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THE NABU REVIEW • A FICTION MAGAZINE •
Â The Nabu Review
a fiction magazine
The Nabu Review: A Fiction Magazine - December 2017 Cover Art courtesy of canva.com. Text Set in Times New Roman All authors retain the rights to their work. All work that appears in this journal has been published with the author's permission.
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AboutÂ The Nabu Review: Nabu is the ancient Mesopotamian patron god of literacy, the rational arts, scribes and wisdom. He was the Babylonians and the Assyrians and he was the son of the god Marduk. He is credited as the inventor of writing, as well as being credited as an oracle. Interesting fact: Nabu rode on a winged dragon known as Sirrush. The Nabu Review is a biannual online fiction magazine that aims to publishing fiction pieces that are believable, concrete, and detail orientated. We accept submission year round. Submissions can be sent to email@example.com
TABLE OF CONTENTS in order of appearance THROUGH THE EVERGREEN LEAVES PATERFAMILIAS FOR THE NEW THE CASTLE QUALITY PHOTOS HOME THE SATURDAY MORNING FUN CLUB FERTILITY RITE
THROUGH THE EVERGREEN LEAVES JOSHUA WILDIE From the balcony of my parents’ home, the sharp decline of the neighbourhood becomes clear. Houses that were considered stepping-stones until something better came along became lifelong homes where children were raised. Sometimes, houses belonging to happy couples were later viciously fought over when the trust of the property outlasted the relationship. No two houses were alike; none were on the same level. In the typical South-East Queensland way, the neighbourhood was built on and between hillsides, which needed to be taken into account when building the foundations of the homes. It was simply a fact of life that some neighbours were above us, and some below. Most, however, had settled here because of circumstance rather than desire. The house I live in was also temporary and had been for the last six years. It was currently empty, as I had come to visit my parents for the weekend. Forgetting to unset the alarm on my mobile, I awoke at five in the morning. After fruitless attempts to try this ‘sleeping in’ I’d heard about, I left my old room and went to the kitchen, and then outside. The sun had barely risen as I leant on the railing of the veranda looking down the slanting hillside of empty streets and sleeping households. The land was steep to the point that I had an aerial view of those in the next street over. I had no idea what the colour of my parents’ roof was but these houses were etched into my memory by this very detail. The left one had a blue roof and satellite dish, the one on the right was reddish-clay, while the one directly in front of us was a two storey building with a black roof. It was designed in such a way that one window opened out onto the first level of roofing. I remember watching the man of the house going through it when he needed to clean gutters. Other times, the kids would run on the roof, their excitement suggesting it wasn’t an activity their parents approved of. A blanket of fog settled over the view. My hands stealing heat from a mug of coffee, the steam visible as each breath I exhaled. Apart from the chirps of the birds and the occasional car, the only noise I could hear was the rhythmic snoring of our ageing Border Collie. His energy used to be limitless. He’d defy the cold morning, running through legs, both human and furniture, excited merely at the thought of being excited. The presentation of a tennis ball would always successfully calm him down. There must have been times when these balls were new, firm and green, but usually the dog would drop a sloppy mass of saliva, dirt, green fuzz and plastic matter into your lap. A strand of drool would limply hang from the dog’s mouth and connect to the ball as he stared at you, anticipation screaming behind those brown eyes. Nowadays, he’s a little slower to get up in the mornings.
Where once an infinite amount of walks, games of fetch and wrestles were never enough, now a few rolls of the ball across the floorboards would satisfy him. Cuddles became his scene and walking was a means of finding a nice place to rest. I whistled to him and he raised his head from his basket before burying back into the old car seat cover that served as his blanket. The only obstruction of the view was a large tree that stood in our yard despite its steep slant. Standing taller than the house, it was no doubt a survivor of whatever was here before the neighbourhood. From a branch, 10 metres up at least, hung a rope. Dad placed it there when I was a child, yet I had no recollection of this. It'd just always been there. It almost reached the ground and had numerous knots at the bottom. My siblings and I spent our youth swinging on this rope. We’d begin at the top of the hill, running, our feet pounding the ground until they weren’t. The rope then became the only thing between us, and certain death. With our feet on a knot and the rest of our bodies coiled around our only hope of survival, we’d rise into the air, hair blowing back, eyes stinging until we would stop for a millisecond mid-air before returning towards the house. If there were others there, I’d lower my feet to land back on the top of the hill on the return swing to avoid a ruckus with siblings or friends. Sometimes when alone, however, I’d keep my feet off the ground and simply swing back and forth until the momentum stopped, leaving me hanging there slightly above our descending backyard. There must have been a moment when we discovered a decent swing would clear the back fence. However, I cannot pinpoint it to a definitive event. It seemed like knowledge naturally ingrained in us and it became essential that this goal be achieved as much as possible. The rope would take its passenger over the fence and momentarily carry them over the neighbour’s black roof. Part of the swing’s appeal was the adrenaline that rushed through veins and vital organs, the force slamming thoughts against the back of your skull where they wouldn’t get in the way. Every now and again though, I’d manage to think after my feet defied gravity. I would think about how I was going over the fence and felt the urge to let go. The scene I imagined was me gliding through the air and landing like a dismounting gymnast on the neighbour’s roof. After turning to see the looks of awe on the faces of my family and friends, I’d shrug like it were no big deal. How I got off the roof or any detail of the aftermath never concerned me. The scene was perfection as it stood; any follow-up would ruin it. Each time I flew over the fence, however, I always hung on. My hands were incapable of letting go until I was safely on home soil. The thought alone was ecstasy enough. The rope hung there, swaying side-to-side in the gentle morning breeze. Pulling my jacket tighter around me I tried to estimate how many times that rope had been used. Even the exact number of children escaped me. Every trip over the fence had morphed into a blur in my memory. Likewise, I couldn’t recall the last time I used the rope. There wasn’t an end so much as a fading out. I got older, went
to high school, and filled my teenage years full of awkwardness and scattershot rebellion and anger. Screaming at my parents one moment, begging them for help the next. I’d drink to fit in and be cool, but usually end up passed out and covered in vomit. My head was filled with graphic sexual fantasies with every girl I knew that never really came true. Losing my virginity wasn’t so much making love as fumbling to put the pieces together and hoping it at least resembled the real thing. When I graduated and moved out, that’s when things would fall into place and everything would make sense. I’d been classified an adult longer than I cared to think about. The world just as complex and scary as ever. Perhaps there was a seminar that explained life to everyone else and my invitation got lost in the mail. After draining the last my lukewarm coffee, I placed the cup on the table. A pair of sandshoes lay nearby and using my feet I placed them upright before wedging a foot in each one. The dog rose from his bed. His back legs were on a delay signal struggled to lift his weight. He managed, however, and was soon beside me, tail wagging. Though the black fur around them was sprinkled with grey, life shone through his foggy pupils. We descended the stairs and the dog left me to explore under the house. I slipped on my way down the hill, grabbing the tree to regain my balance. Looking directly above between the tree branches and through the evergreen leaves made me dizzy. The bark was hard and rough and left imprints on my palms. I dusted off my hands, but the marks remained. The rope caught my eye and I reached out and caressed it before taking hold. I gave a pull and heard the attached limb stretch. Rope still in hand, I made my way up the hill. The fog had already begun to rise and the lingering presence of the previous night had all but gone. A new day had begun. I pulled on the rope a few times before taking hold with both hands and leaning back. After slipping on the damp lawn, I dug the heels of my feet into the ground and managed to be as close to lying down while still hovering above land. My dad knew a good bit of rope when he saw it. The tree didn’t show any sign of strain while I pulled myself up. Nostalgia washed over me seeing the neighbourhood, rope in hand. A repetitive, damp prodding made my knee bend. I turned to find the dog, ball in mouth, nudging me. ‘Hey,’ I said. He looked up. The object left his mouth and hit the earth with an audibly dull squish. His stare focused and piercing. He cares little of the past or future. Not a look of wisdom but of reckless enthusiasm. His tail wagging despite the concentration. A noise comes from him that’s somewhere between a whine and the beginnings of a bark. I break gaze with him and look the black roof of the neighbours, the back fence. The dog repeats the noise. With my foot next to the ball, I can feel his anticipation. ‘You ready?’ I said without looking at him. I kick the ball away and hear the gallop that follows it. I begin my run down the hill. It takes longer than I remember
to leave the ground, so I jump, rearranging myself up a few notches as I did this. I raise my legs up as the fence approached. A sharp pain shivers through me as I pass over the property line. The sensation was just as I remembered until it struck me that I wasn’t momentarily hanging in the air. I wasn’t going to return home. * My eyes opened. My double vision eventually melds into one. Each breath a chore, yet not enough at the same time. Things hurt, but I’m not sure what things exactly. Turning my head left, I saw the clouds in the sky. Turning right, I could only see black. There was a warm pooling in my pants. I hoped I hadn’t soiled myself. A man in a dressing gown was kneeling beside me, lightly slapping my face. ‘Bloody hell’ he said, ‘You okay?’ ‘I’m fine. I’ll get off of here in a sec.’ He shook his head. ‘Don’t be stupid. Just look at yourself. What the hell happened?’ Sitting up caused a grinding of bone that rang through the muscles of my right arm and made me want to vomit. He yelled at the window—something about an ambulance. I began an explanation without knowing where it was going, but stopped when I saw a rope still clenched in one hand. It led back to our yard, to a branch no longer attached to the tree. On the fence that is barely keeping this branch from joining me in trespass is a red mark. With my good hand, I touch my arse and find my fingers covered in blood. My neighbour was about to say something, but was interrupted by his wife poking her head out the window and said help was coming. The physical pain gave way to emotion. The thought that the whole neighbourhood would hear about this, including my parents; the ambulance drivers would have a new story about moronic injuries. I could probably at least make up something to tell work. These thoughts stopped when I heard my dog making a muffled noise before spitting the ball out and barking. I looked past the fence and destruction and saw him, bouncing around as though the arthritis had been cured; the aging process reversed. His tail wagged hard enough that the back half of him joined in. He didn’t want to savour the moment. He wanted to drench himself in it.
PATERFAMILIAS FOR THE NEW MILLENIUM STEVEN MCBREARTY In recent years, my role as paterfamilias has devolved into one simplified, streamlined process—buying things. The former, multifaceted roles I had once played--companion, mentor, guide, protector, fall guy, comic relief--have become vestigial appendages, like tonsils or the appendix. Now, I'm just a money machine. (With a low daily withdrawal limit, at that.) “Daughter,” I proclaim to my 13-year-old daughter, attempting to be conversational, humorous, contemporary, with it--qualities I consider preeminent in myself and invaluable in my role. Meagan is a sweet, beautiful young thing transforming with frightening rapidity into a woman, bursting out of her former shape and style, like a rose captured in time-lapse photography. “What, Dad?” says she, imbuing the “what” with a certain sarcastic impatience, a tone all parents everywhere can recognize instantly. The “what” of the princess and the pauper alike. But a small swift smile crosses my face as I purposefully maintain my dignity and decorum. One must take the high road, here. “Nothing, Daughter Dearest,” I say, punching her lightly on the upper arm, which, in earlier days, might spawn a spot of roughhousing, as dear Dad would be required to extricate himself (cheerfully) from a hammerlock or a piggyback ride. Now, for this budding adolescent, it leads only to a shrug and a smug, put-out exhalation of air. “I wish merely to partake of your esteemed presence in a game of . . . something.”
“I'm busy, Dad,” she says. “Why don't you do something with Brian?” Brian is her brother, my son, a 16-year-old who is off driving around, for heaven's sake, going out with a girl. Talk about having little use for your old man. “He's not here right now,” I persevere. “Why don't you and I go hit some volleyballs, or play Scrabble, or cards, or Bingo, or something.” “Bingo?” She acts as though I have demeaned her utterly. “I've got homework to do right now. Maybe we can do something later.” Later, she lays prone on her bed with a telephone attached to her ear, sharing the news of the day with some peer group person of anonymous gender.
She comes to me next evening as I read the sports section of the newspaper, unwinding from the daily grind. “D-a-a-d,” she croons, in a voice that is as dulcet and sweet as confectioner's sugar. I am pleased and happy, though I recognize her tone as manipulative, conniving, a sure-fire solicitation. I'll take manipulation and connivance if that's the only attention I can get. I sit at rigid attention, arranging my features and my faculties for a round of intense negotiations. “Yo, Darling Dearest,” I say, laying it on thickly in a dramatic overtone, somewhere between a British butler and a Mongolian goatherd. She inspires me. I cannot help myself. “What is it thou desireth?” She rolls her eyes again, but with a glint of sly, playful humor--she makes a mental note to remain genial until she gets what she wants, at least. “God,” she says. She understands that I am partially nuts, but I think she secretly appreciates it. At least I deceive myself that she does. (“You wouldn't want a dull dad, would you?” I ask.) I ask questions rapid-fire.
“Are you . . .?” “Is that . . .” “Do you wish . . .” Among other faults, I ask too many questions, she believes. '“I need some new clothes,” she interrupts. “Raiments for the princess?” I respond. But then the archetypal penurious father in me leaps out. “Just to satisfy my curiosity, didn't we get you a whole bunch of new clothes when school started--like, three weeks ago?” She appears unfazed, unchastened by this pointed fiduciary remark--kids never are, in these days of unlimited credit card spending. She's ready with an answer. Kids are always ready with an answer. “Yes, but I can't wear a lot of that stuff any more, already,” she says. “Now that the weather's getting cooler I need another pair of jeans--I only have one. And for this dance coming up next weekend everybody's going to wear a dress.” “A dress?” I feel skeptical, amused, justified. “You said you didn't want any dresses this year. Nobody's wearing any dresses, you said.” “I know I did,” she says, “But everybody's wearing a dress to the dance.” “OK,” I relent, all too easily. I want her to like me. “You can get another
pair of jeans. Or if they're not that expensive, two. And a dress for the dance, if you think you really need one.” “Thank you, Daddy,” she says. “I do.” I think she is going to kiss me and present myself for a kiss, but receive only an awkward hug, instead. Minutes later, we pile into my red Nissan Sentra (utilitarian, but with a certain, low-key flair) for the short drive over to Highland Mall, strategically located near a two-highway interchange, and seated like a milky-white palace, majestic, grand, exalted. It is the Taj Mahal of the “spend-spend-spend” society. There are strict, unyielding requirements, here. I must be invisible, walking thirty paces behind, minimum. I must not speak, unless absolutely necessary. I must never intimate that there is any sort of connection between the two of us, any relationship. We're just sort of there together, co-existing in a confined space, but separately, unilaterally, coincidentally, perhaps, by destiny, two sets of electrons orbiting in a shell together. Inside Dillard's Department Store we locate the Junior's section, then I am summarily dismissed--Meagan's expression reads, “Scram!” Dad on the lam, I prowl haphazardly through the crowded and colorful mall corridors, settling in finally to a Barnes & Noble book store, where I partake of selections from the SelfHelp area, wishing for sudden revelation. I return to Dillard's, as instructed, in thirty minutes. There, folded neatly on a counter top, lies a color little pile of garments--a well-dressed, attractive young sales clerk hovers nearby. Meagan takes my hand in hers and squeezes, slightly. Oh, she can pull the heart strings! “Dad, can I get this sweater, too?” she says, anxious, breathless. (Anxious and breathless being the standard modus operandi of the American female teenager.) “It goes with this pair of slacks I already have. And I needed some stockings with the dress. Oh, and this blouse is only $11.00. It was on sale.” I hesitate only fleetingly as my heart melts. “OK, Sweetheart,” I say. “As long as you think you really need them.” I grimace, at first, as I mentally calculate my VISA balance. But then I think, “Hang the cost.” I'm happy because she's happy. When I present my card for payment the sales clerk smiles knowingly, like somebody's big sister--but I'm not sure she understands the nuances of my situa-
tion. She is young, herself. She considers me a money machine, too. Wallowing in wealth. With his life in order. All of his problems solved. The rough edges smoothed over. She has no real understanding yet of the rhythms of life beyond 20something. She certainly has no inkling of this feeling of separation that is beginning to occur, this distancing from the members of my own family, this evergrowing sense of detachment, yes, alienation. She cannot see through to the pain inside, albeit pain mingled with pride, as one's offspring grow and change and develop and want to get away. She is still an offspring herself. She cannot possibly know that life is a continuum, that one is always searching for answers, that (logically and conversely) there can be as much to live for at eighty as at eight. We drive home giddy with the power of our purchases (such a sweet potion buying is), then Meagan races inside and dumps the Dillard's sack on the bed and turns on the TV. I ask her a question and she shrugs--she has retreated back into herself. The telephone rings, and she pounces like a desperado on the run. I read the newspaper quietly, waiting for my son, my wife, somebody to come home. My wife is out there somewhere, learning to be fulfilled. She has her own life, these days. Everybody seems to have his or her own life. I grab the TV scanner which Meagan has abandoned and surf through the channels, searching for something of interest. And waiting. Waiting for the next phase of life to begin.
THE CASTLE CHRISTOPHER WALKER Sarah and Mark climbed up onto the unplugged dishwasher that leaned against the wall. They wanted to see how much the rain that had fallen through the night had added to the flooding in the town. The sound of the raindrops gently falling on the angled window in the roof reminded Sarah of her father tapping his teeth with his fingernails when he was thinking. “Do you think there’ll be school today?” Mark said. Sarah looked across at the hill and the school that sat at its peak. It seemed almost to touch the clouds that stretched away in every direction. “I don’t know,” Sarah said at last, as if the question had warranted serious thought. “I can’t imagine Miss Jacobs not coming, and everyone knows Mr Andrews is thoroughly besotted with her, so he’ll be there too.” “Oh,” said Mark noncommittally. Sarah couldn’t tell if he was sad at the thought of going to school, or if his apathy was a result of the unrelenting downpour. “What does ‘besotted’ mean?” Sarah was peering out of the window again, her forehead pressed up against the cool glass. She imagined the feel of the rain on her skin, and she thought about how whenever they got out of the rain some of it always seemed to linger like a memory on her clothes. She had come to abhor the words damp and moist. “The school looks like a castle up there,” she said to herself. “But the moat’s getting wider and wider.” “Let me see,” Mark said. Sarah climbed down from the dishwasher to give Mark more space, but as she was doing so she caught the button that opened the door to the machine. The door came down, revealing the books stacked inside. “Why does Mummy keep so many books in there?” Mark asked, forgetting about the view through the window for a moment and leaning over to inspect the inside of the dishwasher. “She says it keeps them dry,” Sarah replied, “and she thinks there’s no use for a dishwasher nowadays anyway.” “Why do we have to have it in our room again?” Mark asked, but since he’d asked so often, about not only the dishwasher but the filing cabinet and the sideboard and the ottoman - basically, all of the furniture from the abandoned ground floor of the house - Sarah felt free to ignore his question. Their mother’s voice was heard echoing down the hallway. “Get dressed, you two,” she was saying. “We’ll be heading out in about ten minutes, and you better both be ready.” Sarah closed the dishwasher door before Mark could break it on his dismount.
She was already dressed. She had faith in Miss Jacobs, and had been sure there’d be school as usual. Mark though needed some help pulling his clothes on, and it was Sarah’s job to tie the laces on his black school shoes. They were ready in twenty minutes, which for children is as close to ten as makes no difference. Their mother was waiting for them at the door, with their wet weather gear laid out ready for them. When their hoods and coats were secured they pulled on their Wellingtons over their regular shoes, and then they went out, their mother locking the door behind them. They didn’t bother carrying umbrellas. The rain was not heavy, but it was as insistent as tinnitus, and when the wind picked up the drops tended to float horizontally through the air. Carrying an umbrella would have been a sign of hopeless optimism. They followed the road for a few minutes until the water became too deep. Mark had to be told to walk on the grass; naturally he wanted to kick his feet through the brown water, despite Sarah’s and their mother’s protestations that the water wasn’t safe. “There’s disease in there,” Sarah explained, though she could not answer the questions that Mark threw at her in response. She knew so much only because it had been Mr Andrews’ warning in their lessons last week, when the flooding had become a more serious concern, and it was clear that the waters would not, this time, recede. They soon reached the small wooden jetty that their neighbour Ethan’s father had constructed. There were a few boats tied up like horses in the Old West, rhythmically rising and falling as if they were moored off the coast. Carefully Sarah climbed into the one belonging to her family, and then she offered Mark a hand so he could join her. Her mother loosened the bow line and threw it into the boat. “Now are you sure you don’t want me to row you over?” she said to Sarah. “Mum, we’ll be fine. We’re not going far,” she said, pointing across to where the inundation crested up the hillside. Ethan’s father had knocked together a similar landing point there, though the water was beginning to lap against the decking now and soon the jetty would need to be moved further up the hill. Their mother nodded, unconvinced, and stood awhile waving them off. Sarah began to row, though keeping her head down as she worked, trying to avoid her mother’s stern gaze. She knew how to row a boat and tie it up at the other end, she muttered under her breath. At the other side she threw the rope over the metal pole and leaped across to the jetty. She tied the rope in a double knot like her father had taught her, and then when the boat had stopped rocking she helped Mark out. He’d waited patiently for her to do all of this, not looking at anything in particular, but simply making sure not to put his hands on the outside edge of the boat. He didn’t want to risk losing his fingernails. There were only a handful of other vessels tied up, and when Sarah surveyed the horizon she couldn’t see any more coming. But just then a small dinghy rounded the bend and she recognised Paul by the way his hair was patted flat on the back
of his head. She took the rope from him when he arrived, and tied another double knot for the practice. “Hello,” she said. “Hello,” he replied, wiping the rain from his face. His clothes didn’t look as waterproof as Sarah’s, and she could imagine how soggy his sweater would have gotten under his poorly ducked jacket. The three walked up the hill, now and again slipping back on the greasy grass underfoot. Paul and Sarah talked eagerly whilst Mark remained silent. He was younger than the others by four years and didn’t inhabit the same world, though they shared a class at school. There were now only twenty-three pupils, down from more than a hundred when Sarah had first started, and on days when getting to school presented a particular challenge this number went as low as ten. Today would be such a day. Not everybody had access to a boat, or wanted to demean themselves by rowing. “My Dad says that this year’s going to be the wettest on record,” Paul was saying. “My Mum says your Dad says a lot of things,” Sarah said back. She liked Paul, except for when he talked about his parents, both of whom were scientists who worked at a laboratory in the city. They seemed to take a touch too much pleasure in reporting the worst. “My Mum says what this world needs is a little less talk and a little more action.” Paul had no comeback to this. Sarah saw out of the corner of her eye that she’d upset her friend, so she tried to think quickly of something to take the edge off her words. But in the rain she could think of nothing, and when they reached the school they stripped off their sodden outer clothes in silence. Paul and Sarah sat close together in the classroom, the desks and chairs arranged in the classical ranks that their parents would have sat in. Mark sat further towards the front with the other young children, and after exchanging a soft hello with his peers he picked up a book and began to read. That was most of what he did every day at school, and because he was quiet and diligent when he was given work to do, he was left to his own devices. Miss Jacobs had never learnt how to accommodate so many students of different ages in the same class, and it was with relief that she saw Mark already leafing through a volume about geography when she swept into the room a few moments later. Miss Jacobs was a young teacher, barely out of puberty, though to the children under her charge she belonged to the adult world and was thus, in a way, ageless. She smiled through most of the day, but with a smile that suggested she was always on the point of apologising for something lying just out of her control. The children now quieted their conversations and opened up their desks in search of their notebooks. The desks were the kind that Dickens had in his novels, creaky wooden affairs cracked across their surface, with hinges that cried when the
tops were lifted open. The children had accepted these old-fashioned desks as they had accepted the school, though neither had been intended for their use. The school the children had come to today had been shuttered back in the sixties, but with a summer’s worth of attention from volunteers in the town it had been made ready for the new school term. Nobody talked about the other school anymore, except in the hushed tones reserved for the telling of legends and tall tales. The children, never strangers to change, had adapted swiftly. They felt at home in the large classroom, with its high ceiling and parquet flooring and single-glazed windows that let out all the warmth. Miss Jacobs cleared her throat, the sign that the lesson was due to commence. The children quit their shuffling and obediently turned their eyes to the front of the class. First there was a smile, the teacher’s cue for the students to rise and bid her good morning; this uttered, they were then to turn and in their sing-song voices say the same to their partners. Then they resumed their seats. This morning was geography and each had their books at the ready. “Today we’ll be taking a closer look at the geography of the south,” Miss Jacobs announced, her voice missing the stentorian tone possessed by more experienced teachers of the curriculum. Miss Jacobs pulled down the wallchart showing the British Isles, and removed her long wooden pole to draw the students’ attention to the places she wished to highlight. But already there was a problem. “Ah,” she said quietly. Her expression clouded momentarily, but she wished for the children not to notice her consternation and so spun back to face them as if looking at the map had never been her intention. “Is there a problem, Miss?” Sarah said, noticing that her teacher had now fallen silent. “No, no, not really.” Miss Jacobs looked again at the map, imagining the flowing landscape, taking in the cliffs of Dover in their stunning whiteness, moving along to the industrial harbour at Folkestone, ending where Dungeness had once stood proud on a headland peeking into the waters of the Channel. These were the places she had explored as a child: dimly recalled visions of halcyon days. “I used to visit these places,” Miss Jacobs said, finally deciding to proceed but now on a more personal level than she had planned. “I was younger than some of you but my family had people down there, and every summer when the school set us free we’d go off and poke around. I built a sandcastle here, I remember,” she said, pointing at one place in particular. “Do you want to go there again?” Paul asked. Miss Jacobs’ smile turned wistful. “If I could, most certainly. But this is an old map, terribly out of date, and I’m afraid it simply does not show where our coastline currently lies.” “You mean the map is wrong?” Sarah asked. “More or less. The world does not look as it once did. To be honest with you,
I’m not sure that anybody knows precisely what today’s map should look like.” Miss Jacobs spoke these words reluctantly, fearing to upset the children. However, she had underestimated them. A fluttering excitement held them now, and whispers bubbled around the classroom despite the fact that Miss Jacobs was still holding court, and the children were meant to be silent. Recognising the moment for what it was, the teacher let them have their chatter. She listened in as Sarah turned to Paul to suggest how they might set about mapping the coastline for themselves. “Really, this is too thrilling,” Sarah said, for a second allowing her enthusiasm to run away from her. “To think – ours is still a country waiting to be explored!” Miss Jacobs identified an opening here, and wisely for such a novice opted to take advantage of it. “All right, everybody. Let’s change the focus of our morning’s discussion. We’ll talk together about how we might go about updating our map. We could think locally, too. After all, if the picture we have hanging here of our country is inaccurate, perhaps there isn’t a good map of the valley either.” The geography lesson became one on cartography, Miss Jacobs marshalling the discussion as best she could, though this was far from her area of expertise. She revelled in the atmosphere. The keenness with which her charges spoke during this first period of the day brought her a satisfaction she had so far gone without in her career. The group talked animatedly for the rest of the lesson, until they were interrupted by the mechanical clanging of the school bell. The children were free to play for twenty minutes, and then Mr Andrews came to collect them for their physical fitness lesson. As he came into the room he saw Miss Jacobs at her desk making notes. He shot her a toothy, bashful grin and ran his hand through his hair. Sarah watched him interact with Miss Jacobs, and she childishly wondered why he didn’t simply one day come and kiss Miss Jacobs. She was certainly pretty enough, Sarah thought, and it was clear that they liked one another. This constant skirting of the issue was becoming somewhat tiresome to Sarah, for whom the essence of living currently resided in activity: inaction was anathema to her. She was put in mind of Paul’s parents, and her own mother’s censure. Yes, she had been right to say what she had to Paul that morning, for now she understood that scientists who warn and condemn are performing only half of their job. One must instigate actions as well, she thought, though how she might bring Miss Jacobs and Mr Andrews together was puzzle with no ready solution. The bell rang again, and Mr Andrews led the group to another classroom. This one had been cleared of all the furniture so that the children might run from one wall to the other and back again. When they had had enough of this, Mr Andrews asked the children to go to the cloakroom and put on their wet weather clothes. He wanted to take them outside for some exercise, an announcement that made Paul groan.
“Why do we have to go out there every day?” he said to Sarah as they were sorting out their Wellingtons. Sarah just shrugged, but she had been wondering about this herself. Mr Andrews had developed something of a complex regarding the rain, and seemed to have begun treating it like a dragon in need of slaying. The rain was falling with much less urgency now, and the children began to speculate as to whether it might soon stop. Paul said he was sure it looked like the clouds were beginning to break in the east, and that the sun would soon find its way through. Sarah knew this was just wishful thinking, mostly because the sun wouldn’t now be in the east but rather must be inching its way to the western horizon; however, she didn’t want to be the one this time to pour cold water over his idea. “Well,” Mr Andrews said when they were all gathered together. “Run about a little bit more and keep yourselves warm.” That was all the instruction he had for them, a compromise to keep the children happy. They had no choice but to follow his order to go outside, but now that they were in the open they felt themselves deserving of half an hour’s freedom. Mr Andrews went over to the lip of the hill where the slope downwards began in earnest, and stood awhile surveying the landscape. He wasn’t dressed for the weather, his suit open to the caresses of the rain. “Mr Andrews, you’ll get completely soaked,” Sarah said when she came to stand next to him. Mr Andrews looked down at the young girl who had chosen to join him instead of her peers. They were now hurtling around gleefully amongst the trees that grew off to one side of the school, and Mr Andrews did his best to ignore the racket they were making. Sarah considered asking Mr Andrews one of the many questions that were troubling her. She wanted to know if he thought her ready to begin the task of mapping out the entire valley, qualified as she was now after an hour’s chat with Miss Jacobs on the topic. Thinking of Miss Jacobs, she wanted to probe his own thoughts and feelings, assuming that mentioning her name might provoke the man into an action he had otherwise been putting off. But instead, tongue-tied, she fell silent. It was Mr Andrews who broke the silence, suddenly, though in a way that suggested he had long been mulling his words. “Doesn’t it just feel like we’re in a castle, up here?” Mr Andrews said. “Cut off from the world by the moat down below.” Sarah smiled. “I was just thinking the same thing this morning,” she said. “Only, in the old days, didn’t they use to build castles as a way of protecting the people?” Mr Andrews didn’t answer. He continued watching the rain fall, as if conscious of how much it was adding to the flooded valley. Sarah too watched for a
while. Then she decided she had had enough of watching, and went off to do something. She wanted to find Paul and ask him to be her mapping partner. Perhaps if she made him their leader, it would cheer him up after the morning, she thought.
QUALITY PHOTOS STEVEN MCBREARTY The summer of our wedding my bride Claudia VanderMeer and I leased a split-level duplex on a dead-end street in a close-in gentrifying area of south central Austin, a quiet, in-transition neighborhood of young families and senior citizens and dogs. The opposite side of the duplex was occupied by the owner/ landlord, a white-haired University of Texas professor who we figured was gay. We were fine with him being gay (perhaps we even wanted him to be gay), both for philosophical reasons and as a counterpoint to our conspicuously heterosexual, pre-children, pre-jaded bliss. We exchanged vows at 3:00 PM on a hot summer Saturday in a big, ceremonial Catholic high Mass, but marriage wasn’t the only new thing in my life. I had recently accepted a position as assistant editor for an architectural design magazine, a glossy magazine in a glitzy downtown high-rise, the ground floor lobby a bank, ornate and open and airy at the same time, giant glass panes opened effulgently to an ever-changing street view. Claudia remained working for the tax attorney’s office where we had first met. She was the receptionist, I was a file clerk—basically, I did whatever they told me to do. I always seemed to fall for the receptionist. Laughing at my jokes or listening to my stories as I passed by, they seemed to trigger in me some deep, inchoate desire to please. This new job was a big deal, a giant step up. It was actually my first job “in my field” of journalism, and such jobs were never easy to come by for recent college grads. I had been lucky enough to have been recommended for this particular opening by a former features writing professor, an elfin man whose chin whiskers and suspenders made him look something like Ben Franklin. After a final formal interview with a cadre of over-dressed, self-impressed 30-something blowhards around an imposing glass-top conference table, I was offered a position as Assistant Editor. We all shook hands and drank a toast. As the new guy, one of my tasks was to deliver film (they still used film then) for the magazine’s visuals to a photo shop for processing. Nobody else wanted this task, but I enjoyed getting out of the regimented office system and into the colorful, hipster-inhabited milieu that was the streets of central Austin. Driving along with my neatly-sealed package beside me, I felt both rakish and debonaire, protective of my company’s material but also a man on an adventure. Quality Photos was a high-end professional photo shop, for magazines and glossy advertising circulars and wedding photographers, located on a busy corner of MLK and Lavaca Streets, just south of the University of Texas campus. The ad-
jacent streets buzzing with co-eds in shorts and guys walking with backpacks over their shoulders created in me a strong nostalgia for my college years. Which, in many ways, was where I would rather be. I found the working world to be both stressful and mundane, a low-security prison of sorts, impinging on my freedom and sapping my energy. The magazine editor, my supervisor, was a complete stuffed shirt. At 30 he acted 60, gliding around with a surfeit of pomposity and grandeur, as if emulating Miss Manners. A few weeks after my hire the editor looked on me rather skeptically, I feared, with a good deal of buyer’s remorse. A neon sign over Quality Photo’s threshold read, “Serving Your Photographic Needs Since 1970.” The lawn out front was small and brown and bare, the unwatered grass beaten down into dirt. The building itself was a former residence, white clapboard, with a high bay window providing a kind of stage for the activities inside. The counter clerk there was a young woman of about my own age, a recent college grad herself, short, buxom, attentive, chatty, with her straight brunette hair turned up in a flip at the shoulders in a quite attractive pageboy look. There was a splash of freckles on her fresh, fair-skinned face. Her name was Anne, Anne Sommers, in fact. This being summer, she wore flip-flops and Mexican peasant blouses, scooped at the breast and pleasantly revealing. She always had something interesting to say, something sharp and witty, and I tried hard to say something sharp and witty back. Feeling guilty (because of my new wife), I nevertheless looked forward to our conversations, our easy banter, our jokes. She laughed at my jokes. I laughed at hers. One day, we both declared our desires to move to New York, me to be a writer, her to be an actress. But I told her I didn’t think I’d make it there now. “How come?” she said. “Oh well, you know,” I said. “Your wife?” she said. “Uh-huh,” I said. I fell into a dark, indicative silence. “So you’re an actress?” I said, changing the subject. “What have you been in?” She took a small, theatrical bow. “I played Emily Webb in Our Town and Ophelia in Hamlet and Elaine in The Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” she said. “Oh--and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire.” “I’m impressed,” I said. “I’m actually in rehearsals for a play at Zachary Scott right now,” she said. “It’s this Sam Shepherd production, very avante garde. You’ll have to come see me sometime.”
“I will,” I said. “I sure will.” Honored and pleased, I smiled, and we stood facing each other across the counter for a long time. Then touching her arm I said goodbye. It was easy being with her. It was fun. At first, our conversations lasted only as long as it took to drop off the photos or pick them up. Later, I would linger, sometimes keeping the words flowing through other customers, linger until she was called to the back. One day, she reached across the counter to place her hand on my wrist--and left it there while ringing up my receipt. She laughed. We continued on with our banter. She removed her hand when the bell over the door clanged indicating another customer was coming in. I guess I didn’t talk about my marriage much, but maybe she could pick up the vibes. Six weeks in, and I was already uncertain whether I wanted it to work out. Claudia and I really didn’t know each other all that well. We didn’t like many of the same things. Her sense of humor was different from mine. She had standards for organization and comportment that I was unable to meet. I found out very quickly that she didn’t want me going out with my friends at all, that after work was over I was supposed to stay put with her and only her. I missed hanging out with my friends. I didn’t want them to disappear from my life. Furthermore, she remained angry for days after a the slightest argument, withholding sex, smiles, a sense of security. None of these were things one wanted to find out after a marriage started. Some days I stormed off to work fuming, convinced that we were going nowhere and that my life was in ruins. One morning there was a giant flare-up when I asked Claudia (softly, in the nicest tones possible) if she could iron my shirt since I was running late—and got chewed out royally. I never figured out why exactly, but apparently this request triggered an intense emotional reaction based on some incident from her childhood or an experience with an earlier boyfriend. I rarely asked Claudia to do anything for me again. Shirt wrinkled, I walked out trembling, stepping on my own shoelace and spilling coffee on my dress slacks. I turned back to make some vengeful remark but Claudia breezed right past me to her car and drove away, tires squealing. Squealing her tires was yet another aspect of Claudia’s personality that I hadn’t known about before we were married. That afternoon I drove over to Quality Photos to deliver some film. I didn’t really need to go that day, but unable to focus on work I convinced myself that fresh air and a change of scenery would revitalize me. Even with Anne, my conversation seemed stilted, forced. I was pressing too hard. I couldn’t think of the right things to say. Leaving, I felt even more depressed, empty, incomplete, locked in a prison of solitude and angst. A cloud of doom trailed over my head. My life
was a sham. My future was a wreck. But as I started the engine to drive away, Anne ran out to the car after me. It was the first time since I had been making my visits that she had left the building. “Wait!” she called, waving wildly. I eased the car to a stop alongside the curb. I smiled, uncertainly. She opened the passenger door and slid inside. “What’s up?” I said. “You forgot something,” she said. “Really?” I said. I patted around between the seats reflexively. I smiled again. “What did I forget?” “Some of your finished photos,” she said. “I’ll go back and get them.” “Oh, don’t worry,” I said. If I left something this would give me another trip back in the near future. I found myself delighted to have her near me in the car, her face, her voice, her hair, her fragrance, her ample breasts. She had really ample breasts. “I’ll get them next time.” She drew in a breath and looked at me in a way I had failed to observe in my previous visits. It was almost—well, in that one instant I almost thought it was a look of love. “Oh, what the hell,” she said. “Life is too damn short.” “What do you mean?” I said. And then she leaned across the gap between the seats to kiss me smack on the lips. I turned into a bowl of Jell-o. I didn’t invite the kiss (I told myself in my sin-wracked Catholic school mind), I didn’t encourage it, but there it was, the sweetest, softest, most fantastic kiss I had ever received. I was trembling afterwards. I wanted more. “Oh Lord I’m married,” I said, more a declaration to the cosmos than a real attempt to repel her advances. ` “I know,” she said. “I know you are.” She pulled me to her for another kiss, and this one was even better than the one before. I acquiesced with a sense of inescapable inevitability. God, did I ever acquiesce. I was squeezing her back, I was stroking her hair, I was caressing her neck. This was all in bright broad daylight, parked in front of her place of employment. Finally, Anne pushed me away. She sat up straight on her side and began to straighten her hair and her clothes. I was beyond doing that. I was like a smoking ruin. “I guess I’d better get back in,” she said. “Okay,” I said. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just so attracted to you. We have so much in
common. We talk about so many different things. You make me laugh.” “Oh, God, I know,” I said. “You make me laugh so hard sometimes. I love to hear you laugh.” She sat strangely still for a moment, looking away. Then she turned back to me. Her mouth seemed almost quivering. “Hey, I need to tell you,” she said. “I’m going to New York.” “New York?” I said. “A trip? A vacation?” “It’s more than a trip,” she said. “I’m going there to live.” My jaw dropped. My heart skipped a beat. “When are you going?” I said. “Tomorrow,” she said. “This is my last day here.” “Tomorrow,” I said. The word was like a life sentence imposed by a judge. My heart was sinking now. It was dropping like a chunk of steel to the bottom of a deep, dark lake. She nodded. “I was hoping you would come by today so I could tell you,” she said. “It came up all of a sudden. I have an opportunity for a part in an off-Broadway play. They’ve got the audition all set up. I’m flying out in the morning.” “Oh my God,” I said. “Oh my heavens.” I hardly knew this woman, but I had never felt so desolate, so devastated in my entire life. I took both of her hands in mine and held them tight. All bets were off just then in terms of sin and depravation. I didn’t care what happened to my eternal soul. “Will I ever see you again?” I said. “I don’t know,” she said. She seemed to ponder something for a few moments. “Would you to want to come with me? Would you want to come to New York?” “Come with you?” I said. “To New York?” She nodded. “We could rent a place together. We could live together.” “I don’t know,” I said. “I just got married.” “I know,” she said. “But maybe this would be the best time to break it off, before you really get established and get a lot of baggage. If it’s not going to work out why prolong it. You want to be happy, after all.” “You’re right,” I said. “I do want to be happy.” I paused, considering. But there just wasn’t enough time to make a proper decision. I didn’t see how I could just pick up and leave. There were family considerations, career considerations,
gifts received and used. I sat for a long time quietly holding her hands, not wanting to move, wishing we could just stay like this forever. “I better get in,” she said finally. She started to pull away. “I’ll write you,” I called desperately. This was before the days of email and the internet, of web sites and cell phones and text messaging. Communication was slow and laborious. There was the land-line, of course, there were pay phones, but getting in touch with somebody then was not so simple or neat. “I don’t know my address yet,” she said. “I’ll write down mine,” I said. I scribbled my address hastily on a used envelope lying between the car seats. “Here’s my telephone number at work, too. You could call me there.” “Okay,” she said. “I’ll call you there.” I knew it wouldn’t happen. Once she left the car I would lose all hope for future happiness. She leaned in for one final kiss, and then she was out the door, bounding across the lawn in her girlish way, breasts bouncing, hair tossing. She stopped to wave one last time before disappearing inside. I was thankful for that. At least I had that.
HOME VICTORIA JOHNSON My favorite part of this city is the parks. I feel like they’re the perfect combination of nature and people. You know? I could just sit here all day. I mean, I pretty much have. I used to call this “washing town” when I was little. Or so I’ve been told. I don’t actually remember doing that. It’s kind of appropriate, considering the way kids play in the fountain. My mom never let me do that. The water’s dirty, she says. And it’s not “ladylike.” That kind of thing doesn’t matter when you’re 4 feet tall. Such a nice day, huh? It’s a little warm, but I can deal with some sweat. It’s summer; it’s supposed to be this way. Good weather for the beach. I’m a big fan of the ocean. Kinda wanna go for a swim, but I’m not in the mood to have sand in all my cracks and crevices for a week. Funny how we get less and less willing to deal with being uncomfortable as we grow up. Yeah, my friends call me an old soul. And my mom says I’m “fucking immature.” Depends on your point of view. She’s always out-of-sync with the world, fighting it some way or another. Fighting change. I don’t think that’s maturity, but then again, she has a lot of control over her life, unlike me, so maybe that’s her frame of reference. That violinist over there is amazing. I could listen to that all day. Vivaldi, I’m like eighty-percent sure. I’d give him a dollar if I could afford it. I used to play guitar here sometimes. Especially when I didn’t feel like being in classrooms all day. I wasn’t good, not at all, but once in a while people would throw change into my case. Mostly pennies. That wasn’t the point, but I appreciated the gesture, even if it was based in pity. One time, this old lady sat down next to me and sang along to every Fleetwood Mac song I knew. I stink of weed, don’t I? I like to think it masks other odors. It’s been a while since I’ve showered. When I was a kid, my mom used to have to bargain with me to get me in the bath. Or she’d just yell until I gave in. I wouldn’t mind a bath right now. Maybe with a candle or two. No bubbles, no bath bombs, just the water and me. I like to think that I’m a smart person, on some level, but I don’t really have anything to prove it. I dropped out junior year. It was so freeing. My mom practically had a stroke about that. I got my GED to calm her down. She was so set on me going to college, even getting a master’s degree or a PhD. Honestly I’d be happy to sit in – what’s it called? oh yeah, audit – a bunch of classes, but no one can convince me that I should be staying up every night ‘til my eyes fall out of my
head, trying to memorize a bunch of shit. Maybe I’m missing out. But there’s so much to learn from just being in the world, right? That’s how I’m trying to see this. It’s really too bad I got fired. Just a few weeks ago. It was a fun job. I like kids, even when they’re on a sugar high – because, like, I get it. The downside was my uniform, and my misogynistic pig of a boss, who made me wear that stupid thing. And really, it’s his loss. I would smile all day long, ringing up hundreds of different flavors of jelly beans and cheap chocolates of every kind, being patient with the brattiest of moms and the hyper-est of kids. One time, this lady came in and asked if we sold “dark chocolate orange peels.” I was like, “This is a candy shop, ma’am.” Hopefully she found her way to Godiva or whatever for gourmet bullshit. Why would someone why waste good chocolate on an orange peel, of all things? Anyway, I really was a good employee, but he finally caught me stashing away a bag of gummy worms for Julie. My sister. She likes the sour kind. My mom doesn’t let anyone in the house eat anything sugary, which is insane, so I had to help Julie out. If he wasn’t an asshole, he would’ve just let it slide. As if a few gummy worms now and then could make a dent in the store’s income. Some people are so short-sighted. I miss Julie. She’s a good kid, for real. Better than I ever was. Such a little sweetheart. She looks up to me, despite everything. Her stupid classmates make fun of her chubby cheeks. They should be jealous. There’s no one cuter than her. I should probably get going soon. I haven’t figured out where I’m gonna sleep. My mom told me to go stay with my “stoner friends.” Which I would, if they lived anywhere close to here. Those warnings kids used to get about not talking to strangers on the internet never made any impression on me. Good thing, too, or I never would have met Sarah. I talked to her today, but only for a few minutes. The café kicked me out for loitering. I think everyone should have access to free WiFi. Like, is that really so much to ask? Well, what do I know, anyway. Sarah doesn’t know about my situation. I don’t want to worry her. There’s nothing she can do. She started college last year. Major in psychology, minor in sociology. Talk about smart. Anyway, point is, she doesn’t have a bunch of money lying around. Her textbooks for this fall cost $400! That’s more than I’ve had in my bank account at any one time. Saving money was never my strong point. Which wasn’t a big deal until now. I guess I just figured I’d be at home for a few more years, without a whole lot to worry about. Like, my mom threatened to kick me out so many times that I never thought she’d do it. She was never abusive or anything. We just didn’t get along well. But I knew she loved me, underneath it all. So, what happened was, I was at work, and I guess I never signed-out of the computer at home and she walked in and read through my messages. It’s so funny that of all things, that did it. Not dropping out, smoking, or drinking, or all the laundry I never did, or even the time I hit a streetlight with her car. I didn’t even say anything, y’know, x-rated to Sarah. We don’t do that. Mom flipped her shit be-
cause I said “I love you” to a girl. To my girlfriend. As if that was the worst thing I’d ever done in my whole life. And I think about this every day, and I still don’t get it. “Get the fuck out of my house,” she said. “Get away from my child.” I’m her child, too. And besides, Julie’s straight as a stick, not like anything about me is gonna change that. But just like that, Mom snapped. “You better be gone by the goddam morning.” I don’t get it. I just... don’t know. But honestly, I’m not angry, not really. I still love her. She’s my mom, you know?
THE SATURDAY MORNING FUN CLUB STEVEN MCBREARTY My family had just moved into a house we had built in one of the newer subdivisions on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, called Inspiration Hills. All the streets had “view” in their names. Our street was Highview, the next street over was Clearview, the street at the top of the hill was Broadview. There was a view of downtown San Antonio, a glimpse, really, of skyscrapers nestled majestically in a wide shallow valley a dozen or so miles away. Scoured from caliche and oak covered hills, the neighborhood was very 1960s suburban, with wide sidewalks bordering both sides of the sloping streets and light poles that resembled Roaring 20s gas lamps. Our house had a pink brick façade and a concrete patio in back and a fenced backyard the size of a small South Texas ranchette. The inside smelled of fresh plaster and wood paneling, giving it an unfinished, under-construction feel. Everybody in the neighborhood seemed to have just moved there, still whipping their 4BR 3BA split-levels into prime condition. Down the street, green lizards scampered around an overgrown vacant lot with a For Sale sign leaning against a lone oak tree. You can never know all the variables. You can never control all the variables. The new house was my parents’ dream come true—additional space, an upscale new neighborhood, prestige, a secure future—but I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to change schools. I was operating under protest, my tender ego and fledgling libido under siege. I was 11 years old, an insecure and tentative 11 in my new life, starting sixth grade in a new school, a school where I was an unknown, a non-entity, and I could feel my old, successful life slipping away, gone forever. I was a has-been at age 11. My younger siblings, not as entrenched in the old neighborhood and the old school, seemed fine with the move, oblivious. They didn’t understand the pain and the burden that I carried. At the old school I was a baseball star, a “smart” kid, an established figure. People looked to me for advice and counsel. There was a flirtation with a cute, smart girl. In fourth grade my teacher Sister Dolores (I attended St. Paul Catholic School) pulled a classmate and me aside to request that we help a newcomer to the school feel welcome and comfortable. I felt like that kid now. I had to prove myself all over again. I had to explain myself. I had to show that I could hit the ball, field the grounder, catch the pass, make the tackle, deliver the joke. On the playground, in the classroom, in the hallways, in the restroom I had to go the extra step to show them what a cool and savvy guy I actually was. I spent fitful nights tossing and turning in bed, thinking up snappy ripostes, searching for security and happiness.
My mother fretted over me, but dad had little sympathy for my plight. A salesman for an office supplies firm, he dropped my siblings and me off at the new school each morning with a gruff admonition to basically suck it up. “Be a man,” he said, as parting words of wisdom. At night, he sat imperiously in his easy chair in the wood-paneled den, his wood-paneled den, we all understood, sending off beams of aggression and hostility, like a petty dictator. My mother flitted around performing supporting activities, holding the household together with her smarts and feminine wiles. You wondered how they originally got together, because my father mostly grunted or barked responding to my mother’s gentle entreaties. He treated her like she was an incompetent boob, speaking over her, for her, around her. She continued on her daily duties seemingly unaffected. I learned later that mom was a sort of secret revolutionary. Picking up on the vibes of the changing times, she was plotting her escape from the monochrome mid-1960s suburban culture. She remained a housewife, but a housewife with a plan for fulfillment. Now that all the kids were in school, she was starting to get out a little, taking classes at the community center, playing some friendly tennis in the mornings with other mothers in the neighborhood, joining a book club. It was modest, but it was a forward step. My first, early friend at the new school, St. Luke’s School, was a chubby kid with a severe buzz hair-cut named Bobby Hubachek, who lived the next block over on Clearview. We shared some traits in common, perhaps. He was overweight and ridiculed and outcast. I was new and ridiculed and outcast. His parents were second-generation Czech-Americans, and they seemed even lamer and more oldfashioned than my own parents. They seemed determined to replicate the old country in their home and in their lives. There was a shrine to Our Lady of Victory in Prague perched on a table in their living room. The sprightly sounds of polka permeated from a large portable radio placed on a kitchen counter. They played Bingo in the church cafeteria on Wednesday nights. They spoke Czech sometimes, in asides among themselves, or in instructions to Bobby or his younger sister that they must not want me to understand. (For the record, having just two children in a Catholic family was considered slightly suspect, debauched, pagan.) Bobby’s mom was a lively, red-haired person who seemed afflicted with a variety of fears and paranoias. She alternated between trying to shield Bobby from the pervasive dangers of the modern world and hectoring him with demands to “clean your room,” “comb your hair,” “pull your pants up straight.” “What are you up to?” she said, with a look that seemed to suggest he was involved in some sinister and illicit plot she had to stop in its tracks. Bobby’s father was a short, squat gentleman with a buzz cut strikingly similar to his son’s. He was a man of few words and gestures. Thumbs hooked into coveralls, he stood observing his wife
and children with a bemused, uncertain expression, as though questioning what sort of life-long predicament he had gotten himself into. Sometimes after school or on Saturdays I would go to Bobby’s house and hang out, playing board games and watching horror movies on TV. Bobby (and his mother and sister) cackled like hyenas at all the hokey parts. “The mummy’s coming out!” Bobby said, pointing. All the while I was there I was thinking, “This isn’t where I want to be, this isn’t what I want to do with my life.” But it was all I had, the only friendship in my new, reduced existence. One morning at school a pair of seventh graders, austere and giggling at the same time, were ushered into our classroom for some sort of public service announcement. They were there to announce the revival of the school’s Saturday Morning Fun Club, which had become moribund apparently due to lack of interest. The Saturday Morning Fun Club was a loosely-knit two-year program of sixth- and seventh-grade boys that met (as the name suggested) on Saturday mornings in one of the empty classrooms at the school. (By grade 8, apparently, everybody had moved on to girls and drugs.) I immediately accepted, filling out a form with my “interests” and “likes” that was never to be referenced again. Bobby Hubachek joined also, despite my sending out fervent prayers that he did not. Even with Bobby, I thought the Saturday Morning Fun Club might be my ticket to acceptance and success. Bobby’s mom picked up me up for the club’s first meeting dressed in a flowered housecoat and slippers, and with her hair in a curler net. She and Bobby were engaged in some sort of dispute about the shirt he was wearing and the chores he was scheduled to do later on. Bobby gave me a self-effacing smile and a shrug as I climbed into the back seat of the car beside him. It made for an unnerving ride to the school. “Don’t forget to comb your hair!” Mrs. Hubacheck shouted, turning her head to the back seat as we arrived. Bobby shrugged and pulled up his pants. I walked quickly, hoping to separate myself from them. A slouching seventh grader guided us to an empty classroom, the rows of desks and chairs appearing forlorn and forsaken. We sat near the front, in a small, nervous cluster. The meeting was called to order. We stood for a quick, mumbled prayer, obviously de rigueur. The seventh grader leading the prayer smiled cryptically the entire time. A seventh grader named David Weathersby served as president (or head something) of the club. He was tall for his age (though he stopped growing at age 14 and eventually I passed him up), with a crop of curly blond hair and a peach fuzz mustache and a permanent smirk on his pale, oblong face. He had an intimidating mean streak, calling out club members for their physical and mental attributes, keeping us all in line. His sidekick was a stocky, silent, offensive guard type
named Rick Bosky, who stood beside Weathersby laughing at his jokes but glaring out at the crowd when necessary. Occasionally he shared a fleeting, conspiratorial smile with us peons out in the desk chairs. It was a loosely-structured operation, as far as theme and objective. There were no goals or merit badges involved. Usually we began with some tales from the seventh-grade world—a sophisticated, savvy, mysterious world containing a cryptic combination of macho posturing, potty humor, and girls. Sometimes we watched a Saturday morning cartoon show on a TV wheeled in on a stand from a utility room somewhere. If the weather was cold or crummy, we headed to the gym where we played basketball or dodge ball or just ran over and under the bleachers. If the weather was good, we went outside on the athletic fields to play baseball or football or soccer, depending on the season. There was a dry creek running through some undeveloped wooded land on the back side of the school property, meandering for a mile or so before disappearing into a tunnel under a city street. It was a forbidden land, filled with tropical plants and wildlife and bird calls and bugs, reminding us of another forbidden land, a land on the far side of the world where our country was waging war—Vietnam. This was before public sentiment had turned against the war effort there and it was perhaps inevitable that red-blooded American 11- and 12-year-old boys would turn to war games when left to their own devices. We’d divide into squadrons and fan out into the jungle canopy, talking softly, crouching low to avoid detection, searching for Viet Cong. Along the way we’d gather dirt clods and spear grass for weapons. Sometimes we’d try to ambush the other group by sneaking in behind them. Other times we’d have pitched battles on opposite sides of the creek bed, dirt clods landing and splattering like thudding missiles. Our hearts thumped madly in the throes of glorious battle, the euphoria of war with low-stakes consequences. We arrived home dusty and sweaty, our clothes and our grime-streaked faces a testament to our virile heroism. One day we had ranged deep into the bush when our squad leader, the illustrious David Weathersby, hit upon a brilliant strategy for smoking out the enemy. He called us over, waving urgently with a cupped hand. We gathered around him, squatting on our haunches or on one knee. With a grimy finger, he draw a game plan in the dirt. Unfortunately, his strategy involved a human sacrifice. “I know how we can smoke them out,” Weathersby said, his trademark smirk morphed into a sly smile. “How?” someone asked. “How?” Weathersby said, placing a sardonic hand on the boy’s slim shoulder. “Elementary, my dear Watson. One of our esteemed squadron members walks down the center of the creek pretending to have a gun and speaking on a walky-
talky. When they fire on him we’ll know their position and take them out. Of course, the esteemed squadron member will be dead. Literally, perhaps.” Some brazen desire to become a hero—albeit a fallen hero—moved me to volunteer. I threw up my hand in a nano-second. “I can do it,” I said. “I’ll do it.” Weathersby looked at me skeptically. Perhaps I didn’t seem like I had the stuff to walk down the center of a creek in a war, even a pretend war. He stroked his cheek pensively. “You sure, man?” he said. “You’ve got to do it right. You can’t turn back or start running.” “I can do it right,” I said. He placed his hand on my shoulder now. I felt like I had received a blessing from a holy man. “OK then,” Weathersby said. “Here’s what we’re gonna do.” Minutes later, outfitted with a ceremonial bazooka that was actually a log, I started my solitary stroll down St. Luke’s creek. I felt isolated, alone, yet my senses seemed engaged and almost preternaturally aware. At first, it seemed deathly silent in the brush above me as I walked, the lips of the creek walls looming high above, unassailable, insurmountable, like the cliffs of Normandy. Then I began to pick out bird calls and crickets buzzing in the trees. The occasional car horn or revving motorcycle engine punctuated the otherwise pristine sounds of nature. I had walked almost the length of the creek when I heard rustling in the brush to the right ahead of me, like a large animal crashing through. Then all hell broke loose. It was like Godzilla himself had emerged from the brush. There was the other squadron, looming above me on the cliffs like gladiators of ancient Rome, arms cocked and off-hands loaded with a cache of hard, ugly dirt clods. I was a sitting duck. “There he is!” “Get him!” “Let him have it!” They opened fire, dirt clods raining down like mortal shells. All I could do was duck and cover my eyes and my head. The fusillade went on for a good thirty seconds. “We got him,” they said. “He’s dead.” Their entire squadron stood gloating on the creek bank, cheering and shaking their fists. My team emerged then—finally—and began firing their own dirt clod missiles over the top of the ditch and over my head. The other team was out of ammo, and after a few futile throws of spear grass and weeds, they fled into the bush. The final tally somehow seemed weighted in their favor. I had done my part, nonethe-
less. I was dead. Nobody seemed too concerned about it, though, as we began walking slowly back toward the school grounds in wrap-up mode. It was time to get picked up. When I got home Dad was there, sitting not in his evening chair but at the kitchen table. This seemed strange because Dad worked Saturday mornings at the office, going over accounts and cleaning up invoices and so forth. We were used to him being home in the evenings but this seemed intrusive somehow. He was taking up too much space, sucking up the psychic oxygen from my mother and the rest of us. It was tough to operate when he was there. There was tension. There were instructions and commands. There were looks exchanged between my mother and him, looks that were ominous and mysterious and freighted with innuendo. I shot a quick nod to Dad before heading for my room to clean up and change. I didn’t want to hang around and invite commentary. “Steve,” Dad said, calling me back. He said my name in a certain, unique way that induced fear and uncertainty. Trapped, I stood by the kitchen table, squirming and trembling like a soldier up for officer’s review. I thought he was going to dress me down for some unknown reason—my appearance; my grades; something he had found in my room. I tried to remember what contraband items I might be currently keeping in my room. “Your father has something to tell you,” Mom said. I nodded, waiting—waiting for the boom to fall. Dad flexed his hand, as if in a preliminary gesture to speaking, but said nothing. I glanced back and forth between Mom and Dad, uncertain, unknowing, pulse rising as I pondered possibilities. Dad stayed silent. Mom spoke up finally, softly, steadily. “You remember Daddy’s nephew Paul Gallagher?” she said. “You met him, from Dallas. He was here for Christmas one year with Aunt Janey and Uncle Bill and he met us at Six Flags when we went up there.” She paused, for a breath or to gather her composure, or both, perhaps. “He was killed in Vietnam yesterday. Daddy found out late last night.” I couldn’t think of anything to say. There didn’t seem to be much of anything to say. Anything I said seemed like it would be rash and meaningless, so I just stood there silent, nodding. And breathing. And listening to my heartbeat. The sounds of life. I was alive. It was strange to think about, surreal and philosophical and terribly, terribly adult, cruel. Paul was dead. Gone. I remembered him as a lanky lefthander who showed me how to throw a knuckleball and hit a golf ball through the windmill on a putt-putt course. “He was in a jeep,” Mom said, “and they hit a mine in the road. The jeep
blew up. Everyone inside was killed.” I could only shake my head numbly. It didn’t seem real, and yet it was all too real. It seemed like something that happened to other people. I wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed beyond the grasp of my 11-year-old self to absorb and comprehend. Dad wasn’t the kind of guy you could hug. I don’t think he wanted a hug. “Wow,” I said finally. “Wow.” Dad waved his hand at me, which seemed like a signal to leave. I went into the kitchen and made myself a sandwich to eat, as I had planned to do, though I wasn’t hungry anymore and the food tasted flat. Then I went to my room where I lay on my back in bed, contemplating life and death, and my new school, and the Saturday Morning Fun Club. The future seemed sort of hazy right now. The future didn’t seem like it was there at all.
FERTILITY RITE VIKTORIA DAHILL ‘Your voice is beautiful,’ she said, approaching Jen from behind. It was another slow Friday, and Cassie worried about days like this. Her clinic was still young, and she couldn’t afford to have this much time between appointments. Jen was sitting in a blue wheelie chair crammed against a desk covered in papers and yellow folders, sticky notes and index cards. She had been singing with the radio. Jen hit the high notes very hard, almost as if she were beating them to death. ‘Naturally.’ Jen replied, and continued typing and clicking at the computer that sat in the middle of the explosion of papers. ‘I called Buddy’s mom,’ she added, ‘Sue’s happy everything went well.’ Cassie laughed, ‘There is no longer a sock stuck in her dog. We found a pair of underwear too.’ ‘Liar!’ Jen’s eyes crinkled with laughter. ‘Men’s or women’s?’ ‘Ladies’, they appeared to be for a special occasion.’ They both chuckled until the bell hanging from the door jingled. A petit, round woman entered. She wore only black clothing, and though a hoodie hung off of her shoulders, her black spandex pants clung to her in the July heat. She walked up to the desk with her chin jutted out, eyeliner thick. The baggy hoodie sleeves were pulled down over her hands. Cassie started to get itchy when the woman didn’t say a word. Behind this stranger crept a small black and white Pitbull terrier. ‘Can I help you?’ Jen asked. Cassie didn’t recognise the woman as one of their regulars. The parking lot was in full view through the large front windows, and she didn’t see a familiar car either. No glowing white van with caged windows to contain all of the day care dogs, and no hyper slogan about how satisfied an animal could be after a walk around the block. Cassie’s lunch turned over in her stomach, and her gut reminded her of a recent past. It felt something like biting and expressing a blood blister in the mouth. ‘Yeah,’ the woman said, ‘This is Mercy,’ She tugged the dog towards the desk, and it bowed against the lead. Cassie could see the dog was incredibly timid, and her figure was feminine,
if not slightly underweight with little muscle. Her belly hung deflated under her, and the nipples were swollen and red. ‘I want to get rid of her puppies.’ the woman said. ‘Okay,’ Jen reached for pamphlets, ‘We have many shelters, and even breed specific –‘ ‘No,’ she interrupted, ‘Get rid of them. How much will it cost if I have eight?’ Cassie stood behind the desk numb, except she could feel all the bones in her feet, and it hurt to stand. She found herself dumb; completely unable to speak. Jen only hiccupped for a moment, ‘Euthanasia for small animals is forty-five dollars per injection, and extra for processing if you want it.’ ‘So . . .’ the woman squinted as she counted in her head, and eventually she reached for her phone. ‘A little bit more than three-hundred and sixty,’ Jen offered. ‘The visit is only a nominal addition.’ Jen was all business, and she kept telling Cassie she needed to let her reason win. She needed to stop being so weak and sensitive. Cassie wanted to take her advice, and knew she wasn’t trying to sound heartless. It was supposed to make sense. Sure, they needed the money. They were a fledgling business, but killing healthy animals? Death was of man and beast, plant and animal. Everything died, but everything had a time, and this wasn’t it for the puppies. The woman agreed to the price with a heavy nod and brought the puppies in from her car. They were all asleep in a green cat carrier, the woman said. She went to lift the carrier onto the counter in front of the reception desk, and Cassie saw her struggling. ‘Here, I’ll take them.’ Cassie took the carrier and held it in one hand. ‘I’m the vet.’ She extended her other hand, though her throat was closing, ‘Cassie.’ The woman didn’t say anything, just looked at Cassie’s hand and tugged Mercy away when the dog tried to greet her. Jen called the woman over to sign papers, and Cassie was left to hold the heavy carrier. Soon this weight would all be dead. The puppies wobbled briefly, probably stirring from sleep, and Cassie scrunched forward as if she had been stabbed. Just as quickly, she straightened and told herself not to be so childish. Jen had said in the past that they could not be seen as an animal rescue centre, because they were a hospital. It was bad practice to take the animals and put them up for adoption if the owner didn’t want that. They paid for services, and it was the clinic’s job to provide them.
But, Cassie said to herself, Jen didn’t go to vet school and Jen didn’t go through what you went through to get where you are now. She felt the wound was getting deeper, and that Jen was searching for salt. 'Cassie,’ Jen said, ‘you’re all set to take them back.’ The woman in black was leaving, and Mercy lagged behind her. At least the dog was not injured. She was not covered in scabs, and her owner was not keeping and training puppies. At least Mercy wasn’t a fighting dog. The pregnancy was probably a fluke. Another wound opened in Cassie, but she was familiar with this one. Pregnancy? Never. ‘Are we really going to do it?’ Cassie asked once the woman had left. ‘She paid for it.’ ‘But we don’t have to.’ Cassie persisted, looking straight ahead. She was too numb to be confrontational, and meeting Jen’s eyes would make Cassie cry. She was bewildered, and in no mood to argue. ‘But,’ Jen waited. For what Cassie didn’t know, but her tone was patronising. ‘She paid us to do this. Otherwise she would have taken them to a shelter. Or,’ she paused again for effect, and Cassie hated it. It was as if Jen was talking to a stupid person. ‘She would have asked us to take them.’ ‘To save them,’ Cassie corrected, ‘We can still save them. They aren’t dead yet.’ ‘Don’t.’ Jen replied, and Cassie turned to her. She was frowning, and Cassie thought how stricken she looked. On the outside she was pretty, blonde, and lean. Looking at her, Cassie could feel herself hold in her stomach, hoping it would make her feel better. Jen’s blue scrubs swam around her body and left her shapeless, and her hair was tied back harshly, with bumps throughout. They must have looked the same at work, Cassie thought. No one would be concerned that Jen was the more attractive of the two. But what did that matter? Cassie wanted to think she was the nicer one. She cared, and it was genuine. She scolded herself for sounding so bitter and envious. Why did she care? They were supposed to friends. Unlike her, Jen listened to country music and said ‘opportunity’ a lot. Her daddy loved her, and she was ambitious. She never hesitated to tell Cassie she was the one with the MBA, and about debt. Just how much they would be in if this place sank. ‘I,’ Cassie began, but didn’t finish. Peter came through from the back, ‘Cat?’ he asked eying the green carrier.
‘No.’ Cassie sighed and pinched her nose between her fingers, ‘Euthanasia. They’re puppies. I haven’t had a look yet, but I’m guessing either new born or a few days old.’ ‘Oh.’ His experience was evident in his tone, but the pain was there too. Cassie was still new, so hers wasn’t as subdued as his. ‘I can.’ He began simply, looking her over with concern. ‘If you want to sit this one out.’ He reached for the carrier. ‘That won’t help me.’ She tensed, and brought the carrier against her chest, cradling it with both arms, ‘I need to just do it.’ she swallowed. ‘Cassie, you’ll be okay,’ Jen said. Cassie only shook her head and pushed the doors open. She walked down the bleak, white hallway and into the euthanasia suite that was big enough to fit a grieving family, herself or Peter, a nurse, and the equipment needed to ensure each pet had a comfortable departure. She stood in it alone for a few minutes holding the carrier over her heart. The room was too big for one person, for one humane killer, and it hurt. Cassie opened the carrier on the exam table and reached in, removing the creatures one at a time and lining them up on the table top. The puppies had round seal heads. Their ears were small and pressed against their skulls. Some of them were the same colour as their mother. They grunted like little pigs. The grunting moved their whole bodies. ‘You’re hungry.’ Cassie whispered. She was able to rub their bellies with only her index finger. A tan male puppy sucked on her finger while she opened a drawer for syringes with the other hand. It would only be too late once the needles were unwrapped, she thought, I can still save them. When was she going to turn off ‘I’m going to save them,’ and accept that she had to kill them? She counted the victims of circumstance. There were eight, as the lady had said. It came in handy that she was truthful, because Jen hadn’t bothered to check. Then again, if there had been more than eight, Cassie could have saved the extras. But she wanted to save them all. She was setting the needles into the syringes and drawing liquid out of the pentobarbital vial when her phone vibrated in her pocket. It had been so quiet before Mercy came in, and she forgot she had it on her. She looked at the text to prolong eight lives. It was Austin.
Somehow, he always knew. She slid the phone back into her pocket, and took a deep breath as if she were attempting a winter ocean dive. She felt naked, exposed. Every hurt paled in comparison. She was giving up what she loved, and just making money. Now I shall kill you softly, she closed her eyes and thought. In school she had learned to understand death and help others understand it too. Coping with it was different. ‘Ouch,’ she spoke for the puppies, and her chest pinched. The puppies sighed in pain. Then their heads drooped one at a time, as she stuck them and pushed on the plunger. Cassie imagined their journey through the clouds. If the rainbow bridge and pet heaven were real, would they forgive her? Or was it all a hoax, as she now suspected. If it was, they would not continue, and this was really the end. She named them, the words dropping from her mouth like wishes. ‘Humanity.’ she named the first, as she stuck it. She thought she was compassionate. ‘Benevolence.’ the second. She thought she was kind-hearted. ‘Spike.’ And she almost smiled at the third, but she could feel her tears cooling her face. She had had a book of baby names once upon a time, but she would never use it. Their tight little bodies went slack in her fist, and there was a sudden give to their lifeless flesh. Cassie loosened her grip shakily. She didn’t want to crush them, even if they were dead. The bodies went into a clear bag used for IV fluid. Rudolph was the last puppy. Unlike the others, he was missing pigment in his nose, and it was an irritated pink. Cassie settled them into the bag and lifted. The biohazardous waste collectors only came twice a week, so they would sit in a freezer for three days. * She woke up against his Adam’s apple. She was breathing at his throat. The night before the moon was on his back from through the window. It was watching her, and she had cupped his face with the intent of saying something along the lines of, ‘I love you.’ But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead she wondered if he noticed the excess of her belly, or later the cellulite on her ass.
It crossed her mind as she touched his shoulders that Jen had no idea where she was, or that she was still doing this. Cassie was all too familiar with Austin and his home. The smell of coffee and liquorice that dominated his house. The cocoon of his duvet around her, and the light damp on her skin after their night together. In truth she felt like an intruder. Every once in a while she swung back to him. She recognised things in her life again, and then they lost touch. She didn’t even know enough about his life to understand what was going on between them. Austin stirred and exhaled without saying anything. Cassie was the first to smile. He had stayed here, and got that great job doing what he loved. The problem was, they weren’t together, and she wasn’t sure why he hadn’t gone back to Texas. ‘Looks like I have a beautiful woman in my bed,’ he mumbled, ‘I didn’t expect this kind of pick-me-up before I had my coffee.’ ‘I hate you,’ she replied gently, and leaned her head into his chest, smothering her voice. How could he think this when she was short and a little chubby? Her face was round, and she certainly wasn’t beautiful. When she looked in the mirror, her eyes were always tired and bloodshot, and she never wore makeup, making her skin pale with blue veins bubbling up under it. He shifted and pulled the covers over her shoulders, ‘So you’re decent,’ he smirked. Not that it mattered, she thought, he’s already seen all of me. Austin on the other hand, was attractive. She always stopped at his strong jaw. Apparently he had liked her first, which she didn’t understand. He had been an intelligent twenty-five-year-old doing a second bachelors degree when they met in college. She had been a bumbling, depressed, fat idiot. ‘You better?’ he asked. No, she wasn’t really. She had killed eight puppies yesterday. After Jen confronted her about crying she had exploded, saying she couldn’t do it. Only, she hadn’t been that articulate. She sobbed something along the lines of, ‘You need to get your head out of your ass,’ before she stormed out, and ignored Jen’s phone calls. She left work shaky, teary, and answered Austin’s text message with a call. A few whiskey and cokes later, she reacquainted her mouth with his. After all their efforts to be friends, and only friends. He gushed a bit about liking her a lot. She was so beautiful. Etcetera. She went home with him desperate for some tenderness. She was a murderer, and she needed someone to kiss it better. Cassie changed the subject, ‘I’m so sorry.’ You must be seeing someone else. ‘I just needed someone.’ She began to cry. He drew her closer, ‘You’re not okay.’
‘No,’ she shook her head against him trying to steady her breathing. She wanted to hide herself like this forever. Austin was the only one who needed to see her face. He hushed her and ran his hand down her back. ‘I’m starting to hate my job and resent my best friend,’ she hiccupped and wiped her face. ‘Jen can be very difficult. Remember, I have lived with her too. But you are around each other twenty-four seven. I don’t know how you’ve survived.’ She laughed, but searched his face desperately for answers. He made eye contact, and it looked confident. There was something about Jen that he wasn’t telling her. It was the same back then, in college. Maybe it was over now? ‘That’s better,’ he said, and touched her cheek. Wasn’t he wonderful? She thought suddenly. His skin was a caramel colour, somewhere in between his father and his mother, Texan farmers. A world Cassie only knew briefly when they were dating. Austin had wanted marriage and a family; she had been too scared to tell him that she couldn’t. Austin’s curtains hid what Cassie believed would be a lovely, hopefully temperate Saturday morning. The sun tickled the walls and floor through the fabric. Perhaps they could share a walk? A cup of coffee? More than a bed and two bodies. He drew her attention back and said something just for her. She trusted him, and without a racing mind, her body went slack. His touch was like the warm fuzz of being cut with a dull knife. She knew she would remember where he had been, as if he left damage behind. Don’t pity yourself, his passion said. Maybe she could forgive herself for the puppies? She should forgive Jen. Perhaps she was taking advantage of Austin? There was still a chance he could love her They showered together and Cassie appreciated every minute. Every inch was a mile. Austin was so preoccupied with her. It was almost a babying, and Cassie knew it was kind-hearted. When they were younger, he wouldn’t let her walk to class alone. He tutored her in math, and told her about the land that existed beyond the elite coastline that she had lived on her entire life. That one trip he had taken her on to Texas, to his family farm in El Paso, made her feel terribly out of place. Why was he still so kind to her? Did the generosity suggest he wanted something back? She couldn’t give it to him. He should know, but she hadn’t told him yet.
The walk that followed was unpromising. Fitchburg was not a pretty place. There were no small businesses, only extinguished neon lights that belonged to brand signs. They looked even uglier in the daytime, unlit and dripping with bird waste and feathers.
CONTRIBUTORS Christopher Walker is a writer and English teacher based in the south of Poland. His work has appeared in numerous literary journals, such as The Paragon Journal and Scrittura, and a number of anthologies. His travel writing won the prestigious 'Just Back' award with the Telegraph newspaper in the UK. More details about his writing can be found at www.closelyobserved.com Viktoria Dahill recently finished an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University in the United Kingdom. She lives in Cirencester, Gloucestershire UK, having originally been from Boston in Massachusetts. When she is not writing, she enjoys reading Jodi Picoult and taking long, country walks. Josh Wildie is an award-winning writer from Queensland, Australia. He has a Master of Professional Practice (Creative Writing) from the University of the Sunshine Coast. Among other places, his writing can be found in Idiom 23, Field of Words, Seizure Online and the Hunter Writer's Centre's Grieve Project Anthology. Steven McBrearty has published more than 35 short stories and humor pieces over the years. A collection of his short stories, "The Latin Sub - Impure Thoughts, and One Man's Definition of Mortal Sin," is due to be published in November by Adelaide Books. A previous collection, "Christmas Day on a City Bus," was published by Kinney Press in 2011. Victoria Johnson is a graduate fiction student at Sarah Lawrence College. Aside from writing, she likes to sing, play guitar, read, and sleep. She is originally from Arizona, but currently lives north of NYC with her girlfriend and their tiny succulent plant.
The Nabu Review is an online biannual fiction magazine that publishes five to ten authors per issue.