57 The William & Mary Review
The William & Mary Review
Volume 57 2019
Nicole Efford Gwen Sachs
Anna Platt Sophie Rizzieri
Alex Johnson Cana Clark Caroline Kessler Julia Kim Kira Ciccarelli
Sissi Tang Lizzie Johnson
The William & Mary Review (ISSN: 0043-5700) is published by the College of William and Mary in Virginia (est. 1693) once each academic year. A single, post-paid issue is $5.50. A surcharge of $1.50 applies for subscriptions mailed outside of the United States of America. COPYRIGHT 2019
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Table of Contents daydreamerz REBECCA SPODICK
Here is the Green Apple 8 CHRISTINE BUTTERWORTH-MCDERMOTT
Modern Icon 9 art KATERYNA BORTSOVA Water Hemlock 10 poem CHRISTINE BUTTERWORTH-MCDERMOTT Cats DAVID SAPP
Utopia 12 NATSUMI TANAKA (Translated from Japanese by TOSHIYA KAMEI)
Dead White Males 15 poem CRAIG KURTZ Trubil 16 poem MATTHEW J. SPIRENG The Road out of Town TOM MCFADDEN
Blizzard DAVID SAPP
Peridot 19 prose SUZANNE SUPPLEE
HUSH TOMISLAV ŠILIPETAR
The Lost Bach Minuet MARK SMITH
Untitled JOHN TUTTLE
Cliché LAURO PALOMBA
Untitled 35 art FIERCE SONIA Josie JILL TALBOT
Heart Memory 44 poem LAURO PALOMBA Key to My Heart KATERYNA BORTSOVA
Something Between Art and Life ETHAN WARREN
Robin LAURO PALOMBA
Bird TA HARRISON
Flash Fiction CLARK CHATLAIN
Tomorrow, Not Tonight LIZA BENCHEIKN
Yellow Roses 65 art MORGAN STEPHENSON Aurora’s Actually 66 poem LR BERGER Boston Flowers 67 art EMMELIA HASKIN PROUD TOMISLAV ŠILIPETAR
Tea-dancing on Uneven Boards L. HAIMAN
Here is the Green Apple Christine Butterworth-McDermott
Here is me, here is youâ€” if we get down to this rot, to the worm, do we watch it morph to serpent? If we get down to the core, would you plant the seeds or throat their poison? Here is the tree, forbidden. we slither each time we bite and hold sweet flesh on tongues, dancing around cyanide. I cannot make you less Adam, me less Eve so here is the end: swallow the seed, swallow the seed.
Water Hemlock Christine Butterworth-McDermott you, innocuous white flowered
smelling vaguely of dirt & carrot masquerading wild parsnip
you want me to swallow
take you into myself (without asking)
would be suicide
* forgive (itâ€™s necessary) nauseous
/ / /
to find the garden / overgrown /
this refusal to die in tremors to wake amnesiac destroyed
Cats David Sapp Though he claimed to despise the cats, “cats and kittens everywhere mewing, incessantly underfoot, shameless, feral beggars, lackluster mousers,” Grandpa never stepped on a paw. Secretly, he made certain, between huffing cows, the lulling hum of the milking machine, and the wide-mouthed milk cans, there was always a battered pan from the kitchen. Like a tired, old priest, he splashed a little, baptized their heads with warm, frothy cream. They gorged themselves, bellies round and tight, little timpani, then licked each other’s ears after the feast. I’m nearly certain Grandpa was satisfied at seeing his cats fed.
Utopia Natsumi Tanaka Translated from Japanese by Toshiya Kamei You must wrap a brown cape around yourself to walk around this town. Only those who qualify as citizens are allowed to wear sash belts. Less than half of the town’s residents, they proudly show off their dazzling complex-patterned sash belts, gaze ahead with dignity, and saunter around town, holding themselves beautifully erect. Their feet are adorned with sandals inlaid with intricate designs, and they make it known that they are the rulers of this town. We tourists, like most non-citizens, wear brown capes over our heads and walk with our eyes cast down, getting ourselves covered with the falling dust. An umbrella is what separates citizens from non-citizens. The citizens hold large umbrellas over their heads and walk, not very much minding the ceaseless dust storm. They occasionally shake their umbrellas and spread the accumulated dust in all directions. We, non-citizens, have no right to complain, even though the dust keeps piling on our capes. The dust is a gift from heaven. It can’t be avoided, and it’s not necessary to avoid it. The citizens have to avoid the dust because they are made of sophisticated machinery. As their bodies have defects, they have to wear mechanical bodies to survive in this dusty town. The fruits of the most advanced technology created by human hands – such are the citizens of this town. On the other hand, we are tourists. We are visiting this town to see firsthand the results of said technology. The people here have managed to build a highly technical nation in order to survive in an environment where we can’t go out without a cape. In this town, the more parts that are missing from your body, that is, the more parts of your body that are mechanized, the higher position you hold as a citizen.
The same goes for us tourists. My lover, who accompanied me on this trip, lost his left leg below the knee as the result of an accident. Back home, he was using a makeshift prosthetic foot, and he came here with me to obtain a limb made by the top-notch technology. Having acquired the title of honorary citizen, he wears a sash belt over his cape, holds a large umbrella, and walks next to me wrapped in a cape. “Actually,” he says, “I didn’t know this until I came here – how hard it is to live in this town.” The prosthetic leg he had brought from home became coated with dust and was rendered useless on our first day here. We rushed to the “hospital” where we had made reservations and got a body part for him. “You can’t let go of your cape,” a technician said. “You have to use this sash belt and this umbrella to prevent the sand from eating you away, even a little. Our sandals are also designed to repel dust and dirt. You must wear them all the time when you are outside.” There is a way to obtain those expensive items beyond the means of non-citizens. You can cut off your own limbs. In fact, some have fulfilled citizenship requirements by doing just that. It’s a strategy to survive in this town. We tourists don’t do that. We have a place to go back to. There is no need for this brown cape back home. We can breathe to our hearts’ content there. When I ask my lover if he wants to go home, he replies that he doesn’t know. I glance up at the sky above the umbrella, but I can’t see the sun. Without a momentary gap, fine dust is incessantly falling from the sky and settling on the umbrella. I cover my mouth with my cape and cough noisily several times. He stretches out his arm and puts his hand on my back. I can’t even feel his warmth through the thick cape. Even so, I can sense his strength. “We can go home if you want,” he says. “We came here because of you,” I answer. It rains ceaselessly in our home country. There, the sun is hidden behind clouds. But that humid town is better suited to me. As my
skin is vulnerable to dry climates, it becomes rough and chapped as soon as I leave the town. Hardly anyone back home know how to repair his body. His wounds that are supposed to be healed still hurt. “Let’s find utopia,” he tells me. “We can survive a bit more easily there.” “Sure.” I draw myself closer to him, casting my gaze down. I cover my mouth with my cape and cough repeatedly. We know full well that there is no comfortable place left for us anywhere on this planet. We lift our heads to heaven. Darkened by the dust that keeps falling, the sky remains invisible.
Dead White Males Craig Kurtz I hear the boots upon the floor, I know it’s me they’re coming for; they say the reckoning is due — but dead white males have feelings, too. The masterpieces we devised were worth the lands we colonized; at least that’s what we thought back then — you can’t blame us for being men. I know some natives suffered want but we brought them Hegel and Kant; elites caused hardships, but take heart — at least you got to hear Mozart. It wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you to get myself as a statue; I hear they’re taking it away — that’s most unkind, I have to say. I see the tumbrel in the street, they tell me that I’m obsolete; it’s now the many, not the few — But dead white males have feelings, too.
Trubil Matthew J. Spireng
I donâ€™t mean to be no trubil, was all he wrote in block letters on the back of the envelope he left on the kitchen table before he disappeared. They searched the neighboring woodsâ€”humans and dogsâ€”and questioned neighbors, and ticket sellers and bus drivers and cabbies in communities around, ran articles with his photo in the newspaper and posted a modest reward for information, but for all their trubil, even years later, he never was found.
The Road out of Town Tom McFadden Their soul in partial shadow, they were the pre-Civil Rights days, when little harm came to practitioners of prejudice and progressive voices required great courage, always endangered and usually ultimately stilled. Public swimming pools forbid black skin from frolicking in their water, and country clubs denied inclusion to those of darker skin and to the city’s Jews— some denying entrance, even still, to us, the Irish, as well as the Italians. I remember caddying at one during hot, summer days, although I never did see inside, walking the long distance to and from that exclusive site to earn the small amount of pay. And so well I remember my favorite newspaper, a tabloid-shaped miracle that had arisen in contrast to the conservative publication, the large, fold-out, awkward one that made no waves at all and seemed always to have been there. But my tabloid—how rich it was in true journalism, accurate and unafraid! I remember rushing each morning to the front porch to eagerly retrieve it in an excitement of anticipation, soon reveling in the thrill of discovery. And I remember, only too well, the firebombs hurled hatefully through the front window until they’d burned the newspaper down, as though they had set thought itself on fire until it had turned to ashes. But, most of all, in a memorial to the tabloid’s brief courage —grown and finally empowered, and learning my direction in life— I remember finding the road out of town.
Blizzard David Sapp I was too young to know John Joseph Frye, my grandmotherâ€™s father, the flinty old bastard (a hardness essential for feeding and clothing Mary Bertha and eleven children) the patriarch of a farm set far back from Sycamore Road. But this memory, apparently now solely mine, requires little elaboration: one winter, sometime in the 30s, after an exceptionally heavy snow, Joe and his neighbor, hardships and stoicism identical, with wide corn shovels cleared their long, parallel lanes, backs curving, heave for heave, silently, sullenly, a distorted slight, a thin wire fence between them. Their rivalry, a furious blizzard of flying white, was once a useful expression of animosity, now a lost art. At their mailboxes, their maelstrom unabated and nothing left to sling, they sparred shovels; sparks flew from clashing steel. Eventually, out of breath, sweat freezing under coats, I want to imagine they laughed, shook hands, and drank strong coffee together, their wivesâ€™ eyes rolling in the kitchen.
Peridot Suzanne Supplee She sees herself running across campus, a red Samsonite suitcase clutched in a tight grip, her heart racing with anticipation and fear. Like garments discarded after a crisp fall morning turns suddenly warm, her old life falls away: Stony Run Methodist Church, the Girl Scouts (and all their wholesome badges), her secretary mother, (120 WPM), her invitation to join the D-A-R (Nancy Ward chapter), and her secret sorority handshake (squeeze, middle finger back, squeeze— she swore never to tell, but did!). Atherstone is running. Atherstone is watching herself run. This isn’t possible, doing something and watching yourself do it. Still, it seems she is on a large screen, the movie theatre back in Clinton perhaps, a sticky-floored bijou with an old-fashioned marquee and tattered striped awning. Atherstone is both in herself and above herself. A few days earlier and without the slightest hesitation, she had said Yes! to the invitation, felt an electric jolt in her spine after hanging up the phone. She might have enjoyed this evening’s enterprise of packing and then unpacking and then repacking, except for her roommate, Pam. Normally, the roommate would’ve been stuffing her face in the dining hall, leaving Atherstone to herself, but there’d been a flood or something, and so Pam sat on the rumpled sheets of her bed, a towel on her wet head, slurping Ramen noodles and highlighting passages of a physics textbook. The shriek of the marker on slick pages plucked Atherstone’s last nerve. Oh, the thought of being whisked away, maybe never to return to this awful place with its community bathrooms and heavy, slamming doors and loud-at-all-hours-of-the-night girls, and worse, because it made her feel so guilty, its serious, studious girls. What am I doing? She laughs, then whispers the words aloud. “What are you doing, Atherstone?” She does not know. Only that there will be no point of return from this. From him. The suitcase is growing so heavy as to make her right shoulder ache. She switches to her left arm and dashes across an empty faculty parking lot. I caught a last-minute ride home for the weekend and won’t
Mama be so surprised? She’d said this to Pam, and the girl hadn’t remotely tried to hide the fact she didn’t believe her. She’ll be surprised alright, Pam replied, and pressed the marker harder against the page. On the way out of Stepley Hall Atherstone said those exact words again to a couple of sorority sisters, except she added a line: You know Mama gets so lonesome without me there. But even the sorority type girls aren’t stupid. Unworldly maybe, but certainly not dumb. Soon Atherstone will find herself on the Panhellenic gossip mill. She imagines these girls talking about her as they line their eyes with too much kohl and anticipate this Friday night together—Kappa Sigma house with its perpetually gummy floors and Louie Louie and Twist and Shout and those vile bathrooms, staggering drunks and sloshing-over-the-rim warm beer on her nice shoes. Or, Pam and her dorm rat group talking about her as they watch some grim movie in the common room, which, if Atherstone had to guess, is Close Encounters or Poltergeist again. Or, since Pam had already taken a shower and was in her Lanz nightgown before six o’clock, maybe they’ll skip movie night, “stay in” and “pig out.” Antonio’s pizza, bags of Doritos, boxes of Krispy Kremes, and Tab. Atherstone switches the suitcase to her right arm again and tries not to think about Sunday afternoon when he’ll bring her back to campus, likely in broad daylight. The tight dorm room with its milehigh garbage in the small metal can. A lingering, heavy smell of grease that makes Atherstone want to gag or slit her wrists or jump out the window. For all Pam’s intelligence—calculus and physics and pre-engineering—she apparently doesn’t have enough common sense to open a window or take out the trash once in a while. Their room is a torture chamber. Even with the suitcase weighing her down, the running feels good in a way. The November air is cool. The sky is dark but with a touch of blue still. The yellow glow of so many windows looks enchanting. College. Living on campus. Sorority. Sorority sisters. Classes on the hill. Stepley Hall. Back in the spring these words had sounded so sophisticated and smart, glamorous in that Love Story way, a movie Atherstone has watched at least a dozen times on late-night cable. Over and over she played the notes of the theme song—c-e-e-c-c—on that
old church piano, not the one in the sanctuary, but another in the “activity” room with its chipped yellow keys and discordant sound. Treacle, her English 101 professor called the movie when she mentioned it in her first (her only) paper, the ugly word written in red along the margin, a word Atherstone had to look up. And then she’d had to look up cloying, as well. After that she’d stopped attending the hateful woman’s lectures. Hadn’t even officially dropped the course, just didn’t bother going. From a distance Atherstone spots his shiny blue car. It idles beneath the phosphorus light. The driver’s side glass is rolled down, and John Porter hangs his arm out the window and taps the beat to music Atherstone can’t yet hear. She stops in a small cluster of evergreens to check herself—straightens her twisted skirt, shakes a pebble from her right shoe, steadies her rapid breathing, and touches her hair. Only a few minutes ago, she hot-rolled it, yet already she can feel the curls going limp. Why are you rolling your hair if you’re just going home to see your mother? Pam had a nose for a lie, and lately she’d been sniffing a bouquet of them. Whenever John Porter called, Atherstone had to stretch the phone into the hallway to talk. Of course, nosy Pam would sneak up on her and yank the cord. Who is it? she’d demand, and stand there looking like some house-frau, hand on hip and creases between her bushy, dark brows. Atherstone finally snapped. None of your business, Pam! God! she’d said, but quickly backtracked, tried to play it off as a joke. I’m only kidding. It’s just Granny. She pressed her hand over the mouthpiece and rolled her eyes dramatically, like it was a big inconvenience to talk to her grandmother on the phone, her emphysemic grandmother, her only grandmother, a woman who had generously offered to pay tuition and sorority dues. Atherstone skipped classes. She spent too many days watching soaps on a tiny black and white television or styling her hair or doing her nails or trying to piece together sophisticated outfits for when she might see John Porter in person. While Pam was in class or a lab or at the library, Atherstone cranked open the window and blew clouds of cigarette smoke through the screen. Sometimes, she fancied herself a Hollywood ingenue, glamorous and tragic and trapped there on the
seventh floor. Three weekends prior Atherstone had taken a Greyhound home to Clinton for the weekend, not to see her mother or grandmother. Oh, God! Please don’t let me see them! Please don’t let me see anyone I know!
John Porter arranged everything for her—the bus ticket, the out-of-the-way inn. “It’s a bit of a distance from the station to the inn. No cab service to speak of.” He was thinking out loud, Atherstone could tell. “I could pick you up at after work. We could drive together, I guess . . . But you’d . . . well, you’d have to be discreet.” Atherstone tried to imagine what discreet would mean in reality, saw herself sinking low in the back seat of John Porter’s fast car, with its leather seats and impressive stereo system and moon roof or sunroof, whatever-you-called-it. “I’ll manage just fine,” she’d told him. “Don’t worry about me.” There was relief in his sigh. “Good. Okay. See you soon,” he’d said, and hung up. Atherstone studied the leading ladies on daytime television— Susan Lucci and Genie Francis and Melody Scott Thomas. Their techniques of maneuvering men had come in handy since meeting John Porter. Still, she had no idea how she’d get herself from the bus station to the inn, and what if it was pouring? What if her grandmother happened to drive by, or her mother? Or someone she knew from high school? Clinton was a small town. Everybody knew everybody! The night before she was to get on a bus Atherstone packed the red suitcase, then hid it inside her closet. Pam was studying at the library, wouldn’t be home for hours yet. Atherstone tore a sheet of paper from a spiral notebook and crafted the message in neat handwriting: Leaving early for the library. I’ve got to catch up! Then going home for the weekend. Please don’t wake me. Guilt tempted her to draw hearts and smiley faces and swirls around the words, but Pam wasn’t a swirly girl. Atherstone crawled into her narrow bed and listened to the voices in the hallway—contented, chattering girls, their slippers scuffing against gritty floor tiles. The smell of popcorn wafting beneath the door. So jittery! So preoccupied! A frisson of excitement raced through her body each time she thought of John Porter’s shining eyes, his efficient manner of arranging things, including Atherstone herself, she guessed. Not that they’d ever done much in that way. They hadn’t. Not yet. As she tried and tried to step off the ledge and into sleep, Atherstone pictured her naked body on a white dinner plate, imagined John Porter positioning her arms and legs just so, but this (fantasy?) only
made her nerves more jangled, so she stared at the ceiling, rubbed her bare feet against the softly worn sheets. As if on a spit, Atherstone turned in the bed—back, sides, stomach—though sleep would not come. It was 2:30 AM when Pam finally returned, fumbling in the darkness. She must’ve seen the note taped to the door because she was quiet—all of Stepley Hall had grown quiet by this time. Clothes were tugged off and drawers slid open. In the faint moonlight shining through the window, Atherstone saw the sway of the girl’s large breasts, her pale skin, the Lanz nightgown being tugged over her head. There was the clink of a toothbrush and toothpaste being removed from the glass on Pam’s desk, then she was gone again, down the hall to the community bathroom. In a matter of minutes Pam returned, put the toothbrush and toothpaste into the glass, peeled off her socks, and slid beneath the covers with a sigh. Even though they’d only known one another for a few weeks, Pam’s movements were so familiar to Atherstone. It was uncanny, really, the way two complete strangers were thrown into the same room. It was Pam’s steady breathing that finally eased Atherstone into a deep, restorative sleep, and she awoke the next morning—Friday!—the big day!—feeling as though she were on the verge of something truly grand. For a few minutes Atherstone savored this sensation. On her back, covers pulled to her chin, she listened intently as the dorm sputtered to life—girls’ voices and footsteps. Showering and brushing their teeth, changing tampons, and performing all those other necessary human things side by side, a primitive tribe of sorts. But by the time she arrived in Clinton, the elated feeling was gone. Atherstone had a blister on her heel. Her cute flats weren’t meant for walking long distances, and it was at least a mile, possibly more, from the station to the inn. Her arm was numb from carrying the suitcase, and she was drenched in sweat. The station had been grimy and hot, a noisy terrain of filthy, rude people, not to mention the bus ride itself, five lousy hours jouncing along in a tin can. Too grossed out to lean her head against the seat, Atherstone sat ramrod straight. Mama had drilled it into her she might catch head lice or ringworm in public places, and so she stared out the window and imagined being “on set,”
as they called it, memorizing lines, running scenes, making public appearances. The cover of Soap Opera Digest with her face on it! When she finally reached the Candlewick Inn, Atherstone gave a false name—Janice Jones—and avoided looking directly at the hotel clerk, a large, big-bosomed woman with cat-eye glasses on a chain. While she waited for the clerk to fetch the key, Atherstone discreetly turned the ring on her left hand. It was her birthstone, a gift from her mother for her sixteenth birthday, its tiny fleck of peridot like a shining green eye. Turned backwards it resembled a plain gold wedding band. Atherstone felt it then, her true nature: sinner. Without looking to the left or right, “Janice Jones” had made her way down the dim, narrow hallway. She did not study the wallpaper and prints or take in the scent of stale potpourri, details she surely would’ve noticed had she been “playing” herself. John Porter wasn’t there. Not yet. It would be hours still until he could free himself from entanglements Atherstone would not allow her mind to envision. Inexperienced as she was in these matters, she sensed it was better not to consider his situation too carefully. Instead, she took a bath, fixed her hair, ironed her clothes, and filled the ice bucket, an act that made her feel worldly somehow. By the time the phone rang, hours and hours later, the ice was melted, Atherstone’s clothes were wrinkled, and her eye shadow had taken on a greasy, creased look. She picked up the phone on the third ring—let him wonder, if only for a few seconds, whether or not she was even here!— and said hello. “I’m so sorry,” John Porter whispered huskily into the phone. “I can’t get away. Please don’t be mad.” Atherstone remained silent. “I called the front desk. Order whatever you want, Attie.” And there it was, his name for her. “I’m fine,” she replied. In truth she felt as though John Porter were snapping her ribs one by one across his knee. “Can you come tomorrow?” This sounded desperate, something she definitely did not want to be, so she added, “It’s okay if you can’t. I’m fine.” “I don’t think so, Attie. I don’t think I can come at all. I’m dying to see you.”
John Porter sounded desperate, too, and this lifted Atherstone’s spirits. In fact, she would hang her heart on those desperate words until she could see him in the flesh. And now, finally, there he was in that pretty car of his. John Porter does not belong here, the same way Atherstone had not belonged at the Candlewick Inn. She cannot see how he is dressed, but already she knows—starched slacks, no socks, topsider shoes, a clunky college ring on his right hand, though she can’t see his right hand. It is his left arm on the ledge of the car door. He is muscular, with thick arms and legs and shoulders. John Porter works out religiously, some might suggest fanatically. Of course, Atherstone knows this firsthand because it’s how they met. Long, tiresome hours she stood behind the front counter at Marty’s Gym. Got the job the day after high school graduation. The first few weeks of summer dragged by until Marty put Atherstone on the day shift instead of the evening one. John Porter was aloof at first, barely noticing her, and grumpy seeming, his mind so preoccupied, he would later explain. “Sorry if I seemed rude,” he said some weeks later, after things had “developed” between them. Each morning he came in before work to lift weights and again after work to play racquetball. Sometimes, if he could manage to get away from his office, he sat in the sauna or whirlpool at noon. And Atherstone had found all sorts of reasons to come into work early and leave late and not take a lunch break. It had felt like a crush. It had felt silly. It hadn’t seemed real. Atherstone is growing solemn hiding here in the trees, watching him. The elation that came with preparation and anticipation has left her. She sets down the heavy suitcase and shakes out her arm. She bites her lower lip and tries to think what to do. No longer is she floating above herself; she is in herself now—the dread, the sin, the shamefulness coats her insides like tar. As a little girl, around ten or so, Atherstone climbed the ladder to the high-dive, trembled as she walked out to its edge. For what seemed like hours, she stood on the end, knees knocking together, unable to bring herself to jump. It was the lifeguard who finally coaxed her down, not into the chilly blue water, but back down the ladder to
the warm, wet concrete. She wasn’t a daring girl then. She isn’t a daring girl now. How she thought she might go through with this indecorous business Atherstone does not know, just that she won’t. John Porter Grimes tore down the main drag of the college town, revving his engine as he went, and sped out toward the highway. No point having a car like this if he couldn’t make tracks once in a while. It was forty miles or more to the mountain chalet he’d rented for them, a stretch of asphalt full of twists and turns, nothing between him and death except a metal guardrail, one he could see was already dented. Not the first to speed up this hill, he guessed. “Cunt,” John Porter said aloud. He wasn’t much for using such a vulgar word, but tonight he was loose. He was free. His education, his standing, his family, they certainly weren’t around to hear him. The word brought little relief, however. Her rejection was sharp inside him, and he envisioned the sort of man who might retaliate. Who might seek revenge. Who might hurt Atherstone in some way. “Just a girl,” he said. “That cunt is just some kid. Some kid you’d like to fuck.” It was disgusting, really. He was disgusting. Yet she had a kind of power over him, didn’t she? He wanted to be the one who got to her first. She’d said he would be, shyly she’d said so, her face turning pink, the slight nod when he’d asked her such a deeply personal question. On the stereo Michael Jackson’s Thriller played, and John Porter raised the volume, slung the car around the sharp curves up the mountain, barely missed an oncoming truck with its headlights stubbornly fixed on high-beam. “Goddamn idiot!” John Porter shouted, and hit the horn. And then it occurred to him what the matter must be. He pressed the brakes and slowed the car. Atherstone was sick, that was it! She was feverish, her appendix ruptured maybe. That roommate— What’s her name?—that nosy girl who was always pulling the phone cord when Atherstone was trying to talk to him. Pam. Maybe Atherstone was sick and this roommate, this Pam person, didn’t realize how bad off she was. No, Pam was smart, he remembered Atherstone said this, bragged about it in a way, like having a smart roommate revealed
some attribute in her own character. Something was wrong. Something terrible had happened, he was convinced. Up ahead was a turn-around. John Porter down-shifted and pulled onto it. He had to get to her. He pressed his foot harder on the accelerator. Couldn’t think about what was at stake now. She loved him and wouldn’t so casually extricate herself from him, from their “situation,” from their weekend plans. He could see it in her eyes, had seen it in the eyes of other girls, prettier girls, smarter girls, more interesting girls—lots of times he’d seen this look. In many ways Atherstone was a step down, yet he’d granted her access. By the time John Porter returned, the campus had grown raucous. Kids crossed the lawn in clusters, slapped each other too hard on the back, laughed louder than was necessary. Nothing was that funny, though John Porter recognized this life. Friday nights at college. All so familiar it seemed he was still a part of it himself, as if no time had passed at all. Why he might go up to Atherstone’s dorm room and fuck her on the narrow bed. Many times in his old college life he’d done such things, had quite the appetite, some might say. It hadn’t been difficult to score, not for a guy like him, so good-looking and built and smooth. Girls had loved him, pined for him, chased after him, stared at him from across the room at parties when he was talking to another girl, one he hadn’t yet touched. That was the thrilling part, touching the girl, really touching her for the first time, the heat of it. Made him feel so alive, like a hive of bees swarmed inside him. Had she known this? Was this why Atherstone hadn’t come? She wasn’t sick; she’d only been playing with him? Teasing him? If that were the case, he’d show her. He knew the moves, all the moves. And he knew the counter moves, too, a thought that made him smile. He parked his car in a spot reserved for “ Housing and Resident Life.” The buzzing inside him had subsided, and reality was beginning to sink in. He wasn’t a college boy. He was a grown man, about to climb the seven flights to room 701, and knock on the door. Atherstone’s door, the room where she was very likely not dying. It would be better not to do this. It would be better to get in his car and drive home, make up some new lie about his conference getting
cancelled at the last minute. A few weeks ago when Atherstone had taken the bus to Clinton, he was so goddamn disappointed not to see her, but what was he supposed to do? The whole family had the stomach flu, himself included. Nothing romantic about shitting your brains out in some B&B. Tonight, John Porter Grimes should be sitting in front of the fire and looking over financial documents he’d been neglecting while his wife cooked, her long, thin feet bare against the kitchen tile. As whatever-it-was simmered on the stove, they’d have a drink together, and later, after she’d tucked the kids in, they would watch TV. That ought to be enough. But some primal urge moved his body from the car and across the patch of grass to the heavy metal doors of Stepley Hall. John Porter strode past the vacant “residence life” desk, and moved quickly toward a glowing red sign marked Stairs. The climb felt good, the strain in his butt and thighs and calves, the slight acceleration in heart rate and breathing and body temperature were familiar. Even before he entered the seventh floor, he heard music blaring. Michael Jackson. That guy was moonwalking everywhere these days. Room 701 was directly across from the stairwell. Multiple notes had been taped to the door: Call your mother dammit; S is running late; roosters at the Q tonight. Beneath these inconsequential messages was another, this one in Atherstone’s handwriting. At the gym she’d written out cards for him when he reserved a court. Not girlish, loopy handwriting, as he might’ve expected, but smart, elegant letters with sharply pointed ascenders and descenders: Leaving early for the library. I’ve got to catch up! Then going home for the weekend. Please don’t wake me. John Porter Grimes knocked softly and waited. His heart was racing, not from the stairs but from the need stirring inside him. There was no answer. He pressed his ear to the door. Nothing. He got down on his hands and knees and peered beneath it, but there was no sign of life inside. On his feet again, he dusted himself off. “Atherstone?” he whispered, hoping she might hear him. But Michael Jackson was shouting beat it over and over, irony that wasn’t lost on John Porter. There were sharp peals of laughter coming from farther down the hallway. Goddamn, those girls would see him and call the cops! Goddamn, he’d gone crazy! This was crazy. He
was crazy. He very nearly turned to go, but something moved him to try the doorknob. Atherstone lay on her side, face pressed to the wall. He shut the door behind him, and for a few seconds took in the dimly lit room. On the desk, Pam’s desk, he knew because it was piled with open books, thick ones, challenging ones, and littered with scraps of paper, a single goose-neck lamp turned on, pressed too close to the pages. “I know you’re not asleep,” he whispered, his voice too adult for this tiny room. On the bed was the girl—thin shouldered, bones in her back sharp and knob-like beneath the clothing. Her waist narrowed dramatically then gave way to the expansion of her hips. As if cold or frightened, her legs were curled tightly into herself. How many nights he’d been in such a room with such a girl. How little thought he’d given to any of it, and here he was again. John Porter knew how to convince her. He knew the tenderness this delicate situation would require. Love was the way in. He hadn’t seen the blow coming. Hadn’t known what she’d hit him with exactly, just that something sharp snagged the side of his face and tore the skin away, blood gushing down the front of his shirt and rushing into his eyes. John Porter Grimes hardly remembered getting down the flights of stairs, starting his car, driving away, a parking ticket flapping beneath the windshield wiper as he drove. It was in the emergency room, the nurse cleaning him up, the needle going into his head, the stitches, the doctor’s we’re-keeping-you-overnight-for-observation when it finally dawned on him, what Pam had said after she’d struck him. I know who you are. No, that wasn’t it. It wasn’t who you are. It was what you are. I know what you are. Atherstone is tucked in bed, a mug of Ramen noodles clutched in her hands, as if she is recovering from some illness, which in a way she guesses she is. She watches as Pam wipes blood off the floor. “Do you think we’ll get in trouble?” Atherstone says. Pam rolls her eyes and doesn’t respond. “I mean, you hit him really hard with that thing.” “It’s called a caliper. And, yes, I knocked the shit out of him.
Some guy’s in our room, leering at you while you sleep. What did you expect me to do? Jesus!” “I can’t believe he came here. I can’t believe he did that.” Atherstone is half-frightened, half-dazzled by John Porter’s boldness, by the drama of everything. “Listen, there are plenty of frat boys just like him all over campus if that’s what you want for yourself.” Pam stuffs bloody paper towels into the metal trash can. “But if you ask me . . .” She pauses, then says, “You didn’t ask me.” “Say it, Pam,” Atherstone replies. “Just say whatever you want to.” “What is it with girls like you? Huh?” “What do you mean?” Atherstone is beginning to feel insulted. “You think the life you’re living now is any easier? Any better? You think because I bust my ass and study and you hole up in this dump watching TV and smoking cigarettes, you’re better off? It’s just stupid, Atherstone. And you better get your shit together is all I’m saying.” Atherstone swallows and puts the mug aside. She climbs out of the bed and grabs the roll of paper towels. “Let me do this,” she says, though Pam doesn’t budge. Side-by-side, the girls work until the last streaks of blood are gone. There is a sturdiness to Pam’s presence, not just because the girl is thick through the shoulders and waist and hips, but it’s something else, too. Something solid inside the girl that weights her so securely, so admirably to the ground. “Thank you,” Atherstone says, and climbs onto her bed again. “You’re welcome,” Pam replies, and throws Atherstone a look, and then, unexpectedly, Pam breaks into laughter. “What the fuck just happened here?” Pam says. And then Atherstone is laughing, too, great gushes of laughter that seem to come from someone else.
The Lost Bach Minuet Mark Smith For Grey The Bach Minuet has disappearedâ€”too late the music teachers closed the window open to a scene of girls in tartans jumping rope. For days the missing minuet lurked about the town, drinking water from the birdbaths with the pigeons, stealing pizza toppings from the children, sleeping on a park bench painted green that overlooked the river, keeping quiet all the while so as not to give itself away as a minuet composed by Bach. When it attempted a disguise no one mistook it for a march by Sousa. People searched the Lost and Found and posted signs that read, LOST, MINUET BY BACH. But by then the little runaway, without a pack or walking stick, had reached the mountains where, when night fell, it took to teasing Ferde, a Giant Pyrenees who barked and barked when woken by the bells clanking on his bedded sheep. Small wonder when his shepherd, with puffy cheeks, was piping dances in his sleep.
ClichĂŠ Lauro Palomba
hoary but unfailing: narcissistic brute perfumes his past pledges salvation gets elected leader - one vote, one time or untroubled, avoids one guts the constitution hogs patriotism loots the country assumes the right to murder daily or as unease demands dines to old age rolling the red carpet towards his own stately demise perdurably they recycle â€“ caesar, kaiser, czar king, mogul, khan shogun, sultan, shah chancellor, premier, liege general, pharaoh, lord emperor, president, prince â€“ the many aliases of tyrants
Josie Jill Talbot “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” —Jung “Most people fantasize about killing their parents,” Josie says. “What?” I ask. “A therapist told this to me. Or did she say they fantasize about their parents dying? As kids. Kids fantasize about parents dying.” “Pretty big difference.” “Meh,” Josie replies, blowing cigarette smoke over my head. Now’s when I’m supposed to pry and ask if this means she fantasizes about killing her parents, and she’ll say people do this as children, and I’ll ask if she thought of doing this as a child, and she’ll remind me that we all did, and on and on until maybe I’ll find out that her dad forgot her birthday or something and that’s why we’re having this conversation. I’m too tired for all of that. “Happy birthday,” I say. “Thanks,” Josie says. “Are we having any shelter cake?” “Score-to-Whore!” Josie says. I bite my lip. I no longer have the energy to question anything, or to tell a girl to go fuck herself, in here she might actually do it, and we don’t exactly get privacy. Josie doesn’t seem to care about any of that. She’s the star of her own show. Josie and the Pussyhats. Those are all the rage now, except in here. Can you imagine a whore with a pussyhat? Josie’s one of those would-be pretty girls. Her poison’s mainly crack. If it were meth there wouldn’t even be a would-be left to see. As for heroin, a lot of people think heroin girls are pretty. There’s even a term for it—heroin-chic. Sad, empty, skinny… In the shelter, heroinchic is a joke.
I wonder how I got from there to here. Brian, my boyfriend, lost his job and we made do until we couldn’t. The drugs didn’t help. So we left Abbotsford and stayed at one of Brian’s cousin’s houses here on Vancouver Island until we were kicked out. Josie’s wearing a blue helmet. She has such little sense of irony that she has a sticker on her helmet that says, “Well aren’t we just a ray of fucking sunshine?” that she means completely sincerely. The day I met Josie, she blew crack smoke in my face, then asked me if I was a narc. “You seem like a narc,” she said. Now she says that all new people need to be tested. Presumably I passed the test. I treated her like her test was beneath me. It was. I’m standing outside the 7-Eleven smoking a cigarette. There are cigarette butts everywhere, condom wrappers, empty Slurpee cups and the usual Nicol St. crowd. Brian comes walking. He’s alone with his Bose headphones—his one item left of pride. He looks right through me, does a second take, then keeps on walking as if I’m not there. He walks around the 7-Eleven, and a couple minutes later I see him walk back the same way he came. I keep waiting for the meltdown. Wait for the crows. I wait to be tackled and pecked. But nothing happens. “Brian,” I yell out. Nothing. “Brian!” I yell louder. Nothing. He puts his hoodie up, and kicks at something on the curb. He runs into one of his buddies, they do some sort of secret man handshake and I see the other guy point in my direction. Brian doesn’t turn to look. They both walk away. I see them get smaller and smaller in the distance. When we come back to the shelter, they check our pockets and purses. Never catch anything, of course. It’s mostly just for show. They tell us we wouldn’t believe the weapons they’ve compensated, but drugs? You’d have to be an idiot to be caught with those. Drugs can be
hidden anywhere. Josie picks up a rat cage and shakes it about, peering into the hole, then trying to get her fingers inside. There’s a dead rat in it, you can hear it bang against the walls of its shelter. Josie may not even be high. When she does too much, she howls outside. It feels like every single day has been her birthday. Nobody says how old she is, nobody asks. Nobody wants to know. Someone once told me that it was a gift to see the would-be within a person. What a load of horseshit. I had a therapist once, she said we weren’t making any progress, and I asked what we were progressing towards. She said, “Exactly.” Josie yells something awful at the people coming to do lawn work. I look away in shame. Josie laughs, throwing her head back against the wooden smoke shack wall, making a banging sound. The wall behind me is missing because of a fight Josie got into with another girl. I let them have the side that hides their drugs. With the irony stripped away from the stickers, what’s left behind is truth. Drugs strip away the irony and leave behind the original, or some decaying form of it. Brian’s at the men’s shelter in the Salvation Army, which has similar rules. If you leave after 9PM, you aren’t allowed back until 5AM, but if you leave before 9PM you can come back whenever you want. This is so that working girls aren’t coming and going at all hours. Or so I heard. Why the men have the same rule is beyond me. I suppose everyone’s got something to sell. I also know that if you test this rule, say by going out for smokes at 2AM and coming right back, standing in the office like a dog that has peed on the rug, declaring that they can throw you out to the streets if they like, nothing bad can happen that hasn’t already happened, they’ll let you in. If you’re Josie they won’t. Rules are mended for the wouldbes.
Three days ago, some new girl moved my ladder and I got
pissed off and Josie threatened to beat the other girl up and now she acts like I owe her. On the other hand, I’m now officially one of the people you don’t mess with. It looks like more fun on TV. The second time Josie asks me if I’m a narc, I say that I’m from out east. She nods as if being from out east answers something for her. Anything outside of the shelter bubble is out east. “What’s the dope like in Abbotsford?” Josie asks me. Saying that Abbotsford was out east seems to have given it a surreal quality. “Better than this shit,” I say, “cheaper too.” The truth is that Abbotsford was just as shitty as Nanaimo—we had to go to Vancouver for the good stuff—but addicts never talk about reality, always weaving together a story. On movie night, the girls usually want to watch horror movies. The staff usually make us turn those off. Then there are tantrums. Some staff try to argue, others know better. During an attempt to watch Bride of Chuckie, a new worker declared, “Some ladies have PTSD!” and ordered us to turn it off. Several girls rolled their eyes, showed off their scars, makeup, short skirts and chipped nail polish. The one who got the DVD said, “Cunt!” and stormed off to bed, as if her twelfth birthday party was ruined. Brian and I meet at Wendy’s. He’s wearing his construction gear and I wish we were meeting in our house, that I was making us dinner—stir fry—and not each getting a burger and side of fries, throwing a few to the crows. Crows are sort of like shelter girls, they don’t mind shit being thrown at them, but they will peck out the eyes of anyone not in their crew. Brian’s boots are all muddy, and he doesn’t even take off his neon safety vest. He picks me up and I can see Josie sneering across the street. She starts making lewd gestures with her hands then runs off. I wonder who she’s running from, if anyone. I heard that a few weeks ago she tried to run off with someone’s laptop, only to be tackled to the ground in front of the 7-Eleven. Around the 7-Eleven is where most girls work. Brian says he doesn’t want to know if I’d ever done that or ever would. I say that I
wouldn’t, then he again says that he just doesn’t want to know. I wonder if this is his way of saying to go ahead and do it. Or does he assume I already have? When I point out Josie to him and tell him some shelter stories as an attempt to amuse him, he says that I shouldn’t even talk to girls like that. I ask him about the Salvation Army, and he says that we should just go back to old times, and I tell him that’s how people get stuck. Josie thinks she’s still six, that’s what living in old times looks like. Then he says he has to go. I wonder what Josie’s mother looks like. I wonder if she even has one or if she’s been referring to a “street mom” this entire time. Eventually I decide that it doesn’t matter. Already I’m redrawing the lines that form the maps of what makes a person a person. Already I’m demanding more horror movies, birthday cakes and cigarette butts— there are often fights over who gets to roll up the leftovers into good-asnew cigarettes. The first time I had one of those I felt more disgusting than I had ever felt before. Then I had another. When I meet Brian next, he brings smokes but doesn’t say much else. I ask if he’s staying out of trouble. He doesn’t bother asking me the same thing. I feel stupid in my boots and my short skirt. In my mascara. I feel like I’m fourteen. When I get back to the shelter, a worker asks me what’s wrong. I know how I look. I look like a girl who just had a bad date—and not the kind of bad dates that prom queens have—the kind that go up on posters with detailed descriptions of the men involved and warrants for arrests already out. These posters used to be the main warnings given to us. Now they have to compete with the fentanyl posters. After several complaints, they’ve finally taken down the SCORE-TO-WHORE posters. I tell the worker that nothing’s wrong that wasn’t wrong before. “Look at this place!” I say as I storm off to bed. How long does it take to become a shelter girl? Does it happen all at once or over time?
I put some Tupac on my mp3 player and we all pretend we aren’t Canadian white trash. We put our hoods up—except for Josie who seems to think that she can be the tough shelter chick while still dressing like a Barbie. Josie doesn’t know that there are girls on the internet making $200 a blowjob—$190 more than her. I’m not cruel enough to tell her. After a girl suggests we listen to Metallica, I decide to stop letting it be a democracy. I choose the music, since I am the only one with the means. I am the girl who controls the music and knows the going rates for a point and a blowjob. Again we have salad for dinner and again I fall asleep next to ten other girls snoring—dreaming in the place between fantasy and reality—dreaming out east. Dreaming of chipped purple nail polish on the feet of crows. I look in the mirror, my hood still up, freckles littering my face like ashes—I splash water on my face, and Josie bangs on the door saying that she’s going to throw up. I look nothing like Tupac. My red hair my mom once compared to the sun only makes me think of dirt and squashed tomatoes. My pignose I almost wish hadn’t survived so many rails. I stick out my tongue at myself—imagine that I’ve got a tiny white pill beneath it. In the shelter, everything’s too good to be true. “Jay got some e,” Josie says, looking like a teenage girl who just got invited to the prom. Jay would sell her for a toonie, probably already has. I don’t really know Jay, I’ve just heard him mentioned by some girls and seen him talking to Josie through the shelter fence, before shelter staff shoo him away. Every town has a Jay. Jay or Jesse or Carson—something like that—who controls the music. I still haven’t figured out why Josie wears a helmet. There are lots of conspiracy theories going around. Gossip is cheaper than crack and the high lasts longer. I’m pretty sure that I would piss hot for every drug just by being in the same smoke shack as Josie—that should be reason enough—but we all already know that. I wear whatever I can pick up at the women’s resource center—I
ran out of clothes and pretty much everything else. Escaping Abbotsford dope sick with nothing but a backpack, I didn’t bring much of use. Brian didn’t either. I wonder what music Brian was listening to. I wonder if the men’s shelter has cake for birthdays. I wonder what they wish for. I wonder what they say about shelter girls. I wonder if Brian knows that mascara doesn’t run for free. I wonder how far I would make it with a laptop, or with a pair of headphones. I want Brian to know that I never went through with it. I try to sleep. Later I find out that it’s much worse than Josie’s father forgetting her birthday. Years ago, he died on her birthday. “Do you know what his suicide note said?” Josie asks me, looking like she’s waiting for somebody to blow out birthday candles and make a wish. So much so that I awkwardly wait to answer. It’s not like I have many options for responses anyway. But I wait. Her fingers start twitching. Finally I offer up my side of the bargain. “What?” I ask. “Fuck off,” Josie says. Do I ask if she can be sure that it was a suicide note? Why it would say “fuck off,” when that’s not exactly necessary? If it was—perhaps—meant to be ironic? No, no and no. There’s no way Josie has a father with a sense of irony; and like everything else, it was most likely just as Josie says in Josie World. I make instant coffee at 4AM and sit at the dining room table, rocking myself back and forth. A worker comes in and asks me if I’m alright. “I would be,” I say, “did you ever fantasize about killing your parents? Or about your parents dying?” “Are you planning on hurting somebody?” “No,” I say. “Good,” she says, and walks away.
I don’t think Josie fantasized about killing her parents—even about her parents dying. I think she wishes she had. Wishes that she had been in control of the music. Josie sings and lights up crack in the bathroom. I listen to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” with my mp3 player and my cheaper-than-Bose headphones. Eventually I fall asleep. Eventually everyone does. I agree to one music request for Josie’s birthday, “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. She sings, “You are beautiful, no matter what they say…” her pink skirt barely covering anything at all, and her hair in pig tails— dancing like she’s prom queen. We eat pink shelter cake. Josie may always believe that most children fantasize about their parents dying, the way she fantasizes about pink shelter cake, piece-of-shit dealers and Christina Aguilera. All that matters about a fantasy is that it’s a fantasy. Is my timing out of sequence? It’s all the same. The next day we’re all questioned, looking to find how Valium got in the pink cake. “I never had a bite. It looked too good to be true,” I tell them. They think this is a confession.
Heart Memory Lauro Palomba
a cri de coeur note from a youthful crisis unearthed among papers I was shredding now dead of significance I barely half scanned it before heart memory zoomed me home without blur flung off the years like a dog its wetness in a fingersnap the dark feelings clear as the calligraphy I reclaimed them at once but read through twice revisited the wounding, unsettled and incredulous at spotting familiar attitudes the terms I’d self-negotiated a turbulent amalgam of compulsions, concessions, tenacity oiling the wheels to move on so early I’d disclosed myself, decrypted me into words, yet long assumed the barn beams of my character hewed by an adult axe, connecting joints here, squared off there; ready to swear the measuring, cutting, shaping had occurred later, not when I’d first set out I paused the shredder coming round to a
confession: the weft and warp of living aside, we unknowingly become what we’ve always been
Key to My Heart
Something Between Art and Life Ethan Warren
Fade in on a gray Manhattan day—though any day in the dregs of September 1967 was gray. On a lucky one, you might find blue sky between cement and concrete, but today, a paper-cut chill slicing the exposed skin between Sandy’s dress-codeapproved high socks and long skirt as she sped towards her standing lunch date with Wendy, felt distinctly unlucky. “Sandy!” Wendy flailed her hand wildly as though she might not be at the same table in the same corner of the same midtown deli she sat in five days a week at one o’clock sharp. “I ordered for you. Since you’re late.” The clock by the cash register read ninety seconds past the hour. Wendy—who connected calls at the National Broadcast Network, where Sandy had swung a job thanks to an acquaintance of the same spinster aunt whose offer of a guest room had been the condition on which rested Sandy’s parents’ approval of her relocation half a continent away—always ordered turkey on rye. Sandy—whose job as a production assistant rarely allowed her the punctuality on which Wendy prided herself—often went mad wondering why her colleague never risked anything else. Sandy eased into her fraying wicker seat. “What am I having?” “The usual!” Wendy’s usual. Sandy glanced at the menu, wistful for lunches uneaten, as Wendy tapped the table. “I have controversy!” Sandy’s mind sparked, though she was wary of what controversy might mean to Wendy. “Sounds intriguing.” “It’s outrageous. You know we’re doing that live television play on Friday?” “Sure, some Egyptian thing? Cleopatra?” Wendy scoffed and rolled her eyes, a gesture Sandy had learned to be unbothered by; getting snagged on every thorny gesture meant the end of a friendship, and those were hard to come by. “It’s modern, that’s just a strange title for a strange play—not to my taste. And one scene – ” Wendy’s words failed her, an occurrence so rare that Sandy’s interest spiked. “This character, she’s just like you or me, except – she becomes unexpecting.” If she’d ever seen Wendy drink more than half a glass, Sandy might have joked that she sounded drunk. Instead, she said, “I left my decoder ring at home.” That was funny, actually. Better than the drunkenness joke; necessity really was the mother of invention. “She was expecting,” Wendy lowered her voice, “but she chooses to become…unexpecting.” Sandy’s spine stiffened. “NBN’s airing a TV play about an abortion?”
“Lord, you’re crude!” She gave Sandy a rhetorical once-over, which Sandy refused to acknowledge. “They made the playwright change the whole scene. He sounded like a wet puppy when I transferred him.” The waitress arrived then with two identically beige sandwiches and soggy pickles, and Wendy clammed up lest anyone realize she was aware of unexpectancies. Sandy grabbed her pickle and bit hard, trying to lend the illusion of crispness. “Do you have the script?” she asked around a briny mouthful. “I’d like to see what the fuss is about.” “Oh no, I’ve only heard about it.” “You said it wasn’t your taste.” Wendy laughed, and gave another thorny eye roll. “I know my taste.” And then she raised her sandwich to her mouth and took an extremely sensible bite. At rise, Roger in his apartment wondering if a person could die of paper exposure. In his hands, a new round of script “suggestions” from the Pocket Theatre, ones he didn’t have the energy to convince himself would really be the last. In the trashcan, pages. On the floor, pages he had a sickening suspicion were destined for the trashcan. And all around him, books jammed onto shelves, books stacked on the floor, books slumped in heaps that had been stacks before he needed the one on the bottom, so few of them bought to joyfully devour, so many because there might be a useful scrap inside, or because it looked rare, or because bringing home a new armful gave him a brief shot of pleasure among all the gray days. If one of the shelves overturned on him, he wondered, would he be crushed instantly, or die slowly in an avalanche of his own making? His heart lurched at the phone’s terrible grinding chime—nobody ever called, so he’d never gotten used to that awful sound. He stepped around paper hillocks to snatch the receiver and grunt, “Hello,” unsure whether to announce his name like his father did, a manly gesture that felt beyond Roger even with thirty on the horizon. “Is Mr. Shelby available?” “Speaking.” Should he have said, This is he? Talking on the phone always felt like dancing a beat behind the music. “Oh – hi, Mr. Shelby, I’m Sandy Nelson with the National Broadcasting Network, I was hoping to talk about your script for Cleopatra’s Trials.” They’d already taken the heart out of the thing, now they wanted kidneys, too. “Go ahead.” He put a hand over his eyes, blindfolding himself before the hangman could. “Well – I’m not sure – listen, I love your script. The original.” “Thank you.” He hated the distant quality of talking to disembodied voices, so he tried to conjure this woman—more like a girl by the sound of it. He decided she was beautiful. Talking to beautiful people was nice. “If you need more changes – ” “That’s just it – do you have a minute? I’m – well, I’d like to rescue your script.”
Rarely did he hear anything so dramatic he hadn’t written himself. “I have time.” He spoke tentatively, holding his excitement at bay and wondering if that hidden camera show was on NBN. “Great!” Her voice perked up—was she blonde or brunette? He’d make her brunette. “OK, we’ll need to think a bit – ” A foolish urge made him say, “Would you like to speak about it in person?” He suddenly felt that if he had to spend another moment in this paper mausoleum he would scream until he emptied out and crumbled to ash. “I’m on the lower east side.” “Oh!” The beautiful voice sounded excited, which made him excited, which made him wonder how long it had been since he was unexpectedly excited. “Absolutely! I’m near Columbus Circle, so – ” “Fabulous!” He’d never used that word, but nothing else matched the moment’s fabulousness. “I can be there in half an hour. Is it too early for dinner? There’s a Chinese spot by 54th and 9th – ” “I know it! I can’t pronounce the name – ” “Me neither! Be there in thirty.” He hung up without saying goodbye, afraid she’d hear his absurd grin. Only then did he realize they hadn’t exchanged identifying information. He’d figure it out. He grabbed his blazer and left the paper in his dust. Thirty minutes hadn’t been long enough to get uptown from work and back down to the restaurant—and Sandy had little interest in her aunt’s undoubtedly unimpressed response to the notion—so she’d wandered a few blocks this way and that way before finally going inside to order a martini. Just one would help her find equilibrium without dangerously loosening her nerves. She drank too quickly, contemplating how red everything was in here, even with late afternoon sunlight streaming in, how pleasant it was to sit in a nearly empty restaurant with an unfamiliar language pouring from the kitchen. And she couldn’t justify occupying the table without paying, so she ordered another, promising she’d pace this one. She was eating the olive to delay her last sip when Roger walked in. She didn’t want to seem eager—to be a Wendy—as he glanced around. When he noticed her small smile, he approached carefully, as though she was a bomb at risk of detonation. “Mr. Shelby,” she said, rising and wondering if her aunt would approve of the lady standing for the gentleman. He was such a square with his tweed, his carefully parted hair, much too young to be so square, and that charmed her. Too many boys tried too hard to look exactly the opposite. Though in her mandated attire of cardigan and chaste skirt, she had little room to judge fashion. “Thanks for speaking first,” he said, sitting with a hand on his stomach to protect a tie he wasn’t wearing, a gesture so ridiculous that the potential for a crush, which had crackled in the air since he entered, had no choice but to take root. “I wanted to ask if you were my – appointment, but I realized I’d forgotten your name.” “Sandy Nelson,” she said, and took a hearty sip of water, afraid she was already losing control of her S sounds. “Right. It’s a pleasure. You recognized me?” There was a hint of hope, like he
didn’t often dare wish he’d be recognized for a handful of middlingly successful offBroadway plays. “I asked around the station for a description.” “Oh. Can’t have been too unflattering. Unless I’m unflattering. Oh, my.” He winced at his torrent of nonsense, needlessly smoothing the red tablecloth. “Should you get a drink?” A tacit offer to regain his bearings by looking for a server; he needed no convincing. They made polite small talk until he had an old fashioned in hand, and she had another martini on the way—the server had pressured her, and anyway, if James Bond could drink a martini while planning espionage, so could she. “So they made you change the abortion,” she announced by way of opening. “So they did. Too controversial. Naturally. But – ” he took a deep breath and held his palms up, admitting complicity in his own downfall. “They asked if I had a script to submit, this was lying around, I figured I might as well fire it over the ramparts.” “Would they let you do that onstage?” “I don’t have enough notoriety to cause controversy. But I guess your boss’ daughter saw my last one – ” “Daggers Before Me?” “Yes! You saw it?” She saw the inner puppy Wendy had mentioned; she hated to kick it. “I heard the title at work. I’m sorry, I don’t go to plays.” “Don’t worry. I do like to include material that…enlivens. Enlivens me. So Daggers Before Me had self-immolation—offstage, of course.” He sighed, seemingly exhausted. “I assume what excites me might excite audiences.” He leaned in conspiratorially as if the walls had ears, but he smiled now. “Really, I live for the rush of a first draft. Once it’s out of my hands…” He showed his palm again. “You lose interest?” “No choice. Otherwise you get pecked to death by the psychotic pigeons of criticism.” He chuckled and worked on his drink. Now it was her turn to smooth invisible creases off the tablecloth. “What if we peck back?” He looked up with exhilarating interest, so she set her drink aside, he asked for another, and she laid out the plan: it was just one offending scene halfway through an hour’s broadcast. In the uncensored original, the heroine told her employer she’d “found the most reputable doctor this side of a coat hanger and let the fruit of your loins wash away with all the rest of your sorry contributions to this sorry world.” There was more, but that was the line that struck her, so that was the one she cited. He nodded at her delivery, and she briefly wondered if he might be noticing her, but there was no time for that. It was a simple revision—in the approved draft, the heroine was fired for stealing office supplies, the affair reduced to implication.
“But now there’s a vacuum at the center!” Sandy was too loud, but she didn’t care. Roger winced, nodded, and drank. “So? Let’s put it back in!” He laughed too hard, and she did care. “NBN assistants have that kind of sway?” “I know the actors.” In the face of implicit disparagement she dropped all fanciful pretense of espionage. “I’m at every taping, I bring water and tissues, they like me. And they’ve got guts. I can get them to do it.” He was quiet so long that she started mentally counting. She made it to twenty before he spoke, his voice small but firm. “It’s a bad idea.” She picked up her martini, hoping she looked like Ursula Andress. “You may not want to. But I believe it’s a pretty damn good idea.” Another quiet moment, and then he said the last thing she expected. “I pictured you brunette on the phone. I don’t know why.” So he was noticing her. That was nice. Roger suggested food; he needed time to process her absurd, thrilling idea. They agreed on pork with some noodles, and Sandy added egg rolls as the server turned to go, which made his wallet itch, but he could always walk the three miles home. He’d worn good shoes. “Why do you care about my script if you don’t like theater?” He tried not to sound pretentious, though he feared the result was mixed. “I care about art! I’m just too busy going to movies to bother with theater. I hope you’re not offended.” She was growing bolder in proportion to the martinis, but her charm grew in proportion as well. “No, I’m just bored of movies. I hope you’re not offended.” He was growing bold, too, and there was every chance they’d push one another away, but that was worth the risk if the alternative was drawing one another close. “Then you’re not seeing the right ones.” She closed one eye to study him. “Let me guess, you’re a Blake Edwards man. You have Pink Panther written all over you.” “Haven’t seen it! I see one movie a year when I visit my parents. My mother likes musicals.” Sandy put her face in her hands as the waiter dropped steaming plates between them. “I told you you’re not seeing the right ones!” “Then enlighten me, please.” He speared an egg roll and put it on her plate, hoping to seem chivalrous. “The good ones are daring!” She touched the egg roll and recoiled at the heat without pausing her train of passionate thought. “They can be a tool to change how people think about life, how they look at the world. Maybe you have to hunt for them, and sometimes read them – ” “Oh God, you’re one of those European movie snobs?” He regretted the last word as soon as it left his mouth.
Sandy pulled back her shoulders. “Yes, and proudly.” She cut her egg roll in half, releasing the steam, and leveled the knife at him like a teacher’s ruler. “What do you know about cameras?” “Nothing.” “Right. Well, until recently they couldn’t move. They’d sit on sticks, you twist them side to side, but they’re stuck. And the movies they shoot are stuck, too. But now…” She grinned like he was supposed to pick up an implication, and when she realized he couldn’t, she shook her head in frustration he hoped was affectionate. “Now there are lightweight cameras! You can run around, take chances, and normal people can use them, not just people who sold their souls for access to a – sacred monolith. You can smash the artistic aristocracy, and that means—and I really do mean this—moviemaking can be revolutionary!” “Plays are political.” He felt an obligation to rebut, but things he’d believed an hour ago now sounded oddly unconvincing. “Fine, but you put on a play in one room for a few weeks and that’s it. Movies can be all over the world simultaneously—the revolution can come to you! And not to keep harping on your chosen profession, but plays don’t have editing, they can’t give you the jolt of a good cut!” She stabbed her butter knife towards him, a bit playful, a bit harsh. “Moving the camera around?” She shook her head. “You really need help. And by the way, your mother’s beloved musicals? Those were all plays first.” She took a severe bite of egg roll to punctuate her point. “Where did you come by all these ideas?” He served some noodles, and a few slipped, staining the tablecloth. Not as effective as her gesture. “This is the best city on Earth for movies!” She looked appreciatively out the window, her blonde hair flicking her ears, and he had the sudden urge to say her name, an urge he was afraid would become a compulsion soon. But then she was standing—was she finished with him? Another dramatic gesture? She had him unmoored, but he seized his chance, twisting in his chair to say, “Sandy?” What a relief. But now he wanted to do it again. She was conferring with the host, who went to the kitchen and returned with a section of the Times. Sandy brought back to the table, cleared a space, and folded out the part she needed, skimming down the columns with a finger. “What time is it?” “Just past six.” “Good, we have time.” She tapped the paper. “You’re taking me to the movies.” Her aunt’s voice was in her head saying she’d had too much to drink—but she’d had as much as she wanted, as was her right. Yes, it happened she’d wanted enough to make her unusually assertive, but here Roger was, holding out a hand to
keep them apace as they darted across Columbus. So maybe she’d had the perfect amount. He dropped her hand like a coal as they reached the sidewalk. He probably found it inconceivable she’d want to hold his hand; it didn’t count as arrogance to be aware she had gifts and knew how to accentuate them. Roger might well have gifts himself—he’d need to loosen his collar a bit before she was sure—but if so, he had no awareness. Good; let her stay behind the wheel for now. “I thought we were going to the movies,” he said as she trotted up the steps towards Philharmonic Hall. “It’s the film festival!” She knew the term would mean little to him. “Hurry up, last night sold out.” The lobby was buzzing, but probably not to the tune of two-thousand tickets. Thank goodness. They needed excellent seats. “This isn’t the Lincoln Center I know,” Roger muttered. And yes, now they both looked square; the only formalwear was on the festival officials, and the girl ahead of them in line wore a white mini-jumper. So much for Sandy’s spot as the most interesting woman in Roger’s eyeline. He asked if she wanted popcorn. She laughed, hoping to convey it’s not that kind of movie, but he seemed so relieved to save the extra dollar that he missed the snide edge. She was glad; she didn’t want to overplay her hand. He seemed special— you didn’t often find a mix of real talent and lack of pretension, and she didn’t want to throw that away. Unless he hated the Godard. If so, her offer of a coup at the station was rescinded. As they settled in the balcony, he asked, “What’s the story?” He looked around compulsively, and she wondered if he was too shy to look right at her now they were so close. “He started as a critic, but for the past ten years he’s made at least one movie a year, sometimes three.” “I meant the story of the movie.” “Oh. I don’t know. He’s the story with his movies. In France he’s like the Beatles.” “Careful, you’ll make me jealous.” He stole a look at her, and their eyes met just long enough for her stomach to somersault. The dim lighting, the excitement of a quickly filling movie palace, it all flattered him enough for her to notice he did have those gifts. “You’ll see.” She patted the armrest between them, and then the lights went down, and she could stop overthinking. First, Roger was uncontrollably baffled by the odd, flat, false film. But every time he stole a look at Sandy she was leaning in with interest or sitting back with a smirk, so he scrambled for cogent opinions, afraid of sounding intellectually inferior. Still, he couldn’t help imagining this was some grand joke on him, a cinematic Emperor’s New Clothes. After half an hour, he was exhausted by all these depressive Frenchmen
smoking and mumbling nonsense. Sure, the colors popped, but mostly he wondered how long pseudo-intellectual art films lasted, and wished he’d had one more drink. By the halfway point, the assaultive bursts of sound, all so divorced from the image, had driven him to anxious fragility, and that anxiety brought a laugh boiling out of him. He’d never seen anything like it. He’d give the snobs that. As his laughter ebbed, Sandy whispered, “I know!” She shivered, very possibly the most charming gesture he’d ever seen. And then he was enveloped, riding the outrageously brazen crests and falls. Every time he wanted to analyze some element of the experience, he made himself let it go. He didn’t want to drown. And finally, just before the movie spat him onto the shore, the heroine looked straight into his soul. “We have years of struggle ahead,” she said in achingly wistful French. “And often within ourselves.” Roger had never heard anything so poignant, not in any of the thousands of pages that entombed him in his apartment, not in any creaking theater on Broadway or off. “That’s why I’m scared,” this French heroine continued, and Roger was so excited now that he got scared, too. Because it was about to end, and he wanted this night to last forever. His whole body hummed as the lights came up. A gorgeous woman who’d just rewired him entirely looked his way, and she said, “What’d you think?” His thoughts couldn’t be translated into words yet, so in a voice between a croak and a whisper, he said, “That was something else.” “It was interesting.” She nodded, contemplating. “He’s pulled a lot of those tricks before, but I’ve never seen him do it in color.” He blinked hard. “That was subpar?” “I have to chew it over. I’ve seen two I definitely liked more.” She looked over at him, and his bafflement made her grin. “Now do you understand editing?” “I don’t understand anything anymore.” She laughed and stood up. “Come on, they don’t let you sleep here.” Sandy so often went to the movies alone that she’d forgotten how to relish the post-film glow—those precious moments when the camera’s perspective still held her in its sway, allowing her to view the Manhattan nightscape through angles and cuts—alongside someone else. Fortunately, Roger did the heavy lifting. “Let’s do it!” He laughed and clapped, and for a moment she hadn’t the slightest idea what he meant. “Talk to the actors, you have my blessing.” “Oh!” She dragged herself back to reality. This was a masterminding session, not a date. “Fantastic!” “You aren’t afraid of losing your job?” “I’d be happy to. You aren’t afraid of burning a bridge?” “Only need a bridge if you’re planning to go back where you came from.” She grinned. “Good line, you should remember it. What changed your
mind?” His brows knitted, and he gnawed his bottom lip. “It’s okay,” she said, “it’s hard to articulate.” “I’m just trying to remember that line from the movie.” He looked solemnly into her eyes. “It wasn’t this exactly, but—our galaxy’s getting old, and somewhere else, new galaxies are forming.” His face bloomed into pure bliss. “That’s a good line.” “It really is.” And she wanted to end the night on a good one rather than prolonging at the risk of ruining something lovely with one dumb impulse. “I’m going that way.” She pointed north. “I’m going the other. Do we need a plan?” “Leave everything to me.” He tipped her a salute. “I’m your devoted servant.” What a silly thing to say. And since the good moment was spoiled, she might as well do the dumb thing—she darted forward and kissed his cheek. It was sandpapery, and she remembered the urgency with which he’d rushed out to meet her, making it the most attractive five o’clock shadow she’d ever seen. “Good night, Sandy,” he said as she turned to make her way to the bus. It sounded like saying her name gave him as much pleasure as the kiss. She’d never heard her name said that way. She hoped she’d have a chance to get used to it. There was no good reason for a TV network to do live anthology drama in 1967. This was all Roger could think as the crew fell into place and the studio audience—mainly eager out-of-towners, plus some bored singletons who seemed like paid seat-fillers—filed in. It was a feeble attempt by a frightened network to embrace the past and shirk innovation. A week ago this had depressed him; now it made him so giddy he pretended there was something in his teeth just to hide his glee. Sandy had barely acknowledged him, just tossed a wink as she went about her business. He’d nodded, trying to keep a straight face, and then gone back to conferring with the director. He felt bad for this man, who seemed like a decent professional, but the crew was collateral damage in a strike against the establishment. At least that’s how he’d describe it tomorrow—to his parents, maybe to a reporter if imagining news coverage wasn’t cocky. In truth, it was the first act of explosive self-expression he’d felt the urge to make in at least five years. Sure, maybe Sandy was doing the real expressing, but the fact that she’d chosen his work as the vehicle made him so excited he had to fake a cough to keep from beaming. The director asked if Roger wanted to say a few words to the actors, but he deferred with some nonsense about respecting their process. Then the lights went down, and a soft-faced announcer introduced the nation to “CraftyCola Playhouse, brought to you by that manufacturer of fine carbonated beverages,” which invited them to “a theatrical entertainment unfolding in real time, providing all the thrill of a true dramatic experience!” The timpani and horns masked Roger’s laughter. He’d never gotten used to watching his work performed. The words always sounded familiar yet alien, like seeing his own nude portrait painted by a surrealist. As scene one began—the protagonist receiving dictation from her employer, which
the audience hopefully understood as loaded with aggressions—he felt the familiar dread, but a new sensation, too: the volatile thrill of a production straddling a fault line only he, Sandy, and the actors knew was there. At first it put a pleasant anxiety in his gut, but by the second break for a word about glorious beverages, he was gripped by terror. The wheels were about to come off, and no matter what, there would be consequences for untold people. Why had this seemed so exciting even an hour ago? Because it had been an idea, something from a story outline. And, naturally, because that idea had belonged to a beautiful girl. If some schlub named Todd had brought him such a ruinous notion, he’d have laughed in Todd’s face. But when he thought of trying to undo it—and he could always rush over to the actors as they mopped sweat with the tissues Sandy was now bringing them—his heart went slack. Did he want his life back on the track he’d ridden just days ago? The frighteningly unstable notion wasn’t that he might detonate his future as a playwright; it was the ambiguity of what the future might be with this glorious woman who’d grabbed his hand and pulled him through the looking glass into a world where art could effect mass change, not just claim it could to sound impressive. He teetered on the precipice of either starting something, or starting nothing, and both eventualities terrified him in equal measure. Later, his memory of the next five minutes would be hazy. But that was all right. The broadcast was quickly preserved for posterity, so Roger would have every opportunity to revisit it. If you watched at home that September night in 1967, here’s what you saw: Following the announcer’s reintroduction, you saw an unremarkable fifteen seconds—the camera moving up and back from hands on a desk into a two-shot of the lead actor and actress on a three-walled office set; a few mundane lines of dialogue. If your ear was keen, when the male lead noted the female lead had been out sick, you might have detected murmuring behind the camera—there should have been no reference to illness. You wouldn’t have needed a keen ear to notice offscreen clamor as the female lead’s dialogue became peppered with references to invasive plants nipped in the bud. You’d certainly have noticed the male lead glancing beyond the camera, his small look of distress. You couldn’t miss the frame jostling as the commotion grew; it quickly found the actress again, but by now she was shaking so anxiously you’d certainly notice. And you would have sat straight up—whether in shock, elation, or outrage—when she said, a poisonous gleam in her eye: “I found the most reputable doctor this side of a coat hanger, and I let the fruit of your loins wash away with all the rest of your sorry contributions to this sorry world.” You’d have sat there, heart pounding in time with the actor’s trembling, as the broadcast was overtaken by a silence that seemed both vacuumed of oxygen and charged with manic energy. You’d have leaned in as he glanced beyond the camera again, shook his head slightly, and opened his mouth. And you’d have howled at the awful anticlimax as those concentric circles overtook the screen alongside those three
enormous words: We Do Apologize! As Roger understood it, the ensuing chaos could be sorted into component movements. With the test pattern on screen, a network spokesman rushed out to chatter about the thrilling unpredictability of live entertainment and offer vouchers for a taping of a popular variety show, which came too late for the tourists who stormed off, outrage etched onto their faces. The director and actors were subject to a substantially less cordial interrogation by a producer, to whom they provided—under threat of legal action—ironclad guarantees that when the broadcast resumed, the approved script would be law. Meanwhile, in executive offices, press releases were drafted, calls placed to boards of decency, and blame thrown around like a grenade. Roger would learn all this in the days to follow. Because as soon as the test pattern hit, his hand was yanked from his side. “I think that’s our cue, yes?” Sandy hissed. And then they were moving very quickly. Once they hit the street, Sandy headed downtown impulsively; she had no desire to move towards home. Her every inch vibrated at a different frequency, and all she could do was laugh, fall silent, then laugh some more. That seemed like all Roger could do, too, so they let their laughter crest and break against each other’s, and periodically they’d fall against each other, too—she’d grab his arm and shake it, he’d hip-check her, small non verbal confirmations that they were both experiencing the same frantic joy. Times Square bloomed before them, glowing against the dark, as Roger finally caught his breath enough to say, “You’re cold.” She glanced at her forearms, noticing her trembling had gone from thrilled to anxious, but she didn’t have to respond; he was already taking off his tweed jacket and holding it open behind her. She started to demur, but he said, “I’m overheating, so it’s going on you or into the trash.” It was heavier than it looked, but the lining was lush, and it smelled deliciously like old books. “I guess you think you’re some kind of gentleman.” “I guess you think you’re some kind of renegade.” She laughed. “I guess I think I’m out of a job.” “Did you want to stay?” She shrugged—not an easy task under the tweed. “It was near the good movie houses.” “Well there’s supposed to be very good movie houses near me,” he said, then caught his tongue and sighed out a nervous laugh. “Then if we’re both unemployable, maybe we can fall into feral insolvency at the movies together.” His laugh wasn’t nervous that time, and he hip-checked her again, and they walked, and let the static charge build up between them.
After nearly an hour of drifting down Broadway, the air was fraught with unspoken questions. She ran her tongue around her teeth a few times, wondering what to say, and what it would mean to say it, but when she finally asked herself what she wanted, the answer was simple. “We must be almost to your apartment.” She left the ball there for him. “Yes.” He paused. “We are.” He paused again. “We must be pretty far from yours.” “Yes, we are.” They were quiet so long she started to wonder if he wanted her to come home with him at all. So she said something she hoped was charming rather than desperate: “You’ve been quiet so long I’m starting to wonder if you want me to go home with you at all.” They covered the last half mile in something very close to a run. As they tumbled through the entryway and up the stairs to his door, grabbing at one another’s hands and laughing like children, the phone began to ring, a screeching reminder that there was a world beyond the bubble they’d constructed. “I’ll take it off the hook.” He tried to force a shaking key in the lock, realizing he hadn’t tidied—he’d imagined plenty of scenarios for tonight but hadn’t dared wish for this one. Hopefully she found stacks of paper appealingly bohemian. “Answer it! I need to know!” She danced on her toes as the door swung open and she got her first look— she didn’t seem revolted. He needed to know too, wanted that rush of taboo electricity back in his system. So he went to the screeching phone while she went to the bookshelf—he was pleased she shared his compulsion to instantly peruse the shelves of any new home he entered—and as it had been ringing so long that whoever was on the other end probably wasn’t quitting now, he let it ring a moment longer. In this instant, the call offered nothing but potential—maybe the end of his career, maybe the beginning of a new one; all that mattered was that it wasn’t the status quo. All that mattered was this woman, who’d found a book that caught her interest and plucked it off the shelf, and the way she’d taken a room that had so recently been a mausoleum and turned it into a capsule ready to lift off. She glanced his way and realized he was looking at her instead of answering the phone. Her eyebrows darted up and then knitted. “What are you waiting for?” He wrapped his hand around the receiver and squeezed tight. “For new galaxies to form.” And then, with a flick of the wrist, they had liftoff.
Robin Lauro Palomba half-cocked robin owns the driveway sizes up the rival in the basement window charges the uppish glass recoils at the pain eyes the damage done thuds another rush wobbles, secretes a white smugness hunkers bird brain concussed had he his wits heâ€™d reflect heâ€™s made himself easy-peasy for a cat
Bird TA Harrison
Flash Fiction Clark Chatlain
attended to still, she can feel the cold wind in the bed on the fourth floor of the hospital. it blows from the river. there are chills. or what might be called draughts. the nights constantly interrupted as the nurses pass in and out of the room. monitors beeping. lights shining and flashing. but the river remains. though some miles away. river of commerce. river of explorers. of Indians. then of time immemorial when the earth was still forming and the plates shifted to make the mountains and the plains and these rivers first cracked and veined the surface. a line broken and crooked and jagged but extending still from the bed to the river to the birth of the world. she feels the chills. in her head or perhaps on the screen of the night as she sleeps or almost sleeps images hang and ripple and shift. an album of sorts. not memory only but memory, too. a kitchen. her fatherâ€™s truck. fields of wheat. the basement of a church. the images progress in no apparent order and she recognizes some and others she guesses at but she does not understand how the guesses form. it is not delirium. she has no fever. the contents of her mind are available to her objectively the way the room is available to her objectively. in the same way, both remain a mystery. she has become a collage of the images and the river and the elements of the hospital room. the beeps and the wind and the warm smell of coffee early in the morning. snow blowing across ice. they will come to tend her bandage. she drifts on the small lights of the equipment. later she wakes again to a cold wind in the room and bunching the tops of the blankets into her fists she pulls them under her chin and shivers.
not-iceland picture an empty landscape, one marked by glaciation. it is cold and windswept, with low grasses and, in the distance, mountains. the sky looms gray. there is music, piano music, perhaps one of Gabriel Fauré’s nocturnes, and the notes drift over the barren, mossy land. we have seen many films, so imagining this scene is not difficult. it is a kind of Iceland we have made up, and the melancholy nature of the music gives the mountains and the scoured valleys and rock screes a human touch, though there are no humans. perhaps a thousand years ago Norse explorers came to this not-Iceland and built settlements when the ice was sparse. and then, perhaps, when the ice returned and there were no grasses and the animals starved these same Norse starved, too. or left. perhaps Inuit shamans beat their drums below these mountains while their tribesmen hunted seals in the distant waters. ghost ships of lost English and Irish explorers may have passed these shores, ships then empty of humans and preparing now to sink to the bottom of the frozen, nameless sea. but no, none of that happened. this not-Iceland does not exist. it is not even some distant future. it is the nameless annihilation of human energies and human interests and human touch. it is a kind of science fiction of place, one where gods might dwell who no longer have any names or who perhaps were never named. it is a place of abandonment. a space of not-human that is not possible. hence, the musical accompaniment. the sound of the keys, those slightly dissonant notes that Fauré placed in these delicate pieces, reach deep into the high valleys and crags, reverberating in the hills and over the slopes. the sense of elegy that results from listening to this music is undeniably human. if this place were real the only music would be the wind, which is not really music. or the sound of a rock clacking down a hillside. there would be no Fauré. no piano. on the air there carries a slight scent of smoke. somewhere beyond the mountains a volcano still steams and chokes with lava and fire and ash, the caldera broken and crumbling in places. some snow, though, remains below the rim. it is a landscape that from a certain perspective seems one of waste, of difficulty, of forlornness. one that beckons beginnings, or endings. in its gray sky there could be birds of some kind. a gull, for the sea is not too distant. a
cormarant. or maybe ravens - this not-land seems to call out for Norse references. the ravens course the sky, watching the ground for anything to scavenge. ravens are exceedingly smart creatures, so it is no wonder they were associated with the AllFather. these birds, whether raven or gull, strike against the lead colored sky in an image of life that still sustains the desolation of the landscape. they are of a piece. the question now is whether we would place - whether there is - a bit of humanness here at all. are there iron tools lost in the grasses? broken shards of pottery mixed with the loose gravel in a streambed? a necklace of shells? is there a burial mound? of course, we have already introduced the human with the FaurĂŠ piece, and in such grand fashion: we linger over the landscape that my imagination adorns with Norse and Inuit references and the form of that lingering is guided by a nineteenth century French composerâ€™s drifting nocturnes. but even without any archaeological findings and even without the music, we would find the human here. we always find ourselves. for me this landscape is foreign and exotic and possesses the appeal of the strange. somehow there has always seemed to be something apocalyptic in these environments, as if everything had ended already. or, perhaps, rather than apocalyptic, which implies some kind of vision or story, there is a sense of extinction, of living after extinction. here again we have all seen the films. but I wonder what this fascination with the end means, what it can tell us about who we are, for we have always been enamored with extinction.
lake the summer evenings draw on a light that seems perpetual. if there is a breeze, the water glistens. if not, the waves are smooth and undulating and green. the depths so very deep. past the shore the orchards sift this ongoing light through the branches of cherry and apricot and apple trees, and the shadows lengthen first in the berry thickets. the water is crossed again and again by boats, some with families and others loaded with people drinking and laughing. there are jet skis and water skiers and large inflatable floaties tugged along behind loud motorboats. on the shores the houses grow by factors, it seems, and they creep to the edge of the water. cruising the shoreline one will still sometimes see an osprey, perhaps a heron, and in the orchards maybe a small black bear just after the sun comes up. but on those late summer evenings the occupants often leave their weekend houses dressed fashionably and with drinks and shamble slowly closer to the water. one passes the shoreline in a boat and few wave or greet one in any way. a new privacy has sprung transplanted here on the shores of a mountain lake: where there are many, maintain indifference. the twilit banks and beaches slip under the shadows of the trees and the mountains to the west and over these dank shadows they come, darker figures yet that pull each other toward the water, sometimes laughing, usually only pulling, as if they could drag everything into the almost still water and then under the surface. one of their children gapes with open mouth wearing a brand new designer swimsuit and crying for his turn on one of the plastic expensive toys. he glares at the boat as it passes. where once a brown shelled insect might have scurried from his open idiot mouth now, instead, nothing. because there is nothing. behind him his father glowers. all along the shore they approach not furtive like wounded animals or something come to drink from the cool shared waters but as the things that belong. that have a right. the moon here is so full and rests like a great divine disc on the tip of the peak at the far end of the valley. beneath it these others refuse to scuttle away.
Tomorrow, Not Tonight Liza Bencheikh
Tonight, sleep is an impossible feat. It’s 3:29 in the morning, and I’m taking the punches, one by one, alone in my bed. Every once in a while I resurface, only for some invisible hand to drag me back down for another beating. I can see in the moonlight that slips through the curtains that my skin is stained black and blue. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up at 9:30 and go to PHIL205. I’ll sit at a desk and scribble down notes which I’ll never revisit. I’ll pray that the professor doesn’t call on me to answer a question about the assigned reading. I’ll use every ounce of strength to stay awake as he goes off on his 4th tangent of the hour. Most importantly, I’ll look down at my arms, and they won’t be bruised anymore. But that’s tomorrow, not tonight. There’s a girl far away who doesn’t yet know what he’s done. She doesn’t know that he’s kissed me at midnight in the middle of a snowstorm. She doesn’t know that I’ve seen the golden sunrise embrace the curves of his sleeping cheeks and nose in the early hours of the morning. She doesn’t know of all the gentle words we’ve exchanged or all the deep promises we’ve made. She doesn’t know how badly the punches are going to hurt when she learns about me. But this isn’t about her, and this isn’t about him. This isn’t about the bruises nor is it about the sweetness that preceded them or the sorrow that followed. It’s about the punches and never knowing when you’re going to have to take them. Tonight, I’m learning that sacred moments are only ever sacred in the moment. Tonight, I’m feeling the bruises. And tomorrow, I’ll tie up the last memories of those once sacred moments with a pretty ribbon and never touch them again. Tomorrow, my skin won’t be stained black and blue.
Yellow Roses Morgan Stephenson
Aurora’s Actually LR Berger At four, she’s found a word she can devote herself to. I’m four and a half, actually. A study in elocution, each syllable bestowed with space and time. Actually, that’s not a beetle it’s a stinkbug. I don’t like baths, I hate them, Actually. Her small-fry body conferred with stature and with each actually the face that goes with it. Think: priestess, Delphic oracle. What’s a bouquet? she asks, then makes one out of purple clover. They’re not purple, she corrects me, they’re pink, actually. None of us knows how she learned the word or perfected its deployment. Hers is a mind with a predilection for precision. For truth, actually.
So who can blame us for standing chilled in late August swooning at the swoop of barn swallows when out of nowhere she informs us, They will not be coming back next year, actually.
Tomislav Å ilipetar
Tea-dancing on Uneven Boards L. Haiman There is nothing but table between us – An arm’s length square of wood is keeping our now-full bellies apart, ready to convey equal distance and closeness once the waiter removes the remains of our shared meal. He’s taking his time, or accounting for lack thereof, making room for a scenario in which I single-handedly clear the table in a visually dramatic sweep of one hand, so I too can lay down my food. An edible parable whereby I place plates of thoughts in front of you hoping you’re hungry, or just peckish, curious enough to have a taste and go: mmm, this is good, I’ll have this one. I’d then watch you eat, looking for signs that you’re finding my intention tasty. I’ve always thought good cooking is either the mark of a rigorous recipe-abiding discipline, part maths part physics, or simply the seed of incidental chaos. I figure the same can be applied to cooking words, the sweet spot most likely a bit of both with impulse (or instinct?) used for good measure. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ll begin. Or maybe change that to, can I tell you something? The former more formal, heavier, even, carries more weight – an apparently indispensable ingredient like say, full fat cream, which can be easily replaced with low fat and lacking that, with whatever’s available, even butter: So… Exhale…Inhale…Sip drink… I don’t say anything, but look up instead to be met by your expectant gaze, left brow moderately raised the way I’ve noticed it behave whenever something of interest seems to have caught your eye. I wonder if it’s me, and what I might be about to say and whether I should take it as invitation to be brave – encouragement from the side-lines in the form of go, go, you can do it! – and just say it. I clutch the glass with both hands, palms pressing against the still cold surface until there’s no way of telling whose sweat is whose. Got to be the glass’s. I wilfully steer myself towards an intricate nexus of potential reactions I might get from you from very enthusiastic to indifferent to outright shock to no response at all. Having to account for the
fact that word cooking is very rarely substantiated by what are you in the mood for and too often laden with you’ll have whatever I’m giving you should – in theory – render the cook considerate to the appetite of the eater. At least be aware of allergies, preferably cravings too, and hope for a stroke of luck and some good timing where the latter are concerned. What are the chances? Here we are, both satiated having just shared a bite, with plenty of room left for exchange of suggestive smiles and then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like ‘I love you’ – and that’s not even what I want to say. Although I do, do… I straighten my back as if pulled up by a slipstream forged in the wake of an afterthought, my disquieted breath restored by the unexpected realisation that you might have been doing some cooking of your own. Immobilised by relief, I find myself suspended between the yearning to gorge on whatever you might serve and the urge to present you with my offer, oscillating from one option to the other like a dog being called by two masters. I lay down my glass. Anything you want to say? A smile lays on your face. There’s nothing – By this point the waiter has taken note of your raised hand and has brought over the check which you pick up and squint at, inspecting it for what feels like a small eternity. You’re obviously not reading through – no more than three items have been ordered – but reading into, past abbreviations and numbers, picking up and arranging your lines of thinking with an invisible steady hand, readying them for delivery. I imagine you looking up at an oversized flap display, observing your changeable thoughts growing in and out of one another, and I wonder if yours are just as loud as mine or better yet whether there’s a chance they could be related. You let the check fall back onto the table and ask me wordlessly if I’m ready to go. We walk out of the diner into the night, neither seemingly willing to venture into uttering territory until out of the now-pretty-darndark-blue we both do: There is –
Contributors Liza Bencheikh
Liza is a 19 year old university student in Rochester, New York currently studying French and Economics. Her passion for the literary arts started in early childhood, and by age 17, she finished her first book manuscript. Liza has hopes of becoming a novelist.
L.R.Berger’s collection of poems, ‘TheUnexpectedAviary,’ received the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry. She’s been the grateful recipient of fellowships and support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN New England Discovery Award, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and The American Academy in Rome. With Kamal Boullatta, she assisted in the translation from the Arabic of “Beginnings” by Adonis (Pyramid Atlantic Press). She lives and writes in NH within earshot of the Contoocook River.
Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cimarron, The Normal School, River Styx, Sliver of Stone, and Southeast Review, among others. She is the author of a chapbook, Tales on Tales: Sestinas (2010) and the full-length collection, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women (2012) and the founder and co-editor of Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. Her next full-length collection, Evelyn As, will be published by Fomite Press in 2019.
Clark Chatlain has published poems and prose in several journals, most recently the anthology ‘Poets Across the Big Sky II’ and the journals ‘Route 7 Review,’ ‘Ink & Voices,’ and ‘Dream Pop Press.’ He currently lives and works in Missoula, Montana. He blogs at microproseblog.wordpress.com.
L. Haiman is a Bucharest-born-Edinburgh-educated-London-living writer whose work has appeared on line in Ilanot Review, Pilcrow & Dagger, Minetta Review, decomP, The Missing Slate, and in print in the short story collections Garlic and Sapphires, Two In the Bush, and literary magazines Anything, Anymore, Anywhere. L. Haiman is also an ongoing collaborator of illustrator Via Fang http:// viafang.com
Tom McFadden’s writing has appeared in such venues as POETRY IRELAND REVIEW, POETRY SALZBURG REVIEW, LONDON GRIP, GALWAY REVIEW, VOICES ISRAEL, JAMA, SEATTLE REVIEW, HAWAII PACIFIC REVIEW, SOUTH CAROLINA REVIEW, PENNSYLVANIA LITERARY JOURNAL, PORTLAND REVIEW and CALIFORNIA QUARTERLY. Tom met his wife when both were journalism students at Penn State. They now live in Austin, Texas, where they have raised three daughters.
Has taught ESL and done stints as a freelance journalist and speechwriter. Approximately seventy of his poems and stories have appeared in American and Canadian literary journals
David Sapp is a writer, artist and professor living along the southern shore of Lake Erie in North America. He is a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award grant recipient for poetry. His poems have appeared widely in a number of venues across the United States, in Canada and the United Kingdom. His publications also include articles in the Journal of Creative Behavior; chapbooks Close to Home and Two Buddha; and his novel, Flying Over Erie.
Tomislav Šilipetar was born in Zagreb. In 2014 he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in the class of Igor Rončević-Painting Department. In 2015 he becomes a member of HDLU. In addition to many group exhibitions, he was also quite independent. He is the winner of the rector’s award for excellence in 2013. The paintings arevmade mostly in acrilic, and the themes vary from solitude and isolation to the very existence of human existence in the society that condemns. It favors the simple colors, and the line that goes perfectly with the total preoccupation of getting out of the ‘ubiquity’ of the thickening life of academia. In 2016 he gained the status of an independent artist.
Fierce Sonia is a mixed media artist. She builds a substrate with acrylic paint and collage. A narrative is constructed by the tension between the lush layers moving to dreamy feminine mindscapes with a brighter palette. If you listen closely her work has a soundtrack, a rhythm, a pulse that will give you a magic carpet ride
to a fairytale that restates your own heartbeat. She has a public studio at Torpedo Factory: 105 North Union Street, studio 5 Alexandria, VA 22303 Follow on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/fiercesonia Or @fiercesonia on instagram Fiercesonia.squarespace.com
Matthew J. Spireng
My book What Focus Is was published in 2011 by WordTech Communications. My book Out of Body won the 2004 Bluestem Poetry Award and was published in 2006 by Bluestem Press at Emporia State University. My chapbooks are: Clear Cut; Young Farmer; Encounters; Inspiration Point, winner of the 2000 Bright Hill Press Poetry Chapbook Competition; and Just This. Since 1990, my poems have appeared in publications across the United States in addition to The William & Mary Review including North American Review, Tar River Poetry, Rattle, Louisiana Literature, English Journal, Southern Poetry Review and Poet Lore. I am an eight-time Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of The MacGuffinâ€™s 23rd Annual Poet Hunt Contest in 2018 and the 2015 Common Ground Review poetry contest.
Rebecca Spodick received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing and a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Spodick now resides in Denver, Colorado. She works with oil paints and various printing techniques such as large format printing and transfers.
In recent years I have published over ninety poems in some fifty periodicals, including Pleiades, New Letters, Poetry East and the Gettysburg, Indiana, Carolina and Missouri Reviews along with the Hampden-Sydney and Spoon River Poetry Reviews. I have a long poem in the current Journal of American Review and another forthcoming in its next issue. I have published seven novels, including The Death of the Detective, a NBA finalist. I am a professor of English emeritus at the University of New Hampshire.
Jill M. Talbotâ€™s writing has appeared in Geist, Rattle, subTerrain, PRISM, The Stinging Fly, and others. Jill won the PRISM Grouse Grind Lit Prize. She was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award and the Malahat Far Horizons Award.
Jill lives in Vancouver, BC.
Natsumi Tanaka is a writer living in Kyoto, Japan. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous journals such as Anima Solaris, Kotori no kyuden, Outline, and Tanpen. She is the author of the short story collection Yumemiru ningyo no okoku (2017).
I am a senior editor at the online film journal Bright Wall/Dark Room, and a graduate of the MFA program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. My writing has been featured in New Limestone Review, Furious Gazelle, New Plains Review (forthcoming), and the Stage-It! 10-minute play anthology. Iâ€™m also the writer/director of the indie feature film West of Her and the recipient of the Boston Project fellowship at SpeakEasy stage company.
The William & Mary Review