te a pi O e Th Fall 2021, Vol. 27
Your literary dose.
© The Opiate 2021 Cover art: Photo taken in March of 2019 outside of Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Marseille This magazine, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission. Contact email@example.com for queries.
“I’ve felt as if I didn’t exist, as if I were invisible, miles away from the world, miles away. You can’t imagine how much alone I’ve been all my life.” -Iris Murdoch
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Editor-in-Chief Genna Rivieccio
Editor-at-Large Malik Crumpler
Editorial Advisor Anton Bonnici
Contributing Writers: Fiction: Matthew Snyderman, “Killing Time” 10 Nick Ingram, “Research Towards an Understanding of the Performance Artist and Filmmaker Emily X” 14 Anthony DeVita, “Twenty-One Minutes” 21 Mike Lee, “Cowgirl” 23 Stuart Watson, “Out of Sorts” 26 Debrah Miszak, “World’s Finest Showgirls” 30 Leanne Grabel, “Seventy” 35
Poetry: Dale Champlin, “Strut” 53 Victor Marrero, “Unfinished” 54-55
Cristian Pop, “John the Baptist” & “What was not said” 56-57
Anna Kapungu, “Hope Everlasting” 58 John Grey, “The Shock of the Now,” “First Helicopter Ride” & “Dirt Road” 59-61 Syed Zaman, “Arrow” & “1725: Terms of Endearment” 62-65 Celia Meade, “The Ones You Love” 66 Laura King, “In the Waiting Room” 67 Carolyn Martin, “Corded” 68
Julia Chiapella “Reckless Purpose” 69
Meredith Davies Hadaway, “Lingering” & “On Finding an Obituary for My Sixth-Grade Teacher” 70-71 Kurt Luchs, “Baked” & “Flattened” 72-73 Jeral R. Williams, “In the Rose Garden of Musée Rodin” 74-75 Alex LeGrys, “Hippocampus” & “The Isolationist” 76-77 Betsy Martin, “Trees” & “Fill ‘Er Up” 78-79 Matthew Corey, “What If Alice Neel Painted Karen Dalton” 80
Criticism: Genna Rivieccio, “Final Girl Support Group and Animal: Sharing a Parallel Regarding the Disposability of Women” 82
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
While many have done their best to ”move on” or ”live with” the existence we’ve been peddled in a post-2020 climate, others are still feeling the undeniable effects. One of them being the further sense of isolation that comes from our presently hyper-sanitized world. For some, this feels uniquely different to what they once knew. To others, namely writers of the Shirley Jackson (a.k.a. shut-in) persuasion, it’s nothing but a more intense form of ”business as usual.” In other words, there has never been a more socially acceptable time to be an agoraphobic, and yet people still complain of being ”starved” for connection. Even though we should all be worried about literal starving pretty soon, the way things are going (that is to say, at the same breakneck pace capitalism demands). This concept of loneliness can’t really hurt you if you’re the type of writer Charles Bukowski was always going on about. Scoff at his writing if you will (and it’s especially easy to do for East Coastians who balk at all things from the West Coast ”attempting” to be literary), but he was correct in often discussing the importance of isolation. As he phrased it, ”I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it.” To put none too fine a point on it, Bukowski would have dealt much better with the social limitations of the pandemic than most. Not that he ever needed a societal sanction to sit alone in his apartment and drink to his liver’s discontent. Accordingly, Bukowski never understood the common need of writers to constantly gather together and seek one another’s favor or approval. Feeling that if you had to make constant inquiries as to whether your writing was ”good,” it probably wasn’t. Confidence and a sense of authority in one’s writing (if not in your life) being a key ingredient to its ”goodness.” In truth, many writers try to assume a friendship with another so-called ”writer” (which apparently no one is really allowed to call themselves unless they profit from that title) purely because they think: I wonder if this person can do something for me, if they have an ”in” somewhere that I haven’t tried before. But darling, no. If they had an in, they certainly would have used it for themselves by now, and would not bestow it upon you. And maybe that’s what half of the faux literary world is founded upon: the promise of ”networking.” The idea that if we gravitate toward people in the same ”trade,” eventually our name will have to enter the right person’s vision (or cochlea, whatever may be the case). A misguided notion that drives people either to madness or a conventional profession. Then again, those who are true couldn’t stop writing if they tried. In fact, they probably wish they could. Just stop and focus on something ”useful” (again, that definition has come to be extremely skewed by the capitalistic propaganda we’re all indoctrinated with from day one and pass down to subsequent generations). The writer who actually does keep their nose to the grindstone without ”sniffing around” at readings and ”salons” is viewed as the odd one. Misanthropy is not a criminal offense. Yet it is treated like the greatest sin. The rudest affront. At the same time, everything that has happened since the late twentieth century has been building toward this crest of misanthropic behavior. Of the sort that the real writer is already accustomed to (I emphasize the word ”real” because I feel like those tits who sat around drinking at The Algonquin under the guise of intellectualizing were ultimately just in it for the sake of kibitzing...and bragging). From the dawn of major technological advancements like the personal computer in the 1980s (along with
video games and other at-home entertainment apparatuses like VHS players) to Mark Zuckerberg’s coup de grâce (in terms of eradicating tangible human contact) invention of Facebook, the people (in power) of this Earth have been angling toward what some are still calling antisocial (and doltish) behavior as opposed to “the norm.” Mind you, the norm in the U.S. was once also eating and drinking copious amounts of red meat and milk. Oh, and barring anyone believed to be associated with communism from working in their chosen profession. The point is, (societal) “norms” come and go, and should never be clung to so tightly if one is to accept what fresh hell is next and adapt to working with it. All these ways and means we have to stay connected while feeling further and further away are designed, unbeknownst to the suits, for the benefit of the writer. Who should be jumping for joy in between popping their antidepressants to thank God or whoever that while this is the least erudite epoch of human existence, it has still provided conducive conditions for writing. And-—this being both blessing and curse—democratizing ones. Nonetheless, even the writer has grown fragile about the prospect of “aloneness.” If you feel alone, but try to shove it aside, maybe it’s best to remember another salient platitude of Bukowski’s: “The writer has no responsibility other than to jack off in bed alone and write a good page.” Often times, of course, the writer in question will instead translate their literal masturbation onto said page (something I’m probably being accused of right now). Sensitive fucks will say something “stock insulting” (like, “Who hurt you?”) intended to cut down remarks such as these, but no matter. I am not being negative. I am being brutally honest. And that is the job of the writer. A job (though that word does seem loaded when one is so rarely compensated for their work) that has become more and more of a challenge to do as a result of the increasingly (and overly cultivated) delicate sensibilities of the masses, including alleged writers themselves. Reading was not meant to have “bells and whistles.” A book, a short story, a poem, what have you —it should all be able to speak for itself without frills. The very frills that the twenty-first century and beyond will come to require evermore...to the extent that you have to wonder if reading as we once knew it will survive at all (if, in fact, we can even still say that it has). An aspect of those expected frills of the period we’re living in is to coddle the reader, and do as much as you can to avoid offending them in any way, shape or form. Alas, part of the problem with sustaining a generation of new readers is that writers are too willing to capitulate to making their messages ”palatable.” Pleasant, even. Roughly one hundred and seventy pages of bullshit makes the medicine go down. What’s more, the majority of the ”job description” for a writer, at this juncture has been distilled to the absolute worst possible element to focus one’s attention on. That's right: ”networking” (sometimes called grad school). A disgusting farce. Another symptom of the endless amounts of demeaning prostration a writer must endure to prove their worth not through their work, but the acrobatics of their tongue inside another person’s asshole. If we look to some of the primary sources as to why ”writing isn’t what it used to be,” search no further than the entire separate industry that has been created out of preying on aspiring writers to make them believe their dreams are just one ”right contact” away. And then look to the notion that even writers can’t seem to sit alone and stew in their loneliness anymore. They have to be around other writers and ”share” their work when they could be, oh, how about actually writing?
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 Circling back to the pandemic and the realization it set off in many people, some part of me simply wants everybody to stop pretending that they’re lonely because of a certain set of historical circumstances, and surrender to the reality that life is inherently lonely (even without just basing it on solipsism). Especially without any of the façades we usually employ to cover this up (often involving ”going out”). The pandemic stripped bare all of those masks (metaphorically...while some non-far right people put actual masks on), but now, they’re steadily coming back on anew. Everyone wants to forget, once again, what life is at its core. But if you are a writer, trying to forget or ignore it will only serve as a detriment to your work, and the contribution you might make to arts and letters. To Truth itself. So be bleak, be real-—and for fuck’s sake, take your head out of other people’s ass (this is where I sardonically conclude: and you, too, can be successful like me). Yours in the Anti-Phony Baloney Movement, Genna Rivieccio October 29, 2021
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Killing Time Matthew Snyderman
an preferred to drink alone, whether it was booze or coffee he was craving. That’s when he did his best thinking. So when local rents and a low-paying service job (the bitter reward for following his passion in college) obliged him to take in roommates, he often found himself at one of the neighborhood’s less trendy cafés. The kind where the patrons kept mostly to themselves. His current favorite was The Purple Cow. That was where he was headed one sunny afternoon in his Sunday best ratty white t-shirt and thrift store Levi’s, humming the infectious hook to a punk song that had come to him in a dream and was too good to forget. A scowl, his natural expression when composing, kept Todd, The Purple Cow’s chatty barista, at bay as Ian strode past him and the enigmatic chanteuse reclining on a piano in the full-length painting above the bar to his favorite spot in the back, the only table with a single chair. Tossing his messenger bag in the corner, he flipped open his sticker-laden laptop and settled in to work on the lyrics to “Styrofoam Heart.” Just one of several undiscovered artists scattered about the room.
“Tink, tink, tink.” “Jesus!” Ian started, nearly upending a bottle of Dead Guy Ale that had landed unnoticed at his elbow. An older, but not elderly, man was seated across from him stirring an espresso and gently tapping a tiny spoon on the edge of the cup. “My apologies. I have an unfortunate tendency to startle people.” He was half a head shorter than Ian and clean-shaven, wearing a dark suit and tie that looked more than a bit formal for The Purple Cow. “I’m kinda workin’ here,” Ian growled with his best “piss off” glare. The man was undeterred. “That was a compelling rhythm you were humming,” he said, never taking his light gray eyes from Ian’s. “Do you mind if I join you? The beer’s on me.” Ian couldn’t help but be intrigued; it wasn’t every day that he encountered a person over sixty who didn’t cringe reflexively at the sight of his medium gauges and the tattooed sleeve of M. C. Escher lizards scrambling up his arm. But even more disarming were the older man’s courtliness and vaguely Scandinavian accent, which brought Ian’s beloved and recently deceased great uncle to mind. “I suppose. As long as you’re not selling anything.”
Killing Time- Matthew Snyderman “Heavens no!” “So, you like punk.” “Its attitude, especially. I am a collector of sorts and enjoy all types of music, even punk… ach, where are my manners?” Half-standing, he extended his left hand, “My name is Antonius.” Ian took it and noticed that Antonius was missing a pinky and sporting a ring of exotic design. “Ian,” he replied before adding, “Okay then... but what do you usually listen to? I’ll bet it ain’t The Damned.” “Well, if choose I must: Balkan folk music or, better yet, Haitian drumming. They have a fascinating complexity to them. Trance-like, almost.” He rapped out an exotic rhythm on the table with his fourfingered hand and the spoon before switching seamlessly to Ian’s song. The songwriter could only whistle in appreciation as the drumming tapered off, which elicited a modest smile from the drummer. “Great ring, by the way,” Ian remarked, finally. “I acquired it in Mesopotamia —Iraq to you—some time ago. Would you like it?” “You’re kidding, right?” “I am not. It would be my pleasure.” Antonius deftly slid the ring from his finger and onto Ian’s before the younger man could object. It was heavy and oddly cold. Ian examined his unexpected gift. “Thanks?” he said before raising his head. The eyes gazing back at him were still friendly, but somehow different, almost blue. “You must be great at card tricks. You do anything else besides collect music and rings?” “Hmmm… What do I do? You could say that I am a travel agent, of sorts. For a niche market. It’s an ideal occupation for a people person like myself… I hope this is not too much of an imposition, Ian, but would you be good enough to sing me that captivating song of yours? If it makes you more comfortable, consider it as an exchange for the ring.”
“Sorry. It’s not finished and I’m a pretty shy about singing in public.” “A shy punk. How quaint.” Ian’s first response was to sullenly run his fingers along the obscene graffiti gracing the table top, a photo of which he had pictured on the cover of his band’s first album... if he ever had a band and they ever put out an album. “And it would sound lame a cappella, even with the right singer. Besides, I’m writing it for Stephanie, a girl I know. She has her own band. They’re pretty hot.” “She is, too, I imagine.” Antonius stuck out his lower lip in disappointment and produced a cigar case, removing a joint of Rastafarian proportions, which he fired up with a Zippo lighter and offered across the table. Ian hesitated. “My dear Ian, my intentions, I can assure you, are strictly honorable.” Ian eventually nodded his thanks and took a hit. “Whoa!” He had to pinwheel his arms to avoid tipping over. “What is that shit?” he coughed. Todd, who made a point of loudly chiding any customers who violated his “right to breathe clean air,” remained mute for once as a pungent cloud began to spread. “Perhaps that will relieve you of your inhibitions,” Antonius suggested hopefully. Upon regaining his balance and returning the joint, it seemed to Ian that Antonius was now somehow taller. His eyes looked different as well. They were yellow. Ian was no stranger to being stoned, but not like this. He abruptly headed for the men’s room without excusing himself. A jukebox, coated with a thick layer of dust that marked its long-term disuse, sprang to life without anybody having touched it, hissing and popping like a gadget from an old sci-fi movie. But Ian barely noticed as he wove unsteadily through the tables. The bathroom door closed
behind him as Ian bent over the grimy sink. Ten icy seconds under the tap cleared his senses sufficiently to decide he’d rather return the ring than reveal that his singing voice was, as a giggling Stephanie had once put it between bong hits, more Joan Jett than Joey Ramone. However, despite two minutes of tugging and twisting, it wouldn’t budge, even with the help of half a cup of institutional pink soap. His determination to avoid the kind of wolf whistles and cat calls that had greeted his handful of excruciatingly self-conscious public performances remained equally immovable. *** “You pick up that pot on one of your trips?” Ian asked as he rejoined Antonius. “Maybe—” He stopped himself short when he noticed, carved into the table top in perfect gothic lettering, the words: “Ian Loves Stephanie.” “No, Ian. And those ‘trips,’ as you call them are more spiritual pilgrimages. Most of the time, I work with individuals, though I do take groups. All ages, too. But enough of my humble efforts. It’s time for your song. And considering I’ve been generous enough to set the stage to your exacting specifications,” he continued with a theatrical sweep of his arm, “how can you refuse?” Ian scanned the café; they had The Purple Cow to themselves. No fellow artists drinking coffee, though their cups and spoons and crumpled napkins were still in place. And no Todd. Even the chanteuse was missing from her perch atop the piano. Then, as if on cue, an instrumental sounding like an undiscovered demo from The Dead Kennedys started pouring from the derelict jukebox. “Who are you, really?” asked Ian, turning uneasily back to Antonius and noticing he was no longer missing a finger. “Ah, ah. First thing’s first.”
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 And with a glance, he brought the music to a halt. “Maestro?” The joint lay smoldering on the table’s edge, and Ian picked it up for one last drag before shutting his eyes and counting off the beginning to “Styrofoam Heart,” with the invisible jukebox band jumping in right on time with a raunchy, fuzz-toned backup he felt more than heard. That irresistible
his audience-of-one had in mind, Ian vamped for a while and even conjured an extra verse out of thin air, sweat dripping onto the floor off his nose and chin. Yet, through his dread, he felt elation unlike anything he had ever experienced, a sensation he wanted to last forever. But realizing that there was nothing left to say, he brought the song to an emphatic and perfect close.
you think? Curiously, most people— perhaps even you—believe there is a divine report card waiting at the end of a bright tunnel when they die and that I’m there to cast the unworthy, whatever that means, into a lake of fire for their multitude of sins. But there is no final judgment. No punishment. No rewards. When your time does come, you just cease to be, like a single
“...when local rents and a low-paying service job (the bitter reward for following his passion in college) obliged him to take in roommates, he often found himself at one of the neighborhood’s less trendy cafés.“ groove, just as he’d imagined it, shouldered his familiar inhibitions aside. Each chord set the coffee cups and pint glasses behind the bar to rattling while the silverware vibrating on the surrounding tables practically stood up and danced to Ian’s fierce, sneering vocals, which filled the room as though he were belting them into a vintage preacher’s mic. Reaching the end of what he’d written, and afraid to finish and thus complete whatever transaction
The room was still charged, though silent, when the clapping started and Ian turned toward it, opening his eyes. “Thank you, Ian, for a simply marvelous performance. No offense intended, but the lovely Stephanie is not worthy of that song. Now on to your question.” Antonius, fingers steepled under his chin, looked at Ian through glowing red eyes which, with a blink, returned to their original gray. “Some would call me Death, but Antonius sounds so much nicer, don’t
raindrop that travels through the sky, distinct in its way, until falling into the ocean. Painless oblivion, nothing more. For everybody. My task is not to choose the timing or manner of your demise, but to make that journey a smooth one. Not as colorful, admittedly, as what sprung from the fertile imagination of Hieronymus Bosch. Now then…” he fished a gold pocket watch elaborately engraved with birds in flight from his vest and popped it open. “So I’m, like, already dead?”
Killing Time- Matthew Snyderman Ian asked. “Nobody lives forever, my talented friend. But no, today you are very much alive,” replied Antonius, pushing back his chair, which shrieked against the wooden floor as dim outlines of the other patrons began to take shape. “Today’s appointment is with another. You see, occasionally, if I’m a little early, I like nothing more than to take a few moments to visit with interesting people and watch the world go by.” Then turning with a dancer’s grace, Antonius strolled toward the door, humming “Styrofoam Heart” before calling back, “I suspect you may have a hit there, an underground one. Ha!”
Ian held up his left hand, which sported a colorful band on the middle finger. “What the hell?”
*** Ian watched Antonius go, but with each step his memory of their encounter faded and the interior of The Purple Cow returned to normal. Strangely exhilarated, he noticed a beer he’d never ordered next to his laptop and took a swig. This peculiar afterglow was shattered by the sound of squealing tires followed by a jarring crash. It wasn’t right outside, but somewhere close. Everybody rushed to the plate glass window. Ian shook off the last of his mental cobwebs and joined them. But their view was mostly blocked by a steadily growing crowd which, attracted by the noise and a long plume of acrid, black smoke, was surrounding the vehicles, standing on tiptoe. “Fuck!” said Todd, sidling up to Ian. “That sounded like a bad one.” “No shit.” They watched together, not speaking, while the distant wail of sirens grew steadily louder and a phalanx of emergency vehicles hurtled past. Heading back behind the bar after the EMTs had spirited away the victims, Todd noticed Ian’s ring and commented, “Hey, great ring.”
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Research Towards an Understanding of the Performance Artist and Filmmaker Emily X Nick Ingram
efore we begin our exploration of the events which so excited the British and international media of 2021, the original title of the film performed, produced and possibly directed by Emily X was called Flesh, Body, Blood, Freedom. It goes without saying this title plays directly into the meaning of the events of that summer, even though the media tended to miss this point, or ignore it completely. Because of this, in these notes, it is worth taking another approach to the film and Emily X, which moves beyond what has already been published. “What are you going to do?” asked Lydia. “Oh, I’m just going to make another film,” said Emily, “I’ll need to make another appointment for a new design.” It should be acknowledged that there are no paper or digital sources confirming the existence of Viviane, even though she was somebody—obviously, a surname for her has never been established. Everything in this examination comes from secondary media sources and the writers and
artists who counted themselves among her inner circle. When everything is teased apart, she becomes ephemeral, unknowable. The writer Felix O’Connor was always at the Belgravia Mansion. Some sources have cited him as being one of Viviane’s very best friends, a sidekick or even lieutenant. If you follow the factual basis of the feature articles written in the face of these events, it’s well-known the Met Police never found any evidence of wrongdoing. These parties were Viviane’s—yes, some media commentators and members of the public may well have found them distasteful, but Viviane is always quoted as saying that all she did was hold parties for her friends and like-minded people. This salon, as it was, and which she ran, was a closed house. The only info that could ever be used was that this was all private. Some writers, such as Sebastian Task, have said it was Viviane’s twenty first-century version of the other twenties. Filled with goings-on comparable to the Bright Young People of the flapper era—after all, out of Viviane’s salons came an artistic movement which will more than likely dominate the
Research Towards an Understanding of the Performance Artist and Filmmaker Emily X - Nick Ingram middle of this century. Painters, poets, art makers and performers, such as Emily X, all established themselves through this small circle. No one ever really knew who Viviane was. In fact, some journalistic sources tend to argue that she was most likely someone else—but no one has ever managed to identify who she was or is. This is assuming that Viviane is still alive somewhere. On top of this, a surname has never been found. Some interviewees who came from what I will call her inner circle were more than aware that she told different things to different people—often contradictory. She told some people she had been a flight attendant; others had been told she made her money from running a brothel. To others, she said she had married at eighteen and the money had come from her since deceased husband. Yet this was all she told them. From a point of view of leafing through interview after interview, there is a sense that everything she said was surface. The memory never seemed to go any further. In some people, this caused a very deep suspicion. And yet, there is another story where the interviewees have told of her being one of their greatest friends. O’Connor tends to fill in some of the spaces missing in the media profiles which were written a few years ago on Viviane. Firstly, he always tends to hold to the notion that she was a little bit older than what she told the press (thirty-five in 2019)—it would seem that she was the same age as Emily X, who was already in her forties when she started making an impact on the art scene in London with her performances. Maybe this is why they both got on so well, being of a similar age. Secondly, O’Connor always thinks she was a lot more intelligent and arch than what she led the media and most people to believe. Thirdly, he never
believed the stories which formed the background to the speculation of where she came from—he thought that underneath it all, she came from the north of England and had a university education. Though, again, this has never been proved. As with most things about Viviane, there are no solid sources—a journalist for the New York Times has always claimed Viviane was, in fact, an act; she was performing a life, rather than living one. There is, however, one element O’Connor mentions in several pieces where he was interviewed in the tabloid press. That element being how over drinks late into the night, when it was just himself and Viviane, or sometimes at a salon or party, when they were talking about somebody in general conversation, Viviane would use the phrase, “Oh don’t worry she’ll join us in the end, she won’t have a choice. Almost everyone here is unemployable anyway—but it’ll do her good. I see good potential in her to be very successful.” This somehow disturbed him, made him uneasy. Because he knew that one of these “potentials” was not only him, but also Emily X... It was during the summer of 2021 when Emily X noticed that both Viviane and O’Connor had gotten full black-out sleeves on their right arms. No one had ever mentioned such a thing to her, and they were flaunting it fairly openly. Emily knew she would be the next in line. “No,” said O’Connor in an interview profile on the Juniper blog, “it wasn’t me. It was Viviane who convinced Emily to go blonde in the first place. She thought she looked better, and she also got her to grow her hair. But the pair of them had become good friends by that point, and would lunch and go clubbing together on a regular basis. Viviane was as gregarious as she always was. Emily just went along with the ride. She seemed to enjoy this newfound
freedom. Her new life in London unlocked her, as it were.” “We both got laid last night,” said Emily. “I know,” said O’Connor, “I heard everything, and I can smell the pheromones from here.” Emily (née Leeson) Latimer, the woman who eventually became known to the public as the artist Emily X, was born and grew up in Gloucester. She studied foreign languages at Newcastle University, where she graduated in ’02. At some point in the middle of the decade, she married into a local family of lawyers who ran a partnership called Latimer & Sons. We know from her own interviews that she was unable to have kids, and the marriage fell apart and ended in divorce in 2015. Her ex-husband, Stefan Latimer, has always refused to give comments on both their marriage and her subsequent notoriety and artistic career. Being that her divorce settlement made her an independent woman—she could live off the interest from her shares —she left Gloucester for London. After a series of short-let rentals, she eventually moved into one of the ground floor flats of Viviane’s Belgravia Mansion. A house which was, in fact, three Georgian townhouses Viviane had acquired, and had then been remodelled into one building. The central house was eight stories high. It was here that she became friends with Viviane and Felix O’Connor. Emily has always claimed that, at this juncture, which would have been around 2017, she had no idea what the top three floors were used for. She was just trying to rebuild her life. She always maintained in interview after interview that she was a welleducated woman in a new city, with nothing to lose. “Alright Lucy Honeychurch, prepare to lose your corset,” said Viviane.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 “I don’t have a corset to lose, Viviane,” replied Emily. “Not anymore.” Viviane handed Emily a piece of paper, which she looked at intensely. “You already know Lydia from the party last week, don’t you? Well, there are the details and the design.” “Including shoulder blade, and breast,” said Emily quickly. “Yep!” returned Viviane. Emily X told an interviewer she was somehow exhilarated, and could not pin down her own psychological reaction and response. As most of you know Emily X still carries the marks placed upon her that day. Even though the film has been missing for a few years now, some sources from Viviane’s inner circle have claimed that it was Emily X who finally destroyed it. There were certain points of view expressed across numerous interviews as to the nature of the film production. Viviane always claimed she didn’t know there were any cameras in any of the rooms. Lydia, even though she appears in the film, has been quoted as saying, “To me, it was just another day, another job. Emily was nothing more than another client.” O’Connor has always refused to comment. It should be further noted that even though both Viviane and O’Connor had blacked-out arms, there has never been any film, or evidence of film, of either of them. Around the issue of the piece, there are three schools of thought that run through the media coverage. The first one is that both Viviane and Lydia knew of the cameras, and the film was being used as an attempt to blackmail Emily X in one way or another. This was not the focus of the Met Police investigation, however. The general line of thinking from a critical theory perspective is, because of the ritualistic nature of it, the film is an art piece, most likely commissioned between Viviane, Lydia, O’Connor
and Emily X. We have to remember that, in the end, it was this film that launched Emily X’s chaotic, artistic performance career. With the end of the police investigation, most commentators now tend to fall into the second bracket. Emily X has always defined this period of her life, living in the Belgravia Mansion, and her friendship with Viviane, as the purging of her own demons. “Oh, I just had to,” said Emily. “I just gave him my card as well,” said Viviane. Speaking further to the evidence of the film being an artistic endeavour is the fact that both O’Connor and Viviane styled the rooms, and Viviane acquired the clothes and jewellery worn while the performance took place. Indeed, there are quotes which attest to this from O’Connor stating that not only did Viviane acquire the dress, but that it was tailored through a series of fittings with Emily X, although the name of the designer is unknown. This was because Viviane knew people within fashion circles, and there is more than enough evidence to prove that certain prominent names attended her parties. O’Connor has also written that it was Viviane who helped Emily X dress on the day of filming. We know Lydia and Emily X had several conversations about the performance, procedures and the design of the body art, as well as the direction of the whole piece. Lydia is quoted as saying she thought Emily was very knowledgeable about the subject: “She already had four or five small tattoos, so she knew the process. Although I don’t think she was totally prepared for a full black-out.” There is a subtext going on between the lines of some of the media reports indicating there was going to be a scene of Emily dressing, cut as a montage into the continual shot of the final work. As if the film
was juxtaposing three different types of women on a journey. Emily X has consistently stated the piece is about a woman losing her inhibitions— becoming free, acting on her own motivations, and not through male validation. In other words, all these actions seen in the film are a reflection of how to cut free from an oppressive, moralistic society. Being that we have little material from Viviane on this matter, all we have to go on from this moment forward is O’Connor’s, Lydia’s and Emily X’s testimony. Those viewers who have seen the full twelve-hour gallery version of the film will know most of the following details anyhow, including the last hour of the piece that caused the rumble Emily X would refer to as “the moral media.” “Well, one of those great things about Viviane was that she knew her clothes and fashion. She was always a well-dressed woman. At the time, she could afford it. There were more clothes than she knew what to do with. Even though Viviane bought the clothes, I also wonder even now if Emily X had more cash than common sense—but this may have been the final price of her fame?” says O’Connor in one interview from Fad Face. Emily X told Mode May, “Between us, Viviane and myself thought we’d keep it simple. The clothes needed to be functional and stylish. So I wore my hair up and Viviane sourced this stunning black evening dress, with silver straps, that fell away in a plunging bare backline, which stopped at a point just above my bottom. This went with a pair of stilettos. This was offset by a pair of long, jewelled gold earrings. On my upper left arm, a spiral gold arm cuff with a large, solid-gold statement ring on the index finger. There was also a thick, gold chain for the neck and a gold lace Venetian mask. We both decided this would be enough. There were no other clothes. Even if certain
Research Towards an Understanding of the Performance Artist and Filmmaker Emily X - Nick Ingram other people have suggested there may have been.” O’Connor insisted, “I don’t want to be histrionic, but when Emily went into the taxi that afternoon, neither myself nor Viviane realised that what was happening would generate a myth, a new nexus point of reference, the birth of an artist...if I can go beyond using normal language. Suffice it to say, this all changed the landscape of contemporary British art in the most challenging way. Of course, Lydia enjoyed the notoriety too, and did very well with it herself. But Emily changed when that taxi pulled away—because afterwards, the woman who came back the next day was Emily X.” “I know,” said Viviane, “we could do five different men over five different nights?” “I don’t think so!” replied Lydia. Now there are two more points to be explained in relation to the final film. The first point being Lydia. The other point would be the Man who has never really been identified, although there are media rumours and speculation that all concerned knew who he was, but we’ll leave that as a footnote for now. However, this still leaves us with Lydia, who came from Salford and, rather than going to art college, apprenticed at tattoo shops around 2012, when she was eighteen or so. Eventually, she had enough money to move to London and open a small parlour in Chelsea near Sloane Square, which, in part, was funded by her father—although the family never liked the idea of the career she had chosen for herself. Within the area, she gained a minor reputation at being consummate at her job and her designs. It was here she first met Viviane, for whom she did several pieces, including her blacked-out right arm. She was eventually invited to one of Viviane’s parties on the
top floors of her Belgravia Mansion, where she became a close confidante of not only Viviane, but also Emily X and O’Connor. Just to segue back to the gentleman, also seen in the film: it is highly likely he attended these parties. O’Connor is quoted in La Mod saying, “Viviane didn’t think that Emily would do it. She seemed nervous and off-the-cuff about the entire project—until she saw the results and the impact she and the film finally had.” In the media reports, feature articles or interviews with Viviane, Emily X, Lydia or O’Connor, there is never a mention of a camera(s) set up at Lydia’s tattoo parlour. Also, there has never been anything said about an editing process or any form of postproduction the film would have been through before it was given its gallery and internet debut. Nothing has ever come into the public domain. There are no funding accounts, and the core four people attached to the project have never spoken a word about the production or the logistics of the film. “Well it was never that complicated,” said Lydia. “Emily already was. There were no strictures as to the nature of the work, that’s all. It was going to take time, but then, that’s just the way of it all. As you can see in the film, it took around twelve hours to create the body art. As for the other part of the film, I have no comment on the subject.” Because of the extensive testimony of Emily X and the evidence of the film, when it was available, it is worth turning to Lydia’s commentary on the following events. Mainly because she did most of the work that day, even though shorter versions of the film tell a slightly different narrative... Per Lydia, “When Emily came to the door at 7:30, it just seemed strange to see someone wearing an evening dress at that time of day. She looked immaculate, mind you, because
to be honest she could wear almost anything and not look bad. She had on some jewellery and what-nots, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, some hanging slightly loose around her face. I kissed her on both cheeks and said hello. I then locked the door of the parlour. Emily said nothing and would say very little throughout the day.” O’Connor would describe of the events after Emily left, “That morning, there was nothing else to do. So myself and Viviane went out for a champagne breakfast.” Lydia continues as follows: “I walked up behind her and took hold of one of the silver straps of the dress and asked her to take her arm out. She complied without saying a word, and I just let that part of the dress fall to her waist, while letting the other strap hold the dress in place. With a purple pen, I marked a line under her shoulder blade running to the edge of her rib cage, then arched a line back to the top edge of her neck. I then came around to the front and brought the line around her rib cage to form an arrow shape beneath her breast, and then drew another line up to meet the point towards the back of her neck. Other than her arm, this was the area to be filled in—if you’ve seen the film, you know this.” “The champagne breakfast and shopping for the day was actually quite relaxing. O’Connor enjoyed it. We just had to find some way of filling in the time. Everything that could be done had already been done,” Viviane told The Boston Globe in a rare but oblique interview. All of Lydia’s interviews are illuminating and taken from an article she wrote herself for The London Review of Books. In one excerpt, she recounts, “Well at this point, I took Emily by the hand and walked her over to the chair where everything I needed was set up. She sat down and looked rather calm and collected. I picked her hand up
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 and drew a cuff around her wrist, and a point down her hand. Then I asked her if everything was okay, and she just nodded. I began to work on her lower arm with a large 112 magnum needle. I think she smarted at first,
watching, in a pair of loose jeans and an open shirt, sipping from a glass, wearing a Venetian mask. On occasion, we see him smoking. “She found the line down her spine to be rather difficult,” Lydia
O’Connor muses, “It was only after the film was shown a few times that notoriety began to gather pace, particularly through the tabloids, which tried to turn the film into a chimera. The only problem was
“...the piece is about a woman losing her inhibitions—becoming free, acting on her own motivations, and not through male validation. In other words, all these actions seen in the film are a reflection of how to cut free from an oppressive, moralistic society.“ but soon settled in, her skin absorbing the black ink into her arm. This was how it was going to be for the next few hours.” A note needs to be made now that, in the film, as this is going on, the Man is nowhere to be seen. There are a few jump cuts where Emily and Lydia take breaks and resume. He appears out of thin air, after one of these jump cuts, while Emily is lying face-forward. Her arm has been inked, and Lydia is making her way across the middle of her shoulder blade. He just sits there in the corner
writes in her article. “After a break, we went for the home stretch with the side of her neck and collar bone, across her chest, and towards the arrow point on her lower rib cage, as well as joining up the space beneath her arms. It was at this point that she was beginning to get tired. She was breathing a little sharply and the pain was beginning to show, yet she insisted we carry on when I protested. I think by this time we were a good eight hours into the process, a process which both Viviane and O’Connor had been through.”
that it was all free publicity. The fact is, this film has made a name for all of us—with the exception of Viviane.” According to Lydia, “She did wince when I ran over her nipple, and ten hours in, she was beginning to become fatigued, but she still refused to say anything, so I just carried on. I’m unsure if she enjoyed the experience, even though she had been tattooed before, she never had anything done on this scale. I remember Emily later saying it was a great, liberating experience, but this was after she had healed; she did
Research Towards an Understanding of the Performance Artist and Filmmaker Emily X - Nick Ingram not see it as a negative experience. I even touched up the work later, and she had healed surprisingly well. I remember the pair of us laughing at the fact that some blood from her shoulder had made it onto her hair, staining it red. She said that, at this stage, she had almost gone stiff from all the blood and ink...and because she had been in the chair for a good half a day.” Comment should be made that, in her fairly long article, Lydia makes no mention of the Man who was sitting in the corner of the parlour, slowly drinking and smoking throughout the day. During one final jump cut, he disappears once more. The next time we see him is obviously in the final hour of the film, which turned this piece of art into a twentyfirst century myth. Lydia’s article goes on to elaborate, “Towards the end, you could see the pain on Emily’s face... there was no other way to describe it. She had reached a threshold and wanted to call it quits. Normally, I would have done a job like this in three stages, but this had to be completed in one day. It was a test of endurance. She told me later she wanted her body to, for once, react to something she wished to feel. She believed we had achieved that. So then I set to work with a finer needle, cleaning up some of the edges. I must admit even I was at a point of collapse. I was in need of a drink and a fag.” We know from the film that the next and final sequence of the performance was watched by Lydia for at least a few hours as she drank and smoked and watched the, what shall we say...the final act on the bed, as the Man had watched Emily X being blacked-out by Lydia. From this, it could be argued that what we have here is an example of “gaze.” There is a sense of voyeurism spread throughout the entire piece. The gaze
of the Man, on Lydia and Emily X. The gaze of Lydia on the Man and Emily X. The gaze of Emily X on the Man and Lydia, and the gaze of the entire audience on the film. This is voyeuristic filmmaking as no one has ever experienced before or since. Most scholars presently quote from Emily X’s catalogued text, published for the first time at the debut showing of the film at Neu Werks Gallery—an exhibition called Flesh, Body, Blood, Freedom, which contains the most talked about stills, used to this day as the benchmark for any argument for or against her work. Emily X writes, “It took, I think, thirteen hours to finish the tattoo in its entirety. I was dripping in blood. Some of the blood had got into my hair, and I was exhausted, but somehow calm and collected, almost exhilarated. Lydia finished touching up some odds and ends, and then decided she could do no more. We both stopped for a moment. She then stood up and offered me her hands and pulled me out of the chair. Luckily, I could still stand on my heels. Then she walked backwards, guiding me slowly towards the curtained door at the back of the parlour. Eventually we passed through it, and I stood in a room with a large bed against one wall, a small table with glasses, a bottle of whiskey and a cigarette pack in the corner. On the other side of the room, steam flowed from a shower covering part of the old flooring. Lydia sat down at the table and poured herself a drink, leaving me standing in the middle of the room. She lit a cigarette.” As we have already stated, the identity of the Man who appears in the film remains unknown. Even if there has been speculation, we can only surmise who he is. But as Emily X is standing in the middle of the room, we see him step out of the shower behind her and place a Venetian mask on his face.
Things then proceed quite quickly considering how long it has taken to get to this segment. Once more, we quote from Emily X’s catalogued essay: “He came up behind me, there were no welcoming platitudes. I could feel him breathing and hear him position himself—I think at first, I was a little tense. Finally, I felt his hand on the left side of my neck as he brushed his hand across my shoulder until it reached the strap of my dress, which was now partly ruined because of the blood and ink from the tattoo. The strap slid off my shoulder and down my arm, making the dress fall to the ground, letting me stand there in just the jewellery and stiletto heels. The fresh tattoo on my right side had some blood and ink dripping and sliding down my arm and torso. He then turned me around and stared straight into my face. In the film, I think I nodded once. I offered him my hands, and then I began to walk to the bed. He followed as I led. As soon as I was at the edge of the whitesheeted mattress, he put his fingers through mine and pushed me. As I fell back onto the mattress, my blood stained the sheets. Lydia just looked on, passively smoking, drinking from her glass. He pushed my legs up onto the bed with my shoes still on, and then opened my legs with his hands. He began to kiss and lick my stomach, moving upwards onto the bed between my legs, licking the blood off the tattoo until he reached the space between my breasts, which his tongue passed over in one single swipe as he lifted himself upright. By this time, I had one hand on his chest, and my other bloodied-black hand held his wrist tightly. The sheets took on a slight red tinge, and then I just kept my eyes open and looked at him straight in the face. I accepted him inside of me. I glanced over at Lydia as he proceeded to see that she did not flinch once, only closing
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 her eyes a little, squinting, as the pair of us found our rhythm, and I became more submissive to the pleasure he was sending through my body. We managed to carry on in this position for an hour, until he eventually withdrew from me, and spread his life across my chest. The semen mixing with the blood and the ink of the tattoo, as I became reborn, resurrected, returned back to life. Eventually he slid off me, and we were there in the heaviness of the evening. Slowly, I fell asleep aching in my own pain and pleasure.” This was where the artist known as Emily X was born. There, in that film, displayed on the wall of the gallery, leaving all the members of the audience astonished and stunned. This was a time when performance art had finally taken its revenge on the art world at large. Naturally, we all now know from the media the stories and the slander which erupted after the work was shown, and the attempts to censor it. It followed that Viviane’s parties would get more coverage. Something she found unwelcome, considering they were private affairs. Although some photos had, over a few years, seeped into some middlepage spreads. It was after this point, when Emily, calling herself Emily X, was giving interviews and profiles to national and international media outlets, that the police raids began. The Christian Moral League, even in the middle of the twenty-first century, took umbrage at a woman being tattooed and then filmed having sex while another woman watched. It was against this background that Emily X rolled her artistic career out, further challenging the public perception of both performance and the idea of being female. O’Connor, in a more recent piece published in Le Butt, stated, “Out of the affair, I think she was the one who emerged from it quite well. Even better was Lydia. It was from that film
that her reputation as a tattoo artist just grew and grew. Even now, she tells me she has too much work and designing to handle by herself. Yet her designing gets more inventive day after day. She’s even thinking of starting to do residences in other places. L.A. maybe. She has become a force to be reckoned with.” From Lydia’s long article in LRB: “In the end, I think it all sat just a bit too heavy for Viviane. Emily loved the focus of the media and used it to her advantage. But it was after a feature article which started asking questions about her motivations that Viviane began to feel the full blowback that came in her direction. There were a few journalists sniffing around that made her uneasy and, only a day before, the Belgravia Mansion was raided again. She just disappeared. Where she went, I don’t know. I understand the media coverage had pushed her, and some other people had misgivings about the project and withdrew from the circle. There are still no real hints as to who she was— but she was hounded into absconding anyway. She was just gone. Two suitcases were missing from her flat, a bank account had been emptied, there was not even a note. As far as I know, she has never been traced and is logged with the police as a missing person. Because the mansion is owned, it has been mothballed. I know there’s a huge question of ownership over it. And no, I’m not in contact with her. I just don’t know where she is.” Emily X adds to this by commenting, “I didn’t notice she had gone until about two days after the fact. Lydia and O’Connor told me. I was healing from Lydia’s tattooing at the same time as doing a lot of media work because of the buzz the film had created. There was no message, no nothing. There was not much else to do except take it to the police. Maybe it didn’t surprise me that she disappeared. She was a very private
person who liked to work on a very personal level—that’s all I can say. Anyway, I don’t know where she is. All three of us miss her dearly. She was a good friend, and we had some good times together. I don’t think I would be as successful as a visual artist without her influence, ideas and input.” “I’ll admit we’ll never know who Viviane really was,” said O’Connor. “Have we been cheated?” asked Emily. There was a small piece of paper in one of the file boxes that is said to have belonged to Viviane, left behind when she disappeared. This paperwork looks as if it’s never been used as a primary source for the events that took place at the Belgravia Mansion, which she may or may not have owned. This paperwork may or may not be of some importance when it comes to an interpretation of events, but the documents lead us no further towards identifying who the woman that referred to herself as Viviane was. The piece of paper reads: 1. No natural hair colour. 2. Grow hair. 3. No one vanilla to be befriended. If worth befriending, change their vanilla status or drop them. 4. Relax into it. 5. Underwear is evil. 6. Always make sure there is a safe word and that it is adhered to. Anyone who refuses to adhere to the safe word, remove from circle. 7. Remain open to experience. 8. If it’s something for the first time, then give it a try. 9. Make sure everyone is always safe. 10. Enjoy!!!
Twenty-One Minutes Anthony DeVita
t is now time for us, my fellow neurotics, to face up to the music. We must do so now. Notice how much stress I put on this last word. The great now that we have all been waiting for will never arise. Or, to be more precise, now cannot begin because it has already been completed. It has already arisen countless times, has already been collected and recollected so often that no actual now will ever be able to take its place. The treasures we yearn for most in the world come to us too early, and the actual offerings of the world lag behind us, attaining splendor only as time washes away all the impediments that had obscured our vision. Do not let them fool you, my brothers and sisters. We are not what they think. They misapprehend us because they think us less when, in fact, we are more. Perhaps their descendants somewhere down the line will be developed enough to experience life as we do. Materialism has seeped down into our bones. We are too practical for our own good. Order is our disorder. Sanity is our madness. Control is the devil that possesses our souls and turns them to stone. The world is too big for us to handle
all at once, so we handle it at every other time that is available. The thought of tomorrow’s big chance awakens our memory of acts we seem to have already performed on that brilliant day, a day that lives in our hallowed memory. We take ourselves more seriously than mere life and death, more seriously than the world, so seriously that the world does not even get a chance to appear before we have subjected it entirely to our wills. What is the world but a now that we never have time for, a collage that we piece together from the outside, as if it were really and truly under our feet? No, my fellows. You and I exist above and below the world. We encompass it at all times. By staying perfectly out of sync with it, we are able to hold it firmly in our timeless grasp, to extract all the beauty that was never coming, and to romanticize with sweet kisses all the beauty that already went. Punctuality eludes us like a cunning stalker in the night. Now is always there, like a giant celestial body that we can only observe by means of our perpetual motion around it. The appointment is at 9:30 a.m., ladies and gen-
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 tlemen, but it is only 8:14 a.m. That is an ocean of time. A blank infinity stands between us and this moment in which everything must occur as ordained from time immemorial, from the time before time when all went as planned and not a crumb of pleasure was missed. There is so much for us to enjoy before the moment arrives. We are taking the world’s measure,
death approaches with bowed and solemn heads. There is no way to avoid them now. We were over twenty minutes late for the moment. Their oppressive gaze now hangs all around us. From every angle, it takes exact measurements of our unforgivable lateness, and without deliberation, it passes its irrevocable judgment: “For a crime of this magnitude, it is difficult
“Materialism has seeped down into our bones.“ rejoicing in its superficial finitude, and drowning it in our unfathomable depths. It is still too early to depart. The place is not far, and our victory is nearly complete. Soon we will be ready. Let us just gather our thoughts a moment longer. Why rush? Why now? Why not wait a moment... a moment for an eternity, a footstep for a voyage across the galaxy, a split second for a chance to shoot forever among the stars? It is all happening out there in the distance. Just wait, just wait and see how much more is in store before... before... oh God, look at the clock! Look at its horrible dial! The hands have been moving with cold proficiency this entire time. We will never make it. Everything was right there in the palm of our hands, but the moment has gotten too close and is ready to rob us blind. The tribunal of life and
to determine a fitting punishment, but we in our present state of wisdom are now delivering it. You shall, from this moment until your last, be haunted by the twenty-one minutes in which you failed to appear. You will remember 9:30 a.m. not as a fixed point in time, but as an open expanse in which life stood ready to unveil all of its most precious secrets. With a longing more terrible than you can imagine, you will count the seconds that separated you from life’s sweet bliss, and you will know more precisely than anyone else on the planet what it means to be late.”
Cowgirl Mike Lee
harlotte had learned not to live in a silent passage, yet there were waypoints in her life that she left unexplored. Such a one was the darkened hallway Charlotte felt her way around until she found the light switch next to the bedroom doorjamb. Her mother had always kept the curtains closed, even in summer. When they talked, darkness was what she and her sister Emily remembered the most about their mom. Emily opined she made chronic depression a lifestyle choice, though Charlotte disagreed. Deeply in love with her husband, but sometimes diffident toward her daughters, Mom chose books and learning as her focus and career. She never went above the title of associate, but made a name editing anthologies. Upon entering the room, Charlotte sneezed. The place was left as it was when Emily took her to where their mother spent her final weeks. Charlotte hesitated before venturing further. She turned on the bathroom light. She slid open the shelf be-
low the mirror and discovered Mom kept Dad’s shaving kit. He died eight years ago. His headaches began when he retired as a draftsman at the Land Office. Dad had looked forward to riding his bicycle around the Hill Country and traveling around in an RV. He went to his doctor, who scheduled an MRI and discovered an aneurysm. Emily was summoned to drive him to the hospital. While waiting for a room to open, Dad went into a seizure and left his body, his hand grasping Emily’s so tight she had to have a nurse pry his fingers apart. He built a darkroom in the garage and took family portraits when Charlotte and her sister were babies. They sold the cameras and equipment online and at a camera shop Dad frequented. Charlotte gifted herself the bicycle, a gold Raleigh. She opened the closet filled with musty dresses and suits, some untouched for years. Above was her collection of shoes, all still in their boxes, and most unopened
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 since she retired. Charlotte brushed her fingers against the cardboard and looked at her dusty fingertips, thinking about how fashionable Mom was. On the floor were a row of accordion files. Charlotte pulled them out, lining them up on the bed. Behind them, Charlotte
grading and filing grades. Then it was rushing around decorating, visiting friends, neighborhood caroling with the church, finally ending with a big burst of shopping. Maybe that was why. She put the sweater in its box and stood in front of the bed holding the skirt against her waist in front of
underground before turning to jog around the blocks in the subdivision where she lived. After passing the roundabout, Charlotte turned the corner to her street. Ahead of her was a little girl on her scooter, riding on the slight downward slope. Charlotte moved to her left to avoid her, but the little girl
“Her mother had always kept the curtains closed, even in summer. When they talked, darkness was what she and her sister Emily remembered the most about their mom.” discovered Christmas gifts. One was for her sister, the other for herself. The tags were browned from being forgotten decades ago. Charlotte placed them on the bed. She opened hers. It was a green tartan skirt. She guessed 1981. Curious, she opened Emily’s. It was a black cashmere sweater with ivory buttons. Charlotte was angry, recalling she wanted a cashmere sweater. Mom sometimes confused her daughters’ needs. The holidays were an example. November was
the full-length mirror framed next to the bedroom door. It’s too late now, Charlotte thought, but she would get a good deal in trade at Buffalo Exchange. It took two trips to get the files and forgotten presents in the car. Later, Charlotte gave the sweater to her sister, and they cried together. The next morning was warm for winter. The frost had melted, glistening drops under the sun. Charlotte put on her sweats and went jogging, taking the trail that ran along the oil and gas pipelines buried
noticed, stopped and stepped up to the sidewalk. “Hi, I’m sorry I was in your way,” the girl said. “I shouldn’t have been on the street.” Charlotte stopped. “Oh, that’s okay. But thank you.” She was fascinated by the little girl’s forthright intelligence. She looked perhaps eight, and her clothing was anachronistic. She was dressed in western wear: a cotton button-down shirt with elaborate colorful stitching and a matching brown leather vest and skirt. She
Cowgirl - Mike Lee also had on hand-tooled cowboy boots, singular and expensive. “You look so amazing,” Charlotte said. “Thank you,” the girl said. “My grandmother gives me lots of clothes. She is quite kind to me.” “I see that. I love your outfit.” “I even have my cowgirl hat,” She took it off the handlebar and placed it on her head, smiling proudly as she pulled the lanyard up to her neck. “Wow, that’s so nice,” said Charlotte. “I had one when I was your age. But yours is so well-made.” “Thank you, ma’am. Everyone is so nice to me.” The way she said it took Charlotte aback. So well-spoken. Perhaps homeschooled. “It was nice to meet you,” said the girl. She held out her hand. “My name is Annie.” Charlotte took her hand, which was warm. “The pleasure is mine. I’m Charlotte.” Annie turned the scooter. With a smile, she waved. “I must be going. It is time for me to return home. Goodbye Charlotte. It was a pleasure chatting.” “Likewise. Goodbye,” said Charlotte, thinking what a very old soul that child has. Charlotte began jogging. After a few steps, she stopped and turned. Annie was gone, having already made the incline and turned the corner. She was awfully quick for her size, Charlotte thought. She took that thought a step further: it was strange as to how the girl was dressed. She could have been from the 1940s or 50s—definitely from that time. That’s how the kids played dress up. No expense spared in costuming. Little people, instead of children. And how she spoke, so mature for her age Then it hit. Annie. Charlotte raised her hand
and slowly waved, fingers curling. “Goodbye, Annie,” she whispered.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Out of Sorts Stuart Watson
ori answered the phone. “They’re coming for me!” her dad moaned. “Your mother’s dolls! They’re going to kill me!” Her dad lived alone, so her mother’s dolls were sort of like roommates, because they shared space but didn’t pay rent. Most of them lived in the basement. Roommates will act up, Lori thought, but the dolls? Her dad was losing his nut. “They’re knocking!” her dad shouted into the phone. “They’re yelling and screaming down there!” “Okay, Dad, we’ll come.” Lori turned the flame off under her slumgullion and called me to the kitchen. “Going to Dad’s,” she said. “He’s having a fit. Can you come?” He could be a handful, even absent a fit. In recent weeks, Lori would visit his house and watch him wander around. He would stop every so often, pick up something, look at it as if he wasn’t quite sure what it was, then put it back. “How do you feel, Dad?” Lori asked once.
“Bob’s Big Boy,” he said, describing a figurine modeled after the drive-in restaurant icon. He had just touched a Betty Boop figurine. But he was close to Big Boy. Big Boy stood next to Betty on the shelf, looking a little like he wanted to rip her tight black dress off and have at it. Betty the figurine knew this. She had been standing there for years, getting ogled by Big Boy. I told Lori that after the lights went off, Betty and Big Boy probably talked some strange nasty shit, about all the things they would do to each other if they weren’t frozen in wood and ceramic. Big Boy is like, Talk about blue balls. Lori’s Mom collected them and other dolls, had them all over the house, talked to them...until she passed. She was famous, but not for dolls. She had the world’s largest bouffant. Three feet high, at least. She was walking down the sidewalk when a squirrel fell into it and staggered her into the path of a passing truck. On the way over to Vern’s, I called Lori’s younger brother to loop him in. Lou had failed at almost everything in life, but one. His parents had named him Executor of
Out of Sorts - Stuart Watson their Estate. When Lori found out, she was torqued to the max. Then she discovered that her dad also named the ne’er-do-well son of his second wife to succeed Lou if Lou died first.
father two children with the woman who left because of the drinking? Why would he trust me?” The sarcasm dripped like wax down the candle of her ire. She wasn’t done.
staggering a bit, a half-empty bottle in one hand. “Dad’s done,” Lori said. “You’re the Executor.” “Shittin’ me?” he said. “Means you’re in charge of
“Neighbors would buy something from another neighbor and take it back to their yard then mark it up, and other neighbors would come over and buy it and take it back to their house and mark it up and sell it to still other neighbors. It was like an auction in an insane asylum.” Lori went ballistic. She put a cast-iron frying pan through the kitchen wall. “Dirk?” she screamed. “That drunken twit? Ahead of me?” I caught her as she reloaded for another swing, figuring it would limit my work patching the wall. Lori struggled to figure out why her dad didn’t trust her to handle his Estate. “He didn’t name me Executor because I don’t fix up old cars, like Lou?” she snarled as we drove the familiar route. “Because I don’t drink as much or as often as Lou? Because I didn’t
“I’ve only had a career. I’ve only lived forty years in the house I own. I’m still married—to you,” she said, spitting the fact at me like I was the cause of her father’s betrayal. We opened the door to the kitchen just off the driveway. Vern was lying on the floor, the busted Betty Boop doll by his side. Blood pooled beneath his head. Lori checked his neck for a pulse, looked at me and shook her head. “Fell,” she said. “Hit his head.” Lou appeared in the doorway. “The fuck?” he said,
getting rid of shit. I’ll call 911 and get somebody over here for Dad.” Nobody seemed upset that Vern was lying on the floor. Lou just wobbled and stared. He lifted the bottle to his lips. Jesus, I thought. We had all seen it coming. Another time, Lori came over and found Vern out back. She opened the door to the patio, and he was standing there, trying to shoot a teddy bear with his archery bow. Not shoot an arrow into the bear. Shoot the bear— like an arrow. He would pick the bear up
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 and hold its foot against the string and draw it back and let it go. Like the bear was going to fly off somewhere and come down and surprise the shit out of someone. Or end up in a ratty rose bush in the far back of someone’s yard and be discovered by their dog months later. But the bear never went anywhere. It just fell at his feet. She thought it was so pathetic and sad. He was a grumpy old bastard, full of male authority and privilege, but she knew he loved her, because of the beer incident. When she turned eleven, her mom invited friends over for cake. Vern was there, standing at the back of the yard. She came out from the kitchen, and he lifted his bottle of beer toward her and smiled. He was toasting her. She, herself, the object of her father’s smiling toast? It was too much for her and she ran back into the house and cried until her mother coaxed her back outside to extinguish candles. “So, I’m the executioner?” Lou asked Lori. “I can help,” she said, shooting a wink my way. “Nah, I got it,” Lou said. He squatted down, tipped Vern on his side, removed his wallet. He looked up at Lori. “For safekeeping,” he said. “Can’t trust them EMTs.” Nobody else noticed, but I saw Lou look at his hand, bloody from Vern’s head, and wipe it on the corner of the counter top above where Vern was lying. Not his pants. The countertop. To prove Lori’s assumption, if anybody cared. After the medics arrived and wheeled Vern out, Lori felt a surprising sense of relief. Lou? He had moved across the kitchen and was leaning against the cupboards, nipping every few seconds at the bottle. He stared at something just over Lori’s shoulder, the task he knew he should take care
of, but had no idea what or how to do it. We heard voices in the side yard. “Back so soon?” Vern’s neighbor said to someone. Dirk wandered in. “Who’s the guy on the gurney?” “Who do you think, dipshit?” Lori said. No love lost there, I thought. Dirk went straight to the liquor cabinet. “Wow, look at this,” he called. “Bailey’s. Glenlivet. And some Jack. Pour you one?” Lou looked at his empty bottle. “Roger that,” he said. Lori shook her head. She told them they needed to do a garage sale to clear out Vern’s shit. She offered to go to the store and get tape and signboard and markers. When she got back, Lou and Dirk were huddled around the picnic table. Off to the side, they had a couple of recycling bins full of dolls. Ping! Lori heard, and saw something fall at her brother’s feet. She drew closer and saw them working some contraption that involved her Dad’s old bow, ducttaped to the table, and a hatchet taped to the other end. Lou would pull the hatchet end up, and Dirk would slide one of the dolls into place, and Lou would let the hatchet end go and— ping!—another doll head would fall to the ground. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “You said I was the executioner,” Lou reminded. “We’re making good progress.” “Stop!” she screamed. “You guys are idiots. These dolls are Mom’s. They’re valuable. We can sell them. We will sell them.” Just after dawn two days later, most of their Dad’s neighbors milled around in the driveway, waiting for
the Estate sale to start. Lori had organized the boys, got everything out of the basement and displayed it all on card tables. She had them put tape on each object and she went around and marked prices. She named me cashier. Once the sale started, a swarm of people bought everything. I had to leave my station once to help carry a box to a car. When I returned, I saw Lou and Dirk yukking it up by the cashier table. I caught Lori’s eye. She was shaking her head, steam coming out her ears. “Nothing left,” Lou observed as Dirk turned toward the car. “We’re outta here,” he said, as if he had keys. They climbed into Lou’s 1965 GTO. Each popped a beer. They bumped cans and Lou punched it. The tires spun and smoke drifted through the remaining customers as the car fishtailed into the street and off toward god-knows-where. The neighbors had taken what they bought and set up tables of their own. They had marked up their purchases and were selling them to people who hadn’t gotten a first crack at the merch. Neighbors would buy something from another neighbor and take it back to their yard then mark it up, and other neighbors would come over and buy it and take it back to their house and mark it up and sell it to still other neighbors. It was like an auction in an insane asylum. Lori and I heard the sirens at the same time. We instantly thought of Lou and Dirk. We jumped in our car and sped off in the same direction the GTO had gone. “I saw Lou stuff all the cash in his pocket when you were out at the street,” Lori said as we wove through traffic. Ahead, we saw lights. We slowed and tucked in behind the GTO. It had piled head-on into a cop car.
Out of Sorts - Stuart Watson “Jesus H.,” Lori muttered. Nobody was moving inside either vehicle. The lights pulsed. A few people gathered on the sidewalks. I went to the passenger side of Lou’s car. Dirk was suspended in the windshield, dead. Lori went to the driver’s side. Lou was impaled on the steering column, dead. She reached down and into his pants pocket. Her hand came out with a wad of bills. As she stepped away from the car, she looked at the wad. Glinting among the bills was Vern’s famous “lucky dollar” coin, the one that stopped a bullet on Guadalcanal. She slipped the wad into her own pants. “That’s Executor to you, asshole,” she said to Lou’s corpse. We returned to our car and waited for mop-up to clear the road.
The Opiate,Fall Vol. 27
World’s Finest Showgirls Debrah Miszak
ndrew kissed her while they were still in bed. He did it in a lazy and self-assured way that filled Ellen with envy. She’d been awake for hours. The sunlight woke her up, and then she couldn’t fall back to sleep because she’d have to talk to him when he woke up, and she had to think of things to say. He was always there. He’d been there, occupying the space she’d previously had to herself, for six months. His eyes were sleepy. There was no reason to ruin his morning with her list of anxieties. She’d still have them after breakfast, and the longer she was able to put off talking about them, the better the chance she had of forgetting them. She got out of bed and put on a pot of coffee for him. He taught her how to use the coffee maker when he moved in because she let it sit without use on her counter. Now, she pretended to like coffee to make him happy. When she got out of the shower, a plate with a couple pieces of toast with jam waited for her on the table. She stared at the crust as nausea engulfed her senses. He sat down across from her and told a long story he thought
was funny about something that happened to the lab mice at work the day before. He was smiling and expected her to enjoy the food he made for her. She didn’t want to eat, and she couldn’t even try when she thought about the mice. He spent all day with them. His team infected them with C. diff to study how different treatments would affect humans. They killed the mice when they inevitably became too sick to survive. The execution method consisted of pumping a sealed container with CO2 until they were unconscious. Then, staff pumped in some sort of toxic gas to suffocate them. Andrew was a vegetarian. Sometimes she felt like he was a stranger. The thought of vomiting out every fear she had about her appointment came over her, but he wouldn’t understand, and he would try to make her feel better, and she’d have to pretend he did when he wouldn’t be able to. He offered to drop her off at the appointment, and her heart sank because she didn’t have a reason to say no. They had to drive down 8 Mile to find the office. When she was younger, her mother was a teller at a bank on this street. Sometimes when her grandmother would
World’s Finest Showgirls - Debrah Miszak drop her mother off at work, so she could borrow the car to take Ellen places during the day, they’d see the sex workers on the sidewalk in miniskirts and high heels, leaning their bodies into the windows of pulled-over cars and making business negotiations with men in collared shirts. The remaining darkness of the early morning crept away as the minutes passed, and with that went their sanctuary from errant police officers with nothing better to do than ruin their job prospects. They had to finish making their deals quickly. Ellen didn’t understand what they were doing, but her grandmother would cross herself and grab the woodbeaded rosary on the rearview mirror and mumble something under her breath about “the souls of prostitutes.” Once, Ellen told her she wanted one of the women’s outfits and that she’d like to be a prostitute when she grew up. She didn’t know what a prostitute was, but she understood she should be embarrassed because of the way her grandmother turned around to smack whatever part of Ellen’s body she could reach from the driver’s seat. She replayed the memory over and over again as used car dealerships and fastfood joints flashed in her window. “Did you hear me?” Andrew asked. She hadn’t. “I just was pointing out how the strip club we passed before said it had the world’s finest showgirls, but now that other one on the left-hand side of the road says they do,” he said. He was smiling and glanced over at her expectantly. I replied, “I bet there are enough high-caliber showgirls to go around. When I was a kid, I thought all showgirls were like the Rockettes. They all probably could be Rockettes. It’s not easy work.” “Still, they could’ve put some more effort into that marketing. Imagine if two sandwich shops on the same street had signs advertising the same thing.” “My advice then would be to
try both places. In this case, I’d rather you stick to speculation.” “Are you sure? I’d bring you along to get your opinion.” Ellen had already returned to looking out the window. She didn’t have the patience for forced banter. Andrew stopped smiling. The radio was droning in the background, and she thought about turning it off. Neither of them cared for the song that was on, but they didn’t do anything. The therapist’s office was gray and white, and Ellen assumed this was meant to soothe clients. She wasn’t sure though. It was possible that the therapist was too cheap to decorate any better. Maybe she was new to the practice or maybe she was quitting. If she quit, Ellen wondered if she should follow her to a new practice or let them reassign her to someone else here. She wasn’t quitting, though, so Ellen distracted herself with the only signs of personality in the room. She made eye contact with a large, jade Buddha placed next to a faux Japanese painted fern. When this juxtaposition made her laugh, Melissa, her therapist, seemed confused and Ellen had to excuse herself and pretend she’d remembered something funny from earlier in the day, so she didn’t come off as insulting. Ellen told her the photo of the golden retriever she had on her desk was nice, and Melissa said thank you and that she’d had him put to sleep earlier that month. He was fourteen. Ellen joked that she wished someone would’ve euthanized her at fourteen. Melissa wrote something down on her yellow legal pad and then gave Ellen an inventory of symptoms to determine if she had any proclivity toward specific mental health issues, and Ellen interrupted her to say she had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression in the past. There was no point in going through a test of “sometimes, maybe, always, never,” when the answers were obvious. There was no need to make a charade out of this. She thought it would be funny to
have a game show like The Price is Right where instead of guessing the cost of common items, licensed counselors would have to guess the previous diagnoses of potential patients by their appearance. She knew Melissa would lose, but She didn’t look like she’d like the prize jet skis anyway. “Okay, we’ll unpack that later,” Melissa said, her brown hair falling in front of her face as she scratched down more notes. “Are you on any medications as part of your treatment plan for those?” Ellen said she wasn’t. She swiveled in her chair and grabbed a pastel pink flyer off her desk. “We do offer many holistic treatment options in place of medication to add to your routine in addition to individual counseling.” Ellen glanced down at the sheet of paper with information on group yoga sessions and guided meditation workshops. She tried to hand it back to Melissa, who acted like she didn’t understand the gesture. “Thanks. I’m just not into stuff like this.” “Are you sure? I’m a certified yoga instructor, so I sometimes run the workshops. It’s done wonders for my other patients.” Ellen looked out the window. “What’s your main reason for deciding to pursue therapy at this point?” “I’ve been having some trouble with my boyfriend.” Melissa nodded and waited for her to continue speaking. “There aren’t any earthshattering problems. He wanted me to come here. I don’t know. I think I’m going to leave.” “You’re going to leave him?” Ellen watched a car outside roll through a stop sign and heard the faint sound of screeching brakes as it came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the parking lot. Someone in a Toyota honked, and the driver flipped them off.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 “No,” she said. “I’m leaving here. I’m sorry, but I got a text message on my watch. I have a family emergency, so I need to leave.” Melissa raised an eyebrow and asked if she’d be comfortable sharing what happened. Ellen said she was sorry, but she couldn’t. She rose and hooked her purse onto her shoulder. “Ellen, you should reschedule
was abrasive, and she squinted her eyes. She couldn’t find Andrew’s car, and she pulled her phone out to call him. A text from him told her he went to the Kroger down the road, but he’d be back in time to pick her up. She couldn’t ask him to come now because he’d make the face he always made when Ellen disappointed him, and if he made that expression, she knew she
assemble their home as she watched their little legs scurry as they fulfilled their roles with pride. They didn’t know their assassin was stalking them from above. Ellen wanted to step on them now to prove she was merciful, but then thought they’d like to spend their last few minutes contributing to their family as much as they could before they succumbed. They were
“Once, Ellen told her she wanted one of the women’s outfits and that she’d like to be a prostitute when she grew up. She didn’t know what a prostitute was, but she understood she should be embarrassed because of the way her grandmother turned around to smack whatever part of Ellen’s body she could reach from the driver’s seat.” at the front desk. Kelly can set a makeup appointment. I won’t even charge you a fee for today, okay? Just make sure to come back. You have to let us crack your shell open if you want to heal from whatever’s bothering you.” Ellen said, “Uh huh,” and gave her a thumbs up as she left the room. Out front, Kelly tried to stop her to say goodbye, but she let the door’s closure speak for itself. The sunlight
would either let a semi-truck flatten her and end up on the local news station, or she’d break up with him. She slid down against the dirty, white brick wall until she hit pavement, but didn’t lean her back against it because there was a spider crawling directly above her head. She studied an ant hill the civilization built in a crack near her right leg and wondered how long it took for them to
more selfless than she was. Sometimes she tried to be selfless, but she always eventually demanded recognition. That was why she’d gone to Melissa in the first place. Andrew told her she acted like she was doing him a favor whenever they had sex, and he didn’t want her to treat him like a customer instead of a partner anymore, and he wanted to know what was on her mind, and he wouldn’t be mad if she
World’s Finest Showgirls - Debrah Miszak told him the truth. It was worse, he said, that she thought she fooled him with feigned enthusiasm. She told him she didn’t know what he was talking about, and he got serious and rubbed her back softly to show he would be gentle in the conversation. This made her angry without a good reason, so she picked a fight with him over his remark about her treating him like a customer. She used the snide, patronizing tone he hated to tell him to pay her if he thought she was such a whore and their voices grew louder until she couldn’t hear, and he threw five dollars at her and went off for a drive. She made a chrysalis out of their gray floral comforter and cried in the dark until he came back, when she groveled an apology and caressed his leg and whispered she would do anything he wanted, but he pushed her away and said this had to stop and pleaded with her to tell him what was wrong with her, and if she didn’t want to tell him, could she please go see a therapist? She didn’t need a therapist. She picked a dandelion and ripped out its petals. She smashed them between her fingers and stained them yellow. Her grandmother used to have her rub dandelions on her nose, and if (when) her nose turned yellow, she’d get to eat a pat of butter because “it meant she needed it.” Her grandmother was full of strange old wives’ tales like this. She remembered when she’d hold a heavy necklace over Ellen’s belly as she laid down and asked the universe how many children Ellen would have and what their sexes would be, and its answer could be interpreted based on how it swung. It always told them she’d have two girls and a boy. She wasn’t going to have kids. Andrew thought she would change her mind. He didn’t say it to her outright, but he still talked about things he’d like to do as a parent. He would be a good
father, and Ellen thought she might get pregnant one day to repay him for his toleration. She loved him, and he put up with her more than anyone else had before. Their only problem was that she didn’t like being looked at the way he looked at her when he wanted to have sex. He never made her guilty about not wanting to, and this was what ate away at her conscience. They’d been sleeping together since they started dating the year prior, but the regularity of their intimacy was difficult to predict. Sometimes she gave him a blow job or a hand job, or let him touch her when he masturbated. He said she had nothing to make up for, and she didn’t owe him sex, but she knew he’d leave if she stopped. Across the street, a tween girl and her mother walked into McDonald’s. She had barrettes in her hair, and she was trying to show her mother something on her phone. Ellen smiled, but when she looked down at the ants, she stomped on them, and slid her shoe against the pavement to make sure they were dead When she sat back down, she was thirteen years old, and asleep in her room. She could see the bulletin board she made with posters from teen magazines of the cast of Harry Potter facing her bed as if it were on the Jeep Grand Cherokee parked in front of her. She was a Hermione, but she pretended she wasn’t so that boys tolerated her. She was in the Harry Potter Club at school, and she cringed remembering it, but she did what she had to in order to survive junior high. They ate themed snacks and played trivia games, and sometimes even dressed up in costumes. Nobody in the club—except for her—had kissed anyone. She “dated” (read: held hands and walked home with) a boy who was more popular than her, and she was obnoxiously proud of this. His friends told him if she liked
him, she would kiss him. She didn’t know if she had any notable feelings for him, but he was there, and he thought she was worth kissing. She did it by the fire hydrant a few blocks from her house. There were several multicolored wads of gum on the hydrant, and she ripped off a piece of the dandelion’s stem and rolled it into a little green ball as she remembered the disgusting tooth imprints on all of them. The only thing she recalled about the kiss itself was that it was quick and cold, and afterward she told all her friends. Now, she told herself she was a kid and that just because she kissed somebody after school, she didn’t deserve everything else. She wasn’t even mature for her age. She still slept with a brown stuffed dog that her mom got her after her chicken pox vaccination. Its name was Buddy, and she still had it in a storage container in her parents’ basement. She took a deep breath and tried to name five things around her that started with the letter “A” to ground herself, but she was already stuck in that morning, when the light streamed into the room and woke her up before her alarm. Summer vacation began the week before. She was going to play tennis with girlfriends from school by Josh’s house. All three of them thought Josh was cute—even though he was loud and sometimes sweated through the armpits of his shirts—and they hoped they would run into him. Ellen checked the time and knew it would still be a while before Andrew arrived. She wished for a glass of water but didn’t want to go inside and face her lie to Melissa. She felt dizzy and nauseous in her childhood bed, and it hurt between her legs, and she felt so cold. Her underwear was at the foot of her bed when she found it. Someone kissed her that night and got on top of her, but her memory got fuzzy after that from going in and out of
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 sleep. It occurred to her now that she might’ve been drugged, and she’d never considered that before, but at the time she tried to push it out of her head by calling it a nightmare. Her parents’ friends were over the night before for her dad’s fortieth birthday, and she went upstairs to bed before everyone left because she almost fell asleep on the couch as they ate their cake, and Aunt Lindsay opened another bottle of wine. There were a lot of people there. She always shut the door when she went to bed, and her door was open about a quarter of the way. She thought she was going crazy. She thought it then, and she thought it now. Her face was in her hands, and she couldn’t remember that Dover was the capital of Delaware, and she bit her tongue to stop tears from escaping. She remembered having no feelings at all. She showered and scrubbed until her skin was raw. When she stepped out with soaked hair and a general numbness, her mother was in the kitchen packing their lunches for work, and Ellen asked her if she’d been into her room the night before to check on her or anything, and if she might have left the door open, because she was so young that she sometimes still made sure she was asleep at night. She said she hadn’t, and she asked if she was okay. She told her she had a strange dream, but that she was fine. Ellen pinched her arm to bring herself back to the present, and she thought about how everyone told her back then that she’d become a beautiful young woman. She was just a kid. Andrew’s car was stopped at a traffic light, and she wiped her eyes before he turned in and could see her up close. He asked if she’d gotten out early and Ellen told him the first visits to therapists always ended ahead of schedule. He asked if she’d go again, and she smiled and said yes, and he
held her hand so that his knuckles turned white, and she couldn’t have reciprocated even if she’d wanted to. She gazed out her window and thought about the World’s Finest Showgirls, of the glamour she’d ascribed to them when she was young and pictured them dressed like they were at Radio City Music Hall instead of the dingy clubs they really worked in. They passed one with a sign that read, “Now hiring the Class of 2021!” and another that advertised that their girls were “Barely legal!” She figured people wanted the Rockettes and strippers for the same reasons. Their youth made them appealing because it was something they would lose. Just like everyone else, the World’s Finest Showgirls got sick and died, but their clients didn’t have to think about that. For a short time, audiences could buy that youth from them, so they might as well sell it. Ellen thought she would have siphoned out her youth and peddled it as a snake oil cure-all to lonely wives and impotent men if it meant that she could get rid of it sooner than natural processes would allow. Andrew said something and laughed, and Ellen laughed too, even though she didn’t hear the joke.
Seventy Leanne Grabel
I turned seventy on August 4, 2021. Nothing has really changed, except the intensity of the aching. And the dying seems to have picked up speed. Sherry, Roberta, Lynn, Carrie, Charlie, Mark, Gloria. And Sara’s in hospice, probably dead before you read this.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
My feet have taken a hit in seventy years. Once adorably small, now they ’re sea creatures. Bunions like barnacles bulge above the instep.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
Then there’s my hands. Once darling, now surfaced with veins like squat waterways, webbing above the surface. My fingers, defiant, resist. And veer. My pointers lean into my middle fingers as if putting their heads on their shoulders, as if whispering, Don’t worry in their ears, as if talking them down from their rage.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
And I’m balding like a man. Not thrilled about that. If I push my bangs back, there’s nothing hair-like for acres and acres. My frontal bone barren, my temples naked.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
I still have good biceps. They’re the most youthful part of my body. Yes, I do lift, but only in the living room. I used to do housework with ankle weights.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Unfortunately, my well-exercised muscles bully me. They punch and jerk and freeze at night. I can feel them thinking about hard things like fascism and cancer and ignorance.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
The undersides of my biceps, frankly, gave up a couple years ago. Now they’re rubbery sacks, scantily filled.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
My skin is pure linen, after sitting all morning on a broiling day without smoothing my skirt.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
At my fiftieth high school reunion, there was a large wall of the dead. It was not a bulletin board of the dead. It was a wall. There was my fifth-grade best friend, sixthgrade boyfriend, the only Black girl in the whole high school.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
And there was Jackson Tomada, the only Japanese hippie. Jackson stole one of Marty Balin’s guitars when Jefferson Airplane came to our high school in 1967. Then I heard Jackson OD’d ten years later.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
The principal wouldn’t let us stand up and dance. “Sit down!” he screamed. He was a skinny, pale man at the mic, scolding a field of hundreds. Everyone sat down. But I stood back up and danced. My muscles were working overtime, thinking of a freer tomorrow. Two years to go.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
One good thing about turning seventy, and it’s big, is my skin finally let me move in (perhaps this is the plus side of loss of elasticity—more room). But for sixty years, I’ve been trying to live in my skin’s house. But I always had a leg or an arm stuck outside, caught in the slammed door.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Then in August, when I turned seventy, I realized, I got in. In my skin. I was in. I’m in.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
I’m looking around. I do love the color palette—the deep reds and rich blues.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
But there’s too much clutter and too many dusty old habits and stale postures.
Seventy - Leanne Grabel
But goddammit, I’m in…for the win.
Strut Dale Champlin You and I in renegade dark laugh the way only women can laugh—caught up in drag queen hilarity made up like the Fourth of July bright red on our lips—blue on our lids and pinwheels of rouge on our cheeks— shaking our hips— sure we’ve had a few but we can still walk straight and touch our nose with one finger the other arm outstretched here and there—a little teeter from insecure ankles in wobbly stilettos and—Whooeee!—our perfume’s enough to make a strongman’s eyes water, more than enough fragrance for a week or a skunk crossing the road just barely making it to the other side—tail high-lifted, an odor boozy and distinctive from over a half mile away— like a drop of blood in the water to a hungry shark our scent drifts into the night spiraling from our circus of earthy heaven into clusters of galaxies and after that exhale of laughter an inhale soaks into the bordellos of our bodies under a canopy of neon. Sometimes it’s enough just to lie down.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Unfinished* Victor Marrero
He carved what he carved and left them, just as they are. And so they stayed from that moment on. Untouched. Undone. Four figures on display model a mold cast aside. Their striking postures style mastery unbounded by matter or mind, immured to imperfection. The coarse-grain stones languished in the rough, imprisoned in solid vaults quarried from their native rock while the master lived and worked on other blocks. Incomplete, repressed by dominion, sidelined by neglect, they bore witness. They watched the consummation of his act, looked upon the jigsaw of his genius, sensed his pride, beheld his wrath and ecstasy. And though hardened as limitations in the filiations of his art, they leveled ground as they served. Why, while Michelangelo conceived and delivered the other marbles full and primed in anguish to perfection, did the ill-timed captives, already cast and branded, remain sequestered, still unformed? Does the failing of missing parts revamp as styled unfinished art? 2 No redemption remains in order for this lonely crowd. No reconstruction now. The artist is gone. The original lost. Fulsome reproductions are not worth the cost. From this point, recollection is not an option. Their movement blocked, castaways have nowhere to go. No retreat to the beginning clears a straight path ahead to undo the tough realities the odds deal them day by day. Whatever else the sculptor had in mind never had a chance to realize from his eccentric commission. Hammer blows meant to proclaim another prize stalled in thin air, strokes omitted that would raise genius to its pinnacle. The toll now fills the silence around the muted fragments of his work that even in his mind, for good or ill, remained terminally interrupted. The exposition leaves the looming point unsaid, what figures damaged in this rendering record. A titan’s might doomed to stillness proclaims a loss. Voices of his lost progeny now rise in epic throes, dying to know why such grand pageantry of patrimony and power failed a master’s promise here.
3 What the artist saw in reality he could not, or would not see. What he did behold bared rank disorder, a disarray out of all proportion to its real inspiration. To reconcile, he improvised. He cast a contrarian eye for original style and fixed his sight on a novel configuration. Upside down. He turned world polarity on its head. The order inverted, by rejecting, he accepted. By a loss, he gained. By drawing from the sores and scars of his own ills and disfigurations, he labored impoverishment and pain to perfection, stretching the meaning of anger, straining agony’s pliant boundary to the edge where heart pulse collapses into chaos. And this self-portrait emerged. On its face, a tense match of thrill and rage captures his haunting and grueling and cutting way of saying poignant things. *The Four Captives (or Slaves) are among Michelangelo’s lesser known, but perhaps most mysterious sculptures. Generally dated to the 1530s, the four marbles were not finished, and thus became a centuries-long source of considerable scholarly study and artistic debate about the inner meaning that the ambiguities surrounding their incompletion embody.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
John the Baptist Cristian Pop I write with a drink, the words that I sip and pour them down all over your hips… I forgot your name, how does one say when you bring water that turns into wine, I shall call you Alice – it suits you as one that still lives in a wonder, how can that be? As I did not learn your name, at dusk I shut blinds and locked up the door, we did not have a dog for we could not choose a name so each time it asked we’ve fed him blue dust and then just hoped… You are a little girl, you wander a lot, your steps are not measured but my sail wind is, and your tears paint red a whole sea has changed, before going to bed… I asked the skies for wings to fly so branches came out of my two eyes and each time a nest opened my chest I felt I could step on a cloud; one day they left, children of mine, to age and build up the same… I speak days and recite the nights with leaves that fall under the weight of so many stars, and as you put your back into the ground I kiss your skin and hold you into my arms…. And I start to drink a bottle of the words that I fear and I’d be soon drinking the sea…
What was not said Cristian Pop Oath in the night that is quest for the silence not isolation but reigning from afar on one’s expectations, praise the hours that gave moments to build out of nothing with recipes written in cold running water, ode to renouncement when knitting vague feelings as the cure for the lonely is walking away… Why stay in a present when so many futures await but out of deception and fear of the path, the image itself is prone to corruption when in the youth air felt heavy and wrinkled, and for what the force without a place to stand when one’s mind travel for the story isn’t there… What was not said is the heart of true meaning that bland grains can leaven to good fare, but why ask forgiveness and pursue convenience when the church is inside and not in the dreaming and marching dough comes from believing not in the many gods but in one’s inner singing…
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Hope Everlasting Anna Kapungu I miss every second you walked out of my door The time we spent Tears of hilarity You were the cupid to my heart Cupid to this state of mind Happiness drove us abound I shone like the moonlight Fire was the spirit within us Endless, those were the days with you Still I sit and wait for your return Sit and wait for your return Tales of the forces that drove us apart Nature never seemed so still So beautiful Hours passed into days Days into years Passion into warmth Warmth into hypothermic Sit and wait for your return Your humanity dominates my spirit Benevolent, your disposition Humble and generous Our days were que sera sera My arms are open wide Hold on to hope everlasting I refuse to walk out on love No tears, just love, love in me I feel Sit and wait for your return
The Shock of the Now John Grey I learn of your death in the newspaper obits. No facts. Just names of family. But died at thirty-two is a fact unto its own. Unlike ninety-three or eighty-five, the years a woman expects to get. It doesn’t say suicide though the last poem I read of yours did. Nor is there mention of an accident. Or some deadly sickness. The first, I could believe. Even on the road, you sometimes used your heart for eyes. But you were always so youthful, the kind of attitude, outlook, that should have warned off any fatal disease. It’s been three or four years since we last spoke. My fault mostly. I sometimes busy myself out of all human contact. Besides, you qualified, however briefly, as an ex. Correspondence can be difficult in such circumstances. For the past has a way of raising its ugly head. Yes, but what if that head is beautiful? I have no photos of you and the one they published is blurred and grainy. But I do have those eggs you painted canoodling on my mantel. I will go on knowing you by your choice of colors. I ask the hard question, “Is there something I could have done.” Maybe that’s what’s missing in this obit. You died of those who didn’t do enough.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
First Helicopter Ride John Grey A helicopter climbs above the hills, stirring the air, the dust, with its wings. Your nerves can’t tell sensation from prophecy. And below is no help. In its stillness, the heliport sadly waves goodbye. But there’s no other way to get close to the scenery, skirt the mountains, bridge the canyons. Your eyes are up to it even if your heartbeat’s a voice crying “Get me out of here!” But, an hour later, it’s back to port. You land safely. You realize the ground gets you nowhere. The sky is where the map begins.
Dirt Road John Grey A great place for feeling yourself grow old and weary. Or swallow some mild anesthetic to numb the pain. Or share a drink at a roadside tavern with an ex-priest and an ex-con. And lean on the bar like the loosened reins of a horse. The track is narrow and rocky. What you think is shadow is mostly fallen leaves. Wind howls from the mountains beyond to the very lip of a thirsty man’s tumbler. It’s a dirt road. It turns the sky gray. It’s where people trudge after the last time in their lives that they’ve had sex. It feels like dusk underfoot. No use hitchhiking. It doesn’t go anywhere. Just to this watering hole where patronage comes cheap. August’s hot breath is panting outside and in. I’m itchy like there’s a lizard scurrying under my sweaty shirt. But life feels so incestuous when the only way from here is back the way I came. On the dirt road, concussing the brain, incessant in its slowness. Fell face down on it once. Had a bellyful of booze and an open mouth. It’s a dirt road all right. I got to taste it. But if your charm’s decaying and bones shift about like tectonic plates, where else is there. None of these fancy highways. Not even Main Street, perfectly paved even if the crosswalks are fading. At least nobody’s dangerous. Everyone awakes each morning until the morning when they don’t. And there’s always something to prove to yourself, even if it’s only how many glasses you can down. For even second-rate souls need a place to go. The bar is better than abandonment. And a dirt road’s how to get there.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Arrow Syed Zaman Black-veined white marble— Raw limestone for a head— A sculpted silhouette Half-crouching—pouncing on the Mannequin in red. Looming mid-movement—wrestling With a jute bondage rope— Birch barks bursting out of the Ground—alchemical strokes— Smudges... explode. Densely woven bloody roots— Of strangled art against a shaking Fist—bridging skin and flesh Through—the time capsules around My wrists.
Image by Syed Zaman
1725: Terms of Endearment Syed Zaman Yesterday we said tomorrow— Stretching the gaunt canvas of truth— On opposite sides of Understanding—through feelings not yet Revealed—mercurial movements Minutely mute. Eyes were confronting eyes— Quietly in expectation. The everpresent specter—the Unprecedented—old familiar aberration. The boundary between land and sea— Not a dream nor a faded fantasy— A silence delivered in stillness— Rendering rampantly in transparency. How foreign it feels, as one ear listens while The other feigns ignorance— Hearing echoes of a veiled voice— Resembling a curtain of rain and romance. Clouds cutting through lukewarm blankets Of fog and frost— The opaque glow of the mist from Your eyes—a color—I could no longer trust. What had seemed to have wasted the timeline Of my life there beside you— Your body, soul, bed, scent— Sounds uttered in disappointment—words— Perhaps neither of us sincerely meant. I’d dreamt of waking up next to you— Your weight by my side— To see your face fumbling towards ecstasy— Flirting with points of light. I had hoped to watch the moon—if Not the sun rise— Where I’d imagined Your heart entwined in passion— Keeping pace with mine. I thought if I’d stare long enough— That you’d return my gaze— Break the needles of the Clock—see through me—beyond this Temporal phase. As I felt my own hands touching— The side of your slender shoulder— To an unrequited immersion of desire— I became a silent observer. The invisible diagonal line—the cavernous Contours of whispering pain—
The Opiate, Fall. Vol. 27 Eerily offering a glance into— Tireless waves seeping from my veins. The indentation of my fingertips— Pressed down against your clothed skin— Unfamiliar layers of you— Subtle sensations—the Sense of an ending—waiting to begin. I had searched for that part of you I thought I once knew— Had struggled to reach you midway— Dreaming awake—in billowy blues. Sleeping on a tongue—tastes, textures— How bittersweet— Tethered to a sequence of Incomplete gestures— A quiet rejection—summoning To heed my own heartbeat. Swimming in an Ocean of feelings—bleeding out into A desert of numbness— The role of love in rehearsal—enacting A self-perpetuating paralysis. A vision etched in oblivion— Strangers who knew of one another Through half of a heart— A portrayal of vulnerability—the allure of My so-called lover—simply—falling apart. I had breathed and bathed in Remnants of your breath—from Underneath your unmade covers— Irrationally felt ways of being With(out) you—releasing the potential For closeness when it is all over. These anatomic triggers— The relationship between body and ground— Floating beneath the fabric of intimacy— Imparting an enduring Restlessness—spiraling in bounds. Falling out of the range of my perception— To reclaim my own projections— Tears returning emotions to their Sensory reality— Emblems of Gideon— Embedded in my memory. Redefining my pathos— Divulging a dialect through the surfaces and Depths of these wailing walls— Consonant with incantatory pictorial Significance—I am Frozen—in a cinematic pause. Photographs transferred into a physical Rhythm—fundamentally unstable—
Seismic variabilities I had begun To flow with—with which I’d refused to grapple. Not in search of self-empowerment, but In acceptance of your subversive criticism— A poetic plea of intercession— A justification I couldn’t seem to fathom. A fragmented human condition— Forgotten, forgiven—set free. Step by step, frame by frame, Location by location—keeping— The suspense of an uncanny reverie. Nostalgic images reprising birth and death— Moving to a place to extend new meaning— Not knowing where—what we could Have had—not questioning the Answers given—becoming or being. Maybe we’ll meet again someday— Where warm winds break the sky open. (There... until then)— Where no path is strewn with Hearts of stone— The hours spent together— The missed steps—not standing on the edge— Alone.
Image by Syed Zaman
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
The Ones You Love Celia Meade after Aaron Caycedo-Kimura What if you promised you would kill me the night before I was taken to the care home, or to the hospice? What if I asked you to grind a pill into my evening glass of milk— is that love? Something so burdensome, all that grinding and surreptitious slipping of powder. You spoke of the mother who asked her son to carry her to the mountain and leave her in an earthen hollow. Your own parents did not want any notice given upon their death, just as my parents wanted. Is this the humility of their generation or is it the mother calling them back? Back to the great glowing of those who were separate but exist now— together in their far-off mountain womb.
In the Waiting Room Laura King Half of us neurotic, jet-lagged we sit in a living room with a vinyl floor. One paces, glances at his smartwatch at thirty-second intervals. The woman on a sofa won’t make eye contact because this is not her country. Another hums a lullaby, says she’s dreamed of being a mother, calls herself Infertile Myrtle, tells of dead embryos. One man asks for a cup of coffee. A young woman says she’s brought a camera and a good-luck plush unicorn. One lady wears designer tennis shoes. One keeps talking about the plan of God so no one will think she’s not faithful. We lie about why. One brags about his legacy, his future. One talks of making a better world. Behind that wall there are thirteen orphans waiting to be fed.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Corded Carolyn Martin We’ve long suspected that early humans and Neanderthals had some kind of cordage, some means by which to attach one thing to another. -John Shea, “The Oldest String Ever Found May Have Been Made By Neanderthals,” NPR, All Things Considered, April 10, 2020 How not to see we were duped We wanted to believe they shared their artistry so we could spin fields of weeds to throw to neighbors on our street a tug to let them know we’re here a yank to signal back their need We’d connect lines to rough sleepers beneath leaky tarps to protestors weaving freedom from pain Then we’d string our names across the stars and reincarnate With hold-fasts around our waists no one would fall again But we learned too late our relatives tied stones to spears and didn’t hesitate to break our bones to pierce our skin over any scarcity Watch the kid enraged by any wrong perceived or real His the ancient right deep-down his DNA to protect his baseball glove or the first girl he dared to date
Reckless Purpose Julia Chiapella What were you then, cradled in my arms, lithe bit of bones and flesh, not even able to see? You clenched your fist, brought me to my knees so hard there was nothing to do but bend; nipples stiff, your mouth sucking, each second slipping into some bit of what we are now, you having taught me that what we had then is no more than the scorch of dusk across coral sky, fading, as we watch and turn away. Don’t tell me we can’t know the future: small bird of girl smeared lavishly in slick, dark mud, its silky grit a chemise slipped over skin— your hands slid earth with purity of reckless purpose over bottom, breast buds, the still-soft webbing between toes— all the darkness still to come, and every pleasure. As now. You slide between lovers, desire’s black fever, sweet buckling under the weight of it, the roll into weightlessness. The body gives itself, gives up, to give that massive thing, so exquisitely small.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Lingering Meredith Davies Hadaway Sad life of the left-behind. Camisoles shiver and slide. A full-length slip keeps its secrets inside. Panties—strange diminutive for pants-under-pants. Somehow “pants” is a relevant word. Here’s a drawerful: unclaimed, not-now, unspoken-of, tucked-away. Memories or fantasies— ghosts either way. Like the dreams of an artist punching a clock, they float in imaginary air, all shimmer and light, seamless and soft as two shadows merging at night.
On Finding an Obituary for My Sixth-Grade Teacher Meredith Davies Hadaway for Mrs. Slover I imagine you still at your desk, a little sweaty as you always were, reading aloud to us each morning instead of silent prayer. Gravel-voiced, a blonde from Northern Italy, you were tough, demanding, even brutal in your honest way. No time for coddling or excuses. We adored you. Awkward, shy, class clown, stutterer, or swaggerer—you gave us each an equal shot at sixth-grade greatness. I used to remember the names of all my teachers, the way some can recite the U.S. Presidents in order. Teachers were their own branch of government—dictators. The names are mostly gone—and now I learn that you’ve been dead since 1989. Still I feel your benediction. As summer neared, our closing exercise was the Class Prophecy. We never dreamed how many would go to Vietnam or die of AIDS, but saw instead the statesmen, lawyers, movie stars we thought we’d all become. No teachers. In our minds, we would never climb that high.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Baked Kurt Luchs There are worse ways to enter the workforce than by washing dishes in a bakery. After cleaning a hundred angel food cake pans in a day, doing the dishes at home will never again feel like a chore. Piece of cake! Once or twice an hour the counter girls would step from the shop into the back room to have a cigarette and bare their breasts at us by the dim red light of the ovens, as if unveiling two more fresh loaves. This was back when employee morale used to mean something. Certainly it caused me to scrub more furiously. Cyd was in love with me but I was in love with Jennie, a triangle no geometry could ever resolve. Those of us in the back would also sometimes pause to peer through the blinds at the parade of humanity in the shop, including local celebrities like the mayor and Ringmaster Ned from Bozo’s Circus who needed his prune kolaches every Friday. Mr. Belushi came by several times a week but no one knew who his sons were yet, so to us he was just another crazy Albanian. The real fun began every evening after the shop closed and the Pennsylvania Dutch couple who owned the place climbed upstairs to their second-floor apartment. The rest of us would share a joint lit in the glow of the ovens and have food fights with handfuls of whipped cream and lard scooped out of giant tubs. Afterward we would carefully put everything back in its place, because waste is a sin. I was not able to eat baked goods for the next decade, and to this day the smell of warm bread arouses me in a way I can’t begin to explain.
Flattened Kurt Luchs Coming out of the breakfast restaurant and heading toward my car I step over what I think is an autumn leaf, brownish-green edged with red, and realize it’s a flattened frog floating on a still lake of asphalt. If this were an episode of CSI: Frogtown it could be determined that he made one proud leap off the curb before being turned into an amphibian pancake by a hit-and-run inflatable tire. Who do I call? Who do I get in touch with? Is there a Mrs. Frog in the marsh down the hill, hiding among the cattails and waiting for her little man to come home? She’ll be waiting a long time. Are there tadpoles who just became orphans? They’re America’s problem now, but America has enough problems, beset as she is on all sides by those two implacables, death and eternity. As with almost everything else that gives me pause, there is nothing to be done, so nothing is what I do, very carefully, looking both ways as I cross to my car.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
In the Rose Garden of Musée Rodin Jeral R. Williams i Louvre’s dim halls brightened by Mona and Monet brighter yet, Musée d’Orsay— my struggle...yet to come.
ii In rich sunlight shone two luring Thinkers— one large among the roses one small amid the damned. Circles of Inferno sculpted pain in bronze lust-less nakedness overwhelming doom. Shades shadows cover hopelessness high souls of the condemned Les Trois Hombres abutting...but apart umbrae in isolation. Molded in forged gates I see shrieks of agony know Meditation’s horror feel everlasting Despair. Depraved, wicked, evil embedded before my eyes Ugolino, saint of cannibalism leads savages into Hell. Being a brother’s keeper doesn’t mean sleeping with his wife— Paolo, saint of debauchery leads lechers into Hell. And twisted, fallen Caryatid burdened not by good. crushed by boulder load no escape, no hope.
iii Before a brooding Thinker I reflect, I ponder, then imagine other gates cast for other fates. Covered by a quilt of guilt, lapses hide among my clutter, attach to anxieties and fears, grow tentacles to harm. Light blinds anxieties clinging to darkest corners of my mind and melts fear’s bergs blocking love’s flow to joy and life. Below a brooding Thinker, seek the light how one may, in deep meditation—humbly I pray until illuminated, forgiven, free. Enlightenment entrusted, from massive doors I turn, amid soft petals and rose wafts breathe hope...see beauty...feel love.
iv If ever one chooses reflection before Hell’s gloom, contemplation is suggested when roses reign in bloom.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Hippocampus Alex LeGrys The angel of acedia is drunk from a chalice that never runs dry–she lives in the grandest chamber of the mind. she is lying naked on a black leather couch, reading a book of Beckett’s or Woolf ’s and the only thing she pays heed to is her jade plant each morning she has thick black hair that she never bothers brushing and her eyes are so dark they could never shimmer at children or kittens as yours do she is beautiful but sexless–her breasts flat and her curves slight and she drags her feet whenever she walks she falls through each day for she never bothered using her wings–they get in her way and they’re filthy from coffee stains; she always loathed white. if you ring her door at midnight you can hear her put the kettle on and start to play Elliott Smith’s Either/Or album before she reaches the door– after all, she mumbles, I’m dead already so why should I sleep?
The Isolationist Alex LeGrys she drinks too much on Friday nights and she makes me cocktails for her lectures before opening her favorite self-help book she’s much thinner than I am and her hair is fairer with opal eyes to match I tried corralling her with Schopenhauer or Camus or Beckett yet she never seemed impressed–she says she wants to be happy once I told her misery is motivation– she laughed and had me turn off the BBC while funneling a cosmopolitan down my gullet she says you can make your own world– the trouble is, her planet goes crashing into the Earth sometimes I wonder how many she has slaughtered with her cherry pumps as she strolls blindly through the alleyways yet I cannot cast a stone–for like her I stumble over children while slipping into heavy boots, but still ducking when the mothers call our names, weeping in thin shawls.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Trees Betsy Martin a pithy fall day the hill stippled with peach, rose, yellow a friend and I stride over it among other walkers, maples oaks, ripple of leaves with breeze brisk on our cheeks we talk about youth, the old streets families, secrets, seeds whisked by decades of winds and about necks how to wind a scarf to hide the furrows we talk about beeches with gray bark-flesh still bearing initials and hearts carved into them when they were young
Fill ‘Er Up Betsy Martin there ought to be love stations where people could go who weren’t nurtured enough in their early years you’d approach and be met by outstretched arms and into you would come an outpouring of what you’d been yearning for: self-esteem, social grace, courage, calm a more civilized society would provide this instead of filling stations for cars parents too having had parents themselves would be encouraged to use the love stations
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
What If Alice Neel Painted Karen Dalton Matthew Corey The curved mouth, missing lower two teeth from a fight when husband number two found her with who ended up being number three. Long black hair, past her shoulders, and almond shaped eyes—where the Cherokee is— fierce, soft, determined—able to handle the balance of each. Thin, relaxed, near an instrument, smiling or no? That may be the question.
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27
Final Girl Support Group and Animal: Sharing a Parallel Regarding the Disposability of Women Genna Rivieccio
oth released in close proximity to one another, Lisa Taddeo’s Animal and Grady Hendrix’s Final Girl Support Group might, on the surface, seem to be vastly different. And yet, the overarching theme of each novel highlights the ways both subtle and blatant that women are treated disposably by society. In such a manner as to render them utterly psychotic, neurotic and all the other “-ics.” So it is that Joan in Animal tells us, “Honestly, sometimes I think it’s the only recourse. Killing men in times like these.” And she’s not wrong. But, naturally, if a man hears a woman expressing such a sentiment, he’ll try to use the by now classic argument that if a male said something like this about a female, it wouldn’t fly. There would be an outrage, cries of misogyny, etc. What many men don’t seem to understand, of course, is that this claim falls under the umbrella of the false equivalence fallacy. It assumes that men are in any way treated with the levels of oppression that women around the world are subjected to on a daily basis (the reemergence of the Taliban to power
in Afghanistan being the most overt recent example). Sure, it was nice for Beyoncé to try and say, “Who run the world? Girls,” but, if we’re being candid with ourselves, it is still very much men. And that’s why women are, to this day, regarded as second-class citizens. Incidentally, Taddeo’s fitting dedication page in the book reads: “For my mother and my father.” With Mother and Father playing integral roles to Joan’s emotional (mal) formation, Taddeo makes it clear before even commencing the novel that both parents create their child’s worldview whether they’re present or absent, “good” or “bad.” But it is primarily a girl’s father who affects her relationship with men for the rest of her life (except in rarer cases like the one presented in Marnie). And Joan clearly understands just how, well, evil men are as a result of the relationship she has (or had) with her dad. Even the “decent” men can’t help being predisposed to hopelessly shitty behavior that no amount of “training” can seem to eradicate. The fact that, in horror movies, it’s generally some inexplicably evil man (à la Michael Myers) who gets his
Final Girl Support Group and Animal: Sharing a Parallel Regarding the Disposability of Women- Genna Rivieccio jollies by tearing women apart from groin to gullet provides the more literal approach to express this “phenomenon” of the male psyche in Final Girl Support Group. Centered on multiple characters with the “weakest” final girl, Lynnette Tarkington,
his Ghost costume with his best friend and together they carved their way through the student body of their graduating class. To them, all those dead girls were one big metajoke.” The veracity of that statement, however borrowed from Kevin
they only bothered to keep meeting together for so many decades in the depressing, remote basement where Dr. Carol serves as their equivalent of an AA therapist for Lynnette’s sake, a final girl they believe has the most pathetic life of all—and that without
“...the misogyny that grows inside even a woman...stems from her mother’s enslavement to a man. An enslavement meant to reinforce the collective notion of ’that gender‘ as being ’throwaway,‘ ’replaceable.‘ To borrow from an iconic speech, ’Who taught you to hate yourself?‘ Men.” narrating, Hendrix weaves the plot of others into her primary one, which ends up turning out a lot like the “big reveal” at the end of Scream 4. But then, Final Girl Support Group makes no bones (no pun intended) about borrowing from that particular movie franchise in describing another final girl named Julia’s situation as follows: “[Her] killer was the Ghost. He wore black robes and a Halloween mask and turned out to be her boyfriend, a horror buff who wanted to transform her into his very own final girl their senior year of high school. He shared
Williamson’s work, is a testament to just how “bountiful” a source men seem to think women are for “experimenting” with. Using them as punching bags not only emotional, but, more often than not, physical. With Lynette and the rest of the women from the Final Girl Support Group initially threaded together by a “lead” final girl named Adrienne, it is her death (a.k.a. brutal murder) that catalyzes a new, real-life horror movie among the support group, which freshly decides to disband within the first few pages. Indeed,
the support group, she really will have nothing. After the arguments that proceed to unfold, Lynnette is able to admit (somewhat) to herself that her fellow survivors aren’t wrong. Especially since her sole confidante is a houseplant she calls (internally) Fine. Once Adrienne is killed— in the midst of the bickering group “terminating itself ” as Marilyn picks up her phone to find out this information—Lynnette reconciles, “The monster got her. The monster finally got Adrienne. Any one of us
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 could be next.” That “the monster” is a catch-all term for a blood-lusting man seeking to do harm to a woman is not without societal commentary. To intensify that commentary, Hendrix wields the device of peppering in various ephemera in between each chapter, ranging from article clippings to interviews to therapy reports. One such “item” comes from a (fake) 1989 anthology called Last Word on the Final Girls. Focusing in on an excerpt from “Deborah Ballin” entitled “Women Are Our Meat, and the Eating’s Good,” Hendrix (as Ballin) writes, “The so-called slasher or Final Girl movie is a meat grinder with producers and studio chiefs on one end, turning the crank, and slavering male fans on the other end, lapping up their output of violent sexual fantasies… But the fantasies have become so mainstream and vivid that no one points out the stinking female corpse at the root of this poisonous tree… The word problematic does not even begin to address the Final Girl film.” In the wake of Adrienne’s murder, some part of Lynnette knows she won’t be safe in her dead-bolted, barred-windowed apartment anymore. And that much becomes evident when her apartment is shot out while Julia and a journalist are inside. Amid the chaos, Lynnette finds herself abandoning Julia for dead, therefore doing the very thing men do all the time without feeling guilty: look out for “number one.” Relying on her therapist, Dr. Carol, for a safe haven, Lynnette notes of her doctor’s domestic life, “It’s degrading to watch the woman who hauled us from the brink reduced to the status of waitress for her children. Eventually they won’t have their mother to be their short-order cook and laundress and maid. They’ll have to trick some poor woman into marrying them to get all that for free again.” Joan has no predilection for
domestic affairs either. Quite early on in Animal, she tells the person she’s talking to (it doesn’t take the reader long to guess who it might be), “If someone asked me to describe myself in a single word, depraved is the one I would use.” But one has to wonder if that assessment of herself doesn’t stem from the patriarchal projection that’s been placed upon Joan for her (and every other woman’s) entire life. One that makes a woman stifle herself in order to bend (read: break) and “fit” into a mold whether it works for her own needs or not. No wonder Joan announces, “My rage was so intense at that moment I imagined it issuing form me in a bear-shaped vapor and killing the man. It was the [type of] female rage that builds for decades.” Whereas male rage is allowed constant expression without the judgment of “talking out of turn” or being “hysterical.” Once more giving credence to what should be an antiquated “adage,” “Boys will be boys.” Part of the mantra’s continued ability to hold weight in what should be a theoretically evolved society is the persistent fear of men’s irascible tempers, which women have been ceaselessly conditioned to expect will somehow turn violent if they don’t, in some way, comply with his domineering demands. Not always instantly apparent, many men are capable of taking the “nice guy” approach to asking for what they want before indicating that it’s not actually an option. He expects for it to be given whether a woman wants to or not. And this applies in a great many contexts beyond just the sexual. As Lynnette remarks of Julia once going along so readily with what her boyfriend tells her to do, “You don’t want someone angry at you, especially a man, so you say yes to things you don’t want to do because there’s no road map for where you are, nothing to guide you except a neon sign in your head that says Do not make
men angry.” But in this regard, we, in some sense, do have women to blame for how men turn out. For they’re partially responsible for raising their son into the monster he will eventually become. To that end, Lynnette has to ask, “Does this ever end? Will there always be someone out there turning little boys into monsters?” Sometimes, that external force that can render an easily emotionally rattled boy into a monster isn’t even his parents. It can be a bully at school, a girl who rejects him (even though his “happiness” isn’t her responsibility)—any number of sources, really. But yeah, by and large, it’s usually the parents. A pair that raised him into something like Joan’s “beloved” Big Sky, female mind-flayer extraordinaire. Though he can’t really be all that beloved by her when he’s married. That’s sort of her modus operandi, what with the Daddy issues at play (a misogynistic term in and of itself). As the unattainable married man she actually loves over Vic, another betrothed bloke she’s having an affair with, Joan merely uses the latter for the confidence boost of being admired. Yet it’s not enough to mitigate her complete self-esteem deflation as a result of not getting the attention from the one she wants, thus realizing, “Of all the rapes I’d sustained, this was the worst degradation—the way a man who thinks nothing of you can loom larger than your life, and another life inside of you. That was the most awful thing. That, like my mother before me, I felt that my child was a burden.” As for said child inside of her by the middle of the book, it happens to be sprung from one of those aforementioned rapes. “Incurred” on her road trip to Los Angeles from New York when she stopped along the way in Texas. As though she needed another trauma. After all, leaving NYC was the first step toward cultivating less potential for post-traumatic stress disorder— New York being the epicenter of many
Final Girl Support Group and Animal: Sharing a Parallel Regarding the Disposability of Women- Genna Rivieccio people’s PTSD. The underlying reason for abandoning NY and choosing LA, however, is that Joan’s half-sister, Alice, lives there. Only she doesn’t yet know that Joan is her half-sister. Instead, Joan approaches the situation as someone who innocently befriends Alice without confessing the true nature of their relationship. First, she wants to see if they even have a rapport, for it’s not like Joan is known for having many female friends, what with her unavoidable obsession with seeking men’s approval. Even if approval from parasites doesn’t exactly provide one with the desired vote of confidence. In both Animal and Final Girl Support Group, the children of other people will play heavily into the main character’s life. Skye, Dr. Carol’s son, turns out to be exactly who Lynnette needs to be afraid of. Which hearkens back to a statement Lynnette made when she, like Joan, first moved to LA: “Men followed me wherever I went. I stopped leaving the house. I stopped going to group. Then they started ringing my doorbell and I realized staying home wasn’t safe either.” This idea that a man feels he has the right to a woman’s body not just in the ultra-violating manner of rape, but also in terms of more general “access” is part of what constantly keeps a female on her guard. Never really relaxing, not even fully at home. And certainly not in someone else’s, as Lynnette is reminded at Dr. Carol’s. As for the girls who encourage this common male behavior by being accessories to it, the primary instance of that in Final Girl Support Group is Stephanie, the Jill Roberts (played by Emma Roberts) in Scream 4-type that Skye met online. Posing as a final girl herself, the duo turns out to be the culprits behind it all. This revelation leads Lynnette to taunt Stephanie (with stalling tactics
in mind), “This isn’t girl power… You’re Skye’s puppet. In court your lawyer’s going to claim emotional coercion. You weren’t responsible for your actions. The man was in charge all the way. You’ll be just another victim of a powerful, manipulative male.” Something that Joan feels like she’s been her entire life despite all her best intentions to be the master manipulator—the one in control of a situation. Girls such as Stephanie, who would rather aid in perpetuating the misogyny that operates at every level of society than quell it, often do so because they want to believe it will somehow assist in getting them ahead. Sometimes, a woman (likely with low self-esteem) figures, if I can keep another female down, then it leaves more room at the top of the clout chain for me. Joan, self-assured in some ways, vacillates between confidence and self-loathing…veering mostly toward the latter. While Joan runs away from her trauma by switching coasts, Lynnette runs from it by staying still, quiet. Never altering locations (save for the rare outings to her support group). Despite being mostly stationary, Lynnette still sees herself as “every girl who’s ever run from a man with a weapon, every girl who ever ran for her life across spaces where she was supposed to be safe.” And it isn’t just grown women subjected to this terror. Even little girls aren’t safe from the grotesque whims of men that indicate how disposable they believe all women to be. Just as Joan was not safe when her dad left her alone at the public pool one day while he went off, as she later found out in her adulthood, to meet with his paramour (Alice’s mother). Leaving the opportunity wide open for a pedophile to home in on her. And yes, obviously, said pedophile chooses to bring up every male’s not so undercover wet dream, Lolita. The entirety of that day will mark the
end of her innocence forever. With no room in her brain any longer to see the “good” in people. Least of all those with a certain appendage. As previously mentioned, the children of others latch on to each protagonist, with Vic’s daughter, Eleanor, leeching to Joan with vampiric gusto. This, once more, highlights Joan’s insecurities about being maternal, something that’s automatically expected of the adjective “womanly.” But Joan admits, “I couldn’t face the notion that I might have to care for her indefinitely. I knew I would sooner kill her. Because sometimes it’s better to kill someone than to leave them.” Especially the particularly “needy” type. This includes, perhaps most especially, children. Gosia, the woman who ends up raising Joan, is the first one to teach her that reality. Gosia also does her best to teach Joan about men, but, like most women, she must learn the…hard way. Culminating in Leonard, Joan’s new neighbor/landlord in Laurel Canyon, who comes to embody all the worst attributes of men, and the various ones who have fucked her over in the course of her lifetime. She seethes at him when he confesses something awful to her with the dementia-induced impression that she is his dead wife, snapping, “You’re a white, wealthy male. Once you were a young, white, wealthy entitled piece of shit. Now you are old and you have the diseases you should have.” The same cannot be said of the “monsters” in Final Girl Support Group (or any slasher movie featuring a final girl). Wherein no karmic justice ever seems to be served to the wrongdoing male in constant pursuit of terrorizing and killing women. Because, obviously, if justice was served, there would be no room for an infinite amount of additional installments in the “saga.” The killing of women being sold as nothing but
The Opiate, Fall Vol. 27 pure “entertainment,” while also reiterating the societal idea that women are weak, and easy to prey on. A common thread in many horror movies also accents a lack of female solidarity. Whether that stems from a poor dynamic with one’s mother (Carrie) or the use of supernatural powers to tear another girl down (The Craft). Animal acknowledges this in its own way via the manner in which women are inured to turn their own mother into the enemy—the one to “blame.” This being manifest in the narrator’s revelation, “My father did not become the bad guy for me. Not yet. That day I hated my mother for killing my father, but also for all the reasons you cannot say. Part of [me]… hated her…because she was too strong. Because she was so complex where my father was not. I hated my mother, in short, for being a woman.” The tendency of girls to idolize their fathers while vilifying their mothers often comes to pronounced fruition in one’s fraught teen years. Therefore, the misogyny that grows inside even a woman as she unwittingly starts to see her own kind as inferior, beginning from her first phases of cognizance, stems from her mother’s enslavement to a man. An enslavement meant to reinforce the collective notion of “that gender” as being “throwaway,” “replaceable.” To borrow from an iconic speech, “Who taught you to hate yourself ?” Men. But first, we see it as women. Mothers. The ones typically, even to this day, willing to bow and yield. To be “soft,” “sweet.” The person from whom behavior is learned, by both sons and daughters, about how women are to be viewed. In Taddeo and Hendrix’s respective novels, each female protagonist is doing their best to unlearn that chauvinistic viewpoint, and, in the process, possibly shows the reader how to as well (though hopefully it involves less carnage in real life…because that wouldn’t be very
“ladylike,” now would it?).