The William and Mary Review. Vol. 58

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The William & Mary Review Vol. 58 / 2020



The William and Mary Review Volume 58 2020


Staff Editor-in-Chief

Kathy Jiang

Poetry Editor

Cana Clark

Prose Editor Art Editor

Kira Ciccarelli Daniel Tyler

Prose Staff Alex Johnson Maggie Aschmeyer Sarah Larimer Poetry Staff Sophie Rizzieri Alex Yu Astrid Weisend Ellie Wilkie

The William & Mary Review (ISSN: 0043-5700) is published by the College of William and Mary in Virginia (est. 1963) once each academic year. A single, post-paid physical issue is $5.50. A surcharge of $1.50 applies for subscriptions mailed outside of the United States of America. COPYRIGHT 2020



Editor’s Note What an unprecedented year it has been for all of us, here at the Review and beyond. I want to thank our staff, who wrapped up the last stages of production in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, for their remarkable adaptability and commitment to our magazine. We became quite well-acquainted with Zoom calls and intense revision sessions via Google Docs, I must say. In this vein of centering the digital, I am proud to present our inaugural online issue. Vol. 58 can be found––along with newly uploaded past issues––on our website, It will soon be available in a physical form as well, whereupon I hope one can chance upon it happily tucked away around campus, or in the alcove of somebody’s library somewhere.

The voices in this year’s issue make up a resonant body of work tied down to no one theme, style, or perspective. To our lovely contributors from all over the world: our gratitude is owed to you for sharing your art with us. More evident than ever in the throes of 2020 is the artist’s voice as power, its dual ability to pay tribute and stir change. Our publication is approaching its 60th year at an institution established in 1693 colonial Williamsburg-- a complex and fraught legacy we must continually grapple with. The Review is committed to this task, and we hope the voices we amplify via our publication continue to address timely issues and ideas in a timeless fashion.

Reader, I hope you come away from your encounter with Vol. 58 of The William & Mary Review with more than you arrived bearing. Just as I am right now, exiting as Editor-in-Chief of a remarkable issue, having entered long ago as a nervous, wide-eyed underclassman completely wowed by such things as the Submittable website. Enjoy. Kathy Jiang Editor-in-Chief 5

Table of Contents {POETRY} Step Forward 13

Richard Dinges, Jr.

Sarah Iler

Robert Manaster

Sheree La Puma

David Sapp

Patricia McCabe

Gloria Keevley

Ella Q. Peavler

Sheree La Puma

Silence 15 Early Morning 27 The Year Without Meaning


Those Words 57 Down the James at Dawn


Undercurrent 66 On Dignity 69 the sacred & unfamiliar 88


Two city memories 112

Jay Wickersham

Robert Manaster

Horacio Sierra

Sheree La Puma

Horacio Sierra

Sean Madden

Dance Myth 115 I dreamt about our criadas last night 117 A Clear & Present Danger 119 Old South, New South 120 Well-Schooled Heart 150

{PROSE} Bumblebee 17

O.G. Rose

M.J. Sions

Thomas Genevieve

Jinwoo Chong

O.G. Rose

Caught and Rattled 19 A Charity Dinner 28 La Voyage dans la Lune 41 A Life’s Work 51


The People of People

Aimee Wright Clow

Shanna Merceron

Alaina Bainbridge

Shawn Rubenfeld

Sara Brown

RJF Fieschi

Brett Biebel

John Power


Like the Gun 71 My Body, and Other Remains


In the Dust of Their Feet 91 Fit 110 The Girl that Lived Between the Trees


The Messenger 123 Book Quest 128

{ART} Mermaid Harvest, cropped cover

Szilรกrd Szilรกgyi

Steven Ostrowski

Anne-Marie Brown

The Blue Window 14 Hydrangea Drift 16


Land and Patchwork #3

Rachel Deutmeyer

K. Johnson Bowles

Szilárd Szilágyi

Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah

Tatiana Garmendia

Steven Ostrowski

Cass Brown

Szilárd Szilágyi

Szilárd Szilágyi

Ann-Marie Brown

Steven Ostrowski

Cass Brown


The Myth of Martyrdom 40 The End of Freedom 50 Untitled 53 Home Sweet Home 54 Bicycle in Moonlight 56 Hummingbird 59 Sadness 65 Mermaid Harvest 67 On the Edge 68 Seascape Near the End of Time 85 Blooming 90


Untitled 109 Joey Aronhalt

Bonding in Dreams 111

Robert Stone

Rebecca Pyle

Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah

Jeff Hersch

Jeff Hersch

Zahava Lupu

Szilรกrd Szilรกgyi

Old Railroad Depot, Santa Fe 118 Untitled 122 Focus Pocus 126 A Warning to the Mind 127 Untitled 149 Inertia 151




Step Forward Richard Dinges, Jr. A giant on my own shore, a bowl filled with water, I stretch backward in shadow, forward in rippled reflection, downward to a murky depth unexplored, smothered by sky toward eternity. One small step I wade into memory, and learn to swim, to breathe and see under water.


The Blue Window Steven Ostrowski


Silence Sarah Iler His face sharpened and cheeks shallowed. I held his hand and read verses aloud in no particular order.

He spoke after a chasm of silence. “Don’t leave yet,” he said as I got up to leave.

So I stayed. And wondered what it’s like when everything you have been or seen or loved, crumbles beneath the indifferent hand of time. Will there be anything left to feel? Or a holy presence there to meet us? Will we remain forever entangled? Or go out like a light?


Hydrangea Drift Ann-Marie Brown


Bumblebee O.G. Rose Can I join you? I love a porch at night, listening to frogs. Thanks for the water waiting for me. Do you like my dress? My husband will think the yellow matches my honey hair and black eye. I got married this morning. To Mr. Bumblebee: cerulean eyes, lover of navy suits. Sometimes he’s so annoying, always heading to work. He buzzes like this—buzz—and I call him out on his bull, and we laugh. He’s so wonderful. Forty’s not too late for wonder. I went to see my favorite blue house in town today: two stories, surrounded by a black fence, the best Charleston offers. There was a pineapple in the pediment over the door, so I found a key under the doormat and went on in. There was a piano in the living room instead of a television. My husband and I could live on the top floor. There was a guitar in a room with a Superman comforter on the bed, and after I took off two strings, I found I could pluck it like my ukulele. Most people get tricked and stuck in houses—porches rot—but a pineapple was engraved over the handle of the door on the way out, welcoming me to leave. I made my bouquet out of the borage growing up the metal fence around the front yard. The wedding was simple and sweet; in my head, I played the melody I plucked. It was in the garden of lavender I frequented across from the blue house. Like anything that matters, the ceremony didn’t take long. After I divorced my ex-husband, I promised myself that if I ever had that special feeling again with someone, and he asked me to marry him, I would do it without asking any questions. When I saw Bumblebee, that feeling started in my mouth and fell down my throat like something I had to swallow. I have two daughters: one of them is a sarcastic brat while the other is sweet. At forty, I realized they got all their annoying traits from me. Funny how life works. You know I’m married before my own flesh and blood. I wanted it to be a surprise. Bumblebee is so wonderful. I used to hate my ex-husband, but one day it felt like all the walls fell, and this overwhelming forgiveness flowed in. I figured that life was too wonderful to cry and not laugh too. That’s what I did this morning at the wedding. The funny thing was that Bumblebee didn’t show up. Physically, at least. I whispered the vows, holding my bouquet in the garden. He was stuck in the blue house holding his wife, watching. After that, I walked to you. It’s been a beautiful day. How things are supposed to be. Thanks for the water. I love good nights.


Land and Patchwork #3 Rachel Deutmeyer


Caught and Rattled M.J. Sions The mice were having their run of the place. Annie had just seen one’s slithery tail disappear into the stove, and earlier she had heard one clawing at the radiator. Thus far, the only palpable effect of the exterminator’s glue traps was the acrid smell accumulating in the downstairs bathroom. On top of that, her son and daughter-in-law were late. She straightened the scattered utility bills lying beside the landline receiver. She hoped that the mice would stay out of sight once they got here. Ryan had made fun of her several times for holding onto the landline, but she liked having one in situations like this. Cell phones could be left upstairs, downstairs, lose battery, be silenced by accident. She could hear her landline from anywhere in the house. Two minutes late now. Practically nothing. She drifted into the living room. The landline rang. She turned on a dime and hurried into the kitchen. Not running, but not walking either. She checked the caller ID. Not a number the phone recognized. It could be Eleanor’s number. “Hello?” She waited. HELLO. THIS IS AN APPOINTMENT REMINDER MEETING FOR…Anne Walker…AT…One PM ON Tuesday, December 14th AT ST. MARY’S HOSPITAL SLEEP DISORDER CENTER. TO CONFIRM THIS APPOINTMENT, PLEASE STAY ON THE LINE. She hung up. She would call tomorrow and leave a message to confirm the appointment. That would be better than staying on the line. Her to-do list for tomorrow was light. She had nothing to do after mass in the morning. 19

Her thoughts were racing but they would settle down soon. She would play with Louie. Ryan had told her that Louie was just learning to smile. She could not wait for him to smile at her. She had lots of colorful shapes to show him. Five minutes now. She paced to the window. It was snowing outside. There was her explanation. The storm could be coming from further south where Ryan lived. Snow always created delays. It got on everything. It made every stage of travel harder. Snow made it harder to walk down the porch steps. It made it harder to drive on city streets. Ryan and Eleanor lived downtown where the streets were narrow and confusingly arranged. With a newborn, the snow must have slowed them down even more. The snow was probably driving the mice into the house as well. She watched the snow and waited. It was Saturday afternoon, and already the sun was setting. She hoped the darkness would not make her too drowsy. She opened the downstairs bathroom door and inspected the floor. Immediately, the smell of mouse bait struck her. She was glad Louie could not crawl yet. Those traps were the heavy-duty type you had to be careful with. They had all kinds of warnings on them, printed in big block letters underneath the yellow translucent glue. The phone rang again. She left the bathroom open to air out and hurried, her momentum carrying her past the receiver as she answered the call. “Hey mom,” Ryan said. He sounded tired. “Listen,” he continued. “Louie seems like he’s sick. He’s really clinging to Eleanor and his forehead feels hot. I don’t think we’re going to make it over there today.” She paused to take in the news. “Mom?” “I’m here.” “Have you been sleeping any better?” “No,” she told him. Each of them waited. “We’ll try to come over next weekend,” Ryan said. He hung up. Annie understood. Taking a newborn out 20

in the snow was always risky. Taking a sick newborn out in the snow was irresponsible. She was glad he was responsible. She considered what to do next. Ryan had sounded unnerved. He had never been confronted with a sick newborn before. He probably felt just awful for Louie. She could help him and Eleanor. They would never ask her to come over for fear of imposing. Her car could handle the snow. She had deep treads and four-wheel drive. Earl had always said the SUV made him feel safe. They would always be able to get around if something happened. Now she had the SUV and Earl was stuck with the Sedan, enduring his first winter alone, snow piling up outside his apartment. Annie put on her wool scarf and leather gloves and selected a toy to bring with her. She held the handrail very tightly with her free hand as she maneuvered down the stairs. The handrail was wet and slippery to go with the bricks. She took the steps slowly. The extra time to take the steps slowly was nothing compared to the time she would lose if she fell. She felt wholly present as she navigated the narrowing roads. Just oppressively alert. Her head hummed alongside the engine, spinning with perception. On the way up Ryan’s stairs she held the handrail tightly again, taking each step as though she were walking in the dark, multi-colored rings clutched inside her coat. The expression on Ryan’s face was almost funereal. “We weren’t expecting you to come help,” he said. “I thought a little support would be helpful,” Annie said. She kicked her snow boot against the doormat, causing the flakes to fall off the sides. Ryan moved aside to let her in. Warm air enveloped her as she removed her wet scarf, and she could hear Louie crying in the next room. “Eleanor’s parents came too,” Ryan told her. “They’re all in the living room.” Annie was already walking in that direction. She nearly paused in response to Ryan’s warning. Her steps slowed but she did not stop, betrayed nothing. “Grandparents all think alike,” she said.


Annie was already walking in that direction. She nearly paused in response to Ryan’s warning. Her steps slowed but she did not stop, betrayed nothing. “Grandparents all think alike,” she said. Carol and Greg were sitting cross-legged on the floor next to Louie, who was having his diaper changed. “Hi Mrs. Walker,” Eleanor said, her hand groping for a baby wipe beside her. Seeing an opportunity, Annie knelt down and handed the package of baby wipes to Eleanor. Greg smiled at her with polite restraint. “It’s all hands on deck here,” he said. She had only met him twice before and had not seen him since the wedding. “We think he’s okay,” Ryan said, entering the room in Annie’s wake. “We called the pediatrician’s office. A nurse told us he doesn’t sound bad enough to risk taking him out in the snow.” “These things are just part of being a new parent,” Annie said, talking to Greg and Eleanor. “The first time Ryan got sick, Earl and I took him to the ER. It was the middle of the night and he wouldn’t nurse, even though Ryan never had trouble nursing until then.” She thought she felt the environment become tense and unsure. Had it been because she mentioned nursing? “I was an easy baby to deal with,” Ryan said. “An angel from the stork.” Eleanor snorted. The sound scared Louie, who began to cry. Eleanor finished his diaper hastily, swooped him up, and leaned his head against her slender, bony shoulder. He buried his nose in her skin and continued making erratic, muffled sobs as she rubbed his back. “Mama’s got you,” Carol said. “See? Everything’s okay when you’re with mama.” Eleanor stood up gingerly, looking at Ryan. “I’m going to try to feed him again.” She lowered herself into the blue rocking chair that Carol and Greg had given her as a baby shower gift. They had coordinated with Annie and Earl by email ahead of time, the three parties deconflicting gifts. Ryan tapped Annie’s shoulder. “Do you want any water, 22

mom?” Annie looked around. Eleanor had taken her seat on the rocking chair and was settling into place slowly. She glanced at Annie before moving her hand to her shoulder strap, her fingers lingering there. “I’ll come with you,” Annie said. She followed Ryan into the kitchen. Ryan opened a cabinet and retrieved a glass. “I’m sorry it’s a mess in here,” he said. He turned the faucet on and looked at Annie. “We really weren’t expecting company.” Annie nodded. “I brought this for Louie,” she said, removing the toy from its home inside her coat. The rings had become warm from sitting against her side. A laugh came from inside the living room. Eleanor was laughing at something. She must have had an easy time getting Louie to latch, Annie thought. Ryan weighed the object in his hand. “Listen, we were supposed to visit dad tomorrow, but I’m going to tell him we can’t make it there either. I just don’t want to take chances.” “You don’t have to,” Annie said, looking into her glass. She could see the bottom of Ryan’s kitchen floor through the water. It had likely been replaced in the ’70s. She recognized the pattern from her parents’ old home. “I’m worried about your sleep,” Ryan said. “It’s been a few months now.” Annie raised her head again, her gaze returning from exile. “Things will get better,” she said. “I’m seeing the doctor on Tuesday.” Ryan nodded and looked worriedly out at the snow. “I don’t think we’re going to make it to mass tomorrow either.” The sound of a rubber sole squeaking against the living room hardwood announced Greg’s arrival. “Eleanor needs water, too,” he told Ryan, who moved sideways, clearing the path to the glasses. Annie and her son watched him in silence, hurrying him along. When he had cleared earshot, Ryan said, “Did grandma help you guys out with this kind of stuff when I was little?” The way he said “grandma” betrayed his preoccupation. Annie 23

had no way of making him believe the sudden influx of money was not the cause of all this wreckage. Annie’s name had been the only one on the will. She had no way of convincing Ryan that his father’s anger at seeing his own name excluded was a deflection. A technicality. “I’m sure she would have left more of it to you and Eleanor if she had known about Louie,” Annie said. Eleanor laughed again. This time, Annie turned to locate the source, peering around the kitchen wall into the living room. She had been correct about Louie, who was sucking happily from the cradle of Eleanor’s elbow. Carol and Greg had moved to the couch and Eleanor was leaning forward, smiling as she spoke. Annie swallowed to stop herself from crying. “I’m not concerned with who got what,” Ryan said. “I just want to know why no one knew.” “She was very private with her finances,” Annie said, beginning to button her coat. Something was missing. “Even with me,” she added. Ryan appeared to accept her response. “I think you have it under control here,” Annie said. “I should get back on the road before the sun sets.” She took several steps toward the door. “I like your coat, Mrs. Walker,” Eleanor said. “Thank you,” Annie told her, knotting her scarf. “I got it last weekend.” “Very stylish,” Carol said. “Goodbye everyone,” Annie said. “I hope Louie feels better.” “Us too,” Ryan told her. The snow was accumulating on the pavement now, and Annie was newly grateful for the SUV. The treads were so surefooted that she hardly noticed the slipperiness of the roads. Driving home as she had many times before, she let her mind wander. Money, she thought, what a fast-acting supplement. As the water made its way through her system, she became uncomfortable in the driver’s seat. Money, she thought, what a guaranteed effective ointment. What an unstoppable antioxidant. 24

She tried to think as little as she could as she entered the threshold of her house. Sunlight had dwindled to the point where the house was dark without added help. She scurried through the living room lightly, touching nothing. The bathroom door was still open, and she closed it in the same motion with which she turned on the light. A thrashing sound alerted her to the fact that she was not alone. She directed her eyes to the floor, where they met the eyes of a small garter snake, caught in the glue trap. Her throat lurched. Leaving the lights on, she shut the door and moved away, picking up her landline. She breathed frantically into the receiver, the sound of her breaths so loud they drowned out the rings on the other end. She counted her heartbeats to calm herself down. YOU HAVE REACHED THE VOICE MAILBOX OF…Earl Walker…TO LEAVE A MESSAGE, PLEASE WAIT FOR THE TONE. She slammed the receiver back on its hook and went to the window. The snow was supposed to continue into the morning. She had a vision of herself drinking coffee on the couch that faced the window, grateful that she had everything she needed in the house. It would not be possible. Not after this. She looked at the clock. There was enough time to make it to Saturday night mass if she left right now. Her coat, scarf, and gloves were still on. In the morning she would research real estate agents. On Monday she would get a start on selling the house. Nothing obligated her to stay here with a snake. Her tires embarked once again, but the roads surrounding her house had become different. They contorted and wriggled, quivered, and twisted. Headlights encroached upon her focus. As she walked across the watery parking lot, it occurred to her that she had left the rings on Ryan’s counter. She hoped that he would claim them as his own and show them to Louie. The lampposts began to recreate themselves in slush puddles, and the usher welcomed her to mass as he always did. Every child should have a toy like that one, Annie thought. The sun directed its remaining influence onto the left 25

side of the church, creating an austere glow among the stained glass windows. Annie dutifully genuflected to the tabernacle and lowered herself into her preferred pew, the one where the kneeler’s pad had been replaced last spring and retained most of its sponginess. Annie leaned back, waiting for the organ music to blast away her heaviness. As mass time approached, the worshipers approached in greater numbers. On a normal Sunday morning the pews became more reverent as they acquired men in ties, women in dresses, children in khakis, but tonight there was snow. The church became inhabited by messy wet hair, brightly-colored snow boots, the plasticky ruffling of waxed down coats. Annie watched the worship programs become damp, listened to the chorus of whining zippers. Two families arrived on either side, closing her in. One had two children, about two and four, and the other had three boys, the oldest of whom paused to intentionally squeak his shoes while his father sat down. Annie shuffled in her seat, placed her feet atop the kneeler. Not here, she thought, of all places. The air in her nose became warm and arresting, like a memory of a hug. She put her elbows on the pew in front of hers and rested her eyes in her palms, becoming dizzy. The organ music started playing and she briefly stirred, then leaned back and settled. The weight of her eyelids grew swiftly without inhibition. She worried about looking old. Not here, she thought, but the motions had already begun.


Early Morning Robert Manaster His bedroom shade the sleepless man barely pulls back, and it’s not raining: above, swoosh-streams this pitch dark of starlings. They push-pull, stall. He can’t rest from his best friend’s sudden death. And they pass by like an odd dream about to end over and over then gone. Unknown and that’s it. At cloudless blue he stares out. Beeps by the desk — his watch. What hour is it? he thinks, lets go of the shade.


A Charity Dinner Thomas Genevieve Anna didn’t know why she agreed to drop off the donations. Perhaps she knew if she said no to Marybeth, the school’s gossip-prone secretary who organized the collection, it would be more fodder for a rumor mill she sensed her life had already become a part of. Or perhaps she felt guilty she didn’t immediately read the email about the fire at the Dobson house and uncharacteristically rolled her eyes and sighed when Jeremy Dobson admitted he had not done his homework yet again. But most of all, Anna probably agreed to drop off the donations because she wasn’t in a rush to get home. Her phone’s directions led her one town over where she found herself turning onto a poorly paved cul-de-sac. At the end, a pale grey house with broken black shudders matched the address she was given. On the front lawn overgrown weeds held onto a rusted lawn mower and a bike with a missing wheel—a display rather uncommon to the town Anna taught in, but one she was once familiar with. Anna wasn’t told whose house this was; she was only told this was where the Dobsons were staying for the foreseeable future. She pulled the heaviest box from her back seat and went up the steps to a porch littered with beer cans and chewed sunflower seeds. Leaning the box against the paint-chipped siding, she knocked on the front door because she couldn’t find a doorbell. She waited for nearly a minute, before a young girl opened the door. “Hi,” Anna said and paused. She wasn’t sure whom to ask for. “Is your mother or father home?” The young girl, presumably in middle school, nervously retreated and left the door slightly ajar, just enough space for Anna to hear whispering on the other side. When the door swung back open, a teenager in a hooded sweatshirt appeared. Enunciating every word, he asked, “Who are you looking for?” “I’m from the high school. I’m Jeremy’s teacher.” “Oh, shit.” The door closed again but couldn’t contain 28

a childish excitement behind it. “Dude, you’re in fucking trouble. They’re here for you. Seriously, dude. They are here for you!” Anna waited again, and for the third time someone appeared at the door. This time it was Jeremy. “Hi, Ms. Fuller.” The pudgy-faced Jeremy seemed indifferent to the fact that one of his teachers stood at the door with a large box in hand. Even though it was April, Anna couldn’t recall a single conversation she had with him all year. It could’ve been because she disliked Jeremy’s class—a bad combination of incorrigible, spoiled alpha teens and reticent kids who displayed no trace of personality. Anna always tried to see herself, or part of her former self, in her students. However, no one in Jeremy’s class fit the criteria. For the first time in nine years of teaching, any overtures she made to bond with students were met with disinterest. “Hi, Jeremy. How are you holding up?” With his usual lethargy, he shrugged. “Okay.” “The people at school put together some things for you and your family.” “Cool,” he said with his invariable, flat comportment. “This box is heavy,” Anna said. “Can I come in?” The living room was small and cluttered. Opaque curtains prevented late afternoon light from entering. The young man she met at the door now lay across the couch holding a remote control, watching the channels change in rapid succession. He was a few years older and taller than the pear-shaped Jeremy. At the kitchen table in the adjacent room, a laptop illuminated the face of the young girl who answered the door. “I have two more boxes in the car if you guys want to grab them.” The older one pointed the remote control at his leg. “I can’t. High ankle sprain.” Anna looked over at Jeremy who eventually took the hint. As Jeremy headed for the door, Anna looked back at the couch. “I’m Ms. Fuller.” “Carson,” he said, giving a weak salute with the remote.


“Where can I put this?” “Anywhere,” Carson said. Limited with options, Anna decided to place the box on the most level pile of miscellany covering the table in what she assumed was a dining room. “What are you doing?” said a woman’s voice from the staircase behind Anna. “She’s Jeremy’s teacher,” Carson shouted. The woman descended arduously, one step at a time. “What did he do?” Carson answered for Anna. “He didn’t do anything. The school heard about the fire and took up a collection.” Anna motioned toward Jeremy who had returned with the second box. “I was asked to drop these off.” The woman tottered to the table and waved her hands, as if to swat away a great indignity. “We don’t take handouts,” she said. “Never have.” She peered in at the donations and pulled out a box of Cheerios. “If you ain’t gonna take it,” Carson said, “I will.” “Your house didn’t burn down,” the woman said. “But you’re staying at my house, and Jeremy’s been eating my Double Stuf Oreos.” “This is not your house. This is your father’s, and I’m his baby sister.” “Whatever. If there’s Double Stuf in there they’re mine.” The heavyset woman wore an oversized, faded t-shirt commemorating a Super Bowl played long ago. She examined the items in the box while Anna watched. Jeremy entered with the final box and set it atop a pile of dirty clothes on a chair. “Stop eating Carson’s goddamn Oreos,” the woman said. “I had like two.” Jeremy shrugged in a half-hearted defense and took out his phone as he sat on the floor. “Well, Carson said you did.” She held bottles of shampoo and conditioner side-by-side. “Cucumber melon.” She popped the cap and sniffed. “Nice.” Carson got up and went to the dining room. He plucked out a box of Nilla wafers and returned to the couch. “Your ankle seems fine now,” she said. 30

“It’s killing me. High ankle sprains are the worst.” The woman looked at Anna, “My nephew is clueless, you know. A nineteen-year old couldn’t handle two herniated discs.” “Well until I herniate my discs I need to deal with my high ankle sprain.” Carson stuck two wafers in his mouth and flipped through the channels again. “You ever have disc problems?” the woman asked Anna. “No,” Anna said. “It must be horrible.” “God’s been testing me a lot lately,” the woman said. Anna nodded sympathetically. “I can imagine it’s been tough.” The woman’s dark, glazed eyes met Anna’s for the first time. “You believe things happen for a reason?” Anna didn’t know what to say. “I’m not sure.” “Neither am I,” the woman said. “Karma’s real,” Carson said. “I’m not talking about karma. I’m talking about what’s supposed to happen. For a reason, I mean.” “And what am I talking, Chinese? I’m saying the same thing.” “I like these,” the woman said. She held up a pack of Venus disposable razors. “You can tell them I like these, okay?” Anna smiled. “It’s Anna by the way.” “Oh, how funny. I’m Annabelle,” she said. “You can call me Belle though.” She had now moved on to the second box. “I lived in that house when the town was just farmland. You know those big homes in the valley?” “Yes,” Anna said. “They weren’t there when I was a teenager. You know those fancy stores on Millington?” “Yeah.” “The post office was the only place there for years. The rest was open fields.” “Really?” “You know about the nice playing fields with the fake grass over on High Street?” “Are you going to name everything in town?” Carson said. “She gets the idea. You were here before God laid the dirt.”


“Carson,” Belle said slowly. “I’m not talking to you.” He stopped changing the channels. “I’m just saying.” “She’s a smart lady. She teaches,” Belle said. “What do you teach?” “I’m Jeremy’s world history teacher.” “See, she teaches history. She wants to know what things didn’t exist in the past. I’m just trying to tell her that the town was different, that’s all. If she doesn’t want to listen to me—” “Oh, I do. I really like local history. Especially from someone with a first-hand account.” “See, she likes first-hand accounts.” Belle turned her attention back to the second box. “Anyway, as I was saying, there’re lots of things that exist now in the town that weren’t there before.” Carson shook his head. “They’ll take up another collection, right?” Belle asked. “I don’t know,” Anna said. “No one mentioned it to me. I can ask.” “Oh, cards. That’s nice of them.” Belle felt the envelopes for their thickness. “That’s very nice of them.” A fat index finger broke the seal of an envelope, leaving a jagged tear. “Oh, and gift cards. Now this is very thoughtful.” Two little kids entered through the front door. No one acknowledged them, and they didn’t acknowledge anyone either. They walked through the living room and into the kitchen, passing the girl on the laptop, disappearing out a door that seemingly led to the backyard. Anna wasn’t sure if they were Jeremy’s cousins or siblings. She also wasn’t sure who the girl on the laptop was. There were several members of the family tree missing, but Anna knew better than to ask. “More of these would have been preferred.” Belle held up a handful of gift cards. “I know the people in town can afford it. Like this Target card is good. I like going there.” She tore open another envelope and removed a gift certificate. “See, fifty dollars for Pizza City is good too.” “Pizza Shitty is more like it,” Carson said. “Tell them they should get us one for Florentino’s. Now that’s pizza.” “We don’t need cans, you know.” She coughed out a 32

raspy laugh. “We didn’t end up in a shelter.” “Maybe you would’ve if Dad didn’t feel so bad for you guys.” Belle ignored Carson and continued. “The pasta and the fancy sauces—this expensive kind, you know—are nice, but I can’t stand over a stove all evening.” “Of course not,” Anna said. “Yeah, let’s have pasta for dinner,” Carson shouted. “Are you going to cook it?” Belle shook a box of pasta at him. “You’ve been acting like a cripple with your ankle thing.” “High ankle sprains are the worst,” Carson said. “Amber will make it. Who do you think cooks around here?” “It’s not your father, that’s for sure. But I’m not hungry yet.” Belle projected her voice into the kitchen. “Amber!” Amber closed her computer and walked into the living room. “The nice people at Jeremy’s school gave us some pasta and fancy sauce.” Belle showed her the jar with the label facing out. “In about an hour, start boiling water. Okay?” Amber nodded. “I think I want Pizza Shitty now,” Carson said. “No. We’re having pasta tonight.” “I like bread with my pasta,” Carson commented. “For the extra sauce, you know.” “Did they give us any bread?” Belle asked. “Maybe it fell out.” Anna didn’t recall seeing bread. “No. I don’t think so.” Belle shook her head. “That’s a shame.” “I only like bread with my pasta if the sauce is good,” Carson said. “This stuff is good. You see the fancy label?” Belle gestured with the jar. “How would I know if a label is fancy?” “It would be nice if we had bread though. Jeremy, catch.” Belle tossed a package of tube socks onto his lap. “I can get some,” Anna said. “Where’s the closest place?” “We couldn’t ask you to do that,” Belle said. “Get the bread with seeds,” Carson said. “I like it with


the seeds.” “Seeds or no seeds, bread is bread,” Belle said. “They probably have both kinds at the Stop and Shop over by the highway.” Anna glanced at Amber who was still waiting to be dismissed. “How about I take Amber with me? We’ll get bread and maybe salad. And when we get back, I’ll help her.” “I wouldn’t want you to go to all that trouble.” Belle stuck her hand into the last box. “It’d be very nice though.” “Grab some Double Stuf Oreos while you’re there,” Carson said. “She’s not getting you Oreos. If she gets dessert, she’ll get apple pie or crumb cake or something we can all enjoy. Not your damn Double Stuf.” Anna turned to Amber and recognized that the young girl might be confused about her recruitment. “Come on, Amber. A break from homework will be good.” #

Anna couldn’t remember the last time she had someone in her car and was somewhat self-conscious of the recently accumulated detritus of coffee cups, granola bar wrappers, and changes of clothes. Thinking she was modeling a life of irresponsibility, Anna felt a little embarrassed in front of the girl. Anna wanted to apologize; although the car’s mess was an extension of Anna’s current state, it really wasn’t her. If she knew what pop station preteens listened to, she would have put it on. Instead, Anna just lowered NPR. “What grade are you in?” “Sixth.” “Do you have a favorite class?” “I don’t know. Math.” “Okay. Why do you like it?” Amber thought about it. “Teacher’s nice, I guess.” “Who’s your teacher?” Anna’s head turned back and forth from the road to a yellow barrette clipped in Amber’s hair. In affluent towns such as the one Anna taught in, she 34

understood that kids teased the plain and diffident. She assumed Amber was reminded of her clothes and the house she lived in as well. “Ms. Gilbert.” Although she was certain she didn’t know anyone from Amber’s school, Anna said, “I heard she’s very good.” For the remainder of the car ride, Anna wondered what else she could ask. #

Standing at the checkout counter, Amber’s eyes followed a garlic bulb, croutons, a head of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, two apple pies, a gallon of ice cream, and additional boxes of pasta and jars of sauce—both chosen because their labels suggested fancy—into the hands of the cashier. “I feel guilty doubling up on the bags, you know?” Anna said placing the Double Stuf Oreos on top of the loaves of bread. “But it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Anna pointed at the candy display behind Amber. “Pick something. What’s your favorite?” By the time Amber chose a bag of Sour Patch Kids, all the groceries had been scanned. She presented it as if she needed Anna’s confirmation. “Go ahead, give it to the lady,” Anna said. Once the cashier rang up the Sour Patch Kids, Anna handed the package back to Amber, who buried it in her pocket. Back at the house, Carson and Jeremy had not moved since Anna and Amber left. “You two took forever,” Carson said. “I’m starving.” The grey plastic bags wrapped around Anna’s fingers pulled her arms to the floor. “Well, we decided to get more things than we anticipated. Come on, Amber. We need to put the water on.” Anna introduced herself to the kitchen with Amber’s help. “Are there more bowls and utensils?” “In the dishwasher,” Amber said. Anna opened the dishwasher and something scurried 35

across the bottom. “It doesn’t work,” Amber said. “Then why—” Anna stopped herself. She opened the dishwasher again and quickly snatched from the rack while looking at the bottom. Then to scorch or purify what she couldn’t see, Anna let the hot water run over everything before she began scrubbing with a discolored sponge. She wasn’t certain who would be eating this meal. She wasn’t certain if the father would be home soon or if there was even a mother. Anna wasn’t sure if Jeremy’s father was in the picture either. “By the way, how many people are we cooking for?” Amber deliberated, twisting her visage. “Seven.” Carson seemed insatiable, so Anna considered it eight. She was disappointed she didn’t think of meatballs at the grocery store. “You ever make meatballs?” Anna asked. Amber shook her head side to side while she stirred the pasta. A missed opportunity, Anna thought. She would make sure to get ground meat, eggs, and breadcrumbs next time. When Anna finished chopping the Romaine lettuce, she asked, “Where are we all going to fit, Am?” There were only three chairs tucked under a small table pressed against the wall, and the dining room was a bigger mess than before she had walked in with the donation boxes. “It’s done.” Amber held a colander, something Anna was surprised to see they owned. Still concerned with the seating arrangements, Anna said, “Maybe everyone can give us a hand cleaning off the dining room table, and we’ll sit there.” She set the colander on the pot and allowed the remaining water to drip through the holes. Once the sauce bubbled and the garlic bread was taken from the oven, Anna gave the salad one last toss and sent Amber to get everyone. “Nice!” In the brighter light of the kitchen, Carson’s boyish animation didn’t match his unshaven face. “And Double Stuf!” Anna stepped between him and the package on the 36

counter. “And there is apple pie and ice cream. But you can’t touch the Double Stuf or the pie until after dinner.” She heard her maternal tone and had to smile. “But, I just have one thing to ask: let’s all clear the table.” “I got the couch. It’s better if my ankle is elevated.” Carson reached over Jeremy’s shoulder to grab the largest piece of bread, laid it atop a mountain of pasta, and said, “Fucking Double Stuf. Nice.” “Jeremy?” Anna asked. As suspected, the eyes under Jeremy’s unctuous, matted hair held no opinions on where they sat. Belle labored down the stairs, the two younger kids trailing behind. A bath towel was wrapped high on her head, and cucumber melon shampoo scented the damp warmth accompanying her. “I was thinking we could clear the table in the dining room,” Anna said. “Is that my bathrobe?” Carson asked. “Do you need to use it?” Belle said. “No, just asking,” he said, returning to the couch with his plate. “If we could each grab something off the table—” “Ah, I don’t think anyone is too formal here,” Belle said assuredly. One of the little kids broke off a piece of bread and headed back to the stairs. Meanwhile, Belle spooled a knot of pasta onto her fork and dropped it on her plate. She drenched it with ladles of sauce and commented on how fancy it was before she left the kitchen. The remaining little kid followed behind, digging his hand into a half-empty bag of Doritos. When Anna took a plate from the counter, she noticed that the Double Stuf Oreos were gone. #

Crumbs in a pair of dented, flimsy tins remained beside the sauce-stained plates abandoned along the counter. It was now time to clean up the mess. As Anna scoured, she ignored


her own reflection in the kitchen window to watch Amber dry the dishes with a ragged dishtowel. After they finished, Anna wiped the spoon prints from the ice cream that mottled the counter, while Amber placed everything in the cabinet or drawer in which it more or less belonged. Anna saw the garbage and thought that it should have been taken out yesterday. “Is the trash through the back door?” she asked. Amber pointed toward the door. Anna reached out and touched the tassel of hair that dangled from the yellow barrette before she hauled the garbage out of the kitchen. Guided by the final moments of dusk, Anna moved slowly along the side of the house to the trashcans clustered by the fence. As her eyes adjusted, Anna could see the liquor bottles and beer cans overflowing from two bins. In the third there was just enough room for the garbage bag in her hand. Anna felt her flats stick to the linoleum tile as she returned to an empty kitchen. When was the last time this floor was mopped? she thought. It would be a nice gesture to take care of it, but she didn’t know where they kept a mop or a bucket. Instead, she wiped the countertops again with long deliberate circles, waiting for Amber to reappear. But time passed, and she never returned. “Hey, Am.” There was a good chance she didn’t hear her over the television in the other room, so she called again. “Amber?” Anna walked into the living room. To her left in the dark dining room were the donation boxes. Straight ahead of her were the stairs, disappearing above Carson’s couch. Perhaps Amber went to the bathroom. Anna had to go as well. She decided to excuse herself when Amber returned. “Ms. Fuller,” Carson said. “What’s your name? Your first name.” Anna took her eyes off the stairs. “Anna.” Carson rested the remote control on his chest. “Can I call you Anna?” “Sure. I don’t think there’s any harm in that.” He went back to the TV. The channels continued to 38

change as he cradled the package holding the last few Double Stuf Oreos. There was still no show he could settle on. “Jeremy, did you do our homework?” He waited a moment before turning his attention away from his phone. “I didn’t know we had homework.” “How could you not—” she stopped herself. “I can help you now if you want.” “I’ll do it tomorrow during study hall.” “You sure?” “Ms. Fuller.” Belle’s voice came from up the stairs, out of Anna’s sight. “Yes, Belle.” “We appreciate that you made dinner—” “It’s no problem, I—” Anna said, stepping toward the staircase. “But it’s late, and we’re going to have to ask you to leave.” “Oh, I know. I was just about to. I was just checking to see if Jeremy needed help with his homework.” Anna heard Belle retire to whatever room she had come from and close the door. Carson raised the package of remaining Double Stuf over his head. “One for the road?” #

Anna couldn’t recall her departure from the house, only that she now stood by her car, in the darkness, staring at the light creeping along the edges of curtains no one had parted. In her purse, on top of her keys, was a package of Sour Patch Kids. Anna didn’t bother looking for her phone. She knew the way home.


The Myth of Martyrdom K. Johnson Bowles


La Voyage dans la Lune Jinwoo Chong When Gabriel Heller woke, the first thing he saw was a bullet hole in the headboard, an inch from his face. The hole was the diameter of a nickel, splintered wood that had melted the varnish and sent a crack several inches directly upwards and downwards. His neck hurt; he’d angled it strangely in his sleep, it was the crooked orientation of his body that had saved his life. Had his head been straight, the bullet would have entered through his chin, puncturing his tongue, the roof of his mouth, obliterating the soft tissue of his sinuses, pinballing around his skull while dragging brain matter in a comet’s tail behind it, finally exiting his head in any manner of ways, each of which was bound to have sprayed the sheets, pillows, walls, and his wife Aurora, asleep next to him, with a pattern of gore so spectacular that the paramedics would remark at the end of their shifts that it would be a long time, years even, before they forgot the sight of it. “Oh,” said Gabriel. He had lived quietly thus far, not knowing what it felt like to stare at death until this morning. The word woke his wife, who smiled, then frowned at her husband’s face pointed awkwardly up at the headboard. “I’ve been shot.” Aurora sat up. “You’re not serious.” “I suppose not literally,” Gabriel said after a while. “What I mean is, I’ve almost been shot.” He showed her the bullet hole. They rolled from bed, wobbly in their first moments of wakefulness, and peered behind the headboard. The bullet had born straight through the wood and lodged itself almost comically halfway into the white drywall behind it. Gabriel thought of the film he’d shown his students last month, the big, grey bullet sticking the Man in the Moon straight in the eye. The kids had whispered and


cackled all through it, unappreciative of its technicality. Gabriel had reminded them that the moving had been invented only ten years prior, a science as mystical back then as alchemy. But such knowledge was lost on eight-year-olds. Never mind that this particular masterpiece predated the first flight of the Wright Brothers by one year. Sliced bread by twenty-five years more. Gabriel rounded the corner to the window facing the sleeping street, finding an eyelet in the glass that lined up with the hole in the headboard. Aurora sat on his edge of the mattress, winded. She looked at him, expectantly. “I think I’ll just—” he said. “Go?” she finished for him. “Shouldn’t I?” “We should call the police first.” “Why? Nobody’s hurt.” “Gabe, there’s a bullet in our wall.” He became aware in that exact moment that he was only wearing his underwear, and turned around to face the dresser. He felt his wife’s eyes pinpoint a spot between his shoulder blades while he clothed himself for work. “You won’t tell him, will you?” “Of course I’m not going to tell him. He’ll have his nightmares again.” Their son, Jupiter, would be awake soon. Gabriel had grown accustomed to the thud of the boy’s body on their mattress as he landed after a running leap, announcing his arrival to the day, the world. It happened like clockwork each morning. He knew the reason for the silence on this particular day, what Gabriel had done the previous night. He steeled himself to the thought before it could reach him, only partially successful. He was dressed. Aurora had not moved from her spot on the bed. “I really think we have to call the police.” Gabriel could feel it clearly now. He’d mistaken it for adrenaline but knew now that it was not, it was something greater, something more permanent. He felt strong, capable. He felt like a good person, a good husband, a good man. He, Gabriel 42

Heller, thirty-four, elementary school teacher, was alive this morning. He had drifted off to sleep the previous night, blue light from the television spattering his closed eyelids, and by a stroke of luck, the movement of a god’s hand against his neck, had moved his head two inches to the left and beaten a bullet in the night. He breathed in, feeling his ribs expand. “Gabe,” Aurora said again. He came to her, running, almost, which startled her, and collapsed against her, pressing his body to hers. “Gabe, what are—” “We’re okay,” he said. “We’re okay we’re okay. I’m okay.” He kissed her, and she, in her surprise, kept her mouth rigid and her eyes open. He got to his feet. “I have to get to school.” She watched him sprint from the room. Downstairs, he snatched up his bag, downed a coffee. He got in his car and sped to the end of the driveway. In his rearview he caught a glimpse of his wife at the window, squinting at the pinprick hole in the glass the same way he had. He floored the gas, bursting down the street, feeling as though on fire, wanting to give his world if only a hint of the energy he felt coursing through him. Today wasn’t supposed to happen, he thought. There was supposed to be nothing, nothing after the moment he closed his eyes on the blue light of the television. He should be dead. He approached an intersection, coasting as the green light turned yellow. His foot faltered over the gas. What would a dead man choose? A living one? He’d contemplated the very question while calling a six-year-old’s parents last week about a book, How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese A. Rando, PhD., that she had brought to class for showand-tell. “What I mean is,” he had said to the girl’s mother, “I don’t think it was the best choice for class. We’ve had a few students so upset we had to send them home.” “You are opposed, then, Mr. Heller, to teaching children about how to effectively manage their grief? You are opposed to preparing them for the inevitable?”


“You are… you are not… by any chance, Therese A. Rando, PhD?” “I am not,” said the girl’s mother on the phone. “But of course, I think she’s brilliant.” Gabriel slowed to a stop at the light, which flashed red above him. He wasn’t sure what Jupiter’s reaction would have been to a book like that. He was only eight, but Gabriel often found him to be sharper than those he taught. He could say this clinically, as an education professional. Again he tensed himself, forbidding himself from wandering back to the previous night. He would not go there. But he was there, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he thinking about Jupiter because he wanted to be there? Think about the bullet, Gabriel said to himself, that fucking bullet. It doesn’t matter anymore! You’re alive, you’re alive, it doesn’t matter anymore, nothing does. This is your second life, Gabriel Heller. God, he loved that bullet, what it had done for him today. What happened to all of that? Aurora had not said a word as they’d gone to bed last night. He knew she’d heard it all, what he’d said to Jupiter over the stack of worksheets at the kitchen table. He’d laid down thinking she’d want to talk about it but had waited until her breaths slowed and realized she hadn’t talked to him since dinner. Gabriel saw the turnoff to school whip past him. He swore, speeding ahead to catch the next light. Jupiter had talked all through dinner, swaying in his seat, performing an animated retelling of Snow Buddies, which Gabriel had let him watch after school that afternoon. His energy only climbed higher when they cleared the table and Gabriel produced the boy’s backpack. Jupiter’s teacher had assigned the twelve times tables to memory. “Jupe, sit down,” Gabriel said, watching Jupiter careen around the edge of the table, sounding a fake ambulance siren. “Jupe, let’s do your homework.” “I would never,” Jupiter cried, indignantly. Gabriel rubbed his fists into his eyes. He’d been up since four, laying out the new decorations in his own classroom. He hated the seasons now, every single one. What had once passed as subtle reminders at the top of his phone in the mornings— 44

today is the first day of fall, today is the summer equinox—had become full blown events around which entire aisles of the Party City off the freeway revolved. Jupiter’s school was private, he and Aurora had allowed themselves the luxury. Their hallway decorations were paid for by an alumni banquet. “I’m not asking you again,” he said, calmly. “Sit down.” Jupiter stalled to a halt in front of his chair. Jutting his bottom lip out, he climbed up beside Gabriel and lay his head face down on the tabletop. “You’ve got two worksheets,” Gabriel said. “You finish these, you can go play. Fair?” “No.” Jupiter raised his head, scrabbling for a pencil. “Twelve times four,” he said, “thirty six.” “That’s not right.” “Yes it is.” “Twelve times four, Jupe. What’s two times four? Eight. It should have an eight in it.” Jupiter scrawled a loopy ‘8’ into the second box, looking up at Gabriel expectantly. “I’m not doing it for you,” said Gabriel. “You already did half of it for me.” “Jupiter, you need to work this out for yourself.” “I don’t remember.” “Then think through it. You know how to do it.” “No I don’t,” Jupiter said, louder. He got up before Gabriel could stop him, standing on his chair. “I’m stupid, I’m stupid, I’m stupid.” “Jupiter—” Jupiter was laughing, bobbing in and out of Gabriel’s reach. “I’m stupid I’m stupid—” “That’s enough.” “I’m stupid I’m stupid I’m stupid I’m stupid.” “Alright,” Gabriel said, heard himself saying it, “alright then, Jupe, you’re stupid. Is that what you want?” The silence that followed nearly made him shiver. Jupiter stood rigidly on the chair beside him, the last I’m stupid still a trace on his lips. Gabriel’s ears were ringing. Already the


point on the back of his head where he was told by his doctor he gathered all of his tension was beginning to throb. He tried to laugh, startled by his son’s eerie stillness, staring at him. “I’m kidding. You know I’m kidding.” Jupiter looked at him for a long time, still a couple heads taller on top of the chair. Then, after several more seconds had passed, he crouched and reclaimed his seat before the worksheets. Gabriel watched him anxiously as he picked up a pencil and started on the rest of the times tables. He had finished the first row when Gabriel saw the wet streak of a tear roll down his son’s face. “Hey,” he said, going pale, “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. I was joking. I was joking like you were.” Jupiter said nothing, filling out the rest of the boxes. When he was done he pulled the next sheet toward him, his face now shining with tears, and completed them all in the span of a minute. Gabriel’s heart was beating savagely up against his throat as his son pushed the finished assignments away and slid from his chair. “Jupe—” Jupiter climbed the stairs, silently. Gabriel registered the faint click of the door room close shut behind him. Gabriel was rolling down a street he didn’t recognize at five miles per hour. Cars sped by, onlookers craning their necks and raising their hands and middle fingers at him through the window. Gabriel hardly noticed. Once he was fully returned to himself he took his foot completely off the gas and slid to a stop. He sat there, hands open and lying flat in his lap. He was thinking about the first time he remembered sharing a conversation with his son. Jupiter was two, maybe, sucking on a bite-size slice of watermelon. It was summer. Aurora’s family was over. Gabriel had pulled a chair up to where Jupiter was hanging suspended from one of those baby rocket boosters tied to paracord strings. What’s that, Jupe? he had said. Is that watermelon? Jupiter had screeched YES, the entire bottom half of his face slick with red pulp. Aurora, who had watched their scene unfold from the 46

kitchen, had passed him at the table, had knocked quietly at Jupiter’s door upstairs before entering. Gabriel had sat there, alone with the completed worksheets. He didn’t know how much time passed before he heard Aurora’s footsteps cross the hall upstairs into their room, and followed her up. She was sitting up with the television on, surrounded by screens. He read a book that had been on his nightstand for eight months for a half-hour, waiting for her to say something beside him. He’d expected a fight, though he knew every move, every barb that would be traded in advance. He’d apologize in the morning. He’d take Jupiter to school and sit him down and apologize and explain how getting no sleep can make daddies crazy but how he still shouldn’t have said what he said. Then Aurora had offered only a half-smile his way and turned out her light. He’d thought of Jupiter’s face as he’d laid down and closed his eyes. And then he’d found the bullet hole. How would Aurora have hidden his body from their son in the morning? Would she have washed the sheets, her face? Would she even have waited until she’d dropped Jupiter off at school to call the police, not wanting to scare him? What would she tell him that afternoon? That night? What if the bullet had killed them both? What if Jupiter had woken at eight, confused as to why he’d been allowed to sleep in, walked into his parents’ bedroom and found their corpses? Would he ever be happy again? Would he ever smile or laugh or cry without thinking of all of the blood ever again? Gabriel realized he was gasping for breath. His lungs didn’t seem to be working. His brain felt heavy and deprived. He rolled down the window, then fumbling with his seatbelt, opened the door in full, and tumbled to the ground. On his hands and knees he yanked air into his lungs, eyes on the whites of his knuckles against the asphalt. He didn’t know how long he stayed there, feeling in his palms the quake of the road as the cars passed. He didn’t know the road shook like this. The lights above had stopped spinning. When he felt sure they were still, Gabriel maneuvered himself against the front wheel of his car, leaning back, splaying his legs out in front of him. He stayed


there for a minute, maybe two. Then, he got to his feet, dusting rocks and pieces of glass from his pants, and got back in his car. He found school on his phone, pinpointing himself to a deadend road off the winding street out of town. He started the car. He could make it before the bell. His kids were quieter than usual. He walked them through the two and three times tables for the first time, reaching around his desk for a glass of whatever whenever he got the chance. He skipped lunch, sitting resolute at his desk for the full twenty-five minutes, smiling resignedly down at the little girl who had brought in Dr. Rando’s book when she asked, “Mr. Heller, are you having a stroke?” The house was empty when he returned that afternoon, leaving all of his work on his desk; he was never the first back. Slowly he got his shoes off and traipsed the kitchen in his socks for a time before heading upstairs, turning out the lights behind him. He couldn’t think of sleeping in his own bed. He couldn’t without looking straight at it. So he found his way to Jupiter’s room, tiptoeing gingerly over Lego bits and action figures to the bed strewn with three blankets and four pillows. He hoisted himself onto the twin mattress, tucking his legs to his chest, facing the wall. This felt nice, he thought. He could almost fall asleep like this.

Aurora came through the door after Jupiter, lugging his backpack. She was surprised to find the house dark after seeing Gabe’s car in the driveway. She called his name while Jupiter raced to the television in the living room. She was looking forward to telling Gabe that she’d gone to Jupiter’s room shortly after he’d left for work for a little talk and found the boy sitting awake. That after she explained that parents get upset with their kids the same way kids get upset at their parents, Jupiter had agreed and apologized for saying he was stupid when he knew that he wasn’t, and that she’d felt a distinct and powerful wave of pride so intense that she’d almost starting crying right then and there. She had never loved their boy more, she wanted to tell Gabe. She supposed she also wanted to know if Gabe had received the same call from the police around noon, about the 48

teenagers that had been arrested after a neighbor’s backyard camera had recorded them horsing around with a loaded gun in the street. She’d thought to call him but knew he didn’t pick up his phone during the school day. Within the scales of relative importance, it didn’t seem very prescient anymore. She’d felt so woefully inadequate the previous night, the first night in her memory she’d left Jupiter’s room without knowing whether she’d successfully blanked his boyish fears and worries enough for his sleep to come. She peeled an apple and brought it out to the sofa. “Where’s Daddy?” Jupiter said, crunching down. “I don’t know,” Aurora told him. “Maybe he’s sleeping upstairs. He had a bad morning.” “What’s that?” “What’s what?” “Bad Morning.” “It’s not a special word,” said Aurora, “it’s just a morning that doesn’t go very well.” “Oh.”


The End of Freedom Szilรกrd Szilรกgyi


A Life’s Work O.G. Rose Twenty years after the old man started searching for his son, he received a new lead. He worked in a rice field to help feed nearby Chengdu and to earn wages for a train ticket east. When the night cicadas chirped, the man shuffled to his home of mud bricks and sat at his wood table, studying his blistered fingers, remembering his late wife.

“We’ve never met your father,” the Irish woman told her son, sitting next to her husband on the living room couch. Their son was adopted from the Sichuan province and leaving for his first year at Yale. “We chose you,” Mr. Blanks said. “You’re special.” The boy smiled and felt like a trinket lifted out of a dumpster. In the train, the old man leaned his head to rest it on the glass window. Fields of apartments and cranes surrounded Shanghai; China was no longer mud. The sky was a faint gray. Years ago, his wife laid on a bed of red sheets, and with newborn cries in the air, she ceased moving. Holding his weeping son against his chest, the old man begged his mother to raise the child as he worked near Chengdu. Before his first paycheck, while the old man bent his back to reach into the water soaking his ankles for rice kernels, a soldier seized him around the waist; another cuffed his wrists. He was arrested to save him from Capitalism. After Mao, the old man returned to a house that was not his home. Lying on her bed, too weak to open her eyes, his mother told him that she thought he abandoned them. The adoption agency cut all family connections. It was standard procedure. Decades later, the old man was permitted to submit a request to see his flesh and blood.


The boy struggled at Yale. He was first in most of his classes, but his work was below what was expected of his family. Saved trash was still trash, he thought. One day, after failing again, during the rush between classes, the boy walked up the steps of the Sterling library and turned to face the students gossiping in the grass. He pulled off his bookbag, unzipped it, and withdrew a pistol. Classmates watched him wrap his mouth around the barrel. Red liquid scattered through the air like seeds. The phone rang. “Is this the Blanks residence?” “Yes,” a woman answered. She was crying. “This is the Shanghai Adoption Agency. We’re calling to tell you that a man requested to meet your son. It’s his biological father.” “We didn’t know he was looking for him.” “That happens a lot. We’re not allowed to tell him his son’s location without your permission. Should I put him on the line?” The old man waited on a cushioned chair in a small lobby. He felt tired but kept his eyes open. He studied his blisters and wondered how things would change once his life’s work was through.


Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah


Home Sweet Home Tatiana Garmendia


The Year Without Meaning Sheree La Puma The hardest thing about losing


a year without sunrise. On the horizon


blooms as heaven turns its back on barren


Outside my window, a nexus of storms, north


Among the moaning, trees, a realization that winter will not meet in a cold valley, drying up bloodlines. How my grief becomes, a museum of days/nights like a secret teaching on repeat. The past




erasing present. What’s your name? Remember how you laughed when I wrapped red scarves ‘round soft curls & we raced to Papa’s house with the top down. I kissed your cheek. My heart wide open/raw. Your love deteriorating like something skinned.


Bicycle in Moonlight Steven Ostrowski


Those Words David Sapp I was unacquainted with fag, fairy, homo, pansy, those inaccurate summaries, those summers when we shed our clothes, defying mosquitoes and propriety, giddy in the woods. Those words, meaningless noise in my naivetĂŠ, failed to wound, had none of the cruel bludgeoning yet. He could be me was the fascination despite a curious, superfluous fold of skin, those summers between ten, eleven, twelve, our chests flat, narrow, smooth, just like the prettiest girls. All I knew was a desire to love this other boy, a guileless affection, a sheepish adoration with more than mere kisses.


Down the James at Dawn Patricia McCabe Wake up sweet streams. Algonquian dreams shimmer through the hills like ice. Powhatan clouds at Iron Gate, gray Alleghany skies. Slip past the drowsy cow pastures, cornstalk trails, the Blue Ridge rails. Whisper lost Monacan names across the Piedmont Plain.

Ricochet rapids rise up through Richmond to the ric-a-tic-tum of a musket drum. They march in a row and over the edge of the boulders at Belle Isle. Face down along the granite stones, deep river plantations, Chickahominy bones. East, toward the Atlantic. Down into the bay.

Way down beneath the Chesapeake, two washed-up mermaids scrape their scales along the edge of a bent bateau. Fish hooks hanging from their ears, blue crabs twisting through their hair. And they pluck the flesh from oyster shells. And they pick their teeth with herons’ legs. Tails twitching, eyes darting up. Up along the surface the ghosts of pirates skate like mist, boots pointed out in arabesques, arms reaching for the sea; diamond-eyed damsels, blustering tides. Till golden waves of sunlight pierce their treasure dreams and spin them into spray. 58

Hummingbird Cass Brown


The People of People Aimee Wright Clow For a year after literary graduate school, I lived at the Cambridge Friend School with a dozen housemates who all worked at the same bar and spread pizza boxes wide across the wooden floor. I stayed up late drinking and singing, making more money than university presses will ever pay me by serving tator tots and craft brews to millennial tech entrepreneurs. I learned to hate the taste of beer, to instead drink gin, chain smoking in alleyways. The Friends were covered in glitter. Though we drank, everyone’s eyes were alive. Our house’s external doors were bathroom doors, could be opened with a bobby pin. We, the Friends, had rejected our privileged MIT educations for the arts and communities that existed in the cracks of our academic city. Born of the problem, now we pretended to be the circles of its displacements. A last stronghold, defectors, tied to the poets and the architects of the abstract, playing dress-up, writing nonsense, painting fluorescent walls. This is one way to project a different mode of being. Non-religious. Apolitical. Consumptive and radical. I had a boyfriend then who didn’t fit in with the Friends. They were radical in terms of clothing and chaos. He was radical in terms of past-activism, proper language, restraint. He was not a good feminist, but he loved the poems of Adrienne Rich. The Friends listened to Kanye West but were innately body positive. I felt in-between. The boyfriend and I fought a lot though I always felt loved by him, like he was part of my body. I kissed only him most of the time and ate every breakfast at his house. I worked alone more than he or they did. I was regularly dismissed for the inclination to work alone so much. From him it was on a principle of work taking our souls. From them it was on a principle of work distracting from the communal. Coaxed away from writing and editing on breaks, submitting to the group, I 60

kissed Friends too. I lied, and I hid. I let myself a kind of private fluidity. Cambridge was loud, and I was becoming drained. The boyfriend, once my dialectic, began to act more like the chaos. This too was a flattening. All time spent was work or disarray without comfort. Panicking, I wished he was the difference I expected of him when we first kissed. I wanted him to read more than he read. I wanted him to fight differently than he fought, to be more activist than he was that year. When we broke up, he critiqued me by saying, You love the facts of people, not the people of people. What I think he meant was: I was fantasizing instead of loving him, them. There was a more common way he could have said this. What he said: You love the facts of people, not the people of people. I repeated it. I took his critique to mean, if true, that the way we must love the world is through essence. I contained this desire, kept it, still keep it. We should be able to love anyone. Particularities of speech and texts should not matter. Like the way when you kiss any mouth is anybody, and if there is gentle touch or violence, and if you want gentle touch or violence, then you are where you need to be while kissing that person; you are connected, transcendent. We should love the people of people, not the facts of people, is both true and dangerous. After we broke up, the Cambridge boyfriend continued coming back. I moved to Albany for a university press job and he visited sometimes. We became quieter. I acknowledged the ways I wasn’t kind enough, and I defined for myself the ways he was not kind enough. I read the things I had wanted him to read. He continued the disorder I used to be, moved into the Friend School. We inverted. Bhanu Khapil wrote, “I want to have sex with who I want to become.” I made up who he was. I fucked him. I became. The first boyfriend I had in Albany only lasted for two months. I call him boyfriend now but never called him that out loud, though he often said he loved me. He bartended at the Rx for four months until he lost his job mid-autumn. The night he lost his job it was a cool kind of leaf falling weather. It was just 61

after we had stopped kissing, but he still called me in a panic mid-shift after taking two shots behind the bar and entering an anxiety attack. I walked the block to Rx to sit on a wooden picnic table on the sidewalk-patio outside the corner-bar while he hyperventilated with vacant eyes, chain smoking, childlike. I called someone to cover the four guests sitting at the bar, took M. to his apartment two doors away. I don’t know if he made it up the stairs that night. I felt afraid and too sad to go inside. He moved out of Albany the next week, found a detox facility near his grandmother’s house down South. He sends me messages sometimes to apologize. Says he is doing fine. I let M. violate me. I liked the violence of his hand across my face and chest, the way it contained the weight of hatred. Life broke him, took a consensus view of love and twisted it. I let him bind me to his bed while he left the apartment. He left bruises on my body, welts that bled, and I sent him pictures the next day. The act of caring after the wound. The nothing I was, an imitation of woman. As though I had never felt sexy and he made me feel sexy, except that my entire adulthood I have felt beautiful without violation. What broke? Violence like this is not cathartic over time. It reduced me. Like Marianne of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, I walked around with a hollow fullness, feeling huge feelings, yet all pressed deep beneath the surface. The violence of M.’s sex was not separate from his violence outside of sex, though I thought at first it could be. He’d wake from drunken sleep and scream at strangers’ dogs out the window. Screamed at me. Wouldn’t remember. At first, in bondage, you believe there is a separation. That a single word can pull someone out of their theatre. But over time I learned not to trust M. to return from hatred to the kindness that should have resurfaced when he fell back to his body, when I said a “safe” word, when we kissed. It may not be true for everyone, but I learned from M. that as much as bondage is play, it’s rooted in the real of misogyny’s masochism. Just before I snapped awake and walked away from him, M. showed up at my door in the middle of the afternoon with stab wounds across his forearm, vacant eyes, too drunk 62

to explain, darting around the room, stuttering, bleeding. I wrapped the wounds, and he yelled at me. When I told him to leave, he cried and told me about the ways he was violated as a child. We never kissed after that, but I tried to stay present. I wanted to hold him as a person apart from all the violence ever perpetrated on him, all the violence he transferred to me. It was a misplaced kind of care. Diminishing. As I write this, vacant eyes sounds cliché but it’s the only way I have come to understand a certain kind of drunk that is systemic, creates a hollowness. It’s an empty I never saw in Cambridge despite all the drunks I fed, something I learned in Albany, something I came to learn was frequent and defining part of the post-industrial city. Just after M. left Albany, I read Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary. As much as I love most of the book, I couldn’t get past her long distance relationship, his unkindness. Not that her lover was as bad as M., but still he diminished her. I kept waiting for the part of the book where she would analyze or walk away from him. I remember my first hollow in adolescence, which flooded me the week after I renounced Christ and the Harvest International Church. Returning to my body, I wondered how I had let days and power be taken from me, how I had swallowed all the hate that church pronounced. How had I bound my mouth for a day in protest for unborn babies? How had I stood silent preaching at the mall? How had I let a minister pray girls’ lips from my lips? Tongued. Tell me where to stand and who to speak to, how to wrap my body. I was a vessel. An empty sad thing that anyone could steal and fill with whatever sad fullness they wanted. I thought before then that my life would contain brilliance. After, I kept letting myself be stolen. Waking up after every boyfriend or intense friendship has felt more or less like this. Waking up after M. was the worst, though. He is not someone I talk about now. His erasure is a way of lying: say: I am strong. I am smart. I am not so malleable. But I was. Many times. Lily Hoang was able to claim the ways that she was malleable and taken. I’m not sure exactly what I gain from reading about her diminishment, but at certain 63

times, I find it comforting, the way Chris Kraus’s self-critique is always so comforting. They are both so smart. And they let themselves be injured. I’m not that smart, and I let myself be flattened. I love so many women in Albany who have been diminished and stay. I walked away. Now every day, I stare into the mirror and remind myself of this leaving, my one gilded act. I sing along as Kimya Dawson sings: “I preach selflove I know it’s true / It’s easier to say than do / I send these messages to you / But now I need to hear them too / I am beautiful I am powerful I am strong and I am loveable.” We should not have only loved the people of them. We should have considered the facts instead, which is a way of honoring who we were before.


Sadness Szilรกrd Szilรกgyi


Undercurrent Gloria Keeley from the bed seaweed dripped from her limbs salt-licked for succor the hook, pried from her throat dropped atop whitecaps the grey waves slashed the sand scales fell from her sides; pieces of moon on the sea

knifed from throat to tail fin her spine gently lifted from center after death shells on stretch of beach resound the ocean’s roar against her whiteness, her grace


Mermaid Harvest Szilรกrd Szilรกgyi


On the Edge Ann-Marie Brown


On Dignity Ella Q. Peavler She looks me back in the mirror, And I write her dirty poems. She calls the men like flies to a fruit bowl, Rotting at the center of a room. Her eyes stare like amber beads in a dirty snow storm, And I see nothing but myself in their hearth, My whore is misunderstood, And she is the only thing worth love. Dignity gets on her knees for me, Bends at the spine and presents Like something made to be mine… She’s a homewrecker, Miss His-Fault-Not-Mine, A light at the end of the Hall that draws me To pass through darkness to mold… I only know what I am, And that my Dignity has bent To cast into the twists Of my tattered soul. I have made a bitch of myself, Eyes down to the floor Like an obedient dog. Dignity forgives me, And takes a leather belt to my back, She kisses the blood off every wound, And lets me off my leash To fuck all the wrong men again.


My whore whispers she is my pride, and Tells me every mistaken man Is a name I shall billow into the gusty wind Of the damned city I live in, and Every night I spend in another’s bed Is a hymn sung in my Church of Self-Worship. Let the cobblestones glisten under the rain, Make them gleam like fresh obsidian, Lava-rock with cold hearts smiling on them, Bless me with holy fire if I do so wrong, And burn my Dignity like Gomorrah.

I crown myself in solitude, Don my body with a necklace of Begonias and purple monkshood, She tells me to take some new prince back to my bed, And show his curious eyes my modesty. And when we fall asleep, Dignity curls up next to me, She takes my hand and whispers Behind my ear‌.

Be it freedom, and lay it all on me.


Like the Gun Shanna Merceron A Floridian summer guaranteed a rainstorm every day. They’re best to watch sitting near a shoreline as the sea and sky churn into one. I watched the violent dance of the elements and felt at home, my body attuning itself to the meltdown, my flesh erupting into goosebumps before a strike. I learned that your hair will stand on end before a gun fires just as it will before lightning hits. The body aware of chaos before the mind. I stood in the road in front of my house, tasting the ozone crackling in the air. Rain hammered against my skin, gluing my dress to me, and sticking it between my thighs. Water fell through my lashes, turning the world into an impressionist painting. I watched the ocean thrash, pretended the warmth of the asphalt under my toes was the rocks on the seafloor. My hair stood on end. Lightning flashed, and I grinned. I asked for this, I wanted this, I controlled this. When the rain dissipated to a few quiet patters on the roof, just a few drops into the sea, I went inside. My best friend Leah was sitting on the couch in front of the window. She had been watching me. “Are you trying to kill yourself?” she asked. She wasn’t accusatory. The build-up of energy from the storm leaked out in the smile I gave her. “Not today,” I said. I moved to give her a hug and she laughed, pushing me away. A small puddle had formed beneath me. “Come, let’s get changed,” Leah said, and we walked to my bedroom, the light slowly leaking from the sky and falling into night by the time we closed the bedroom door. I was moving to the mountains in a few weeks, an 11-hour drive from home, a four-hour drive to a shore, and I wasn’t ready to leave the coast behind. It was a familiar friend, a savior to escape to, sea and storm ever-present, always in


step with my wild thoughts. Much like my relationship with Leah, a friend who was always there until she wasn’t, her parents packing up their family and leaving Florida before we started high school. Leah understood the need to stand in the rain. She got into more trouble than I did. I had just graduated college and was staying at my childhood home for the summer. Leah had found vacation time to leave her life in LA for the weekend, happy to have seen me graduate, happy to stir up trouble while she was in town. I promised I would take her out and show what amusement Florida had to offer. Unfortunately, the nearest club was in Daytona Beach; fun for Spring Break twenty years ago, now a soured tourist trap.

Leah and I were recounting old memories as I lined her eyes like a cat. We were lacing sneakers onto our feet when the walls of the house shook with my father’s voice. We followed his voice into the living room. My sister Kiera was engaged in a heated debate with our dad about whether her blouse was appropriate for the general public to view. Her stomach and shoulders were exposed, a red bra visible under the black V-neck crop top with the lace-up front. “You’re only eighteen years old!” he sputtered. My sister had recently finished high school and my dad was struggling with his daughters pulling away from home. “Don’t sexualize me or my outfit! It’s other people’s fault for judging me for the way I dress. Look at what Leah’s wearing!” Kiera said, pointing an accusatory finger Leah’s way. Leah’s tight tube top showed off her belly button piercing and the shorts she wore sat low enough on her hips that I was sure I’d see a whale tail if she bent over. Leah shrugged. “Leah is twenty years old and she is not my daughter!” Dad was frustrated. He turned to me for help but then took in my own appearance and put his face in his hands. He rubbed his temples; probably wishing my mother could be of help. “Why are you wearing slutty tops and short shorts? Whatever happened to wearing a dress to the club?” He sunk 72

into the loveseat. I fought back a snort and sat on the edge of his chair. “We’re reclaiming our bodies,” I said, “and I find your words offensive.” I turned to Kiera. “Change your shirt,” I said. I stared at her for a long moment until she lifted her chin and left the room. “Please be safe. I just want you to be safe. Try to be home by two, Tessa,” Dad said. It was already eleven o’clock but I nodded my head to appease him. My sister strode back into the room wearing a t-shirt. She stuck her hands on her hips and did a turn. “Better?” she snarled. My dad waved his hand to gesture us out the door. He texted me before I even got to the car. Remember to be cognizant of your surroundings. 2 am. Dad. Once in my car, my sister stripped off the t-shirt and pulled her original choice back on. She shoved her hands into her bra and lifted each breast up to make her chest appear fuller. “Okay, let’s go,” she said. I hit the gas, ready for the night to be over. Leah sat shotgun and DJed, playing old hits from our middle school days and new songs that she picked up from the EDM festivals she frequented. Kiera sat in the backseat, the light from her phone illuminating her face the entire drive south. I took us to the only decent club for miles, and decent was a stretch of the word. Dazzles was a dark and sticky place, sitting just a block or two off the beach. A strip club called Mindy Brown’s sat across the street and next to Dazzles was a club that tried to be classier, but all the pearls and urchins of the coast crawled into Dazzles instead. The club had become a bit of a tourist attraction with every new headline and weekend shenanigan Daytona hooligans got up to. Whenever I had a friend in town who said they wanted to go out, I’d take them to Dazzles. It was a colorful establishment that drew in all sorts of people, and sometimes I didn’t mind being one of them. Kiera was sneaking in with a fake ID at fourteen, riding there and 73

back in trucks with boys whose names she’s long forgotten. I first went when I turned eighteen, letting Kiera show me her run-down palace. It didn’t disappoint.

Once inside the club, my sister made a beeline for rednecks lurking around a pool table. The club had billiards at the front, and as we pushed ourselves further inside, we saw the step-down dance floor and three bars on either side of it, with the DJ booth looming overhead. The room was dark and smoke-clouded, the carpets a shade of dried blood and the walls a deep forest green. Bodies lingered around the bars and high-top tables or writhed under strobe lights in the dance pit. Kiera finessed our first round of drinks from the rednecks with a toss of her blonde hair and a half-assed lap dance. With a shot of whiskey running through my veins, I took to the dance floor, Leah in tow. We preferred to dance on the fringe of the floor, where the neon lights didn’t flash into our eyes as much. I liked to dance, but whenever a favorite song of Leah’s or Kiera’s came on, I joined the leering men on the sidelines, loving to watch my girls put on a show. I could never move my hips the way they did. I never really tried. The crowd pushed Kiera towards the center of the dance floor to join other young ladies who were grinding and thrusting in an impressive effort to the beat. She shook the ass that she was so proud of and the crowd cheered. Every song was her song. My sister wiggled each of her ass cheeks separately. Men tossed money her way, singles rained down on Kiera, and she dropped it low to pick them up. When the song ended, Kiera brought her earnings over to Leah and me to count. A sheen of sweat coated her forehead and glitter from her eye shadow dusted her cheeks. She was grinning with evil glee. “I made $36. That should be enough for three drinks, no?” She smacked her hand on top of the bills lined up on the table. Someone had tossed a ten-dollar bill her way. I scooped up the money and headed over to the bar, the only one of us old enough to purchase them. I wanted the caramel taste of whiskey to coat my tongue again, but Kiera said vodka was for skinny girls, and I 74

should want to be a skinny girl. I ordered three vodka sprites and watched the bartender sluggishly lay out the cups. She was dressed in a black skin-tight dress and was wearing two different push-up bras to perk up her chest. One pink, one red. I felt sad for her but she didn’t look sad. I traced waves in the condensation on the bar top while I waited. I brought the drinks back over to the high-top table we had claimed. Leah yanked the straw out the cup and downed her drink like it was water in a desert. She jabbed a thumb in the direction of two men loitering awkwardly near our table. They were caught halfway between us and the dance floor, and were trying to pretend they weren’t eavesdropping. The throbbing bass of the music made it hard to hear, but Leah always spoke like she was yelling across a football field instead of a table. “They’re having a party at their place! We can go chill with them when we’re done dancing,” she shouted. She tossed her mass of brown hair over her shoulder. Her curls were sticking to her sweat-slick neck, winding around it like rope. Kiera was eyeing the shorter man wearing the baseball cap. “They have a hotel room on the beach, they’re here for the night. Both of them are in the army, about to be deployed to Syria,” she said. She touched up her lipstick in the mirror of her phone screen. I was impressed with the speed in which they gathered intel. “Let’s go.” Kiera grabbed my arm and dragged me over to the men. I didn’t want to talk to them, but a part of me wondered if they had another friend. Leah snatched an ice cube from her drink and crunched on it, hustling to join us. “This is my sister, Tessa,” Kiera said. I lifted an arm and waved. I would’ve preferred an evening with my girls, but I was willing to give these characters a shot at entertainment. “My name is Gatlin,” said the boy in the cap, tipping his head with a smile. “Like Tennessee?” I asked, thinking of my trip to Gatlinburg last fall. Nice place, but no ocean. Kiera had her period the entire vacation and made everyone’s life hell. “No, ma’am,” he said, “like the gun.”


His friend lifted an eyebrow slightly and said, “Colton.” The boys sized me up, all five feet two inches of me, and I did the same. Standing so close, I could see that they were in fact boys, rather than men. About Kiera’s age, fresh out of high school. They weren’t heartthrobs, but were both above-average looking. The taller one, Colton, had sun bleached hair and a smattering of freckles across his tan face. We were wearing the same pair of canvas sneakers. Gatlin had a crooked nose and dimple in his chin. The rim of his hat cast a shadow over his eyes. I realized that we were in a silent stare down while I evaluated them. They seemed pretty harmless compared to the men on the floor who grabbed you as you passed or hid in the corners and waited for an opportunity to pounce on inebriated women. They seemed like boys I could handle. “Shall we dance?” I asked everyone, breaking the spell. Kiera tossed the rest of her drink back and whooped, leading the way. It was an interesting dynamic, the way the two boys managed to dance with the three of us. Gatlin was a more passionate dancer than his saccharine manner suggested, and I flushed with embarrassment after sticking out a song with him. He melded his entire frame to my own as we moved, and it was too intimate for me to handle. While I liked to dance, I preferred to dance alone. Dancing with men was a figment of being wanted and it made me uncomfortable. They only wanted you in the moment. I passed Gatlin off to my sister and danced in front of Leah while her ass grinded against Colton’s groin. They were managing to carry on a conversation amidst the loud music and beat drops, but I couldn’t hear a word they said. When we all stepped off the sticky floor to take a break, Colton and Leah shared a few more words before the boys stepped back to give us our space. “So are we partying, or no? It’ll be an adventure, for sure.” Leah had the same grin on her face that Kiera did after dancing for money. Both of them were in their element. My element was always when I had the most control. I closed my eyes, remembering rain on my skin, and I tried to channel my inner storm. I hesitated to give an answer. They seemed like 76

decent boys, they were soldiers after all, if they were who they said they were. Maybe there was still a third friend at the hotel room. And I had a thing for hotel rooms. I just love looking at them. “Maybe,” I said. “Let’s grab their number and then see how we feel, yeah?” Leah held up her phone and shook it. “Already got it,” she said with another wink. I rolled my eyes and we made our way to the bathroom. We walked in and two girls were sitting on the sinks trying to re-apply a false eyelash. Kiera turned to use a stall and stopped, covering her mouth with her hand to hold back laughter. Two of the three stalls available were occupied. The corner stall had a man on his knees, in between a woman’s spread-eagle stiletto legs. His cargo pants were rolled up enough to flash a kiss print tattoo on his ankle. The door of the stall next to them was rattling as two bodies kept banging against it. I rubbed my temples and turned away. Leah doubled over in a fit of giggles, wiping a tear from her eye. “I love Dazzles!” she said. One of the girls on the sink cackled in response. I gestured towards the open stall. “Kiera, are you gonna go? It’s here or McDonald’s.” Kiera pushed open the door and then jumped back. Projectile vomit coated the toilet and walls. “I could use a sweet tea,” she said. We turned tail and left the restroom. We breezed through the club, moving past sweaty dancers and sloshing drinks, avoiding the possible eye contact of Gatlin and Colton, wherever they were. We waved to the bouncer and pushed out the door. I loved that moment of pushing the door (and at Dazzles, you really had to give it a push) when the noise and debauchery fell behind as you spilled out onto the sidewalk, the door slamming shut, sealing chaos inside. The ocean air felt cold on my skin despite it being eighty degrees. I lifted my nose and breathed in, tempted to follow the smell of brine until my toes kissed sea foam. I debated walking to the McDonald’s, maybe a half-mile away, but I felt fit to drive.


Dancing always burned the alcohol out of my system. I led the girls around the block to where our car was parked near a bank parking lot. We slid inside the car and I powered up the AC. I pulled out my phone to text Dad we would be home soon. Kiera wore a pout in the backseat. “What?” I said. She shrugged but I knew what bothered her. She wasn’t ready for the night to be over. Leah selected a new playlist from her phone and the speakers started pumping again. I turned the volume down as I backed out of our spot. Kiera gazed woefully out the window. “We can get sweet teas and still go to their party after, ya know,” I said. I didn’t like her being upset with me. I hated to give her what she wanted but she made it so hard not to. Watching from the rearview mirror, I saw a smile twist her face and she clapped her hands, like we were little girls again. “Whoa!” Leah shouted. She held up her phone as I moved to turn onto the main road. Kiera leaned forward and gripped the back of Leah’s seat. “They’re calling me!” Leah shouted again. I snapped my head over. “What the fuck?” I said. “That’s sort of desperate,” Kiera said. “Do I answer it?” Leah shook the phone in my face. I shoved it back and accelerated to make a green light. “Whatever we do, McDonald’s first.” My stomach was twisting with hunger and my throat suddenly felt dry. I cleared my throat. I could almost hear waves crashing in my head, a sweet lullaby. The phone stopped buzzing. “Weird,” Kiera said. She pushed back into her seat. The buzzing started up again and Leah said, “They’re calling again! Fuck it.” She brought the phone to her ear. “Hello? Yeah. What? Really? Oh my god. Hold on, let me ask Tessa.” “What do they want?” I said. Leah had a smile growing on her face that couldn’t help but encourage one of my own. I got excited, “What is it?” I asked. “Colton’s truck got towed and we’re the only people they know in the area. They need a ride to the tow place. Looks like we got some damsels in distress on our hands,” Leah said. She 78

was buzzing with excitement. It’s an adventure, she mouthed to me. I heard chatter come through the phone. “Well?” Kiera said. She was leaning her arms on the center console. “Where are they now?” I asked. Leah repeated my question and parroted back their answer. “Okay,” I said, “we’re going to get them. But they’re paying for McDonald’s.” I smiled to myself. We had the power now.

We found the boys waiting in the parking lot behind the strip club. Kiera made room and they slid into the backseat bringing in the smell of salt and sweat. Colton was steaming, his mouth turned down and his eyebrows drawn together. Gatlin started chattering as soon as he buckled his seat belt. “Thank you so so much! Seriously, I don’t know what the fuck we would have done. Thank god Colton got your number, Leah,” Gatlin said, bumping his shoulder against Kiera’s as she was squished against the window. Kiera made eye contact with me in the rear-view mirror and mouthed, This one’s mine. “Of course! We’re always up for an adventure,” Leah said. That word again. “I wouldn’t call my truck getting towed an adventure,” Colton said. Leah leaned back and brushed her hand on his knee. “It’s an adventure if I say it is.” Her words were almost menacing. I drove us to the tow lot per Colton’s instructions and he then followed us in his truck to McDonald’s. Gatlin stayed with us, in a fervent conversation with Kiera and Leah about what it’s like being an army medic. “Is Colton a medic too?” I asked. “No,” Gatlin said. “He’s artillery. Loads guns.” Leah jumped in Colton’s truck once we got our midnight snack, after the two of us silently communicated that she could have him. I wasn’t interested, not even for the night. Are you sure? Her eyes seemed to say. I was sure. Loneliness is an open wound. I didn’t want to stick a finger in there and twist.


The boys had a hotel right on the ocean. Their room was on the second floor, their window overlooking the black shore. Two other boys were in the hotel room, snuggled up on a bed together. They were wearing motorcycle jackets and seemed to be having a thumb war with their hands when we walked in. The room had a sandy tile floor and cream-colored walls and curtains. Beer pong was set up on the desk. “Say hi to the ladies,” Gatlin said, gesturing at us like we were freshly caught fish on a line. Both boys looked up and grunted at us. Their names were Bryan and Rick. “Why couldn’t they get your truck? I didn’t know there were more of you,” I said. I started to grow wary of the situation we had entered. I tuned into my surroundings. I tried to memorize every inch of the room and the boys in it. Did I remember Colton’s license plate? These were things I knew Leah and Kiera would never think of, would never notice. “We’ve got bikes,” Bryan said, smacking his hand on Rick’s jacket. “Oh,” I said. I rolled the panic off my shoulders, and sat on the edge of the bed, watching Colton pour Hennessey into Leah and Kiera’s sweet-tea cups. The group began to play their party game, encouraging me to engage with them, but I stayed seated. I didn’t want to drink anymore. I was beginning to crawl into myself, any artificial high long gone. Instead, my dark thoughts welcomed me back, waves crashing over and over. I kept glancing out the window, wanting to escape the hotel room. It wasn’t the best hotel room I’d seen. It wasn’t even interesting in that grubby way. It was just boring. I was bored. I needed a distraction. Through the window, I could see the white crests of the waves through the inky black of the night. I wanted to be with the waves. I never felt alone when I was in the ocean’s embrace. I didn’t want to sit on that bed anymore. Rick and Bryan started making out, their smacking and slurping noises blending into the sound of the Ping-Pong balls bouncing on the tile. When Bryan shucked his jacket to the floor and mounted Rick, Colton began to grow uncomfortable. He flicked his eyes over to the boys, I think 80

not because he wanted to watch them, but because he didn’t. I wondered about the relationship of the four boys in the room. I wondered where they met, where they usually rested their heads. What color were the bikes? What were their last names? What did they want? Did they think we were sluts? I recoiled at my use of the word. “Anyone want to walk on the beach?” Colton asked. I stood up abruptly and smiled, the movement so jarring on my face I thought my skin would crack. “Me!” I said. The girls grabbed their cups and Gatlin grabbed Kiera’s hand. We left Bryan and Rick in the room and walked to the shore. The neighboring hotel also spit out onto the sand, and a small group of people were smoking at a picnic table next to a swimming pool. We passed them as we opened the hotel’s gate to step onto the beach. I only saw one of their faces, a woman wearing a bikini, half of her face lit by the light in the pool. She seemed to snarl at me, the cigarette clenched between her teeth. Kiera and Gatlin left our group quickly, walking towards a lifeguard tower in the distance. Gatlin was matching every step of his to hers, their prints perfectly aligned in the sand. Colton, Leah, and I sat down. Colton had put on a jacket, but it wasn’t cold. I gazed longingly at the water, the moonlight kissing the waves silver. I could feel tension brewing between the two of them. I started to unlace my sneakers and stuffed my socks inside them. I dug my toes into the sand until I couldn’t see my black toenail polish anymore. I stood up. “I’m going to the water,” I said. Leah moved slightly. I raised an eyebrow. Do you want me to stay? She shook her head, our telepathy clear. She gave me another wink and said she would watch my shoes. The ocean called to me in a way I think dancing and parties did for my sister and friend. We were all drawn to a different form of chaos. I strode into the water, ignoring the chill that erupted along my thighs. I kept moving into the ocean until the distressed ends of my shorts swirled in the churning black water. I gazed forward, my eyes tracing over every wave, searching for something to break out of the horizon line, to


jump up to the moon, to jump over to me, to challenge me. But it stayed the same, flowing back and forth, the dull roar calming my senses. I was moving to the mountains at the end of the summer. There wouldn’t be an ocean there; it was a place to get lost, not come home. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would ache for the moments in the dark with the sea. Maybe it was the only love or passion I’d ever known. I felt the compulsion to bend down and plant a kiss against the surface’s salty face. I supposed mountains had their own power. But here I was nearly knee-deep and connected. How far would I have to walk before I felt the link? Would control be over a cliff’s edge? The hair rose on my arms, quivered on the back of my neck. A gunshot rang out in the loud quiet of the beach. I looked for a bullet, skidding over the body I had just kissed, but only the ringing of my ears told me there was a disturbance. I whipped around and saw Colton standing at the shoreline, water sloshing over his shoes. He held a gun outstretched in his hand, like he was holding the moon hostage. Leah stood a few feet behind him, her shirt clutched in one hand, the other over her mouth in shock. “This night is dead,” Colton said to me. It felt like a challenge. A charge ran between us, coursing from my toes in the water to his damp sneakers in the sand. I could see Colton’s eyes, cold and unbothered, but I knew he couldn’t see mine. Couldn’t feel the weight of me. The light of the moon was behind me. He slid the gun into his jacket pocket and strode back toward the hotel. I ran out of the water to Leah first and clutched her shoulders, giving her a shake. “What the fuck just happened?” I said. I could see Kiera and Gatlin making their way over from the lifeguard tower, their pace quick, Kiera stumbling in the sand. “I—I don’t know, we were making out and he wanted to have sex with me but I kept pushing him off. I told him no, he got pissed, and then fucking shot at the night.” “Wow,” I said. I saw Colton’s shadowy form standing by the hotel gate, waiting. Waiting for me? “I know,” Leah said. She slipped her shirt back on and 82

then began to laugh. She doubled over, clutching her stomach as laughter pealed out of her. “What a drama queen!” she said, covering her mouth again in shock. “This is serious, Leah,” I said to her, my eyes still on him. “I know! I know!” Leah tried to wipe the nervous grin off her face. Kiera and Gatlin joined us, Kiera moving to wrap Leah in a hug. “What the fuck was that?” she said. “Why does your friend have a gun?” I asked Gatlin, moving to put my girls behind me. “I didn’t know he had it with him,” Gatlin said, throwing his hands up in surrender. I tried to read Gatlin’s eyes but he still had that damn hat on. I snatched my shoes from the sand and slipped the sneakers on my feet, shoving my socks into my wet pockets. We stomped through the sand to join Colton who was leaning calmly against the gate. Leah pushed past him, Kiera clutching her hand. Gatlin shoved Colton on the chest. “What the fuck, man?” he said. Colton said nothing. The people at the hotel next door were gone, except for the woman in the bikini. She was sitting on top of the picnic table now, her face in darkness, a hand rolling a cigarette butt between her fingers. When we walked past her, she sparked open her lighter, illuminating her face. I met her eyes for a beat. She nodded and then flicked the light out. I had shoved my car keys between my breasts. I pulled them out and flicked open my key like a switchblade, clutching it tight in my hand. “Do you guys need anything from the room?” I asked the girls. Both shook their heads. “Let’s just go,” Leah said quietly, her arms wrapped around herself. Colton and Gatlin stood with us in the hotel parking lot, the bright lights illuminating the drops of seawater that dripped from my shorts. Gatlin looked sorry, his hat in his hands, regret written all over his face. Colton stayed quiet. “It was nice meeting you ladies,” Gatlin said.


Leah snorted. “Likewise.” “Good luck in Syria,” Kiera said. I flicked my eyes back over to Colton. His expression was sour but he had the intelligence to keep his hands where I could see them. He knew I was watching him. I hoped he knew what I could do to him. What I wanted to do. Colton would never meet another storm quite like me. I dug my nails into my palms until they were sticky with blood. Then I released them, took a deep breath, and did what Leah wanted. “Let’s go,” I said. I pushed the girls ahead of me and we walked to my car across the lot. I looked back and saw Gatlin walking up the stairs to his room. Colton still stood where we left him. He lifted one hand to put it into his pocket. “Girls, get in the car, now!” I pressed the unlock button on my keys rapidly, and we ran, our sneakers slapping the pavement. We stumbled and slammed into the car and I sped out of the parking lot, our rapid breathing fogging up the windows in the humid car. I saw Colton in the rearview mirror, his gun held out to us, his body shaking with laughter.

An hour later, once we had driven north along the coast and quietly slipped into the house without disturbing my dad or the dogs, Leah’s phone lit up where it rested on the pillow between us. “It’s four in the morning, who is texting you?” I said. Leah grunted at me, mostly asleep. I sat up in bed and leaned over, the tips of my sea-salted hair curling onto the pillow next to the phone. I tapped the screen. We can still have sex. I have my truck. Where are you? I’ll come to you. We can do it in the truck. Better than the beach. Trust me, I’m good. The phone buzzed again. I’m sorry about the gun. Just playing around. My job is guns. Buzz. Come on. 84

Buzz. I thought you wanted an adventure. I touched the crusted blood on my palms and contemplated a response. I deleted the messages, then blocked his number. I curled against Leah and held her tight, held her until the sun rose and I was convinced guns and mountains shouldn’t exist. Until I convinced myself that I wouldn’t always be alone.

Seascape Near the End of Time Steven Ostrowski


My Body, and Other Remains Alaina Bainbridge I cringe under your touch. I wait for it to be over. I lean back silently, close my eyes and stiffen. After, as we lay side by side, under the yellow bird-print sheets you say quietly, “You always keep your eyes closed, like you don’t want to look at me anymore.” The space between us unfurls, wide and desolate, into silence. I roll onto my side and look out the window into the clean dawn. There is a tiny, dried bouquet of wild flowers on the window sill and I reach out to touch the fossilized petals. You used to make these bouquets for me whenever we fought. You’d pick them from the grassy parts of the sidewalk or the tomato can outside the dive bar we used to like. I saw you once, out the kitchen window, hunched over in the afternoon sun, pinching the dime-sized flowers between your thumb and pointer finger. I watched you fumble about, trying to tie the little flowers together with a stem. I still find your bouquets dried up in corners, on shelves. I try to calculate how many of your apologies I have dusted up. Entire gardens, probably. I turn back towards your naked body. “Give me a little eyelash kiss?” I whisper. You move your face close to mine and blink against my cheek. I pick at the dry skin on your temple, flaking it into the sunny room. “I want to give you a real kiss.” The fan rattles overhead. “It’s just…my mouth gets so dry now.” You sigh, roll over, and pull the sheets up to your shoulders. 86

I open the screen door and stand, in the cold, blue morning, sipping my coffee. The air moves clean through me. I am empty now, save for the pale sun jingling inside like a bell striking in the abandoned city of my body. Standing on our porch, I listen to the snow melting. I watch the ice turn to water, turn to mud. I hold myself together because the yellow crusting dishes need washing and because the cracking light is enough to fill me, if only for a moment, with quiet joy. A dog barks and the neighbor boy shrieks with delight next door. I close my eyes tight and remember the speculum sliding through me like a gun, cold and metal, stretching my skin till it tears. Legs open, eyes closed, I hear, through the glass window, the sounds of children leaving school. They yell and laugh in the remaining afternoon sun. Some bleeding is expected, he says, pulling out his wet, gloved hands. On the bus back home, my warm blood soaks into the seat. I cover myself with my jacket and lean my head against the window. Between the baring branches, the pale sky lightens. The bus stops. An old man sits down, looks over at me, and licks his lips. Hundreds of geese stand on the frozen water, perfectly still. “Why are you out here?” I feel your warm hand on my neck and I can’t stop feeling it.


the sacred & unfamiliar Sheree La Puma At first directed towards the pleasures of sex, drinking, philosophy, music, they were all left empty. In all those directions I became emaciated. –Kafka

the homeland

[afternoon]/[an intersection] of ways

[a study]/in

my job [sacred]/[unfamiliar]

where i fail <you> night

how to be a better mother a life


if I say that [writing] might be redemptive i mean that *hope is found in the hands

of a woman

praying for release

nothing is/promised

gone are the soft days

of celebration

first step/first tooth/first word [mama] 88

i am love

that stumbles & drifts

*this only makes sense if you

understand how i identify a family’s <ruin>

between hope & despair

[i surrender] don’t speak of my leaving to <anyone>

with my back to the sun

my shadow

brings its bad conscience *forward

when there is nothing left but [rubble]/[isolate] air i follow a flock

gulls/to lands’ end

watch the world

fold itself into sea

before reemerging

as a new [wrecking] ball 89

Blooming Cass Brown


In the Dust of Their Feet Shawn Rubenfeld The first building was done in four weeks. Working, working, day and night. Three weeks later, a second. Four weeks later, a third. Six months. Nine months. Jack’s grandfather there at every step, overseeing via Skype from his nursing home in Lynbrook. And then it was July. “How’s my Yonishkel?” he said, shaking the screen violently to scratch an itch by his ear. When he couldn’t get the screen straight again, he held the tablet sideways. “My village. My shtetl.” “You’re upside down,” Jack said. He held up a hand to demonstrate. “Flip the tablet over. Hold it upright.” “But this is my good side,” his grandfather said, turning his face to the left, then to the right. He winked. “Here you only see how many wrinkles? Two, one?” “Zero,” Jack said. “But listen, I couldn’t see any before either.” “Of course not. I have no wrinkles. Not even on my chin.” “Not even on your chin,” Jack said. He started touching his own chin. The stubble was moist with sweat. “Maybe when I’m ninety I’ll be so lucky to not have any wrinkles.” The screen turned on its own and his grandfather’s face was right-side up again, smiling, his dentures yellow and dull. He started into a cold, hard laugh which caused the wrinkles on his chin to form a smile of their own. “Twenty-four and already you figure out life: if you want people to think you’re smart, just agree with everyone, yes?” Jack lifted his shoulders in a half shrug. “I’m actually twenty-five. But yes.” The old man blew out his cheeks. He smacked his forehead as if squashing a bug, then itched in the same spot. “What did I just say? You want to be smart and liked, don’t correct. Just agree. When someone you meet insists they make the best tasting borscht of your life—even if it tastes like the 91

the borscht your mother used to make, the one that used to scare away the racoons, bless her memory—you say yes, you know what: it is the best tasting borscht of your life. Then you walk around the corner and dump it. Only then, out of sight. Not that you should be wasting food, but this is a unique circumstance. Your Uncle Steven, you remember him, my oldest son, you know what happened when he went into the army to Vietnam? Someone said ‘we don’t want you here, you dirty Jew.’ What do you think he did?” “I don’t know. Kept his head down?” “No. He punched the guy right in the kisser and said ‘You’re right. I am a dirty Jew.’” Jack popped a mint in his mouth and shook his head. Gena Testautti, one of his friends from film school who was helping with the labor, marched by just then with a big piece of plywood on her head. Jack, sucking on his mint, watched her go—the wood shadowing her and seeming to move on its own. Two more of Jack’s friends stood off to the side and cheered her on. Gena was the smallest of the group and the only girl. She was also the only one on site from the beginning—besides Jack—who didn’t have experience in construction. She was a screenwriter, always fidgeting with this script or that script. She and Jack had been exchanging work for years. He admired her monomyths most of all—the one he was reading now was about a young woman from the Texas panhandle who sets off to track down her estranged father who, it turns out, is a con-man hiding in Cuba. It wasn’t her best work, but Jack was in awe of it all the same. On the screen, his grandfather was choking on some phlegm, his body heaving, a fist to his mouth. Jack coughed reflexively. Suddenly his grandfather seemed fine. “Not you also?” he said. “There’s this damn wind here. Does the wind bother you, too?” Jack pointed at his mouth. “No, it’s just the mint.” The old man reached for the glass of water he kept on his nightstand and took a quick sip and said, ‘ah.’ He cocked his head as if stretching. “Okay, forget it. I don’t want to talk anymore about my troubles. So, what was it you wanted to 92

show me today?” “Right,” Jack said, standing, patting the excess dirt from his jeans. Gena was on a ladder now, at the other end of the site, hammering nails. “I wanted to show you this new place while I have you on the line, then I need to get back to work. We’re calling this one Gimel. Put the tablet on the table if your arms get tired, okay? You don’t have to hold it up.” Jack’s grandfather was ninety-one, which meant different things to different people. For him, it meant that his arms were always getting tired. That’s what old age does, he’d say. My mind is fine, it’s the body. The body, the body. How the body betrays you. First the arms, then the hands, then the bowels, then the blood runs thin because you can’t get blood from a faucet and then, of course, the cancer. Jack walked him around house number eleven of twelve—the one they called Gimel—showing him this nook and that nook. Of course, they still needed to bring in subcontractors who would install light fixtures and outlets and finish the plumbing. They still had to put the molding in and figure out the paint. But these were small details that would come together like small details do. They did ten times already. What mattered was that no one had expected all this to be done so soon. No one, that is, except Jack’s grandfather. “It’ll be hard work,” he had said, when Jack first told him he was taking on the project. “But it’s harder still being idle if you ask me.” And now, mid-July, just over eight months from their official start date, here was yet another house done. A cabin in the woods. Only it wasn’t a cabin. It was a wooden house that once sat on the eastern-corner of the market square in the Lithuanian shtetl of Yonishkel, which, like so many shtetls in the former Pale of Settlement, had been burned to the ground by the Nazis more than seventy-years before. Reconstructed in the Catskills, piece-by-piece. One building of many. Yes, Jack knew the whole thing was nuts, but it was for his grandfather. It was his last wish. For this, he was staying alive. “They just don’t make them like this anymore,” Jack said, kicking some dust to the wall. “But maybe that’s for the better. Do you remember who lived in this one? We tried doing it just 93

like the pictures but the shingles here gave us some trouble.” “Of course, I do,” his grandfather said. “I remember all of it. Everything. One doesn’t forget their home. Their teeth, fine. Their dinner. Their lunch, definitely. But never their home.” Jack was outside again, scratching a sliver of wood from the front wall. He watched as Gena took two steps down the ladder. She hiked her jeans and turned to face him, shielding her eyes from the sun which Jack could feel pushing its way through the trees behind him. He waved. She waved back. He gave a thumbs-up now and regretted it immediately. Sure enough, she turned her attention back to the hammer which she pounded and pounded into the wood. Four hours later, when the last of his friends had gone home for the night, Jack was standing with a can of beer in his trailer, flipping through his carousel of low production, deep cut, B-movie blu-rays. When he couldn’t choose a film, he brought a cigarette outside and watched the darkness sweep itself around the spruce trees, imagining himself directing it. He’d start with a shot of the ground, he decided, which was littered with wood, sawhorses, debris, trampled dirt, nails, screws, dried concrete, cigarette butts, and even water bottles. Then he’d pan to his calloused hands and then to his face—the soft green eyes, the upturned smile, the medium brown hair, the freckles scattered over his nose, the keloid scar on his neck—which would demonstrate what? That he, himself, was a work-in-progress? That it was he who created all this? Or would he pan to Gena, who he could see there now, hiking her jeans, waving to him? I haven’t known this kind of work since film school, he might say, blowing out smoke. Ask Gena. She knows. She’s more talented than me. Then, he’d follow himself back into the trailer where he’d watch his magnum opus, his award-winning student film, “And Say the Animal Responded.” And that, like usual, would be the end of that. The film had taken him two years, but he wouldn’t trade that time for anything. Not a real job. Not a degree that was worth a damn. It didn’t matter what his father had to say about 94

it. Better a steady dime, the father would remind his son—even at graduation—than a rare dollar. The cameras gone, Gena gone, Jack burned the cigarette butt in the grass and flicked it toward the other cigarette butts. He flipped through the contacts on his phone and called his grandfather. He was through thinking about himself. “Hello, Jack. Is that you? Sorry—I feel awful again. My stomach. My asthma. It’s always worse at night. Every night with this.” He laughed nervously. “Are you taking your medicine?” “If I didn’t take my medicine I’d be dead,” he said. “That’s not true,” Jack said. “Uncomfortable, maybe.” They talked like this for a few minutes. Then his grandfather said, “You know where we get that name? Yonishkel? You know where it’s from?” Jack asked where, though he had heard the story many times before. “After my mother’s mother. Your great-great grandmother. I wish that you had seen it then. And the people. Oh, the people. You were asking about the people before? They were warm, they were friendly. Everyone knew everyone. Some were religious and some not. Us? Not very religious. Not always. But happy. Despite everything happening around us it felt safe. Not like here. Nothing like here. You know what else? We didn’t need anything back then. So what we were poor? Everyone was poor. Do you understand what I’m saying? There were none of these…fluorescent lights. No internet. No television. You know what we do? We dance. We work. If you could read, then you study. Day and night. Things were simple.” Jack could see a picture in black and white. Who was it now? Orson Welles? Stanley Kramer? Peter Sellers? In the “war room” of his rented trailer, Jack had maps his grandfather had drawn by hand and walls of faded photographs he found in the Lithuanian archives. He went to stand in front of them again. They formed a storyboard that led him to the Catskills, which wasn’t Lithuania. But Lynbrook wasn’t Brooklyn. His grandfather didn’t seem to know the difference. What his grandfather did know was that the water pump, which


broke every other month prompting calls for donations to fund repairs, need be no more than five feet from the second window of the replica dry goods store and that the hard wooden bench, where the peddlers often sat and told stories about Lenin and the cossacks to the children, faced not the market square, but the cemetery, which was built on a high hill and which the locals clipped each week in turn. There was a big yawn from the phone. “You’re doing a good thing, Jack,” his grandfather said. “I should go to sleep now but I want you to know that I’m proud of you. I really am. I don’t think I say that enough.” “You do,” Jack said. “Don’t worry about that.” “Can’t you just take the compliment this once? I’m proud of you, okay?” “Okay. Thanks, grandpa.” “See. It’s always better when you agree, yes? Especially when someone is complimenting you. Especially then.” Jack shone the light from his phone on the wall of photos. The men in long black coats. The women in aprons that skimmed the dirt. Children with hats covering their hair. The Gimel house as he knew it now, lining, on one side, a packed dirt road, on the other, the market square. Windows open. Wooden shingles that shaped the arching roof line, looking almost plastic. It was standing outside the trailer as it once stood in Lithuania. The finishing touches on their way, like the locomotive that was supposed to come to town but didn’t. Like the harvest which always seemed late. The third-tier of the synagogue, the only building Jack had refused to show his grandfather because he wanted to keep it a surprise. Then, the final wooden house, this one without shingles. Concrete drying. Trees rising. Those asleep in the dust finally stirring awake. * Jack’s grandfather, Samuel, believed in magic. That was how, he explained, he survived the war. He wasn’t called Samuel back then. He was called Kagan, which was his family name. He had two parents, two sisters, and one brother. They 96

lived in a weathered wooden house in the market town of Yonishkel, which sat beside the Zifgo forest in central Lithuania, a full week to Vilna, almost three to Riga. They had chickens out back and a big wraparound porch where they would sit after dark and play cards. Sometimes they would roast pears. It was impossible to know where one family’s property ended and the other started. During summer, the kids would sneak into the muddy forest and play hide-and-seek. Adults would play hide-and-seek there, too, but they’d find spots to hide that were deeper in the forest, so deep that it was hard to tell if they were in Lithuania or Latvia. Samuel found his father there once, with a woman from Minsk who had been selling cherries at the Sunday market. “Let’s keep this between us,” his father said. “I can see you’re a man now. I can talk to you man-to-man. Do you know what that means? Man-to-man?” But Samuel was only seven. He didn’t feel like a man. Still, he kept their secret between them. By 1944, there were two holes also hidden in that forest, both holding 499 bodies, including Samuel’s father, including his brother, including the town’s famous Zeide, or grandfather, a rebbe under whom Samuel studied when he turned thirteen, despite the fact that his own parents stopped believing in God after the great famine. But this Zeide wasn’t just any rebbe. For him, the people came near and far, in part because he was a great dancer who could dance for hours without missing a step, and in part because he knew magic. At thirteen, Samuel was there in the prayer house when a weary-eyed mother from outside Kyiv shoved a two-year-old child into the Zeide’s arms. “He cannot walk,” the mother cried. “He’s disabled. I was told you’re the only one who could help. That you provide remedies.” The Zeide rubbed his beard and let out a long sigh. “So old and not walking?” he said. The boys in the room all looked up with curiosity as the Zeide placed the child on the dusty floor. He pointed a trembling finger at him and said only one word: “valk.” Samuel was sitting in the back, working through a page of the Mishnah. He closed the book on his finger and watched. “It won’t matter,” the mother cried. “He can’t do it. Every other


child is walking, running. Not mine. Something is wrong with his bones.” The Zeide motioned the mother quiet. He touched the child’s legs and just like that the child started moving, like a newborn animal at first, one chubby leg wobbling in front of the other, feet pointed sideways. The mother leapt back. Then it was as if the bones of his legs clicked into place and he was running in circles around the prayer house, faster than any kid Samuel had ever seen. Soon, the Zeide and the boy were dancing together. The mother was weeping. “What can I do to thank you, Zeide?” “Bring him back when he’s thirteen,” he said. “He should study Talmud.” There were other stories from the village. About the Zeide blessed with eternal dance while in self-exile by a peddler who was missing his legs. About the Zeide holding mock trials with impromptu tribunals that somehow affected court proceedings hundreds of miles away. About the Zeide taking God to trial and finding him guilty of negligence for not properly feeding his people. About the Zeide casting a gigantic yet invisible shield over the village, protecting it from the pogroms that had ravaged those who lived elsewhere. About the Zeide, with a literal flick of the wrist, causing the Earth to jolt as if nothing but a giant ball. Samuel’s parents didn’t believe such stories. They believed the child from Kyiv was due to walk anyway and would have walked on his own without the intervention. That the news from far away places could have easily been fabricated. In fact, they were certain it was. They thought Yonishkel was a very lucky place, but that it had nothing to do with the old man. Still, they liked him. It was impossible not to like him for he danced with an infectious energy and gave everything he had to the poor. Like others, they kissed his hand whenever they saw him and, despite thinking better of it, they lent him their oldest son. Their goal was always to make enough money to move to America. They didn’t trust the Lithuanians. They trusted the Russians even less. They wouldn’t say it, but in their heart of hearts, they didn’t trust the Zeide either. * 98

Jack woke to what sounded like rapid footsteps on the other side of the wall, pacing back and forth, back and forth. There was nothing in the trailer so he found a headlamp and opened the front door. He stared into the darkness, but all he could see was his breath like smoke disappearing and then reappearing. The ground beneath him was still. The wind whistled.

The next morning, Jack called his grandfather but it wasn’t him who answered. It was a nurse from the nursing home. He went peacefully in the night, she said. We were just about to contact family. I’m so sorry. The funeral was on a Friday, on a hill overlooking the Grand Central Parkway. It was raining. Everyone huddled under black umbrellas. Jack let the rain cover his body and wash him away. He felt the knees beneath him buckle. He stayed in bed for three days, silent.

Two weeks later, because he didn’t know what else to do, Jack was back on site, working. Then, fueled by an energy fiercer than nearby Kaaterskill Falls, Jack and his friends were done. They had given Yonishkel, his grandfather’s shtetl, a second life. It was September, nearly four months ahead of schedule. Symbolic, of course, because it was in September when the shtetl had first been burned to the ground. To celebrate, Jack and his friends drank on the steps of the synagogue, which had been the most challenging part of the entire project. From the outside, it came to resemble a tall log cabin with two long pavilions on each side of the women’s gallery. It had a vaulted wooden ceiling and a three-tier roof. There was one large window up top, meant to reflect the ornate carvings in the eaves—animals and sunlight—all of which had been lacquered by hand. They carpeted the steps and floor of the bimah in a deep red shag. The ark had been painted by Gena with thick gold strokes, exactly as it looked in the only surviving photo. Just being at the center of it all, Jack thought, could make him a religious man. Still, the building wouldn’t be used as a house of workshop. That wasn’t why they had 99

finished it. An event hall, maybe. Or a movie theater. It was too early to decide. He and his friends circled the water pump and talked about ‘what next.’ It seemed a loaded question: you rebuild a Lithuanian shtetl in the Catskills, what next? Turn it into a cemetery, maybe, Gena said. You know, with one grave. A living memorial. New York’s Skansen. Or a heritage museum. You can rent the houses as apartments, another said. But then you’d have a lot of interior work to finish. And all that costs money. This could make a great artists’ colony, said a third. If you don’t want to take the buying/selling route. You could even make the artists responsible for upkeep. Everyone wins. Soon the Greene County News and the Post Star were on site—taking pictures, asking questions. “Why’d you do it?” they asked. “Why here in the Catskills?” “What are you hoping to achieve?” Jack explained that originally his grandfather was to come and live in the twelfth house because it was the one most like the house he had lived in as a boy, but that now he was dead. Then he’d point out how most of the houses on site, though exteriorly Lithuanian, were interiorly modern, set up, if needed, for things like air conditioning and cable. None of which they had in the original Yonishkel. “Do you think your grandfather would have been proud of you?” they’d say. “That’s something you would have had to ask him,” Jack said. Eventually, the press grew bored and left. With most of the work done, Jack’s friends left too. But not before presenting him a gift. A new video camera. A Canon X4. “What next?” Gena said, hand on his shoulder, gesturing to the new camera. “Next—with all this done—you keep working, okay? It’s what he would have wanted.” “Okay,” he said. Some days Jack sat facing the ark in the synagogue and found himself fighting off tears. Sweat would drip down his temple. Once a finch was there, screeching from the wooden 100

planks in the ceiling. When he had finished his movie in film school—the final take, the first screening—all people could ask him was ‘what next?’ ‘Next, something bigger,’ he had said. But there wasn’t something bigger. He had run out of ideas. All he could do was think about the past, not that he knew much about the past. At sixteen, he couldn’t point to Lithuania on a map. Then his grandfather, diagnosed with cancer, said to him, ‘Do you know my only wish in life? To see Yonishkel again. I fear I never will. That it’s gone forever.’ And the realization he finally had one night after two then three then four new scripts were rejected. He would come out here and build his grandfather this shtetl. Because in one, maybe two years, it would be too late. Because there wasn’t a Yonishkel in heaven. Besides, Jack didn’t want to sit in an office. He wanted to make something that would last forever. Like a movie. Often he wondered what his grandfather would say if he were sitting there with him. I’m thinking about the people, perhaps. Jack would feel himself grow cold. There was a prayer book on the bimah, opened to the mourner’s kaddish. Next to it was a single candle. Next to that was his grandfather’s prayer shawl. Jack would ask, What about the people? Dead. All of them dead. And for what? For what did they die? For nothing, Jack would sigh. Maybe his grandfather would sigh, too. Maybe he’d clutch his chest as if wheezing. There’s no use talking like this, he’d add. Who can be bothered today? A pause. But you know what, at least they’ll be alive again here. Jack would shut his eyes and then open them. “At least there’s that,” he’d say. * It was September 14th when the Nazis marched into town. For weeks there were sounds from the front. One day it stopped and the fields and forest around the village were peaceful again. “I guess the Germans have decided not to bother with us,” Samuel’s father said. “Who could blame them? Stalin won’t let them reach Leningrad. It won’t help them to


waste time here. A village this small. Not even on the map.” Most, it seemed, agreed. But then the Germans did come. Thirty of them, Samuel had counted. They marched in two lines. They formed a smaller square in the market square where the Zeide stood wrapped around his fur coat, head bowed, hand raised. He said, kindly, “Can I help you Germans?” The soldiers laughed. “You’ll be our guests?” he said, lifting the hat from his head. It was the first Samuel had seen of his hair, which appeared thin and flattened from the hat. “We’ll prepare you soup. Come.” One of the soldiers stepped forward and said, “Do not move.” The Zeide turned and slowly rested the hat on top his head again. “Pardon?” The German smirked. “Every Litvak is to turn in his arms immediately. By order of the Third Reich.” “This town is not yours,” the Zeide said. “Or the Reich’s. We who live here follow orders only from God.” The soldiers laughed again. The one who seemed in charge walked right up to the Zeide and put his face in his ear. He had a dark red stripe down his leg. Samuel thought it must be made of blood. “Tell us more about your God,” he said. “Because my God doesn’t like Litvaks, and neither does my Fuhrer.” “And you?” “What do you think, Rabbi?” “It shouldn’t matter what I think.” They were silent. Another German started yelling that they were hungry and tired. “He’s wasting our time,” a third yelled. “Shut his mouth. The Jewish rat.” Here, Samuel, who was gathered with a dozen villagers behind the water pump, met eyes with the Zeide, who winked at him. Samuel stood. At this very moment, according to him— the only surviving witness—a belt snapped and the pants on the German in charge dropped right to the ground. The other soldiers broke out laughing. The people by the water pump did, too. The Zeide just stood there, tapping his 102

feet, shrugging. Before he even bothered to lift his pants, the German shot the Zeide right between the eyes. Samuel had not a doubt in his mind. It was because of the Zeide’s magic that he had survived. For two days later, after the Nazis looted every house and business in town, the men were marched into the forest and shot into a ditch. It was a beautiful day. The birds were chirping. Occasionally the Germans sang, some of them skipping arm in arm. As the first bullets flew, Samuel was knocked head-first into the gaping hole by something bigger than himself. There he lay—alive— between the heavy, bloody bodies. The Nazis kicked some dirt into the hole. Once the last had been shot, they started speaking Lithuanian and talking about restoring independence from the Soviets. That was when Samuel realized the ones shooting weren’t Germans at all. More shots sprayed into the pile of corpses. Samuel blacked out. Two days later, he woke. The smell around him was so bad that he tried to pull off his nose. So, he climbed out over his dead townsmen and walked back to the village to tell his mother and sisters that his father and brother were dead. But everything had been burned to the ground. Within the charred remains of the synagogue were hundreds of bodies, many of them children even smaller than him. He cried for a day and slept beside his mother and sisters, who he recognized because of their webbed feet and bracelets, under a fragment of the Zeide’s fur coat which kept him warm during the cool September night. The next morning, he stuffed his pockets with all he could find—chocolate, coins, spoons. Then he kissed his mother’s charred skull goodbye and started walking with the coat around his waist the only direction he knew: toward America. Little did he know, he was actually walking toward Russia. But this, too, saved his life. * In mid-September, Jack was smoking alone on the bench in the market square, watching the spruce trees shake in the wind—again thinking about what to do next—when the first person came. It was a boy of about fourteen with dark, sober eyes.


He was wearing a skullcap and a long brown coat. He was thin, tall for age, his face covered with acne. Over his shoulder was a black duffel bag, slumped in the middle as if empty. Jack sat up. “Who are you?” “Yankel,” the boy said, bowing, breathing heavy. He cleared his throat and double-patted his chest. “Did you read about this in the paper?” “No,” he said. Jack eyed the skullcap. Gray and white. “Are you from the local Jewish community?” “Last I checked. And you?” “You can say that,” Jack said. The boy gave a half-shrug. He was smiling now. “Great.” Jack burned the cigarette butt at the end of the bench and rose to his feet. “Look, this isn’t open to the public,” he said. “But I guess you can walk around if you’d like.” The boy extended a curt nod and headed toward the synagogue. Jack let him be. Then there were more. Boys, mostly, with skullcaps on their head. Gray. White. Some were big. Others were small. A few carried bags of dusty books. “This isn’t open to the public,” Jack cried. “This is privately owned.” But it fell on deaf ears. They settled into the massive synagogue, where chatter rose to the ceiling and filled the place like water. “Is the Hekdesh gone now?” “Where are we supposed to sleep?” “Ouch, my body aches.” Sometimes, Jack could see them there, heads ducked, fingers tracing invisible pages of books half their size. Sometimes he couldn’t. But always he could hear them— singing, whispering, tapping. Then the men, women, and children came, too. “I feel like I’ve been wandering like a chicken with its head cut off for years,” one of them cried. “My legs are about to buckle,” another said. “Hey, this place turned out pretty good.” “It’s a little humid, though, don’t you think? And stuffy.” “Eh. You get used to it.” Jack tried calling the local Chabad to see if they had an explanation, but the number posted on their website had been 104

disconnected. Then he called Gena, but she thought he was making the whole thing up. Anyway, it would be a few days before she could be back on site to see for herself. She was celebrating her parents’ anniversary in Albany. “Just take a deep breath,” she said. “It’s a lot. I know it’s a lot. Why don’t you get away for a few days? You’ve been there for what, three straight weeks now? It’ll be fine just the way it is. No one will bother it. I promise.” “You don’t understand,” Jack said. “There are people here. I can’t leave. They’re everywhere. They’ll take everything.” “Jack, I do understand,” she said. Still, he didn’t leave, and still the people were coming. Hundreds of them. Tall. Short. Dirty. Clean. “My grandfather,” Jack said, lost in the middle of it all. “This was for my grandfather. It isn’t yours.” “Who’s this?” one of the women asked as Jack stumbled through the crowd, shoulders slumped. He stopped and pointed to his chest. “Me?” Jack said. “I’m the guy who created—who built—” “That’s my son,” another woman said, stepping between them. She put her hand on a young boy’s head. “You don’t recognize him? It’s because he’s tall now, isn’t he? Getting big like his father. We were afraid for a while that he wouldn’t grow. I’m just glad he doesn’t take after his uncle.” “You mean you’re glad he doesn’t grow out instead of up?” the other woman said and they both laughed. At dusk, there was a furious rapping like a bell on the shutters of the synagogue and all at once the hundreds of faces in the market square turned to the front door. “The shamash,” someone shouted. “The helper. He’s back.” The boys filed out of the synagogue and joined the rest of the crowd, which pushed its way now to the northern end of the market square, facing the twin pavilions. Jack ignored his throbbing headache and did the same. There, looking out at the people, was a lanky man with a long beard. He said something in Yiddish. Then he disappeared and the door to the synagogue opened. Nothing happened at first. Everyone leaned forward in 105

anticipation. Out walked a tiny man in a leather hat, wearing a prayer shawl. It was obvious to Jack that he was some kind of rabbi. He raised a hand into the air and twirled—once, twice. The people whistled and cheered. It was a long time before Jack could see that someone else was dancing with him. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. It was his grandfather. Eventually, the people in the crowd formed a winding line as if waiting to meet a dignitary. The man in the leather hat stepped aside. One-byone the people kissed his grandfather’s hand. He accepted the kisses without speaking, his head bowed. “In the flesh the spirit,” one of them cried. “God’s will,” said another. Then, after Jack’s grandfather accepted the final kiss, the two men whispered to each other. The rabbi tugged at his white beard. Jack’s grandfather looked over the massive crowd at Jack standing alone by the water pump. He winked and Jack’s body dropped to the ground as if crushed by the weight of his own blood. The men laughed mirthlessly. They turned and disappeared into the synagogue. The people—every last one of them—followed. But when Jack stood and ran into the synagogue after them, it was empty. The painted details on the ark suddenly seemed dull. He called out for his grandfather, but there wasn’t an answer. Jack ran past the bimah, stirring up piles of construction dust. First he put his hand on the wall, then he cupped his ear there. Panting, he leaned against the bimah and watched over the room, looking for something, anything. He was cold. He wrapped his grandfather’s worn prayer shawl around his shoulders and stared blankly at the open prayer book. Strangely, the Hebrew letters seemed to lift off the page before dropping back into lines of ink. Behind him, suddenly, was a voice. “Hello. Howdy. I’m looking for the guy who’s watching after this place? Do you know if he’s around?” It was Gena. She was wearing a blue sundress and yellow rain boots even though it hadn’t rained in weeks. Jack put the prayer 106

shawl back on the table and walked over to hug her. He needed to make sure she was real. “This space is really special,” she said. “You did all this yourself?” Jack waited a moment before he had the strength to speak. “I had some help,” he said. “Yeah, I’ll bet you did,” she said. Jack put a hand on his chest. It was burning. “What happened to Albany?” “It can wait. What happened to the people you were telling me about? How many did you say were here? Hundreds? Thousands? They’re all hiding?” “I don’t know,” Jack said. “Show me.” Jack blew out his cheeks. How could he possibly explain it to her when he didn’t understand it himself? “They were just here.” he said. “And now they’re gone? Sounds like a script,” she said. “And not a good one either. A little Ed Wood, a little Larry Cohen. I see where this is going. It’s too bad. I was really hoping to see some ghosts.” “You should have come earlier,” Jack said. Gena laughed. “Come on. I’m taking you out of here. You need a drink. Or ten. I won’t take no for an answer.” “You won’t?” Jack said. Guided by the lights of their phones, they went outside—down the front steps of the synagogue, past the water pump, the bench, the square of wooden houses, some of which faced the synagogue, some of which faced the tall spruce trees. Gena drove the six miles into town, stopping briefly to fill up her Subaru. Once in town, they tried a bar called PJ’s but it was closed. “On a Tuesday? Well, that’s inauspicious,” Gena said. Then they settled on an Irish Pub called Dubliners, which was in a strip mall next to a Ramen bar. Gena ordered a pitcher of Guinness. She poured two pints and held up her glass as if making a toast. Jack drank slowly. He was twisting the wet drink napkin like a rope, tearing it into pieces.


Gena reached over to take it from him and put it next to her on the bench. “What are you thinking about?” she said. “Just that it’s gone,” Jack said, pausing. “That entire world. All of it vanished.” “I know,” Gena said. “My grandfather was the last one. After him there’s no one. Not a single person. Can you imagine that?” Gena crossed her leg under the table. She took a drink of her beer. “There’s you,” she said. Jack traced his fingers over the condensation of his mug. “Maybe that’s the problem.” * Two days later, when they drove back to Yonishkel together, it, too, was gone. The trees they had moved were somehow back in their place, the branches swaying silently in the cool, crisp September breeze. The grass beneath them yellow from the sun. All that remained was the trailer Jack had rented, still full of his B-movie blu-rays, still with the wall of faded photos from the Lithuanian archives. The threetier wooden synagogue and its twin pavilions. The market square alive on Sunday with merchants operating from worn wagons. The boys at tight wooden desks, studying under the one they called Zeide, a rebbe who was said to settle disputes by dancing, who knew magic—who had passed that magic to Jack’s grandfather, who carried just enough of it here for Jack to see himself. A cloud of heat lifted from the ground like a burning spotlight. Jack let out a harsh breath. He smelled not knotty pine or concrete curing, but Gena standing beside him. He turned to her, smiling. Her hand was covering her mou th. Her eyes were wet with tears. Before Jack knew what was happening, he extended a hand and took Gena’s body into his own. Then, they danced. Slowly at first. And faster, faster, as if on fire, until the voices and footsteps and scattered dust engulfed them like smoke.


Joey Aronhalt


Fit Sara Brown Indiana gives plum sunsets and the yellow afterthought makes me miss bluegrass and my father’s laugh. I think I can pull what I need from it. The windmills sooth the hot blood in my cheeks after I doze with my head against a guitar case. We are steadying a burnt highway towards Fort Wayne, and I’m hopeful I will not meet any more men with greasefire hands. I’ve already been a sweetheart to a man with coke nails that could drive bolts through a wall, darling to a soundchecker, his ponytail like a rope swing choking out the bass. Some men make so much noise. Some men assume such chunks of space.

I am mostly quiet; I cannot often hear my own breathing. Amongst the sharp blue neon of the cobble-wall bar, faces coated in purple undertones, the band plays and I measure the different ripples in my water glass at major and minor chords. I try to come up with something new so my body does not feel stale while we are on the road. Something has been churning in my stomach since we left the coast, a slight gag reflex, an inability to be full. My wrist flicks Xavier’s browning banana peel out the back window and I know nothing has been about me. It is the time I forget how to speak.

I offer to drive through the night of Indiana and feel the glass catch in my throat at highway turns as the road ascends up to dark heavens, into blackness I can’t name. Halfway to Port Clinton, an Ibanez starts poking out new sequences I donate a few words I’ve been holding onto. Leaving Indiana, trees are just smoke sitting in beamlight. In the rearview mirror, like God, I see that it is good only overall. 110

Bonding in Dreams Robert Stone


Two city memories Jay Wickersham

Outside the funeral home bare trees lunge in a wind that turns umbrellas inside out.


I was tired and the hill was long. I passed a pale woman crumpled into a bench and kept walking.


The Girl That Lived Between the Trees R.J.F. Fieschi Some tall and cracked in the middle, some short, barely stubs, some dead but still standing, some eaten alive but surviving, some sick, some young… and millions of fallen branches. All are always quiet. In their midst, invisible, except if you already know she’s there, resides a girl. She’s been amongst these ancient trees for several lifetimes but amongst them, her youth remains. Moss has grown over her body, her skin has in part turned into bark, and her long hair is thick and tangled like lianas. When she first stumbled into the forest, the human world was real and tangible. Her heart was full of fear of her persecutors. The deeper she walked in, the more distant these fears appeared, the quieter the roars of the industrial world became, and the slower, gentler her life passed. In time, all unpleasantness from her world disappeared, the only thing that remained true was the sweet taste of water, the warmth provided by sunlight, and the lightless feeling of air. She breathed in peace, surrounded by friends. As she caught her breath one rainy morning, her toes grew long and hard, forcing her nails to separate themselves from them. She wasn’t afraid nor was she hurt, she was simply intrigued and thus drew another breath. She breathed in deeply, stretching her arms above her head, allowing the air to fill her lungs and oxygenate her whole body. Her long hard toes grew longer yet and made for the ground. They sunk in as she stretched and breathed some more. Is this how trees are made? She briefly wondered. No, it is not. It is how I am made. She grew slightly taller with one last stretch, her arms


forming a soft X above her tilted head and her toes sinking, deep, deep inside the earth, making it their home. Her skin fully metamorphosed into bark, her arms transformed into twisted branches on which fresh leaves began to grow. In what may have been seconds or centuries, her heart stopped beating. In its stead was phloem. The trees around her whispered, she may one day bear flowers.


Dance Myth Robert Manaster There’s the myth of the dance, a swoosh into whirling — then a pause so slight you can feel its shade when eyes are closed. I’ve lived on the lip of breathing this, of finding then knowing this — this ruach, this brush over waters. “From a dream,” my wife tells me. A stage set dark — a solitude so settling God dreams there too, arms aside and stiffened, as if tied to body, which will glide in oblivious steps that are technically perfect. I’m inside the myth of my dance, the mask of this performance, and you cannot see or hear my interpretation. There’s this drive to dance and this oscillation: a baroque swing of the pendulum within, a squirm of boxed air I don’t flow into, a pull of gravity. I’m down and blank. I don’t even dance. I’m taken by the myth of my dance into Friday to our Shabbat dinner with my wife seated across from me, our children looking on, my face near candles — blue, tapered, uneven and leaning. The challah I had mixed, which she braided and baked, lies to my right.


I’m pulled away from the myth of my dance. Like God’s withdrawal, I’ll return changed as if the wind exclaims, water, water! The dash of flittering feet stops cold. Her hand feels tender. “How I can give up,” she says later, “our children to your religion.” I think of loss. “You can never make it up to me.” When steps stutter, I want to hold her. I’m drawn into the myth of this dance. There’s a scribble of blue along the water from a far-off splash-plink — the still, small sound Elijah hears of God. as Jacob struggles to walk home, as Joseph turns to his brothers and weeps, as Moses stands alone behind rock, crying, “Help me, God, once more.” I am with her. I’m like a child spinning for no reason but for pure extraction of will.


I dreamt about our criadas last night Horacio Sierra Rosario. Nicaragua. Mother of three. Maternal. Plump. Stern.

My first, unforgettable, always-on-time maid. 1990-1997. 7 to 14. My cognizant years. Saturday morning after Saturday morning. We were there.

Just you and me watching cartoons, eating leftover pizza, eluding baseball practice. Just me and you doing the laundry, shining the mirrors, pointing me away protectively as Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the front door. I handed you the check. You blushed.

Marina. Republica Dominicana. Mother of two. Blithesome. Rotund. Quiet.

My lovable, prim, long-gone without a “goodbye” maid. 1997-2001. 14 to 18. My formative years. Saturday morning after Saturday morning. We were there.

Just you and me surfing the internet, eating leftover pizza, listening to music a little too loud. Just me and you doing the laundry, shining the mirrors, looking the other way as I snuck girls and boys into my room and you showed up with bruises. I handed you the check. I blushed.


Thelma. Honduras. Mother of one. Tall. Wiry. Sprite-like.

My mother and father’s under-the-table, undocumented employee. 2001-2004. 18 to 21. Only during the holidays. Saturday morning after Saturday morning. We were there.

Just you and me reflecting on connections gone asunder, musing on life and love, visiting when I can. Just me and you doing the laundry, shining the mirrors, making phone calls as I pretend to not overhear the life you work for. I handed you the check. Neither of us blushed.

Old Railroad Depot, Santa Fe Rebecca Pyle 118

A Clear & Present Danger Sheree La Puma Acton, 1957, Blue moon out the back window. Tall grass rustling & Rose, sitting in a trailer, transfixed. Dean is nice to all the children. He lets them watch from the stairs of his bus, sings My Rifle, My Pony & Me. This is the

place America lives, mid-century. He looks like somebody who might stand for something. Don’t be fooled. Conviction is more than a just way of life. A half century later, I dance with my daughter. We share more than DNA,

but she can’t remember a time when violence wasn’t cream in the morning, coffee. Drink up. In our struggle for democracy, some flower, most bleed. America, your wounded body is a roadmap to something, dark & unholy.

I search for salvation with my mouth. Like it or not, faithless electors have a right to be unfaithful. If I only had a couple hours, full-scale insurrection. Remember, we are not victims of our genes, but citizens of an earth in protest.


Old South, New South Horacio Sierra 9 August 1526. Anno Domini. Winyah Bay.

600 souls arrive on South Carolina’s shores by desire by coercion by force. White bodies. Brown bodies. Black bodies.

Bodies blistered by sun, scorched by earth, singed by iron,

parched from submission to Church and State for God. Red tongues set in white faces speaking Spanish that morphs into a Creole dialect.

Red tongues lashed in brown faces translating Siouan into Spanish and back again.

Red tongues bound in black faces forgetting Yoruba and Igbo to accommodate Spanish.

29 September 1526. Anno Domini. Supelo Sound. Fewer than 600 souls arrive on Georgia’s shores by necessity by acquiescence by default.


White bodies tanned brown. Brown bodies blazed copper. Black bodies forged blue. Bodies sanctified by Rome, saved by Rome, ignored by Rome,

desiccated from submission to Church and State for God.

Red tongues withering in tanned faces beset by pale privilege unwilling to accommodate

red tongues resisting in copper faces welcomed by familiar brown bodies building mahogany homes that welcome

red tongues rebelling in blue faces seized by the opportunity of tanned flesh waning pallid by brown-black alliances. 2026 Anno Domini. The South. Red tongues drawl English in white bodies, brown bodies, and black bodies that make way for the return of red tongues in white bodies, brown bodies, and black bodies heralding the Spanish of the New South made Old again.


Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah


The Messenger Brett Biebel During the Democratic primary, the senatorial candidate made one ironclad promise. If elected, he’d be the best bowler in Congress. Better than Sasse, better than Smith, better than anyone from New York or LA or Wichita. He’d use this skill as a political lubricant, drafting legislation laneside and rolling his way into deals with job-creators and foreign dignitaries. At first, his whole staff thought this was an oddball joke or maybe a too-clever bit of electoral strategy (and they warned him about Mondale falling on his ass, to which he replied, “That comparison is a personal insult”), but then he went and made the idea the centerpiece of his campaign. Rather than visit every county, he visited every listed bowling alley. All 114. Called each stop a “Rally at the Alley” and appended Roman numerals to each one like they were Super Bowls. In fact, some of the places were called Super Bowls. Super Bowl Grand Island (Rally at the Alley XCV), Super Bowl Alliance (III), Super Bowl Chadron (I). There was Husker Lanes in Ogallala (VII) and Starz & Strikes in Plattsmouth (CXIV). At every stop, he bowled three games, usually in jeans and a John Cougar Mellencamp t-shirt, each with (zero in the beginning, then one, and then by popular demand) three different, randomly chosen registered voters, and after each frame he got on the PA and answered a question, supposedly from the crowd and drawn out of the biggest bowling shoe his top aide could find. Most of the time, the questions weren’t even about politics, and, by the end of tour, everyone knew his favorite ice cream (graham cracker), the name of his dog (Truman), and where he was on January 2, 1996 (at a bar in Kearney with two Native guys and his future wife Elaine watching “the greatest run ever made by


a college football player, or no, wait, anybody who ever played football, whether it be American or European or Australian”). In Scottsbluff (V, where he bowled a 760 series), it was noon, and the only people there were two men drinking High Lifes and maybe a dozen Hispanics celebrating the birthday of a girl who looked about 8. By the final third of Lincoln (CI, CII, 599 and 826 respectively), they’d switched to exclusively evening rallies and had enough money to buy French fries and chicken wings and pizza and were competing with fire code to the point that people had to be turned away. It got so intense that there was the natural backlash from his primary opponents and even the Republican incumbent (though everyone admitted, when pressed, that he had beautiful form, the way he slid and kicked the right foot out and left it hanging slightly off the ground like an open gate), most of which centered around the fact that the candidate never seemed to talk about anything remotely resembling policy, and there were competing theories about why this was. The presumptive front-runner at the outset, who happened to be a woman from Lincoln, trained as a lawyer and with an ambitious agenda regarding health care and common-sense firearm restrictions and “farm-friendly,” environmental regs, floated a riggedshoe theory suggesting that questions disappeared sometime between deposit and proclamation. Meanwhile, the incumbent claimed, none too subtly, that the attendees where too stupid, too stoned, and/or too over-sexed to ask anything resembling a real question. At one of the debates, the candidate was asked about all of this, and he said, “Listen, way Washington is now, no junior Senator’s gonna be able to do anything landmark, and even if by some Frank Capra miracle they do, they ain’t gonna have control over the specifics, so you might as well vote for someone you like. Might as well vote for someone who’s on your team.” And to some, relatively mild, surprise, people did. It looked dicey until certain areas of Lincoln and Omaha started 124

coming in, but, once they reported, he won by four points. At the victory party (Chop’s in Omaha, CV and CXV, 747 and 701), they went cosmic. A reporter asked if he was finally going to talk turkey during the general, and he said, “Who needs to talk about it when you can do it? I got three of ‘em already tonight.” The crowd roared, his staff queued up “Authority Song,” and the “greatest Husker since William Jennings Bryan” bowled another wobbly, some would say lucky, strike.


Focus Pocus Jeff Hersch


A Warning to the Mind Jeff Hersch


Book Quest John Power Even though things didn’t work out as planned, Darla was glad she had at least tried, and was successful in getting the book, at least. It wasn’t the sort of thing she’d normally do, and, later, Darla was glad she tried the sort of thing she wouldn’t normally try. It started one Wednesday night in early June, with just a few days left in the school year. Darla had been drinking cool pinot grigio, perhaps too much but not to an offensive degree, and besides, she had just finished her last lesson plan, on the last two chapters of an abridged version of Don Quixote, intended for advanced high school students or mid-level college. Darla stayed at least a day ahead in her lesson plans, so Wednesday afternoon she finished Friday’s plan, and was now done. Finals began the following Wednesday, and she had told her classes that Monday and Tuesday she’d be available and anyone could come by to ask any questions they wanted, but other than that, they should study. When she’d done that in the past the whole class showed up anyway, just to take advantage of the questions other students asked. Also, those last two days Darla cooked and brought in various tapas, just small samples and nothing too expensive, so the kids could try a papa brava or bit of manchego cheese. That Wednesday evening, right around five o’clock, Darla read the last few pages of the text and made her last few notes on themes, vocabulary, and conjugation. She hit “save” and then “print,” hole punched the pages, added them to the back of her AP Spanish 4 binder, and gathered her things. It was quite a feeling, at that moment, to have worked out her last class, and to have completed another school year. Darla had finished writing her final exams the previous weekend. All she needed to do now was grade them. Collecting her things, turning out the lights, and locking her classroom, Darla felt pretty good about herself and the year. 128

Darla walked down the hall and looked in the window to Susan’s classroom, Ms. Paulus’ classroom. Of the two, Susan was more like Don Quixote—taller, thinner, and, Darla was sure, more like a main character. That left Darla as the shorter, squatter, sidekick. In high school, in actual high school, Darla was sure she wouldn’t have been friends with Susan, or rather, that Susan wouldn’t have been friends with her. As it was, as teachers, they weren’t quite friends either. Instead, they just happened to have started at the same time. They went through orientation together, experienced disrespect from the students and more senior teachers together, and tried to figure out the best ways to deal with the students and more experienced teachers. And then, of course, parents on top of that. They commiserated, often over a glass or two of wine, and worked out “best practices” together. They made sure each other was attending happy-hours or gatherings at another teacher’s house before either one committed, and then made sure to arrive at around the same time to have someone to talk to. They were each other’s shield. And yet, at the end of each day Susan drove off to a condo on the second floor of a Lincoln Park townhouse she shared with her boyfriend. Darla had never seen it in person, and only knew the location and comparables in the neighborhood from internet searches and real estate websites. Each evening Darla returned to an apartment that was spacious enough for one person and one orange cat, Isabella, but which didn’t have Susan’s granite countertops, cherry-wood cabinets, stainless appliances, in-unit washer and dryer, gas fireplace, balcony, rooftop access, and, well, the list could go on before even getting to Kyle, Susan’s associate-at-a-big-downtown-law-firm boyfriend. Darla knocked on Susan’s door and simultaneously took two steps into the classroom, just enough to announce her presence but not enough to be presumptuous. “I’m done!” Susan, with wavy hair falling below her shoulders, two stacks of papers on the desk in front of her, and pop music coming out of an iPod dock next to the papers, did not particularly 129

look like an English teacher. Soon, she wouldn’t be for the summer. Soon, she’d dye her hair a lighter shade of blonde than the dirty blonde she kept it during the school year, and she’d spend her days at North Avenue Beach, or reading on her balcony, or spinning, or doing yoga, or at her parents’ lake house in New Buffalo, or on vacation with Kyle, or doing whatever it was Susan did all summer long while not working retail, like Darla did for the extra eleven bucks an hour. “Congratulations,” Susan said. “Wine?” “Ha,” Susan said motioning to the stack of papers. “I’ve still got a few more to go.” “Why don’t you take that home?” “No, I want to get it done. Kyle’s working late anyway, so I’d either be alone grading papers here or alone grading papers there.” “Or you could be having a glass of wine?” Darla repeated. She was done with everything but final exams, and wanted to celebrate with someone other than Isabella. “Sorry,” Susan answered. “I think I’ve got another hour of this, at least.” She put her thumb on the corner of the stack and whirled through it like a flip-book. “OK, well, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Darla backed out of Susan’s classroom, the narrow floorboards creaking underfoot. Susan’s and Darla’s classrooms were in the original building, which had managed to be refurbished but not gutted, and still maintained some of those old details, like wooden floorboards and real blackboards. As Darla walked to the parking lot she made her way past trophy cabinets and long rows of lockers into the new wing, which was still decades old, but was cinderblock construction, linoleum over concrete floors, and metal fire doors. She passed Dennis’ classroom, and looked through the little safety-glass window in the closed door to see if he was at his desk. He wasn’t. Dennis had started a few years after Darla and Susan, and after two years of teaching English, he’d soon be off to grad school for a PhD. 130

Darla lingered for a second at the window into Dennis’ room. She had once thought of grad school herself, getting a PhD in Spanish, and heading off to one of those small liberal arts colleges on the prairie of the upper mid-west, founded by some congregation of Christians in the 1800s, but which was now non-denominational. The campus would be at one end of a one-time mill town that now did most of its business at homecoming and parents’ weekend. A long park with a running trail along the river would be accessible two blocks from downtown, and everything would be surrounded by rolling fields just beyond city limits. She pictured a quiet life for herself. Or, maybe, a slightly louder life at one of the land grant state universities that revolved, with the seasons, around football, basketball, baseball, and then a humid summer when most of the students were away and she could focus on research. Either way, she’d have a small place with a lot of houseplants, afghans folded over couches and chairs to keep cozy in the winter, and, as a Spanish professor, maybe even a warm poncho to wear in the fall when she strolled down main street on her way to get Indian food, with red, orange, and yellow leaves rustling underfoot along the brick sidewalk. That would be Dennis’ life now, after a few more years of study and a PhD. Darla had once thought high school Spanish would be a short interlude, like high school English was for Dennis. But she’d grown into her routine. It wasn’t quite what she wanted, but it was comfortable enough. After the first few years tenure wasn’t too much further away, and Darla told herself it would be foolish not to put in the few more years for tenure. But once she had tenure, Darla had a good secure job with benefits and a retirement fund and didn’t see the need to go back to school. There was a certain kind of momentum to stasis. Also, the market for professors was terrible. Going to grad school would be a big risk if there wasn’t a professorship waiting on the other side, and Darla always looked askance at high school teachers who insisted upon calling themselves “Doctor.” She’d need to make sure she was her mentor’s favorite, and push herself for years to write a dissertation that said something original, and then get it


published at a press with enough prestige to put her at the top of interview lists for the few open Spanish positions around the country. That wasn’t the sort of thing Darla did, with a lot of trying and a lot of risk, especially when she had a comfortable alternative, with tenure, and Isabella, and pinot grigio. So she continued past Dennis’ classroom to the faculty parking lot next to the baseball field, got in her Hyundai, and drove home to her apartment, and Isabella, and her pinot grigio. After fixing dinner and putting out fresh water and wet food for Isabella, Darla took another glass of wine to the IKEA couch she had assembled herself, turned on the TV, and started her laptop. Exactly what Darla was searching for, she wasn’t sure. With E! on in the background, and a few open tabs on the laptop, she made her way through Amazon, eBay, Google, Craigslist, Wikipedia, and back again, clicking on links, following one idea to the next, seeing where one link would lead and what new search it would spark. After weeks or maybe even months of aimless searching, Darla had given herself a $300 budget and an end of school year deadline, hoping some structure would focus her mind. After all, she was still a public school teacher, and $300 was a lot of money. As to the deadline, she wasn’t sure if, strictly defined, that was the end of classes, end of finals, or when grades were due. She allowed herself some wiggle-room. Isabella had gone into the bedroom, and an ad for a show about housewives was on when it suddenly struck Darla, and her focus shifted to her lap and she excitedly pounded her keyboard like a concert pianist building to a crescendo. The first edition first printing, with the original dust jacket, was too expensive. Scrolling lower, though, she found a later printing, still a first edition, and without the dust jacket. The Grapes of Wrath, for $300. That was it. But Darla didn’t know who the seller was, didn’t know the first thing about rare books, didn’t know if she’d be buying a fake, and was suspicious about shipping and handling charges. She wasn’t going to buy online, but now she knew 132

what to buy. A few more searches gave her the phone number for a rare books dealer in the Loop. She poured herself another glass of wine, turned off the computer, and focused on the television for the rest of the night.

Darla had second period free after homeroom and first period freshman Spanish. Her phone was out of her purse before the last student had left the room. “Ferdinand’s—rare books, coins, stamps and more. This is Antonia. How may I help you?” “Hi, this is Darla Quigley,” Darla answered while sitting back down behind her desk. “I’m trying to find a copy of a rare book, and I was wondering if you could help me.” “That’s what we do,” Antonia’s chipper voice answered on the other end of the line. The voice created an image in Darla’s head of a slender twenty-four-year-old with straight black hair and perfect skin, wearing a dark skirt and jacket with a fire-engine-red blouse. Darla didn’t think Antonia would be friends with her in real life, but as a customer Antonia had to be helpful. “I’m looking for The Grapes of Wrath,” Darla said. “I’m wondering if you have any first editions. I’d like to pick it up in the next couple of days if possible.” “Give me just a second to look that up,” Antonia said, and Darla could hear her punching keys into the computer system. “As a matter of fact, we do,” Antonia said a few seconds later. “First edition, first printing, fine original dust jacket, ninetyfive-hundred dollars.” “Excuse me?” “Nine-thousand-five-hundred dollars.” “Oh,” Darla said. She knew from her research that’s how much, or more, an excellent first-first went for, but there was a difference between reading that on a screen and having someone, Antonia, tell you the price over the phone expecting you to say “I’ll take it” and read off your credit card number and expiration date. Antonia probably had a number of multithousand dollar first editions in her downtown condo, on the thirtieth floor, with granite countertops and Lake views. 133

“Actually, no, that’s not what I was going for. Do you have, like, a copy for three-hundred?” “Three-hundred dollars?” “Yes.” “No. That’s, no, I could get a manager to discuss the price with you, but three-hundred dollars, no.” “I mean, not for a perfect first edition. I think I saw online, like, a fifth printing for three-hundred bucks. Without the dust jacket.” Darla felt small saying that to Antonia. Even three-hundred dollars was a lot of money, a whole lot of money, especially for a book she could borrow from the library for free. But Darla wanted it. She felt humiliated, but she was willing to fight for it. “Oh, I see, I’m sorry,” Antonia answered. “Is that about the price range you’re interested in?” “Yeah. Maybe I could go a little higher, but that’s my budget.” “I’m sorry, I misunderstood. OK, let me see something,” Antonia said on the other end, and Darla again heard keys clicking on the computer. “Hmmm . . . looks like that’s the only copy we have in-store.” “The nine-thousand dollar one?” “Nine-thousand-five-hundred,” Antonia corrected. “Oh,” and Darla slumped in her chair. She felt like a fool for falling in love with the idea of a first edition of The Grapes of Wrath, felt poor for not being able to afford a ninety-fivehundred dollar book, and embarrassed for thinking someone like Antonia would help someone like her. “But let me see something,” Antonia said. “We have a few partners we share inventory lists with. Springfield . . . no. Milwaukee . . . ha, their copy is more expensive than ours. Cleveland . . . fifteen-hundred. I guess that doesn’t do it for you, right?” “Fifteen-hundred? No,” Darla said. “That doesn’t do it.” “ And St. Louis . . . oh, let’s see, they have a few copies. Nine . . . seven . . . two-five . . . . three-fifty. Could you do threehundred-fifty dollars?” “In St. Louis?” 134

“Yes, but we could ship it to you. We could probably have it here tomorrow, Monday at the latest, depending on what you’d like.” Antonia was actually very helpful. Darla began to regret judging her so harshly. But three-fifty was over her budget, and Darla thought about the shipping and handling fees, especially for next-day shipping. She also wanted to see the book before she bought it, check the condition, and thought that, maybe in person, she’d be able to negotiate the price. St. Louis was five hours away. A hotel room would bust her budget, and gas didn’t help, but with one hard day, Darla could drive down on Saturday, buy the book, and then drive back. Ten hours on the road. She’d never been to St. Louis before, and driving to a bookstore before turning around and heading back seemed like a waste, but she wanted the book. She’d heard you could see the Arch from almost anywhere, so that at least would be some sightseeing. Ten hours of driving in one day would be a pain, but she wanted the book, and some struggle and labor seemed worth it. Darla declined Antonia’s offer to ship the book, but took down all the contact information for Rudy’s Books and Collectibles. After hanging up with Antonia, Darla immediately called Rudy’s. They had the book, but couldn’t guarantee they’d hold it until Saturday—a sale was a sale. But, Rudy’s said it had been on the shelf for a while, and chances were it wouldn’t be sold between now then. Darla thanked the man at Rudy’s, presumably Rudy, but she never got his name. The rest of the day, and Friday as well, Darla went through her classes on auto-pilot, not because she knew the material cold, but because she wasn’t entirely present. Every thought she had was interrupted by the thought that someone was walking into Rudy’s at that very moment to buy The Grapes of Wrath. At lunch Darla went to the faculty lounge where Dennis and Susan had an extra seat at their table, but she didn’t want to give away her plans for The Grapes of Wrath. Instead, she sat at a table with Stephen and Teresa, two older science teachers Darla had next to nothing in common with, and she was too


distracted to do much more than make idle chatter and wolf down the turkey sandwich she’d brought from home. At three, the last Friday of the year, the kids fled the classroom as if chased by giants. But they didn’t get far, and lingered in the hallways, loud and jubilant. Though there were two more days of class on Monday and Tuesday, and then finals, most teachers were like Darla and didn’t actually hold class on Monday and Tuesday, and this, essentially, was it. Susan, in a blue, yellow, and white sundress more appropriate for a lawn party than a high school, entered Darla’s classroom and shut the door behind her, keeping out the rambunctiousness of the hallway. “How’s it going?” Susan asked. That was weird. Nine out of ten times it was Darla who initiated conversation with Susan, and when Susan did start the conversation, she did so with a more direct link to what she was after. Darla looked up from her desk, where she’d been collecting her things. Without lesson plans to prepare and no afterschool duties, she hoped to be on her way home before most of the students. “What do you mean?” “How’s it going? We didn’t chat at lunch.” “Fine,” Darla said. “Want to get a glass of wine?” Susan asked. Darla did. “I can’t.” “It’s the last day. Why not?” “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow. I’m going to St. Louis.” “A little mini-vacation before finals?” “Just for the day.” “For the day?” “Yeah,” Darla said. “Quick trip. Driving down and back tomorrow, so I need to get up early.” “Driving? Why don’t you fly? That’s like ten hours.” “I know,” and Darla shrugged and rolled her eyes as if to say “I’m foolish for doing this but what are you going to do, now please don’t ask any follow-up questions.” It was like a dog rolling onto her back to show submission. 136

“Why are you doing that?” “There’s a store down there I’m going to.” “A store? It’s not here? Like a big sale or something?” “No,” and Darla hesitated a second to think about how much she wanted to tell Susan, and who Susan might talk to. Darla knew this was a silly quest, and that the entire journey was a bit ridiculous. But she’d decided to do it, and she was going to do it, and that wasn’t like her, but she’d decided, and now she was going to go through with it. Still, that didn’t mean she wanted everyone to know. “There’s an antiques store down there, and they’ve got a book I want.” “What book?” “No offense, but I’m a bit superstitious about it. Let’s just keep it at that.” “There’s no place closer?” “It’s a first edition,” Darla explained. “I called some local places but they don’t have it. They could ship it, but it’s expensive and I want to look at it first.” “How much?” Darla didn’t think that was a very polite question, especially coming from Susan, who wouldn’t think $300 was a lot of money. “Well, it’s more than I’d like to spend without inspecting it first.” “You’re spending ten hours in a car to buy a book? You must really want that book.” “I do,” Darla said, again shrugging her shoulders as if exposing her belly to a larger breed. “Are you doing anything else down there? It doesn’t sound like you’ll have much time for anything else.” “I think that’s it.” “You going with anyone?” “No.” “Want any company?” Darla was confused by the question, and wasn’t quite sure what was being offered or asked for. “What do you mean?” “I mean I’m free tomorrow. I could do a road trip. Do you have room in your car?” “Yeah,” Darla answered. “But, really, I’m leaving early,


five hours there, maybe a half-hour at the store, and then five hours back. That’s my plan. It’s not really a spring-break road trip.” “That’s fine,” Susan said. “You and Kyle don’t have anything planned?” Susan’s face tightened and became slightly distorted and asymmetrical when Darla asked that question. Darla regretted it. She didn’t ask to pry into Susan’s life. “He’s being a jerk. I mean, not a jerk. Whatever. He’s working a lot. He’s probably working this weekend anyway. We’ve been arguing and stuff. Not a big deal. Whatever. A good day away just driving would be a nice distraction.” “You’d be cooped up in my car,” Darla said. “That’s fine. Road trip! It’ll be fun.” This was bad timing for Susan to reach out. Darla had hoped to do this alone. But she couldn’t think of a good reason to say no, didn’t want to push Susan away, and at the very least could use someone to share the driving. “OK. I’d love to have you.” They worked out the details while school’s-outfor-summer chaos reigned in the hallway outside Darla’s classroom. The plan somehow called for Darla to drive a halfhour into the city to pick up Susan, only to then drive another half-hour back out, before getting on the highway south. For the day, Darla’s time in the car had increased by two hours, if there was no traffic, but for some reason that made the most sense to Susan, and Darla agreed.

On the highway it was flat, though with plenty of trees, and after a wet Spring, very green. Large farms spread out for great distances, with neat rows of corn well on their way to being knee-high by the Fourth of July, and soy that wasn’t. The thick corn stalks and long leaves were a deep dark green, and almost looked to Darla like a cross between the Jolly Green Giant and a troll doll with wild, crazy hair. The soy clung to the ground, and on its own would have appeared as green as spinach, but next to the corn, required a dab of yellow to be mixed into the pigment if Darla had tried to paint her view. The 138

soy clung to the ground, and on its own would have appeared as green as spinach, but next to the corn, required a dab of yellow to be mixed into the pigment if Darla had tried to paint her view. The tall grass lining the highway was mostly light green as well, but with strips of tan and khaki in areas that didn’t retain as much water, interspersed with purple wildflowers. Clumps of silver silos near farmhouses appeared at regular intervals. But that, for five hours, was the skyline. There were some rest areas, where Darla and Susan stopped to change drivers, and chain restaurants and chain gas stations for refueling. Getting beyond Chicago’s suburbs and big box stores took some time, and closer to Missouri there began to be some hills and antique malls, one with a life-sized, fiberglass, pink elephant out front. About two hours in they came across a large wind farm, with dozens of white windmills, each with three white blades spinning like airplane propellers. At the three-hour mark they passed Springfield, which, from the highway, was only noteworthy for brown signs advertising Abe Lincoln-related attractions, a few smoke stacks giving off thick white smoke as if a new pope had been elected, and Lake Springfield, a very pleasant looking lake where various residents enjoyed their Saturday in small motor boats. But mostly, for five hours, Darla and Susan rode south in Darla’s small Hyundai looking at what could have been the same plain landscape of corn and soy copied and pasted a thousand times in front of their eyes. Susan controlled the radio, and for five hours they listened to a lot of pop music, a lot of the same pop music, and Darla heard repeatedly about parties in the U.S.A., sexy being brought places, exes that you used to know, shining brightly like diamonds, blurry lines, and making grandpa’s clothes look awesome. The landscape gradually improved and became slightly hilly, and eventually Susan spotted the top of the Arch over a distant rise, and pointed it out to Darla before it disappeared again behind the hill. It reappeared after a bend in the road, and not too much later they were crossing the Mississippi into St. Louis and ghastly highway construction. Unlike the


Arch, the river was not majestic, and the city looked industrial, or post-industrial, because many of the factory buildings appeared empty. There seemed to be a lot of sprawl to the city, and Darla’s directions took them to a strip mall type building in a not quite urban, not quite suburban, not quite attractive, setting. “Hi,” Darla said as she stepped into Rudy’s, and was greeted by a very welcome rush of cool, air conditioned air. In the few steps between her car and the store she had noticed how much warmer and more humid St. Louis was than Chicago. “I called a few days ago. I don’t know if I spoke to you or someone else. It was about The Grapes of Wrath. First edition.” Rudy’s was filled with glass display cases, and a thin, fair-skinned man with dark hair sat behind a long counter made up of other glass display cases. Something about him looked British, but he spoke with an accent that was slightly southern and slightly country and definitely not British. “I remember,” the man said. “That was me. Which, ah, fifth printing?” “I think so, yes. It was around three-hundred.” “Three-fifty, I believe.” The man, who Darla still wasn’t sure was Rudy, came out from behind the counter and walked to a display case up front. He unlocked it, pulled out a book, and set it on top of the glass for Darla to inspect. It was a normal looking hardcover book, with a gray-tan cover the color of old cinnamon powder. A dark brown stickfigure drawing showed the Joads and other Okies in a long caravan of jalopies driving off into the California mountains. “Can I touch it?” “Be gentle.” Darla picked up the book. It felt substantial, and based on touch, like a good value. It looked like a seventy-year-old book, but all in all was in pretty good condition, with no real stains or other damages. Darla flipped to the first few pages to inspect the edition and printing markings, and everything checked out, and then flipped lightly through the book. On the back cover was a white tag that read “—$350.” “Can you work with me on price?” 140

The man nodded his head from left to right, as if trying to touch his ears to his shoulders. “Maybe a little.” “I was thinking, maybe, two-fifty?” Darla asked, not at all in a confident voice. Bargaining was out of her comfort zone. “Two-fifty?” the man said, in a deadpan voice that was still his most excited tone. “I can’t do that. It’s marked threefifty.” “Well, I really didn’t want to go any higher than threehundred,” Darla said, “and we had the drive down here from Chicago, and then back. That’s a couple tanks of gas, so at three-fifty, with gas, I’m probably up over four-hundred. I don’t think I can do that.” “Well now, that may be so, that may be so, but I’m not the one that made you drive down here. And if you can’t get it in Chicago or someplace else, I figure you must really want it pretty bad to drive all the way down here.” That was true, and Darla wasn’t sure how to deal with an obvious demonstration of supply and demand. Also, with no prompting she had said she was willing to go up to threehundred, and Rudy hadn’t even tried to put the screws on yet. Darla didn’t know what to do next, and looked at the book on the glass top of the display case. “It’s a bit discolored right here,” and Darla pointed to a corner. “It’s a seventy-year-old book. The condition is already reflected in the price.” Darla looked down at the book again. She didn’t see any other damages worth pointing out, or that weren’t “already reflected in the price.” “Now, hold on a second,” Susan said, leaning her elbows on the display case, smiling widely, and tilting her head in an “I’m just a girl so won’t you please help me” pose. She didn’t have much cleavage, but by leaning on the case the neck of her orange and white striped tank top belled out, and Darla saw Rudy’s eyes shift down to see what he could see. “You already said you’d work with us on the price, right?” Susan asked. Rudy’s eyes rose, stopping for a second at Susan’s chin, and then her smile, and eventually leveling at her eyes. “That’s


right,” Rudy said. “OK, so let’s not get hung up on three-fifty, because we’re moving down from that,” Susan said, leaning away from the display case as if jerking back on a fishing pole. “The Grapes of Wrath was our Daddy’s favorite book.” “You two are sisters?” Rudy asked. Nothing about them looked like sisters. “We are!” and Susan put one arm around Darla to pull her in for a side-hug, their cheeks momentarily touching. It was, physically, the closest Darla had ever been to Susan, and Rudy seemed to like it when their cheeks touched. “And, it’s his birthday, and this is his absolutely most favorite book. We’d love to get it for him, all wrapped up and everything with a bow on top. He’d love it,” and Susan closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and ecstatically spread her fingers when she said “love.” One half of Rudy’s mouth grinned. “How old is he going to be? “Sixty-five. It’s a big one,” Susan smiled. “That is a big one.” “How old are you?” Susan asked. “Sixty-eight now, so I don’t have another big one ‘till seventy.” “No, that can’t be. Look at all that black hair you have. No offense to Dad, but he’s gray as a ghost and I thought you were in your fifties.” Rudy smiled, obviously proud of his still-black hair. “Well, as a birthday present for your Daddy, maybe I could do three-twenty-five.” “Three-twenty-five? We’re still at two-fifty,” Susan said, tilting her head and raising the pitch of her voice. “I can’t do two-fifty,” Rudy said. “I just can’t do that. What would you say to three-ten?” “You’re moving in the right direction,” Susan said, “but that’s still a lot of money. What if we came up to,” and she paused to look at Darla, who was trying, telepathically, to tell her to shake hands on three-ten so as not to offend Rudy and risk losing the book, “two-seventy-five?” Rudy shook his head. “You’ve got to come up more than 142

that.” “OK,” and Susan bit her bottom lip and looked up at the ceiling, as if deep in thought. “Well, you’ve come down some and we’ve come up some, right?” “That’s right.” “And we’re probably going to meet someplace in the middle?” “Probably.” “How about we save a lot of back and forth, and someplace in the middle is around two-eighty.” “How’d you figure that?” Rudy asked. “You were at three-ten and we want two-fifty, so dead center is two-eighty.” “You were at two-seventy-five.” “Yeah, but we didn’t want to be,” Susan said, putting extra emphasis and another big smile on “want.” “We can get our Dad something else for his birthday, and two-eighty is a lot of money for an old book,” Susan said, leaning in again on the glass case and looking up at Rudy with big eyes. He again tried to look down her shirt, as if he didn’t have any choice in the matter. “For your Daddy’s sixty-fifth birthday?” “Our Daddy’s sixty-fifth,” and Susan again put an arm around Darla and pulled her close until their cheeks touched. “What’s his name?” “Michael,” Susan said immediately, while Darla was still thinking they’d been caught in a lie. “Well, tell your Daddy ‘happy birthday’ from me,” and Rudy stuck his hand across the display case to shake with Susan. In the car, with the air conditioning running and the windows open while the built-up parking lot heat was pushed out of Darla’s Hyundai, she was ecstatic. Driving ten hours round trip to buy a $300 book was not the sort of thing Darla normally did. Bargaining with a salesman and getting him to come down over $50 was not the sort of thing Darla normally did. And, of course, Darla would drive twelve hours and she


bought a $280 book, and the salesman came down $70. She now owned a first edition of The Grapes of Wrath. Darla was filled with a euphoric high, and it lasted all through their unscheduled trip, at Susan’s insistence, to a barbecue place in the Soulard District, a harbor of smoke and molasses flavors and scents in a neighborhood of Nineteenth Century brick buildings. Darla felt like she had just gone sky-diving or bungee jumping, though she didn’t have those experiences to compare her current feeling to. It was extraordinary. She drove the whole way home, never getting tired enough to ask Susan to drive, not concerned about the monotonous countryside, not bothered by night-driving as the darkness set in, not even remembering to look at the Arch in the rearview mirror as they left St. Louis. As they rode back home Darla told Susan she had always liked The Grapes of Wrath, and that seemed to satisfy Susan and they moved on to other topics, mainly Susan and Kyle. Darla didn’t have much experience or perspective to offer, but she was happy Susan was confiding in her, and Susan didn’t have a problem doing most of the talking for five hours. Darla dropped Susan off at her condo, and then headed home. After giving Isabella fresh food and water she carried the book to her coffee table, pulled it out of the plastic bag, unwrapped the paper Rudy had packed around it. For a long time Darla just looked at the cover. She imagined herself like the Joads, packing all her possessions into and on top of her Hyundai, and joining thousands or millions of others in a great migration west, into the California mountains, and the pastures, beaches, palm trees, and orange groves waiting on the other side. It would be marvelous. Tuesday was officially the last day of classes, though Darla just held her customary “Questions and Queso” session before finals. At lunchtime there were a few cakes in the faculty lounge for departing teachers. Dennis was off to grad school for English, two teachers and a janitor were retiring, and two other teachers and two more staff members were moving and would be working at different schools the next year. There 144

weren’t any presents, not even for the retirees, but there was plenty of cake, and everyone stood around with a paper plate and a plastic fork and a mandatory smile on their face as they made small talk about summer plans. Darla’s last period was free on Tuesdays, so sat in her classroom waiting for the final bell to ring. She was out of her seat before the bell stopped ringing, picked up the book from her desk, and walked towards Susan’s classroom. On her way by she looked in and saw a number of students still lingering around Susan’s desk, Susan’s blonder hair visible in the center of their circle. Darla continued on her way into the new wing, to Dennis’ classroom. She looked in, and he was also surrounded by students. She waited out in the hallway until they were done, all the students had left the classroom, and Dennis, sandy-colored hair a bit long and swept to the side to keep it out of his eyes, was standing alone by his desk in a light blue button-up shirt and tan corduroy pants. “Hi,” Darla said, stepping into his room, and with one arm she pushed the door so it would close behind her as she continued towards Dennis’ desk. “Darla, how’s it going?” “Good. Last day.” “That’s right,” and Dennis’ eyes went to the item in yellow and red wrapping paper that Darla was holding in her left hand, partially folded up behind her arm. “What’s that?” he asked mischievously, pointing as a grin built across his face. “It’s for you,” Darla said, with “you” coming out as “youuuuuu.” “What is it?” “Open it.” She held out the package. “It’s a going away present. Cake in the lounge didn’t seem like enough.” “You didn’t have to do that.” “Open it.” Dennis peeled back the wrapping paper, and placed it on his desk once he’d pulled it away from the book with the graybrown cover, and the stick-figure drawing of the Joads and the California mountains. “The Grapes of Wrath?”


“You like that one, don’t you?” “Yeah.” “Yeah, you said it was your favorite.” “It is,” Dennis said. “When did I say that?” “At the Christmas party at Tom’s house.” Tom Alonso was a thirty-year-old math teacher who organized most of the parties and non-work events for the younger teachers. “At Tom’s? I didn’t go to the Christmas party this year.” “Right, not this year, but last year,” Darla explained. “You were new, or still pretty new. I mean, you started in September, and I’m not sure if we’d even said anything to each other before Tom’s, or at least not much. We were in Tom’s kitchen—I remember leaning up against his stove. You said you became an English teacher because of an English teacher you had in high school. I think you said sophomore year. You read The Grapes of Wrath that year, and you loved it, and it was your favorite book. I remembered.” “Oh. Right.” “I remembered that, how you said your favorite book was The Grapes of Wrath, and now that you’re going to grad school, in California no less, I thought it would be a good present.” “Oh, boy. This is too much.” “No it’s not.” “Yeah, Darla, it really is. I mean,” and Dennis opened the cover and flipped the first few pages. “First edition. This is too much.” “No, it’s not. I want you to have it. Fifth printing. See. Fifth printing. It wasn’t too much. Besides, I got a good deal.” “Trust me, this is my favorite book and I know how much you spent. That’s too much Darla. The entire English Department got me a twenty-five dollar Starbucks gift card. There are seven of them. I can’t take this,” and he held it out towards her. She looked down at the book. “It’s a gift.” “I can’t take it.” “I’m not going to take it back.” 146

“Darla, you can take it now or I’m going to put it in your mailbox.” For a second Darla thought he meant her mailbox at home, and that Dennis had looked her up and knew where she lived. Then she realized he meant the mailbox in the teachers’ lounge. She took the book. “It’s not a big deal, Dennis.” “I appreciate the thought, I do, but it’s just too expensive. I mean, way too expensive.” Darla looked down and kept her eyes on the book, and then looked up at him. “Yeah, I know it’s expensive. But I really wanted to give you something you’d like. And, I mean, I know you’re going to California in the fall, but I thought maybe we could hang out this summer. And, you know, some movies and some dinners and some drinks and pretty soon it will all average out and, in the big picture, it won’t really be that expensive. Besides, I did get a deal on it.” “I’m not sure if I follow?” “You don’t go to school until September, right?” “Classes in September, but my lease starts August first. And I’m going to Europe before that,” Dennis said. “Oh. I didn’t realize. I thought you’d be here all summer, and maybe we could hang out. I mean, I know long distance is hard, and stuff, and who even knows what would happen over the summer, but we get plenty of vacations and weekends and Chicago and San Francisco are both hubs so the tickets aren’t very expensive.” “I’m not sure if I said something, or did something, but, I feel like maybe I said something that gave you the wrong impression.” Dennis looked down at his feet, then the book, and then alternated between the two to avoid direct eye contact with Darla. “I mean, first, I’m going to California. So that, right off the bat, I’m not sure that’s a path I want to go down, you know, long distance.” “Well, yeah, but—” “But, more than that, Darla, I mean, that’s not really it. I mean, I guess I never really saw you that way. Honestly, I’m pretty surprised right now. You know, we chat, and stuff, and


you’re a good person, and smart, and funny, and I think you’re cool, but, I guess maybe you’re not my type? You know what I mean? So, yeah, I’m going to California, and I’m going to be tied up and busy for most of the summer, but, just so you don’t get the wrong impression or anything, for the sake of clarity, I don’t really like you like that, if you know what I mean.” “Oh.” “So, hanging out this summer, if I’m around and you’re around and whatever, sure, that sounds like fun, but not in like a ‘going out’ sort of way, if you know what I mean.” “Yeah.” “And, honestly, I’m going to be super busy, so I don’t even know if I’ll be around all that much to hang out.” “Oh.” “So, getting back to the book, too expensive. I appreciate the thought, I do, but, that’s just too much, especially, since, you know, we’re not going to be going out to dinners or movies or anything. I think it would be weird for me to take that. Right?” “Right. I see where you’re coming from.” “Good,” Dennis said. He felt good about himself for not leading her on. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow. For finals, I mean. I’ll see you here, for finals,” Darla said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” They nodded awkwardly, and Darla left Dennis’ classroom. At home, Isabella greeted Darla by raising her head, looking at Darla, and then putting her head back down. Darla took The Grapes of Wrath out of her bag, and put it on the bookshelf next to the TV. Darla’s quest for the perfect gift had been a complete failure. But when she poured herself a large glass of pinot grigio later that night after dinner, it wasn’t to drown anything. Darla looked at the shelf with the expensive first edition that she couldn’t afford. She had the urge to go out and buy another.


Zahava Lupu


Well-Schooled Heart Sean Madden Look at you now with your well-schooled heart, your eminent bruise on display. The coins in the fountain have told your fortune. It’s not what you thought it would be.

Pastel sketches of gulls in flight— unsettled weather tucked away. Well-schooled heart, be proud of your wound. Cast a new net in the sea.


Inertia Szilรกrd Szilรกgyi


{Contributors} Joey Aronhalt is an Akron, Ohio based film photographer. His work has been shown internationally in countries such as Italy, Greece, and South Korea. All of the work shown in these countries were created through the use of traditional medium format film, which is his primary medium. Through the use of film, his primary goal is to make the viewer question what is going on, beyond surface level questions.

Alaina Bainbridge is a first-year MFA candidate in poetry at The University of Colorado at Boulder. Her work has appeared in Cellar Door, Dreamer’s Magazine, and Blacklist Journal, among others. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. When she is not teaching or writing, she is out in the mountains rock climbing. Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Chautauqua, the minnesota review, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, will be published in December 2020 by Split/Lip Press. You can follow him on Twitter @bbl_brett.

K. Johnson Bowles has exhibited in more than 80 solo and group exhibitions nationally. Feature articles, essays, and reviews of her work have appeared in 50 publications around the country including SPOT (Houston Center for Photography), Sculpture, Fiberarts, and the Houston Post. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Fellowship and a Houston Center for Photography Fellowship. Recently, she served as a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, VA . She received her MFA in photography and painting from Ohio University and BFA in painting from Boston University. Ann-Marie Brown is a Canadian artist working on the west coast of B.C. in a house she shares with her husband, son, dog, and the occasional bear. Her oil & encaustic paintings have been exhibited across the United States & Canada, and have found their way into public, private & corporate collections. 152

Cass Brown graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2017 with a BFA in Illustration and a minor in Scientific Illustration. The work Brown is most passionate about has been an attempt to preserve nature in the face of rapidly devolving climate change.

Sara Brown received a BA in literature with a concentration in creative writing from Stockton University in December 2018. Brown has had her poetry and creative nonfiction recently published in Permafrost, Toho Journal, Willowdown Books, Southwest Review, and Swimming with Elephants. She has also recently been nominated for a Pushcart Award. Jinwoo Chong is a writer and graphic designer living in New York. He is currently an MFA candidate for fiction at Columbia University. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming at, No Contact, and others. He is the winner of the 2020 Hemingway Shorts Fiction Prize and serves as Fiction Editor for Columbia Journal. Aimee Wright Clow is a writer and book designer living in NC. Her writing and video-art has appeared or are forthcoming with Utilities Included, Stone Canoe, Ghost Proposal, Leveler Poetry, The Lifted Brow, Masque and Spectacle, and Reality Beach. Rachel Deutmeyer (b. 1991, Illinois) received an MFA in Integrated Visual Art at Iowa State University and has exhibited work in galleries and museums across the United States. Deeply influenced by her Midwestern roots, her photographic practice explores the ways people establish emotional connections to their surroundings and reflects an interest in the relationship of people to land. Currently Deutmeyer is an Assistant Professor of Photography at William Woods University in Fulton, MO. Richard Dinges, Jr. has an MA in literary studies from University of Iowa, and no longer manages information systems at an insurance company. Westview, Pinyon, Writers Bloc, Big Windows Review, and Slant most recently accepted Dinges, Jr.’s poems for their publications.


RJF Fieschi is a writer and filmmaker with a love for crafting immersive and haunting stories. While Fieschi’s short films have screened in numerous film festivals, this is Fieschi’s first year submitting prose.

Tatiana Garmendia is a figurative artist with a conceptual twist. She synthesizes formal concerns with a humanist engagement in history and culture. Born in Cuba at the height of the Cold War, the artist remembers playing in abandoned missile trenches as a girl. In her art practice, history is understood as meditations on national and private mythologies, as the stories we tell others and whisper to ourselves. Tatiana Garmendia has been teaching painting at Seattle Central College for over 20 years. She has exhibited her work throughout the US and in many countries including England, Italy, Germany, Mexico, and India. Her works are in public collections in Seattle, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Illinois, California, Ohio, and the Dominican Republic. Thomas Genevieve’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in the Baltimore Review, the Sierra Nevada Review, Hobart, Crack the Spine, decomP, and the Valparaiso Fiction Review, among others. When he is not writing, he maintains a steady diet of the cultural arts.

Jeff Hersch provides analog collages for the modern being. Like his thoughts, these pieces are often constructed in short, frantic spurts of energy, with bursts of self-doubt, though calm and subtle. Also like his thoughts, these pieces represent everyday observations and conclusions about the vast world that erratically suffocates us, with little time for a quick escape or chance to relax, as we are currently inhabiting an advanced state of infinite stimulus. His works lend themselves to your own interpretation of meaning – if any – but should also serve as inspiration and demonstrate the simple notion that you too can and should create something/anything on a regular basis. When he’s not hunched over his desk cutting and gluing clippings, Hersch finds the time to play in bands and volunteer as the executive director Flemington DIY, a non-profit community art space in the town he grew up in. 154

Sarah Iler works in Roanoke, Virginia as a Social Worker and likes to spend her time outside of work pursuing the practice of writing. She has had one poem published in Issue Two of the online literary magazine The Stirling Spoon as well as two poetry fragments published in the online journal Passaic / Völuspá. Gloria Keeley is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a BA and MA in Creative Writing. She collects old records and magazines. Her work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Slipstream, Maximum Tilt and other journals.

Sheree La Puma is an award-winning writer whose personal essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in or are forthcoming in WSQ, Chiron Review, Juxtaprose, The Rumpus, Plainsongs, Into The Void, and I-70 Review, among others. She has a micro-chapbook, ‘The Politics of Love,’ due out in August and a chapbook, ‘Broken: Do Not Use,’ due out in Fall. She received an MFA in Writing from California Institute of the Arts and taught poetry to former gang members. Zahava Lupu, a renowned abstract, modern and mixed media artist lives in Israel. A Graduate of The Academy of Music, Tel Aviv and the Avni Institute of Art, Tel Aviv. World renowned for her large-size original abstract oil paintings and mixed media contemporary art, Lupu’s works can be found among many famous private and public collections and galleries worldwide. All of her paintings are created with great care, using the highest quality material. Sean Madden is an analyst at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The John Updike Review, The Los Angeles Review, White Wall Review, Small Print, Waccamaw, Dappled Things, and 580 Split. He holds an MFA from the University of Kentucky, and lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada with his wife and sons. Visit him at

Robert Manaster’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals including Rosebud, Birmingham Poetry Review, Image, Maine Review, and Spillway. His co-translation of Ronny Someck’s The Milk Underground was awarded the Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation. He’s published poetry book reviews in such publications as Rattle, Colorado Review, and Massachusetts Review.


Patricia McCabe has studied under Robert P. Arthur, President Emeritus of the Poetry Society of Virginia, and is a member of the Muse Writers in Norfolk, Virginia. Two of her poems have been published in _The Scrivener_ of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah, who is an algebraist and artist, works in mixed media. His poems have appeared in numerous journals. He lives in the southern part of Ghana, in Spain, and the Turtle Mountains, North Dakota. Yours sincerely, Jacob Kobina Ayiah Mensah.

Shanna Merceron is a fiction writer whose work can be found in Philadelphia Stories, Mikrokosmos Journal, and Coffin Bell Journal, among others. Born in New Jersey and raised in Florida, no one believes her when she says she’s from “Flah-rida.” Shanna holds an MFA in Fiction from Hollins University where she wrote stories that explored the darker aspects of humanity and pushed the boundaries of the strange. Steven Ostrowski is a poet, a fiction writer, a painter and a teacher. His written work appears widely in literary journals, magazines and anthologies. He is the author of five published chapbooks--four of poems and one of stories. He and his son Ben are authors of a full-length collaboration called ‘Penultimate Human Constellation,’ published in 2018 by Tolsun Books. His chapbook, ‘After the Tate Modern,’ won the 2017 Atlantic Road Prize and is published in 2018 by Island Verse Editions. His artwork has appeared in several literary journals, including on the cover of the inaugural issue of Lily Poetry Review. Ella Q. Peavler is a poet, writer, and journalist from Indianapolis, Indiana. She is currently a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston, where she studies journalism. John Power was born and raised in and around New York City, graduated from college in rural Virginia, lived and wrote for a year in Warsaw, Poland, and currently resides in Chicago. His short stories have been published or are forthcoming in West Trade Review, Penultimate Peanut, Pen 2 Paper, Cleaning Up Glitter, The Book Smuggler’s Den, Hemingway Shorts Vol. 2, Thoughtful Dog Magazine, and The Great Lakes Review, among others. His most recent novel, “Participation”, is available on, as is an earlier novel, “Toy With the Flame”. His first novel, “Golden Freedom”, is available on 156

Rebecca Pyle is a visual artist and writer, her work lately washing up on the shores of The Penn Review, Map Literary, Bridge Eight Press, Hawai’i Review, JuxtaProse, and The Chattahoochee Review. She lives in Utah, not far from the Great Salt Lake. See her art folio in

O.G. Rose, a finalist for the 2020 UNO Press Lab Prize, writes pieces interested in irony, misinterpretation, the subtle distinction between delusions and visions, and trade-offs between competing goods. Rose’s creative works appear in The Write Launch, Allegory Ridge, Streetlight Magazine, Ponder Review, the Iowa Review website, and upcoming publications of Pidgeonholes and Assure Press. You can find more of Rose’s work at Shawn Rubefeld’s fiction has appeared in such places as Columbia Journal, Portland Review, Pine Hills Review, and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters. Currently, Rubenfeld is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he received the Vreeland Award for fiction and serve as an editorial assistant for Prairie Schooner. His first novel, The Eggplant Curse & The Warp Zone, is forthcoming in 2021 from 7.13 Books.

David Sapp, writer, artist and professor, lives along the southern shore of Lake Erie in North America. A Pushcart nominee, he was awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence grant and an Akron Soul Train fellowship for poetry. His poems appear widely in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. His publications include articles in the Journal of Creative Behavior; chapbooks Close to Home and Two Buddha; and a novel, Flying Over Erie. Horacio Sierra’s writing is inspired by the way geography, history, and culture shape our identities in a diverse society. He splits his time between Miami and D.C. M.J. Sions is a writer and editor from Richmond, VA, whose fiction has been published in Jersey Devil Press, Short, Fast, and Deadly, The Corner Club Press, trampset, The Furious Gazelle, and Fiction International.


Robert Stone is a visual artist whose primary mode of expression is photography. He graduated from the Hartford Art School with a B.F.A. in Photography and minor in Art History with high honors. In 2019 he became a Launchpad Member at the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts. He is currently based out of Rochester, NY and is a candidate for an M.F.A. in Photography and Related Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Szilárd Szilágyi is a self-made artist born in 1959 in Siklós, Hungary. He began to take a serious interest in art during his university years. In his earlier period, Szilard produced works that were thematic in character. However, his later pieces are the images of the inner memory, created through artist’s perception and reflections. His works are exhibited worldwide from his native Hungary to Germany, from France to Sweeden. Ignoring actual trends, his pictures are inspired by nature and social phenomena. His paintings are made of different sizes and mixed techniques. Jay Wickersham’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, the Harvard Review, Poetry Porch, The High Window, The Formalist, Vita Brevis, and elsewhere. He works as a lawyer and architect on issues of urban sustainability and climate change.



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