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The Weekenders Magazine ISSUE #3



CONTENTS POETRY: 9 The Cockroaches in my Hut by Kufre Udeme: 10 The Man in the Mirror by Andrew J. Stone: 11 Eastern Screech-Owl by Christine Tsen: 12 Sketches of the Soul by James Sanchez: 13 The Lamppost by Arun Budhathoki: 15 Cemetary Night Vision by Carl Scharwath: 16 Watching a Hateful Bitch by A.J. Huffman: 17 Blue Balls by April Dworsky: 18 Torn Stem by Brenda Wall Ryan: 20 Take Me to the Taxidermist by Donal Mahoney: 21 An Earthquake in the Chest by Donal Mahoney: 22 The History of Shaving by John Saunders: 23 Her Words by John Saunders: 24 At Sixes and Sevens by Barbara Moore: 25 Act II by Barbara Moore: 26 Eight Years On by Jonathan Butcher: 27 Why Eric Left by Jonathan Butcher: 28 Far Away Girl by Kevin Hibshman: 29 B-Boy Rhymes by Kevin Ridgeway: 30 Penang by A.g. Synclair: 33 Traces by Maurice Devitt: 34 Lifelines by James Sanchez: 35 The Hidden Persuaders by James Lawless: 36 Nightlife in Truro by Paul Tristham: 37 Silent Witness by Ian C. Smith: 39 The Complexity of Candy by Yevgeniy Levitskiy: 40 UFOs by Howie Good: 41 Halves by Brian Le Lay: 42

PROSE: 54 Three Women, Too Many Men by Kevin Tocsa: 55 Never Saw Him Again by James Lawless: 57 Vacant Stare by Joshua Schwartzkopf: 59 Page | 2

Estuary Trip by Kent L Johnson: 64 Across the River by Kenneth Radu: 70 Cheap Beer & Sparklers by Leesa Cross-Smith: 73 Clouds in Blue Sky by James Claffey: 78 Dinner with Phyllis by Ginny Swart: 83 Getting Skinny Jane to Sunrise by Kyle Hemmings: 87 Strangers in Peoria by Donal Mahoney: 90

WRITER SPOTLIGHT: 44 Catfish McDaris interview: 51



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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR This month has been an off-the-wall, ridiculously crazy month. There’s been so much crap going on in my own personal life that has been eating away at me, and I feel like it would be a good idea to share these trials and tribulations with my readers. Therefore, here’s an essay I wrote about all of this. Before you read this, please note that I am not, in fact, depressed, or anything like that. I have just had a few epiphanies, which, as it goes, probably won’t seem like epiphanies one month from now. What seems brilliant and Zen now, won’t matter at all when it’s all said and done. Oh well. I love you all, and want to welcome you to The Weekenders if this is your first time with us. If it’s not, then you’re in for a treat; good old poetry, fiction, and, of course, a carefully-writ letter from the editor. Enjoy the issue (and the essay, if you can bear it). Recently, I have come to the conclusion that I am a screaming Technicolor television. After watching the recent film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I’ve meditated about how identical that movie is to my own life. I am a young writer with no friends. Nobody seems to really understand me, no matter how I express myself, and the only way I can act socially normal is when I’m under the influence of drugs or insanity. It’s as if social normalities are actually social oddities—I flip everything upside down. How everyone is supposed to be, I’m not that. I don’t understand other people, and they don’t understand me. So I shy away. I hide in my room and I write. Even the people who do the same thing I do, I still don’t feel like they know what I mean. Writing is the only way people understand me. Do you understand me, even? Maybe, even through my writing, nobody understands me. Another example of media that has influenced my recent epiphany is Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” a short story about a Page | 4

man who suddenly turns into a bug. Nobody understands him, because he buzzes instead of speaking. When he tries to explain himself, his father just beats him back into his room. That’s like me, except my father doesn’t beat me. He just ignores me. I’m really not looking for sympathy. I started this essay not really knowing where I was going, but that’s the beauty of everything, isn’t it? I guess maybe I started this essay because I wanted to put myself out there, hoping and praying that someone feels like I do and that I’m not absolutely crazy. I know some of these sentences might not flow right, and that’s completely my fault. This is just how I think—so now maybe you’ll understand what I mean about nobody understanding me. I just buzz, buzz, buzz. Nobody listens to something they can’t comprehend. It’s like staring into your television when it’s blaring white noise. You can sit there and watch it, but eventually you feel stupid, so you get up and go do something meaningful with your life. That’s what it feels like whenever I meet someone who might understand me. All of the sudden, they get off of our metaphorical couch, and they move on, because they don’t understand what they’re getting into. Really, I’m just a mess. I’m a blur of black and white and Technicolor. I’m a screwed up television. I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to be. Maybe if I was funnier, I’d be more popular. Maybe then people would want to sit with me at lunch. Maybe they’d want me to tell them dirty jokes, or impersonate celebrities—or, whatever funny people do. Maybe if I was simpler, people would like me more. I’m too complex. I always finish my homework ahead of schedule, because it’s too easy. I hate myself because it’s too easy. I don’t want to be smart, because then it sets me apart from everybody else. I want to write choppy sentences and spell words wrong. I want to ask the teacher over and over again: “Is this good?” I want approval, but I still want to be mediocre, like everybody else in my class who is happy with going to community college and smoking Page | 5

bongs on the front porch with their friends wearing cowboy hats and having one-night-stands. I want all of that, but I’m too oldmannish to really enjoy it. Or try it, for that matter. I just want to sit in my comfortable little nest and read books and pretend to be a sophisticated “writer” who knows something other people don’t. I’m intentionally not including transition sentences in my paragraphs, just because this is an essay that I don’t care if it gets published. If someone is really interested in me, then maybe they’ll read this and know everything that’s been inside of me for the past 10 years. Maybe it won’t matter to anybody—in that case, I’ll be happy, because at least then all of this miscommunication won’t mean a thing, and nobody will feel ripped off or discouraged by me. If you have never had any friends, either, then I can relate to you, and you can relate to me. But maybe that’s the only thing we’ll be able to relate on. Probably, I won’t want to be your friend; I’m too cold and hateful. Probably, something I’ll say will make you go, “I thought you were different!” Probably, you’ll have this beautiful, grandiose picture in your head of what a wild sophisticated individual I am, but then I’ll just turn out to be a complete jerk, and you’ll run away from me. Maybe you’re reading this, and you’re thinking that I’m a great guy. Maybe you know me outside of these words, and you couldn’t imagine anything like this coming from my fingertips. Of course, you know, I’m going to have to tell you that your conceptions were wrong. I’m nothing like what you think I am. You think I’m smart and cute and funny. You think I just say weird things because I have such an imagination. I’m so sophisticated and classy. I’m definitely getting into Harvard, or Princeton, or wherever I want to go because I’m the most intelligent man you know. Really, all that’s wrong. Really, I’m an ugly, terrible person inside. Very few people really like me. There are some people who love me, or say they love me, because they say we’re friends, and that’s what friends do. But the thing is, we’re not friends. We’re not. We’re people who gossip about nothing that matters. We’re people who joke about nasty subjects. We’re Page | 6

people who think we know each other, but really, we haven’t even scratched the surface. Very few people have gone beneath the surface. Those people are close to my heart, but even still, those people can hardly understand me. It takes a lot of spellingout. I have to enunciate—metaphorically, of course, but still so. And even those people I love—genuinely love—have betrayed me. The world is a terrible, terrible place, and I am just now realizing this. Look: I’m not trying to be pessimistic. The fact is, life makes one pessimistic. If one thinks about life too much, he or she will view the world through a black veil. The old saying, “ignorance is bliss,” is actually true. Thinking about life will kill you. Thinking about who you are, really, will make you hate yourself. But then again, so will pretending to be someone else. If you keep pretending to be someone else, you’ll never figure out who you are. I’ve been there, trust me. I’ve been pretending to be someone else for the past 17 years. I’m just now figuring things out. I’m just now understanding that even though I’m an ugly person on the inside, the beauty of that realization is almost enough to mask the stench. Almost. When it comes down to it, if you want to be perfectly honest, I just need someone who genuinely cares. I need someone who will nurture me. I have never really been nurtured. At the age when you’re supposed to be being nurtured, I was being exposed to drug abuse and sexual promiscuity. My mother did not tuck me in at night. She knocked down my father’s door because she was high on meth. My father did not play catch with me. He broke through a window with his hand (he broke his hand, then went to prison because he was caught with coke). My father cut my mother, and I had to watch. I had to block my sister’s ears and try to find something for her to eat, because she was three years old and couldn’t feed herself. Well—neither could I, but that’s beside the point. I’m not looking for sympathy. Page | 7

Now, at school, whenever I see someone who hasn’t had enough sleep, I know what it’s like. Or when someone doesn’t show up for school for a month, and you know they’ve been taken away by CPS—I know what that’s like, too. Clinging onto something, anything; I clung to a penny I found in my house while the police were taking me away. I called it my lucky penny. I lost it two days later, at my new foster home. Now, when someone says they feel like a wallflower, I know exactly what they mean. They’re passed by, even though they are beautiful. They grow and grow and grow, while everything else stays small—but the smaller, more plant-like plants are the ones that get noticed. The ones that fit in—they’re noticed. The wallflower festers, screaming, “Look at me!” but everybody just keeps walking by, ignorant of the beauty around them. Sometimes the wallflower wilts because it’s been forgotten. Nobody feels bad when the wallflower wilts. Nobody feels bad when the wallflower writes an essay. None of his classmates know anything about it. None of his relatives, neither. Or the bug that is beaten. The bug that, no matter how loud it screams, nobody can hear it, so it is swept aside. It’s not even given a chance. It’s never been given a chance. It screams—and if people would just hush, for one second even, they would hear. They’d understand. So: if anyone can relate to anything I’ve written here, please let me know somehow. Please don’t just nod your head. Please— I’m really suffering here, and I just need someone to tell me that they know what I’m going through. Maybe you can relate on more than just one level—maybe you can scratch below the surface. I’m also sorry about the quality of writing. I’ll try to do better next time. I just need somebody to listen me. I just need somebody to my incomprehensible Technicolor screaming. Because that is me. Ryan Swofford, Editor The Weekenders Magazine Page | 8


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THE COCKROACHES IN MY HUT By Kufre Udeme The cockroaches in my hut Are robbers in the night Marching in while I snore Organizing through the backdoor At times like a swarm of locust In the thick black dust Coffee-stained flying cockroaches rings a beep Descending and seizes my sleep Creep creeping to my lamp I scratch the stones and fix a stamp. The cockroaches in my hut Are warriors in a tent Clinging to the blood coated walls Springing and sinking like balls They turn my hut to a playground Pounding and sounding around Coffee-stained flying cockroaches in my plates Merrying with their mates Tap tapping on my earthen pot Making a round and hefty knot The cockroaches in my hut Are like akata in the night Buzzing with chainsaw bitting A picture of picnic delighting While I fold and scream in horror The corners of my hut becomes an empire of terror Coffee-stained flying cockroaches create mutiny A defeated King, they overthrow me Reel reeling towards the door edge I rushed my burning legs from their rage.

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THE MAN IN THE MIRROR By Andrew J. Stone And he was serious the way his left eye quivered the way his second toe crawled around the foot’s thumb the way his flesh witherwastes the way his rubber lips lingered and I wonder, why the man in the mirror whispers I told you so

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EASTERN SCREECH-OWL By Christine Tsen I was sleeping deeply when you woke me staring into the dark I imagined you an untamed horse mustang force of irration, high-speed wildness erupting through suburbia ah, blasé suburbia and I had just about had enough of it too— Yet in morning light I found you merely an owl mother’s favorite bird, evocative little individual that you are and amused by the triteness of the whole thing I closed my eyes to see a droll expression on your face— Your eyes scrunched to sconce of moon and your wraparound feathers ghosting in tree’s eaves so never mind the sizable horse bearing some nonsense knight I’ll take instead you, ironic petite creature — Yet, just as I loved you, I never heard from you again although night after night I lay listening for your trills your rapidly descending staccatoed glissandos knowing you had flown off to your wild life without me.

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SKETCHES OF THE SOUL By James Sanchez Purple fire whirls through my eyes Endangered thought caresses my cheeks Lures me to dream Peek in through the inner door See the angels naked flicking ash on your soul Combine all that is love Hate as joy Lust as sex Pain as ecstasy It seems to be over The trip to god postponed The map ripped to shreds Used as fertilizer The novels grow out from the sidewalks Good morning mama it’s been a long sleep My eyes struggle to view the horror of this life Blood rises from my palms The razor blades entombed in my flesh Silver tokens Artifacts left for you Find me alone Naked Smelling of defeat Pinned to a blackboard covered in chalk The children have stopped coming I understand I look like a postmodern Jesus Baldwin Wright running over my flesh Bigger Thomas and Rufus Scott smoking cigarettes on my heart Rosary beads embedded in my flesh Tiny mines left for the unconscious I dream of you as my pen guides my thoughts My hand has no soul Page | 13

It just writes I seek through an abyss of lies The fools snicker and point My resolve unwavering I am you Screaming in muted tones The answer relies on the journey Tell me your dreams I’ll show you my scars

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THE LAMPPOST By Arun Budhathoki Loneliness engulfs it The man with torchlight intervenes, The Lamppost feels connected. Brightness terrifies it Barking dogs with fiery eyes make strange visit, The Lamppost finally smiles. Purity saddens it Drunkards, burglars, murderers, prostitutes pass through, The Lamppost feels jaded. Peace frightens it The cries of homes give consolation, The Lamppost remains still. I captivate it Friendship with me gives happiness, The Lamppost is my exact reflection.

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CEMETERY NIGHT VISION By Carl Scharwath Moonlight bathes headstones in elongated shadow casting a cynical glow Perfectly aligned mercenaries long ago legions, covenants to life’s carnage Brittle cement markers, forgotten names etched, adorned in plastic flowers Resurrected in moments, dream state paralysis are you remembered tonight?

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WATCHING A HATEFUL BITCH ATTEMPTING TO READ AT THE GYM By A.J. Huffman Once upon a time…I stumbled… Okay, I admit it, I almost fell off my treadmill when I saw that bubble-headed little witch with a semi-functional vocabulary that falls somewhere between a four-year-old and a drunken sailor perch herself behind the counter and actually open a book. I could not tear my eyes away from this train-wreck waiting to happen as every second seemed to deepen the straining lines of effort streaking across her brow. I wanted to scream, “Stand back! She could blow at any moment!” Then I (almost) felt bad when I realized I was not the only one trying desperately not to stare as the clock continued its timebomb countdown… Still no page got turned. I could not imagine what she was doing, unless she was waiting forWaldo to mystically appear from the more than 300 as-yetuntouched pages. I mentally scolded myself – not wanting to be that pettily patronizing person… Until she gave up, closed the book, straightened her tank-top that clearly labeled her as a “Staff Trainer,” and proceeded to ignore every female that approached her. Foolishly believing they had the right to ask her for help. The end.

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BLUE BALLS By April Dworsky and other such myths need to be blown apart, dispelled, conquered like other sexual injustices. We need to come up with some kind of collective, universal, female response to “my balls hurt, you have to have sex with me to relieve the pressure.” I’m thinking: “what about my clit? which you have effectively ignored for weeks now.” That should do the trick. And while we’re at it, let’s unravel some other bullshit: Sex does not end when you are done. Orgasm is a two way street. Yes, it still taste like shit even if you drink a gallon of pineapple juice, and we don’t care if your ex always swallowed. Six inches is not average, and legs up down backwards or sideways, average is still just that. I’m sorry is the worst thing to say afterwards, and falling asleep is not okay, but at least it gives us a chance to finish the job for you. And we wish you would whack off before we get there. At least you’d have a fighting chance. We don’t care who you think about while you’re doing it. And we have called you by the wrong name too, you were just too stupid to notice. Page | 18

No, we don’t want it up our ass, even if it is small. We do mind. We can tell. And we will keep our vibrators, thanks.

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TORN STEM By Breda Wall Ryan Each branchlet replicates the parent plant each leaf dictates the lime green shade of its subordinates whose edges are inlaid in carmine as if human blood flows through its veins and the weeding hand might feel Herb Robert’s pain

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TAKE ME TO THE TAXIDERMIST By Donal Mahoney I told my wife the other night when she came back to bed my feet were cold so now's the time for me to tell her not to bury me or burn me or give my body to science. Take me to the taxidermist and have him dress me in Cary Grant's tuxedo, a pair of paten leather shoes from Fred Astaire and a straw hat from Chevalier. Once I'm a Hollywood star, stand me in the garden with that chorus line of blondes, brunettes and redheads I stationed there the day she flew home to Mother in a snit. Years later now, my dancers still kick high enough to lance the sun. I plan to hold a last rehearsal once my wife motors into town and finds a priest who'll say a thousand Masses for my soul.

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AN EARTHQUAKE IN THE CHEST By Donal Mahoney The demise of Mr. Wise came as no surprise to the clerks in his department, those weathered women who for years had borne his scorn so well. The story goes that Mr. Wise that day, balancing his tray at lunch, stepped lightly past the puddings, pies and cakes and pitched across his broth. Two feet from the register, he dropped, a humpback suddenly ashore. Behind him in the line was Mrs. Burke who saw her boss's water break. She knew right then there was nothing she could do. After all, as everyone could see an earthquake in the chest had taken Mr. Wise. And that is why she raised both arms and cried, "Forget the CPR! Someone call a priest!" No other sound was heard that afternoon. Not one boo-hoo.

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THE HISTORY OF SHAVING By John Saunders What hirsute could compete in this cut throat world where close shaves are a daily event? The mirror tells me what has changed, a temporary reprieve from the rough, skin soft as lips, opened to the sharp. A cut without resistance is all that is required, the honing stone readied, the blade moves again, hearts beat, time passes. I see her tears running down the glass, rivulets of rejection. Her eyes do not look at me and I realize what I can no longer face. Water scalds where cuts are deep, the bleed takes a long time to stop.

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HER WORDS By John Saunders She misplaced them behind the cushion of embarrassment where they reposed for years before they were found by a lexicon full of itself. In her sentences proper nouns reigned, buttressed by the adjectives and adverbs. Once, in a flummery of bewilderedness, expletives absconded, were corralled by syntax. She was a slaver of procedure, used grammar to keep direction, never once had to re arrange the lines even when their ends frayed.

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AT SIXES AND SEVENS By Barbara Moore When we multiply two negatives a positive results So how, when squaring our mistakes, could we end up in this cyclonic comedy of errors spinning counterclockwise unable to separate the big hand from the little hand the hickory from the dock the mouse from the clock

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ACT II By Barbara Moore We were scratching at places that no longer itched Habits went down in the last round hard, and vitamin E could do only so much for the scarring Trust was dimming when lightning struck our second act awake, alive electric, like frankenstein’s child more flexible, fire-proof, godlike this time

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EIGHT YEARS ON By Jonathan Butcher I take a nip of scotch from your hip-flask, as the open field draws narrower, and under the wind's snarl, the litter circles our feet like miniature whirl winds. And as the greying sky slants even further into the ground, we catch up on old talk; of Huxley, mushrooms, failed time travel and bands been and gone. As the crowds draw nearer, I feel the first wave crawl over my back like an over attentive breeze, and the laughs and yells now resonate far more clearly than ever before. We sit back, as fifty two weekends condensed into one night pass our eyes, and carry us through those now necessary, but unwanted distractions.

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WHY ERIC LEFT By Jonathan Butcher He decided to leave us with the smallest amount of grace. His reputation un-marred except for this little indiscretion. Found in his wardrobe in the most uncompromising of positions; a practical joke that never reached the punch line (according to his father at least). We had not laid eyes upon him for years, but always heard his voice, like a faint breeze through rape seed fields, when ever his name was mentioned. The very fields we had watched him burn and trample as we cheered at his heroics, that he fuelled with his vodka bottle and joint; as he shimmered in our compliments, illuminating our deadened afternoons. And in that wardrobe, he would have reflected on our praise and loyalty, his last gleam of dignity, holding on to his well earned title, or so we hoped.

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FAR AWAY GIRL By Kevin Hibshman Large white clouds scudding away. Shanty town girl dressed in bitter rags. Could she pause to look up at just the right moment? We could connect without knowing it once again. Under the very same and yet separate sky. The smell of the sea rancid there, on the decrepit pier. An auburn sigh of yesteryear. Autumn in a trailer parked carefully out of sight. Song of the swamp marshes lulled us deep. Held me close to her derelict shore. She walks alone now I would presume. Far away girl watches the waves and nearly disappears into the oily depths of New Jersey once more.

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B-BOY RHYMES AND TUXEDO SERENADES By Kevin Ridgeway I wanted to ask this girl to prom and I never did I sat in my garage room cranking George Gershwin and the Beastie Boys wondering how to ask her: Should I be suave, like a lounge lizard Gershwin belting hero hair slicked back clip-on bow-tie firmly planted and a thin Page | 30

Clark Gable mustache that danced as I winked at her and disposed witticisms like an ivy league intellectual screaming from the pages of Harper’s and The New Yorker? or a rhyme heavy urban lad of equal bravado attired in an ironic t-shirt and baggy trousers spitting fart-heavy sex-crazed pop culture laden spirals of urban poetry ready Page | 31

to pummel her with my rough-sided charm? I just busted grooves alone in that room daydreaming of her with these opposing split personality styles telling me what to do to win that girl’s heart but I became a two-sided metaphysical freak show half lounge suit half b-boy duds rocking a gold chain and silver cufflinks in the fantasies of my mind

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PENANG By A.g. Synclair Asian flowers-Hypanthia and Fernmindful of coiled rain of Mothers milk suckling fallow greens and blues satiated by ancient hands-leavened spiritsgiver and taker of lives of heart and will bereft of everlasting chi the bereaved-lost and aloneborne of fruit, gum trees, and pearl.

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TRACES By Maurice Devitt Sometimes he would climb into the tree of his mind, think of a girl he had known mouth a little fuller hands thinner. He would retrace their past assemble a photo-fit in chalk, roll her skin like betel-leaf until her finger-print became his and every shop window was a drizzle of her. He would wait for the soft-shoe of darkness hope his shadow could fit then scrawl the streets for a rumour of her. Maybe she would walk by a different shape but the same eyes—

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LIFELINES James Sanchez The lifelines bisect like rivers forked Tridents gathering pain Bubbling over like grandma's forgotten soup The bones scavenged from the perfect bird Placed in a pot with cracked hands Arthritic years of other people's panties and briefs Foam signals the impending cascades of broth Love never questioned Unsolicited kisses Fingers digging I was unique The thyme wafting Gooey sticky Clean up your mess You tease me Like a river of soup Torment melds Marries Until all that remains is essence.

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The Hidden Persuaders By James Lawless There are many Who smear shit on flowers And others Who smear flowers on shit And others still Who pour chocolate on cotton And try to sell it As cotton candy We must be careful Not to believe these people Even though they can be convincing But most of all We must safeguard against Doing the same thing

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NIGHTLIFE IN TRURO By Paul Tristam “We snorted cocaine all night, she cum 4 times, I gave her the fuck of her Life!” she said “Have you ever been to Brighton? I’m from there.” “yes!” I replied. “Once, Everyone was squatting the cinema in town, They’d booted in the bottom panel of the left door.” I had to repeat the word squatting 4 or 5 times, she was drunk and unfamiliar with the word. “She’s CID in Truro, with a husband and kids, we met over the internet.” “Cool” I lied. “But she’s just dumped me, I think she was just experimenting?” Page | 37

“You have nice eyes.” “Yeah, all the girls say that.” She tried her phone again, no luck. “Look, can you sort me out some cocaine, you look like a bastard?” “Yes!” I replied to both. Then her phone went off, It was the police woman, She wanted to meet her in the high street. And what’s the name of the guy who’s gonna sell us cocaine?” “Fuck off!” I replied. Drank my pint, then 6 Red Aftershocks, went outside and fought the villain from London, I’d bought drinks for all night. He only got one punch in. Page | 38

SILENT WITNESS Ian C. Smith The Canadian prairie, the ambition of youth. We squeeze in the back with packs, his silent son, aged ten, next to him, answer questions, leaning forward, a double act paying for the miles. Our thumbing, camping honeymoon years before I lapse into reclusive inertia. His guttural voice slides into slyness, raising our survival prickles. He speaks of a cabin off the highway, where he’ll take us, where we can rest. We are sorry in unison, rejecting him, a barrage of words, that vast sky arcing into infinity. He won’t accept our gushing refusal. A kind of dumb anger heats his persistence, fear, our stammering reluctance, the double act now in disarray, practice for hectic future days. How would anyone find our untended graves, piece together the fragmented past? Shut the fuck up! the boy yells, tells him to leave us alone. Calls him a jerk. Our shocked relief as he obeys, deflates, our disturbed admiration of the boy. He sullenly drives to the agreed town, dumps us like evicted troublemakers, Alaska still our fantasy.

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THE COMPLEXITY OF CANDY By Yevgeniy Levitskiy In order to manufacture candy, such as Jolly Ranchers, Skittles or Mike & Ikes, a process with a name even I can’t pronounce begins. A crane swoops in like a bald eagle on a forest-bred rat, to flip candy squares onto another conveyor belt, where allergy disclaimers will later be posted on wrappers that say“Manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts, almonds, and wheat. May also contain traces of milk, soy and other information that nobody care about.” Afterwards, the candy is sprayed with non-toxic, organic toxic, and low-fat toxic paint to mask the natural flavor of an otherwise, commercially profitable and inexpensive, type of hard and/or chewy candy.

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UFOS By Howie Good Neighbors stepped out, helpless, neatly dressed, into their personal stories, stories with breathing, the ability to. Cousin Fania stood by the window, arms crossed. Butterflies, she thought, for lack of a better word.

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HALVES By Brian Le Lay Today you have not written A treatise on death, instead You place a kiwi and a knife, Much too sharp for the job, At the center of a cutting board, On the counter-top. It is An old limerick, Which bestows a lesson Simple but often ignored As somewhere someone Is always hogging the airwaves By pouring pennies from a jar, Or fake-sneezing on outbound Buses for courteous recognition, But in some countries Your curt explanation of death Would cause the president Who loves a morbid joke, To keel at the hilarity, And offer you his wife On a silver platter. In others You would be charged with impiety, Jailed without promise of release, And you would never know The status of the Red Sox On any given season. You ask: How many times can one Bisect a single element, Before its remnants cease to be, Of all the algebra quizzes You failed in the eighth grade, All morning trains To and From Chicago to collide head-on in Ohio, Page | 42

Yet no one was asking For posterity's sake Who the dispatchers were To have let this happened. The question of loose ends Is most insignificant; the kiwi halves Are extant so long as you Remember them and when That flame blows out, You have gifted the thought To the reader.

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THE GREAT CATFISH MCDARIS By Ryan Swofford I’m honored to be featuring Catfish McDaris in this issue. I first met Catfish, like I do pretty much every writer that I feature, online. It was awhile ago, but not too long ago. I was just getting started on Desolation Blues (which I, by the way, have yet to receive any word on—sorry), and he submitted maybe the best poem I had read during that whole submission period. It was fabulous. Basically, it was about him at some dance party humping against a booty-licious blonde like some mad crazy psychedelic rave. It was Ginserg-esque—real groovy and hip. You’ll see what I mean about the psychedelicness once you read some’ve his poems (and stories!) He creates funky wordimages that could play out like a short story if it were to be extended, but instead you have all of this sweet and sour hard candy in your mouth, and all you can do is sit there and smile and enjoy it, even if the sour part of the candy is starting to give your mouth a tart cramp. I’ve selected a good amount of dopeness that I hope you’ll enjoy, because I sure did. He also answered some questions for an interview, which I’m glad we decided to conduct (well, actually, I just kind of made him, but that’s beside the point). Catfish is a wonderful individual, and I am, again, honored to share some of his wonderful poems with you. Thanks for checking in, and be sure to support the heck out of this cat!

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THE POETRY COMPETITION By Catfish McDaris The lady that ran the reading told me, “You’re only allowed one prop for your five minutes” I saluted her like a good Boy Scout & said I liked to be prepared, getting out my one maraca, a small bag of cat litter, & a new potty box She looked quizzically at my bizarre accoutrements, remembering my last win I had done a reverse Tom Jones, throwing used clean lady’s panties into the mostly female audience, raiding the Salvation Army bins not caring about size or color The maraca was if I stripped naked & jammed it up my ass, doing my poem about the poor gay dude going to the masquerade party as a rattlesnake The cat litter & box was for my poem about the time my lady & her friends weren’t sharing the bathroom & I had to shit with the cats, just as I started, the ladies decided to tour where the dirty dump was taking place.

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CRACKING A SMILE AND HAVING LUNCH By Catfish McDaris After being her patient for ten years, my regular medical doctor finally did a rear end exam on me. I was older than her and she was very beautiful, I felt kind of strange with my pants down and her finger up my butt. It was almost erotic, but not quite. She found a hemorrhoid and asked if I wanted her to cut it off after she froze it, I declined. She said she would refer me to a proctologist. I looked up what a proctologist was and the medical definition was they dealt with disorders of the colon, rectum, and anus. I always thought the rectum was an anus. The day of my appointment I felt nervous my sphincter wouldn’t cooperate. I wanted to defecate real well and then take a shower to get baby butt clean. I walked into the doctor’s office and this young man sat there with a smirk on his face and three females all in white coats. “Please go behind the curtain and remove everything from the waist down and put on a paper gown,” he said. “Now bend over the table as far as possible.” They rolled a spot light over next to my ass, it felt like I was going to be interrogated by the Gestapo. “Now this might be uncomfortable.” I felt eight hands, with blue squeaky rubber gloves pulling my butt cheeks apart. They were speaking to each other, ignoring me completely. Then they put the lubricant gel all over my rectum or maybe it was my anus. They each took turns finger fucking me and shoving flashlights up my keister. “See, now that wasn’t so bad, was it.” He slapped me on the rump and handed me one tissue to mop up all the damage they’d done. The women sat there grinning as I made a feeble attempt to sop up all their mess. “By the way, we need to schedule a follow up visit.” I waddled out of there, feeling like my mechanic had given me a lube job and went crazy with his grease gun. I called my personal doctor and asked if it was absolutely necessary to return Page | 46

to the four proctologists from hell. All she said was yes, with a touch of humor in her voice. Sometimes I get brilliant ideas that are off the wall. Before my next visit I got two jars of crunchy peanut butter and a container of non-toxic paste glue. I mixed this combination all up in a huge mixing bowl and let it set up somewhat. I got in front of my lady’s big full length mirror with a big batter knife and I spackled my asshole, really packing it in and slathered my upper thighs. I put a loaf of bread in my back pack and headed off to the doctor’s office. When I went behind the curtain to undress, the bizarre concoction felt like real dried shit. It was difficult to walk and keep a straight face. I carried my pack with the bread and a spreading knife. When I bent over the examining table, there was utter silence. I started laughing, I took the knife and bread and scraped off some fake shit and made a sandwich. I took a huge bite and asked if anyone would care for lunch. Four heads were wagging in unison horizontally in a negatory reply. Getting dressed I split. Calling up my doctor when I arrived home, I asked if any further appointments would be required with the anus examiner. She replied, “No and never invite me to lunch.”

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THE DIET PLAN THAT WORKS By Catfish McDaris The cheddar punk moon half smiled Down on my misadventures, I’d Robbed & killed in my dreams Screeching people had flipped me Beyond salvation & sanity, I craved Strangulation & diamonds, but the Harder I squeezed the harder I became My brain gasped & slipped, reality Vanished into a macabre madness Nightmare of vomit, tears, & sweat Fuck it all I thought, I’ll write Beat poetry & entertain the masses, Making enough bread to live on Yea right on, man it doesn’t work Though with invisible dough.

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ANGELS DON’T EAT BACON By Catfish McDaris Mom was basting the chicken & squirted juice all over the oven The smoke alarm went off shrieking like the hogs my grandpa used to butcher The day I fell out of my tree house into the hog pen was almost a grim reaper fiasco Those big bastards were jumping all over each other ready to cannibalize me, I thought human pork chop time Our neighbor happened by with his shotgun, he blasted them snorters into hog heaven.

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A FINGER IN THE DIKE By Catfish McDaris Upon returning from the land of tulips, windmills, canals, legal grass, & Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt I proceeded to get stinking drunk & staggered down Brady Street, the Height Ashbury of Milwaukee I stumbled into a cool hip tavern & squinted around in disbelief, it was packed with women of all shapes, not one woodpecker in the flock Pinching my scrotum to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I nudged between a blonde & a perfumed set of 38s Ordering cognac & a Schlitz chaser, I pulled Miss America onto the dance floor, I bumped & boogied against her fine booty-licious body She was looking kind of pale, like she needed a lifeguard, I felt a tap on my shoulder & felt a sledge hammer explosion upside my head Trying to point out that I was a woman trapped in a man’s body did no good, I woke up & my pinkie was swimming In a Bloody Mary cocktail of a smiling brunette vixen giving me a severe case of the stink eye. Page | 50

WORDS FROM CATFISH By Ryan Swofford 1. Your latest chapbook, Naked Fly Cherry Marijuana, is from India. What made you want to venture out into that territory? I was approached to do a chapbook by a writer I admired that had a bookstore in Kolkata, India, Subhankar Das. At that time I was doing a chapbook with a lady south of Chicago, but nothing was set in stone. I felt flattered to have something printed in India. I’d had one previous chapbook done outside the U.S. in Belgium in French/English and I knew it was a good formula. With the World Wide Web, you can stretch the bounds of all illusions and ventures. 2. You've got several projects going, what with the new ppigpenn deal and some other stuff with Ben Smith. Do you ever want to drop everything? Is there anything stopping you from doing that? Ben John Smith and I hooked up on his site Horror Sleaze Trash a few years ago. We did a joint hardcover, Dancing Naked On Bukowski’s Grave, still available at The blog mag, ppigpenn is a venture Ben and I put together to display writers that are unafraid to put their raw nasty thoughts on the wire. We plan on collecting the best of ppigpenn and doing a big fat fucking hardcover with Lulu after 2 years or so. If you had one hook and a tiny fish swallowed it and you had to pull out all of its guts and heart and stomped on them, that’s what we want to publish. Send your words to I could drop everything and nothing could stop me, but my urge to create. 3. What was growing up like? Tell us about the most shocking event you experienced as a kid. Growing up in Clovis, New Mexico was great. We hardly ever got snow, so we would drag all the brown dead Christmas trees down the alleys and make forts. We would have some motherfucking Page | 51

rock fights that were pure hell. More than a few eyes were put out permanently. We would go visit my grandparents in Borger, Texas. Once my cousin and I went to buy candy, I was 7. A black gang of 6 guys grabbed me and decided to cut off my white dick. Mikey, my cousin was able to run for help. The oldest was maybe 15, he had his knife on my little pecker, just as my cousin came with help. My uncle went berserk, luckily my dad wrestled his pistol away, but not before he fired repeatedly into the blacks. He’s dead, so I guess it doesn’t hurt to write about it. I never knew if he killed anybody, my Uncle Jerry was a salty son of a dog. We were bricklayers topping out a chimney and he fell 3 stories into a wheelbarrow of mortar, he went to the water barrel and washed up and climbed the scaffold, rather than go to the hospital. 4. How about your biggest epiphany? I could say seeing Jimi Hendrix twice or Led Zeppelin on their first album. Or meeting Liz Taylor and buying her a margarita. Or getting signed books from Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. My best and biggest epiphany was meeting my wife of 30 years and having our 24 year old daughter. Nothing can beat your family, blood rules. 5. As a poet, who would you say you most resemble? Why? And are you proud of this? Bukowski. He made it 14 years at the post office, I did 34. We both did some hard living and drinking. I guess I am proud to write sort of like Buk. Lots of people bitch about all the Buk wannabes, none of them has Buk’s genius. There’s so many writers, if they could walk a few steps in Bukowski’s shoe, they would. 6. Many poets have tics before they write. Some drink coffee and stare out the window. Some breathe heavily. Some nod their head. Is there anything you do that's similar to that? Page | 52

As my amigo, Charles Plymell says, keep your eye to the keyhole. Another pal, Antler advised keep a small notebook at all times to jot notes. I keep a pen and paper at all times and go try to take a good nasty smelly stinking ass shit and start writing hard before I pass out. 7. What's lacking in the literary scene? Are there certain people who are destroying it, or is it fine the way it is? The scene is solid. The web brings us all closer together. Facebook is a fucking leech sucking the time from writers and trying to take over and yet it is making people less lonely. Duotrope is an amazing tool. The old days of the SASE are over. I just wonder if books will go the way of the dinosaurs. There will always be wolves and dogs trotting along the trail, chewing away at the talent trying to fatten their bank accounts. 8. Last question: What can we expect from Catfish McDaris in the future? Any more chapbooks? Maybe a full collection? I never think too far ahead, especially about writing. I can tell I’m killing it, when I get flooded with ideas, almost too fast to get on paper. Then lots of time has passed and I have something new and I’m pleased with it. I’m getting too fucking old to think about the future. I’ve almost had too much future.

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THREE WOMEN, TOO MANY MEN By Kevin Tocsa Jimmy watched as two women squirmed and gyrated on the pool table, as they fondled their fake, expensive tits and licked each other’s surgically placed nipples. He was at a roadside bar during the start of a Midwest bike rally, and it was impossible to get through the crowd of grown men, gawking, recording it all for eternity on their phones and digital cameras. These men, these want-to-be outlaws, this army of the black clad tossing ones on the green felt, yelling, laughing, hooting and whistling and nudging each other like schoolboys and hoping, with their fastbeating hearts and their overpriced beers, that the women would go further. A woman, not on a pool table, but at a nearby booth working on her fourth or fifth beer, she asked him where his camera was. She had tried to smile when she asked, but her voice had been anything but sweet. Jimmy shook his head and thought about his gender, their infinite stupidity. He told the woman he didn’t have a camera; he told her he hated the idea of them. A bike? she asked. The woman had on a small black T-shirt corralling a pair of large breasts. A snake tattoo wiggled, from elbow to wrist, down her left forearm. She was probably forty, and she looked like she had just gotten off someone else’s motorcycle. I’ve got one of those, he said. The woman watched the men, focused on a particular corner. You want to go for a ride? she asked. Want to get out of here? Her voice had changed. Now it was younger—still not sweet—but hope, the tiniest bit of it, had emerged. Yeah, Jimmy said, I do. Meet you out front, the woman said. She slid out of her booth and slipped past Jimmy, not looking back at him or the men or the two women on the pool table. Page | 55

Jimmy stared at her legs as she swept past: her ass was going to look superb flying high in his hotel’s bed, those heavy breasts dangling down like ripe fruit. He paid for his beers and his burger. He left the booth and lingered as the women teased fingers beneath bikini edges, as they wiggled and went through all their calculated motions. Outside, he saw her smoking a cigarette next to the long line of bikes, two hundred dreams parked beside a bar and waiting like the attentive, loyal companions they were. She was staring off into the distance, this woman, toward the hills or toward nothing, waiting for him, smoking, not in a hurry. It was a hundred degrees in the sun. There wasn’t any shade. Anything you need to do first? he asked her. Nothing, she said. They climbed onto his Triumph and he took her back to his hotel in Deadwood, a decent hotel with a big, clean bed, a jacuzzi tub, soft towels. They stayed the rest of the afternoon and the night. The beer was stocked, room service was a call away, and the world would be there tomorrow, same as it was today. Her name, Jimmy learned, was Kimberly. She was from Nebraska, originally, but had pretty much been everywhere. She had told him so in the morning as he was getting dressed. The last thing he put on was his black shirt, retrieving it from a side table where Kimberly had flung it. Then he drove her back to the same bar where another mob of men had gathered, where two more women, different this day, were half-naked and posturing on the pool table. Jimmy knew they reserved spots well in advance. Is that it? Kimberly asked. Before he could answer yes, she had turned and walked away, but he didn’t need to watch her because he knew right where to find her, or another one just like her, another woman worn in just about the same ways—good women, mostly—but a little too used, too damaged, too mercenary and too sad and always a little too much just like him; but Jimmy, Jimmy was okay because he had a motorcycle and a cock between his legs, and that has made all the difference. Page | 56

NEVER SAW HIM AGAIN By James Lawless I had a friend who was a biologist. He had just returned to the states after a two week camping trip in Mexico. He came to visit me at my house in Austin Texas with heavy eyelids. It was obvious he was tired from his trip. And when he asked me if he could have a cup of coffee I told him, "I might have just what you're looking for. Recently I went over the border and bought some freshly ground coffee in a shop in Matamoros". Then I added, "I don't drink coffee, but I'll voluntarily make some for you." "No, let me make it." I gave him a special Italian coffee pot and a bag containing a kilo of finely ground Mexican coffee, and he got to work making his coffee. But the coffee pot I gave him was an Italian espresso coffee pot, which, little did I know at the time, made six small but strong espresso coffees. When the water boiled and made a hissing sound as it filtered through the fine ground coffee, my friend poured the six cups of espresso into one large American coffee cup and drank it. He thought it was one cup of coffee rather than six small strong cups of espresso, and so did I. When he finished drinking it he licked his lips and said "Ah that was good". "Make yourself another," I replied. So he made himself another six espressos and, again, put it into one large American coffee cup and drank it. After that he whispered "Ambulance". I drove him to the hospital. I didn't know what was wrong with him. He couldn't talk normally, only in a whisper. I bent my body over his, so I could hear his weak voice. He kept on saying the same thing, "some...thing's...wrong". I could see that, but I had no idea what the problem was. I conferred with the doctors. They couldn't figure it out either, but by watching his vital signs they decided to give him an injection of vallium and let him sleep for four to six hours. Page | 57

As they were giving my friend his injection I told him to call me later when he woke up and I'd give him a ride home. He nodded. I went home, but my friend never called. I went over his house a few days later. By that time we had both realized it was the caffeine that made his heart flutter as if it had received a shot of adrenalin. He looked at me with snake eyes. I told him I was sorry. "I had no idea the coffee would have that effect. I don't drink coffee, no less espresso." He continued to look at me with that hateful expression and told me, "I don't want to talk about it". I wanted to say, "after all Adam, it was you who asked me for the coffee, and you're a biologist, not me". But instead I tilted my head to one side, shrugged my shoulders and left. I never saw him again.

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VACANT STARE By Joshua Schwartzkopf The boy with rust-colored hair sat on the blue and white checkered couch overlooking the street. It was a throw away couch that no garbage man had ever come to pick up. He stared into the distance, not looking at the elaborate two-story houses across the way. He saw everything and yet he saw nothing. A vacant expression on his youthful face made him seem as if he was in some sort of trance. Those who walked by just thought he was on drugs, "probably suffering from Autism" one woman commented as she scurried past with her power-walking partner. The sound of her spandex covered thighs created a distinct "phht phht" noise. Yet, still he sat there in front of the white house with the red "For Sale" sign planted off to one side. A narrow sidewalk led up to the spindly, grey front porch. His head tilted to the right as he stared into the space ahead. He blinked now and then but otherwise he could have been a robot or Pinocchio. I sat there watching him and wondered why he was there. Had some tragedy befallen this boy? Had his parents divorced and were they now moving out of his childhood home? So many questions filled my mind as I sat in my cozy office, trying to finish the great American novel. I just needed to write the perfect ending, the final sentence to leave the reader with some closure to my story. But I hadn't gotten much farther than a single "The" on the glowing monitor. I looked down at the black keyboard resting on the desk. My fingers poised over the A, S, D, F keys on the left and the J, K, L, semi-colon keys on the right. My thumbs rested gently on the space bar at the bottom of the keyboard. The whir of the computer filled the otherwise silent office. Pictures littered the tiered levels of the computer desk, pictures of family gatherings and of my wife. Her decorations filled in the rest of the gaps: a monkey clutching a green candle, a ceramic pig atop a weather vane, a Page | 59

stuffed pink rabbit and other odds and ends. They annoyed me as I attempted to finish a sentence. "Goddammit," I muttered in frustration. I often cursed the Mighty Maker and I usually felt bad for cursing His name or asking him to damn something when I was absolutely positive he had better things to do. But I was going on three straight days now. Three days of writer's block and it felt worse than walking over hot coals with bare feet - something I had tried once on my honey moon with the missus when we went to Hawaii. So I looked out the window and I gazed through the gossamer thin curtains at the boy with rust-colored hair. I hadn't noticed him this morning when I sat down to work. He just seemed to materialize during the afternoon after I snuck out for a cigarette. My wife hated that I smoked and I told her in not so many words that I had quit for good. But I hadn't. I just didn't smoke when she was around. I watched this strange young man, staring out into the nothingness of the world and I created possible scenarios about him. What if he witnessed his beloved dog get run over by a car? Or perhaps he had seen a ghost? Could he have figured out the cure for cancer? What if he had seen God? To my dismay, I found myself chewing on my nails and jonesing for another cigarette. I spat them onto the floor and looked back toward the computer screen. A lonely "The" stared out at me contrasted by the stark whiteness of the page. I needed to get started on this. My deadline was a month away and the woman who I had somehow conned into becoming my agent was expecting a rough draft of my first novel in a little less than thirty days. I once told myself that I worked better under deadline but that wasn't really true. I worked better when my muse took over and the words just flew out of me like rain drops from a storm cloud. I tried to write then, I really did. I forced myself to concoct a ridiculous sentence but once I read it, I tapped down on the delete button until that single "The" stood there all by its lonesome. This was my dream that I was wrestling with, I had Page | 60

always wanted to be a successful and published novelist and now I had my chance. I cried out in frustration, glaring at the computer monitor as if it were the Devil. I had told myself I would write at least ten pages a day but I was lucky if I wrote ten words. I felt that deadline looming over me like the Angel of Death, scythe in hand and skeletal face forever grinning as its hollow eyes burned with an evil fire. "I'm going to have a fucking cigarette." I growled and tried to force myself away from the desk. Instead, I glanced back out the window at the boy sitting on the god forsaken couch. Why was he there? What purpose did he serve sitting on that disgusting thing? Where were his parents? He looked around twelve years old. Not too young to be on his own but still too young to be on his own. And that vacant expression on his delicate face disturbed me more than I cared to admit. Was he sick? Had he eaten too much candy and was he about to ralph? Had he just learned that he was adopted? So many questions that I could not answer. I knew that this boy held the answers that I sought, hell maybe he could break the writer's block that currently possessed my thick fingers. The kid wore a green and blue striped shirt with a pair of jean shorts that were ripped and frayed around his thighs. From my vantage point, I saw a nasty looking scab on his right leg. He must be into skateboards, I thought. Only a fall from a skateboard would make such a wound. He wore a pair of tattered grey tennis shoes on his small feet and his tube socks had fallen down past his ankles. A red stripe circled the white fabric and I realized I owned an identical pair. The elastic had worn out of the socks long ago and they always slid down to my ankles, just like the ones he wore. Again, I found myself chewing on my nails and I knew I had to have a cigarette or I would lose my mind. This time I found the strength to force myself from the desk chair. I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other as I exited the office and entered the front hall. Our house was small so it wasn't much of a Page | 61

journey to the entry way and I easily located the cigarettes tucked behind one of my wife's potted plants. I picked up the cardboard pack and flipped open the lid. I tapped out one of the coffin nails and checked the pockets of my sweatpants for my lighter. Once I found it, I shuffled toward the front door and maneuvered my way to the patio. When I lit that cigarette and inhaled that first puff, I immediately felt relaxed— that is, until the boy on the blue and white checkered couch caught my eye. I tried to ignore him as I took another drag from my filtered tobacco treat. I let the formaldehyde-laced exhaust escape my nostrils, thinking how cool I must look. But still my eyes kept returning to that forlorn boy. I had to know why he was sitting there. I just had to. So I crossed the walkway to the street, taking another quick puff from my cigarette before flicking it into the yard. When I stood before the staring boy, I planted my hands on my hips and watched him for a moment. Still, he would not acknowledge me so I cleared my throat. Again, he seemed oblivious of my very existence. Until I spoke to him. "Are you alright?" I asked and that seemed to awaken the strange lad from his trance. He blinked twice before looking up at me. "Huh?" he asked and I couldn't help but smile. He was a real boy after all. "What are you staring at?" I queried. He cocked his head to the left and furrowed his brow. I expected half a dozen explanations from: "I was staring at a group of ants building a burrow" to "My unmarried sister just found out she's pregnant," but I never anticipated what the boy actually said. "Mister..." he started, his voice soft and delicate. �I'm looking at all the possible futures that lay before me and I'm afraid I might pick the wrong one." I felt the hackles on the back of my neck rise when I heard those words. I recalled the sentence that I attempted to write while staring at this boy from my office on the other side of the street. "The future lay before him like a road map to an Page | 62

undetermined destination." It was a stupid sentence, petulant and idiotic but it sounded eerily similar to what this boy reiterated to me. I couldn't help myself as a bark of laughter escaped my lips. "Son, I'm forty years old and I'm still worried that I picked the wrong future." I admitted and he furrowed his brow again. "But, at least, we get to choose and that is magical in its own right, isn't it?" He seemed to consider my words and slowly I saw a smile brighten his sullen face. He looked at me then with blue eyes and seemed to come to life. It was like watching a character emerge from a painting. I saw color and light surround this boy and I felt an inexplicable connection to him. "I think that's the only real magic..." He whispered and I could feel that word lingering on my lips. Like a flash of lightning, I realized that I had once sat on a vacant couch left on the curbside when I was this boy's age. Although it had been a tan abomination crisped by the sun and standing on its last leg. I pondered the same thing that now troubled this boy and when I looked down to tell him how I had once been in shoes, he was gone. I stood there, dumbfounded - fearing that perhaps I had actually seen a ghost. When I saw him walking away down the sidewalk, relief washed over me. He turned for a moment and waved. I returned the gesture and felt as if I had just had an epiphany. What it meant, I didn't know but it gave me the courage to go back to my office and finish that god-blessed novel. And it gave me the strength to take that pack of cigarettes and toss them into the garbage can. When the wife came home, I greeted her at the door with a kiss. She frowned, wrinkling her delicate nose at me and said, "You've been smoking." I could only stare at her sheepishly. "Did you get any writing done?" she asked, tossing her purse onto the couch. I told her I found an ending. She seemed pleased until she squinted her lovely eyes and asked, "Are you alright? You seem distracted." To which I smiled and said, "I'm just glad you're home..." Page | 63

ESTUARY TRIP By Kent L Johnson When I want to go somewhere in this city, I usually walk or take a bus. Sometimes though, you just want to blow the place and get away from the cement, brick, asphalt, smoke and noise. I got my motorcycle unchained and I'm rubbing a cloth over the old beast, trying to get the dust and spiders off the surface while the battery charges. “Hey, what's up?” I turn and look. I smile. It's Tawnya, little gal from the past, from back in school. We spent a lot of time in Detention together. We got to know each other good enough to poke fun at one another, learn some personal history, and like seeing each other, kinda like friends, but not quite as close. She looks the same. She's tiny, seems like she stands a foot lower than me, but I don't think that's right. She's wearin' 501 jeans held up by narrow hips and a big plaid button down, long sleeve shirt that hides the fact that she's got tits. Her face hasn't changed at all, plain with thin lips, freckles dappling across her nose spreading to her cheeks. She peers at me with deep blue eyes. “Gonna go on a little ride. It's Saturday, no work. Break free of the buildings and noise for a little while.” “I didn't know you had a motorcycle.” She exhales a cloud of tobacco smoke, and flicks the ash from a little, thin cigarette. The ash drifts downward, bouncing off her jeans at the knee. “I've had it for a while now. It's not much, pretty small, but I use it to get away. I go out to the estuary where plants grow, and birds fly. No power lines or cement walls.” I point to the buildings and wires around us. The sun hits her head just right and her short straight brunette hair flashes bright red for a moment, not quite the color of my bike. “What are you up to?” I ask. “Just walked to the store to get a new pack.” She holds up a pack of Virginia Slims. Page | 64

“You need to quit that, you know.” “How long you been stopped?” she chides me, “A month or two?” She smiles and I see her little square teeth spread across her face. I notice the beginning of a couple of smile lines startin' to spread from the corners of her eyes. “Almost a year now.” I give the bike one more swipe of the rag and turn to Tawnya. “I don't see you around much? What you been up to?” “Just work. Still at the bottling plant. I hit a bar now and know.” “You don't hit the bars I hit.” “Probably not.” She flicks the cigarette butt into the street in a wide arc. “Well, it was good seeing you.” She turns and starts to walk away. “Wait,” I yell. She turns back to me. “Want to go for a ride?” I feel my eyebrow inch up all on it's own. “You know, just get away for a while?” I'm feelin' like I want to be alone, but with company. It's a strange feelin'. I think Tawnya would be nice company, and after seein' her again, maybe I don't want to be alone either. “On that?” She suspiciously nods at the motorcycle that radiates rust and small drops of oil. “How old's that thing anyway?” “It's goin' on thirty, but then, so are we.” I smile. She doesn't smile as much as smirk at me. “Where to again?” “I like to walk along the shores of the estuary, about twenty miles out of the city, near the abandoned Power plant. It's peaceful, quite.” I watch her eyes, she blinks a couple times and I can tell she's thinkin'. “Yeah, why not,” she says. “When?” “Let me put the battery back in and we'll be on our way.” Tawnya's small and light. I hardly feel her behind me as the motorcycle bursts out of the city. I feel a tug on my backpack once in a while as she uses it to steady herself. We pull off the highway onto a country road and follow it towards the water. Old factories from the industrial past, sit long abandoned beside the Page | 65

road. Weeds pry through chipped and cracked asphalt. I see the old power plant near the waters edge; a twisted mass of rusty metal tubes and old brick smoke stacks surrounded by a tall corroded fence. The road comes to an end in a heap of sand less than a mile further from the old building. I stop at the end of the road and put the kickstand down. We get off the bike and hang our helmets on the handlebars. I lead the way to the top of the vegetation covered dune and we look out over the water. We can just make out a deer grazing on grass a quarter mile away on the far side of the estuary. Coots, loons and a few ducks bob up and down in the center of the water as a slight breeze ripples the surface. We walk. The smell is clean and it's easy to feel moisture surrounding you if you just stop and feel it. Gulls squawk as they fly overhead, looking for something to eat. There's not another person in sight. The sun's warm and I stop. We sit in the sand and lean against a hill. I pull off my back pack and open it. I hand her a bottle of beer procured from the bottom of the rig. She smiles and takes it from my hands. It's still cold. I open my own bottle and take a swig. It tastes good. She lights a cigarette and I get the scent of the first puff, always the best smelling puff and for a brief moment, I want a cigarette too. The feeling passes. “What do you think?” I ask her. “About?” “Anything.” I watch the end of her cigarette glow as she inhales. She exhales and purses her lips. “I think I want to be a truck driver.” “Okay.” I have no idea where this is going. I keep quiet and hope she goes on. “It may sound kind of strange, but kind of like being out here with you today, I like the silence, the quiet. I could go for that on a full time basis, like driving a truck... or maybe the Navy.” “The Navy? Quite a contrast.”

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“I guess. I just know I don't want to work in the bottling plant and live in the city for the rest of my life. I want to get away.” “I know just how you feel.” I watch her snub the cigarette out in the sand, pushing the filter under the surface. I take a last gulp of beer and put the empty bottle back in my back pack. “So, what are you doing to get out?”she asks. She hands me her empty bottle. “Unfortunately, just thinkin' about it.” “Yeah, that's all I've really done too.” We get up and walk some more down the shoreline. I give her my hand and help her across a drainage culvert cut across our path. I don't let her hand go and she keeps a grip on mine. We stop and watch oystercatchers prying their bright orange bills into the mud under the waters surface, searchin' for a meal. I guide us back toward the dunes, turn and face Tawnya. Her face is expressionless I move my face closer until our lips touch. I give her a small kiss and she responds in kind. We sit down in the sand, embrace and continue kissing. She pulls my tongue inside her mouth. I slip my hand into her over-sized shirt and feel her small breasts. I rub the tips and she responds by kissing me more passionately. I reach between her legs and rub her sex through her jeans. I feel her hips thrust forward, and she makes a sound. She pushes me back and shakes her head. “I can't,” she says. “Okay.” I watch her face and her eyes look even bluer than before. In a moment, her eyes appear wavy, like ripples in a puddle, then a tear breaks loose and runs down her face. “I get sick. With men anyway,” she says. A couple more tears drip down her face. “And?” “After my Dad died, before we moved to this city, my Mom...she dated others.” I stay silent. She faces me, but her eyes avoid mine. Page | 67

“My uncle would babysit when my Mom was gone. I wasn't even in puberty.” “He molested you?” She nodded her head. I wrap my arms around her and pull her tight against me. I feel her head on my chest and her body convulses as she weeps. Her arms are around me and we're both warm. We stay that way, swaying back and forth for a while. I feel her crying diminish and hear her say, “I'm sorry.” “Sorry for what?” “Sorry for laying this on you. I never told anyone.” I don't say anything. “That's why we don't see each other out. I hit the girl bars. I've tried to go out with men, but I... I just get sick.” I put my arm around her and pull her close as we walk back to the motorcycle. The birds are a little quieter now, or maybe my thoughts are just louder. We ride back to the city and arrive before dark. A drive thru burger joint lures me in and I pick up the nights meal for both of us. I park the motorcycle and chain it up, then we walk up to my apartment. We sit at the table, eat a burger, and drink a bottle of beer. We're both quiet. Tawnya finishes, then opens a window in my apartment, sits on the sill and lights a cigarette. She exhales most of the smoke through the screen to the outside. “I'm really sorry,” she says to me. “Sorry for what?” “I know you really wanted to fuck today. I'm sorry I just...I hope I didn't ruin your day.” I smile at her as I put my thoughts together. “Let me tell you something,” I start, “It's a two way street.” “What do ya mean?” “Both of us have to want to do it. It wasn't if I had it all planned out. I was just testing the waters, I mean, I like you and all, I still do. I thought you were getting turned on too.” “I was, but when you touched between my legs... something just happens. I get really sick to my stomach.” “I'm sorry about that, I didn't know.” Page | 68

“I know. Not your fault. I shouldn't have even gone today.” “No, I'm happy you went with me and I'm glad you stopped me, us, from gettin' it on. It's hard enough for a guy, me at least, wonderin' if he's really pleasing his partner, but I'd hate to be going at it, and you puke on me. Talk about givin' someone a complex.” She smiles. “I'm not sure I'd puke on ya.” “I'd rather not take that chance.” She lights another Virginia Slim using the one she finishes and stares out the window. The sounds of the city enter the window: cars horns, a siren off in the distance, an argument in another apartment. The smell of exhaust is covered this evening by tobacco smoke. “How's your relationships with other girls?” I ask. “Not great. A lot of us, we tend to get pissed off pretty easy. I get in fights. I broke my hand six months ago hitting a girlfriend in the jaw. A lot of us have similar stories.” “Molested?” “That or abuse.” “How's the sex?” “The sex is, well it's sex and I don't get sick, but in the back of my mind, I want a man. But I'm afraid.” She stops and takes another drag on the cigarette. “I just want to be normal, you know?” “Normal. That's the question. What's normal?” I go over to the window and sit down in front of her.“Every time I think someone is normal, if you just dig a bit, you'll find out they're as fucked up as the next guy.” We're both silent for a while. “Yeah, I guess you're right.” She puts out her cigarette by dropping it in the beer bottle and turns to me. “Mind if I take a shower?” “No, go ahead. Clean towels are on the shelf.” Tawnya comes out wrapped in a towel. Her hair is wet and she smells good. I shower next. We hold each other as we fall asleep in my bed listening to horns honking and people arguing, a long way from the estuary. Page | 69

ACROSS THE RIVER By Kenneth Radu Across the river he watched downtown Detroit burn. From the Windsor embankment he heard shots and wondered if a bullet could ricochet off the Penobscot Building, zing right over the polluted water and lodge in his skull. Surely the flight over would have weakened its impact, causing only an indented bruise before bouncing off his head, rather than riveting into his brain. That was reassuring because the last time he saw Ruby she had threatened to shoot his head off if he so much as crossed the border again. She’d be waiting for him. Ah, these international love affairs rarely lasted, but Sam was feeling more anxious than flippant. The huge and trembling crowd on the river bank was also uneasy, moving in unison to the edge as if leaning towards their friends and relatives on the other side. Some waved Canadian flags, others shouted names. Whispers, muffled screams and political conversations about civil wars and racism, could you really blame them, was anyone surprised, all mingled and mangled in a collective dismay, although a lot of kids clapped, and one woman within hearing distance said it was like fireworks on the fourth of July. Sam wouldn’t go so far as to describe what he saw as pyrotechnical, and he assumed “them” meant the black denizens of Detroit rampaging through city avenues, smashing windows and pillaging shops. Grey and purple smoke rose higher than the skyscrapers, billowing between blocks and wafting into Canadian nostrils. Ruby like many Americans kept a gun in her apartment on Woodward Avenue. They had planned a camping trip to the Upper Peninsula, all the way to the Mackinac Straits, but riots intervened, and the fact that he had slept with her sister. Well, sleep was pushing it, because after sex, that magical moment when he always felt both depleted and completed simultaneously, the glass being half empty and full at the same time, he liked to say after a powerful ejaculation, Ruby had barged in and literally yanked him out of Page | 70

the bed by grabbing his arm, right off the mattress onto the floor. She screeched such words as he only heard in the locker room at the police station where he worked as a janitor. Loretta, recently divorced and unhappy, had taken up temporary residence with her much older sister. He had been acutely aware of her flirtatious, come hither and fuck me looks and innuendoes when he drove over the Ambassador bridge, preferring it to the tunnel under the river, every Friday evening. Ruby last week had been delayed at the Ford plant where she worked. He loved dark skin tones. Loretta’s reminded him of wet beach sands under moonlight which he had seen in a movie. And so fucking sweet like diving and floating in a pool of liquid amber and warm water. Ruby pulled open the drawer of the dresser and whipped out a gun aiming it directly between his eyes. “I ever see you here again and you’re dead meat, you got that, you piece of cheating white shit?” Yes, indeed, he got it. Curious, though, wasn’t it? Ruby said nothing to Loretta who cried in her bed, at least nothing that he had been aware of as he tripped and stumbled into his clothes and, appealing for mercy and forgiveness, nearly plunged head over heels down two flights of stairs to his car. His heart beat rapidly all the way over the bridge. He had phoned and she refused to talk to him. Loretta spoke once saying she was sorry it ever happened. Yes, well, sorry was an easy emotion as far as he could see. Apologies dribbled out of mouths like spit, but the world didn’t really change because of regrets now, did it? Were people going to say sorry tomorrow after they trashed Detroit and turned the downtown core into a bombed out wasteland? He scrubbed empty jail cells and knew sorry didn’t get a petty thief off the hook. No sir. You’d think a thirty-eight year old man with a receding hairline and a paunch he had to fight the devil to keep from burgeoning, a man who had been around the block a few times, including those now under fire in Detroit, would know enough not to cheat on the woman he wanted to marry. Ruby, whom he had met two years ago over the candy floss stand at the Page | 71

Emancipation Day fair in Windsor, was the only woman who seriously looked at him twice, not counting Loretta, of course. He was getting too old for this sort of thing. One young handsome cop he knew with muscles like Hercules fucked around a lot and his wife threw him out of the house. His fellow officers made a joke of it in the locker room where Sam changed the towels and washed the floor. The cop lamented daily that he still loved his wife and was sorry. Tell it to the wife, they laughed. A collective howl erupted from the crowd as a fiery plume of smoke roared between two tall buildings like a genie blurting in a perpendicular frenzy out of a bottle. He had planned to marry Ruby although she wasn’t keen on moving to the Canadian side of the border. “I’m an American, why’d I want to be anything else?” “Well, you could be my wife.” “Is that a proposal?” “Yes.” Then they had gone to dinner, a week before he slept with Loretta, two weeks before Detroit boomed into a war zone. What the hell was he supposed to do now? Ruby’s apartment stood in the line of fire. Was she shooting from a window? No doubt about it, and it struck Sam to the core of his unsteady heart that, if Ruby saw him like Romeo spouting poetry under her window, her bullet would crack through his forehead and burst apart his brains. He’d fall dead on the spot, right there, on a smoky street of Detroit.

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CHEAP BEER & SPARKLERS By Leesa Cross-Smith Dominic wanted a divorce but I didn't. He was right, I was wrong. I told him this after we had divorce-sex for the first time. He laughed. The thick glass ashtray was balanced on his bare chest and I asked him if it was cold. “It's fine. I like it,” he said, pressing down on it. He ashed and handed the cigarette to me. I smoked while I put my bra back on. “What do you think about me saying you were right? About the divorce?” I asked, the cigarette dangling and dangling. I inhaled and handed it back to him so he could put it out. “I know I was right. But none of that matters now. Look at us. Nothing about what we do makes any sense.” “What, sex?” Dominic nodded. “What, you living across the street from me?” Dominic nodded. What could I say about it? I didn't say anything. I pulled my panties up and asked him if he wanted a sandwich because I did. Roscoe Pie was coming up from Texas to spend a week with me. Roscoe was my boyfriend. Roscoe was a beast. I loved him like I loved eating and sleeping. I loved his tattoos, his loud motorcycle, his fat bottom lip, his bearded face between my legs. We had only just begun. We were two hot potatoes when we were together. We were ridiculous and embarrassing and we were a joke. We were kinda serious. Everything and nothing. Something. We mattered and we didn't. I barely knew him and I knew everything about him. Roscoe Pie was the reason Dominic and I had gotten a divorce. I chose my lust for Roscoe over my two-year marriage to Dominic, but I loved Dominic and I knew he loved me. Page | 73

He loved me even though I ran away from him twice and kissed another man when we were married. He loved me even after I had sex with Roscoe before we got divorced. There was nothing I could do to get him to stop loving me, I'd tried. Our divorce was final last month. He was living across the street for two more months, housesitting for some friends of ours who were on a secret mission trip to China. He had agreed to dinner. The four of us: Dom, his new girlfriend, Aurora, Roscoe and me. I offered up my place and I'd cook, I said. I didn't know what I was going to make. All I'd bought so far was cheap beer and sparklers. Dom came out of the bathroom wearing only a pair of boxers I'd given him, slung low on his skinny hips. I noticed a hickey underneath his navel. I hadn't seen it when we'd had sex. I couldn't see his stomach the way we usually did it; him behind me, tugging my hair. I hadn't seen it when we were smoking afterwards because it was covered by the sheets. “Your girlfriend still does that?” I asked, pointing. He smiled, rubbed where it was. “Shut up,” he said. “Is she prettier than me?” I asked. I was a little jealous even though it made no sense. “No. But you're different,” he said. “Do you call her Princess Aurora?” I slid his lunch in front of him after he sat down at the table; turkey and light mayo on wheat bread, a glass of ice water. I sat across from him in my underwear, put my foot flat on the chair, let my legs hang open a little bit. He looked down at my crotch like he owned it. He asked me who Princess Aurora was. I didn't answer. When he reached for his water glass, I picked it up first and drank from it. Then I handed it to him and we held our hands there, overlapping on the sweating glass. He looked down at my crotch again before I let him have his water. I liked that he did Page | 74

that because to me it meant he hadn't forgotten we used to be married. I used to be his. The next day when I heard Roscoe's motorcycle rumble and stop in the driveway, I ran to the bathroom to put on too much brownred lipstick. I smudged some to make it all matte and sexy before I opened the door. He'd shaved his head since the last time I saw him and I told him he looked like a beautiful wild animal standing there on my front porch. He put his helmet down and picked me up. He made growly noises and grabbed my ass. I kissed him the kiss of a feral kitten, now alone with her sweet, sticky treat. I nuzzled my face into his sweaty neck and smeared my lipstick all over it. You can't imagine how much I'd missed him, so I won't even try to explain it. I asked him if he wanted a beer and we sat on the couch. I threw my bare brown legs across him. “I did something bad,” I said. “I'm not surprised,” he said, drinking his beer. “I had sex with Dominic.” “Why?” he asked plainly. I shrugged. “Did you want to?” I nodded. “Did you have a good time?” I nodded. “Did you think I'd be mad or something?” I shrugged. He put his beer can on one of the glass coasters and turned to me. Grabbed the elastic waist of my pajama shorts and pulled them down. He pulled my panties down too. He asked me if I was wet for Dominic or for him and I said for him and I didn't lie about that. He asked me if I was sure and I said yes. “Violet,” he said after he'd reached behind him with one hand and taken off his shirt. “Roscoe,” I said back. Page | 75

“But if you wanted to cut that out and not sleep with anyone but me, I'd be down for that,” he said. He put his hands on my thighs and I could smell myself on his fingers. “Oh, you don't have like a million girls down in Texas waiting for you to come home so they can have another delicious piece of Roscoe Pie?” I teased. I slid down so I was lying on my back. He pushed up on his arms; his middle patch of chest hair hovering over me, along with the tiny, black cursive tattoo above his left nipple. Rust & stardust. “All I'm saying is that the way things are aren't the way things always have to be,” he said, suddenly serious. It was sweet, like I was a jumper and he was trying to talk me down. And when we were together, we looked at each other. He put his hands behind my sweaty knees and pulled me closer to him. We held our mouths together, close together. We had the same breath. I made spaghetti noodles with vegan Alfredo sauce. Roscoe rode his bike up to the grocery for some bread. Dom and Aurora came over and she wasn't prettier than me but she was sexier. She smelled like marigolds and dirt. She had a nice box of wine and held it out for me like it was a baby or something. “Thanks y'all,” I said, smiling. I told them where Roscoe was, brought up the fact that this was weird. “Eff it,” Aurora said, blowing some of her thick, black bangs out of her face, “I think it's awesome that you two are still friends.” Dom must not have told her we'd had doggy-style sex on my bed yesterday. He definitely didn't tell her we did it twice. I wondered if we'd ever do it again. He looked cute and stoned. He always looked stoned, even when he wasn't. His hair was a mess; he was letting it grow out. He grinned, pinched my cheek. I swatted his hand away and gave him the finger. Poured the wine into Mason jars. I heard Roscoe's bike and the door opened. He filled the rest of the kitchen. Now that they were standing next to each other, Dom looked significantly smaller. Roscoe was wearing a stormy grey threadbare t-shirt and faded black jeans with his black Page | 76

motorcycle boots. He looked like a superhero. He ran his hand over his head and smiled at all of us, introduced himself to Dom and Aurora. His water-green eyes crinkled at the corners. I wanted them to leave so we could be alone again. I was obsessed with him. Roscoe put the bread on the table. I watched him set it down. I liked how gentle he was with it, how small it looked in his huge hands. I bragged about how Roscoe used to play for the Texas Rangers. Dominic loved baseball so that got the two of them going. Aurora and I talked about how she used to live in Alaska and how she had a little girl in the first grade. She didn't offer to show me pictures of her but I asked because I wanted to see them. After dinner, Roscoe put his hand on my leg underneath the table and my knees turned to hot butter. Dom looked over at us. He winked at me. My lightning bug-heart was already working out a new flash pattern for both of them, I knew it. I got the sparklers. The four of us went outside, lit them in the smokeorange dusk.

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CLOUDS IN BLUE SKY By James Claffey Clouds in a blue sky melting like ice floes, the trees beneath rustling and straining in the gelid wind, sending the robins and thrushes into huddled spherules trembling and frangible, one bird fell to the ground fluttering and wheezing before lying quite still. Dinny strode along the pitted road, his rifle in hand, and crossed over and on into rocky hills leading off to the blowy north of the ranch. His Da had bought the property back in 1912, fifty acres of bracken-covered ground, two-dozen cattle, and a wife who took early to the bed. Dinny recalled the old man’s rotten moods and bovine concupiscence, knowing full-well he had inherited that same tendency toward anger. That sullen temper increased when the farm trended down. Beef at the market returned less than the cost to raise the beasts and he found even the sight of his wife rolling dough flat on the table, incendiary, leaving raised welts across her ruddy face. Shortly thereafter she ran off with a bodhran player from Tuam. Dinny couldn’t separate himself from the meager acreage and saw his wife’s disappearance as merely the aggregation of bad luck. She left the girls with him. Their mother must have seen them as dead weight, nothing but trouble for a woman on the road looking for a new start. He banked on them to take care of the place, clean the outhouses and provide for all his needs, body and soul. The eldest followed her mother to the road when she turned sixteen the next summer. She held her sister and promised to come back for her when she made it big in London. She saw herself headlining shows at the Palladium and the Hippodrome. Truth is she never came back, eventually making it to Chester where she worked in a grimy massage parlor in the shadow of the cathedral spire. Every so often she wrote home to Dinny and her sister. He rattled the door shut behind him and made for the lower acreage. Down the cow went again into the red mud. A bubble of blood leaked from its mouth. The eyes of the other cattle aimlessly swept the bank. Dinny sat back on his haunches in a state of anxiety. “You dirty fecker.” The knife slipped between hide and bone, and Dinny peeled Page | 78

the skin deliberately, slicing the blade in short strokes. Up to his thighs in the mud he put the tip of the knife to the beast’s eyeball and carved a circle around the socket. The eye popped out as neat as you like. “You bollocks,” he said, wrapping the eyeball in his handkerchief, slipping it into his trouser pocket. Busy flies crawled in and out of the empty socket. The buzz set Dinny’s teeth on edge. With a grimace he took hold of the knife again and carved the other eye out. He slipped this too in with its twin. Standing in the mud he unzipped his fly and shot a stream of yellow piss into the empty hole he’d carved in the skull. The flies rose dully in the steaming mess. The cow blind-eyed him from the bottom of the ditch. She was stone cold dead. Dinny sucked his breath in big gasps of air. He picked up the rifle and clambered out of the ditch. Standing over the body he expelled a jet of snot. He gathered his things and set off toward his cottage. He walked home in silence, through the rowan trees in front of the cottage, through the stiff grass and limp weeds beside the cattle byre. He kicked off his caked boots, lay down on the couch and turned to the wall. In the afternoon he walked the five miles to town and went into the post office. He nodded to Aimee Clarke and took the sheaf of mail she pushed across the counter “It’s a divil of a day out there,” she said. “By God it is, I’ll give you that.” He tipped the brim of his cap with two fingers. He passed along the street by the betting shop and past the failed sport’s shop some Jackeen had tried to launch some summers back. When he reached Ma O’Gara’s bar, his fingers were veined blue and he sat down at the far end by the open fire to warm his petrified hands. “Cold one,” said Mursheen, the owner. Dinny nodded. He asked for a pint and whiskey. Mursheen put the two glasses in front of him, the beer spilling on the countertop. Dinny lowered his lips to the glass and slurped up a mouthful. He looked first at the wall and then at his mail–a letter from his daughter in Chester, the Queen’s profiled gilded on the stamp. He sniffed the envelope to see if he could trace her scent. Nothing. A summons from the government for back-taxes. He raised the whiskey glass to his lips and swallowed. “Dirty hoors,” he said. The ache in his knee pitched in. The Bushmills went down in a Page | 79

hurry. He rubbed both hands together, inches from the heat of the stove. Outside, flakes of snow fell. Amos replaced the empty glass. Mursheen turned away and arranged half-filled bottles on the wooden back bar. Dinny sat and read his daughter’s letter. He scratched his stubble and stared at the page. Her hair, thick and braided, mocked him. After a while he reread the letter, deliberately folded it, and placed it and the memory of her away in the locked vault of his past. He got up, placed a few dirty punt notes on the bar, and walked out into the wet snow–his feet damp and frozen. He walked home by the low box hedge running along the side of the road. He forced a faint-hearted tune through cold lips but felt no better. He rattled his wet, snow-crusted boots against the doorjamb and bent low to enter the doorway. Inside the cabin he trimmed the wick and lit the lamp. A spiral of smoke billowed from the chimney, the thatch whitened with snowfall. In the bathroom he ran hot water and flung a fist of salts into the tub. He tugged the boots and soaked socks off his feet. Plunging both feet into the steaming water he groaned in pain. “Oh, Christ!” He ground his teeth and stuck with the pain. Soon enough the shooting needles of agony departed. Now the warmth was glorious. He took his feet from the tub and rubbed them dry with a thin strip of towel. He took the Maurice Walsh book from the table and sat beside the pot stove. He placed some sticks in the fire and listened to the crackling snap of the dried wood. Flames lit the grate like a hell mouth. He woke sometime after midnight. The chime of the clock on the mantel filled the stuffy room. He gathered the broken-spine book from the floor and set off to bed. He made his way to the bedroom in the back of the cottage and lay down on the bare mattress and stared up at the sloping web-strewn thatch. Through the window he saw the banked snow backlit by lamplight. The clattering gait of a hunting mouse moving across the bare boards of the floor interrupted his sleep. “Little divil,” he said, huffing out the lamp with his breath. He entered his dream world through the Horn Gate and saw a brown-eyed spider weave patterns in darkness. She ran to him across the bracken, her eyes white, bare legs slick with sweat from the heat of the day. The yellow eyes asked him a question. Her mouth moved up and down. No sound came out. “Speak, damn it. Speak!” he yelled. Ochre eyes begged something. From the dark pupils thin threads of blood ran down her cheekbones and slipped under her fox-like chin. Page | 80

From her mouth a black and yellow snake crawled. It coiled once around her neck and settled. Her skin changed from pink to purple—a substantial shade of purple. The blood shot from her eyes like the juice of a tomato pounded against a table. He stirred up, cursing. The drench of cold sweat covered his face. The mattress was sodden from where his head had rested. He lay in the pitch black, the vein on his left temple pulsing like the heart of a frightened bird. He shut his eyes and sleep, like a pall, came fitful. Against the rainwater barrel at the side of the house Dinny looked up at the clogged gutter.. As he launched himself up the wet ladder he felt the weight of some memory assail him. The gutter was congested with mulched leaves and the cracked remnants of a robin’s nest. He pulled at the mess with his left hand and cleared the channel enough to allow the trapped water to escape. When he reached the flat ground by the barrel he saw the initials cut into the side of the wooden tun. Tears snuck down his stubbled cheeks and got lost in the collar of his jacket. Dinny slumped to the ground and remembered her loveliness. He recalled the day they’d brought her into the world—a February not unlike this one. Back then the orbit of his world had been his family. His wife hadn’t yet gotten the eye from the bodhran man. Dinny’s back had been straight, his sinews bow-strung and hard as cables. He looked at his weathered hands in the dim light of the day and found it remarkable for a man to age so in such a hare of a hurry. When the Gardai went up the mountain in search of poitin makers, people shrugged their shoulders. Dinny was called to the station that morning they brought the skeleton out of the ground. Before he saw the muddied boots, still shiny in patches, he knew what heartbreak had been visited on him. “Oh sweet Mother of Jesus, let me be dreaming,” he howled. Long after the searing blow of seeing the blanched bones on the mossy ground, Dinny awoke in the night cold sweating and stifling the scream in his throat. No one knew what to say to him. He traversed the countryside mumbling and nodding to himself, clutching the only picture of his daughter that remained. He spent the hours of darkness crouched in a fetal position beside the water barrel where her initials lay. His fingers traced the path of her initials over and over again. He lay prone by moonlight, the filtering light from inside the cottage bathing him in a puce glow of despair. Page | 81

Dinny went into the hills a month later. He crossed the curve of road by the creek and climbed through thick brush until he made open space before the tree line. There were no signs of life in the woods save the far-off cry of a corncrake. He squatted by a fallen trunk; breeches round his ankles, and squeezed a rat-like stool onto the damp earth. Fusty steam rose into the sharp fetid air. He came to a lightning-charred stump and rested. He remembered her hair, the ribboned thick swath of black swinging behind. A croak from his lips shattered the silence. He wedged the butt of the rifle between his boots, rested his chin on the cold metal barrel and pushed the trigger with a broken stick. The sibilant rush of gunpowder tore into his ears as the roof of his mouth yawned to the deep blue sky.

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DINNER WITH PHYLLIS By Ginny Swart “Fear stalks Milltown.” The morning newspaper headline was no exaggeration, thought Janet. If she had a baby she’d never leave the house. In the past three months, four babies had been snatched from their prams or strollers while in a park, their mothers’ attention elsewhere for a few moments. The parents were left grieving and distraught, and the authorities with no clue at all. After each disappearance the TV screened heartrending interviews with the parents who begged the kidnapper to return their children, no questions asked. They showed photographs of their babies: Vinetta , Shelley, Peter, Todd. The chubby smiling faces brought a lump to Janet’s throat and she was almost glad that she and Tom had no children to worry about. Six month old Vinetta was particularly sweet, with corkscrew blonde curls and tiny gold rings in her ears. Exactly the baby Janet pictured for herself, although she’d never inflict earrings on a baby that age. Foreign parents probably, they had odd customs. Janet buttered her toast and glanced out of the window. A pile of packing cases in the front garden of the dilapidated old house next door told her someone had moved in at last. “I hope they’ll do something about renovating it,” she observed to Tom. “That place has been an eyesore for too long. I’ll pop over and introduce myself, see what their plans are.” Armed with some homemade biscuits, the one- woman welcome committee navigated the uneven, weedy path to the front door of Number 66, timing her visit for a friendly cup of coffee. The tarnished brass knocker sounded a melancholy thump which yielded no response so she knocked again.

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“Yes? Who is it? ” The harsh croak was close to the door, almost a whisper. “It’s Janet Davids, from next door. I’ve –er- come to welcome you to our neighborhood.” The door opened a crack and Janet stifled a gasp of shock, but turned it into a coughing fit. The mountain of suet which greeted her was a gross, flabby woman, dead white except for her eyes, rimmed with pink and of such a pale blue as to be almost colorless. An albino. She was dressed in a filthy white robe and gave off the rank odor of ancient, unwashed garments. “Come inside. I can’t take the sun.” Janet stepped into the gloomy hall and noticed the blinds were down and the curtains drawn behind the woman. “Phyllis Hindle.” She offered a puffy white hand, clammy to the touch, and it was all Janet could do not to draw back in disgust at the sight of her horny yellowed fingernails. “Come to welcome me, eh? Well, that’s nice. Come through to the kitchen and I’ll make us some coffee.” Janet followed unwillingly down a dark narrow passage to the kitchen where cracked linoleum covered the floor in patches. An old-fashioned coal stove leaked smoke from the flue but gave off a weak heat and a kettle was already simmering. The enormous woman shuffled around the room putting together mugs and sugar, talking as she did so. “I’m going to get this old place straight eventually. Much too big for me, living all alone as I do, but I needed some place I could keep dark. My eyes can’t take light of any sort.” Phyllis gave a sudden, toothless smile and Janet felt a pang of sympathy. She obviously couldn’t afford dentures. And how awful to be so gross and bloated, alone and not able to live a normal life, through not fault of her own. “That must be hard. Well, if I can do anything to help. Shopping, or something?” “Would you really? I very seldom go out. Only at night, and then I find people can very – unkind. “I could go to the supermarket for you with pleasure.” Page | 84

Not with pleasure, exactly. But Janet believed in doing her duty, and as she told Tom later, her duty to this poor soul was obvious. “She looks horrible, but there’s something rather pathetic about her.” “Just don’t get involved,” said Tom. “I know what you’re like with your sad cases. Like that kitten. “Phyllis isn’t like any kitten,” said Alice. “Wait until you meet her.” “If I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll never have to.” Phyllis was waiting for her in the hall the next day. A stench of mildew and decay seemed to well up from the basement and Janet’s skin crawled as she accepted the soft, dirty notes. Apparently the woman didn’t notice the smell. She checked the shopping list. Boxes of oatmeal, dozens of eggs, potatoes, bananas and, underlined heavily, “Twenty packets chicken breasts, no bones.” “I can only manage soft foods,” explained Phyllis. “Having no teeth is a problem. But I have a big freezer, so I only need to shop once a month.” Later, when Janet staggered back with her arms full of shopping bags, Phyllis surprised her with an invitation to dinner that evening. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. “It’s the least I can do to return your kindness,” she croaked. “And I can meet your husband too. Janet knew that Tom, who wasn’t good at small talk at the best of times, would be repulsed by this woman. But how could she refuse? That evening she practically dragged her unwilling husband up the rickety steps and found the front door ajar. “Phyllis?” called Alice, hesitantly. “”Coo-ee.” “In here.” Phyllis had laid a table with a white cloth and lit the cavernous dining room with candles. “I seem to have a power failure,” she announced. “The wiring in this old place is terrible. Pleased to meet you, Tom. Sit down.” Page | 85

They sat obediently, darkened shapes flickering on the walls. The disgusting smell of that morning was overlaid with something herby and inviting. From the gloomy unlit kitchen, Phyllis brought through a casserole, thick with creamy gravy. “Something special from my freezer,” she wheezed. “I hope you’re not vegetarians?” “No,” said Tom, tucking into his heaped plate with gusto. “This is pretty tasty, Phyllis, you must give my wife the recipe.” “Cooked until tender,” said Phyllis, smacking her gums. “Your wife might have mentioned, I can only eat soft foods. So, Tom, have you and Alice any kiddies?” “Not yet,” said Tom, uncomfortably. “I love kiddies. I hope you’ll be blessed with some before long.” Alice felt she should change the subject. “Is this rabbit?” she enquired, putting the small bones to one side. Then her teeth clicked on something metallic and she removed a tiny gold earring from her mouth. And that’s when she realized that the special treat from Phyllis’ freezer was not rabbit.

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GETTING SKINNY JANE TO SUNRISE By Kyle Hemmings What we got here is a problem. Skinny Jane passed out at the Funky Steer Horn and we had to drive her in Jimmy Dean’s old flatbed, and it was a hell of a back breaker to lift Skinny, all twohundred and forty pounds of her. I mean the fussin’ and the bickerin’ and the one-two-three-superboy-lift with everyone’s timing off. Like tortoises and hares. And she's got a live-in, Rex Hawkins, an ex-TV wrestler, who just might come searchin' for her with a shotgun and a volley of testosterone. His TV name was Mr. Fixit. Jimmy Dean, Skinny's son with a different last name, says he’s moving out as soon as he gets some money saved, which means he’ll probably rip off Skinny Jane’s Fixit while he’s asleep. He said he’d drive past Matagorda Bay to look up the girl who dumped him for a blind college student in Austin. We pull up in front of the Sunrise apartment complex, and Bar None and Jimmy are doing their best to wake Skinny Jane, shaking and pulling her pigtails. Jimmy warns Bar None not to slap his mother because, after all, it's his blood. All of us have to take a wicked piss and Lucky Caddo says his dick feels like a cracked dam about to burst. But Skinny Jane ain’t waking up, so now, the four of us have to carry her up two flights of winding stairs. It’s not something anyone is up for. Bar None says the best way to do this is to have a strong lifter in front and a weaker one grabbing a thigh in back, and vice versa on the other side, and maybe we’ll manage to get Skinny Jane home without breaking our spines or hers if we trip. Bar None instructs us to use our leg muscles, but after a night of drinkin’ they're wobblier than Fran the hooker's on a good night. Which is not to say that I don’t believe Bar None who I think once had a thing for Skinny Jane when she was string bean-thin and he wasn‘t mushroom-bald, which was before he was in detox. No one’s sure how Bar None got that name and he wears a mustache like Hitler’s but claims he was a member of the Aryan Page | 87

Brotherhood for only six months. The bottle saved him and he saw the light. But he kept the mustache because he thought it attracted women who liked men with hair on their faces. So, we’re squeezed in this narrow hallway with Jimmy Dean and Lucky Caddo holding Skinny Jane in front and me and Bar None grabbing her legs in the back. Every time we take a step, Bar None says one or two or three, then, lift. But Lucky Caddo says he can’t take the strain and somewhere around the fourth heave-ho, he drops Skinny Jane on her head while she drags the rest of us down the stairs, bumpier than our pasts, and we wind up all sprawled out below the last step like a bunch of foiled Keystone Cops. Skinny Jane’s head is now resting on my chest, her breaths in sync with its rise and fall, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think it could be the start of something beautiful. You drop her again, says Jimmy Dean, so, help me, I’ll sue all you whores and own the Republic of Texas I gotta take a leak, says Lucky Caddo, struggling to rise. He won’t do it outside because he’s got a thing about being watched even in the restrooms. Rumor has it that he got a dishonorable discharge when an officer caught him in the Fort Caddo bathroom having sex with a private who wore panties under his fatigues. That’s how he got that name. Jimmy Dean squats before his mother’s head, cradling it, repeating how we all could have broken Skinny Jane’s neck. Bar None says to shut up; we’ll wake up the tenants. I remind Jimmy Dean of the questionable feasibility of bearing this big cow of his mama when you have to piss. Lucky Caddo says they do it in the army all the time. Jimmy Dean says if this were an army, we'd lose a second war with Mexico. We lift her up again, only this time, Lucky Caddo takes a leg next to me and Bar None is up front. One, two, three, lift, says Bar None. It’s like we’re carrying the whole world, its dead weight at 3 a.m. and after all the heaving and breath holding and straining, we manage to land Skinny Jane outside of her old man’s apartment. Jimmy Dean grins a wide victorious smile, like he really won something, and knocks on the door. The rest of us are breathless and bruised. Page | 88

Mr. Fixit comes out barefooted, in a pink Terry cloth robe, most likely Skinny's, and he scowls like he’s seeing road kill on the highway. What’s this, he says, wiping his eyes. His gristly moon-face reddens. Oh, no, he growls, shaking a finger, no bitch of mine is coming inside like that. I told her to stop drinking and whoring. And Jimmy Dean...You best not hang out with these peckerheads. Lucky Caddo walks sheepishly over, and asks if we can use the bathroom. Mr. Fixit, towering, known for his steroidal rages, shuts the door in Lucky’s face. Jimmy Dean paces in the hallway, slams a wall with his fist, saying, what a scumbag. Just then, Skinny Jane starts to wake up, rubbing her eyes, raising her head. She's giggling. What’s so funny, says Lucky Caddo. "I wet myself, you dumb asses," says Skinny Jane, rubbing one leg of her nylon stretch pants. The four of us hover over her like curious children. I wait for her lips to move, to mouth something brilliant, like I’m OK. Instead, her head reels back and her eyelids fold. She‘s in pigtail heaven. I really wanted her to say something like, Let’s hit another bar, or, if he doesn’t open that door, I’ll kick his dog-ass. But she’s out again. Which means if she ain't fakin, we gotta bring her back down the stairs. And I gotta take a leak.

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STRANGERS IN PEORIA By Donal Mahoney I met a proper woman in a proper pub on a Monday in Peoria. It was noon, time for lunch, and we were sitting stool to stool over very large burgers at a long mahogany bar. It curved in and out as if wind-swept and featured high stools with padded seats and backrests, all in a rich faux maroon that complemented the authentic mahogany. The waiter had put us at the bar together, on the last two empty stools, thinking we had arrived there as a couple. Apologizing with his head bowed, he said no tables were available. The place was awash in men who had obviously spent a lot of time in the sun. They were talking agri-business very loud. Plaid shirts and John Deere caps were everywhere. Apparently, the price of pork that day had hit new highs and that event seemed to delight the majority of diners. It was obvious these men knew their pork and probably their corn as well. The odd thing was, not one of them seemed to notice the lady sitting next to me. The price of pork notwithstanding, she deserved a second glance if not a whole lot more. She was certainly no farmer's daughter. Probably never baked an apple pie. It was easy to see why the waiter thought we were a couple. I was in a Brooks Brothers suit, button-down shirt and a serious rep tie, and the lady was attired in the feminine business equivalent, a conservative suit, albeit in tasteful lavender, and a string of pearls. An hour earlier, we had both landed in Peoria on different planes and found our separate ways to the same restaurant. I was taken by how much she looked like Jackie Kennedy after Dallas but without the pillbox hat. Eventually she spoke. It turned out she was from New York and I was from Chicago and that we were in Peoria for final interviews for jobs we thought we'd get. But living in Peoria, we thought, might not be a fit. We didn't doubt that Peoria was a nice city, a good place to raise a family even though neither of us was married. But we agreed that adjusting to Peoria might be Page | 90

difficult for urbanites like us, especially at the start, since we wouldn't be taken with the price of pork, whether it went up or down. The lady was a surgeon recruited by a hospital. It took a little prompting but finally she said: "I repair pelvic floors in women." Not too worry, I thought. She is still a very nice looking woman. She paused to see if I'd react to her announcement of her vocation and when I didn't, she continued. "If a bladder drops, or a rectum tumbles or if a womb is full of fibroids, I'm the surgeon that lady needs to see. These are ailments most men wouldn't understand unless they've had a wife who's had them."’ I told her I did not have a wife, nor any candidates lined up in Chicago waiting for my hand. She took a dainty bite of her burger that was still too big, despite being cut in quarters. She sipped her Coke and then informed me, "When I get done, the lady's free of all protrusions. She can urinate, defecate and have sex again, all without discomfort." I had met my share of women but I had never met a woman, drunk or sober, who had ever said anything as startling as that even when in the throes of breaking up. I had no idea what to say and so I sat and listened as she continued with my education. "Actually, my patients have a choice," she said. "They can let me do the surgery or they can buy a pessary, a device few women know anything about until I pull a sample from the cabinet and explain its ins and outs. The pessary makes surgery seem simple. All we have to do then is pick a day for me to tuck the lady’s organs back where they belong." I said a procedure like that sounded painful, even allowing for an anesthetic. It sounded much worse, I said, than a colonoscopy, a procedure I’d become acquainted with early in life due to family history. Page | 91

She nodded slightly and continued, "Now, if the lady's womb is full of fibroids, I'll suggest we take the uterus out as well. I’ll tell her we'll remove the crib and leave her playpen intact. Often that's the best solution." She sipped her Coke again and said, "Somewhere in Peoria, as we speak, a bladder's dropping, a rectum's quivering and a fibroid's growing. Believe me, if the salary is right, I'll take this job because a fibroid in Peoria is no different than a fibroid in New York." Then she looked me in the eye and said, "Well, that's my story. Now tell me, what do you do for a living?" I finally had the floor and so I took a breath and said: "I repair sentences in documents written by intelligent people expert in arcane fields. Some of them can't spell or punctuate. Or if they can, they dangle participles, split infinitives or run their sentences together like mountain rams in rutting season." I knew I could not trump her pessary, but I added, "I put muscle in their verbs, amputate their adjectives, assassinate their adverbs. I give my clients final copy they can claim is theirs. The reader never knows that a ferret like me has crept between their lines, nibbling at this and chomping on that." At the end, I added a remark I hoped might prompt a gettogether later, perhaps for dinner and drinks, another chat, a little laughter, and who knows what else. If our spirits meshed, a coupling was something we could accomplish before we'd have to take different planes back home. "I believe our professions are similar," I told her, sipping the last of my Coke. "I too put things back where they belong and I cut away anything protruding." About an hour later, we had paid our tabs, said long goodbyes, shaken hands with considerable warmth and headed off in different directions for our interviews. By day's end, we'd both be flying home to different cities. And although we'd still be strangers, we'd be strangers who had had an interesting conversation. Not interesting enough, however, for either of us to ask the other for a name or number. Page | 92

INTRODUCING: MANDEM By Ryan Swofford You may have seen the images I used for the Prose and Poetry dividers in this issue. You may have noticed how they both looked incredible, and you may have coveted those artists’ abilities. Well, you’re either in luck or in pain, because we’re featuring MANDEM in this issue, two very skilled artists who will blow your mind, for starters. To be honest, I do not know much about Moco and Maize, but I was very happy to work with them. They were professional, helpful (I need a lot of help, trust me), and overall just friendly folks. This is really all I can say about them on a personal level— but I did find out some cool stuff about them when I conducted an interview with them, which is later on. Check out the artwork first, though. Moco and Maize’s artwork is, as they describe it, somewhat post-apocalypic. I would describe it as a dreadful sort of science fiction that is only seen in one’s dreamy subconscious—when one is barely awake, noticing things that were not there before, with careful placement and judgment that does not seem that careful at all. Their work has many layers that are fun to pick apart. I use “fun” because I see MANDEM as a portal to another universe, where I can play around in a picture and get lost in it and it’s just wonderful—dark, but wonderful. I think the darkness of the work is what makes it so shocking when suddenly there is lightness contrasting it—as if the light just barged into the painting. If I’m speaking in riddles, I must apologize—but I think you’d better not take my word for it. The pieces you’ve already seen (if you didn’t skip ahead) are, by the way, called (in order): “Giving Ground” and “Mustang.” These are just two of the pieces we’re going to show you all right about now.

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Her Brother’s Keeper

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When You Tame a Thing

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Perimeter Guard

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Cthulhu Lies

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AN INTERVIEW WITH MANDAM By Ryan Swofford 1. Start us off by defining your art. Imagine your art is in the dictionary, and it must be defined. Is it a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, or what? “MANDEM” 1. Adj: Liminal, queer, in a state of transformation. 2. Noun: (Psychology) The false perception of a narrative that does not exist; the sense that a meaning exists but cannot be grasped. Analogous to the effect of trying to read while dreaming. 2. This is a pretty stereotypical question, but for your guys' art, I think it applies. Where do you get your ideas? Sometimes from the vision of a non-existent, post-apocalyptic world that we first imagined when we were children together. But we also draw a lot of inspiration from philosophy, mythology, literature, music, and a metaphorical way of looking at real-world experiences. We’re also very inspired by words and imagery that have an irresolvable duality that creates this free play. For example, in the “Gift” series (Rehab, Giving Ground, Mustang), the name came from the fact that in English “gift” refers to talents or presents, but its root is a German word for poison. All the images in that series play on this kind of duality. The butterfly in Giving Ground, for example, is a Hackberry Emperor – they are known for being incredibly friendly, because they’ll land on people’s hands, but actually they come because they eat the dead skin cells. These butterflies are scavengers, so if you see dead animals in the regions with these butterflies, they’ll be covered in beautiful wings... so what seems like a symbol of beauty is also a symbol of death. Or a psychopomp. And Cthulhu Lies, for example, is inspired by the Lovecraft mythos, obviously, except it’s taking this critical mythological take on the Page | 99

story... Cthulhu is really a reworking of old sea goddess myths (like Tiamat), so we wanted to talk about this and about the connection between madness and woman. But the title is another double meaning – The lovecraftian quote says “Cthulhu lies dreaming...” but we just say that “Cthulhu lies.” 3. Talk about any trials and tribulations you face on a day-today basis, specifically surrounding your art mixing with your personal or home life. Maize is a full-time MFA student and an adjunct university instructor, while also working a graveyard shift office job and being a professional proofreader. Moco also works full-time, while handling all of our art-related business like arranging gallery shows and publications... and did we mention that we have a toddler? Finding time to actually work on art, while balancing our other obligations and making sure that our toddler, Kitsuko, has all of the attention she needs, is a challenge. We have to stay very focused on our goals, both as artists and as parents. As a family, we do “parallel play,” where Kitsuko will paint on her easel and we'll paint on ours... but of course we've also seen Maize continue painting while Kitsu climbs on her back and yanks on her hair. We sacrifice a lot of sleep to have time for art. 4. Should one have an open mind which hardly focuses at all, or a closed mind focusing on only specific details? Assume there can be no blending of the two. That’s like asking which you need: a hammer or a saw. That really depends on the job. And if you’re woodworking, you probably need both. But you don’t—or can’t—have a hammer-saw. You don’t use them simultaneously. So maybe you either need a very compartmentalized mind, or you need two people. MANDEM’s lucky that way, in that we do have a team. Maybe that’s an answer cop-out. For art, I think an open mind is vital if you want to be a visionary artist. But if you want technical skills and exacting work, you also need a focused, specific mind in the mix. So it’s just a matter of what you want to get out of life. Page | 100

5. I feel like you guys play video games. If so, enthuse about them now. Not as much as we’d like. We feel that video games are an immensely important part of modern culture, and a great emerging art form, but we just don’t have time to play. It’s a choice between gaming and doing art, or... well, alternately a choice between gaming and taking appropriate care of the baby—but a choice that involves child abuse isn’t really a choice, you know? But before the baby was born, Maize was a dedicated gamer. Now we go and read game summaries and watch cut-scenes on YouTube, to get the condensed version. It’s like CliffsNotes—it helps with culture literacy, but it’s not nearly as much fun. We particularly like games that have a queer element or that don’t have black-and-white development. The one game we’ve actually taken time out to play in the last couple of years was Dragon Age II. 6. What are your philosophies on life? Why are we here? Well, we believe in evolution ... so I think that we’re here because our ancestors desperately wanted to be here, and we desperately want to be here. We’re driven to live because of our desires and our hungers and our love for each other and for life. And our survival is the root of generations of both brutality and altruism. But if life didn’t seem worth our time, we’d collectively quit. And we don’t. I think I’d describe my philosophy as a warped and heretical Buddhism, something that says “Desire is the root of life, and life and desire are the root of all suffering, but once you’ve gotten over your attachment to not suffering, you’ll see that’s not such a bad thing. Because life and desire are also the root of love and beauty.” So we’re here to suffer and to love and to see what happens next. 7. Do you guys think we can apply those philosophies to our art? Are we obligated to as artists? Of course. Making art is very much the same thing. You do it because you want to, and if it doesn’t seem worth your time, you should quit. And I think that when art mirrors life, it will be at once both abject and beautiful. I don’t think artists are obligated to do much of anything in particular. It’s very popular to say that artists have an obligation Page | 101

to some sort of higher moral cause, but that’s not particularly fair to us. I think each person needs to choose their own obligations, not assume a ready-made set. Well, Duchamp can have readymades. But the rest of us should decide for ourselves if we want our art to try to take a philosophical stand or exist purely because it wants to. I think if you try to force art to take on a social duty, it risks being pedantic and oppressive. But for my own work, yes, it’s philosophical. But I try to raise questions more than peddle answers. 8. I ask everyone I interview to leave us with some Zen. Drop some knowledge on our domes. Speaking of evolution and art, did you know that abstract expressionism had a lot of support from the CIA and the government during the formative years of its development? That sounds like a paranoid conspiracy, but apparently it’s true. The Soviets were pushing realism, so in the name of democracy, the US started funding touring shows of abstract art. The huge push away from figurative art in America, which during the culture wars of the 80s was so decried by conservatives, was in large part bankrolled by the conservatives of a few generations before. I learned about this relatively recently, and it was really mind-boggling. Not sure if it’s Zen or not. But it seems to have something to do with the yin-and-yang of art.

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The Weekenders Magazine: Issue 3  

Issue #3 of The Weekenders Magazine. Tons of great stuff, including interviews with MANDEM and Catfish McDaris.

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