The Vanderbilt Review Volume 31
TO and frOm all Of us. With lOve, TVR.
OUR STAFF Editor-in-Chief Lisa Muloma Managing Editor Sydney Pedigo Prose Editor Alexa Brahme Art Editor James Mentz Poetry Editor Ariana Yeatts-Lonske Layout Editor Christine Ellenburg
OUR STAFF Prose Staff Krishna Ammisetty Allison Boyce Ann Claire Carnahan Jessica Hamrick Mitchell Pollock Olivia Rastatter Marianna Sharp Art Staff Julia Lubarsky Justine Kaemmerlen Marcelle Coronel Zita Prutos
Poetry Staff Zach Gospe Madeline Goetz Brynna Hall Jackie Olson Marni Wolchok Layout Staff Julia Lubarsky Margaux Danby
FROM THE EDITOR
Lisa mulOma editor in chief
I’ve always felt that being a part of The Vanderbilt Review is the best kept secret. As I thumb through the submissions I sometimes feel like a priest at a confessional booth set up in the middle of Rand, listening as Vanderbilt pops in to tell me what she really thinks, fears, hopes for, does while nobody is watching. I’ve heard about her car seat roadside hookups, her dead fathers, her struggles to belong. I’ve seen pictures of her travels, thumbed her artfully rendered self-portraits, listened to the songs she sings. A friend of mine once said that she thinks loving someone is like this: you’re sitting right next to your loved one, elbows and upper arms touching, skin on skin, close enough to hear her soft puffs of breath – and even then, everything inside of you is screaming “I miss you! I miss you so much.” As my time at Vanderbilt is winding to an end, I am fully here, and I am already missing everything about this place. To you, our reader, I say welcome. Treasure this thing you are holding, and take it with you in remembrance of the lives we’ve lived together here. To everyone who’s had the courage to send a piece of yourself our way, I say thank you. “what do you think this singing and shuddering is, what this screaming and reaching and dancing and crying is, other than loving what every second goes away? Goodbye, I mean to say. And thank you. Every day.” --Ross Gay,
“Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” from Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude
PROSE AWARD WINNER
theO KANDEL Judge: Marianne Zumberge
Little League Theo Kandel Five-hundred-and-fifty-nine, five-hundred-andsixty -Whenever I wait for something, I count the seconds and imagine that however high I count will be the number of home runs I’ll hit when I’m in the Major Leagues. Usually I get to around nine-hundred-and-fifty, which is okay with me because it’s more than Babe Ruth’s seven-hundred-and-fourteen and Hank Aaron’s seven-hundred-and-fifty-five, even more than what Josh Gibson would’ve hit if he had gotten to play in the Majors instead of just the Negro Leagues. I don’t count Barry Bonds’ sevenhundred-and-sixty-two home runs because he took steroids and that’s cheating. Sometimes in the morning when it’s time for school I’ll only get to four-hundred, but when Mom has Grunt over in her room I’ll get up to around twothousand-and-four-hundred before we leave the apartment. But I know I’ll never hit that many home runs. Of course, his name isn’t really Grunt -- it’s Grant -- but once Mom’s door closes that’s all he seems to do anyway. They’ve been seeing each other for a little less than a year or so, but he calls her Honey and sometimes they kiss in front of me. He’s always wearing one of those
canvas Carhartt jackets and his breath smells like coffee, even when it’s night. I don’t call him Grunt to his face. I don’t think he’d like it very much. Five-hundred-and-seventy-one, five-hundredand-seventy-two -I’m sitting on the couch, fiddling with my baseball pants and knee-high socks that I like to pull up so I can look like the retro players. Not many Major Leaguers do it like that anymore, and it looks kind of stupid the way their pants sag at the ankles. Mom and Grunt are in her room, watching TV or something. They’d better get ready soon, because I really can’t be late for my game. Mom writes for the Home section of the New York Times and we live alone in a smallish apartment on the third floor of a four-story walkup on One-Hundred-and-Sixteenth Street and Second, a few blocks from where the awnings and doormen turn into Hispanic bodegas and older black men sitting on stoops. Mom has her bedroom and I sleep on the couch in the living room, which I don’t mind because the sun hits my face from the window and wakes me up early enough so that I have time to play with my Legos before school. I
Five-hundred-and-fifty-nine, five-hundred-andsixty -Whenever I wait for something, I count the seconds and imagine that however high I count will be the number of home runs I’ll hit when I’m in the Major Leagues. Usually I get to around nine-hundred-and-fifty, which is okay with me because it’s more than Babe Ruth’s seven-hundred-and-fourteen and Hank Aaron’s seven-hundred-and-fifty-five, even more than what Josh Gibson would’ve hit if he had gotten to play in the Majors instead of just the Negro Leagues. I don’t count Barry Bonds’ sevenhundred-and-sixty-two home runs because he took steroids and that’s cheating. Sometimes in the morning when it’s time for school I’ll only get to four-hundred, but when Mom has Grunt over in her room I’ll get up to around twothousand-and-four-hundred before we leave the apartment. But I know I’ll never hit that many home runs. Of course, his name isn’t really Grunt -- it’s Grant -- but once Mom’s door closes that’s all he seems to do anyway. They’ve been seeing each other for a little less than a year or so, but he calls her Honey and sometimes they kiss in front of me. He’s always wearing one of those canvas Carhartt jackets and his breath smells like coffee, even when it’s night. I don’t call him Grunt to his face. I don’t think he’d like it very
much. Five-hundred-and-seventy-one, five-hundredand-seventy-two -I’m sitting on the couch, fiddling with my baseball pants and knee-high socks that I like to pull up so I can look like the retro players. Not many Major Leaguers do it like that anymore, and it looks kind of stupid the way their pants sag at the ankles. Mom and Grunt are in her room, watching TV or something. They’d better get ready soon, because I really can’t be late for my game. Mom writes for the Home section of the New York Times and we live alone in a smallish apartment on the third floor of a four-story walkup on One-Hundred-and-Sixteenth Street and Second, a few blocks from where the awnings and doormen turn into Hispanic bodegas and older black men sitting on stoops. Mom has her bedroom and I sleep on the couch in the living room, which I don’t mind because the sun hits my face from the window and wakes me up early enough so that I have time to play with my Legos before school. I make castles with fortifications, layers of gates and walls to guard the treasure. When they are built, I leave them on the windowsill for a few days before I break them down - I only have so many Legos. Five-hundred-and-eighty-three, five-hundred-
and-eighty-four -I hear Mom calling from the other room, saying James, are you ready, we’ve gotta go. I’ve been ready since five-hundred-and-eightyfour home runs ago, which is just barely short of getting me into the top ten sluggers of all time, right between Frank Robinson and Mark McGwire. I put my bat and my glove in my bag, pull my socks up to my knees, and make sure my cup is in place -- Dad used to tell me to protect the family jewels. Mom walks out of her bedroom with Grunt, who looks disgruntled, but I guess that’s the way he always looks regardless. Mom’s wearing her mom jeans, which she kept wearing even though Dad always teased her about them. Her hair is put up in a messy ponytail, and as she gives me a kiss hello she tousles my hair like she usually does, which messes it up, but it’s fine because I like it messy. Plus, when it’s under my baseball cap it doesn’t matter anyway. She takes care to lock the door behind us, jangling her keys and humming to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Grunt rolls his eyes. I glare at him and make a face. We are halfway down the stairs when I remember that I’ve forgotten something -- “I need to go back!” I yell. I snatch Mom’s keys and sprint back up the stairs, down the hallway, through the front door, past the framed photograph of Dad that we keep on the
table, and open up the box I keep under the couch. My Topps 2002 Mike Piazza baseball card is safely nestled in there, and I grab it, put the box back, lock the door, and run back to Mom and Grunt. Grunt takes the card out of my hand and peers at the gold lettering. “Huh, you went all the way back for this?” he says. I snatch it back. Before Dad died, he always said that Piazza was the spirit of New York City, especially after nine-eleven. I don’t tell this to Grunt. We walk down into the One-Hundred-Tenth Street Subway station to get on the downtown six train and I notice that on the uptown side of the tracks, people are decked out in Yankees gear, wearing jerseys with the last names Jeter, Rivera, Rodriguez, Giambi, and Posada. I scowl. I’ve never liked the Yankees. It either has to do with the fact that all my friends who are Yankees fans always tease me for being Mets fan, or that the Yankees lost the World Series the night that Dad passed in 2003. I guess it’s probably the second thing. We get off on Eighty-Sixth Street and head across the avenues towards Central Park. Grunt stops to get a small bag of sugary crystallized peanuts from a Nuts 4 Nuts stand on Lexington. The smell wafts over me, and Grunt offers me some. They are crunchy but still warm, a sweet, roasted flavor that colors the early autumn
morning air. The first time I met Grunt, he took Mom and I to a diner near the River, right off of East End Ave. I got a milkshake with burgers and fries. I guess he wanted to get on my good side. “So, James, you like sports?” he had asked. “I guess just baseball.” “Ah. Never liked baseball, always found it too slow. Never could sit through it. Now football -- that’s a real man’s game.” “Football doesn’t have half the technique of baseball.” “Ah, well.” He wasn’t a very good talker, more of a grunter I guess, if I’m being totally honest. I spent the rest of the meal making paper worms out of the straw wrappings and watched them unravel, almost lifelike, as I dripped drops of water on the soggy paper. Mom takes a few minutes examining the window displays on Madison Avenue. I think they look too perfect and fake for anyone to actually buy anything in them. I ask if anyone actually buys anything in them, and Grunt says that only the really rich people do. I point to a leather bag and Mom guesses it probably costs two-thousand dollars. Two-thousand dollars! I’d rather have a nineteen-sixty-eight Nolan Ryan rookie card than a brown purse. Nolan Ryan’s fastest pitch was one-hundred-
and-eight-point-one miles per hour, the fastest ever recorded. He had five-thousand-sevenhundred-and-fourteen career strikeouts -- the Hank Aaron of pitchers. I can smell the halal trucks, hot dog vendors, and ice cream stands as we near Fifth Avenue, a mixture of spicy and sweet. We walk in silence past the Metropolitan Museum of Art, past the Temple of Dendur that Dad would bring me to on the weekends after tee-ball games and strawberry shortcake ice cream bars. The old temple was cool and all, but the thing I remember most was the T206 Honus Wagner card they had, housed in a glass case in a hallway of memorabilia. It was the rarest baseball card in the world, Dad had said, and told me that there were less than sixty in existence. I cross the bike path right inside Central Park before the streetlight says WALK, and Mom and Grunt hurry after me. It’s game time now, and I slide my bat out of the bag, whirling it around in the air. “Be careful sweetie,” Mom says. “You’ll hit someone.” Grunt grunts his agreement, but I pay no attention to them and hurry to field number eight, which is separated from the Great Lawn by the loop and is next to the basketball courts where guys are playing pickup. I can feel the surrounding buzz. Some people are lounging on the grass under the
outer trees while others play frisbee, football, or soccer. Older men are getting way too into their softball games, and they yell LOOK OUT! if you get too close. I beat Mom and Grunt to the field, lace up my cleats, and join the rest of my team in the outfield for warmups. We shag fly balls and run do-or-die drills, spitting copious amounts of David’s sunflower seeds on the carefully manicured grass. We underhand flip buckets of balls to each other, hitting them against the fence with a satisfying rattle every time. Coach Martin calls us over, tells us he’s posted the lineup in the dugout. I’m not starting, which is okay with me I guess because I never start anyway so my expectations were low to begin with. We break from our huddle and because we are the home team, the guys hustle out onto the field and I sit in the dugout, marking the plays on the scorecard like I usually do. I keep my head down. I don’t like seeing Mom crane her neck to see if today is the day I get to run out there with the rest of them. Coach Martin is standing in the corner of the dugout, watching our pitcher and catcher intently, but I see him glance at me out of the corner of my eye, tentatively, and suddenly he turns and motions me over towards him. “You know, James, I wanted to start you today, but it’s an important game and we
need you doing your dugout duties, making sure the boys are all good to go.” “Okay, coach. I understand.” “I’ll see if we can get you in at some point.” Okay, I say, and sit back down. I want what’s best for the team. But I know I’m better than Greg, the right fielder, who bats eighth and always either strikes out or hits a dribbler to the pitcher. I also know what Dad would say -- that the best players paid their dues before they made it big league. I doubt that Hank Aaron ever sat on the bench, though. While the game goes on, I rewrap my bat handle and teach myself to put three sunflower seeds in my mouth at the same time and shell them individually. I watch as the other team puts up three runs and we put up two, leaving two men on in both the fifth and sixth innings. Ducks on the pond, as Coach Martin calls them. I watch as Travis, our center fielder, trips while running down a fly ball and lets out a yell of pain as he catches it. The team hustles off the field, but Travis limps heavily, wincing with every step. Martin checks him out, tells him to ice his ankle and crosses his name off the lineup. He looks at me and says, “You’re in the hole.” I jump off the bench, grab my helmet and bat and weighted donut and start taking my practice swings. I don’t use batting gloves because neither does Moisés Alou and he’s in
the middle of a twenty-five game hitting streak right now. Mike is up to bat, and he takes an easy walk. Greg steps up to the plate, and in three straight pitches manages to whiff every single swing. Mike was able to steal on the second pitch. Now it’s me, with one out, man on second, losing three to two in the bottom of the seventh. I approach the batter’s box, digging my right cleat in so I can have better footing. Mom still hasn’t realized I’m in the game yet - she’s talking with Grunt and looking at the newspaper on her lap. I can’t really blame her for not being very interested. I haven’t played in three games and she must get awfully bored. She always comes to my games, even the one the weekend after Dad died. It was back when we still batted off a tee. I don’t remember much from that game except the one at bat I had I couldn’t seem to even touch the ball, which was lying stationary on the stand. Whiff, whiff, whiff, and I remember her cheering hoarsely from the stands, her eyes saggy and red. No whiffs today, though. I glance across the field, where a young boy is playing catch with his dad. I can hear the sharp smack of ball against leather glove from hundreds of feet away. Make your arms into a ‘T,’ Dad had told me.
Point where you want to throw. I had thrown it right at him and it hit his old mitt right in front of his chest. Ow! he had exclaimed. That one hurt! I had giggled. Now the pitcher comes to his set position. I clench my teeth and settle into my stance, rotating my bat in circles above my head. The pitcher winds up, throws, the ball a white blur. I let it go, it looks outside. Strike one! the umpire calls. I think he’s wrong, but you never argue with the ump, maybe only ask him questions. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mom nudging Grunt, motioning earnestly towards home plate. “Go James!” she yells and claps. Where’s Dad? I had asked Mom in the afternoon on nine-eleven. She had taken me out of pre-school that morning. He’s helping all of the people that are in trouble, she had replied. Rescue and recovery. He’ll be okay. She looked worried, though. When the door opened that night and it was Dad in the doorway, I remember how she clutched her chest like she thought it might explode. It was the same way Dad clutched his chest three years later when his lungs gave out, when they got scratchy and black from all the dust and dirt on nine-eleven and after so many tests the doctor said it was Cancer. Stage four, he had said, which I didn’t understand at the time.
Now, I clutch my bat. Pitch two comes in higher than the last one, but inside. I still don’t swing. Strike two! the ump calls, and my dugout erupts into angry cries from the players and the coach. Mom yells out. I don’t look at them. I step out of the batter’s box and clear my mind. I need to focus. In the box under the couch in our apartment is a small envelope with a letter in it that had also once contained my Mike Piazza card in its plastic sleeve. The doctor gave it to me the day Dad died. He said it was on Dad’s bedside table and addressed to me. I have it memorized by heart, I’ve read it so many times. Jame-o: I wish you could fully remember the first baseball game in New York after 9/11. It was the Mets versus the Atlanta Braves, ten days after the Twin Towers fell and so many lives were lost. The two teams were bitter rivals, but for a short period of time, everyone stood together, waving American flags with their hands holding their caps over their hearts. I saw 30,000 people cry during the national anthem, and when it was done, chants of “USA! USA!” echoed around the stadium. It was late in the game when Piazza came up to bat. The score was 2-1 Braves and he swung for the fences.
He swung for the city, for the dead and for the living. It was the home run heard around the world, a call of hope and freedom in the face of despair. It was resilience and celebration, it was light-in-the-dark believing. It’s your turn to be Mike Piazza now, James. Be that hope for your mother. All love, Dad The windup, the pitch. The ball is hurled at me, trying to go past me, getting closer and closer. Do I swing? I know that the pitcher is probably trying to trick me, to give me his junk, to make me look stupid, to keep me on the bench. Expect curveball, adjust for fastball, Dad said. But I never prepare for the curveballs. No one ever really does. All I do is adjust to is the disappointment after the whiffs, the bitter taste in my mouth, the lump in my throat. I see the pitch, bigger than it’s ever been before, and my hands move, my body twisting, my back heel squishing the bug, the bat exploding through the strike zone. Clang. Not a crack, not the sound that it makes in the Majors when the whole stadium sits upright, ears perked to the wood-meets-leather smack, the sharp bite that pierces the crowd, not even the end-of-the-barrel clunk or the close-to-the-handle clink of a metal bat, but
ART AWARD WINNER
Julia lubarsky Judge: Mark Hosford
the american childhOOd I left in the hindu Temple Jumping from wooden bench to wooden bench, as the chopals stored underneath watched us dance in the shoe room to irregular beats. Fastened onto our ankles, bells tied together with leather straps, imprinted with the fading hands that once crafted this culture. We, at the kid’s table, turning away from the stage, stealing sugar packets from behind the kitchen counter, turning blind eye with our cheap Taco Bell and Polly Pocket whining. Our parents, acting out the lessons we’d never learn, Mahabharata, an epic we planned to forget — I had to look up the spelling just now — as soon as the rehearsed lines fell off our lips. Yet, when asked, we would say with an assured degree of certainty, that we were better than the screaming toddlers
who ran through the newly tiled halls, iPhones in their back pocket, crimson and charcoal dots drawn onto their foreheads imitating our own. At least we had salvaged something, we would say, while the carved granite gods heard us whisper our doubts before prayer had even started. We, at the kidâ€™s table, who learned to smile politely, when an auntie rosied our cheeks with questions not meant to be answered. The ones who still disappeared even now, as we returned home to visit, into the carpeted backroom, holding conversations as Americans leaving our chopals at the door.
POETRY AWARD WINNER
Anushka dhar Judge: Beth Anne Bachmann
TABLE OF CONTENTS PROSE
22 • The Day of the Christening • ARIANA YEATTS-LONSKE 25 • Facing God • LYDIA YOUSEF 28 • Farm Boys Wild to Couple with Anything • EMILY MEFFERT 45 • Selling a 1997 Ford Contourgl on Craigslist for $3500 • CHLOE ALLEN 47 • All Because My Mother is a No Good Liar • ALEXA BRAHME 56 • The Brothers Cannabis• CARTER ADKINS
ART 68 • REBBECA ARP 71 • EMILY GONCALVES 72 • “ Joe” • JERRY PHILLIPS 74 • “ JOHNMAN GOODALE 77 • Enigma • JULIA LUBARSKY 78 • JOHNMAN GOODALE 81 • Hands 2 • REBECCA ARP 82 • NAOMI CHAN 84 • JENNIFER LI 86 • JENNIFER LI 88 • NAOMI CHAN 91 • 7.00 N, 134 15 E• JERRY PHILLIPS 93 • JENNIFER LI 72 • “ Joe” • JERRY PHILLIPS 0 0 96 • A Portrait of My Dad • JULIA LUBARSKY 99 • One Boat, One Life III JERRY PHILLIPS 100 • Battle of the Celestial Bodies • JAMES MENTZ 102 • JUSTINE KAEMMERLEN 105 • Touch • JULIA LUBARSKY 106 • Float• JULIA LUBARSKY 109 • JUSTINE KAEMMERLEN
111 • JUSTINE KAEMMERLEN 113 • Untitled A/V Installation • JAMES AND PHIL MENTZ 114 • BlackBoyBlues • JOSH FORGES 117 • JOHNMAN GOODALE
Multimedia 118 • Big Fat Mouth • Arlie 119 • Spiiral • Nathaniel Bank 119 • Freedom • Nathaniel Banks
POETRY 122 • Tender • IRENA CHIANG 124 • The Dream • ARIANA YEATTS-LONSKE 125 • Don’t Worry Baba, I Remember • ELONA BELOKON 127 • The Day My Brother Came Home • REBECCA BENDHEIM 128 • 1492 • EMILY MEFFERT 130 • A Nativity Scene • EMILY MEFFERT 131 • Torn Blood • ANUSHKA DHAR 132 • From the Mouths • LISA MULOMA 133 • Preparing for an Interview about Locker Room Talk • LEONA BELOKON 134 • Crossing the Border • SYDNEY PEDIGO 135 • Dark (Song of Solomon) • IRENA CHIANG 136 • Untitled (Who Is Who) • JEANA POINDEXTER 139 • Milagros • EMILY MEFFERT 141 • This Is How We Do Death Here • LISA MULOMA 142 • Lies • REBECCA BENDHEIM 143 • Last Night as I Was Praying and Wandering Through • ARIANA YEATTS-LONSKE 145 • Can You Feel Me Here • LEE SETILI 146 • It Is Saturday Afternoon • LISA MULOMA 147 • Dream 10 Minutes: Bobbysocks and a Hot-Water Bottle • JACKIE OLSON 149 • Peach Season •Katherine Ward 151 • After the LSAT I Jump into the Community Pool • LISA MULOMA
PrOse | 21
The day Of the christening Ariana Yeatts-Lonske “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Leo bobbed his glass of scotch toward Roy’s head once for each name, sloshing the liquid almost over the rim and tilting dangerously off his barstool—but not so far that Roy reached out to steady him. It was 11 AM. Leo could have toppled to the floor before Roy would have reached out a steadying hand. This wasn’t a restaurant; this was a bar that happened to serve food, none of which Leo had expressed interest in ordering. This wasn’t a quick stop; this was Leo’s fifth scotch. Maria was already annoyed that Leo drove in from the city to come to the christening, doubly annoyed that Leo was to become their son’s godfather, triply annoyed that Leo had insisted on driving Roy to the church himself. If Leo fell off his chair during this unnecessary, untruthful pit stop, Roy figured he deserved it. Over the ten years of Roy and Maria’s marriage, the same pattern had repeated itself every few months without fail: Leo would drive into the suburbs in between construction jobs, change something about their lives to make it more like Leo and Roy’s boyhood, enrage Maria to the brink of threats, and drive back to | 22
his own life. It had taken Maria a long time to get over the tree house Leo had insisted on building in their backyard; Roy couldn’t imagine how she would feel about drunken fathers and godfathers at a christening. Leo slid his scotch across the faux marble counter at Roy, dipping his head toward it and widening his eyes. “I’ll pay! You won’t even have to pay.” When Roy’s hand didn’t loosen its grip on his beer, Leo shook his head and blew air out through his mouth. “What happened to my brother? What— that woman won’t let you?” “Leo, ten years is long enough to learn her name.” “Okay. That Maria won’t let you?” “It’s not her! I don’t want to fuck things up for George. The world will fuck him up enough, I’m sure—at least his christening should be normal.” Leo emptied the rest of his glass and pushed it in the direction of the bartender. “I didn’t realize you were naming him George. I figured you almost would have run out of names by now.” Good, Roy wanted to talk about George. Maybe if they started to talk about George, Leo would act less Pi Beta Psi and more Middlebury Presbyterian Church of Christ.
“Yeah, George. After Maria’s great-uncle. You met him at the wedding?” “Oh, him.” “What?” “Do you really want to name your kid after someone who looked like he was already dead for the last 10 years of his life?” “Leo, he was sick, don’t be an asshole.” “I’m just saying! The guy probably had gray skin as a kid.” Leo was being an asshole, but Roy knew what he meant. Still—George had supported them when Roy was just a salesperson at the store and Maria stayed home with their first, a point Maria had reminded him of several times during their name negotiations. Things like that mattered more and more to Roy lately—not debts to settle exactly, but remembering who had helped him when he couldn’t give them anything for it. People like Leo always expected something back. “How are things going at the store? Any more promotions?” Roy startled at the sound of aluminum being crushed, taking a beat to realize it was his hand tightening around the beer can. His nose filling with Chanel no 5 in a bar with only eighty wproof and stale onion rings to smell. The department store used to mean orderly rows of colored shirts and sharply dressed mannequins and florescent lights
and respite from five children toppling and squirming and squawking. Now it just meant Sarah. Sarah of the perfume section, Sarah of the red frilled dress that made him order all the female sales clerks to wear red frilled dresses, Sarah of the soft neck, Sarah of the back room table, Sarah of the missed period. Three months missed. She told him yesterday. Roy tried to think, wildly, of something to say. “Yeah, a shipment of shirts. Yesterday. New shirts. Too large. Red.” Fuck, he couldn’t get away from the red. There was no way Leo would know what red meant! All he had to do was speak like he normally did after two beers—loose, bright—and keep his mind on George and the church. The church, yes, they were almost due there. Was there a clock in here? Did he own a watch? Roy looked up from the beer can whose blue borders were beginning to menace him to see his brother looking at him with a surprisingly even stare. “Roy, did you get laid off?” “No! What—why are you talking about—?” He knew he was missing a word, or had added one too many, but he couldn’t think of what they might be. Roy tried to look directly into the blue of Leo’s eyes, his eyes blue as the day their mother brought him home from the hospital—Roy’s birthday present, she had said— but Roy worried he wasn’t blinking enough | 23
now. How often do people normally blink? How wide were normal eyes? He couldn’t stand this! Maybe if he ordered hard liquor like Leo had wanted him to this whole time, Leo would leave him alone and Roy could go back to being a good father, a good husband and forget all about the freckle right above Sarah’s lip, her soft— Roy’s hand brushed the cold marble, finger rising to signal the bartender, but Leo swiveled in his barstool, sweeping his own arm around Roy’s shoulder. “Look, I would never tell her. The gig I told you about working on that dorm for BU? I just made it up.” Roy jostled Leo’s arm off his shoulder and tried to catch the bartender’s eye. She was pretty and Roy was deeply glad that bartenders wore all black, always, always. “Maria would kill me. She is going to kill me,” Roy said, after indicating that he wanted three shots of Grey Goose. “You can just tell her after you get a new one. I swear! I won’t even tell George.” Roy thought of the accidentally torn Bible of his childhood, the broken curfew on prom night, the sipped liquor from the cabinet— all Leo’s “secrets,” all Roy’s punishments. Leo’s word, too, after the tree house, that he wouldn’t visit them again, and now Leo’s body warm and earnest next to him. If he told Leo the real reason, there’s no way it wouldn’t get to Maria eventually. It just took a single moment of anger
before Leo slammed their front door and then the door to his pick-up truck during one of their tiffs. And even if Leo only knew the fake reason, only snarled that at her, there’s no way she wouldn’t figure it all out eventually. There was a clinic in the city. There was an adoption agency somewhere in town, too, but how to hide Sarah’s bump until then? What would he have to give Leo? In just five minutes, they would drive down the road bursting with autumn color, find a parking spot behind the church, and approach his wife in a black dress, his son in the smallest suit they could find at the store. As long as Maria never found out, he knew he could deal with anything, pay for anything. Roy turned to look at his brother swinging his legs gently off the bar stool, flicking his glass until it made music. Leo’s eyes were their father’s and his nose was their mother’s, but no one knew where the dimple came from. It had seemed entirely his own until George had appeared on earth with that same dip of flesh. Roy reached out to touch his brother’s face but at the last minute swerved to slap his back, twice. “Leo, Leo, what a beautiful name!” Roy was feeling generous now, giddy, he knew what he had to do.
Facing GOd Lydia Yousef Fayrouz sings upon the streets—no, her voice keeps the asphalt streets warm, just as it keeps us warm, here, in the café. Samir smokes his sheesha, exhales, lets its breath dance. He’ll stop every once and awhile, dazed at the smoke’s skills (at his own skills), and say, “If only Fatima knew how to move like that.” A boy walks in the middle of the street, between the two raised towers of manly creation. It’s hot, his skin is sautéed, drawing out water. It’s the afternoon, and his mother needs alcohol to light the stove, so he’s out here, bleeding water on his forehead, walking in the middle of the street between the two raised towers. He passes by the butcher with cows, skinned, on either side of him, and who is in a debate over the Egyptians and Israelis. “Israelis have American weapons, you moron!” He’s shouting at a professor who shakes his head vehemently as the butcher rattles on about jet planes and tanks. “This is a war of weapons, ya ustaaz!” “No, it’s a war of the mind, Osman! Have you seen how the Israelis offer their people resources, so that these people can be innovators and intellectuals of war! This is how they win. This is how they win.” Suddenly,
the professor stops, his eyes blinking. “We’ve always been losers anyway, we Syrians. God looks upon us with sideways eyes. Syrians, attack Israel, for their prophets have failed Me and their ears turn from Me. How about us, O Almighty? Just conquer them, bring them to Me, He says. This is what we’re meant to be as a people: a staple of a God who never learned to love us.” The butcher rolls his eyes. He’s used to the professor’s internal trances. “Don’t get emotional, ustaaz! Leave that for your students behind those walls. Here, you’re on the streets. Here, God loves us. Here—“ The boy is alerted by a man rising from his hookah and shrieking, “No, do not end Fayrouz! Do not end!” He falls back in his seat. “Now comes the news.” Asaad’s voice sounds, and as the boy passes each café, men gambling on backgammon and smoking and listening and growling, Assad’s voice falls and rises, falls and rises as the boy moves through the city on his way for some alcohol. Actually, the alcohol is only minutes from his house, but the boy likes this walk, and his mother will probably find something else to do like beat the carpets or sew his sandals | 25
or brush his sister’s bushed hair. She’ll find something else, and he’ll enjoy his walk through his city. “He’s lying!” says the sheikh to the mechanic. “You know that? Men lie. God does not.” “God lied to me about my wife, ma’elem.” The men laugh—weakly, though, because nothing is funny anymore. “He’s lying about Nasser! Egypt is down. Israel has taken everything. America has taken everything! And Syria will be next. The Jews and the West are coming. They’re coming to destroy us—uproot us from our land like they did our brothers! It’s senseless to sit here like— like ducks, waiting for…waiting for…” “Waiting for God, sheikh? What does the Quran say?” “The Quran wants us to arm ourselves. He tells us this is surat al-haj, people. ‘…and God will assist them.’ Prepare to stand for ourselves when they bring us desolation to our door. We cannot let mercy corrupt us. Look where we are now after all these years of their presence here, and we said, ‘Tomorrow, they will wake to see our forsaken faces, our hunched lives, and they will be human—they will leave us to live, let our lives uncoil and breathe, let our faces see each other and rejoice.’ How long have we waited!” The boy winced—for the sun was setting right | 26
over his shoulder—and he saw the men crawl from the café, leaving their hookahs, their dice unrolled and still, their tea in glasses with only fingerprints of that day. The boy stopped then and turned to see them abandon their families, their jobs, their lives; they walked united, fury smeared with sweat on their faces, their hands empty of labor, their minds fixated on God’s back; they were the scorned children He never wanted, and yet they ran, chasing. ** The man watches the news. He sits on a Sunday morning eating eggs mashed with potatoes to give sustenance, and he eats scooping with the bread and watching the TV showcase clip after clip of Aleppo, burning. “If you don’t speak Arabic to him, he won’t learn,” his wife shouts from the laundry room. “Do you want that to happen to him? How will be speak to his grandfather?” The man doesn’t answer. He watches two rising towers hugging the street he walked on to get the alcohol for his mother every Saturday. He watches them fall, and he lets the bread go, his hands free, laying them on the table. He watches the butcher’s stand crumble, unwilling to hold itself up any longer, and the university’s iron gates cringe from impact of
being opened and broken down. He watches the cafes that played Fayrouz at five pm every day except Friday groan and, without reaching to save themselves, fall too. They all meet the earth face first, trembling, dead now from their former majesty in which they stood as icons to a world of aching people. “How is he to pray? Do we want him to pray in English, so he can understand? Or do we want him to pray in Arabic like his grandparents, like us?” The dust from those backgammon tables rises, wailing, dancing. And all alone in the street he walked is a single hookah, broken, hasheesha spread across the cracked, grayed asphalt. The last image he has is of a woman beating her chest, dressed all in black, screaming, screeching. Nothing consoles her. That night he closes his eyes and sees those men march from the bar after the sheikh, demanding God turn to them. When he saw them the next Saturday, they were dressed in black. One of them pulled him aside and said, “Join us. There’s nothing here anymore. Syria isn’t home anymore. God is our consolation, our savior. We fight for Him.” The boy hadn’t believed, and soon, like the professor who argued every Saturday with the butcher, his family moved far away—no, they
tore themselves away from the land that nursed them. And they came here to grow up and sit in front of a television and watch, torn away, forty years later, only to see God cover His ears and sleep.
FARMS BOYS WILD TO COUPLE WITH ANYTHING Emily Meffert “The South is fine, isn’t it. It’s better than the theatre, isn’t it. It’s better than Ben Hur, isn’t it. No wonder you have to come away now and then, isn’t it.” Way back when Interstate 20 was new I heard Johnny Cash sing “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” for the first time. It was February and snow lay on the sides of the asphalt like a fine layer of dust; it blurred by in streams of white. The Man in Black buzzed through radio static all the way from Ridgeville to Atlanta, and Mr. Ackley’s deafening tenor fell in with the refrains. Me and Roy were cramped up in his daddy’s Mercury because Mrs. Ackley needed “a weekend to herself.” We shot out of that two-bit town like a rocket. We holed up in this motel on the South side of the city. Its vacancy sign was hot neon, and it flickered in the evenings, hummed like it was warm. At night Mr. Ackley sat in a plastic chair outside our motel room, and he smoked Virginia Slims while me and Roy kicked pebbles across the broken pavement. On Saturday Mr. Ackley dragged us into the city built on Sherman’s victorious dust, and we went to a museum.
The lady had a blue vest and a broken face. Her face looked like it had been broken long before, like it had spent years trying to heal over the damage, but you could still tell. She had glitter on her cherry red nails, and she pointed toward an elephant with long white tusks that curved from its mouth like rounded quarter-moon swords. Cobwebs drooped their silken lines across doorframes in the halls; Mr. Ackley’s forehead picked up the wrinkled air as he moved from room to room. There were men with sunken eyes and hairy chests, slumped shoulders and long arms. There were men in painted faces and feathered hats, women with sad eyes, babies suckling waxen breasts the color of clay. The Noble Savage and the Crusade for Southern Independence; Andrew Jackson fighting fearlessly in the War of 1812. History unfolded like a still life painted around us. Me and Roy pressed at all the edges, we burrowed into the bowels of the past, the secret rooms where people forgot to go. Way back in some corner the walls were buried in jars like small closets of glass. Our breath pierced the empty space and the air shifted, ruffling the ancient dust.
It stared at us from inside one of the glass jars. Pickled in alcohol, eyes big as moons. It wasn’t like any baby I’d ever seen. It had little arms and legs, but they were deformed, like God had pressed cruel fingers into their soft surfaces as he was making them. The distorted limbs floated outward from the small body, fermented in paralysis. It couldn’t have been more than half-human; a blanket of wool draped over its bones like skin. It stared at us with blind eyes, and we couldn’t look for more than a few seconds. You can’t stand to look at things like that. Misshapen, accusatory, stillborn. Me and Roy were quiet like death after that; we were quiet through the whole rest of the museum. It was just the buzz of other folks’ passing conversations, swallowed up in the big heavy silence. Roy Ackley taught me how to dip. I was twelve, and Saturday afternoons we’d sit out behind Duke’s all-you-can-eat Bar-B-Q, there on the broken asphalt, and we’d spit. Pack a fat lip and shoot the bull. The first time it burned, and Roy said, Don’t swallow it or you’ll throw up. My gums burned and my head buzzed. The world got slow and good. The afternoon was easy and our words played lazily on the ripening spring air. The tobacco stuck in the cracks between my teeth like pepper, and Roy showed me how to swish
Mountain Dew to rinse it out. When we got back to Ridgeville at the end of the weekend we snuck out behind Duke’s. Roy produced a brand new can of snuff and we raked our boots through the gravel at the edge of the asphalt. The cold ground burned through my jeans and buzzed across my bones. The earth was bare and unfriendly. “You seen that thing?” Roy said finally, breaking the hard silence. I didn’t say anything for a long minute, sucking my gums. I turned to look at him, like we might not be thinking the same thing, like what we’d seen might’ve been a strange dream. “Chantilly Lace” was playing in Duke’s behind us. “What d’you think it was?” I said. Roy looked back at me and his face was serious. “Sheep baby, I reckon,” Roy mused. And that was that. I shifted uncomfortably and the crisp winter air was biting. The memory was a lead weight in my skull and I tried to shake it out. Eyes big as moons, pickled in alcohol, whispering things with its eyes. I drank my first beer with Roy. We were thirteen then. We’d go to the five and ten and sit on the curb in the parking lot and drink Jax from a can. Mr. Yarbrough, who owned the five and ten, was the only man in Dorchester County who slept in on Sundays. He did business out the wazoo even though his occasional | 29
taking the Lord’s name in vain raised some eyebrows from time to time. If you weren’t a Baptist, you were a Methodist, and if you weren’t a Methodist, you were a Pentecostal, and if you weren’t a Pentecostal, you were born someplace else. Mr. Yarbrough was from somewhere up north where they apparently didn’t have much religion, and he’d sneak us beers at the five and ten. Mr. Yarbrough gave all his used egg cartons to Shirley Ainsworth. Ms. Ainsworth was a black woman just about old as Africa, with skin that creased around her eyes and fell in droops from her chin. I knew her even before Mr. Yarbrough moved to Ridgeville because she never much left her front porch, and I’d walk down Myers Mayo on my way to Rowan Haskell’s place and say How do. She’d sit in a faded pink plastic chair under a heap of thread-bare shawls, even in the swollen agony of June, like it wasn’t a thousand miserable degrees outside. The mountain of linens draped around her made her look majestic, and she would always holler some fragment of small talk from her plastic pink throne. When Mr. Yarbrough moved here me and Roy started being over at Ms. Ainsworth’s place all the time seems like. Mr. Yarbrough said he’d give us beers only if we helped out at Ms. Ainsworth’s, stuff around her house, easy chores.
Mr. Yarbrough was a good man. There’s a ton of stuff you learn about folks from spending time in their home. Like for instance I learned Ms. Ainsworth’s husband was Cassius Ainsworth, and he died in 1947. She never remarried. Her son, Isaiah, lived with his wife and their three kids in Spartanburg, where he worked painting houses. Her daughter, Naomi, married a white man from Richmond, but was divorced after three years. She remarried shortly after and moved with her new husband to Hampton, and they might still be there far as I know. Ms. Ainsworth saw her children and their families here and there. Stepping into Shirley Ainsworth’s house was stepping back in time. It was like the air stopped breathing in 1947; it smelled stale. There was a fine layer of dust that lay like a thin blanket over the upholstery and the countertops. Decades of streaming sunlight had paled the monochrome photographs that hung on the walls. They were filled with faces I didn’t know. I walked carefully through the rooms, like they were sleeping, like I was afraid I might wake them up. She had chickens out back. Maybe forty. Mostly me and Roy just collected chicken eggs, we put them in a bucket and washed them and put them in old cardboard cartons so Ms. Ainsworth could sell them when she rode
into Summerville on Saturdays. Some chickens lay brown eggs. I didn’t know this; the ones you bought from the five and ten were white. Ms. Ainsworth’s chickens laid brown eggs. Sometimes I’d catch one in the middle of roosting, and I’d wait with my hand under the chicken butt to feel the egg fall out. They’d come out warm and covered in some kind of slime. And they were soft. Like you could press in with your fingers and shape the egg like a lump of clay. When we washed them the eggs were all different. Some were light brown, some burnt orange, some very pale, almost white. Most of them were smooth and unblemished, but a few here and there were freckled with spots. Usually the spots were dark brown but occasionally they were deep red, and you could see blood smeared across the shell. Ms. Ainsworth told us that the chickens push out bloody eggs when they’re under stress. Roy asked her what made chickens stressed. She said teenage boys. One Friday afternoon when I was fifteen there were five of us on Ms. Ainsworth’s back porch. It was September; school would start back up the next week. Jeb Campbell and Webb Slayback had been drinking Jax with me and Roy lately so we were all over at Ms. Ainsworth’s place getting all the cartons of eggs in order for her trip into Summerville the
next day. Us boys were spitting sunflower seeds and Ms. Ainsworth was taking long drags on her cigarette. I guess a while back she’d heard from someone that eating sunflower seeds helps you quit smoking, which she had intended to do, apparently. But she must have given the whole thing up, so she just smoked and spit sunflower seeds, and she seemed happy enough. She smoked it down until all that was left between her fingers was just a pitiful charred nub, then flung it into the mud under the porch. She adjusted the shawls wrapped clumsily around her shoulders and sighed heavy, like she was forcing all the air in her frail body out through her mouth and into the wind. I could hear her joints creak as she stood up and said, “I’m takin’ a nap.” She turned and walked slowly and awkwardly toward the screen door, like her ancient bones were caught off guard, surprised at their own movement. Before she shut the door behind her she turned toward us and said, “if any them seeds left y’all put that sack on the counter ‘fore you leave.” There was some nods and yessum’s among us, then she disappeared into the dark still house, and the slam of the door was severe in the heavy quiet. When we went back to school in a few days, Roy and Webb would be seniors. Jeb would be a junior; I would be a sophomore. When | 31
Ms. Ainsworth went inside we packed a lip and sat in silence, feeling the summer dying on the early crisp air. A hush settled on the porch and my head buzzed from the inside. Finally Webb spoke, and his quiet words woke everything up. “Me and Claiborne Cox did it last night,” his lips curled into a smile and he spit brown juice off the porch. “Hell you did,” Roy challenged, sucking his gums. “She was runnin’ ‘round with Gardner Noble last I heard.” “Hell. Gardner Noble was at the game just last weekend with Missy Ward. He ain’t nothin’ to Claiborne,” Webb fired back. “I know Mrs. Slayback ain’t lettin’ no Claiborne Cox in her house to screw around with her son,” Jeb cut in. “Whole county knows she’s fast as all get out.” Roy snorted and said, “almost fast as that slut Lane Newell.” “We wasn’t in my house, matter-a-fact,” Webb shot back. “We’s out ‘hind the Cypress camp, right out there with the ghosties. Betcha they could hear Claiborne hollerin’ even.” Cypress Methodist Campground was a big dump of about thirty run-down shacks that been there since around the beginning of time. Each year in March every Methodist across the state holes up there for a week to listen to preachers shout about fire and brimstone and all that.
Folks’ve always said it’s stock full up with ghosts, but us who’s born here still aren’t sure. “Hell,” Jeb said. “Lane Newell’s speed ain’t kep’ me away.” He winked and spat a fat one in the dirt. We all knew Jeb’d screwed Lane under the water tower the past Labor Day; they’d had a kind of on-and-off thing since then. Years back Page Newell had run off with some backwater Cherokee woman from up around Walhalla; since then Kitty Newell’d been living off Wonder Bread and Old Crow, and Lane snuck into Jeb’s window nights when Kitty got mean. I stayed quiet and felt the wet dirt in my gums. The sun fell through the Spanish moss and played like a kaleidoscope on a bed of fallen pine needles. “And ol’ Reed here’s still waitin’ on his belle of the ball,” Roy slapped my back and howled. He doubled over like his gut ached from laughing so hard. “No shit? Holy shit, Reed, you ain’t?” Webb might as well have heard they stuck a black man in the Oval Office. His face was all baffled amusement. “Hot damn,” Jeb echoed. “Reed McEuen. I’ll be.” I slid my tongue over my bottom teeth and loosened the soggy mound below my lip, leaned off the porch step and let the solid clump fall off my tongue. It disappeared in
the black mud below. “Y’all can go to hell,” I grumbled and grabbed the sunflower seeds. Slipping through the screen door, I left the hemp sack on the kitchen counter. It was 1947 and the house was asleep. The sun fell in slices through the half-closed plastic blinds, and the dust swam across the empty space. I walked soundlessly through the rooms. There was long grass grew in the pasture west of the Cypress Camp. There were burs in the grass; they’d stick to your pants like ticks. Rowan Haskell owned the grass; he owned all the earth west of the Cypress Camp until it emptied out at Dawson’s Branch and US 78. He lived in an old weather-beaten house at the opposite end of Myers Mayo. The house was buried in a sanctuary of live oaks. They were tired. They leaned inward in communion above the house; the house lived in an endless shadow. Spanish moss drooped off the branches and breathed on the shingles of the house, and breathed over the spaces where the shingles were missing. The house was tired too. When you looked at it, you got the feeling that it was leaning, like it was always dipping farther into the earth. Rowan Haskell was always doing one of two things. He was either a) shacking up with some whore in Charleston, or b) in the house
on Myers Mayo, sleeping off a hangover that he worked up with some whore in Charleston. Rowan’s daddy, Breckinridge Haskell, left him the house when he ate the barrel of a .44 however many years ago, and Rowan’d been doing absolutely nothing in it since. But there were sheep. If it wasn’t for the problem of keeping them fed, he likely would’ve forgotten their existence soon’s his daddy died. They were piled way back in a corner of the Haskell property, bordered by the Methodist Camp on one side and Great Cypress Swamp on the other. Weekdays Rowan’d leave feed in the barn and I’d haul the fifty-pound sack to the other side of the property, to the pasture where the sheep were piled deep up in that corner. Thursdays he’d leave a crisp ten under the feed sacks. I’d dump the feed in metal troughs that’d been there so long you would think they’d sprouted right out of the clay. The long grass grew up around their edges; they were misplaced pieces of silver in a blazing sea of gold. I’d go there in the mornings, when the sun was sleepy-eyed, and the air was new. The edges of the metal troughs were lined with dew, and dew licked across the sun-swept sea of grass. The grass shivered. The morning was electric. It’s hard to talk about the first time. It’s hard to catch moments and force them into words, like | 33
pinning the breathy spills of wind on paper. It’s hard to talk about ecstasy snaking through the grass like a train. It was all soft. The morning was cool and she was heat. She was soft in the long grass. September blazed across my knees in waves and my knees kissed the soft clay. The clay hummed; the dew buzzed on the grass. The sun spilled across the horizon and flooded the pasture. The earth ached and swelled. The earth was hard. I don’t know why I don’t know why I don’t know. But the air was new, and she was soft over the hard earth. My skin sweated and prickled and turned into goose flesh. The grass ached and the roots swelled. The roots found the soft places, they buried into the soft wet. Then the roots receded and then they buried again. They receded and buried, receded and buried, farther into the heat of the earth. There was ecstasy in the grass. The pressure came in waves, the pressure and the aching earth. We danced together in the sweep of spilling sun, against the hard clay spinning beneath us. The clay spun faster and faster until we could not hold onto it, it flung us off, we flew across the golden morning waves, the roots receded from the soft and the air moved slow. She was quiet. Burs buried into her wool like small stones nestled in snow. I exhaled; I bathed in the new wetness. Everything was
blazing and shivers, shivering waves, dew and prickles and goose flesh. The first time it happened I cried, and I knew what Webb was talking about. Shirley Ainsworth adjusted her shawls and spat the shell of a sunflower seed into an empty Coke bottle. “Y’all tellin’ me you ain’t learn a daggone thing. Well.” Holler, chew, spit, repeat. “It’s just the same ol’ same ol’, you know how the first week is,” Roy spoke without looking up from the sink. We were scrubbing dirt off the eggs in the stale, sleeping kitchen. The buckets were heavy that afternoon; Ms. Ainsworth would make a good profit in Summerville the next day. “Two young men ain’t know a daggone thing b’tween’m. Y’all wonder why the girls ain’t holler at you, well that’s why. Not a daggone thing,” Ms. Ainsworth’s voice was at least five times the size of her body, and she reminded us of this all the time. “Hell. Y’all know anything at all?” “Oh give it a rest,” my voice came out louder than I expected. I looked around cautiously, as though the house might have been upset by the noise. “I know somethin’, I’ll tell y’all somethin’,” Roy gave in. Ms. Ainsworth looked up from the sack of seeds she’d been inspecting, unimpressed but listening nonetheless. “In Atlanta they got
a woolly baby lives in a bottle of alcohol,” he continued. Ms. Ainsworth snorted and said, “You dumb piece of shit. Ain’t no way.” She shook her head and returned to her inspection of seeds. “Yeah-huh, I swear on it,” Roy shot back. He kept on, “I heard from somebody says his eyes are open but you can’t stand to look.” Ms. Ainsworth just kept shaking her old head and muttering, “dumb piece of shit,” loud enough so Roy would know he was a dumb piece of shit. She plucked a half-smoked Marlboro from the counter and slipped through the screen door, out onto the back porch. She sat on the steps, and her bones creaked as they folded under her. “She ain’t so fun like she used to be,” Roy remarked, half to me and half under his breath. I just kept scrubbing and stayed quiet. The water in the sink was brown and opaque. The eggs swam in the sink like fish, and my hands were blind in the swirls of swampy liquid. I scratched the eggs with steel wool, erasing blemishes and tearing away scars. The last egg was white. Creamy white and freckled with dark spots, like stones on a fresh layer of snow. There was blood smeared across its wide bottom curve and it wouldn’t come off. We set it aside and put the rest of the eggs in cartons. “You talked to her since you heard from
Webb?” I pulled my knees up to my chest and rested my head on them, looking sideways at Jeb. “Hell no,” he said, like the question was ridiculous. He sighed and grew smaller in his white cotton t-shirt. Dirt was smeared across the front of it, Saturday Ms. Ainsworth rode into Summerville and me and Jeb sat out back behind Duke’s, there on the broken asphalt. “Lane’s knocked up,” he said, and spit into the gravel in front of him. He said it like he might’ve been telling the weather. Lane’s knocked up, and there’s a heat wave coming Tuesday. That’s just how he said it. I stared straight ahead, studying the pines that crowded into the gravel a short distance away. A truck pulled into Duke’s parking lot and I listened to voices drawling through the sticky heat. The seconds passed slow and hard, and finally I looked at Jeb. His legs were pulled up to his chest and he was hunched over them, staring blankly at the ground. My eyes stayed on him and you could tell he felt them. “I don’t know,” he muttered under his breath, almost like he was talking to himself. “She been with almost every boy from Senior High,” Jeb pressed on. He returned my stare finally, then quick looked away. “I’ll be damn if she tries to pin it on any one of’m.” I didn’t know what to say. What could you say? | 35
“How’d you hear?” I said softly. Not that it mattered; the grape vine weaved into every corner of the county, made gossips out of all the barflies and Baptists. If you didn’t know everything about everyone, you’d find out soon’s you stepped in the five and ten. “Webb heard it from Claiborne,” Jeb said evenly. “She told him Lane come over to her house Thursday with two black eyes.” His brow furrowed and his face got hard. “The things I’d do to Kitty Newell if I ever got my hands on her.” He clenched a handful of gravel between his fist, sucking in his lip. “Hayes Dixon from up Dawson’s Branch said Kitty come stumbling up Sissy Abbott’s doorstep looking for lightning last week. Said she reeked of something strong.” Ever since Margie Dixon’d been hit by a car on US 78 she’d been cross-eyed and mean as a snake. Hayes’d been cheating on her, sleeping with Sissy Abbott for years, and just about the whole town knew it. And just about the whole town kept their mouth shut, although you could count on the Methodists to look at him like they looked at Mr. Yarbrough. Sissy sold bathtub liquor under the table to Ridgeville’s closet drinkers, and Kitty Newell was one of her regulars. Any time you went to eat at Duke’s you’d see Hayes. The joint was owned by a black man, Hector Lynch, from eastern North Carolina,
Tarboro or some little town around there. And he cooked barbecue like he was from eastern North Carolina; you never tasted anything so good. He grew up on a tobacco farm, and you could tell it even before he told you; his voice scratched like he’d been smoking Pall Malls since he learned to walk. They’d hang the leaves in a big barn and fire-cure the tobacco, and a bunch of men from across Edgecombe County—black and white alike— would hole up there and cook a hog over the hickory smoke. He said he learned how to cook barbecue from his daddy, who learned from his daddy’s daddy, and barbecue had been in his family since the beginning of time or there about. Said his great granddaddy was a slave, the head cook on a big plantation, where they called him Pig Boy. Hector said it was a kind of rite of passage, and the first time he smoked a pig his daddy let him drink moonshine with the men. Said it tasted like kerosene and hit him like a train. Minerva Lynch was from Ridgeville originally, and they moved back here when her momma got batty and couldn’t live by herself. Hayes grew up in Kill Devil Hills and he said being at Duke’s reminded him of home, so he was there all the time, and you’d see Margie with him now and then. and Jeb smelled like earth.
Lane Newell was pretty. She was the kind of pretty that made boys like Jeb want to live between her legs; she was soft and round, like her whole body was a wild ripe swell of tits and hips, like she’d been raised on a diet of moon pies and RC Cola, which she probably had. Her eyes were green and freckles scarred her arms like stars. I had had a few classes with her; she’d show up now and then and say dumb things. But she was easy to talk to, and I felt bad when people called her a slut behind her back. She lived way out on the other side of Great Cypress Swamp with Kitty and a little brother, Frankie, who was retarded. Kitty bought the old shotgun house when she was pregnant with him, and its pink paint had been paling in the sun since then. You’d pass it on the way to the county dump, and sometimes you could see Frankie in the yard, yelling nonsense and clapping his hands. Lane was on the Senior High cheer squad until they kicked her off for missing football games, taking care of Frankie in Kitty’s growing absence. I don’t guess Page was Frankie’s daddy, but you never know. Jeb’s crumpled legs stretched out as he stood up on the asphalt. “School’s gonna be buzzin’ by Monday,” he said like a concluding thought. “Gonna be a big pain in the ass.” “Ain’t that the truth,” I echoed. -
By Thanksgiving break Lane’s belly was swollen and aching with life. That autumn was warm and pushed deep into November; the leaves had only begun to turn. She wore loose cotton dresses with flowers on them; they were faded, and I guessed they had been Kitty’s once upon a time. We had Biology together and she still came to class here and there, like she always had, but she was quiet. People talked. They didn’t even bother to say things behind her back; it was like Lane was a ghost, floating through the halls, overripe and deaf as death. Claiborne, who had always been attached to her hip, started spending more time with the cheer squad, and never seemed to be home when Lane called. Her boyfriends scattered and Jeb would look nervously away whenever he passed her locker. I started seeing her with Zinnea Wells, a third-year senior with acne scars. Zinnea’s grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee woman, which she was careful not to tell anyone, but Ridgeville’s secrets are never secrets long. People kept their distance from her, like she was contagious with something they didn’t want to catch. Once, on a Thursday afternoon in October, I took the long way to Rowan Haskell’s and found Lane and Zinnea smoking pot out behind the Cypress Camp. I acted like I was watching the dirt road beneath my boots, and | 37
I kept walking. They didn’t say anything. Lane hadn’t been in biology that day. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving Mr. Yarbrough’s family came to visit for the holiday. Me and Roy were drinking Jax in the parking lot at the five and ten, and a new car with a Massachusetts license plate pulled in next to us. A man and his teenage son climbed out and talked to each other with strange voices. They disappeared inside the store, then reappeared after a few minutes with Mr. Yarbrough. “Y’all come here!” shouted Mr. Yarbrough, who was already walking in our direction, the man and his son trailing behind. They looked at him like he had said something funny. We stood up from the curb and set our beers down on the fissured yellow paint. “This is my brother, Clark,” said Mr. Yarbrough, and put his hand on the back of the man beside him. “And this is my nephew, Theo,” he continued, smiling at the teenage boy on his other side. Me and Roy both mumbled “how do” and shook two pairs of hands. “This is Roy and Reed, two of my favorite boys around here,” Mr. Yarbrough explained to Clark and Theo. He winked at me and grinned like he was proud. Mr. Yarbrough was a good man. That evening me and Roy took Theo to Shirley Ainsworth’s place to show him the
chickens. We helped Ms. Ainsworth unload crates from her car when she got back from Summerville and asked how the market was. “Chickens is stubborn as hell this week,” she said, huffing and frustrated, “like they ain’t even know it’s the weekend ‘fore Thanksgivin’. Folks flockin’ from ‘cross damn near the whole state, seems like.” Me and Roy laughed and introduced her to Theo Yarbrough. “I’m gonna marry that uncle of yours one of these days,” she said matter-of-factly. Theo looked at me and Roy like he didn’t know what to say, and I rolled my eyes to let him know she was just slinging the bull. When the sun fell under the pines Ms. Ainsworth brought out tea and sunflower seeds. We sat on the back porch and listened to the night wake up. I grabbed a handful of seeds and reached down for the book that Theo had set on the bottom porch step when we got there. “What the hell you readin’ a book for when school’s on break?” Roy laughed and looked over at Theo. I studied the book’s cover like it was a painting in a museum. There was grass and a crossroads, an old dead tree and a sign post. “I just picked it up at some shop in Raleigh,” Theo said, shrugging. “We stopped there on our drive down here. My parents worry I don’t think very much when school isn’t in session,” he
explained. “Sunflower seeds?” Ms. Ainsworth, clearly uninterested in the conversation, tossed the hemp sack at Theo. She sat on her plastic chair in a cocoon of thick blankets. Seeming to bury her, they made her look even smaller than she was. They were the color of cream and smelled stale. Her head poked out like it was floating on the linens, and the charred end of a cigarette extended from her pressed lips. Theo glanced at the bag beside him but made no motion toward it. “It’s pretty bad, actually,” Theo said, and I realized he was still talking about the book. “You wonder why people talk about the South like it’s all messed up and backward,” he kept on, “and then you read stuff like that. You can’t even imagine people living that way.” Theo wore a collared shirt with buttons down the front, and his pants were pressed. He looked like the men I saw walking down Tobacco Street when we took trips into Charleston on Sundays, which we did sometimes. I’d never seen anyone dressed so nice in Ridgeville. His brows were set low over his eyes, like he was thinking very hard. “But they did, I guess.” Ms. Ainsworth’s eyes were closed now, and I could hear her purring all soft and even. There was a Marlboro butt on the porch below her chair. Roy was looking toward the barn in the
other direction, lost in his own thoughts. He had a way of zoning out when the conversation didn’t directly involve him. I glanced again at the book, now lying on the porch between me and Theo. The Hamlet. I didn’t know who William Faulkner was, and I wondered if he lived in South Carolina. Mr. Yarbrough’s family went back to Massachusetts on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Ms. Ainsworth had spent the holiday with them at Mr. Yarbrough’s house. When church let out I ran over there to see them off, and I met Theo’s momma, Cathleen, just in time to say good-bye. There was an old dirt road that turned off Campbell Thicket, where Mr. Yarbrough lived. It cut through Great Cypress Swamp then weaved along the outskirts of the Methodist Campground, and finally it ran into Myers Mayo at the opposite end, closer to Dawson’s Branch. It was about the longest route you could take to get from here to there, but no one lived along the way except Sissy Abbott, so you hardly ever saw anyone. I set out in that direction after leaving Mr. Yarbrough’s house, knowing that Rowan Haskell was in Charleston for the week. My skin was all prickles and the air was eager and warm. Shortly before I reached Sissy’s house a truck | 39
lumbered past me, shaking thunder into the earth. I tried to see who was driving but the truck was moving too fast. I could hear Sissy before I could see her, and when I saw her finally I wanted to turn around. I wanted to fall into the truck’s trail and follow it to wherever it was going or anyplace other than Sissy Abbott’s front yard. Kudzu climbed up the house’s sides and seemed to bloom from the cracks between the wood. Sissy was crying. Her dress was purple and her face was smeared black with makeup. The air was flat and the sound rang across it like the shout of a gun, again and again and again. Finally the wind came, like it might sweep away the hurt, and it tore apart the fuzzy dandelion heads that crowded across the yard. The wooly seeds blew like snow in the empty air. “Hey!” I shouted clumsily. I didn’t know what to do. I walked through the broken weeds and kneeled in front of Sissy, who was sitting in the grass. Her cheeks were wet and she looked old. “What’s going on?” I stammered unevenly. She got quiet. She sat very still, and her face was deeply crumpled. Finally she moaned and fell back on the grass, turned over onto her side. I didn’t move. “Sissy.” “That was Hayes,” she whispered. Her breath trembled violently and I could barely hear her.
She looked toward the road and I knew she was talking about the truck that had passed me. “Kitty,” she exhaled. Kitty Newell? What did Kitty Newell have to do with Hayes Dixon? Sissy glanced up at me. I met her eyes blankly; she could tell I was confused. “Lane ain’t havin’ no baby,” she confessed, louder this time and without emotion. She laid her head back in a wooly clump and watched the blowing seeds. Ridgeville’s got a Chevron. A five and ten, Duke’s Bar-B-Q, a Laundromat, a Methodist Campground, a dump, a big nasty swamp and a whole mess of churches. Take your pick. It’s got Baptists and closet drinkers, traditions and stories, bad habits that can’t be killed. But it ain’t got no secrets. Most everyone’s habits are familiar to most everyone else, and generally folks don’t talk unless the whole town’s talking. It wasn’t the first time Kitty Newell’d shown up, stinking and sloppy, on Sissy’s front porch. It wasn’t the first time Sissy’d sold her bathtub brew. Sissy Abbott was fiercely independent. She married Calvin Price Abbott in 1951. The wedding was in Greenville, at his family’s home, and the high school sweethearts looked forward to a long life together. They honeymooned in Kiawah. Barely a year after they exchanged rings Sissy crumpled in her doorway with a Western Union telegram. We
deeply regret to inform you… The Battle of White Horse. That’s what it was called. Sissy never remarried. People in town accepted this until word got around that she was sleeping with Margie Dixon’s husband. Still, they did business with her all the same. Still, she was poor. She didn’t consider that Kitty Newell might get so drunk with the stuff she sold her that she would beat the life out of her daughter’s stomach. She didn’t think that far ahead. Besides, that wasn’t any of her business. Her business was the cash, and Kitty had it. So it was a surprise to her when Hayes came, not with love, but with anger. With screaming and shouting and mean hands. Seems like blame has a way of bleeding into the hands of everyone when no one will claim it. I left Sissy after she was back inside with a clean face. I kept on toward Rowan’s, toward the house buried in live oaks, toward that wooly corner and the ecstasy in the grass. The sun was the yolk of an egg; it cracked on piney heads and spilled into a tangle of gangly limbs. It streamed over the long grass in blazes of auburn fire; the evening was a flame. Spanish moss draped and burned in graceless gold clumps. All the sound was cleaved and opened up, muted and pushed aside to make way for the faint whispering breeze. It caught on the flaring grass and trembled downward,
down into the quivering roots. I found her like I’d found her before. When I was very young, Hector Lynch took a few of us kids out to the Cypress Camp at night. He told us to watch for ghosts. He said Look in the trees. Look how they wrestle from the branches. Said if we sat real still we could feel them straining for life. Silence rose up from the earth like steam; I could hear the bones creaking in my neck, my ears. I kept watching and there was nothing in the trees. The black air suffocated the pale yellow moon. I asked Hector why the ghosts kept hanging around, why they didn’t just bury into the dirt like everyone else, crawling into death’s nameless corners. He laughed softly and shook his halffuzzy, half-bald head. “Livin’ off words, I reckon.” That’s what he said. He said ghosts were like parasites, clinging to stories, suckling on dusty books. Said you couldn’t hardly kill a ghost because someone would always remember, would always be writing words and breathing life into the phantoms they created. Said ghosts were like memories that no one wanted and everyone had. She dipped her face farther into the chill of the earth. The hill wind stirred in her wool, and the blazing moment pressed on like it might outlive everything around it. It was like the first time all over again. It was tight and | 41
damp, tender, something like love. The electric sun disappeared into the dark pines. The grass turned blue; it was flooded in a sea of shadows. The clay ached under us. The sun tore out of the cramped dark, then quick slid back into the trees. We breathed hard and spoke no words. The sun and the pines became a rhythm; they danced in and out of the secret spaces. The earth pounded and quaked. Finally the burning yolk swelled, exhaled, drenched the landscape gold. My voice filled the empty flat air like a rifle shouting across the wind. Her wool was heavy with dew, and it made goose flesh out of my trembling thighs. The world started again, spinning slow and uneven, like a top right before it falls. We forgot that there had ever been fingers inside Lane’s belly. We had to. If memories created ghosts, like Hector had said, then it made sense that you could kill a ghost by forgetting the past. We sifted through memories like we were panning for valuable stones: pocketing the emeralds and letting the sand and silt wash downstream. We preserved the favorable things we remembered, framed them, put them behind glass in museums, scattered them through history books. We discarded everything else to the anonymous past. Except not everyone did this. The museums
all had dusty corners, pickled ghosts with eyes like moons. Phantoms haunted the pages of novels, festered in the minds of folks who couldn’t understand them. They were invented in places like Ridgeville, and hitched across the country, growing and evolving until you couldn’t tell what they really looked like. We forgot the fingers in Lane’s belly, and they had never been. Jeb screwed other girls under the water tower. Kitty’s hands stayed hard and Lane’s hands got hard, too. Margie Dixon was still mean as a snake and Hayes still made something like love to Sissy Abbott and I still visited Rowan Haskell’s place on weekday afternoons. The Methodists looked at Mr. Yarbrough the way they always had, and we never stopped drinking beer outside the five and ten. We still dipped and slung the bull, told the same stories and listened to the same rumors from the local gossips. Hector smoked hogs and Shirley Ainsworth smoked Marlboros while tending her stubborn chickens. The mild winter bled into stifling spring, and Great Cypress Swamp was humid and airless and ripe as it’d ever been. The only town in just about the whole state of South Carolina sleepier than Ridgeville was Sardinia. You never had any reason to go there except that just a little ways outside
the town there was this weird hunk of rock folks say used to be a lady named Edye. The rock was tall and skinny, a big cactus rock without arms. Except it was white. White and grainy like it had been sculpted out of salt. Story went that Lawson and Edye was big Biblethumpers you know, way back when, and they lived in Sardinia with their two daughters. Well apparently the daughters grew up and got tits. Lawson got all up in a big fuss because men from Sardinia was all over them, keeping them out late Saturday nights, so they all packed up and run off to Zoar way up in Ohio. I guess he had family up that way but folks ain’t too sure on that detail. Anyhow when Lawson and the girls got to Zoar Edye wasn’t with them. No one really knows what happened to her; I bet you anything ol’ Lawson went batty and beat her brains into the earth, but him and the girls didn’t stick around Zoar for very long at all. Some folks said they cut east and holed up in the Appalachians and made a whole inbred family up there. That part ain’t important. But anyhow if you were traveling through Sardinia—which you wouldn’t be, but if you were—some old fart at the Kwik Mart would tell you all about Edye. How she looked back when they were running off to Ohio, how she froze up into a white salty cactus rock. Only time I ever saw it was back when Mr.
Ackley took Roy and me to Atlanta for the weekend; we stopped off in Sardinia on the way back home, hit the Kwik Mart for Mars Bars and 7-up. I remember the filling station smelled like rotting fish. The whole time we were in there the owner stood with his chin on the ancient radio, staring blankly out the window, singing gospel songs real quiet; you could barely hear him. When we got a little ways outside the town Mr. Ackley cut his Mercury into some snowy side road that was hardly even a road at all, and right there in front of us was that famous rock. Well, if you could have seen Roy. He just thought that old hunk of salt was about the biggest hoot he ever saw. He started getting real into it, calling it Edye and all that, and pretty soon I did too. We invented Edye’s story—all her stories. First, Edye worked at the beauty shop and painted her nails cherry red in the summer (that was Roy’s). Then, Edye was a fat old schoolteacher who locked kids in the cellar when they came to class late (that was mine). Next, Edye was a one-eyed gypsy woman who Lawson kidnapped while he was traveling in Europe. She danced with snakes and cast evil spells on her husband every time he got real drunk. Then she’d hang him upsidedown in their attic and force-feed him live field mice (that was Mr. Ackley’s). Me and Roy got stomachaches from laughing so hard. | 43
I kept thinking about Edye after that. I donâ€™t know why. I thought about all the folks from all different places stopping off in Sardinia to wrap their arms around her salty waist. I thought about all the lives she led, each just as true as the others. Because who really knew? I guess in the end if you believe something hard enough, other folks will believe it too. I thought about Edye leaving the home where her parents raised her, the ruffled white curtains, the church where she was baptized, where Lawson baptized their daughters. I thought about her cherry red nails in fidgeting hands, anxious for the road that lay ahead, anxious for a new life that was unfamiliar to her. How she might have paused for a smoke break a little ways outside the town, taking long drags and fighting the temptation to turn around. How Sardinia must have looked when she finally did, when she saw it for the last time. Kudzu cutting hard lines in those sunken woods, the hills and the dizzy clay, shouts of green across the slow heat. The ironclad pines and twisting magnolias, blooms of white satin, Spanish moss draping tinsel from live oaks. How she must have looked back and coveted what she left in that low country; how she must have remembered everything, looking out from her closet of glass, in that blazing moment when her cherry nails became white and her blood crystalline. | 44
selling a 1997 fOrd cOntOur GL On craigslist fOr $3500 Chloe Allen
The 2.0 Liter DOHC 16-Valve 4 Cylinder Engine is slow to warm up on cold January mornings but is the kind that will last you with only minimum complaint through two years of high school, five years of college, and four years of moving up and down the Pacific coast, from San Diego to Seattle. It’s an engine you would trust to get you through another ten years at least, or across the Sierra Nevada and Middle America and all the way to the Atlantic if you asked it to. It will get noisy when it’s under stress – really any time you’ll try to go over seventy miles per hour – but take it as a sign that it wants to get wherever you’re going as much as you do. You’ll trust it. Oil was last changed two years ago. The body of the car is (mostly) olive green, with only a few minor dings in the fender and a scrape in the back. Newer, sleeker cars will think they can sneak past you at stoplights and will then try to blame it on you. If you get a girlfriend she’ll laugh at the color the first time you pick her up for a date, and you’ll laugh along and hold the door open for her with your clammy hands. Four years later
she still will be calling it the Green Bean, the Incredible Flying Cabbage. If by chance you hit a deer while driving through the woods on the way back from her house, and the doe’s immense body – grace turned to dead weight – crumples the hood like a sheet of aluminum foil, rest assured that the car will still run. If in the interest of timely (and cheap) repairs you get a hood that doesn’t match the color scheme – one that’s purple, for instance – then you might leave that mismatched repair on the car for years. Until you sell it, in fact. Your girlfriend will laugh at the new hood and sometimes will call your car the Underwhelming Hulk. The Opal Grey Interior shows some wear and tear. No amount of scrubbing will get old stains out of the seats, so invest in some cheap covers. The car can comfortably sit five people: two in front, three in back. Or it can seat three in front, four in back, plus an amp and a bass if you and your high school band are on the way to a gig and couldn’t borrow your older brother’s van. Or it can seat you and your girlfriend in front, and a hammock, two backpacks, a tent, a case of canned beans | 45
and instant coffee, two sleeping bags, and her geriatric German Shepherd and his bed in the back. Or it can accommodate you and your girlfriend in the back seat as you two try to make love on the side of an abandoned access road, but in the dark you fumble around like you’re feeling out a minefield, and you keep thinking that you hear another car coming, and then she hits her head hard on the car door and decides she’s so not into it. It can uncomfortably seat two when you drive her to the airport so that she can fly to her sister’s wedding. She’ll invite a childhood friend as her guest because she says you can’t afford the ticket but really she’s embarrassed to introduce you to the family because without a map in your hand showing the next campsite you’re aimless. Maybe you won’t have a girlfriend. The radio works great. It will manage to pick up every 80’s-themed station in a radius of a hundred miles, and your life’s soundtrack will be sappy love songs. The dulcet sax solo of “Careless Whispers” will play before every major disaster in your life. Cassette player works too. Included in the glovebox are three mixtapes. Three hundred and fifteen thousand miles on it. For thirty-five hundred dollars you can leave the parking lot with this car, and I’ll leave with
the check in my pocket. I’ll turn that cash into a ticket, and at the end of that flight there will be miles and miles of new roads I’ve never seen.
all because my mOTHER IS A NO GOOD LIAR Alexa Brahme Every doctor I’ve ever been to has said that the hummingbirds won’t kill me. I didn’t believe them at first because the feeling of their wings beating inside my chest felt a whole lot like dying to me. And that exact sensation—wings flapping, their tips grazing my heart—is what landed me in the ER when I was six years old. We discovered the birds by mistake. I had skinned my knee when I was playing outside and long after the wound had been cleaned out and patched up, my small chest kept heaving up and down unevenly. My ma leaned in close to listen to my heartbeat and when all she heard was a whirring noise she was sure I was going to explode so she rushed to me to the nearest hospital. Problem is that Podunk Oklahoma isn’t near any hospital. Closest one’s in Shattuck, which is about 40 miles north of us. So Ma and I set out for Shattuck in our neighbor’s pickup. Mr. Clutter was kind enough to let us borrow the truck, though he warned that lately it had been “a bit temperamental.” It took us a little over four hours to get there on account that Ma had to pull over when we were half way there because the hood of the car was smoking. I remember it was so hot, the car and the air
outside. The sun was sinking in the sky but that didn’t make it any cooler. Little, almost-invisible lines squiggled up from the black pavement of the highway. I tried to count them to pass the time but there were so many and their slithering made me dizzy. So I tried counting cars instead. We sat on the side of the highway for an hour and nobody passed us. I mean it, not a single car sped by on that highway so finally I took to counting flies. But there were hardly any flies. It was just me and Ma and the heat lines rising up from the earth so I just closed my eyes and tried to focus my breathing. By the time we made it to the hospital the birds had not stopped their wild flying and my chest heaved in distinct lumps. The sweet, fat nurses took one look at my shirt and noticed it was practically bouncing off my chest. They must’ve thought that I was gonna burst and make a bloody mess of their ER. “He needs to see a specialist,” they said to my ma with wide, unblinking eyes. Ma and I had to wait nearly an hour for the x-rays to come back. I was tired and sweaty and all kinds of starving, but when we got x-rays back with three hummingbirds next to | 47
my heart I wasn’t so hungry anymore. “It’s rare, but it happens,” the specialist said to Ma. Then he added with no particular flair, “They’re harmless.” Ma was freaked, but she pretended not to be. She bought me a soft-serve chocolate dipped ice cream on our way back to Podunk even though I told her I wasn’t hungry. She kept saying, “Everything’s gon’ be alright,” under her breath and I tried not to drip ice cream on my jeans. I still can’t tell if she was talking to me or to God. Doctors were right in that the hummingbirds were harmless when I was growing up. My ma used to think I was unlucky (or possessed) but after I got used to them, I figured I was the luckiest guy in the world. You know that feeling when you’re just starting to fall in love with someone? The one where you can’t say “stoplight” without smiling because once, the two of you walked by a stoplight and at that exact spot you brushed shoulders and your heart started beating so fast you almost fell down. It’s the feeling where everything is beautiful and poetic, even the fact that the garbage truck forgot to pass through Podunk last week (which happens on occasion because at one time or another everyone forgets about Podunk) and the whole town
smelled like rotten eggs on your birthday. It’s the fact that every time you see the other person you get a silly feeling in your stomach— what do people call it? Butterflies? Well I had my hummingbirds and life felt like falling in love every damn day. Marie was the first girl who ever made my birds do backflips. She was short and spunky and tan as all hell because she used to work outside during the summers. Even at sixteen, her chest was as flat as a pan so she’d work out in the sun naked—didn’t care who saw or what they said or what they thought. She kept her head down and her hands working in the dirt. “That girl needs God,” Ma said once as we passed her picking weeds in her yard. Marie happened to look up just as Ma spoke. Her shoulders were square to us and her tan torso glowed bronze in the sun; could barely see her nipples she was so tan. “Hi Sam!” She smiled big at me and waved her gloved hand emphatically above her head. At that moment, the hummingbirds flew straight up my throat, back down into my chest, and raced in circles around my heart each one faster than the other. I tried to nod casually back at her, but I dropped both handfuls of groceries and my birds just started flying their course faster. Ma scolded me for being so careless but Marie just smiled, showed
all her white teeth in that big grin of hers. I liked her so much that I even liked her down to the teeth. Down to the gums. Just about everything she did sent me into a wild spinning world thanks to the birds. My crush on Marie was clumsy and obvious for about four years. Sometimes, she’d let me walk her home from school and if I carried my books against my chest she could hear the birds knocking their beaks against the covers. Paperbacks weren’t as bad as hardbacks and Chemistry and Biology were the absolute worst. But when the pecking got to be too loud, Marie would whistle even louder so I could pretend everything was fine and that I was normal. I never tried anything on those walks, though I had thought about it. Thought about taking her long brown hair out of the bun she always kept it in. I thought about more things too, of course, but I was too scared to try anything. Thought the birds might go up and fly right out of me. Ma never liked Marie. Always called her that girl and said nasty things like the devil’s got her and not everybody’s worth His salvation. There was nothing actually wrong with Marie that made Ma hate her so much. So what she worked in the garden naked, and danced on Sundays, and sometimes snuck liquor behind her old man’s back? I couldn’t name a girl in
school who wasn’t doing those things or worse. Little Sally Vaughn (who was only little for about six years because in the third grade she shot up like a weed and was taller than most the boys in our year) went to the same dances as Marie and wore skirts twice as short and kissed boys twice as mean. But Ma sat next to Little Sally Vaughn at church on Sunday mornings and could go on and on about what a nice girl Little Sally was. I don’t think Ma ever looked down at the pew to see Sally running her foot up Daniel Pittman’s leg. I knew Little Sally Vaughn was rotten. Not because of how she danced or who she kissed or her cycle of boys she flirted with at church. But because Sally Vaughn was plain mean. One night, we were dancing at the lot behind Perry’s Tavern and it was a beautiful night not counting what Sally did. It must have been the first evening of autumn because all the girls had their shoulders covered in pastel colored sweaters. Dancing, they all looked like a swirl of pinks and yellows and creams that you could’ve sworn you were caught in a taffy machine and were being folded in with all that sugar. Marie’s shoulders, however, were bare and chapped from the sun. The string lights behind Perry’s made it look like everyone’s clothes were sparkling and since Marie wasn’t wearing | 49
a sweater, it looked like her skin was straight out of some sci-fi fantasy movie. Gold flecked and so beautiful it didn’t seem real. By the time Marie and I had gotten to the dance, couples were already tired from the first few songs and were sitting on back bumpers cooling off with a beer or a soda. But Marie didn’t want to sit, she wanted to swing so I dragged her right to the center of the dance floor and spun her around by the tips of her golden fingers. Marie was a light on the dance floor. Moved crazy fast and smiled her big grin all the while. I was in the middle of twirling her and then bending her backwards into a dip when her foot glided a little too far and caught Little Sally Vaughn mid-step. Sally slipped right on to her butt and everyone gave a good laugh. Marie went to pull her up off the ground but as she reached her hand down, Sally grabbed it and pulled Marie into the dirt with her. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Sally yelled at Marie. “I’m so sorry, Sal,” Marie stammered. “It was just an accident.” “Well watch what you’re doing, slut.” Little Sally Vaughn, who Ma always said was such a nice girl, called Marie a slut. And a whore and a “freaky flat chested boy” who couldn’t get a normal boy to like her so she had to settle for me and my birds. Right
when I thought Marie might cry, she reached back and slapped Sally Vaughn across her righteous little face. “Sammy Jacobs is the nicest boy in Podunk and you know it, Sally Vaughn.” I pulled Marie up off the ground and she shook the dust from her skirt. That night, when I walked Marie home, she apologized for all the awful things Sally had said. “It’s quite alright, Marie.” I said. I reached for her hand as it was swinging past mine and laced my fingers with hers as if we always walked hand in hand. Instead of making a fool of me, my birds just cooed, hardly flapped a wing. I wished I had the courage to tell Ma what a nasty girl Sally was, but every time I got up the strength to say something my hummingbirds would start pecking at my heart and it hurt so bad that it felt like nothing in the world was worth shattering Ma’s vision of Little Sally Vaughn. So I said nothing for eighteen years. Never told Ma the truth about Sally and never raised my voice to defend Marie and certainly never told her that I was in love with Marie. But you know how mothers are—they know everything without ever having been told. She knew I was sneaking around and dancing with Marie on Sundays and walking her home
everyday and kissing her on nights I was truly lucky. Eventually, the time came to go to college and I had to say goodbye to Marie. I went to Oklahoma State and Marie stayed home to help her dad. He was getting old and had a hard time taking care of the house the way he used to. She got a part time job at the florist to make ends meet while she helped him. Marie was smart; I felt bad I was going to college instead of her. “Don’t worry, Sammy.” She said one night when I told her I didn’t want to leave her behind. “I’ll read every book in the library so by the time you get back, I’ll be even smarter than you!” She ran her fingers through my hair and caressed my face. My birds hummed and cooed and flapped their wings at her gentle touch. I missed Marie already, and I hadn’t even left yet. I didn’t keep in touch with Marie as much as I should have. People in Podunk are hard to reach, but I know that’s just an excuse. I could have called more and could have written, but who has the time? That’s not to say I didn’t think of Marie. I thought of her nearly every day and my birds thought of her twice as much. They flapped like crazy at night because I used to dream of her. I used to dream of her spinning round in the twinkle lights behind Perry’s. The
memory of her sparkly skin and white smile sent my birds into a frenzy. I’d wake up sweaty and disoriented until a few moments had passed and I’d close my eyes and whisper her name until I fell back asleep to the cooing of my birds. But ever since I graduated from college and moved back home to live with Ma I’ve only felt the hummingbirds flap their wings once. I suppose that’s because I was depressed that everyone left Podunk after the big storm. It happened when I was at school and the rains ripped through everything. Apparently wind tore the post office right out of the ground and everybody’s mail went flying. Ma told me letters swirled into little tornados and did loops through the town. “They looked like snow flurries if you squinted, Sammy,” she told me over the phone the next day. I asked her if everyone was okay, but she knew full well that I only meant her and Marie. “Oh, don’t worry Sammy.” She said. “Everyone’s just fine.” She didn’t say a word about what had happened to Marie until I came home. Instead, she said something about how she wished I’d come home soon but I was half way to hanging up the phone so I don’t remember the wording of it. I came home soon enough, though. And | 51
what a vision it was. All that was left were a few houses that stood their ground during the storm—Ma’s, Mr. Clutter’s, and Little Sally Vaughn’s. Difference between Ma, Mr. Clutter, and Little Sally Vaughn, is that Mr. Clutter and Sally up and left Podunk along with every other clear-minded person. Ma stayed. She took in a stray dog, named it Little Sarah Vaughn even though it was a boy, and hoped Little Sally Vaughn might come back one day so the two could meet even though their names differed by a few letters (and by a huge factor of fame, but I don’t think Ma ever knew that since she never listened to music a day in her life). The stupid little dog ran right up to me when I walked in the door. He started biting my ankle and growling at my pant leg. “Ma?” I hollered into the house, “Did this dog get its shots?” I was sure the stray was deranged as it was drooling something awful. “Now Sammy,” she said walking up to the door. “You be nice to Little Sarah Vaughn.” The dog scratched itself in that moment and exposed the fact that Little Sarah Vaughn was unmistakably a boy. I walked right past the ratty thing and kissed Ma on the cheek. Said I wanted to check out what had happened to poor old Podunk so I dropped my bags down in my room and set out to go on a walk. Ma was sitting on the
couch with her dog so I shouted to her on my way out the door. “I’m going to see if Marie and her house are alright. Okay, Ma?” “Wait!” She shrieked. “Sammy, now just wait a minute.” Ma came to the door with Sarah Vaughn trailing behind her. I was expecting her long-winded reprimand of how I shouldn’t go see that girl and how she was sure to influence me to pursue her devilish ways. But she didn’t say none of that. Just looked at me blankly and said, “Sammy, Marie’s dead.” I felt three distinct flaps. “Struck by lightening in the storm.” That was the last time I ever felt the hummingbirds in my chest. I didn’t want to leave Ma alone with that deranged mutt so I stayed in Podunk (even though it was now a certified ghost town according to the only three websites that even mention Podunk) and got a job in Arnett, the next town over, working at the discount grocery store Aldi’s. I cried every morning on my ride to work. My blue uniform itched like hell in the Oklahoma heat, I missed Marie, and I hated Ma for not telling me about the lightning right away. At least I got a pay-day, I thought to myself when I pulled into the back lot of Aldi’s. No string lights and no dancing ever went down there. Just cigarette breaks and selfloathing.
Work wouldn’t be as bad if I still felt the birds. Fishing quarters out of the shopping-cart dispenser when it gets jammed would feel like an Olympic event if I still felt their wings beating next to my heart. But instead, I’d just be face to face with a quarter stuck between being in the machine and being out of it with Mr. Nichols swearing over my shoulder sayin’ if I would just let him at it, maybe he could get a cart and get on with his shopping. Mr. Nichols knew just as well as I did that he’s blind enough to confuse his kids (a stunning 30 year old daughter who could pass for 21 with shiny blond hair and a preference to be braless, and a 37 year old son whose got a crooked nose and a military buzz). “As long as I can tell the difference between Jim and Jack I’m alright!” He’d say to me with a slap on the back. Said it a bunch, like it was his catch phrase or something. It took me a few times until I realized that he meant Jim Bean and Jack Daniels and to tell you the truth, I wished I had never figured it out because the fact just makes me sad. I popped the quarter into the machine with a bent paperclip and whoosh it went rolling past my clumsy fingertips. “Goddamn!” Mr. Nichols said as he pushed past me to get his shopping cart. He whipped it out of the dispenser and set off into the fluorescent abyss.
“You’re a good man, Charlie Brown!” He shouted to me over his shoulder before heading for the pork rinds in aisle three. He never called me Sammy or Sam or Samuel. Just silly things like Charlie Brown or Ebenezer Scrooge or Dr. Seuss. Never made any sense to me, but it was kind of nice all the same. I turned my back to the shopping cart dispenser and walked to my checkout lane. I normally work at nine because that was my lucky number growing up, but Susanne got there before me today so I made my way to seven because it rhymes with heaven and I like to think Marie’s in heaven because I’m a big old sap who can’t get over his childhood crush. But I have a love hate relationship with lane seven because the “Yellow Onion” button on the register is stuck so I have to type in #3365 manually nearly every time someone comes down to check out. I had my eyes closed when a woman started unloading her cart onto the conveyer belt. The sound of apples bobbling against the counter is what shook me awake and thank God they did because pulling groceries out of her cart was Marie. Tan and lovely as ever. She had cut her hair real short, so she wouldn’t have to pull it back anymore I suppose. And then I came to my senses—she wouldn’t have to pull her hair back anymore because she’s dead and this | 53
here woman can’t be Marie. “Marie?” I asked, hoping she’d say “I’m sorry, I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” and smile at me and keep unpacking her groceries. But she smiled her big grin and said, “Well Sammy Jacobs! Why didn’t I know you were back in town?” All I could think of saying was why didn’t I know you were still alive? But instead I just asked her, “Didn’t you get struck by lightning in that big storm last year?” And I couldn’t help but add, “And didn’t you die from it?” Marie just laughed at me like I had a butt growing out my head or something. Then said no on both accounts. When she said no, and I was sure that this woman was really Marie—my Marie—and she wasn’t dead like my no good lyin’ mother had said, my hummingbirds woke up slowly. Cooed and flapped a wing here and there. Reminded me that they were still alive and that they still loved Marie just as much as I did. My voice cracked when I said, “Paper or plastic?” and I couldn’t keep it together. I wept all over her Granny Smith apples. “It’s just so good to see you, Marie.” I said. “I missed you.” “I missed you too, Sammy.” Just as she finished saying my name, another costumer walked down my lane with car keys in his hand.
I was scared to ask her but I thought if I didn’t, then I’d hate myself forever so I said, “Would you want to go out sometime? You know, catch up.” The man with the car keys came up behind Marie and wrapped his arm round her tiny waist. He kissed her on the head and Marie gestured to me. “Paul, I’d like you to meet my old friend Sam. Sam, this is my,” (I prayed she wouldn’t say what I knew she was gonna say), “husband.” I managed to say good to meet you and I shook the man’s hand. By the grace of God, I put all their groceries in their cart without any more crying. Said goodbye, see you later, everything but I love you, and Mr. Nichols came down my lane with Jack and Jim. “You alright, boy? Look like you just seen a ghost.” Mr. Nichols unloaded his few groceries with a steady hand. “I’m alright, Mr. Nichols. Just a little heartburn is all.” That little heartburn landed me in the Shattuck ER for the first time since I was six years old. And the doctor who had seen me the first time had retired, but his son followed in his footsteps and greeted me at his office door. Took a look at my chart. “Shouldn’t be the birds,” he said. “Chart here says they’re harmless.” A few hours later I went under for surgery.
After meeting Paul, all my birds went and stuck their beaks through my heart. Tried to save me from the heartache, I guess. Sweet of the little ones. No one ever loved me like those birds did.
the brOTHERS CANNABIS Carter Adkins I’m pretty sure aliens are stealing my weed. The last harvest was definitely short. Half of it disappeared before we even got started. Upon inspection, I found that even the plants that hadn’t disappeared had been scraped clean of their larger leaves. I had just assumed that some other planter came by to ruin our crop. Maybe kids did it. Now I’m sure: neither of these is true. I saw the aliens last night. I woke up to a loud, distorted, wubbing sound and saw them out the window. There’s validity to some of the rumors. They aren’t very big, and they’re greener than they are any other color. They aren’t neon or anything, but they’re a couple shades greener than a person with olive skin. They have hair. I watched six of them enter my field in unison. They each walked into a different row, and I lost their figures behind the tall plants. As the little green people made their way through my field, the plants dropped behind them, each somehow cut below the stump. The little men bound my marijuana plants together and dragged them next to my barn. One of them pulled out a device that resembled a television remote control, and pressed a button. The same loud distortion
sound wubbed out of the clicker as a large portal spread out in front of them. I couldn’t see into the portal, but the little men threw the bundles of plants into the hole before leaping into the portal themselves. No spaceship. The last one hopped in and the portal closed. He might have winked at me. I didn’t think to wake Dwayne up. He and I have run the farm together for the past few years. Ever since our parents passed away. We didn’t grow pot on the farm when they were alive, and Pops wouldn’t be proud of the current operation that his sons have going on. It was Dwayne’s idea. He initially just wanted to smoke the product, but then he did a bit of research and found out how much more profitable it would be this way. You can grow marijuana outside. A lot of people don’t know that. They always think it has to be in greenhouses and basements with grow lights, but those are the easiest ways to get caught. The feds just track the electricity that you have to use, then they use infrared to confirm that your space has grow lights. Next thing you know, you’re doing hard time for soft drugs. So houses aren’t the way to go. You need a farm. Better yet, you need a farm in the
middle of nowhere. Lucky for us, Dwayne and I were born into a farm in the middle of nowhere. “Morning,” Dwayne said, as he walked into the kitchen. “What’s for breakfast?” “I saw aliens last night,” I told him, sipping my coffee. “That doesn’t sound like breakfast.” Dwayne looked around the kitchen. I stared at him until he slunk into a chair at the kitchen table. “Fine,” Dwayne said, “What is this about the aliens?” “They took the pot,” I told him. “I trust you. Aliens really took our weed?” Dwayne asked. “Yes.” Dwayne’s eyes widened, and his body tensed. He ran from the kitchen in a panic, and I followed him to the field. Dwayne stopped in front of the plants. He fell onto his knees, exhaling from his sprint, and surveyed the damage. His eyes stopped on each missing row, and tears welled up in his ducts. I caught up to him. “It’s not that bad,” I said. “My babies… they took my babies,” Dwayne sobbed. “I didn’t like it last time this happened, but now they’re repeat offenders.” Dwayne watches a lot of Law and Order. I patted him on the back. “It’s not that bad,”
I said, trying to console him. “At least they only took half of it.” “Are you kidding me? Aliens robbed us, dude. They took my babies.” “It doesn’t matter.” Dwayne stood up straight. “Oh, it matters. It matters what they did, and it matters who did it. They’re going to pay for this. No one takes my weed.” Dwayne began walking back to the house. You didn’t care when you thought it was just kids taking it.” “That’s because I would have stolen weed when I was a kid. I never would’ve taken it if I was an alien. You’ve gotta put yourself in the perpetrator’s shoes here. Shouldn’t they have just made crop circles or something instead?” Most people think Dwayne is a freak, an idiot, or both. The truth is that he’s obsessive. He’s definitely not dumb. When he fixates on something, he might even become a genius. For instance, when we started growing weed, he locked himself in his room and became an expert on planting. He learned about hydroponics, nutrient intakes, irrigation systems, photosynthesis, reproduction, and harvesting. He had plans for planting, crop rotation, and schedules for harvesting all mapped out. In a matter of days, Dwayne had become a cannabis-crazed savant, and his plans were | 57
exceptional. The fact that we live in the middle of nowhere is good for Dwayne. Unlike most 28 year olds, he hates almost everyone, but he can’t piss anyone off when there’s no one around. I suppose I’m around, but I can put up with his shit better than most people can. More than that, he needs me. Dwayne won’t get up in the morning? I can get Dwayne up in the morning. Dwayne won’t eat? I can get him to eat. One time, he stood on the top of the barn for 36 hours straight- trying to track the barometric pressure, a statistic that he believed would enable him to “predict the next big Californian earthquake.” Who got him to come down from the roof? I got him to come down from the roof. Dwayne took me into the house and asked for every detail about the alien encounter. Their color. The portal. How tall they were. How they communicated. I worried about what Dwayne wanted to do with the aliens. More than that, I worried what the aliens might want to do with my brother. The next couple of months went by without much incident. Dwayne and I harvested the rest of our crop during the day. On nights, Dwayne made it a habit to disappear into the barn. He would not reappear until the next morning. On occasion, I would dream about the
aliens. There was something funny about the little green men carrying our little green plants through outer space. Though I’d only seen them the one time, thinking about the aliens made me smile. They were independent. They took what they wanted and answered to no one. I liked to think that there was no governing body for the aliens. Or if there was a government, these aliens at least operated outside of the law. They were a band of renegades, running around the universe. Maybe they were the alien versions of Robin Hood, taking drugs and riches from the wealthy and redistributing it amongst those who couldn’t get it otherwise. The more I dreamt, I adopted the theory that these aliens were badasses. Dwayne saw us as the victims of their badassery. Dwayne and I finished with the harvesting, drying, curing, and trimming our remaining buds. We gave them a final blast of air, packed them into bricks, and decided it was time to sell. Dwayne took a couple of bricks and put them in his bedroom. “Quality control,” he said, between coughs, emerging from his room. “It’s good then?” “We don’t grow bad weed.” I laughed. “I’ve heard our reputation is out of this world.”
Dwayne snickered. We loaded our old van with about seventy pounds of bud. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider the fact that the going rate for a brick is three to four grand, the prospect of pot farming becomes a lot more appealing. Dwayne claimed that we could be millionaires by the time I turn 30. With his plan, we could retire to some Caribbean island by the time I hit 40. Mom and Pops never saw retirement, and they never left the farm. Dwayne and I vowed that we wouldn’t meet a similar end. That vow helped me justify the felonies. That being said, driving to dispensaries stressed me out. Dispensaries are, admittedly, run mostly by ex-drug dealers, but I was particularly stressed this time because Dwayne asked me to make the sales alone. That way, he could use the time to work in the barn. “I’m worried I won’t finish by the time the little green bastards come for the next crop,” Dwayne said. “Besides, you’ll be fine without me.” I asked him when he was going to show me what he was spending so much time working on in the barn, and he informed me that it would be a much better surprise if I saw it when it was closer to completion. I was growing worried about Dwayne. He’s always been obsessive. He’s always been
weird. I worried that this wasn’t like the other times. Dwayne didn’t comprehend the stakes, did he? He wasn’t messing with school bullies, or learning chess strategies anymore. He was pissed off at powerful, intelligent lifeforms. I doubted the aliens would take pity on him if he crossed them. Dwayne made me absolutely nuts sometimes, but I would hate to see anything bad happen to him. He’s just taught me so much. Been a constant presence throughout my life. So I climbed into the van, and drove in solitude to the closest of our buyers. I thought about what to say to Dwayne when I returned. The manager at the dispensary noted that we had a light harvest this year and asked what this year’s strain was called. I thought for a moment. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” I responded. “Funny,” the manager said, “looks a lot like the ‘Zombie Clover’ you sold me last year.” I nodded, informed him that we had just come up with a better name for our breed. Same mellow strain as last year. I made my way to the other dispensaries. No real issues. Some of them asked me why Dwayne wasn’t with me, and I made excuses about his absence. “Always the weird one, isn’t he?” one of the managers asked me. “He’s odder than most,” I responded, “less | 59
than some.” “Well, it’s a good thing he’s got you looking out for him,” she said, signing the final paycheck I would receive for the year. “Don’t know who’s looking out for you, though.” I smiled and took her check. I was pretty excited to have passed through another round of drug smuggling without incident. Dwayne’s and my operation existed in a strange space as far as legality was concerned. Growing weed was illegal, but medical dispensaries weren’t. The dispensaries had to get their product from somewhere, but cartels couldn’t sell to them, and importing from foreign growers was expensive. They loved people like Dwayne and me. It was easy for them to pay us compared to their other suppliers. We made money. They made money. Everybody was happy. Aside from our deceased parents and 5,000 United States DEA agents, everyone is happy. I came back to the farm, having deposited the checks on the way home. Dwayne was happy to see me, but he also looked strung out. I was only gone a day, but it looked like Dwayne hadn’t eaten anything during that time. There were bags under his eyes too. I made two sandwiches and gave one to Dwayne. “You look terrible,” I said, as he bit into the bread.
“You sold everything?” he asked through a mouth filled with food. I sat down across from him at the kitchen table. “Yes,” I replied, “but you’ve really got to tell me what the project you’re obsessing over in the barn is.” “I’ll give you a tease,” Dwayne said. He smiled. As though he was doing me some huge favor. Throwing a dog a bone. His eyes got wide, and he waved his hands like a magician. “Alien traps,” he said. I was neither surprised, nor happy. I did not know what Dwayne could have possibly wanted to do with captured aliens. The little guys weren’t harming anyone. I tried to reason with Dwayne, but he had arguments prepared. “Think of how arrogant they are.” he said, “Just because they can travel through wormholes, avoiding all witnesses, aside from you, of course, doesn’t mean that they can take whatever they want. Think about it. Where’s the justice? It’s not like we can call the cops.” He then went on to mimic a phone call in which I called the police to inform them that my illegally grown marijuana was perennially being stolen by little green aliens. The police officer he impersonated was very crass. “No. This is the only way. Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it. Self-reliance, bro. Isn’t that
what Pops taught us?” “You hated Dad?” I said. Dwayne paused. “So did you. What’s your point?” It wasn’t time to plant more weed yet, but Dwayne insisted that I start doing it. He had given me some Field of Dreams-type speech about the conditional relationship between planting weed and the return of the aliens. I told him that it would be hard, since the weather wasn’t on our side at this point in the year. “If it’s going to be too hard for you, I’ll just do it myself,” Dwayne said. I put seeds in the ground first thing in the morning. I spent the next three months laboring in the fields, nursing plants out of the ground. You’re not supposed to grow anything in back to back cycles, and marijuana is an incredibly fickle plant to begin with. Dwayne helped me in the fields a couple times, but he spent most of his days and nights in the barn. This crop was my crop. I gave it life. I brought it into this world through a miraculous mixture of perspiration and nitrate solution. For the first time, I fathered a crop without the domineering assistance of Dwayne. After watering them through my homemde irrigation system, I stood and admired my
fully grown plants. Covered in soot, Dwayne emerged from the barn and clapped me on the back. “Thanks for setting the bait,” he said, looking up at my plants. “You’re getting pretty good at this stuff.” I half-appreciated, half-resented his praise. He wasn’t wrong. I was pretty good at planting. “When do you think they’ll be ready for harvest?” Dwayne asked me. “A couple weeks, tops,” I mumbled to my older brother. “They’re definitely close, which means that we’re pretty close here.” Dwayne pointed to the field. “These little bastards don’t have a clue what I’ve got waiting for them though.” I looked my brother in the eye. “To be fair, Dwayne, I have no idea what you have waiting for them.” Dwayne wagged a finger at me. “That changes today. Come on.” Dwayne led me to the barn, undid the lock, and lifted the latch that held the doors closed. He paused. “Now you may have noticed that I’ve been spending a lot of time in the barn these past few months,” Dwayne began. “Jesus, did you prepare a whole speech?” I asked. Dwayne stared at me. He muttered. “Fine. You don’t want to hear the speech? | 61
You don’t have to hear the speech.” He pulled the door open. “Welcome to Wonderland,” he said. The barn was very dark. Shit. I knew I forgot something. Just let me hit the light switch here,” My brother fumbled around the barn, quickly finding the switch, and flipping it on. Light poured onto the enormous assortment of projects with which Dwayne had occupied his time during the better part of the last year. I knew he could be a bit obsessive, and that he could make just about anything. He’d never gotten any formal training, but Dwayne knew his way around a toolbox. Even by Dwayne’s standard of excellence, he had outdone himself here. The entire floor of the barn was littered with traps. Some of them were small. Some were enormous. A couple looked like familiar types of instruments. There was such a variety that Dwayne had had to build shelves in order to make room for all of the smaller contraptions. He began leading me around the space. “What are those?” I asked, pointing to a bundle of metal teeth traps that looked like the very familiar bear foot traps. Dwayne looked over his shoulder. “Oh those? Just a slight variation on bear traps.” “What’s different?” | 62
Dwayne picked up a stick that was lying on a nearby shelf in the barn. He tapped the stick to the bear trap, and the trap clamped down on the stick, snapping it in two. I expected that. I did not, however, expect the pieces of the stick to begin disintegrating on the ground. They disappeared into a fine powder. “How did you do that?” I asked my brother. “A good magician…” Dwayne trailed off. I punched him on the shoulder. “That’s awesome. What are those, over there? New strains?” I gestured to a half dozen marijuana plants that were growing in the back corner. “Kind of,” Dwayne explained. “Those were one of the first projects I worked on. I was trying to make a plant that would seep an adhesive substance that’d glue anything to it upon contact.” “It doesn’t work?” “No, it works,” Dwayne said. By this time, he managed to make his way over to the plants and grab one of them with an open palm. He then shook the plant, showing me how it was stuck to his open hand. “It just has a significant design flaw.” “What’s that?” I asked. He always made me ask questions before he’d give me answers. “It comes off with spit,” Dwayne said, drooling onto his free hand. He then rubbed the saliva
on his stuck hand, and the hand popped off the stalk. “Kinda useless, really,” Dwayne looked at the plant with disdain. Dwayne showed me a dozen other contraptions he’d created in the past year. Some were incredibly impressive. Dwayne grinned while I admired his possessions. “I’m awesome, right?” Dwayne prodded as we closed up the barn. “You’ve done some cool stuff, Dwayne.” “You’re damn right I have.” That night, Dwayne and I set up his traps. He figured that the little aliens would be back any day. As happened frequently, Dwayne was correct. The following evening, the little green men returned. I knew because I woke up to the same distorted wubbing sound that I had heard from the strange, teleportation, TV remote. You would think they could silence that thing. These people invented teleportation. They should be able to create a muffler for the thing. I rushed downstairs to find them. Dwayne was already on the porch, watching the little green men perform their routine of thievery. Like clockwork, they filed into rows, and began running down the lines of marijuana plants. The first one hit a bear trap, and screams of panic ensued. The little man squeeked in terror, as he
burned into a heap of little green ashes. The other aliens panicked and scattered. Dwayne had planned for something like this. The little men kept running into his traps. Every few seconds, a metallic snap would echo through the field, followed by shrill yells and a charring simmer. I watched a handful of horrific scenes unfold as a couple more aliens were impaled within Dwayne’s labyrinth of pot. The apparent leader of the green men held up the portal remote, and opened the wormhole. Dwayne pulled out a remote of his own, and smashed a button. A cage rose up from around the edges of the pot field, entrapping the aliens within the space. “Dwayne, what are you doing?” I asked, “You’ve gotta let them retreat.” “No I don’t,” My brother said, striking a match and walking toward the field. He picked up a container of gasoline. “Dwayne… no,” I begged, looking at my pot field. Dwayne shrugged, poured the gas onto the nearest plant, then tossed the match onto the gasoline. A blaze engulfed my plants, as the screams from roasting aliens grew in intensity. Little men scurried to the edges in an attempt to escape before the cage rose to its full height. Three ran out at once, and Dwayne tackled one. However, the other two raced into | 63
the wormhole, escaping into another universe. The portal closed behind them. I stared at my burning plants, and watched tiny alien bodies shrink in the flames. It hurt. The little alien punched Dwayne and managed to wrestle his way free. “Help me!” Dwayne yelled to me, as the alien scurried away. Dwayne staggered to his feet and massaged his jaw. “You let the little bugger get away.” Tears welled up in my eyes. Dwayne shrugged me off and ran after the alien. I followed him after a moment, and we began searching the closest shrubbery for the escaped alien. I couldn’t focus. I kept thinking about all the hours I’d spent sweating over that pot field. “He can’t have gotten far!” Dwayne yelled. “Remember he’s got nowhere to go.” “You’re on your own, you piece of—“ A whimper interrupted me. “Did you hear that?” Dwayne asked. We turned around to find the little green alien, who was trapped. His arm was stuck to one of the special marijuana plants, and he couldn’t get free. “Holy shit. What do we do with it?” Dwayne asked me. “I don’t know Dwayne. You’re clearly the
expert on how to deal with them. Why not just napalm him?” I said. “Please don’t,” the little green man spoke up in perfect English. Dwayne and I jumped back. “How did it talk?” Dwayne asked. The alien tugged at his hand, but couldn’t free itself from the marijuana plant. “I’m not an it, and I would appreciate it greatly if you would give me any liquid solvent in order to free me from this evil plant,” the green man continued. “Why don’t you just spit on your hand?” Dwayne asked. “It’s really not a good adhesive.” “I do not produce spit,” the alien replied. “Lame,” Dwayne commented. “You,” the alien turned to me. “You are unhappy?” Your brother does not respect you or your efforts?” I stared at the little alien. “Detain your brother. Tell no one of our trespass. We can save each other, and begin a fabulous new aeon of human enlightenment. Help me and I can promise a station of utmost riches and prestige among my people. You could have a glorious, fresh start, away from this place, and away from your brother.” Dwayne looked at me. His voice trembled. “You wouldn’t take him up on that, would you?”
I looked to the little alien. “Riches?” The alien nodded. “Knowledge?” The alien nodded again. “Can I manage your planet’s agricultural department?” The alien shouted, “Of course! Anything you want can be yours as long as you do the right thing and release me from this trap.” I began drooling onto my hand. I looked at Dwayne, whose mouth quivered at my betrayal. As my hand inched closer to the alien’s immobile hand, I pulled a pistol from my waistband, and shot the little green bastard in the chest. “You don’t turn on family,” I exhaled, as the alien bled out next to our smoldering pot field. “You really had me sweating there,” Dwayne said, wiping his brow. “Don’t burn my plants, Dwayne. No more secret plans.”
gated mansion, which was perfect. Dwayne has the space to pursue all of his interests without having to interact with anyone else, and I can always walk outside into a neighborhood full of other people. Every now and then I think about the aliens who got away from Dwayne’s death trap, and whether or not they’ll ever seek revenge. I always had a soft spot in my heart for those aliens, but Dwayne is the only family I have. There’ll always be vague, mysterious groups of people I can place my fantasies on top of. I’ve only got one brother. So if the aliens do come for us, I’ll be here to help my brother out of whatever mess he gets us into. Until that day, though, Dwayne and I will be content to sip piña coladas and smoke pot that we didn’t have to grow ourselves.
In the long run, things worked out alright for Dwayne and me. It turned out that when you call the federal government with the first actual proof of extra-terrestrial life, they’re willing to do you a couple favors. They don’t care about your pot farm, and even pay to have you relocated to Barbados. They put us in a | 65
rebecca arp OIL
, 7.00ยบ N, 134ยบ 15 E
paper, wOOd, fabric, 40 sec videO with sOund (lOOped)
POsitiONS as COLORS nO.1
a PORTRAIT OF MY DAD
One BOat, One Life III
blue pencil ON PAPER
battle OF THE CELESTIAL BODIES
jULIA LUBARSKY DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY AND PAINT
Untitled a/v installatiON
jAMES and phil mentz
shipping pallets, scrap wOOd and tar
Big fat MOUTH Arlie
Big Fat Mouth is our first official release as the band Arlie. Itâ€™s about a surreal feeling of release, a weight lifted, and seeing the world in a new light after coming to the realization that mere words, though they can be very powerful, seem suddenly so trivial compared with how significant real love is and how lucky you are when you have it.
SPIRAL Nathaniel Banks Spirals was inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and the odd mental space it put me in.
FREEDOM Nathaniel Banks I conceived of “Freedom” as a joke but it ended up getting real. It’s about what it’s like to be constantly aware of possibility in the 21st Century and what it’s like to be a member of The Princeton Review’s #1 Happiest Student Body in the nation. Hopefully some of you can relate.
All composition, production, and all vocals/instruments recorded by me, except on Big Fat Mouth on which Adam Lochemes played drums, Stephen Sesso engineered the drum tracking session and Quinn Redmond mixed.
Check out our
MULTIMEDIA | 119
POETRY | 121
Tender Irena Chiang I. Chicken braised in its own fat & my mother’s robust love—hours upon hours of spice, bake, broil— and it slips off the bone like a wish whispered II. Baby skin wraps around every curve of her round body, caressed by a first-time mother—as if mere adoration could keep her porcelain doll from being pierced, shattered, broken-in by the caresses of this world III. Lips: succulent, seductive, secret, sensuous, something sacred, stolen IV. His voice was soaked in the illusions of then, and will later be spiked with apologies he will not say— but for now, his voice is the hollow beneath his throat, above his heart: ripped open, scarlettinted, raw V. Skin cells meet & electrify— before our fingertips touch, before your forefinger traces my spine, before your thumb outlines my collarbone VI. The wind beneath the willow sings a tune of a harrowing tale or some forgotten affection— deep into the whites of my eyes, through a crack in my lips, through the spaces between my teeth, beating deep into the thrum of my eardrums | 122
VII. His gaze, like snowflakes in the night: the moon frozen in the sky, the moon shattered in the lake. His face, blurred between light & shadow: a map of muscles adjusted into a gentle topographyâ€” an expression in which I would swim for miles in search of anything VIII. Silence: fingertip-to-fingertip, braided-sunshine, eyes-closed, candlelit, soft IX. A journey almost finished: our beat-up blue van perched on the edge of an unnamed canyon. We are caught in a delicate balance, his eyes on mine, and mine on the fall before us.
the dream Ariana Yeatts-Lonske
In the center of a field, a house. In the center of a house, my stillborn brother. Now 17, now six feet, now across from me at the dining room table, reading under a tin roof pocked by hail’s violent heartbeats—not this night, once. Henry reads to me every night. He has so much time, he rewrites the dictionary with his own definitions. Even dreaming, even knowing it requires death, I almost envy that much freedom. Tonight, he tells me flutter is a verb that means to sing to someone cautiously, from the French flute. He fixes me tea—green, unhoneyed—and tells me grip means the last moment of sunset before complete dark. Cave is a term of endearment and heart is a deer that still has white spots, is still young enough to lie deep in a field until its mother returns. We go on, a while, like this. Then, sudden as nightfall, he glances out the window and eases the book toward me. He gestures at a blank page: what should I do for river? His hands open. His eyes are as dark as the sky. Ariana— how do I define rupture? | 124
DON’t WORRY BaBA, I Remember Elona Belokon
We stood on the side of the road, necks craning, fingers intertwined, my Baba counting the gold cars, and me counting the red ones. Sometimes, when Baba counted more cars than me, we stood on the side of the road a little longer, just until I won. I learned the colors in Russian this way, counting the krasniy cars until my mother’s came to collect me. I call my Baba every Wednesday on my walk back from class. She tells me about her sister again, asking again if I’ve met her, reminding me again, that she lives in Milwaukee, as though it’s the first time she mentioned it. She asks if I remember practicing | 125
Yiddish songs to perform for my parents, my American tongue tripping over the syllables, fishing with Deda before he died, before his name became an incantation to preserve him. I imagine her cataract-clouded eyes peering and praying. She asks again if I remember standing by the side of the road, necks craning, her long, wrinkled fingers grasping mine.
the day my brOther came hOme Rebecca Bendheim
Get in, said my brother My suit-and-tie, “have you finished your homework?” brother In a tank top soaked with snow I told him: It’s snowing. I asked him: Whose convertible is this? He laughed, Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m home? I didn’t, Aren’t you going to say “hi”? It’s been eight months. He said: You’re a better counter than me. Maybe you should be the banker. Snow on the seat soaked through my jeans, but his arm was still and free from goosebumps as he gripped the clutch. You can’t drive stick, I told him. He said, I can do anything. And we flew as he sang to a song I didn’t know, his voice light but sharp like snowflakes, cheeks whipped red. I looked back as the wind pulled shreds of old contracts into the sky as if my brother created the weather.
1492 Emily Meffert
When the new lights make fragments out of the glass sea And flush out the sky’s thick ink, And gulls flop gracelessly into the pink dawn, God buoys his prophets on a great wooden bowl. They flush navy ink from the sky With their wind-tossed white sheets, ushering in the morning, Those wooden-bowl prophets of God, Citizens of an overturned turtle’s shell. With their wind-tossed white arms, ushering in the morning, Gulls sweep the surf over the rocky shore. An overturned turtle’s shell Nuzzles the tragic landscape. The foamy surf washes them onto the rocky shore. The men are white as an angel’s fingernails, Negotiating the tragic landscape, Clumsy and brave as children in a new world. White as an angel’s fingernails, Drinking the fledgling sun like mirrors, The brave children land in a new world. Knees on the sand/hands given to God/hands groping the bewildered air/ Drinking the fledgling sea—like a mirror shattered with light,— We swim to our salvation. Knees in the sand/hands receiving God/hands slashing the bewildered surf/ | 128
Drowning in glory, riptide of grace, we exalt Him Who engineered our salvation, Surfaced in wild tongues and cobalt eyes. We exalt the riptide, satiate with grace, and glorify Those exotic messiahs, Their wild tongues and cobalt eyes Learning Guanahaniâ€™s sawtoothed coastline. San Salvador, one says. The exotic messiahs Sing their gunpowder hymns Along Guanahaniâ€™s sawtoothed coastline, saviors on the sand. Gulls are drawn, pink and graceless, Into the powdered hymns. Guns sing, Making fragments out of the glass sea: Arise! Shine! Thy light is come!
a nativity scene Emily Meffert Do you feel blame? Are you mad? Uh, do you feel like wolf kabob roth vantage? Gefrannis booj pooch boo jujube; bear-ramage? Jigiji geeji geeja geeble google? Begep flagaggle vaggle veditch-waggle bagga? Charles Manson Your chest was wet. Grace-shorn, salt-glazed, enrobed In goose flesh, trembling feebly. Drained of strength, Your belly anguished, overripe and globed. Slack thighs splayed like invitations. At length My lighter clicked. Its gold-tongued flame, which stung And sterilized the night, chassĂŠd across A razor blade. Like this, your fate was wrung To salvage hisâ€”to dash a twofold loss. I opened you. One deep, hand-carved ravine Ripped from your vagina to anus. Two Small feet slipped out: blood-bathed, blameless, and clean. That night on the Ranch, sure as the wind blew, This Spawn of Spahn, this Bartimaeus torn From its blind cave, found its eyes, and was born.
tOrn blOOD Anushka Dhar
On the first day, the baby girl awakened. Silver streams glistening down flushed cheeks, alive at the first cry of loss, dark eyes realizing they were supposed to see. Grandma clutched the warm bundle tighter to her chest, silent lullaby to immigration, reinforcing their red armor, the blood flowing between the two of them. Granddaughter passed off to the parents again, handed into an alternate world, soon a voice heard through the phone at sunrise, grandma waiting diligently at the edge of a landline, granddaughter waking up early Sunday morning. But when the scarlet Indian sky burned out, drops disappearing into the folds of her motherâ€™s sari, wrinkling each pink thread
that wove her heartstrings together, she realized they had been tied backwards, like shoelaces meant to trip a girl over herself, left foot paralyzed in the past on dusty road, the right one blessed into the air-conditioned carpet trap of an American future, one that gave her the glasses to see opportunity, her lenses tinted rose at the price of torn blood. Alive now, the baby girl sobbed, because her father was already counting the number of salty waves he would have to swallow, to empty out the entire ocean for her, crossed afterwards with careful tread. But she had no control, she let her eyelids rub themselves raw, bloodshot eyes predicting only more years of confusion, homesickness with no home, tears slowly rolling down weathered skin wishing for the sound of a ring, her grandma sitting alone by the phone.
frOm the MOUTHS Lisa Muloma Babysitting and the 4-year-old boy asks me whether I’m wearing tights I say no and he says wow your legs are so black and slaps them gleefully Over lunch he says tell me a story and I do in the middle of which he holds his fork erect aloof turns down his lips says you have black gums pulls on my braid uses the tip of it to flick ketchup off the table asks me how long my hair is asks me whether I ever use my rough braid to clean dishes and wow my hair is not soft like his I ask him how Livia’s birthday party was he says good there was a girl there who looked exactly like you and I wonder whether the grown white boys I have known have been equally surprised by my everything black whether when I bloom into the room they hide their horror George the janitor every morning turns his whole body to wave at me and once somebody else’s brown grandmother bid me come next to her on the bench sit still tilt your head just like that hold my hand let me see something beautiful before the sun goes down
preparing fOR an interview abOUT LOCKER you describe this locker room for me, ROOM TALK Can were there sweaty tiles under stubbly toes, Elona Belokon
did dank steam tingle your cheeks? Who else is there? Do you ever see my uncle? Does saliva drip from his lips as he details my breasts, how they swelled slowly at first, then all at once, while you hunger over your daughterâ€™s perfect 10 body? Do you gossip with the Brocks? Do you two wave at Bill Cosby whispering about his almost comical deplorability, brewing soporific aphrodisiac drafts, when you both prefer your women writhing under you, their nails etching warning symbols into your backs? Describe your locker room to me, does the stench of non-consenting pussy, wrapped around your fingers like wedding rings, mingle with the steam? How many locker rooms like yours exist, where men practice shark-tooth smiles to shred dresses and autonomy, before coming home to daughters and wives, telling us to button up, since boys will be boys and we wouldnâ€™t want to provoke them. | 134
crOSSING THE BORDER Sydney Pedigo
We went down from Jerusalem, southeast between two thick concrete walls to find our way to Bethlehem. The van stopped, exchanged drivers. I couldn’t help but stare at the refrigerator standing tall, wonder why there was a door propped up by a wall on a leftover slab of foundation— the remnant of a house. The two men might explain the stopping, their jeans and hoodie a dark heritage of stains vacating plastic chairs to inspect my family in the van, but what explained the rubble, the stone and tired plaster fallen and left? What marks the Israeli-Syrian border? Leftover concrete dugouts, a black granite memorial sitting on Israel’s finger, nail-inscribed names and pebbles heaped on top. Traditionally, heaped stones bury a nomad. His bones are left in the desert— covered, then, revisited. They are found again using the desert path the tribe must take to feed the herds, curving back always into remembrance by the implacable roads of survival. So, remember what marks the border: two men, tired plaster, an electric wall dressing Jerusalem in her wire jewelry. | 135
dark (SONG OF SOLOMON) Irena Chiang
I cannot find myself through a mélange of angry crimson and burnt sienna in the mirror before me, smudged with blurred swipes of sweat-stained hurt. I squint at the marred reflection, running a faulted journey on lands of dark skin: the inside hollow of my knees, still darker on my elbows, the chapped pink on my lips, the blemishes moored on the plain of my cheeks, the lost and searching sailors stranded in my eyes. There is a lighthouse for my sailors on the horizon—somewhere the sun sheds light on some fairer land. You have drenched the broken roads of my lips with the taste of a dew that does not belong to me—it drips from my mouth to the hollows in my neck, embracing my collarbone. It flows over my ribs, and dances down my belly. Dark, you say, yet lovely. | 136
untitled (WHO IS WHO) Jeana Poindexter
The man who rides the Montclair 18 from 62 nd to 34th is the size of the trunk of the tree in the yard at my parents’ house
In this way, and others, he is like my dad
The corners of his mouth point south on Sundays
His hands are thick as fists even when they’re open
The soles of his feet are an archive of the slog
In these ways, and others | 137
Calls ‘The Dope’ by name like they go way back
Wets his fingers to count the money
Translates the small talk into a series of nods
And I can see myself in the greasy bulb of his nose
These ways, and others
Every tooth he’s got left is a sweet one
A tongue that cracks peanuts from their shells
Quick to call me a name that’s different than the one he gave me
I can’t quite remember who is who This man and my dad two thick trunks in an orchard of big | 138
brownâ€¨ and bigger, browner than me
MilagrOS On April third, Ricardo came Emily Meffert
And moved into a cabin here (A fan of cheap and tasteless beer, And wouldn’t tell us his last name). Down in that Valley—San Joaquin?— They’d hired him from LaborMax. He’d hide his cash—wedged in the cracks Between the windowsill and screen. The kitchen, where we did laundry, Lit by a bulb that burned alone (Where he first traced my collarbone, With midnight fingers, tenderly), Never a single secret told. It must have heard, just like Kipling’s, The ballads of those teenage queens Begin, then violently unfold (The immigrants with storied pasts, Orosi girls like Gayle Cheyanne, The jailbird mommas they outran, The stubborn scar tissue that lasts). In any case, it must have been, That frost-strung night in early June | 140
When shattered glass, like stars, was strewn (Polished with shame, like shards of sin), Watching. And doubtlessly it ached When Rico’s fist flew like a gull To split the fragile phone booth wall (Then tattered skin and blood that snaked In rivulets to line his hand). Mi hermanito—locked away— Él que tiene boca se Equivoca. Drugs. “Contraband.” For months, the splintered glass remained— Adorned the phone booth (never used), While Rico’s knotted knuckles bruised, And finally became unstained. Still Saturdays it’s Miller Lite, The High Sierra Thoroughfare. His rough-ridged fingers, latched in prayer, Draw glory from the failed twilight (Still blindly trace my lips through dusk’s advancing darkness, light as birds). He frosts the air with floorboard words: Milagros bloom from trampled husks.
this is hOW WE DO DEATH HERE Lisa Muloma
Nobody is in love with you. When the boy with the brassy hard-gelled hair (who once smeared our patch of sidewalk to glowing with the bodies of dozens of lightning bugs, the concrete laced with gooey lifelight and vibrating, a portal to Jupiter) kills himself on a Tuesday afternoon, you screenshot his Facebook timeline and forward it to Violet, who responds with a frowny face. On your desk, a small blue betta fish launches itself against itself â€“ dizzyfurious at its own reflection â€“ a circle of blood like a faraway sun blooms in the water, grows.
lies Rebecca Bendheim
I lie under him like I am dead, let his leg move up and down between mine, his tongue thick on my neck, his breath heavy. I lie, my chest pressed like a dead flower, eyes closed, and disappear. All week I wait and hope he doesn’t call. On Friday, I lie on her pink bed and she asks how he is. I say: Not good. I say: He didn’t call. She sits criss-cross in front of me, pulls me up and tugs my hair out of its bun, looks at with me with eyes that always seem like they could cry. She says: You are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. She says: You are smart and good and… everything. She says: Any guy would be lucky. But that is not what I want. I say nothing. I lay my head in her lap and listen to her heartbeat, steady and whole while mine races. And then I ask her to find me a new man, so that soon I will be back here again.
last NIGHT AS I WAS PRAYING AND WANDERING THROUGH Ariana Yeatts-Lonske
the meadows filled with those I love (the mailman, the flower vendor, the old math teacher), kissing their temples, squeezing their hands, I stumbled upon you. You, perched cross-legged on a boulder, plucking clovers to wear in your hair. You, as if I still loved you, as if you had not promised to take care of my ex-man then slept with him, as if that’s what I meant by care. For two months, I stripped you of your goodness, scanned you like a grocer inspecting apple skin for bruises. I rejoiced in your smaller breasts, your lower grades, your tumbles into the sinkhole of depression. I was not ashamed.
But last night, you stared at me from your rock, lithe, unblemished, your eyes clear and green as my own, and I knew I had to bless you. I wished you the abstracts—peace, happiness, fate’s dimpled smile—but strangely my lips quickened their soft dance. I wished that, when you begin to teach, a shy boy in the back row falls in love with Peter the Great and his essays blossom like the sweetbay magnolia in the school’s courtyard. I wished that, once every month, you dream of your grandfather strolling with you down Connecticut streets and when you wake, you can still feel his hand in yours. I wished, my breath catching, that the man I loved | 144
now reaches for you in sleep, now pulls you into the warmth of his body. I said all this to you, eyes closed, kneeling before you. When I was through, you walked behind me and stroked my hair, running your fingers through like a comb, separating sections to braid. It was silent then besides the cicadas and crackle of wheat. All the others had left to live their brave lives. You wove the three pieces over and under, over and under; I prayed without speaking that I would tell you all this again tomorrow, take your hand, and mean it more.
can yOUfilaments FEELof aME HERE composite Lee Setili
not so much as as as as as and even if and even if and and even if in the carseat of dumb sleep dumb luck carseat of sleep pixels even if as an offhanded suggestion composite of and even if in the even if you could feel me here in the car sleep of soup pixels even if in the composite of offhanded comprehension dumb sleep like the
it is saturday afternOON Lisa Muloma
And Mehrgol and Gage and I are on our way To this famous Dutch apple pie spot To pick up some dessert before our dinner party. To our left a burnt orange sign advertises A LIVE SEX SHOW for that evening And a woman in red lingerie presses Her nipples to the window and taps the glass And smiles at Gage, who is gay but smiles and waves. At Centraal Station a black woman stands on a wooden crate Holding a very big black bible ajar and sings a worship song I sometimes sing to myself before the sun comes up Woozy in the champagne of morning humming I love you hallelujah lullabying the day into smiling at me. A little later a parade of people Marches through carrying huge signs that say JEZUS And they are yelling JEZUS with every third step. Some of them are crying because of all the Sin in the world and hell and eternity and stuff. And when I was sixteen, I would sometimes Wake up early heavy breathing To a house too quiet and I would Crack the door open to my parents’ room To make sure I hadn’t been left behind And if my mother – who prayed in tongues in the car On the way to work – was still sleeping, her little mushroom Head poking over the covers in the yawn of morning, Then I knew the Angel hadn’t come. | 147
Dream 10 minutes: BObbysOcks and a HOt-Water BOttle Jackie Olson
“There, put another pair in there, for good and welfare” Mother grabs the metal hairbrush off the desk. One braid, two braids. One ribbon, two ribbon. Mother strokes her face and grabs the monogrammed handkerchief “You have the prettiest smile, dimples like your father” His Majesty deeply regrets to inform you that your husband, Alfred Breckner, Seaman First Class has… “Your father would want you to leave” “For your father, please?” “London is too unsafe.” “There is no choice. You are going.” “Mrs. Wheatley is sending her two boys, too” “I thought you liked William” “They have a great programme in the country-side” “Put another pair in there, for good and welfare” Mother grabs the metal hairbrush off the desk. One braid, two braids. One ribbon, two ribbon. Mother strokes her face and grabs the monogrammed handkerchief “You have the prettiest smile, dimples like your father” | 148
Steam billows. A boy clutches his mother’s hand “Oh now don’t be such a baby,” his sister stomps the ground “Mummy don’t leave me” His mother straightens his navy jacket and cap. Mother: “I packed something special for you” “I can’t tell you, you goose” “I’ll tell you a clue” “Your father loved it under his feet on a winter night” “Choo-choooooooooo” a boy wipes his snot-tears away “Audrey, Audrey, come listen to BBC, there has been a raid on London!” Tonight, a Luftwaffe attack has left the neighborhood, Hackney, devastated. “Audrey, don’t you live in Hackney?” “Miss Audrey Breckner, we hate to inform you that your mother has… (Ring) Mrs. Breckner, we hate to inform you that your grandson has…” Died
peach seasON Katherine Ward
Someday I’ll see an old gray Jeep that looks like his. I’ll be walking down to the market on 6th street, thinking about whether or not peaches are in season, and there it will be, stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic. I’ll walk up beside it, half expecting to see the plastic hula girl with one arm on the dashboard, vibrating and moving to the hum of the engine. And maybe I will. Maybe I’ll see him, and his face will be older, but he’ll look the same. The laugh lines on his cheeks will have grown more pronounced, as will have mine, but his eyes will still be warm brown and they will still feel like home. Maybe he’ll ask if I need a ride, and maybe I’ll say yes, thank you, and hop into the passenger seat as I have so many times before, in a different life. Maybe he’ll say how’ve you been? And maybe I’ll tell him, tell him everything. I’ll tell him about my best friend, Ben, who fell in love with the wrong girl and never was the same again. I’ll tell him about my mother, and how the sickness sat heavily in the air, and how horrible it was to watch her wither away. I’ll tell him how my father drank so he didn’t have to remember, but I always remembered. I’ll tell him about graduating, moving to a big city, not being able to sleep at night. I’ll tell him about the man with the kind eyes who asked for my phone number in a coffee shop one gray February morning, and I’ll tell him how I watched the kindness seep out of them on days when he got angry. I’ll tell him about the dress I wore on my wedding day, and how I put it on and thought of him. I’ll tell him about the happy days, in the beginning. Then I’ll tell him about the bruises; how he painted pictures on my back with his fists like a tortured artist. I’ll tell him about the flowers and apologies and bruises again. | 150
I’ll tell him how he left for another woman with beautiful hair and all I wanted was to scream at the top of my lungs, to make her understand, to save her. I’ll tell him how I stood in the doorway as they drove away and I cried. I’ll tell him how the bruises have faded from my skin, but I still feel them when I lie awake at night wondering if people really can break each other. I’ll lie and tell him I’m happy now, I’m better. Although I miss him. That won’t be a lie. I’ll tell him how I still think about it; how I never stopped thinking about it, the way the wind felt in my hair on a summer day as I stuck my head out the passenger side window of the Jeep with him beside me, laughing and yelling, pure and clean. I’ll tell him I think of the way he tasted that night on the beach, like salt and peppermint and his brother’s cigarettes. I’ll tell him I think of the way he always let me choose the radio station, and I always picked his favorite, just to see his mouth curve up into a smile. I’ll tell him I think of his bare skin against mine, breathing each other in, knowing we belonged to each other. I’ll tell him I still get that sinking feeling in my chest every time I hear a car door slam, and I still wonder sometimes why he drove away and never came back. I’ll tell him I loved him before, and that I still do, that I always will. And he’ll drive in big circles around the city, the horns will honk and the ever-present sounds of humanity will roar and buzz in the background, and he’ll listen quietly until I finish. Then he’ll pull up to the market on 6th street and the car will screech to a stop, and the plastic hula girl will bob and sway. He’ll look at me and his eyes will feel like home and we’ll stay for a moment, not long enough. I’ll hop out of the car and shut the door, wave and say thank you, nice to see you. I’ll smile, the world will turn and turn over anew, and I’ll go inside to get some peaches, because, as it turns out, peaches will definitely be in season.
After the LSAT I jump intO the cOmmunity pOOl Lisa Muloma
1. And the whole thing turns to starfruit jello -the surface of the water blushing pink and laying smooth -
A haze of roses! The sunlight licking through and flashing out! A cold pink flame!
2. Jesus Christ is driving past my house in a souped up Jeep -
He is blasting Elvis Costello! He has a sumptuous picnic basket in the back seat! He wants to go to the zoo!
3. At the zoo -twenty-two toucans line up behind me and say what I say -
Hippos gossip on the synesthetic islands! The clapping of their awful mouths!
4. I find out that every year a small group of ascetic youths takes a pilgrimage to a bench in Cleveland where in late 2009 I left my favorite gray tunic sweater -
They kiss the bench and weep! And dance around wildly in wispy clothes! | 152
5. The moon gives birth to a river of white fish -the purest whitest fish youâ€™ve ever seen -
And they swim slick out of the moon! And out into the clean blackboard of the universe! And rub their little silver bodies against the stars turning the lights on in the dark room of the universe and I can see it all right from where Iâ€™m standing!
space fOR REFLECTION
space fOR REFLECTION
space fOR REFLECTION
space fOR REFLECTION
space fOR REFLECTION
space fOR REFLECTION
THE VANDERBILT REVIEW • 2017 •
The 2016/2017 school year edition of The Vanderbilt Review