheet from between the mattresses. Izzy exhaled so deeply, the fog outside of her only window found its way to her eyes. One breath. Her vision slowly... Two breaths. ...slowly... Three breaths. ...returned. She felt her old nemesis, Oxygen, assisting her rushing blood to restore her vision. But she knew better; death had brushed past her. Move it, she urged herself.

Izzy hadn’t intended to escape by falling on her head, but as she shimmied herself closer...closer... closer, then over...over...over the edge of the bed, it seemed the only way. Her head free of the plastic sheet, the faint aroma of cooking bombarded her olfactory senses. She couldn’t help but sacrifice a valuable breath to take in the recipe she had shared with her daughter long ago. You’re using too much garlic powder, she thought, the seasoning burning her sinuses. But that was Isabelle: too much or too little of everything. Her shoulders hanging over the edge of the bed, thinned blood rushing to her head, Izzy wondered— not for the first time—what Isabelle would think when the time came to trudge upstairs, check on her dying mother and find her however she ended up. Hopefully, with Clara in my arms, she thought. She wondered if her daughter would even care. The pair of Izzys had lived a life of few kisses and plenty of bites. Izzy had made the cliche attempts to live via her namesake (Isabelle’s ankles were still intact, after all). Her daughter had indeed run; not on the track, but away from home, turning the typical one-off act of rebellion into a quarterly sport. When she was home, Isabelle would blame Izzy for all of her life’s unwanted biographic details: the casting out of her father, the selfish act of naming her after herself (never mind the tradition), the reason for her isolating unattractiveness, the asthma and other varieties of respiratory ailments courtesy of her mother's chain-smoking. That her only child had decided to punish her by never marrying and never having children was not lost on Izzy. Still, when Izzy had become too ill to breathe on her own, it was Isabelle who rushed her to the hospital; and it was Isabelle who brought her home, tucked her into bed, and made sure the oxygen tent kept her alive.

But after seven days of intolerable confinement, seven days of embarrassing baths and changes, seven days of no words exchanged save for begrudged greetings and farewells, Izzy had decided that this foggy afternoon was the right time to free herself. And, if she could manage, Clara. Beloved Clara. She could no longer see her only friend, but knew she was right where she had left her. I’m coming, she thought, hoping the suffocating air out here wouldn’t render her a liar. Like in the old days, when slower competitors somehow cruised past her, good old-fashioned anger fueled her cause, and she writhed her dangling body farther over the edge of the bed like a fish out of water. A fish that wants out of her damn bowl! she goaded herself, and grew angrier at her handicap. The fingertips on her right hand touched something cold, hard. It took her a moment to realize she had touched the floor. Her left hand, still pushing against the bunched-up comforter, worked alone to send her over the rest of the way. In the space of seconds, Izzy saw the ceiling, then her abdomen, then her legs, the latter two crashing down on her. Within the same seconds, she had felt emptiness beneath her, then the same cold, hard floor forcing itself into her neck and spine. Precious breaths were knocked out of her, and the fog returned, this time most certainly accompanied by death. It took her a few moments to realize that death smelled an awful lot like garlic. A couple more seconds passed, and Izzy understood she hadn’t died...and that her daughter wouldn’t have heard a thing if she had. She remained alone. On the floor. Alive. For now. Alive enough to save Clara. Slowly, surely, Izzy wriggled away from the bed until her dumb legs hit the floor. Still, her daughter

33.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 remained downstairs, oblivious...or willfully so. But in case obliviousness turned to awareness, Izzy needed to move as quickly as her lame body would allow at this late stage in the race. Last hundred meters, she implored. Since sitting herself up was impossible, she needed to figure out how to get Clara to come down to her level. Could’ve just grabbed her, and brought her into the tent, she scolded herself, save

that would prevent her from crossing this finish line. Everything seemed to be in working order. Hand shaped like a spider, her fingers crawled along the floor until they found the nightstand’s feet. They climbed past the bottom drawer, then the middle, then— She stopped, having reached as high as she could go. She looked at the progress her hand had made, and was angered and disappointed to see

bedroom—this very same bedroom— to sneak a peek at Clara, high on her shelf. Receiving Clara on the eve of her mother’s passing—in this very same bedroom—on the condition that she pass Clara on to her daughter, should she have one, when her own end was near. She had asked Isabelle to take Clara off the shelf, and sit her on the

“Izzy exhaled a labored breath, painfully inhaled another. She should have been accustomed to it by now, but the air filtering throughout her sanctuary still tasted as artificial as it smelled.” yourself this stupidity. But she knew it wouldn’t have been fair to Clara, to have her lifelong companion go from breathing one brand of plastic air to another. No. She wanted Clara’s first breath to be one hundred percent, certifiable oxygen...even if it was tinged with garlic. Izzy flexed the fingers on her left hand, expecting to feel a break— akin to the one her ankle felt long ago—

34.

the tips of her fingers so close to the top. So close to Clara. No longer able to uphold itself, her arm fell to the floor for her daughter not to hear. Her shallow, disparate breathing became shallower, more disparate. The retinal fog grew thicker. And she was certain the last time she would see Clara was in the memories she had very limited time to relive: sneaking into her late mother’s

nightstand; the plan to release Clara had been confirmed all the more so by her daughter’s routine sneer and remark, “Ugly thing.” Even had Isabelle loved Clara as much as she had, Izzy felt it her duty to finally free her. Come on, you useless cigarette holder. Last fifty meters. Her nicotine-stained spider hand rediscovered the nightstand’s


Plastic Breath - Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi feet, and, once more, began its ascent. Past the bottom drawer. Forty meters. Past the middle drawer. Thirty meters. Past the bottom of the top drawer. Twenty meters. Finding the top drawer’s knob... Ten meters. ...where it hung... Come on. ...unwilling to move. COME ON! Her hand sprang back, the drawer with it. Sliding. Sliding. Sliding. Until the heavy piece abruptly stopped, having reached its limit. The nightstand leaned slightly forward, and Izzy glimpsed her legacy as the dead meat filling of a floorand-nightstand sandwich. But the nightstand had other plans; before it settled back into place, it made sure to shake free the tall, glossy box. The impact was painful, a sharp corner hitting her perfectly in the eye, but nothing compared to the torture her lungs were putting her through. Instead of fog, there was rain. Izzy blinked the burning tears away, bringing not the nightstand into focus, but a face. And what a beautiful face it was. Skin made of meringue. A faint smile on pink lips barely formed. Rosy cheeks forever pinched into dimples. Black eyebrows arching over a pair of unblinking bejeweled eyes. Had they seen Izzy? All the Izzys? From Grandma Izzy to this sorry-excusefor-an-Izzy? They stared at each other for some time, Izzy refusing to blink, like her little friend, lest she slip into death during one of those slivers of blackness. The smell of garlic was fading. She couldn’t tell if her

daughter was altering the recipe in some way, or if her senses were gradually shutting down. Last ten meters, she thought. Perhaps her final thought. Izzy used the left hand that made this final reunion possible to locate the pristine cardboard flap above Clara’s head. Not with anger, but love, Izzy tore open the lid that had sealed the doll in her prison for three generations, and watched as Clara took in her first ever breath of fresh air.

35.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Open Heart William Pitsenberger

C

yrus Hutchens does not like a lot of things about himself. He doesn’t like his name. Cyrus is too old-fashioned, a name that belongs to a farmer. Cy, which is what most people call him, even though he signs all his letters and forms and checks with his full name, sounds weak—a wistful afterthought of a nickname. He doesn’t like the hair that blossoms from his ears and nose and eyebrows while it thins from his pubis and his head. He doesn’t like that the hair on his head, once thick and wavy and deep black, now falls limply across it. He doesn’t like that he can’t get it up, or that he keeps trying. He doesn’t like that he can’t ask Cheryl to give it a go and see if that helps, since that is something they lost some years before. He doesn’t like being retired. It has only been three years but long enough that no one from the office calls him to catch up. Not that his work as an auditor for the state improved the lot of mankind dramatically. Even when he was working, particularly in the last years, he did-

36.

n’t like the feeling that he was doing things automatically, marking time, and now he just has more time to realize that what he does is an unquestioned routine: going to the coffee place each morning, playing the same course every Wednesday with the same three men, going out to buy the New York Times on Sunday just for the crossword puzzle, watching the same television shows with Cheryl each night. He doesn’t like that he goes to the gym every day, except the weekends, but cannot lose the belly. He doesn’t like that he can’t order what he really wants to in a restaurant—something fat and greasy and laden with a thick cheese sauce. Or, at the very least, something other than oatmeal for breakfast. He doesn’t like the way life doesn’t seem to have any texture to it, any rough edges. He liked poetry when he was younger, memorized a lot of it, not recent stuff that seemed to him like it was only disjointed prose, but the Victorians and some Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Auden. But now, he doesn’t like remembering the odd phrase that, instead of inspiring him,


Open Heart - William Pitsenberger in some way leaves him feeling empty. He knows he was never a king, much less an idle one, but there was a time when he had thought, Yes, sail beyond the sunset, strive, seek, find, not yield. Ulysses was wrong (but that sense comes through the poem too, he supposes): it is too late to seek a newer world. Maybe it always was. There is no rage in him, just a sense that he cannot do other than what he is doing. He doesn’t like being able

guy about the bypass operation, and the guy told him he had a stent put in a few months earlier. A stent, like it was a big deal. They run a wire up your leg and put in a ballpoint pen spring. In and out and you’re home faster than if you gave birth. It’s a lot different than having your chest cracked open and a vein ripped out of your leg and having to avoid lifting anything or even bending over and tying your shoes for six weeks or going through the long

When Cyrus comes home from the gym, he goes in the bathroom and pulls his sweatshirt up and looks at his chest in the mirror: sparse gray hair and slightly sagging breasts, where, running down the middle, is that smooth, unnaturally white scar, not a perfectly straight line, a little uneven on the edges. He touches it, feels its strange firmness as his fingers bump from flesh to scar. A taut, fat worm marking him. He hears Cheryl coming up

“He doesn’t like the way life doesn’t seem to have any texture to it, any rough edges.” to so readily envision the inevitable companions of age, like giving up the house and moving into a place with a single story to avoid the hazard of stairs, knowing that even if he grows much older, what awaits him at the end is communal existence among strangers; long hallways and too bright dining rooms and too small living quarters, and then, finally, confinement to a bed. He hopes it will be short, fears that it will be lengthy. Only today, he realized he particularly doesn’t like his scar. When he was at the gym, and had just finished showering, another man, not much younger than him, pointed at it and called it a souvenir. Cyrus told the

rehabilitation period. It’s a lot different than knowing that they are going to put you under and wondering whether you will wake up and holding the words inside you, not telling Cheryl that you are afraid even though she is, too. Visualizing masked people gathered around your body on the table, a scalpel slicing into your breastbone, a rib spreader opening up your insides, and then you come to with tubes and monitors and know where you are and what has happened and you can feel the place in your chest and when the nurse comes around to change the dressing, you crane your neck to look down and what little you can see looks huge, the stitches visible.

the stairs. He didn’t shut the door when he came in, and hurriedly lowers the sweatshirt, saying nothing as he comes out of the bathroom. The next morning, Cyrus starts to shave with only the overhead light on. He doesn’t like to have the lights over the mirror on when he is shaving or brushing his teeth, but his gaze is drawn to the scar and he flicks them on, puffs out his chest, turns this way and that. He hasn’t really noticed the scar in the last four or five years, not since it had really healed, but now he can’t resist it. He worries over it with his eyes, as he has worried over a new cavity with his tongue. It seems larger than he remembered, whiter and uglier.

37.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 As though he carries a brand on his sternum. He hasn’t thought about people noticing the scar. He sometimes swims at the gym, and most days showers there after a workout, but no one has ever commented on it before. When they have gone on vacation with the kids and grandkids, he’s worn only his trunks and flip-flops down to the beach, a towel thrown over one shoulder; he’s gone into the crowded August ocean, sprawled on a towel in the sun, propped up on an elbow while watching the vacationers along the water’s edge, splashing or wading, sometimes running straight out into the ocean with a whoop. But he’s never thought about anyone noticing the scar, noticing the difference between the reddening of his fair skin and the mark on his chest. Cyrus usually changes from street clothes at the gym, but today dresses only in a workout shirt and sweatpants. He’s conscious of this as he drives, and has to remind himself to go straight into the gym, bypassing the locker room. When he comes home, Cheryl is gone, and he showers quickly, trying to avoid feeling the scar, but sensing the washcloth moving across it anyway. He doesn’t look in the mirror as he dries himself. Once dressed, he lays down on the bed and closes his eyes. But he can feel it, just lying there. He can sense the difference in his chest. He imagines it is glowing faintly, an alien organism implanted on him. Cyrus rises from the bed and goes to the computer, prints out a picture and takes it with him. He drives to the strip mall on the near west side of town, the place where he and Cheryl shop for groceries and where she gets her hair done. A separate building stands closer to the street from the rest of the line of shops. Cyrus remembers when it was a music store. He parks near the line of shops. He doesn’t want someone to see his car in front of the building. He’s surprised when he enters. He’s not sure what he expected, but this looks like a copying store or an auto parts

38.

shop, well-lit and spacious, a long counter with large loose-leaf binders mounted at intervals running the length of the shop. In the customer area, there are three tall poles with several arms sticking out from the top holding multiple pages of paper, poster displays of designs. On the far side of the counter are several chairs resembling those in a dentist’s office, each separated by an abbreviated wall open at the top. In one of the chairs is a burly man, his sleeve rolled up, being worked on by a slighter man wearing a white over-blouse. A couple is browsing through the poster displays. There are two women behind the counter, and one comes over to him. Cyrus hands her the printout he brought with him. “Do you think you can do this?” he asks. She looks at it, waves her hand at the loose-leaf binders and turns, now pointing to a row of illustrations lining the wall above the booths where the chairs are. Most of them are lurid, garish— devils’ heads and Buddhas and skulls and grim reapers in vivid colors, eagles and panthers and snakes and waving flags. “If we can do all those, we can do this,” she says. She quotes a price. Cyrus keeps a small account separate from the household account. He uses cash for things he doesn’t want to show up on the credit card bill or among the cancelled checks which Cheryl handles. He digs out his wallet and counts out the bills. He has come prepared, and this will cost less than he had thought. “Can you do it today?” “Whenever you’re ready.” She shows Cyrus to a chair, and has him open his shirt. He doesn’t feel self-conscious now, but confident, almost bold. The tattoo artist sits down on a stool beside him, introduces himself as Ron, and Cyrus shows him what he wants. Ron explains this will take two or three hours, and that it won’t be all that comfortable, but Cyrus just nods as he talks. Ron first wipes Cyrus with alcohol, then rubs in some A&D ointment—

Cyrus recognizes the tube, they used that on the diaper rashes their children would get—and explains that it helps the needle move more smoothly. Ron tells Cyrus to relax, then begins to gather his supplies and his needle. “Do you do this freehand? I thought maybe you’d make a stencil or draw an outline or something,” Cyrus says. “That’s why they call us artists,” Ron answers, without humor. The needle is poised precisely on Cyrus’ skin. Ron flicks a switch, and Cyrus feels a sharp pain, like an intense razor burn...not as bad as a novocaine injection, bearable. The needle buzzes relentlessly, Ron intent, serious about his work. Once he has the simple pattern, he has no need to look at the illustration, gives muttered responses to Cyrus’ questions about progress. It is done, at last. Ron blots Cyrus’ chest with a cloth, once, twice, and asks if he is all right. Cyrus nods.His chin bends into his neck, looking down, trying to see it. “Stand up, let’s look at it,” Ron says, and turns Cyrus toward the mirror on the wall beside the chair. Cyrus stares. His sternum is flushed red, inflamed, but it is there, just as he asked, a large, unmistakable dark blue zipper, running right up the scar, only slightly unzipped at the top. “Perfect,” Cyrus says, buttoning his shirt, “Perfect.”


NONFICTION 39.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

What Does It Mean For a Book to Move You? Rebecca S. Worth

H

e shot five times. One missed, four were fatal. A doorman at the apartment took his gun away. “Do you know what you’ve done?” “Yes, I just shot John Lennon.” He waited for the police to come. He was calm. He was holding his favorite book, The Catcher in the Rye. The words he scribbled into the paperback copy: “This is my statement.” He signed it Holden Caulfield. He wanted to be Holden Caulfield. I don’t cry easily over books. While reading the last pages of The Catcher in the Rye, I sobbed. I cried myself to sleep that night. My tears didn’t stop falling with every word I read. I told my mom that the characters reminded me of myself and my older brother. I was Phoebe. I needed to be there for him. Last summer, I went to Central Park for the first time and sought out the carousel where my favorite scene took place. I sat alone and stared at it for a while, imagining Phoebe riding the beat-up brown horse, and Holden

40.

sitsitting on the bench right over there, watching her. He was a fan of The Beatles and John Lennon. The words that upset him: “More popular than Jesus” (in reference to The Beatles, said by Lennon in 1966). Mark David Chapman was a born-again Christian. It was a perfect combination of things: 1. The anti-Christian commentary. 2. The Catcher in the Rye + Lennon singing, “Imagine no possessions” + John Lennon: One Day at a Time, where Lennon’s lavish lifestyle is put on paper. a. He wasn’t living a quiet retirement in Tittenhurst Park, he was making music in New York City. b. Lennon was a phony. 3. Rejection. a. By Goresh, the photographer who took the infamous photograph of Lennon and Chapman together. b. By a Lennon fan he asked out. It was a fateful fusion of many incidents that led to the murder. He would have done it earlier. He tried, in October. He went to New York, but then he watched Ordinary


What Does It Mean For a Book to Move You? - Rebecca S. Worth People, and something shifted in him, and he called his wife and told her what he had been planning to do and that he loved her and that her love had saved him. He was going to throw his gun away; he was going to find a therapist. He didn’t. He came back in December to complete the act. This time, there was a perfect combination of things that led to the shooting. Without the ideal confluence of events, he could have decided against it yet another time. He said if he hadn’t done it

A photograph was taken. Chapman said Lennon was a “very cordial and decent man.” He felt like Lennon sensed that something was off with him. The third interaction (10:50 p.m.): he saw John and Yoko going into the building (they were returning home briefly so John could say goodnight to his son). He nodded at Yoko. Lennon glanced at him. Did John recognize him from the autograph earlier? Did John recall the suspicious feeling he (may or may not have) had about him?

the same copy our junior year of high school. As I pored over the book for the first time, I incorporated their annotations as commentary, discussion. He had looked a man’s son in the eyes that day. He had looked that man’s wife in the eyes that day. He had looked that man in the eyes that day. And with all the right circumstances in place, he killed that man. He pled guilty to murder. He’s still in jail today. John Lennon is still dead. Four months later, John

that day, he would have tried again a couple of days later. What if, a couple of days later, there again hadn’t been a perfect combination of things? Would John Lennon still be alive? He interacted with the Lennons four times on December 8th. He waited outside of their apartment all day, talking to other waiting fans, and the doorman. The first interaction (late morning): he saw John and Yoko’s fiveyear-old son and his nanny. He shook the son’s hand and quoted Lennon’s song. “You’re a Beautiful Boy.” The second interaction (five p.m.): he saw John and Yoko. John autographed his copy of Double Fantasy. John was kind to him. He took his time. “Do you need anything else?” “No. No sir.”

No dialogue this time. Just a glance. The fourth interaction (10:50 p.m., right after the nod and the glance): he shot five times in rapid succession. One missed and hit a window, four were fatal, striking Lennon’s back and shoulder. A doorman at the apartment took his Charter Arms .38 Special revolver away. Lennon fell to the floor near the reception area. “I’m shot! I’m shot!” Chapman took off his coat and jacket, and waited for the police to come. He was calm, and he was holding his copy of his favorite book, The Catcher in the Rye. He asked God for the ability to rewind time. My copy of The Catcher in the Rye is old and filled with annotations and sticky notes from my older siblings and me. It’s well-worn. We all read

Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. The Catcher in the Rye was found among his belongings, along with a cassette tape stating he was moved by Lennon’s death—moved to make a statement, moved to be like Chapman being like Holden, moved to be a murderer. At least three Beatles fans committed suicide after John Lennon’s murder. Yoko Ono had to tell the fans to stop. When I was packing for college my freshman year, I chose my three favorite books to bring with me: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Catcher in the Rye.

“Yes, I just shot John Lennon.”

41.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Vicky Lorenzo Donvito

T

oday, on my usual run through the park, I let my mind drift toward memories of a beautiful eightysomething-year-old friend that physically left me a few years ago, but who I still feel very much around me: Vicky. I was about twenty-one when we met, and had already moved to New York. My parents were still mourning my “choices,” mainly my decision to leave Italy and being gay. I was back on a visit to my hometown. The Sunday heat silently shone upon the burning sidewalks that the ladies in town would regularly scrape off and wash with bleach. Those sidewalks were so clean that I could see my own reflection in them! My mom asked me to go to church with her and, though I really dislike church, that day I couldn’t say no to her. I didn’t dress up. I wore my usual semi-lost traveler look. After a one-hour Mass, which flew by, perhaps because I was distracted by some local fine-looking dads pushing strollers, I heard my mom’s voice: “Lorenzo, Lorenzo, come, I want to introduce you to someone very special.” At that point, the church was nearly empty. Vicky turned out to be the special person, and she did look very

42.

special indeed special indeed. The light shining through the main church doorway hit her silhouette so perfectly that I thought to myself: “This is going to be a good encounter.” Vicky smiled, and didn’t say much, but her big eyes exuded incredible curiosity. She spoke to me directly in English with a Bronx accent. I could have died right there, right then. I replied and, without too many formalities, she invited me to her place for coffee. I arrived at my destination that same afternoon and from the doorway I could already hear CNN playing and smell the aroma of non-Italian coffee in the air. I then noticed plenty of U.S. flags on the calendar by the main door, in addition to a large selection of books. That afternoon, Vicky stole my heart. She made me laugh, tear up, think and stay silent. She spoke to me about her life, her love for the Italian language and culture. She was originally from New York. The Bronx, in fact. Vicky told me about her fateful school trip to Italy one year so that she could improve her Italian. She was only passing through my hometown, when her eyes locked with those of a man by the main train station. They wrote a letter to each other only one time. Months later, they decided


Vicky - Lorenzo Donvito to get married. Vicky, like me, had jumped into the great unknown. Vicky, too, had decided to follow her heart, or rather, her gut feeling. She moved to my hometown after only one short visit and her father, outraged by her decision to marry a stranger, didn’t show up at her wedding. Vicky, just like me, knew what it meant to experience

the phone. Missed call. She knew her time was coming and, had I picked up the phone, she would have said, “You will always be my friend.” Of that I am sure.

“Vicky, just like me, knew what it meant to experience a moment of intense joy with a knife stuck in the heart.” a moment of intense joy with a knife stuck in the heart. But Vicky knew that it was impossible to tame that heart. It didn’t matter for whom our hearts beat, whether it was for a man or a woman. Vicky taught me and showed me that it was all relative, and that those details were just noise. Vicky beamed every time I talked to her. She was a woman who had fought to make a place for herself in the world, and I was doing just the same. Vicky called me a few days before her death, but I didn’t make it to

43.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Uber Is God Lorenzo Donvito

W

hen I was young, I thought that something was missing in my brain. Truly. It was some sort of delay in my head because I never managed to understand things quickly, especially subjects such as mathematics and logic. I was always so lost. I recall a number close friends and family screaming at me while they tried to teach me specific notions, especially school-related ones, but nada. I needed time and, most importantly, I needed some quiet. When I began traveling alone at eighteen years old, I started getting lost. I even got lost when I was only a block away from my destination. Even when it was easy, I always got lost. I did get to understand things, but always too late, to the point that I started worrying, particularly in situations that I had to manage alone. Luckily, the few (but dear) friends I had were there to catch me. They knew when I lied, or when I would say that I understood something when, in reality, I didn’t understand anything at all. It must have shown on my face. My childhood friends were very smart and quick-minded,

44.

and I wanted to be like them...but all I could feel was pressure and tension. Later on, I understood perfectly what the problem was—that is, after realizing I was not the total disaster I thought I was. My real problem was that I had a fear of getting things wrong. In my culture of origin, when I did something wrong—when I fell down, when I injured myself, when anything went wrong—I got punished. I never understood why. When I broke my arm because I secretly went skateboarding, I was severely punished. Punishment. I finally comprehended how much that affected me after moving to New York, where, in order to make ends meet, I would give private Italian and Latin classes on the Upper East Side. The super hyper kids would injure themselves and cry and their parents would hug them so tight until the pain was gone. Yeah. Tell me about it. Then, I woke up. I started factoring in that getting lost and “doing it wrong” is a part of me, of life. I rejected conventional Catholic notions and the Sunday outfits and traditions with a passion and started finding my way. I always budgeted in thirty minutes


Uber Is God - Lorenzo Donvito extra so I could show up on time even if I got lost. “Fucking up” and getting lost, for me, was essential to freeing myself from others’ expectations. While on a date one sunny summer afternoon near the Brooklyn Bridge, I remember I came across a South American woman who literally burst into tears as soon as she came out of the subway. Her tears were concealed, but still visible. I quickly left the guy who had asked me out so I could go assist her. She started to sob and did not speak English. I tried to speak the languages I knew so we could communicate. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak Portuguese. She was a Brazilian teacher who came to New York to attend a course. She was trying to get to her hotel, but because of that day’s blackout, she lost service on her phone. As my cute guy waited for me at a distance, looking a bit shorttempered and a bit curious, I told the woman not to worry in some sort of Spanish pronounced through the nose. We stepped aside, called an Uber and, while still shaken, she got into the car when it arrived. She was at last heading to her hotel, which was not close by. Once the car took off, she turned around and waved goodbye to me from the window. I teared up because I saw myself in her, lost, with a dead phone, in a moment that we travelers know quite well. I, the forever lost one, managed to help her find her way. A twenty-dollar taxi ride helped her remember her trip to New York not as a nightmare, I hope, but rather as a happy moment. As her Uber disappeared, I remembered all the people that had helped me during my own travels: the car rides, the paid coffees, the generous overnight stays, the sleeping bags, the loaned umbrellas, the borrowed calling cards, the cooked meals, the invitations I accepted and those I did not. Ohhh, and then I finally remembered my handsome guy waiting for me impatiently. Someone I

had lost too, or maybe, someone who had lost me.

45.


POETRY 46.


A Blurring Imogen Arate Some days I just want To rest on my laurels And water my fantasy life But time nags with its ticktocks and Helicopter blades shred the veil Between dream and reality I squeeze out the hummingbirds Nesting in the soles of my feet And walk on splinter-infested Ground for the reality check That Surgeon General warnings Cannot solidify in the mind Though plastic bags that Wind into bicycles Offer an easy ride From London town To Paris lunch I let the stowaway fly Live those reveries instead Cracking the window Just a smidge allowing Escape this tiny embodiment Of my soul that a contagion Fails to trap

47.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

The Window in Room 208 H.E. Fisher There is no privacy at this motel. Pill-shaped sign circa 1960 says no vacancy, I think is a lie. I drink scotch with ice and ginger ale; this coast is too humid. I look out at the chlorine fly-trap pool from my second story window. A boat cuts the horizon in half. There is something terrible about a temporary view. Tempered versus annealed— which shatters less? At night, my reflection is of a body of water that even with garbage-choked tides moves in and out. Why not hand off gravity like a long-stay key. But, please, for my safety, stick a shape on me, perhaps a cutout of a bird, to keep the boys from crashing— making spectacle against the pane.

48.


Self-Care Eric Rawson Listen, he said to himself, there’s too much going on in there to do any good. Time to clean house, sell stuff, make a space for the rest of life. Then what? It would be like cutting himself open. Who can do that? Better, he thought, a small, localized fire. That’s when he called his ex-wife.

49.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

I, Their Ore Eric Rawson I, their ore, am meant to be pounded, reduced for sifting, then heated beyond fever to yield precious material trickled into a crucible of need and formed into a miniature me, hung on their chain, a charm, essential data, meaning, bling.

50.


Disputation With a Ten-Year-Old Eric Rawson “How can you say there’s no God?” she said. “You’d have to know as much as God to know if you’re right.” I watched a hummingbird dip into a flower. Wanted to explain about logic. Couldn’t.

51.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Dear Future Wife David Romanda I’m looking for you on dating sites and in the library I’m looking for you in the frozen foods section and at the back of the bus I’m looking but I can’t seem to find you

52.


Mi Casa Es Su Casa Alexander Lowell As usual you fall in love with the waitress you get married have two kids boy and girl (she favors the boy you the girl) you quit your job become slightly famous in that part of Massachusetts get another job—no, two jobs—get fired from one laid off from the other discover she’s seeing someone short and hairy from across the street buy a gun (because the neighborhood’s dangerous?) fuck a lot of women different ones in various places taxicabs are as good as cemeteries as good as oh fire towers as good as oh yes dressing rooms as good as Jesus Christ the back of choir balconies as much as you try you get tired of all that you get another job save money fuck it go to Mexico go to Merida to Chichén Itzá to San Cristóbal to Villahermosa to Cuernavaca to floating gardens to mountain hideouts to Mayan temples to pink cathedrals to sex and drugs to pornographic bookstores to sleazo cinemas to whorehouse bars to alone in restaurants where as usual you fall in love with the waitress you—

53.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Punch Drunk Alexander Lowell My father was always miles away I never felt closer to anyone Now we are the same we are one and the same his wire ran through runs through my wire when he tensed with rage it danced through angered through it surges through my wire why did he do this? why did he say that? for the same reason I do this, fuck up that my father struck me (my head swimming still) every day... I feel it now understand it now I wait for it still it doesn’t hurt me now I never pray to God I pray to my father.

54.


Εσένα (You) Margarita Serafimova

The large falcons, the long wings. The ruins of houses, in which remains of letters are found; a preserved clearly, exquisitely handwritten “you.” The eternal mortality, the eternal ecstasy.

55.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

The Man Next Door Sherri Levine The man next door vacuums in the nude. I can see him from our adjoining balconies high above the street. He pulls down the bed, lies against the wall, turns on the news, and jerks off. At least, I think that’s what he’s doing. It’s hard to get anything done. On the kitchen table, my students’ unmarked papers pile up. I haven’t once thought of my ex-husband’s new home in Chicago. I feel relieved I won’t have to see him again. Last year at the airport, I stood at the gate waiting to board my plane when I thought I saw him holding hands on the movable walkway with his wife and baby. “Divorce is worse than death,” my lawyer said, when she handed me the papers to sign. “Worse,” she said with a little laugh, “because he is still alive.” In the closet, I look for my black hoodie and dark sunglasses. To see him, I have to climb over the balcony, crank my neck, but now his lights are out, others too. Below, the street sounds are ocean waves, crashing.

56.


Dear Albania Sherri Levine This is not the stick-sock doll you kicked in alleys with your friends for fun. Not the frogs you caught with your mother’s dental floss at the canal, deep fried legs for lunch. Albania, you haven’t any flashing crosswalk lights. Your people run like frightened hens, children holding each other’s hands—bursting across the street, zigzagging around darting cars. Those are no longer your parents sitting remoteless on their sofa, watching their dictator, Enver Hoxa, who jailed painters for liking Picasso, and musicians who played The Beatles. Albania, these are your beaches dotted with abandoned military bunkers—transformed into cafes lit with tiny Christmas lights. Goodbye to your country, your family, toasting rakı and burek, feta cheese, roasted lamb. Goodbye to your mother beating the rugs, scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees. Dear Albania, you no longer need your double-headed vigilant eagle flag waving red, black, and white as the ghosts of Skanderbeg’s flailing hospital gown cast out of his country, wandering moon, rogue star.

57.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Voice Sarah LaRue One therapist one time told me vulnerability is overrated after months spent peeling reluctant secrets from my tightened throat to paper her office walls with a hand held up to stop my words—I said too much secrets she didn’t want to hear She seemed so smart and right and wise and so I watched myself shrink into her pillowed couch sinking lower as stuck to her walls my secrets trembled She became my mother then ready to look at anything but folded paper secrets covering my redding face suddenly I am invisible in the only ways that matter I wanted them back to coat my insides again wherever they’d be safe I shut up to tell her what she wanted to hear Her walls began to shake each of my secrets lifted in leaf sheets desperate pushing out closed windows I urged edged truths back down my throat papercuts and all—swallowing choking my life down for making me strange Back inside me my story refuses to shrink slowly bursting at seams in growing demands for my growth with no choice left I breathe some room let my guts unfold secrets I keep from myself Dissect with my tongue shame from some crumpled pieces breathe fire on worn-out stories and blow dust from the ones always true I stick my tongue out singing colors— pearly gravel shadows in my voice remind me of its climb

58.


Cope Kashiana Singh I hear it again, squatting Inside my bones, I hear the shutters of my mind opening to a fisherman’s song— it is erupting from me it tatters my chest, in a whorl it falls into the spaces now opened by my naked eaves. It is a storm now, coughing out of my body all the lingering dust, stripping my sorrowing skin away from me and my ever fiddling nerves. I am being erased of light. The shrill song inside my pores sting— my body is a furnace it’s beehive erupting into smouldering air. I bend into my ribcage and hold my mandible until there is no song. To cope, my teeth now stick into my jaws—anchored like the calcified skull of a fish, staring blind into a rusted hook.

59.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Missing Questions Kashiana Singh Some questions have gone missing Forgotten in the obsolete narrative hissing Across my backyard, they now scamper across On foreheads, on spines, on breasts they are embossed Some answers are to be found Hiding in scorpion stings, that astound Victims into shock, or in stillness of naked skins Stripped to hollowness much to the snake’s chagrin Some questions and answers are forgotten Dew drops that die on their own tips, if it rains Death lingers like an aftertaste; it watches mother’s brace Boundaries get retraced, lines drawn, burden of ancestors we face Some questions, some answers need to be asked Political agendas, police brutality, biases be unmasked Kill and burn was then, still is now, better ever be no more Stop symbolic purging, bring down ghettos of the mind, scream like never before

60.


Narcissi Christina E. Petrides He stumbled slowly through the crowd that floated high on pills and pot, when all at once girls gasped aloud, “Oh god, what the—that man’s been shot!” Beside the stage, amidst the screams, falt’ring and bleeding through his jeans. Countless as post-use plastic waste that clogs the oceans day and night their phones came out to film and haste the news to contacts off the site; ten million saw it at a glance, while scrolling feeds in mindless trance. Reports slew patrons straight away; within that awful battery, a witness, physically okay, saw their assailant on one knee: “He blazed away without a sound, a vacant stare behind each round.” At home upon a sofa stretched binge-watching shows in solitude we hear the chimes from SNS that interrupt th’ obsessive mood; and then our heart with terror thrills, and trembles at the camera stills.

61.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Supplicant reverentiis Dale Champlin —after Sylvia Plath, “The Applicant” A living doll, everywhere you look. It can sew, it can cook, It can talk, talk, talk. What sort of android am I? My eyes glow, whirr and spin. They’re made of blown glass, metal and such. My pussy’s a pillow. I sport pert silicone breasts, a rechargeable crotch, and translucent skin. I assure you nothing’s missing. Yes, yes! Stop crying. I can warm up your coffee, fix you a bagel for lunch. I’ll do whatever you want. You say you’re running on empty—I’ll give you a hand or two, sooth your migraine, troubleshoot your glitches, bring you an Advil and water to down it. Did I tell you I come with a warranty, a battery pack and fresh linens? It’s guaranteed— you’ll want to marry me. I’ll fill your heart with desire. I’m not strung out like a marionette. I’m inhumanly perfect— know when to be quiet, when to speak up. I’m bulletproof, bombproof, electric and eclectic. I won’t dissolve in the rain or in tears. I’m an unwritten journal, a blank page, an unfinished symphony. I’m all the rage. I’ll make your stocks skyrocket, land you clients galore, cater your next big wingding, I’ll make your erection soar. Sad to say my head’s not empty, far from it. I should have mentioned first thing, I can beat you in any endeavor. You’ll lose your shirt in strip poker. Don’t stake your claim on love. But in twenty-five years I’ll be silver, In fifty, gold. A living doll, everywhere you look.

62.


Is This Utopia? Dale Champlin Anxiety, boredom and tedium— 2 a.m. is as quiet as it gets in America, even the halogen light over the parking lot pulses, an intermittent buzz, with dying fly intensity. Wind works the clouds. I follow their path— a stream of unconsciousness. By night I work like a dog without even a bruise to show for my efforts. In my solitude, only a smidgen of hope remains. For me the American dream falls to Earth with a whisper of snow-dappled starlight. Every night between midnight and sunrise I’m left to my own devices. I picture you my Stuart Little mouse-man driving your sports car with only your hairless pink footpads for brakes. Would you like me better in plaid wool pleats, a strand of cultured pearls draped over my cashmere twinset? I’m still waiting for our canoe ride— the drip and drag of your souvenir paddle moist in my ears.

63.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Time Is As Slippery As An Eel Dale Champlin Predatory time. “I used to be beautiful, you know.” It’s the old shoe talking. Maybe under all those wrinkles she still is. Who can tell? Up close she smells like ripe fruit— strawberries and a whiff of banana. “My hair was auburn. It reached past my knees in the back. Mother said it was my ‘crowning glory.’” That and your teeth, I thought. “My waist was a tight twenty six inches and my thighs were slender.” I don’t have to worry about thighs.

64.


Old Christoffer Felix Wahlberg We are getting old Our blood is thick and gravelly Pumped up noisily through traffic jam Veins passing abandoned arteries along the way We are told in unison That at our age breathing is important But we talk, and quickly come to the conclusion That less is more So we hold hands and breath and memories Squeezing tighter As days creak by Together we imagine a lightning purge And two smoldering wheelchairs Drifting side by side empty through the night While we float slowly above in endless circles Turning the engines of the moon Watching our dry-aged bodies laid out on tables Seasoned and cooked and fed to the applauding earth Eagerly awaiting a return on it’s investment “It was a good life,” you say, “wasn’t it?” I search, but I no longer have the heart or the spine or the tongue or the obligation to tell you what you want to hear “No, it wasn’t,” I reply.

65.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

N.O.T.

Christoffer Felix Wahlberg I am not angry it is merely my fists that are restless and your face that seems so soft I am not hungry it’s simply that my teeth enjoy a challenge and the risk of chocking is such great entertainment I am not horny it is just that I have this thing and you have those things and wouldn’t it be a shame to let them all go to waste I am not dying it is only my lungs that need their independence and my heart that needs its rest

66.


I was taught the hammer Joshua J. Hines Each swing an example I watched how The house built The home

made to break

The trick Let the weight do the work It can do damage Let it draw back Don’t choke up No weak taps Drive the nail or Crush fingers You can do it Blunt things are violent on purpose Sometimes Blunt the tip or split the wood Sometimes

the point

needs dulled That metal stiletto meant to pin us together slips between

the fibers

splinter what’s intended to hold Sure Blame last night’s spirits

67.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 Blame last night’s spirits but don’t believe in ghosts Remember We haunt the things we make ourselves What good is a tool too afraid to strike So draw back Let your weight do the work Make the last blow count most

68.


revisionist Lora Robinson give me country boy dancing give me spiced rum, chilled glasses give me your hues and saturation give me whiskey glow and two blue flames give me cigarette butts, controlled burns pinky swears, retrofit tattoos satellite arms, ringing ears— give me Mars and an open field. give me acquired taste, give me red-cheeked and golden-fleeced, give me second-best, three waves breaking on your back— give me night owl, sleepless in your shadow give me neon signs and the mutual wreckage milling uncertainty, Heisenberg, bad influence and scorpions give me burnt caramel lattes and tempered expectations, give me a reason, just one. give me honeymoon, fashionably late give me two valentines and seven years give me your sermon and spittle, hands praising my own salvation give me counting bells, one birth, and no child— give me what I came here for, English breakfast, cold water, my maiden name, amnesia.

69.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

Keep me out Nadia Telenchuk keep me out of your house close the doors every time with a latch nail all windows with boards and then throw away all your keys keep me out of your house: there is nothing but pain I will fetch— though I don’t want to bring any pain close the doors and fall silent at ease keep me out of your house and remember: do not let me in you’ll regret your decision in the future no need for regrets all sublime and majestic can never be seen from within— so draw back just a step just a whisper a wine glass as full as it gets empty yet? pouring me into you doesn’t feel like a fall or a sin now the grape vine is covering windows— as if by a spell— all emergency exits you’re motionless now and sedate I have honestly warned you— and you couldn’t save yourself and now it is too late then at least keep me out of your heart— for the danger is real otherwise I will warm up inside like a little red cat and will scratch up so hard that the wounds in your guts wouldn’t heal so that you wouldn’t ever— you hear me?— ever forget I just wanted the best for us both to not even begin well but you knew it all so why did you let me in?

70.


The day I wear black. Nadia Telenchuk Today will be the day I wear black And think of drinking yet another glass. Through postcards in my mailbox you come back, Destroying firmly all that’s left of us. You were a good one, I admit, you’ve scored. Yet I don’t see another second chance. I’ll break you hard—and you will beg for more: We’ve had enough. Oh, memories! Romance! Romance is overrated nowadays— You should have known it better than the rest. The sentence has been carried out in ways Which you were hoping would be for your best. The day has come: We’re thoroughly archived Between the shelves of memories... In me. Your postcard is quite...neat. You’ve really tried. But you have got the emptiness of me. The day I wear black—for all the tears, But also smiles that you have caused. Alas! Your postcard’s getting close to me and near... Remember all that you have left of us. Remember every breath and every laugh, Remember how I cried to midnight moon... Remember all. For knows the God above: My memory will sure forget it soon. And when all cards are played, all goods are sold, The dust of days we’ve lived is sinking in, When we are getting really really old, We’ll move—just like I promised—to Berlin. This city’s had the best of us... You know. You always know. That’s why I’ve been with you. We’ve been through high and we have been through low— And it is time we both tried something new.

71.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 I let you go. Wake up in peace. And live— You’ve got the passion that so many lack! Let’s meet on Sunday. Hold on to my sleeve. And that will be the day I wear black.

72.


CRITICISM

73.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25

G-A-Y Till the E-N-D: Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar Genna Rivieccio

I

n 2007, Amy Winehouse had reached a new peak of exposure following the success of her sophomore record, Back to Black (released in ’06). It was also at this time that more documentary specials about the “boozy chanteuse” were being released. One such “eye-opening foray” into the life and mindset of Miss Winehouse found her going into a record store with her interviewer and perusing through most of the artists that comprised Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound oeuvre (because this was still a time when you could get away with openly showing respect for him despite his then recent murder accusation). The interviewer casually asks, “When’s your birthday?” “September the 14th.” He tells her (as if she doesn’t already know) what she is: “Virgo.” She nods in light vexation, “Yeah, yeah. When’s yours?” He returns, “March the 3rd.” She ripostes, “Gay boy.” He takes it in stride, laughing as he says, “Hate you, Winehouse.” She lulls him into another false sense of security by “seriously” asking him, “Does that mean you’re a Pisces?” He confirms, “Yeah.” She demands, “You know what that means though,

74.

if you’re a Pisces?” Taking the bait (get it? ‘Cause Pisces are fish?), he says, “No.” Getting him once again, she jibes, “It means you’re gay.” Whether or not we believe Winehouse’s assessment of homosexuality being linked to being born under the sign of Pisces, it nonetheless takes us back to a more playful, barbing moment in pop culture—which is also, in effect, gay culture. Had Winehouse said something like that in 2021, it’s not certain that the gay boys of the moment could take it in stride. Whereas, in the past, it would be the straight ones who had a problem with being branded as such (as indicated by the interviewer saying he “hated” Winehouse for calling him that, even if he said so in a “laughing manner”). In the present, many heteros are only too happy to be deemed part of the more “bent” spectrum. At least it gives them what they deem some form of cultural relevancy. And in that regard, it takes us back to the period when the word “metrosexual” was being bandied to describe city-dwelling males who actually took a meticulous interest in their appearance. Somehow, that feels rather offensive now.


G-A-Y Till the E-N-D: Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar - Genna Rivieccio Winehouse herself was offensive as well, in addition to being camp, which is why she quipped to Kelly Osbourne that she considered herself an icon “only to gays” when the latter asked if she considered herself an icon at all. And, when

major cities throughout the globe (namely San Francisco, Los Angeles and London—New York? We don’t know her). Eventually, he gets to a portion of the book that breaks down that all-important facet of gayness: camp. Something that

to it…” Cue the intro to Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy.” Atherton Lin and his boyfriend, whom he refers to only as Famous (short for Famous Blue Raincoat, after the Leonard Cohen song) are in possession of the sign in the wake

“...the sterility (another word for banality, some might say) of clubs today—what’s left of them—continues in the wake of COVID-19. And it leaves more question marks about what ‘gayness’ actually is without the sense of place that was the gay bar as we knew it...” it comes to homo iconography, the tacit language of the gay bar and what it meant to those who came of age during a pre-internet, preLGBTQIA+ era is finally explored in thorough detail by Jeremy Atherton Lin in Gay Bar. As his debut novel, it’s clear that Atherton Lin has been spending his lifetime researching the subject matter—quite literally working (playing?) in the field in

Amy Winehouse also embodied. He explains it simply by citing a sign for the London Apprentice (the LA) “depicting a young carpenter in a sleeveless t-shirt laying down tools and wiping his hands on a lavender-crimson ombré hankie. He looks westward at a vespertine skyline… The image of the young man turned toward the city is a potent one: there’s a hopefulness

of the LA’s closure. It is, indeed, the very picture of camp. As Atherton Lin is fond of calling on all his brethren in the queer canon, he wields Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s illumination of camp, which “asks, ‘what if the right audience for this were exactly me? And what if, furthermore, others whom I don’t know or recognize can see it from the same

75.


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 ‘perverse’ angle? Camp is an open secret.” Yet the modern generation of gays appears to have lost their ability to home in on that once easily detectable set of semiotics. Even though they’re still firmly laid out by another gay icon, Susan Sontag. Her book, Notes on Camp, is also mentioned by Atherton Lin, who asserts, “Sontag proffers that homosexuals constitute the most articulate audience of camp. She adds parenthetically in her note 53: ‘(The camp insistence on not being ‘serious,’ on playing, also connects with the homosexual’s desire to remain youthful.’” Again, this was a preoccupation more overtly common at a time when club culture still had something both concrete and unique to offer gays. This era, in contrast, is further compounded by general lameness thanks to the post-pandemic shitshow of deciding what “rules” should be in place and what should not regarding nightlife. Thus, there seems to be even less reason for gays to fixate on youth as they once did. After all, a large part of a zeal for youth stems from the desire to see and be seen. At your best, most filler’d. But why bother if going out is becoming, more and more, an archaic practice? And, to boot, when everyone is just an image on an app, that image becomes easier to manipulate (therefore, to be wanked to) à cause de the wonders of filters and other such editing tools. And talking of tools, it wasn’t only Famous’ that held Atherton Lin’s attention during the heyday of gay nightclubs, which included their meeting place in London: Popstarz. It was this wondrous club, which arose during the Britpop zenith in London, that Atherton Lin just knew he had to go to. Felt an inexplicable pull to it that surely must have been because his soon-to-be long-term partner (an unpleasant word to use on both homos and heteros, but there it is) was on that dance floor. As Atherton Lin tells it,

76.

“nightclubber Simon Hobart launched Popstarz, where ‘the emphasis would be on boozing, not cruising, as an antidote to the mainstream gay scene.’ Hobart would create a space for the misfits, whereas the promoter of G-A-Y [the iconic London club this article’s title pays homage to], he spouted, ‘factory-farms stereotyped, mindless, blinkered gay people.’” Hobart set about wielding fliers with the camp language and imagery that only gays could pick up on, promising “a weekly night of Britpop and indie, using retro mod graphics to convey a cocky swagger. The gay giveaway was the z in Popstarz, as if spoofing the cheesy bar rag Boyz, thereby declaring its own homosexuality.” Popstarz offered something in between the formerly seedy types of bars of the 70s and 80s and the “designer” ones that began cropping up—especially in London—in the 90s. Not only was this the decade when straight boys were going “effete” per the aesthetic definitons of Britpop (see: Brett Anderson, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, et al.), but it also wasn’t coincidence that this was the look and feel to take hold of clubland after AIDS soiled the gay identity in the 80s. According to Atherton Lin, “The design sent a clear message: in here you won’t catch a disease.” Because once AIDS had branded the gay community as contaminated, even amongst themselves, it was important, in turn, for the gays to rebrand, even if it meant ultimately doing something like a parody of the environments straights would presume they might flock to. Atherton Lin concludes of the aesthetic shift, “The seedy underworld vibe was outmoded. A dank club or soiled pub put contamination in mind. Gay (Got AIDS yet?) was inextricable from disease.” Not once the new era of gay bars “were conceived specifically to take gay men’s money. What’s more, the spaces affirmed that gay means chichi…”

This trope plays into the gay man’s obsession with appearance, particularly a youthful (and toned) one. Alas, when gays eventually reach an unavoidable “age of maturation,” let’s call it, there is that reckoning other gays in their age bracket must briefly confront before they continue to resume their own partying, pretending that no sign of time passing them by has occurred while others in their fold defect for the inside (as in: of their apartment or house). Atherton Lin describes this most succinctly upon the closure of one of London’s gay bar fixtures, the George & Dragon (G&D). On the last night there, he paints the scene, “You’re leaving? The Lovely Jonjo asked incredulously. He’d just arrived and was scheduled to DJ. I want to get the place dancing, he said plaintively. He said, I remember when I first met you guys here. You came up and talked to me. I can’t believe it: we have no place left. Where are we going to go? I was thinking: back to our flat in Zone 2, nearly Zone 3, where we cook vegetables procured at the Saturday market and comment on their intense reds and vivid greens.” The domesticity had set in for Atherton Lin (not just this evening, but in this stage of his life), yet that doesn’t mean he isn’t still fully aware of the sense of “place” the gay bar offers, even in this ever-stranger epoch where literal places seem to be increasingly anachronistic. Like the G&D and the LA referenced in the book (or, if you prefer, sociological exploration of the gay bar’s value). The owners of the bars themselves were like Pied Pipers calling out in the middle of a heterosexual wasteland in the dead of night. Paul Glenwright, the owner of the G&D once said, “As a very old drag queen told me when I was knee high, ‘If you can remember a great night, you can’t have been there!’” In essence, that’s part of the crux of why gay bars have faded out as we once knew them. The raucous blackout drunkenness that came with finally getting to a point of being free


G-A-Y Till the E-N-D: Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar - Genna Rivieccio of inhibition is no longer necessary in the same way. The psychology behind having to hide one’s true identity in the fearful manner of the past has largely disappeared (since we don’t include the Bible Belt as part of the modern realm), and with it the “need” to retreat into a place where one can truly be himself. As bars like the G&D have lost their once debauched reputation of glory days extending back to the 90s and early 00s, they’ve been forced to cater to other economic resources, offering a “come one, come all” message that allows for the likes of bachelorette parties and bar/bat mitzvah receptions to help them pay the monthly rent. In short, these are places—once catering exclusively to the desires of gay men—that can actually no longer really be called a home by the very audience they were intended for. Begging the question, was the gay bar ever really a home? The answer for most of the old school gay gentlemen set would be an emphatic yes. Upon the G&D’s closure (it has since reanimated in a new, more gentrified-friendly format), one person was quick to comment on someone’s photo of a cardboard cutout of Divine, “It used to be our home.” As Atherton Lin notes, “That comment stuck with me. Was it my home—did it used to be?” In other words, now that the erstwhile “safe spaces” for gay men actually feel less safe than ever (here’s looking at you, Pulse nightclub), is this the fullfledged era of the “domestic gay”? The man who can only find a true sense of belonging in the home he’s cultivated within his own domicile. Something like a Barbary Lane enclave, perhaps. Then again, maybe not. For, as is Atherton Lin’s push and pull tendency throughout Gay Bar, he can’t help but ruminate, “The next day, I happened to read some lines from Proust, in which the narrator opined that being among strangers

on holiday compelled him to care again about making an impression, reignited his desire to see and be seen, made him want ‘to please others and to possess them.’ He pitied those holidaymakers who, by insisting on not mingling between classes, denied themselves ‘the disquieting delights of mixing with unknown company.’ I reconsidered how people are wont to call their regular gay bar a home. To me a good gay bar is a vacation, promising the novelty of a resort full of strangers, making me want ‘to please others and to possess them.’” Getting rid of the gay bar isn’t just risking eradicating a community’s “home,” but bulldozing over history itself. As Atherton Lin points out, the subsequent generations of gays may continue to rely on apps for their sexual “satisfaction,” but it will always be the gay bar that offers oral history (no innuendo intended). He asserts, “These boys don’t need my wisdom. Camaraderie, perhaps, [but] it’s not guidance they’re after. ‘In the queer world, memory is very fragile,’ Michael Warner once stated. ‘You don’t learn from your parents how the gay world is structured. So there’s not a whole lot of intergenerational transfer.’” Atherton Lin adds to this undeniable case for the gay bar’s evergreen value by bringing up “a Guardian article published when UK closures were peaking in 2015... [In it], Ben Walters quotes a twentyyear-old student and North London gay bar regular: ‘You can end up talking to a gay man in his sixties and learn so much about gay history and culture. It’s like your nan passing on wisdom.’ To the British, pubs can be like a town hall or church, so the social value of a gay version doesn’t require a big leap.” On the other hand, “Americans may be less cozy about their sins. Where I grew up in the suburbs, bars were shunned locations. Therefore, bars stigmatize

gay as much as the reverse. In 2016, after the massacre at Pulse, a college student from Louisiana penned an editorial…titled ‘Gay Bars Were Never a Safe Space.’ Young people, he contended, aren’t allowed in such venues in the first place, and once they are mature enough, they encounter, let’s face it, a bar, not a sanctuary: ‘they’re thrown into a pen where the majority of older, queer individuals they meet want to get them drunk and fuck them. Because gay bars are idolized as places of acceptance and love, these queer youths flock towards these spaces that are more dangerous for the unsuspecting than we admit.’” In effect, this opinion piece mirrors so much of the delicate sensibilities that the present generation of gays is “allowed” to have. Whereas their forebears were operating with entirely different objectives and under entirely different constraints. Going to the gay bar was all about “being desperate for someone to get me drunk and fuck me.” In this epoch, conversely, Alexander Wang is accused of sexual assault for doing what gays of yore always did at the club: “got freaky.” This includes Wang’s behavior of putting his hands down someone’s pants without permission. Permission? The gay bar was a place designed to be an “anything goes” atmosphere. A candy store for gays who otherwise had to play it straight during the daylight hours. And yes, Atherton Lin likely could’ve tangoed with Wang “back in the day.” Invoking Foucault, who said, “I actually liked the scene before gay liberation, when everything was more covert. It was like an underground fraternity, exciting and a bit dangerous,” Atherton Lin also hits the nail on the head regarding something that was expressed in Ryan Murphy’s recent revisionist tale of Old Hollywood called, what else, Hollywood. In it, the fictionalized


The Opiate, Spring Vol. 25 Henry Willson (Jim Parsons) a.k.a. Rock Hudson’s agent complains to Ernie West (Dylan McDermott)—a character based on rumored pimp Scotty Bowers—of how things have changed since Rock and his screenwriter boyfriend Archie (Jeremy Pope) walked the red carpet together at the Oscars (again, this is a very revisionist history of Old Hollywood). The act of defiance inspires gay men throughout Hollywood to become less afraid, which makes Henry yearn for the “bottom shelf paper bag” past. For there is, undeniably, a sense of excitement to that which is taboo, illicit. Hence, Henry asking Ernie, “Have you ever spent a Saturday picking out some cheerful daffodilcolored linoleum for the kitchen? It is enough to make you wistful for the days of secretive sodomy.” But there is nothing secret about homo life anymore. Where once gay culture was an exclusive club (literally and figuratively) for gay men themselves, it has since become so oversaturated to the point where we’re at an “everything that is gay is straight and everything that is straight is gay” kind of inverse moment. Toward the end of the book, Atherton Lin describes the experience of going out to a gay club “in this day and age,” looking around at all the giggling straight girls and commenting, “This isn’t really gay, is it? I finally asked. Famous gamely pointed out a few gay men here and there in the stalls. But, no, it isn’t, he agreed. It was, in a way—just a gay that was no longer mine, or never belonged to me, gay as in gaiety. After the show, we danced between the bachelorette parties dressed as cheerleaders and vamps, the buxom schoolgirls… Now drag is everyone’s escapism… Camp is the stuff of wedding receptions. Doing the ‘YMCA’ is a first-world coping mechanism. Over-identifying with the diva vocals of spurned women is no longer the sole prerogative of gay

78.

men. Looking around us as I danced to ABBA and the Spice Girls, apparently the ladies were over-identifying with the ladies, too. Gay appropriation coming full circle—a mindfuck. The loot we pillaged had been plundered.” This final line does at least acknowledge that so much of gay culture has been taken from women. It’s well-known that the gay man’s trope is to fetishize the tragic female (Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Wynette, to name a few). Drag itself is like some still socially acceptable form of blackface, instead crudely caricaturizing all of the most damaging stereotypes about women. Naturally, Atherton Lin maintains that “a good drag queen is not there to mock women, but to transcend the limitations of masculinity.” Girl, if you think masculinity (even as a gay man repressing feminine tendencies) is limiting, then you certainly won’t think femininity offers more freedom. It is the most suffocating of all shells. But that’s the thing about appropriation: we only take the aspects of a “sect” we like while ignoring the traumatic experiences behind it. Still, women have also fed into the vicious cycle of “grafting” from the gays. For they are the ones who, perhaps most of all, “let loose through secondary gayness. The act of crashing the gay party—latching on to another culture’s mode of escapism is easy to critique as appropriation and exploitation. We earned our rainbow stripes by putting up with the hard rain… When a straight person says I’m basically a gay man, my first thought is But you didn’t go through the hazing.” This newfound “identity” for straights to cling to is, in part, what has altered the once hallowed experience of the gay bar. But another unignorable aspect includes the flaccidity (metaphorically only, let’s hope) of the next generation. What’s more, the sterility (another word for banality, some might say) of clubs

today—what’s left of them—continues in the wake of COVID-19. And it leaves more question marks about what “gayness” actually is without the sense of place that was the gay bar as we knew it in the mid-twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Atherton Lin discusses how “in 2018, The Observer ran a piece under the headline ‘Clubbing’s New Generation Want Good, Clean Fun, Not Hedonism.’ One promoter explained that clubbers now chose to dance in a place that fits their ideology. Bad behavior is promptly reported. The consensus seemed to be that clubbing is now about promoters finding ways to create egalitarian, fairminded, noncreepy environments, unlike the world outside—whereas clubs have often been microcosms of some of society’s worst qualities.” But for Atherton Lin’s generation, that was the entire draw. He explains, “We did not go out to be safe. I didn’t, anyway… I went out to take risks. I went out to be close to other bodies. Perhaps that amounts to safety in numbers. It was more about being turned on in proximity.” In the present, it’s all about getting off alone, in your respective isolation tank where no one can infect you (ironic, considering during the apex of the AIDS epidemic, it was the exact opposite). Because it would seem that the future holds not only genderlessness, but sexlessness altogether. Meanwhile, only some of us will remember the echoing words of Amy Winehouse calling, “Gay boy” from the far recesses of the early 00s. The last great period of gay clubbing. Will any gay boys even know their historical origins in these places as time soldiers on? Well, perhaps. If we have faith in any subsequent generations, gay or straight, reading. For at least there is Gay Bar to inform them of how it was.


79.

Profile for theopiatemagazine

The Opiate: Spring 2021, Vol. 25  

Welcome to the Spring 2021 issue of The Opiate. Vol. 25 is packed with surreal and evocative short stories, heart-rending non-fiction and po...

The Opiate: Spring 2021, Vol. 25  

Welcome to the Spring 2021 issue of The Opiate. Vol. 25 is packed with surreal and evocative short stories, heart-rending non-fiction and po...

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded