The Sonder R eview
A publication of art, short fiction and creative nonfiction
Founder/Executive Editor | Elena M. Stiehler Assistant Editor | Lexi Castiglione Assistant Editor | Kathy Kurz Cover Art | 'High Altitude' by Norma Alonzo
All rights reserved. The Sonder Review retains First North American Serial Rights of all published fiction and nonfiction. No aspect of this publication my be reproduced, in part or in whole, without the explicit permission of the editors. Issue 1 0 | Summer 201 8 1
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own â€“ an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that youâ€™ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
'The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.' MMark Twain
From the Editor | Elena M. Stiehler
'Wildflowers' | Stephanie Austin
'Freddy and Lu at the Laundromat' | Pete Levine 'Coconuts' | Hannah Lackoff
20 31 44
'Disposition of the Domes' | Bim Angst
'Grounding' | A.E. Tippin
37 40 9 & 55
'Being the Responsible One' | Julia Ponder 'Footsteps, Heartbeat, Fire, Voice' | Naomi Kimbell 'Something Like a Season' & 'Climbing Old Rag Mountain' | Travis Truax
'Bakers' | Tracy Pitts
'Flowers for the Reds' & 'Victory Bouquet' | AnnMarie Brown 'Vibrancy' | Jess Wong 'Almost Blue' & 'New Mexico' | Norma Alonzo 'Etude with Aquamarine' | Bette Ridge 'Mirrored Facade Reflects Urban Abstract' | William Crawford 'Viridian Sea' | Judith Skillman
36 8 & 30 43 1 9 & 54 48 39 13
From the Editor
| Elena M. Stiehler
This, the tenth iteration of our humble publication, is an issue as short and striking as many of the pieces found within its pages. Each time I sit down to curate an issue, I don’t do it with a specific page length, or number of pieces in mind. I want each issue of to evolve organically, to take its own shape without expectation or constraint. If the prose is extraordinary, the content transformative, the voice one we just can’t let go, we will never turn it away. Behind or ahead in the submission queue, twenty pieces or five, I want each issue to take its own shape; discover its own voice. Issue ten is no exception. This slender volume is filled with nine vibrant, honest, deliberate works. Above all stands for writing which slips beneath the skin; worms its way to the bone and takes hold. Each piece found here filled our hearts, stoked some primal fire, and wouldn’t let go. ‘Grounding’ revisits missed connections, while ‘Wildflowers’ explores the idea of perception. In ‘Something Like a Season’ and ‘Climbing Old Rag Mountain,’ nature and the narrator merge. An old man finds peace within an apathetic universe in ‘Disposition of the Domes,’ and in ‘Footsteps, Heartbeat, Fire, Voice,’ a woman seeks to rectify her mother with her stories. ‘Freddy and Lu at the Laundromat’ challenges what it is to love and in ‘Being the Responsible One,’ we see the toll of a life taken. Finally, ‘Coconuts’ chronicles two young boys’ first foray into the illicit. Every issue of is a testament to the incredible, talented authors we have the privilege of working with. Without their trust in us, without the
support of our readers and community, this wonderful, wild ride wouldnâ€™t exist. We want to thank you all, as always, from the bottom of our hearts for continuing along this journey with us. I hope you find yourself in these pages. Until we meet again, Elena
Something Like a Season
| Travis Truax
. MAnn Daum,
I. Words Take hers, for example. That South Dakotan with her horseloving heart. With so much cradled in a paragraph or two. A whole prairie called up and passed from her eyes to mine. The lazy deer browsing the alfalfa. The killdeer call. That land. That sky. I could read the whole story aloud. Trace the long line between her and here. From her saddlesore neighbors to where the mountains hold me. October. Free of summerâ€™s dry hands, the mountains are splashed here and there with a cupful of color. Fallen leaves fill the creek beds. Cottonwood. Birch. Aspen.
I put her book down, steady my eyes out the kitchen window. Silence is the backyard clothesline: words pinned up in the sun, drying the way a notebook doesMfrom rainsopped and limp to stiff as a barn doorMif saved, if pulled from the weather to a readerâ€™s glossy eyes. The words still stand straight. Still tug. Still press themselves against your heart. There are people who stay, she says, and those who go. 9
Those who stay bed down for each season. Stutter and spin across January roads. Snowshoe the kneedeep trails. Those who stay walk the White River in June, knowing the word home is not a trail or ridgeline to visit, but the steady, breathing space around them. Those who stay know the simple act of growing up in one place, a lifetime in one town. A rucksack stuffed with stories that have always been. But hometowns forget the ones who go. The girl who disappeared to Denver one summer. The quarterback who left for Boise. The kid who found the ocean and hasn’t been seen since. And when they returnMfor Christmas, for summerMthe land looks at them with its head askew. Asks, ‘Where have you been?’ Says, ‘Tell me your name again.’ Thank you for your words. For passing along to me your prairie. Your comings and goings. The shadow of a saddled mare. Your unrelenting heart for the land that bore you. It must be something. To know a sky the same way a yucca plant knows the dirt. The same way tallgrass knows the ground. Yes, you know where you are from.
II. People They come. They go. Something like a season. But more like an old story, freshened up and shared, retold again and again: tethered to a past steadily stretching west. Like the pond’s hollow dark. Like believing a town could stay the way it was. Like trusting thin ice. November 201 4. I am running around the country, quietly looking for people I used to know in places they used to live. Greeley, Colorado, on a Sunday. The space between campus buildings is full of cold, tough wind. The thatched contours of three years, the soft collage of prairie roads. No one remembers my face. No one shows me the bridge across the Platte or the art space downtown. No one shows me home. 10
But this is where the road has pointed. The past as sharp as ever. Along damp riverfronts, young cottonwoods have grown. Greeley: a town named for a man who promised young men new lives out west. I am running behind their legend. I am trying forgiveness for places that release the people I love.
III. Places Northern Virginia: red and gold and cold brown rivers moving through mountains. Dawn and the casual splash of color, foliage wracked by colder weather and shorter days. I drove here. But I was born here, too. I have come back now to see my mom, her small porch and the lamplight on. It takes this muchMall of Arkansas and TennesseeMto see her. It takes leaving Oklahoma. Gathering my things and going, sliding east against the sunrise, crawling Appalachia by night, to find her at the front door of a little house crammed with leafpiles of the past. Sunlight leans up and over the rolls and folds of Shenandoah, and I am there. An image. A glance. A single memory threaded through the years: The view from Buzzard’s RockMlast time I was hereMand the tourist heart of someone who abandoned home years ago. That’s what I recall. That’s what I carry. And it’s true: I left here when I was twelve. Hauled west like a pioneer for 11
the southern plains and my dadâ€™s new job. Iâ€™m a tourist in my own hometown. Lost to the people. Lost to the valley. The kid I was still roams these hills. With baseball and soccer fields he loved. With creeks he crossed. With rusted swings and slides that barely stood. Each hill. Each foggy gap. Each piece of the place that bore himMstill alive and well around him. Iâ€™ve circled back and circled back, empty handed. But the kid has lasted. His hobo dreams. Snacks and life on the end of a stick. His love of rivers. These old, old mountains.
Disposition of the Domes
| Bim Angst
Someone shot Polaroids, the camera new at a time the family does not yet see as fortunate. Among the grey shots dated July, 1 953 are images of a sallow Laszlo Putavich bending to tend spindly tomato plants, a sleeveless undershirt thin around the patriarch’s middle. In the distance, the dark, threebarred crosses atop the dual domes of Saint Michael's rise against a grey sky, and it is impossible to tell, even on a clear day, whether the domes will prove blue or gold, fade or gleam. Laszlo's trousers bag at the knees, hanging from the cinch of a dark belt, buckle slid to the side. His belly lacks the solidity of a prosperous man’s gut. The whole of him is soft with water. His barrel chest droops. The bones of his wrists have turned spongy, his fingers swelled like boiled sausages. His eyelids and jowls puff. A thickwaisted woman hovers behind Laszlo Putavich. She wears a clean butcher’s apron over a fashionless shortsleeved dress in an indeterminate print. Her dark hair is netted in a bun at her neck. Her ankles swell over heavy, laced shoes. Her hands blur in a dishtowel. Her mouth scars her broad face. Around her, small children lift their hands. These children hang back from Laszlo, afraid to touch or to be touched. Laszlo who, gazing into the sky, is thinking: Blue or Gold? To press back into the flesh of sky or shine like a flame toward heaven. What matter? Laszlo Putavich is tired of the interminable fight. The men would decide without him. Laszlo would instead take the hand of this aproned woman with whom he had spent all that he could touch of his life. Behind his teeth rests the warm weight of her name, but Laszlo cannot find the muscle of his tongue to make its shape. Laszlo Putavich is dying and knows it. His family does not. They pass the camera, squinting in the sun. The men’s ties are loosened and their sleeves rolled. The younger women’s teeth blaze against dark lipstick, eyes smiling behind the short veils of Sunday hats, their ankles slim above stack heels. The word comes to him. Laszlo feels his heart swell, his belly warm around this measure. Laszlo’s 14
grandchildrenMhow many?Mrun barefoot wearing rompers and sunsuits. In the greyed background, other families stand in narrow yards sequenced precisely up the steep hill. Laszlo Putavich has lost his feet, is carried to the kitchen daybed, over which the breeze brings a toosweet scent of grapes. The daughters fill the small kitchen. Each time he takes a tortured breath, their perfumes burn his nose. Laszlo Putavich’s women have removed their hats. They have tied on starched aprons. The hands of Laszlo Putavich’s women grip spoons stirred into the pots on Laszlo Putavich’s stove. A meal like any other Sunday. A hand with painted nails opens the iron stove. The lacquered tips wield a poker that shuffles coals. Laszlo hears the latch catch. Women’s hands open his icebox, spoon vinegar beets and eggs into a pink glass bowl. He catches the scent of cabbage, tomato, and meat: halupki. His nostrils quicken to the vapors of butter beans, onions, and kraut: zaprashka. Though Laszlo’s nose fills, his mouth does not water. Laszlo Putavich’s daughters’ voices fill his ears with a high pitched din. These daughters, he knows, are speaking words, but he is losing his English. A daughter eases his whitesocked feet to the side and sits on his cot. Her mouth moves but he cannot distinguish her voice. Another daughter strokes back his oiled hair with a cool palm. He hears as she kisses his forehead. Is her hair brushing his chin? Laszlo Putavich’s women bustle beyond him, platters in their hands. He tastes each daughter’s scent as she passes. He swallows to keep his stomach down, yet he cannot keep from reaching out. And then the daughter at his feet is gone. The high voices move away. The voice of a man solemnizes. Laszlo closes his eyes: Many voices mingle with the faraway tinkling of something like chimes. Laszlo Putavich wakes with the sense he should be alarmed. Something burning through the open window. The creak of a large spring, the slap of a wooden door. Footsteps on broad, flat heels. The burning has come closer. Laszlo smells tobacco in the fading smoke. The scrape of a metal chair across linoleum. A large hand warm on his arm. Laszlo lifts two heavy fingers. Why will his eyes not open? One eyelid moves. Laszlo sees light. He sees the black grid of an iron heatgrate overhead. Laszlo Putavich feels breath on the lobe of his ear. 15
What should I do, Pop? This, Laszlo understands, is Dutch Johnny, the weak husband Laszlo Putavich recognizes himself also to be. Laszlo has not now nor ever had the heart to place the red print of his hand on the white cheek of wife or daughter. For this, some say, he deserves the headstrong women he got. Kiss her, Laszlo wants to say. If she will let you, touch her. Place your hands and mouth everywhere on her. Chase her with your stick pointed as if you have only now discovered her. Pop, you’re not making sense. A palm, warm and dry, rests on Laszlo’s head. Laszlo sends his thoughts into the warm weight resting on his forehead. His eyelids flutter and close. The daybed bearing Laszlo Putavich has been moved to the dark middle room. A fan clatters in the small, sunless window. A wet hankie lies over Laszlo’s face. He feels the heaviness of his chest, hears his straining breath, as at the bottom of a deep canyon, a river roiling over rock, and knows himself to be yet alive. ‘Listen to that,’ says one daughter. ‘It’s black lung. You can call the doctor, but it won’t do any good.’ ‘To the hospital then?’ says another. ‘It’s ten miles.’ Laszlo Putavich smelled coffee. ‘We could lay him in the back seat of the Plymouth.’ ‘But what could they even do?’ Spoons plink on china. ‘And who would pay? You? Even the miners’ hospital isn’t free. He’ll need xrays, medicine. That will cost. And it won’t do any good.’ ‘His lungs are filled up with pneumonia.’ ‘It’s either too late or it will pass.’ The voices of Laszlo Putavich’s women continue. He can no longer distinguish one from another, but they are around him, wife, daughters, flesh of his flesh. The voices make the week's list for the farmer, milkman, butcher. There will be, he thinks, the insurance. ‘Order for the visitors?’ his daughters ask.
Laszlo Putavich smells ducks. Who has brought ducks into his home? He feels himself rolled to one side, a hand on his ribs keeping him from rolling back. Two more hands raise and hold his head. Laszlo feels himself suspended. Again, he hears the river rattle of his breath far away at the bottom of the canyon. ‘Mama bring new pillows. He’s soaked through the bed linens.’ Held by wrist and ankle, his limbs are lifted. He feels the scrubbing of a rag and smells soap. And though Laszlo Putavich listens, he does not hear the river. ‘Cover him with the sheet.’ Over his skin, a breeze. Laszlo soils himself in the moment he finally sees the canyon river, stilled in a dark pool. The odor is of shit, yet Laszlo Putavich perceives the fragrance of fiddlehead, stream and moss. Having wiped up the muck, four of Laszlo Putavich’s women hold his naked body aloft while two strip and turn the mattress, which will be burned. Eight hands wash him with the same strokes others use to polish furniture and then rest his body on a clean sheet. Kneeling bedside, Father Yspecky prays. In Laszlo Putavich’s yard, surrounded by his small garden, his women hang his one suit, just as they hung the lace tablecloth. Laszlo’s black suitcoat is swatted with a dishtowel until the dust ceases to rise from its sagging shoulders and his matching trousers are shaken with the same snapping pop the napkins take. All this, the neighbors see, is as it should be. One of Laszlo Putavich’s women dips a brush into a bowl of starch, dabs, and sets an iron hissing to the collar of Laszlo’s good white shirt. This shirt is passed from the kitchen to the middle room, where Laszlo, set sitting by two of his women, is placed into it, his jowls held by one set of hands while another buttons the stiff, stillwarm collar. His one tie, blue, is knotted around his neck. The collar is turned down and his jowls are allowed to drop. Before he is laid back upon the sheet, Laszlo’s arms receive the sleeves of his black coat. Laszlo Putavich’s women see no need to vest him with the voluminous white cotton shorts over which he has drawn his pants for 17
forty years. Having polished his shoes, they slide them onto his feet over a pair of new white socks and tie the laces loosely. One oils his hair and pulls the metal comb fronttoback. Laszlo Putavich’s daughters watched their mother set his hands rightoverleft above his navel and the black buttons of the toobig suit. All this in one day. And then Laszlo Putavich’s women leave him. While his body cools on the cot on which he has slept many years, his women prepare, resuming individual task¬s––the wiping of knife and plate, the hanging of curtains, the starching of antimacassars. They think of the future, and the dust of paternal duty dispersing as quickly as the dirt they beat from their threadbare rugs. Blue or gold, no matter, from the ground, Saint Michael's threebarred crosses pierce the sky.
| Stephanie Austin
A tall, longarmed man with massive splotches of freckles sticks his head out at Cassie through a crack in the door. ‘Run for your life,’ he says. She doesn’t recognize him. He must be someone’s boyfriend. Or husband. Or baby giraffe. Cassie turns to Rob, her boyfriendMwho is, ok, still angry with herMand looks back at the man in the door. ‘Just kidding. Come in. You’re at the right party,’ he says, opening the door wide. ‘Booze is in the kitchen.’ They walk through the front door into the foyer. Photos line the entryway. Familial perfection. Happiness smack in your face. Rob has his back to her. She thinks about apologizingMit was out of line what she said in the carMbut the way he’s icing her out pisses her off. Well, fuck him. Sorry he can’t take a joke. They’re directed to throw their coats and bags into the back bedroom. Rob opens the door, tosses his own stuff on the bed, and without eye contact moves past her towards the kitchen. Cassie arranges her coat and purse so they’re not touching his. She takes the bottle of wine they brought with her into the kitchen and sets it on the counter with the 1 8 other bottles of wine. The others look more expensive. She tucks hers in the back. Red solo cups line the table like it’s a college frat party and not a professional mixer inside the boss’s home. One of the executive assistants enters the kitchen. ‘Glad you made it,’ she says. ‘Let’s get you a drink. Screwdriver?’ Cassie nods. The woman wiggles her pudgy finger like Cassie is so precious she just can’t believe it. ‘I thought so.’ Cassie stares at the ring on the woman’s left hand as she pours two shots of vodka into a cup then fills it with orange juice. Diamond, 20
princess cut. Beautiful. Cassie and Rob have lived together for three years. In two months, Cassie will turn thirty. Two of her friends are already married. Another is engaged. Cassie sips her drink. ‘Great boots,’ the woman says to Cassie after handing her the drink. ‘Thanks,’ Cassie says. Rob walks in. He begins to approach Cassie, but she crosses her arms. Rob shakes his head, like she’s a puzzle he’s giving up on, and opens a beer. The new intern and another girl who must be her friend walk in and make for the red Solo cups. Their youth clings to them. Cassie remembers her mother standing in their kitchen, some sunny morning weeks after her father had left them, holding her hands out in the light of the kitchen window. ‘Never get old,’ she said to Cassie. Cassie moves outside. The early spring air has lost its fight against winter. Those standing or sitting out here reach for their sweaters. The baby giraffe has a halfcircle of coworkers around him, rapt. He makes a wide gesture with his arm and people nod and smile and a few laugh out loud. Cassie edges closer to the group to hear what he’s saying but apparently the joke’s over. Cassie brushes off a maroon and white striped cushion with her hand, but there’s no dirt. Pristine patio furniture. How posh. She sits. Cassie watches the new guy from Accounting as he stands at the edge of the patio, posturing over the rose bushes. ‘Those roses are pretty, aren’t they?’ she says to him. He turns at the sound of her voice and smiles. ‘They are.’ ‘Wildflowers are my jam, but roses are cool,’ she says. ‘You’re Jacob, right? The new guy?’ ‘That’s me,’ he says. ‘I’m Cassie.’ She stands and extends her hand. Jacob returns a solid handshake. Very solid. That’s cool. The man shouldn’t hold back just because he’s offered a feminine hand. ‘Cassie,’ he says. ‘Cassie R.?’ ‘That’s me,’ she says. ‘I read your reports.’ He smiles again at her. She blushes and sits. He sits next to her without asking. She scoots over. Jacob’s eyes are an absurdly deep blue. He has brown hair and a wellsculpted beard. He looks like a logger who’s writing a screenplay and drinks black coffee out of a dented thermos while actually 21
chopping wood out in the forest. And he’s young. Probably not more than twentyfive. Youth clings to him, too. Jacob looks in her cup. ‘You need another.’ ‘I shouldn’t,’ she says. ‘This is a work party.’ He takes her cup out of her hand. ‘I think you’ll be ok. I’ll get you one. I have to go in anyway.’ ‘My mom told me to never let strange men bring me drinks,’ Cassie says. Jacob doesn’t smile. ‘You think I’m going to roofie you?’ ‘No. No of course not,’ she says. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.’ Then Jacob laughs. She laughs, too. It’s a little bit fun, right? He’s being flirty. She’s being flirty. No harm. She’ll be home tonight with Rob. They’ll get over their fight. New guys are nice reminders. She turns the Solo cup around in her hand. This is like college, like when she was young and guys looked at her in a way that meant something. Jacob returns with a full drink. It’s darker than the one she had. ‘Cheers to awkward work parties,’ he says. ‘Cheers,’ she says. They tap cups. Jacob drinks. Cassie lifts her cup but the strong smell of alcohol stops her. ‘Is this whiskey?’ she asks. The drink she had earlier mostly juice with a splash of booze. This was a splash of juice and all booze. ‘So how long have been you been at RyTech?’ Jacob asks. ‘Oh, uh, almost two years,’ Cassie says. ‘I started at the front desk. Now I’m back office. Woohoo. Moving up in the world. How about you? Where were you before this?’ Jacob looks out at the yard, then takes a drink. Cassie sips from the cup Jacob brought her. Strong. Wow. Very strong. ‘It doesn’t matter.’ ‘Everything matters.’ Jacob runs his hands through his hair. ‘You’re inquisitive.’ Funny word. Cassie takes a long pull from her cup because she doesn’t know what else to do. ‘These cups make me feel like I’m at a frat party.’ Jacob leans over to get something out of his pocket. He tilts 22
toward her, his shoulder butting up against hers. She has to adjust her body. He straightens and opens his palm to reveal a single, perfectly rolled joint. She hasn’t seen a joint since college. Jacob’s hands are rougher than what you’d expect from a guy who works in an office. He has dirt under his fingernails. ‘Oh shit,’ she says. The alcohol just made it to her head. The scene slows. He closes his palm. ‘Wanna smoke it?’ he asks. She glances inside. No sign of Rob. She takes another long drink. ‘We can’t smoke that here,’ she says. ‘Let’s take a walk,’ he says. ‘Give me a minute,’ she says. ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’ Inside, the warmth of the house hits her. She didn’t realize how cold she’d been. Rob must wonder where she is. She sets her now empty cup on the counter and works her way through the people and their spouses. Soundbites filter around her. . No sign of Rob. Guy from the 3rd floor, who she sees on the elevator all the time, walks out of the bathroom. He smiles at her. She smiles back. She walks in. He steps out. This is what happens between them every single day. She pees fast but it’s enough time for the guilt to set in. When she’s finished, she laps the party to look for Rob. She’ll suggest they get out of here. Go home together. She’ll make it into a sexy thing maybe, like he picked her up at the party, like she’s a stranger out for a onenight stand. She finds him in the living room sitting on the couch next to the intern. He laughs. The intern laughs. Cassie walks in the direction of the bedroom, gets her jacket, and goes outside to find Jacob. Outside, it’s the golden hour. The sunset brushes against the tip of every tree ahead of them. They walk down the middle of the road, cars lining the street on both sides. Eager, Cassie turns to Jacob. ‘Let’s fire it up.’ Jacob turns and looks back at the house. He points. ‘Someone could still see us.’ 23
‘It’s totally fine,’ she says. ‘You were the one concerned,’ Jacob says. ‘Let’s go out
Jacob walks with his hands behind his back like he’s out for a casual stroll instead of a covert op. They pass a few big houses, then the houses get smaller. Up ahead, there’s a tree line. Damn it. She has to pee again. ‘Let’s go up there,’ she says. ‘We’ll hide behind a tree like teenagers.’ ‘Like teenagers?’ Jacob says. ‘Yeah, weren’t you a teenager who did things behind trees?’ He smiles. ‘I suppose so.’ Street lights pop on. Cassie realizes they’re standing at the back edge of Sloan Cemetery, one of two cemeteries in town. The older one. Used to be way far out, but development has brought it closer. It’s quiet out here, and pretty. Maybe that’s the draw. Jacob takes her elbow, which is unexpected, and leads her toward the trees. The shift from pavement to earth is soothing, and the coolness of the grass reaches through her jeans. She hears rustling. ‘Listen,’ she says. She stops. Jacob stops, too, but then pushes her along. ‘It’s nothing. Probably an animal.’ ‘Or a ghost,’ she says. ‘Ghosts don’t make noise,’ he says. He seems satisfied when he finds a large oak just inside the cemetery. He leans against the massive tree and lights the joint. She pauses and watches him exhale. He offers her a drag. She takes it, breathes it in, and doubles over, choking. ‘Oh my God,’ she says, trying to catch her breath. ‘It’s been like a super long time since I smoked pot.’ She wipes tears out from under her eyes. Jacob takes another hit. He calmly inhales, exhales. Cassie takes another hit. This one is easier. She leans against the tree next to him and enjoys the way her body goes soft, her mind mushes. Jacob smells musky, damp. The alcohol started it. The pot sealed it. ‘There are so many people here,’ she says, pointing to the cemetery. ‘Oh my god, I’m high.’ 24
‘We should go see them,’ he says. He sounds like an elephant, Cassie thinks, then laughs, because the word elephant in her head is fucking awesome. Elephant. Elephant. She doubles over she starts laughing so hardMGod bless you, pot is for real fun. But Jacob stands idle. Stoic. She rights herself. Buzzkill. Jacob smiles at her and takes another hit. They walk into the cemetery. With each step, the need to pee intensifies. The pressure in her bladder builds. Jacob hasn’t said a word. He walks close to Cassie. She’s so goddamn high. Too high. But this is an adventure, right? She wanted to do something different tonight, and now look at her. Cassie’s legs twitch. She needs to move. Circulate the blood. Forget about the need to pee. Can you walk off pot? She can’t remember. The air starts to bite. They walk and walk. Grave after grave, some of them dating back to the 1 920s. ‘All these people are dead,’ Jacob says suddenly, ‘but they used to walk around just like us. And we’ll die, too.’ ‘That’s morbid,’ Cassie says. ‘It’s reality. Everyone dies.’ Jacob stops. He points. ‘Look,’ he says. The marble headstone in front of them has an angel perched over the top. Expensive. Two names and two birth dates are carved in, a man and a woman with the same name. Only the woman’s name has a death date. Cassie nods to be polite even though she doesn’t know what he wants her to see. She glances over her shoulder. They are alone. ‘Your wildflowers,’ Jacob says. Purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers sit in front of the woman’s grave spilling from a small vase. They’re fresh. Cassie pauses. Standing still, she feels like she’s losing her balance. She starts to put out her hands, which Jacob seems keen to take. Now, he holds her hand and she realizes that she doesn’t want him to. She begins to walk again, but he doesn’t let go. She says, ‘My hands are so cold,’ so maybe he’ll let her go, so maybe she can put her hands in her pockets, but he holds them tighter. Headstones rise then retreat. The dark is complete. ‘We should probably go back,’ she says. ‘I’m freezing.’ Jacob interprets this as an invitation. He puts his arm around her and pulls her close to him. 25
‘Getting cold, hon?’ he asks. Cassie stiffens. She needs to pee so bad it hurts. ‘I’m ok, actually,’ she says. ‘But I really think we should go back. It’s late. My boyfriend’s probably wondering where I am.’ Jacob breathes into her ear, ‘You think I’m going to believe you care about your boyfriend when you walked off into the woods with another guy?’ Cassie holds her arms in tighter, like the mere clenching of her body will deter him. It does not. ‘The best way to warm up, really, is body heat. Skin to skin.’ Jacob holds her like she might blow away. ‘I like that you came out here with me.’ The crunching of dirt under their shoes is the only sound. Cassie searches for a response but she feels like she’s wading through mud. Jacob snakes his hand around her waist. His fingers skim the top of her jeans. Out of reflex, she twists away from him. He twists with her, like it’s a game. He puts both hands around her waist and leans toward her. ‘I’m going to pee my pants,’ she says. Jacob stops. This is acceptable. ‘Just go behind the trees,’ he says. She crosses her legs. ‘Doesn’t look like you can wait,’ he says. Her body screams at her. You’ve made a mistake. You’ve fucked up so bad it’s ridiculous. She feels like she’s going to cry. She bites her lip. With a kind of heaviness she’s never felt before, Cassie turns her back to Jacob and walks toward one of the larger trees. Her body is her bladder. It’s all she feels. Her head is disconnected from her organs, and her legs are someone else’s legs, and she remembers something she heard Oprah say once: that if you get kidnapped, you’re not supposed to let them move you. You’re supposed to stay where you are. Her hands shake. She wants to turn to see if he’s followed her but she can’t. The body wins. She pushes her hands into the rough bark to wake them. She unbuttons her jeans and pulls them down along with her underwear. Cassie shivers. She watches a big brown bug scuttle in front of her. A test dribble hits the ground and splashes her boot. She scoots back, takes a wider squat, hard to do because the jeans, and offers her body a full release. God, this feeling of relief. This feeling could be sold. This 26
feeling takes away all other feeling and she forgets where she is. When she’s finished, Cassie thinks, she’ll just insist they go back. Her wits will come back now she’s not distracted anymore. I have to go homeMshe’ll say. Home with RobMshe’ll use his name. A flash then a thud behind her. She cries out, turns and loses her balance falling back on her bare butt. The last of her pee lands on her jeans. She catches the blur of a bushy tail running away from her. A light hits her in the eyes, and she puts her hand up to shield them. ‘Cassie,’ Jacob says. He stands over her using the flashlight feature on his cell phone. She’s still on the ground, pants down around her ankles, hands coated in dirt and ground debris. She covers herself and looks away from the light, blinking to get rid of the violent white splotches. ‘I heard a noise,’ he says. An animal. Her mouth opens. She hears her own voice in her head and isn’t sure if she said it out loud. Don’t let them move you. Cassie turns away from him and hurries to stand up, still light blind. She wipes her hands off on her jeans and buttons her pants. The sound was just an animal. Her heart is fear. ‘Cassie,’ he says again, like a command. She thinks she shakes her head no but isn’t sure. Her brain sends correct signals. Run. Scream. Nothing happens. She is asleep but awake. He takes a step toward her, and this is the cue. She turns. She runs back through the cemetery. She can’t hear anything beyond a in her ears: the sound of her blood screaming. She runs back past the oak, back onto the street, back uphill for what feels like years. When she sees the line of cars in the street, she knows she’s made it back to the party and she finally slows. Her head hurts like a hangover setting in early. She gulps air to make her lungs stop burning. She puts her hands on the first car she sees, a gray Mazda, something solid. She pats it. She walks up the line, touching the cars, lingering for a moment to breathe, rationalize, breathe, rationalize, she’s ok, she’s alive, of course she’s alive. She reaches her own car and comes to a complete stop, leans against it. Cassie puts her hands to her heart and leans over the hood. She thinks she might throw up. Everything calm. Everything calm down. She straightens. He’s not chasing her. He didn’t chase her. He came over to help her because she screamed. She rubs her temples. He thought she needed help. This is why she stopped smoking pot after college. It made her so fucking paranoid. 27
She bends down and looks in her side mirror. Dirt smudges her face. Her jeans are dirty. She smells like pee. She’s such a fool, God, she’ll never be able to look at Rob again. She walks back up to the house. The front door is open. She slides in and gets to the bathroom before anyone can see her. In the bathroom, a vanilla candle burns. Her hands are still shaky. Cassie turns on the faucet then takes a hand towel, wets it, and holds it to her forehead, then to each cheek. She rummages through the medicine cabinet until she finds toothpaste. It’s a small tube, like a travel size, but it works. She puts some on her finger and brushes her teeth. She washes her hands again. She folds the towel, dirtstreaked, and hangs it clean side out. She puts lotion on her hands and behind her ears. Her jeans are dirty but her coat will cover most of it. Someone knocks on the door. Her eyes are red. She rummages back through the medicine cabinet. No eye drops. ‘Just a minute,’ she says. The knock again. She flushes the toilet and walks out, running into the young intern who wobbles into the bathroom. She gets their things out of the bedroom and puts on her coat. She walks the party looking for Rob. He’s on the couch. Alone. He stands. ‘Hey. What happened to you?’ ‘What? Nothing. Are you ready to go?’ The party has grown. People fill the house. ‘I’ve been ready to go for a while. I couldn’t find you.’ ‘I went for a walk. Sorry. Got overwhelmed. Let’s go. Here, I got your stuff.’ He puts his arm around her. ‘I’m sorry. I know I upset you.’ She forgot. Right. ‘It’s ok,’ she says. Rob picks up her hand and squeezes it. She squeezes back. They’re almost to the line of cars when a figure approaches. Jacob. Cassie almost jerks away. She’s so embarrassed. She fights the urge pull Rob behind the nearest car. Maybe if she smiles at him, like a hey, sorry, oops, kind of thing, it will help with the awkwardness on Monday. As he gets closer, she forces herself to look at him. He doesn’t look at her. Rob says, ‘Hey man,’ but Jacob doesn’t acknowledge them. ‘That was weird,’ Rob says. Cassie shrugs. She hands her keys to Rob. ‘Can you drive?’ she asks. 28
He unlocks the doors and Cassie gets in on the passenger side. She reaches for her seatbelt. Rob starts the car. The radio comes on. 90s alt rock. Rob checks his mirrors and leans forward. He points to something on the hood of the car. Cassie follows his gaze to a small dark shape. Rob gets out, shines his cell phone light on it. A small, gently shaped mound of dirt with a single, orange wildflower rising delicately from the center. Cassie gets out of the car to look. She stands in the street next to Rob and looks down the row of cars. A small flower sprouts on the hood of each of the ones she touched.
Freddy and Lu at the Laundromat
| Pete Levine
The washer stops shaking. Freddy lifts its lid, pulls out a clump of knotted clothes and places the wet mass on top of the adjacent machine which, as if on cue, begins its own death rattle before shuddering to a complete stop. Sliding the clothes off so he can open it, he reaches in and dumps its contents on the next washer down the line. Some of the washers are yellow, the rest are green. The driers are uniformly white and at this perfect moment all of them are spinning, even the empty ones. Freddy is watching them attentively as the last drier on the right stops and its load slumps motionlessly against the curve of the drum. He had arrived at the laundromat just after midnight and immediately changed all his money M twentythree crumpled bills M into dimes and quarters. One by one he had primed the machines until they came alive. Now his focus is on keeping them going. He gathers the pile of damp clothes, walks to the drier and exchanges its contents for the armload he carries. Closing its circular door, he feeds it a handful of dimes from his drawstring pouch. Then he drops the hot clothing in the first green washer he sees and puts two quarters in its slot to start it up. It’s been like this for hours. Back and forth, anxious, exhilarated, moving between the spinning machines. A woman in red hot pants comes in. He nods his head, warily acknowledging her. Surprised to see her clothes still spinning, way past their allotted time – surprised to see the driers spinning and nobody in the room except – she shoots him a smile and quickly retrieves her clothes, emphatically closing the drier door to resume its cycle before hurrying out the door. The washers churn and the driers rattle. Half his money is gone. Freddy reaches into his stash of cigarette butts and retrieves the lighter he found in the bus depot stall. Taking a puff, his attention returns to Lu’s clothes. He watches as they spin lazily behind the eight circular 31
glass doors. A waterpuckered brassiere, dampheavy corduroy pants, several printed blouses and some colored tshirts float by. He had thought about taking her clothes for many days. Not only her uniforms, but also the things she wore home. Finding her place had not been difficult. Her name – just as it appears on the tag above her left breast – had been clearly displayed in the apartment registry, and next to it, her room number. Once inside he had quickly emptied her closets, stuffing their contents efficiently into black plastic bags before stowing them in his grocery cart. ‘You still here?’ It is the same ragged old woman he had seen earlier checking the coin machines and pay phones for stray change. ‘Lordy, you was here when the bars closed.’ ‘So was you,’ says Freddy and takes another puff. Finding nothing inside, the old woman leaves to finger and shake the newspaper racks on the sidewalk. Relieved that she is gone, Freddy rechecks the washers. Looking at their corners he verifies their movement. The dryers are all moving too, circling around and around. The sky has lightened, hiding the stars. The streetlights are still on, eerie and useless in the dawn light. A nurse with a bright red stethoscope hanging from her neck looks in as she walks by. A woman in custodial green with long dark hair stands waiting at the corner bus stop. As Freddy watches, she crosses her arms in front of her chest. Just like Lu, he thinks. In a sudden panic Freddy realizes that the night has passed and he is now standing in sunlight behind a plate glass window. He feels illuminated, specimened, immensely visible against the whiteness of the dryers. He knows he will have to leave soon. There isn't enough time left to use the remaining money. The minutes, already purchased, revolve steadily in noisy machine cycles. Outside, the parking meters are waking and hungry. Across the street, Yee Sing's Cafe has opened its door. Five days a week, Lu drives a scooter slowly up and down the narrow, metered streets slashing at tires with her chalk stick. Each morning before her shift begins, she stops in at Yee Sing's to sit at the counter and read the newspaper with her coffee. Faces are occasionally familiar here, but names 32
are not exchanged. The tag on Lu's blue jacket being the sole exception. Yee Singâ€™s customers silently endure. No one speaks of the bitterness of the coffee or the greasiness of the food. A complicity born of gratitude for the cheapness of the prices and an awareness of the earliness of the hour conspires to keep complaints sublingual. Today Lu is wearing a wrinkled white shirt beneath her metermaid jacket. The shirt smells of sweat and Tiger Balm. Earlier that week Lu had wadded it into a ball before throwing it into the hamper, but last night, after Eddie left, she had to retrieve it when she discovered her closet ransacked. More than anything Lu hopes that her spare pants are waiting for her, draped in a plastic bag on a cardboard hanger at the dry cleaner's. The pair she has on show the remnants of a mayonnaise stain at the crotch. If Lu were a cop or a nurse, perhaps the man reading the newspaper two stools down from her would have started a conversation. He finds her attractive. But Lu's uniform has dampened any desire he might have had. Instead, he kills time by reading a newspaper article about something which does not interest him. He finishes another cup of coffee while he waits for his greasy eggs. Last week, while he was enjoying a long weekend in Reno, his car was towed from in front of his own apartment. It cost him $875 in storage costs and a $90 ticket to get it back, and what a drag it had been getting out of the cab, back from the airport tanned and feeling chipper, to see his car gone, knowing in an instant it wasn't stolen but towed. And sure, that could have been an opening line but he feels like a jerk for allowing it to happen and he knows he's not going to get any sympathy from Lu about it, damnit she may even have been the one who wrote the ticket. Little does he know that while Lu does tend to think that the men she tickets are jerks, thatâ€™s still how she met Eddie, the man who boned her last night. In other words, you can be a jerk and still make it with Lu. Lu finishes her coffee. Since there is no pay phone in Yee Sing's, and she forgot her cell phone, she goes across the street to the laundromat to call the dry cleaner to check on her pants. Once inside she sees Freddy pacing back and forth between the rows of washers. At first glance she thinks he is wearing black leather. Mistaken, she realizes that the sheen is not leather but instead the result of the oiliest, filthiest pants she has ever seen. The pants are ripped but Freddy's skin does not show through because it is just as filthy as the 33
pants. His shirt is smeared with oil too, as is his unshaven face. Lu looks away quickly and lights a cigarette as she dials the dry cleaners. She's seen Freddy before, of course. But she's accustomed to seeing him lying in an alcove or sitting on the curb talking to himself. This is the first time she has ever seen him indoors. It’s completely unexpected, as surprising as if the pigeons huddling daily in front of the bus depot had instead decided to go inside and form a line in front of the ticket booth. ‘What are you doing with my clothes?’ Lu screams when she recognizes what's lying on the wooden table at the back of the laundromat. Freddy is beaming. He is so happy to see Lu that his mouth hangs open. He picks up her wet clothes from the table, drops them into the nearest machine, which happens to be a washer, and starts it up. ‘Stop that! What are you doing!’ she shouts and hangs up the phone. ‘I can arrest you,’ she says approaching him. Only to move back M his odor overpowering M becoming aware, as she does, of her own unwashed body smell. Lu opens a dryer door and burns her hand on the hot cloth inside as she starts to rescue her clothes. She opens all the dryer doors and the smell of baked fabric fills the room. ‘Get back!’ she yells at Freddy who has begun to close the dryer doors, starting the clothes tumbling again. ‘I've got Mace.’ Freddy continues closing dryer doors so Lu sprays him in the face. Freddy roars and grabs the canister from her hand, throws it into an open dryer and slams the door shut. Lu stomps on Freddy's foot, then kicks him in the ankle and the knee. He groans and drops to the floor. Inside the dryer, the Mace canister explodes. The glass door shatters and the gas expands into the air. Lu falls instinctively, retching and writhing besides Freddy on the yellow linoleum. Freddy reaches for her but she rolls away. He gets to his feet, opens the nearest washer and pulls out a dripping mass of wet clothes. Extracting a blouse which he hands to Lu, who is still on the floor, he rubs the rest across his face letting the warm water seep into his tear filled eyes. Dark, rancid smoke billows from the top of the dryer setting off the fire alarm and the ceiling sprinklers. A cold spray of water 34
rains down on Lu. She gets up and moves out of its range to a dry spot in the back of the room. ‘You are in deep shit’ she says wiping her face. ‘You are going to pay for this bigtime, buddy.’ Freddy nods and starts to disrobe. All the sprinklers are on now. Freddy drops his clothes onto the wet floor and stares happily into the water streaming down on his head. It’s hard to say if the dark patterns on his skin are tattoos or natural discolorations because he is so dark. He's a white man, but his skin is as black as a burnedout bulb. Lu is shivering from the cold water. Her clothes are soaking wet. She hates cold weather and cold water. Braving the sprinklers, she hobbles to the closest drier, opens it and removes a large gold bath towel. She finds it is pleasantly warm to the touch and wraps the familiar fabric against her wet face and hair. She can't stand to feel the wet uniform clinging to her skin and wants to replace it with the warm contents of the dryer. Hastily she drapes the gold towel over the drier door so that it hangs nearly to the floor. Then she opens the drier next to it and pulls out a burgundy towel. She drapes it the same way and stands semi hidden between the two. Undressing quickly, she drops the wet clothes at her feet and selects their replacements from the drier. At first, the new panties are unbearably hot, as are the jeans, but there is no turning back. She reaches in for the warm fleece of her sweatshirt. She pulls it over her head and releases the cold snap of her wet brassiere. She lets the bra shuffle to the floor. Water glistens on Freddy's dark naked body. The sprinklers have stopped but the alarm bell is still ringing. Lu walks toward him with a towel in each hand. ‘Here, dry yourself and cover up, damnit’. Freddy wraps the gold towel around his waist and holds the warm burgundy towel close to his body. ‘I love you, Lu,’ he says. Lu's eyes are still filled with tears from the Mace. Eddie has never told her he loves her. He's never told her he's married either, but she is fairly certain he is because he never stays overnight or invites her to his place. ‘You don't know what love is,’ she says wiping her eyes. She wishes she could write him a ticket but of course she 35
can't because he doesn't have a car. She wants his ass carted away. She wants the book thrown at him. She calls for backup on her walkietalkie and goes back to Yee Sing's to await their arrival. That night Lu will have a dream. She will be lying on a long table in a laundromat surrounded by clouds of pristine sheets. Her eyes will be brimming with tears. Her lover will wipe them dry and tell her he loves her. Inside the laundromat Freddy is alone again. He pats himself with Luâ€™s burgundy towel. His clothes lie submerged in water on the floor. He picks them up and places them in a dryer. He picks up Lu's underwear and tosses them in as well. Then he opens his drawstring purse and feeds the dryer a handful of dimes, watching their clothes spin together, just as he had imagined it would be.
Being the Responsible One | Julia Ponder
Dear Annoyed Driver, I am sorry I ran that stop sign. You pressed firmly into your horn five times, and I sped away shamefully. If you could peer closely at me in the driver's seat, you would see that I was going there and back again. It happens a lot in the car, or when I'm walking on the sidewalk, or when I'm teaching a class, and suddenly I stare off into space because something a twelveyearold said made me do a quantum leap back in time. It's not important. I know I shouldn't be bridging the spacetime continuum while driving, or walking, or teaching plot lines. But if you could see, peer through your windshield and mine, see behind my eyes drifting off cloudily into space, you would understand. You would see me looking at my father in a mothball funeral home, laid out on a medical table and dressed in the requested black paisley shirt, black pants, and black cowboy boots he asked for in his suicide note. You would see the watermarks from the leaky ceiling and smell the antiseptic. You would wonder if things might be different if heâ€™d have known he'd still look dead despite his favorite outfit, maybe then he'd have changed his mind. The body is rubbery and cold, unmoving despite my warm hands rubbing and touching and holding and pouring over his stiffness. I'll spare you the tears and the oh Gods and the turning away because you will experience them someday too and it's enough to live it once to know. In his stiff, cigarette yellow fingers, we put an unopened Budweiser (glass, because it is a formal occasion) and a picture of us, a Christmas gift I gave him a few years back. Then they wheel him away to wrap him in his eco shroud. I recommend eco shrouds to all other poor people whose parents insist on a burial in their last wishes. You'll save thousands. 37
If you are the responsible one you will get the final, smelly wrangle of shitty clothes in a plastic shopping bag. I am the responsible one. I am the responsible one, so I oversee the arrangements, getting to know Bill, the mortician, and his sons. As he stands to the side in his suit I wish he was my father, even though I don't know him well, because he seems like a good guy, and he saw us on a Sunday. It actually happened to be Father's Day, but dealing with the dead you don't really get a day off. He's hardworking. He listened to us and tells me I am strong. He's certainly not the type to squat in an old apartment or hang himself in a closet. Bill's funeral home is a family business, even if it smells like mothballs and there are water marks along the edges of the ceiling. My ears are filled with fluid and snot is gathering on my upper lip. I wish a lot of people were my father. I am the responsible one, so I get to make the speech. I wouldn't want anyone else to do it anyway, because I am selfish like my dad and conceited, and I am the writer of the family. I say all the right things, make some offcolor jokes, comic relief for the most horrible thing that has ever happened to us. The twentyodd people who are standing around this hole in the ground laugh and cry. It's the way he would have wanted it, but it's still not enough. We have already put in the shroud those things which we think he'll need most. But when, underneath the hot, eager sun of late June, the mortician and his adult children start to lower the body, I throw in my copy of . A present he gave me one summer because we shared a love of imagination, the wild arena of escape, a true story of friendship. And I think he might need it going there, and maybe back again. Thump, like it has landed against something hollow, an object. My mother and sister pour Budweiser into plastic cups for everyone to toast in his honor. We go around the grave and pour some in for him. We didn't buy any flowers, but Bill the mortician gives me some and those go in too. It's a funny way to say goodbye, with the flowers and the Budweiser and the picture and the book, but anything else wouldnâ€™t have felt right. And then it is done. And I no longer need to be the responsible one. 38
Footsteps, Heartbeat, Fire, Voice
| Naomi Kimbell
You would have been pressed neat in pants, a white blouse, and oxford shoes. Or portraitpretty in a dress, cardigan, and cuffed socks, even after the long school day. Only twelve, the scent of Ivory still at your collar, you would have walked home alone to the projects with your hair in place, pinned at the temples, holding an empty lunch box and carrying books tucked into your arms. This is my belief about you, that once you were bud and bract, furled not clenched, new. A phantomgirl grown from what small stories you told as you brushed my hair in our bathroom where steam, honeyed with Jean Naté and Tone soap, clung to the window and the mirror and our skin, summered and sweet and heady. These things you wanted me to know: You stored your white gloves in plastic. You made your own clothes. And I should be glad you didn’t hit me with the brush when I complained that it pulled. In 1 954, you, Carole Joyce Bubash, walked home from school carrying your books and your lunch box. Your hardsoled shoes clacked on the pavement and you liked that sound. In the high smelting town at the base of the Pintlers, schoolyear wind was sharp and cold and you usually buttoned your coat to your chin. But sometimes you didn’t button it at all, and let it flap instead like a woolen cape behind you as you walked. That you also likedMthe feeling of flightMand the buffeting pull of nearwinter in thin air, the promise of snow on treeless peaks against a sky so high it was always clear, always breaking light to perfect blue. Out of the schoolyard and into the street, you faced the men. Perched on pavement 40
and walkways like a disbanded army waiting to be paid, dirty, ragged, maimed, ageless damaged men, worn out from smelterwork or partialed by war. They were Europeans and sons of Europeans. They hung around. They sat on curbs. They leered. They wore dress hats and suspenders and Salvation Army suits. They talked about their wounds, displayed their scars, flapped empty sleeves, and muttered about what they wanted to do to women and to girls. One who wore a derby hat, and trousers pulled up to his armpits so that his naked ankles showed, had gluey filaments stretched between his lips. He reached down on you as you walked past. â€˜I had a little girl like you, once,â€™ he said, as you hurried away to get home to start dinner. I never knew your house at the edge of your small urban smelter town, but I knew the one on 6th Street: the twostory brick with the narrow staircase, painted with highgloss paint too slippery for socked feet, that twisted in the middle because there wasnâ€™t enough room front to back for the stairs to rise straightly. When I imagine you I imagine you there, though I know the kitchen I have in my memory is not where you cooked your family dinners when you were littleMI think you said you were nine when you first started rushing home to get the roast going, you could have been older, but I remember you saying nineMand I remember seeing you there in your kitchen, leaning over the stove on tip toes, stirring a pot, alone and quiet in a closed moment, the steam wetting your hair enough that it clung to your cheeks, the slight pulse of your heart in your wrist as you held your hand over the heat, the steam dripping down the cupboards and the pale green walls, dripping down your glasses. You, I remember in this pause, this space between the front door you opened and closed and the moment it would open and close again, when your sister arrived from her special class, when your mother came home, and then your father, each return timed and even and inevitable, ticking down toward dinner and the deeper blues of evening. Mashed potatoes looked like whipped cream to Cindy, your sister with Down syndrome, a young girl who loved dessert over dinner. You had the mixer going, whipping the box potatoes and adding a little oleo for flavor. Your sister hovered close by, waiting for a chance to taste the beater but stuck her fingers in too soon. Hearing crying in the kitchen, your mother burst through the door, pulled your sister away and began beating you on 41
your shoulders and back. You yelled that she would break your glasses, and she stopped. In October that year, before the snow fell, the Flood Block rooming house where the street men lived was set on fire by one of the tenants, a woman later put in an insane asylum. Nine men died, as the firelighter watched it burn from the flower shop across the street. You came out from your house, walked to the corner and watched it too, listening to screams and recognizing voices. In winter, when night came on by late afternoon, I waited for you to get home from work. I stood at the gate to watch for the bus to drop you at the end of the street. I watched you walk home with your head down in your long, grey tweed coat with the big lapels and double row of plastic buttons, your neck and chin wrapped by a pink and grey chevron scarf your mother knit on a plastic knitting loom, but you didn’t see me. The snow was grey around you, swirling in dry air, grey with evening and smoke from wood stovesMyou, part of that flurry, smudged like ash floating on a drafty lift, blurred, edges settling only when you nearedMand I wanted to run up and catch your elbow and hold your gloved hand and tell you I was glad you were home, but I didn’t. And you kept your head down until you reached our house, kept it down still as we walked in, side by side but not together, and you hung your coat and scarf in the closet where, when again you weren’t looking, I stood in the dark and buried my face in the things you’d worn.
| Hannah Lackoff
Myrna didn't let the rounding of her belly stop her vodka sodas by the pool. We watched her for weeks out our living room window, slowly blowing up like the beach balls next to her seat, plunging a straw into her frosted glass. It was while Ellen was supposed to be watching us, on an afternoon when we werenâ€™t supposed to be out of the apartment without supervision. We weren't supposed to have a pet either, but Mom let us keep Sunny the hamster on the desk between our beds. No one was doing what they were supposed to be doing. We put on our swimsuits and crept out the door as quietly as possible. We promised each other we would be back ten minutes before Ellen came out of her room, which was ten minutes before Mom came home and we would all sit on the couch watching Jeopardy, making up answers. I put the key around my neck because after Ellen I was the oldest. I made sure we put on shoes because last summer I had stepped on a bee in my bare feet, an experience I didn't care to repeat. Davy's flip flops were too small. Mine were too big. Ellen had one with a worn out sole and another with a broken thong. We all needed to go shopping, but Mom was too tired after work and on weekends we only needed to get as far as the pool. We walked carefully down the middle of the path, giving the potentially beeinfested flowers a wide berth. At the pool we watched Myrna for a little while through the fence. She lay on her back in a striped bikini with her pregnant belly floating above her like the moon. She had big hair and big breasts and a magazine held up to block the sun. She was gravity defying. I turned the key in the lock without removing it from around my neck. I could smell the oil in the lock and the heat of the metal. The pool was the middle of the complex and it was quiet there, away from 44
the road. Myrna heard the creak of the hinges and turned our way. She looked different up close, older. Her face had lines and so did her arms, especially the pits and elbows. She was creased everywhere she bent, even her knees were furrowed and folded. Her skin was a funny color too, like Ellen’s old Barbie dolls. ‘There you are!’ she said, as if we had a standing pool date. Her voice was low, a little crackly, like static. ‘What are you doing out here?’ she asked us. Swimming, we whispered. She made us shy. Coconut oil fumes rolled off her skin and we breathed in deep. ‘No towels?’ she asked, and we blushed. We had been too distracted by the bees and the flip flops and the thought of meeting her. We had forgotten our sunscreen too. ‘I'll make you a deal.’ Myrna crossed her ankles. Her toenails were iridescent green and chipped. ‘I need a refill. You boys go up to my apartment and make me a freshie and I'll let you borrow a towel. Two.’ She looked us up and down and slurped loudly through her straw. ‘The can of soda is on the counter. You can read?’ We nodded. Reading was all we did on the days we were stuck inside and Ellen found the noise of the tv too distracting. ‘The vodka is in the freezer.’ Myrna eyed me. ‘You're taller. You're in charge of the vodka and the ice. Three cubes.’ She pointed at Davy. Her fingernails were unpainted and short, the skin around them darker than the rest of her. ‘You're in charge of the soda. One inch vodka, two inches soda, three ice cubes. One two three. Just like Mama taught me.’ She leaned back in her chair. We waited. ‘Oh,’ she said. She gave us her key. It was on a curly blue bracelet she had around her arm. I let Davy wear it since I had the one from our apartment. ‘32 B,’ Myrna told us. ‘The towels are in the bathroom. The orange one is mine but help yourself to any of the others.’ She pointed towards building B. We lived in F, on the opposite side of the complex. We had been in E once, when Mom had to take Ellen to the doctor and Mrs. Henderson watched us, but B was uncharted territory. Davy unlocked the front door and we walked all the way up to the top floor until we found 32. He unlocked that door too. Myrna's apartment looked like ours, but with one less room and a better view. Where our room would have been there was nothing, just a blank wall. 45
The soda was on the counter like she said, but I had to drag a chair over to get into the freezer. The bottle of vodka stuck to my skin a little when I twisted the cap, prickly but good after the hot sun. I poured one inch and Davy poured two, then we put in the ice cubes. I stirred with the straw like I had seen people do on TV and the smell of the drink came out when I did, sharp like cleaning spray or antiseptic wipes. Myrna's bathroom was also the same as ours, so we knew where everything was. She kept her towels in the linen closet, just like we did. I chose a fluffy blue and Davy a green that matched Myrna's toenails. He carried the towels so I could use both hands for the glass. A little sloshed over the side while we walked down the stairs. Outside, I sucked the liquid off my skin and the taste was strange. ‘Thanks hon,’ said Myrna. She took a sip. She was impressed. ‘Naturals,’ she called us. We dragged some chairs over and spread our towels out just like she did. It was hot. ‘One more favor,’ said Myrna,’ since you're borrowing my towels and all.’ She shook a brown bottle and poured sunscreen on our outstretched palms. ‘For my shoulders,’ she said. We each took one side. Her skin was like the suede of Mom's favorite chair. Afterwards we rubbed the rest on our own bodies, Myrna giving us some more because we were such ‘pale little things.’ ‘When I have this baby,’ she said, ‘I'm gonna sunscreen it real good. No burns for this little peach.’ She rubbed some more lotion on her belly, as if the sun might make it all the way through. We all smelled the same, like coconut. She took a long drink through her straw and then she burped. It was really loud and seemed to surprise her. We giggled, and after a minute, so did she. ‘Oh lord,’ she said, ‘What am I in for?’ We didn't know. We refilled her drink for her one more time, in exchange for a chocolate bar she had hidden in a drawer in her kitchen. We liked her apartment, which did not face West like ours did and was still cool in the afternoon. We imagined living there with her instead of Mom and Ellen, coconut and fluffy towels and soon a baby. It would be our baby, we said. We would watch it like Ellen was supposed to be watching us. We were very responsible. We carried the drink and they key and the chocolate back to Myrna without dropping anything. The chocolate melted when we tried to eat it, so we 46
splashed around in the shallow end to get clean. Myrna watched us over her sunglasses, making sure we didn't drown. You're going to be a good mom, we told her when we got out. ‘I hope so,’ she said. She took another sip through her straw, flipped pages in her magazine without reading them. ‘This baby doesn't have a daddy,’ she told us. ‘It's just me.’ We don't have a daddy either, we said, and we turned out fine. She laughed at us like it was the greatest joke she'd ever heard. ‘You did,’ she said, ‘You really did.’ Then she said, ‘Oh, look at the time,’ though we couldn't see that she was looking at anything. We folded up all the towels and each took one of her hands and pulled her back to standing. Upright, her belly and her hair and her boobs all shifted downward, succumbing to gravity after all. ‘Thank you for your help today,’ she told us. Watch out for bees, we told her. She wasn't wearing any sandals. Back in F we tiptoed to our room and changed out of our swimsuits. They were still damp so I stood on a chair and hung them over the curtain rod where the afternoon sun would bake them dry. A few minutes later we heard Ellen turn off her music and open her door. We went out to join her on the couch. What is Africa, we shouted at the television, what is the Queen of England, what are coconuts? ‘You smell funny,’ Ellen said, ‘Did you go outside?’
| A.E. Tippin
Knives clink against porcelain, limp hands reach for glasses, and Sadie works a corkscrew into a bottle of wine. Beyond the light and hum of the restaurant patio, it’s dark. While Sadie begins to pour for her table, a diner nearby says to the woman seated with him, ‘Really, of all the things we might do, sex has to be the least of God’s worries.’ The man’s voice fades in and out as Sadie finishes pouring and moves toward the kitchen. ‘Two people expressing…despite…’ She wonders if he says this to feel better about God or himself, as she pauses at another table and picks up an order for melon gazpacho. On her way to the kitchen, Sadie notices a new couple being seated. She doesn’t slow her pace, but she still turns her head. Is that Dean? She looks across the dim patio at the man’s dark hair and the slender gleam of a chain along the base of his neck. It could be Dean. In the kitchen, she catches her coworker by the elbows as a pan ignites behind them. She asks him to trade that table for one in her section. He hesitates, she offers to give him the tip, and he agrees. Sadie weaves back through the outdoor tables, gripping the corner of her notepad. When she gets to the table, , and smells lime cologne, she knows it’s Dean. She can’t kill her smile. ‘Hi? Dean? It’s Sadie. It’s been a long time,’ she says to the seated man. The woman with him wears silver manatee earrings. Dean glances at her then up at Sadie. ‘Oh wow, hey. It’s good to see you again.’ His shirt is unbuttoned at the neck, just one button lower than respectable, and before Sadie finishes listing the wines, the desire to kiss that groove below his throat has already spangled through her thoughts.
A doorbell rings once through Dean’s quiet house. Dean turns his wrist over to look at his watch. It’s late, 1 0:48. He tosses his pen on the stack of essays in front of him. When he reaches the door, his hand freezes on the iron handle. He stares through the screen at Sadie. She steps out of the porch light, cups her elbows with her hands. Smiles. Dean smells the synthetic, chemical scent of fertilizer; Jen added a new planter to the porch last week. Now that they’d gone on a few dates, she seemed to assume she could. ‘I’m sorry,’ Sadie says. ‘I had to see you. I’m sorry.’ ‘Don’t apologize,’ he says, pushing the screen door open. ‘I’m glad you came.’ Dean doesn’t know what to say next. Sadie’s floral perfume wafts toward him, overpowering the planter’s chemicals. He doesn’t want to assume anything, but it seems obvious. ‘Do you want to come in?’ ‘It’s a nice night,’ she says. ‘Want to go for a walk maybe? By the water?’ Dean curls his bare toes under his feet. Has he misread her? ‘Sure, of course,’ he says, nodding. ‘Let me get my keys.’ He drives them to the beach where they walk high above the tide, leaving hollow footprints in the dry sand. They’re careful not to let their arms brush as they talk about nothing: the weather, the water, the university. Dean asks Sadie what she’s been doing since graduation. ‘Still working, dancing,’ she says. ‘I’m training with a woman certified in Cecchetti.’ ‘Cecchetti?’ ‘It’s for balance and elevation. It helps you internalize the basic principles of ballet for yourself.’ ‘As opposed to what?’ ‘Trying to copy the movements you see others do.’ Dean has to admit, he remembers her because she was a dancer, but still he’d like to change this way she has of walking, her toes turned outward and the slow sweep of her feet, as if each step searches for the ground.
Sadie likes the way Dean drives, arm hanging out the window, speed blurring the sound of bug song and cooling the summer air. He plays with the radio, navigating the confusion of lanes with no effort, heading smoothly down the highway, all controlled and relaxed. He was that way in class, too. She liked him day one of World Lit. He said everyone could call him Dr. Newbern or Professor Newbern, but most of all he wished they would call him Dean. She took his Russian literature course, then Orthodox theology. Every time he walked longlegged into the room, she felt weightless with the relief of his proximity. She wrote down his anecdotes: a wrong turn into the middle of a smalltown New England parade; a failed expedition to find Salinger’s house. He was funny and fair and held them to higher standards than anyone else. For a long time, Sadie wouldn’t accept she was attracted to him. Then for a long time, she pushed the realization down with excuses: he’s twenty years older; he’s my professor; it’s only a crush. In another life, she had promised herself. Then she graduated. Dean stomps the brakes, and Sadie jerks forward. He looks over, touches her wrist. ‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘I didn’t see that car pull out.’ They begin to pick up speed again and Dean says, ‘Will you come inside when we get back?’ Sadie leans her head back against the seat. ‘Of course.’ ‘You will?’ ‘When I saw you at , I had this thought and I just, I wanted it to be real. You know what I mean? Like all the lives we might have had instead of our own.’ ‘You think about this a lot?’ ‘All the time. I’m always imagining different lives. Like being a tour guide at Angkor Wat, you know. Or a bachelor named Scipio who lives in Italy and can’t trim his mustache hairs evenly but knows, I mean really knows, how to make love like the movies.’ Sadie doesn’t say what she really wants to: once I imagined being with you. As they pass under a streetlight, Dean glances across the interior of the car. Sadie’s eyes are closed, neck arched, lips parted. She had been a good student, reading all the assigned texts, eager to engage even with the 52
surreal dreaminess of Gogol. God help him, she had been his student. But when they reach his house, Sadie standing in front of him, he isn’t thinking about that. It’s her eyebrows quirked, her eyes, eyes, eyes, and he doesn’t want anything except her reaching for him. In the bedroom, he moves a splayed book off the bed, puts it on the dresser, and it’s Sadie on her back. Her leg extended effortlessly as he braces himself on the mattress and with the other hand holds her warm ankle against his shoulder. She points her ballet toes past his ear and they stretch behind him. After a while, he feels unsettled. He turns his head back to where they point but there’s nothing except the book: . Sadie opens her eyes. ‘What’s wrong?’ She touches a finger to the chain around his neck and traces it down to the cross suspended between them, pressing the pendant into his chest until his skin reddens with an imprint. ‘I just want you another way,’ he whispers. Lowers her leg from his shoulder and turns her body. It’s the uncertainty in her walk, really, that’s still bothering him, seeming to search for what she should already know is there: earth, solidly under them. In the morning Sadie wakes up next to Dean, his elbow pressed against her shoulder blade. Through the open window, she looks out at the canopy of electric green leaves and listens to other lives carrying on, the soft current of traffic and droning planes. Far off, these sounds must continue, but Sadie doesn’t imagine them. Without waking Dean, she dresses and pauses to study him. This has been exactly nothing like she thought, exactly nothing like some triumphant love story, and she hopes that the manateeearring woman never finds out. Sadie leaves through the front door and drives home. Half of the moon is still out, as if it has gotten stuck in the blue felt of the sky, and it reminds her of the universe, a dark stage for this little earth and the people on it, spinning in the spotlight of the sun. The longer she drives, the cloudier the horizon becomes until the sky masses in gray commotion. No blue. No moon. And far off, the patter of a storm sweeps along the miles of fields surrounding the highway while two nameless men in fluorescent work vests dig trenches in the rain. 53
Climbing Old Rag Mountain
| Travis Truax
I. Parking Lot, Route 600, South of Sperryville, Virginia Start there, stunned in the cold parking lot. Fog, the farm, the old farmhouse drenched in dew. Leave your car along the creek, below the sycamore. Be sure you arrive early enough to be alone. Be sure you have water. Be sure your boots are tied. Sign your name if youâ€™d like, on the big list of those who went before you. Run your hands along the fence. Dawn will be dulled by the mist of morning. The sun is up, but you will never see it. You will want all of this: the mystery and dew, the grey distance arching out above. You will only remember that which is necessary, that which brought you here in the first place. The leftrightleft luck of the journey, just beginning. Down the road, the old sign points south up the mountain. II. Ridge Trail, Going Up When you push off from the trailhead, be sure to breathe. Movement has a way of mending. Wipe your eyes clean and watch your toes. Rock or branch, there are obstacles along the path, tough rock scrambles that mean you must pull yourself up, over, between boulders. Watch your hands, your feet: remember their place. It is a hardwood forest. Loose leaves cover history at each bend in the trail. You will know someday which wounds, over time, have healed themselves away. III. The Rock Scramble It all happens of its own volition. Point to the map. Then fold it back into your pocket. Let your hands and feet have their way. They know. How to hold your body, how to lift it through boulders that pile across the 55
mountain, how to test your heart. But watch for ice, or dew, moisture in the worst places. Judge each step with a wary eye. Keep your eyes beneath you. The scramble will never seem to end but along the way, certain cracks will remind you of other places, people you have known. There will be many interesting moves. Narrow corridors, slick rock. They call it Old Rag Granite. The core of your world. Boulders hardly phased by passing weather, hardened by the yearsMpractically mountains themselves. You will realize there are many mountains to remember, not just one. IV. The Top (3,291 ’) If you are lucky, the sky will clear by the time you reach the peak. There could be vultures on the air and around you, all the distance in the world. All of Appalachia, in blue and green swaths, rolling, full of life, light, dashed here and there by tiny white homes hiding in the hills. If the fog has not lifted, simply sit down. Don’t bother looking off the edge. You will feel it. The veiled distance around youMlike falling asleep in a small tent beneath the stars. V. Returning, Saddle Trail to Weakley Fire Road It all comes back around. From the top, Saddle Trail drops down to an old fire road, a pile of switchbacks carved along the west side of Old Rag. It is a loop trail, so each step is new. When the weaving stops, the road begins. Easy and wide, the road passes through oak and bramble. You will dream up bobcats and bears, a world before Daniel BooneMthe silence is that dense, the forest that old. You will begin to believe you are the only one awake. Then a creek comes into view. Then a bridge. When the road forks, stay right. You don’t have to be certain of anything. It is a loop trail. Each step is new.
Hannah Lackoff | Hannah Lackoffâ€™s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice and the storySouth Million Writers Award and has been published in , and , among others. Her short story collection was published in May 201 6. Pete Levine | Pete Levine's work has appeared in and (upcoming in translation in Finnish) in
Bim Angst | Bim Angst's writing has won a number of awards, including a fellowship from the NEA. The fiction here is from a collection set in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal regions. Angst's fiction has been recently published in , and . A.E. Tippin | A.E. Tippin lives in a lake cottage named The Bluegill. In 201 7, she earned her M.F.A. from Hollins University. Her work appears in and . Outside of her day job, she frequents the brewery to drink and lose at foosballes. Stephanie Austin | Stephanie Austin's previous short fiction has appeared in and My essays have been published at and
Travis Truax | Travis Truax earned his bachelorâ€™s degree in English from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 201 0. After college he spent several years working in various national parks out west. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in and . He lives in Bozeman, Montana. Julia Ponder | Julia Ponder is a writer and teacher living in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Her poetry has appeared in and . Naomi Kimbell | Naomi Kimbell is from Western Montana where she lives, writes, and pursues the sustained yet ephemeral experiences of place, loneliness, and loss that are intrinsic to the West. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana in 2008, and her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in , and other literary journals and anthologies. She is currently working on a novel.
Tracy Pitts | Tracy Pitts is a photographer in Portland, Oregon. His photography has been featured in The Passporte, Up The Staircase, and The Sun, among others. His film photography exhibition, 'We've Never Really Met, But I Think About You All The Time' recently concluded at the historic Erickson Gallery in downtown Portlandy. Norma Alonzo | Norma Alonzo has always taken her painting life seriously, albeit privately. An extraordinarily accomplished artist, she has been painting for over 25 years. Beginning as a landscape painter, she quickly transitioned to an immersion in all genres to experiment and learn. Bette Ridgeway | Pushing the boundaries of light, color and design, Bette Ridgeway is best known for her largescale, luminous poured canvases, which have garnered the artist international recognition. Judith Skillman | Judith Skillman is interested in feelings engendered by the natural world. Her medium is oil on canvas and oil on board; her works range from representational to abstract. Her art has appeared in , and elsewhere. She has studied at the Pratt Fine Arts Center and the Seattle Artistâ€™s League under the mentorship of Ruthie V. Shows include The Pratt and Galvanize. Visit Jkpaintings.store. William C. Crawford | William C. Crawford is a writer & photographer based in WinstonSalem, NC. He was a combat photojournalist in Vietnam. He has published extensively in various formats including fiction, creative nonfiction, memoirs, book reviews, and essays. Jess Wong | Jess Wong is an amateur photographer residing in Upstate New York. Her work focuses on finding beauty in the natural world. This is her first publication. 60
AnnMarie Brown | AnnMarie Brown has been exhibiting her work in solo and group shows in Canada and the United States since 1 995. Her method involves the use of encaustic and oil on canvas. By using overlapping layers to impart a sense of motion and texture, the built up layers in her paintings obscure and fragment the figures underneath. The resulting effect is revelatory as the whole of the painting highlights a single glance or a gesture. According to Brown, a piece is complete when it fully articulates a single moment in time.
Issue Ten features short fiction from Bim Angst, Pete Levine, Stephanie Austin, A.E. Tippin, and Hannah Lackoff; creative nonfiction from Tr...
Published on Aug 31, 2018
Issue Ten features short fiction from Bim Angst, Pete Levine, Stephanie Austin, A.E. Tippin, and Hannah Lackoff; creative nonfiction from Tr...