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SOMETIMES HEROES CAN’T WEAR BROWN SKIN by Delvon Mattingly

In times of life-and-death, nobody quite grasped the concept of “be quiet.” But for us, it didn’t matter. My peers panicked, whimpered, some nearly hyperventilated—but nothing outclassed the tormenting screams coming from an adjacent room. Nothing could abolish the cackling gunfire, bullets penetrating walls and possibly bodies. Nothing stopped the killer from heading to our room next, glaring at us with a face of apathy, drawing our attention to boast about his body count, and how we were going to add to it. Nobody could do a thing, except for me.

I wouldn’t consider my actions gallant. I charged the moment the boy appeared distracted. An amalgam of fortunate events led me to overpower the shooter, using his weapon against him, my following actions fueled by pure trepidation. I realized I’d rather the boy fall than to witness a firearm pointed at my face again or hear the anguish of my friends. The worst part: the shooter was a student too. We acknowledged his bleeding corpse more than we ever did him. His name was Ethan, and only a few of us knew that.

An absolute silence plagued the air, and I began to pace the classroom, “no” continually slurring from my mouth. Nobody mentioned a word about the murder, not our teacher or my friends. No one.

* * *

There wasn’t much blood on my hands, although the few smears on my shirt reminded me of the monster I had become. I expected my classmates to see me in the same light. That wouldn't explain their reluctance to speak, or even to move. They were afraid of me, their fear cemented in a truth that not only had one of their peers became a killer, but also another.

My best friend began to speak, my name slowly rolling off her tongue.

“I can’t, Marissa,” I interrupted.

“Jerome, you saved us,” she whispered.

“I still killed Ethan! I’m done for. My future, everything. I could go to jail.”

“No, you’re a hero,” she said. She searched for validation from our other classmates. “Right?”

Everyone remained quiet. Then, some of my classmates began to cry while others seemed to struggle to preserve their sanity. And I felt for all of them. I understood, but I knew I had to withdraw from my emotions to prepare for the arrival of the authorities. Picture this: an emotional, erratic, brown teenager with the blood of another student on his clothes. Yeah, that’s a minimum of 25 years.

“Jerome…” Marissa murmured.

“Stop. Please, just stop.”

* * *

Ten minutes passed, and the authorities arrived. Everyone was escorted from the building to the fields outside, like we were in a  prison line, distress printed on their faces, or even scarier: the expressions of those who were still processing—blank, unworldly.

I couldn’t stop picturing Ethan, another student, his glare, a rifle dangling from his hand, blood stains on his clothes—imagining my face stamped above his. A monster. If I wasn't a monster, then why did the authorities scrutinize me with disdain?

Police officers pulled aside students from my class for questioning. Paranoia struck me like a chisel shaping a stone statue—one final tap and I’d crack. Some of my classmates clearly talked about me, peering back and leading the cops to notice me more than they had. Before I knew it, I stood alone. Then, it was my turn to be probed.

A stocky pale officer approached. “How are you, son? What is your name?”

“I’m okay. It’s Jerome.”

“My name is Officer Anderson. You don’t seem too shaken up by things, Jerome,” he said, examining at the small blotches of blood on my shirt before returning eye contact. “You’re quivering. You seem more terrified of me than anything.”

“That--that’s not true.”

The officer huffed. “Can you tell me what happened? If you’re uncomfortable talking about it, we--”

“No,” I said. “It’s okay.” I gave him a detailed chronology of events, up until Ethan’s death.

“So, the student massacres the entire classroom next to yours and then comes into your room to provoke everyone before killing himself?”

It sounded more artless after the officer repeated it. When I nodded, he suddenly grew reticent, looking down on me with eyes of censure. “That’s not what your classmates are saying. In fact, they’ve claimed you convinced Ethan to cease fire, and when he realized his wrongdoings and felt contrite, he impulsively took his own life. Correct?”

What?

“You and your entire class could’ve died if it weren’t for you.” Officer Anderson patted my shoulder with his right hand before meandering back to his colleagues. “Son, you’re a hero.”

“Hey!” Marissa called and trotted over to me. “Why are you all the way over here, Jerome?”

Attempting a smile, I replied, “I don’t really know.”

“We need you.”

“Why?”

Her eyebrows furrowed. “Because you saved us. Word is spreading fast, and people from other classrooms aren’t taking this well. The media is already here.”

In spite of what she did for me, she still didn’t quite understand. “Marissa, thank you.” I looked down at my palms, slowly twirling them while opening and closing my fists. “But sometimes heroes can’t wear brown skin.”

She nodded before tightly gripping one of my arms, that and the familiar way her nose twitched before speaking gave away her frustration. “People also don’t get to choose what color skin they’re born into. For what it’s worth, I think for you to be able to do these things, while fighting so many other battles, is something that deserves recognition.”

I smiled, shaking my head. “That’s incredibly sweet. But, there are consequences to my actions, all of them. Risks I’m usually not willing to take.”

She turned to see how our peers held up. “Well I’m glad you took one today.”

“May I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Why are you so calm? Everyone’s freaking out.”

Marissa finally looked back at me. “I could ask you the same.”

“Well, where I’m from … let’s just say this isn’t the first time a gun has been pointed at me, or has been fired in my vicinity.”

She looked away again. I guessed she couldn’t grasp the idea of such horror. “I think it’ll hit us sooner or later. This all feels too surreal, but being around you helps.”

“As long as I’m me, I can never be considered a hero.”

Exhaling, Marissa placed her two hands on my shoulders. I could tell she wanted me to own the title, or maybe she was hinting that I needed to do that for everyone else, at least for now.

“Jerome, we’re friends. We’ve got each other’s back. That’s all that really matters.”

Perhaps Marissa’s right, but probably not. Because of her and a few others, despite the color of my skin, I didn’t go to jail. I thanked Marissa once more. And with her, I joined my class.

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rob mclennan

THE NAMES OF THINGS, by rob mclennan

I gave my attention to the pause.Angela Carr, Here in There

1.

I am downsizing, for practical reasons. I gift my belongings before the choice is no longer mine. Ending six months of aggressive treatment, some small strength returns. Moving through boxes and bins and shelves, I name items as I release them into the world. I name you, glass figurines I salvaged from my grandmother’s possessions, as her quiet death ended the decades they sat in her sitting room. I name you, pilfered coffee mugs, each adorned with a different company logo.

That summer we drove through the prairies and out to Vancouver, as yet another mug slipped into my bag at a rest stop. You were not amused.

I name you, dresser: the scratched and scarred second-hand chassis with lime green coat over almond brown over deep red over powdered blue, salvaged from Neighbourhood Services when I was eighteen.

Downsizing, sized. My body erodes. The clothes on my back.

I name you, silver pocketwatch: handed down from my great-grandfather, from his time in Montreal. Now set in the palm of my sister.

Family lore holds that during his first decade away from home, he worked as a conductor for one of the newly-established lines of the Grand Trunk Railway. A decade saved, and spent, before relocating again with the emergence of a wife and three children, back to his eastern Ontario nesting grounds, where he gathered a further fifty-five winters. They say he moved non-stop until he finally did.

I name you, small wooden box, discovered in my mother’s closet. The musty nest of crumbling paper scraps: correspondence, postcards, a pendant. A locket, held in an envelope. Dust. Her maiden aunt’s engagement ring. This is all that remains. She, who died when my mother was young. I name you, Marjorie, aunt of my mother.

Heirlooms: objects for which we are but temporary caretakers, a loom that weaves in and out of the hands of ancestors down, and from mine to my sisters, nieces, nephews. Brother.

I name you, long dark curls, like my mother, back in the day; as her sisters, too, and their mother as well. Curls that hadn’t the seasons to autumn, to silver.

2.

In my youth, I collected; perhaps more than I should have. I saved, and kept everything. Girl Guide badges, nuts and bolts from the driveway, miniature carvings of frogs. I constructed scrapbooks of fauna and flora, a field’s-worth of clover. I gathered my late grandfather’s wartime diaries, secured in a steamer trunk. I collected a single smooth stone from each childhood beach, carefully placed on my bedroom bookshelf as tokens. As tangible memories. From our suburban backfill, a daily memory of a particular Nova Scotian beach at sunset.

A vial of red sand from Prince Edward Island shores, St. Margaret’s Parish, where my mother’s family historically cottaged. A vial of water from the Athabasca Glacier. What had once been what it no longer can.

In our first shared apartment, there was the alchemy of a half-hidden compartment of books in a cupboard, unlocked. Paperbacks, mostly. Mass-market stuff from an earlier decade. I immediately decided they were there precisely for me, and read everything. Susan Dey’s For Girls Only. The Hawkline Monster. A Brief History of Time. I absorbed each one, until there was nothing unread. Upon our eventual move, more than a couple of titles managed to slip in among our possessions.

I name you, library. I name you, history.

3.

I name you, rage. I name you, anger. A cracked wooden bowl. Stage four. The one where nothing left can be done. Meeting with doctors and lawyers and further doctors. I name you, comfort; I name you, recollection. I name you, heartbreak.

In a fever-dream, the moon asks: Why do we melt?

4.

They say to name a thing is to suspend it, freeze it into a singularity. To name is to reduce, some say. To name is to provide weight to something otherwise nebulous, unformed. To name is part of being. Biblical Adam, who spoke, and the animals became what he named; as the Word of God, also. He speaks, and what has spoken is solid.

I name instead to remind myself of each object’s purpose, and to give them air.

To make concrete, self-contained, and release.

I have been contemplating both religion and spirituality lately, but am undecided, as yet.

Soap bubbles, carried away.

5.

I name you, signed first edition of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, from a lover whose name I’ve long forgotten. I name you, soft and dear and nameless. I name you, address book that belonged to my mother. I name you, Red Maple leaf, set between the pages of a hardbound, wax paper saved from summer camp. I name you, first kiss by the strawberry bushes. I name you, lakewater silt that spawned from our overturned canoe.

I name you, squeamishness. Layers of blood, burned brown on white linen.

I name you, intimacy. I name you, pigmentation. I name you, jade elephant.

6.

Lorelei believes that people are a construction of memories and experience, and can be pieced together though what they have abandoned. Nigel remains unconvinced. He claims: we are made up of stories. Without stories to accompany, items are stripped of their substance. And yet, once beyond us, they become clean, able to collect anew. Are our possessions allowed lives beyond ours? If no-one knows why I owned a jade elephant or where it originated, will that even matter?

I have a jade elephant, attached to a string. Purchased at an outside market, I think. London? Paris? I suspect I might be losing my rigorous attention to the integrity of each object.

I consider writing your name on a paper scrap, something I can ingest. Something I might keep.

7.

Terminal illness can’t be fixed, it can only be carried. I am putting it down. I release it. From here on, everything lightens. Even my step. Living well, as they say, the finest revenge.

8.

I name you, school portrait of my first love, squirreled deep in the pockets of my leather jacket, circa 1995. I name you, 1980s Polaroid of my father in the kitchen window.

I name you, shadows; cast in the doorframe, the hospital blinds.

I name you, tears of my mother. I name you, legs and arms. I name you, mouth.

I name you, morphine. I name you, breath.

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nikolas slackman

SHAVER by Nikolas Slackman

“All of my hair is leaving me.”

But I was the one who’d shaved it all away. To say it left me was a compulsion to attract that rich melancholy self-lovers look for. I knew within mundane choices was the opportunity to feel abandoned.

I’d electric razored the whole thing top-down and looked like a flesh pear. I ran it against the arms, down the back, around the tits. A little cut up shaving the neck, but the cuts from nerve damage jitters don’t count, I’d said. Tweeze the brow, but you always tweeze the brow. I could feel George’s smirk inside the razors hum. What makes you think it grows just for you to shave it?

I waited in the lobby for my haircut. Doctor Gupta said coffee would do my nerve’s no favors, but I took up the receptionist’s offer. I could save the complementary Milano cookie for after the haircut. I drank the coffee in maybe four gulps, despite the heat. You could hear my curls screaming “Don’t cut us off, you motherfucker!” under the sips, if you listened closely.

My hair had been shoulder length since middle school. Before George started cutting my hair and turned me onto garage punk, before my late body hair had sprouted. Before high school, where I’d made some real friends then lost them, made some new friends then lost them, and Mia, who I’d dated and broken up with and dated, broken up with, and was in some inbetween thing with, maybe, when I suddenly heard the sound of my own thoughts. They sounded like buh dee duh dee duh dee duh and my hair sounded like horrible screaming. I remembered when George told me he’d watched his friend OD back in the 80’s. I thought that he was the only punk I’d ever met. I downed another coffee and asked for more, trembling.

George looked ridiculous when he came out from the back. The tight leather pants with chains draped around the thighs were notable. His stupid Noel Gallagher haircut even more so. His former muscle bro haircut was gross but understandable. This was not understandable. Not nearly enough of his shirt buttons were buttoned, and his chest was comically bare. He came up to me and said something like how’s it going man and I was like what’s up man so both questions were left rhetorical.

He sat me in front of his mirror when I noticed my scalp’s violent trembling. It only showed in my eyebrows, but I could feel it where the curls would root and bisect. He offered me the usual trim but I interrupted him with this story about how my friend Jordan told me I have Dad hair. George gave me this “you totally do have Dad hair” look. He started listing all the options I had but his voice drowned under the intensifying screams. I smiled and nodded, pretending they’d stopped until they did. He slapped me on the back and said “I’m glad you’ve come to this realization” while his assistant led me to the sink. I asked for another coffee.

Waiting in front of his mirror, I took some final gulps. George fixed his apron around me.

“So what have you been up to dude?”

I responded buh dee duh dee duh dee duh.

“Your brother, how’s he been doing?”

Same answer. I wished I had eaten that Milano earlier, the coffee made my stomach growl.

“You still with that one girl?”

I smiled and blinked insanely ha ha ha ha ha kind of I’m not sure, where’d you get those pants?

George went off about his budding fashion career. He knew the guy who assisted the woman who would custom tailor pants for Slash, through a mutual friend, apparently. They’d been chatting the last couple months and he was hoping to take her style, but apparently that’s a big no in the fashion world, even though she’s been an off the grid junkie for, like, six years. George said Lars Ulrich and Nikki Sixx miss that old style. Apparently George planned on calling her to ‘borrow’ that style to sell his own brand. George said he’d love to see those designs on Slash again. George said he’d apparently rather be home right now working on his designs than here cutting my hair. I looked up and my head wasn’t my head anymore. It was George’s old head.

I smiled and glanced towards him. I heard his assistant sweeping the death away. There was no more screaming. No more nerves. He put a shitload of product in my hair and that was that.

He shook my hand and looked at me with eyes that said you have no idea what real death looks like.

I stared at him with his head and drank the cheap melancholy fumes in the air. We were abandoned from each other, it tasted like the Milano I ate walking home.

Apparently George’s old head snubbed dreams about girls, about Mia, or whatever. That night, it had a wave of swarming red light sink through its eyes. It penetrated the cornea, it’s sharp breath wrestling my half-baked nerves. I couldn’t tell if my body was rejecting the head or the head my body. It smiled in sleep, savoring the conflict. My body lay still, I’d always shirked confrontation.

Soon, the wave saturated into a reflection of the sclera, all white. The old head opened its eyes. The light had drilled deep, and lingered unaffected. Triangular shadows patterned into a spiral formation, collapsing the tense whiteness into a new dimension. They inverted and warped. Nothing budged. The lost dreams rang through the act. Another few minutes passed before the light had emptied out into a leathery darkness. He’d hijacked everything.

“It isn’t the nerve damage then?” the head asked.

“Not entirely, just somewhat” Doctor Gupta replied.

The tarp beneath the body would crinkle whenever I squirmed, which was often, still adjusting to shaven skin. The pediatrician I’ve been seeing since middle school offered a list of ophthalmologists to consider.

“How long’d it last, do you suppose?”

“Only a few minutes, maybe.”

There was a sticker poster of Spongebob in front of me. His right leg was torn off, and the top of his head stripped away. His gigantic cartoon eyes spilled crudely into the pale wall. He’d been on the walls for the decade I’d known Doctor Gupta, but it seemed unfamiliar now. White noise filled the room, maybe the low hum of air conditioning, the sigh of growth droning above.

Gupta changed the subject. “Eating too many hamburgers, eh?” he joked, squeezing a roll of my torso. I would have done my typical ha ha ha, but George didn’t flinch.

I worried that Mia would be upset about the weight, then George reminded me she was gone. An effect of change, he said. The body dreamed about the end of change. My dying nerves reached for the end of change. George said she’s made you sick and ignored me from then on.

Gupta tussled my hair.

“Handsome boy.”

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wayland tracy

THE ELEPHANT EATS THE DOG by Wayland Tracy

I’ve rested my eyes upon the kit cat clock that keeps manic vigil of my darkening apartment. Either this or another video of fish eating birds, and I’ve figured out how all those end.

Its eyes shift front door to back door, synchronized with pendulum tail, sixty back-and-fourths to the minute. A maroon coat with white beard and a clock face on its belly grasped tightly by claws. And a bowtie. And ears like devil horns. Surely the devil keeps time, is timely, time of our lives. But I’m waiting for those eyes to break rhythm, waiting for those orbs of seeming mechanical animation to meet my own and grant me something of a different something, and no, I don’t think it will be good but that’s not what different means.

I’m drinking gin and juice, cranberry juice and gin poured from a broken bottle and even seasoned with the elusive glass flakes that could not be filtered out with fork. I think of Snoop Dogg. I think we could have been friends, but time feels thin now, wavering like mist in the sun, yes, but no who cares, it wavers like the ghost of my grandmother visiting me on the can. I could cry now as I did then, but I’m far too stupid these days. Won’t allow it. I’m sorry, Snoop. Besides, weed makes me doomful and I’m so goddamned tired of being the big bummer.

The gin and juice and glass goes down a little scratchy, but I believe in paying for my vices. I paved the road with five beers. I dropped the sixth after the fifth and let it pool on the kitchen floor. In time it will evaporate, glass and all, and my apartment will be pillaged by old friends and landlord, all matter renewed in the great cycle, kissed cheek and wreathed neck. My deposit withheld. That’s why I don’t clean unless it stinks.

Gin is for all seasons, as is all booze. Don’t be a fool. A Kansas summer is like an old farmer beating you unconscious with a haybale. So you drink gin and tonic with extra lime and oh so much ice. A big glass. Steal the ice from the front of a gas station. A big glass to peer through the bottom and see the future.

I imagine, I must, the cat looks to steal a lover or pull one over a on fool. I am overlooked, time and again passed over. Ha. I actually know the cat to be a dragon hoarding over its treasure, yes, it collects the time I drop at the threshold every evening, and that is why it pays me no mind. I had time and I used it to jack-off before work. Grace up and gone with the beer bottles and sardine cans.

I sneeze something awful, a god-hollering achoo that expels my precious blood through mouth and nose. Kansas is very bad for allergies. It subdues me every year, the gears precise in my sinuses, every year. My cough can only be dried out by smoke. The medicine weakens my blood.

My blood. My blood is sprayed across my arm and speckled on the couch. My mind shouts, Cranberry juice! but no, you fool, it is my blood. That makes sense. Undesirable but expected and all together honestly pretty cool. I take a picture and post it on Twitter with the words, Blood in the sneeze is worth two teens in the trees. I had made my profile private and blocked all my followers. I don’t even get it. It’s not funny.

I had the bottle opened before I opened my car door. Terribly parched and illogical. It jolted my head and kicked my empty stomach as the sun belched in my face. An old woman sat in the passenger seat of the car next to mine with her window cracked as might be done for a dog. She said, Take it easy, young man. As I lifted fist with bottle, middle finger pointed to heaven, the gin slipped from my sweaty hand, nosediving into the asphalt and snapping its neck.

I’m starting to hear whispers beneath the clicks of the cat. Like the voices I’ve heard before sleep, pieces of conversations floating through a crowd. But something else. This now, here, hear it just enough to know its real, one voice sickly sweet and not stopping for air. The mouth is painted on. Eyes frantic search.

The pain is thickening. The scratches in my throat have crawled into my guts and are working it like dogs in a rat nest. Reminds me of the time I had pneumonia as a child. From that I learned the benefits of suffering. No one expects anything of you, me, the contorted and moaning pile of puke and cold sweat. Akin to the dead but with all the advantages of the living: being alive.

I had poured out two water bottles and filled them with the gin I had managed to save. The glass shards floated like dazzling alien fish. Ah, you see? Delusion is simply a positive frame of mind. However, I’ll cut to the chase. The tonic water was missing cap and flat; the limes were rock and rotten. So fuck all that. However, as God gave Noah the rainbow, he gave me a bottle of cranberry juice, at one time intended to be drunk before a drug test. These are the winding currents of shitsville—trust them.

Do you believe in demons? Neither do I. If you said yes, then sure, why not. I tend not to believe in anything, which breeds endless maybes, a hopeless burden. But these whispers. Aren’t all whispers sinister? Didn’t she whisper in ways? Sinister? Sinister, sin, evil, devil, demon, hell? I think perhaps this is a case in which the answer is correct but the question is wrong, like shooting Ted Nugent with a silver bullet. So I call my friend, the priest.

We had gone to high school together, a Catholic institution—uniforms, gym mass, homophobia, plenty of pot, etc. We waited together for our mothers after school. He gave me the lunch he didn’t eat. I admired him because he was quiet and funny without crudeness or vulgarity. And he never condemned me as so many tried. Our lives are on opposite sides of the baptismal font, so to speak. I haven’t seen him in over a year. Love and solitude and all that shit.

Ring. Ring. Pour, sip, ring.

Soft and unsure, he says, Oh, hi Wayland.

Hey, buddy, what’s up?

Oh, you know. Just thinking I guess.

Someone’s gotta do it. I tried once and my hair started falling out.

He laughs like an ill man. It’s easier than saying something.

He says, You sound kind of ill. Are you okay?

No, not ill. Could use some blessings, sure. Always. But the thing is my clock. It’s talking to me. Probably not serious, but you know.

He’s silent. I cough blood into my fist. This has lost its charm. At last, I make out a word from the slick whispers: pejorative.

Are you… Are you on drugs?

No, Jacob, listen…

I think you’re on drugs.

No. I’ve been drinking glass. I know, I know. But it is a Tuesday night!

He doesn’t laugh. He sighs. Let’s get lunch soon.

Ok. Yeah. But don’t transubstantiate it this time.

Again.

You know the church has programs…

Yes, I know. Let’s get lunch.

He hangs up and I finish my drink.

One time at mass, I took the eucharist from the priest and pocketed it. Later, in the hallways, I licked it and stuck it to my forehead, then shook and spoke in mock tongues for the amusement of some friends. Jacob saw me and cried. Right there, in front of everybody, and they looked at him as you might a horse taking a shit in a parade and laughed. He didn’t need any more of that.

I hear the whispers with more clarity, like I’m tuning into a new frequency, but they’re jumbled and missing something, or I am. I cup my ears to the cat. Close my eyes.

collective damage and fusion             guilty parties      beguiled and bled through

the management of waste        you have painted       the gaul

you have      tasted and never once      I watch        I watch     I watch and never once

 this faux misery         entrusted to the blind and        guilty parties         never

     seldom sought in a seething pit I know        the opportunities arise

I used to talk with this homeless guy back in that time when I wandered downtown in the bad hours. Named Mislow and plagued with the creeps. He moved in escape. He conducted our chance meetings like a general losing the war. Crickets crawled over his bare feet and sang within the caves of his rags. He had told me that moles invaded the city offices through the sewers, that g-men were rounding up vagrants for weapons testing. He told me the truths as never before imagined, in hi-def technicolor 3D explosions. I offered him cigarettes and anything else I had to share. Secrets swapped for secrets. I’ll look over your shoulder if you look over mine. I gave him a hunting knife and he slipped it into the labyrinth of his garments. Said I’d get him a gun if I could. He reminded me of my father.

I told him one night that I planned on falling in love soon. A girl who gave me the day. With music and laughter and so fond touches on my face. It was to be. But it halted him, his eyes, hands, and lips. He had finally pinpointed an enemy, the deceiver lying low in my chest. He punched me in the gut, knocking the wind out, grabbed me by the shirt and said with a spray of garbage juice, You want pussy, fine. But these are the times of war.

Last I saw of him was a mugshot after he stabbed a cop.

I’m on the second water bottle of gin and trying to remember if alcohol is a blood thinner. Regardless. I add more cranberry juice to put it in as fast as it comes out. Mindful. Such a cheap word.

Now rhythm. Droning. It appears the cat has found its mantra: the elephant eats the dog.

I have had no luck in fixing anything by smashing it. This, a life of handcrafted logic, an artisan belief system. Everything works until it doesn’t. I have the brain of a lizard wearing a beret. The elephant eats the dog.

My hands shake, spilling my drink over and over and now I sit feeling silly and soaked in blood, gin and juice. Those eyes aren’t slowing down, though, and I don’t believe they will ever stop, not for me. Suspicion creates the future. The desire to fuck and love and be reborn creates the future. My blood creates the future. The tracking and ticky tocking of time finds the future too late. The future, in all its wisdom, whispered into your ear the dreams you had in your crib.

Now, a sound of world crumble and rattlesnake, an offbeat screech: the tell-tale buzz of my phone left on the floor. It shines in the darkness like an end of a tunnel. The name on the screen cannot be, a mistake and malfunction of our collective dumbass unconscious, surely. It rings and rings and rings.

The elephant eats the dog.

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bud smith

RIVALS by Bud Smith

Last night a cop came uninvited to the party and tasered people for ten dollars. He was a year away from retirement, and so, was relaxed, even breathing from the mouth, acting like a pal.

A lot of guys tried the taser. One even was shocked while he was downstairs in the shower. The cop got so excited. Three women did the taser too, holding hands together sharing that electric. They paid $3.33 each, pretending to be Siamese twins.

It was whatever it was. They secretly hated each other. They publicly hated each other too.

When the taser ran out of battery the cop went out to the cruiser and got the charger. He also carried in his ‘spoils o’ war’ collected in a big plastic bin, hoisted on one shoulder.

Now he had left his badge and uniform in the car, and he was down to his white undershirt and his boxer shorts, black athletic socks, shined up cop shoes.

It’s impossible to love anyone more of less out of their costume.

I mean, I should know, I used to be the mascot for the local college. The team being the Charging Bulls. Their uniforms were brown and shaggy and they had little foam horns on their helmets. Because of their uniforms, and their losing record, they were known un-lovingly as, the Shit Monsters.

The Shit Monsters had never won a game for as long as anybody could remember. But then, out of nowhere, my twin brother leapt out of the gene pool and started throwing touchdowns.

Speaking of things changing, now he is on death row, awaiting execution.

We’ve all got our biblical problems just like any small creature would. Put it to you this way, I don’t love my brother any less now that he wears those orange coveralls and spends his time in the penitentiary getting fat, smoking and watching TV. I love him the same now as I loved him when he dressed up like a Shit Monster.

While the cop charged the taser he leaned back on the couch and put his hands behind his head, fingers laced together. The little sister of someone else I didn’t know had her hand on the cop’s knee and the little brother of someone else I don’t know had their hand on his other knee. There was a show then that began in the bottom of the sunken den.

Two friends of mine were rolled up in an emerald carpet and having sex inside the carpet. Or making faces like they were. It’s always hard to tell. They urged everyone to step harder on the carpet while they grunted. Step harder! The hostess stomped and stomped and the couple seemed on the brink of orgasm, and the hostess started jumping on them with both feet. But the phone in the kitchen started ringing and she went away.

I’d placed the call, my friend who was on the bottom had turned blue.

I said, The call is coming from inside the party.

And she said, Oh you, Bozo.

She slammed the phone down.

I came out of the garage with a lite beer and the couple was unrolled from the carpet, all sticky and sweaty and with basically Xs over their eyes. I kept waiting for someone to dump a jug of icy Gatorade over them. But nobody did so I walked over and poured my lite beer over them and they laughed like people did when it was revealed that they were on Candid Camera.

The mess didn’t matter. There was a big tarp on the floor with plastic over that. You could have cut someone apart with a saw and the tile underneath would still be nice the next morning.

And then the cop had got off the couch and the taser was ready and he prowled up the stairs like a creep, visible boner. Socks off. I wanted to call the cops on the cop but I was worried that the cops who came to arrest the cop would be worse.

The hostess sat down at the table. She said, You’re acting weird.

I figured she meant the collar and the leash around my neck. The lead, my own, was in my hand. So I said, I lost my dog the other day.

She said, What’s your dog’s name?

My name, I said.

Oh, she said, raising both eyebrows.

She was digging around in the spoils o’ war cubby by the coffee pot.

Confiscated heroin, oxy, PCP and magic mushrooms.

I think we are on the honor system, the hostess said.

I put six dollars in the cubby and bought a 1/4 oz. of mushrooms and ate them immediately, handful after handful washed down with Sprite. Then I went out looking for my dog.

I lead myself away from the glowing house and into the peppermint night. Calling my name in a booming voice. There was two inches of crusty snow where I started, falling forward. Sometimes the snow got waist deep, and then got shoulder deep, other times it disappeared.

At the end of the cul de sact I saw my childhood home lit up in red and yellow. It had fallen to a fascist regime. Spaniards. My mother and father were dead and the Spaniards could not get them in the underworld where the Norwegians go to be with the other Norwegians. Our dead parents could sit together and drink aquavit and munch on crispbread. They’d killed themselves just a week after Scotty’s sentencing. The suicide note said they’d had this pact since they’d met as youngsters at the skating rink. Sixty years old was as far as they were willing to go. Also the note said, Uncle Kim and Aunt Aud, can go fuck themselves. Well! Thanks for the heads up Mom and Dad. Enjoy your crispbread and aquavit. I’ll make sure Aunt Aud and Uncle Kim never see this sad note. Yet, considering their suicides, I was neither proud, nor ashamed. With the money from the sale of the house, I bought a house boat that sank quickly in a freak storm and I bought a tractor trailer full of Marlboro lights, which I still cart over to the prison at the bottom of the valley.

Before too long I found myself sitting in the warm grass, and my hands were quaking uncontrollably and I got furious again at the college’s museum which had made me pay for the damage that Scotty had done to their suit of armor. He’d cut the metal hands off and  had started wearing them whenever he wasn’t on the field.

I should tell you how it happened, once and for all.

First those boys broke my hand because of that nursery rhyme regarding how to deal out the treatment of identical twins: Cause one pain, the other feels it. This was during a football game of no significance other than 100 years of rivalry. Well my pain didn’t stop the winning touchdown pass. After that those boys got me again, our teams meeting in a further bowl of no importance. Mind you I was just a nobody but the team mascot, with my rodeo clown head off, feeling the breeze. Pre-game they got me. But this time they were dead drunk and mistaken in another way, thinking I actually was my brother, the star quarterback. They shattered my other hand, so now I had none to use. My brother was wearing those heavy gauntlet gloves. When he heard the news of my attack, he came out from the locker room to seek revenge. It’s sad but it’s funny. He killed two of the three, one punch each, and went to prison instead of playing the rest of the game. So, after all, it seemed, they got us. Our second stringer throwing four interceptions and losing it before halftime. But still I say, we won. Some fans broke the mascot’s hands. Our QB took two of them out of this world.

I tied a bandana over my eyes, spread out in an X on the fifty yard line, and entered into a world inside my lost dog. I searched through her guts and then her veins. I came to a big beating heart. The heart was afraid. I saw there was a door. I opened the door of the heart and looked inside and saw an even smaller room with a couch and a TV and a bookshelf full of books. I picked up one of the books and it slipped from my hands because my hands always have lightning bolts of pain. My friend at the video store did the surgery. Finally though I was able to open the book with my teeth and my tongue and wouldn’t you know, the story in my trip was a story about me, about how I was no longer in any kind of danger. I’d finally found peace. Euphoria washed over me.

There was some noise and I lifted the bandana and the marching band was taking the field and the players in their Shit Monster costumes were running drills all around me and the stands were filling up with a few straggler Shit Monster fans on one side and a throng of opposing fans waving orange pendants on the other side and the moon was an ice cube eyeball and I stood up and got out of the way of the marching band which looked to me in that moment like a panzer tank engulfed in flames, set on annihilating everything in its path.

That’s when I was apprehended by the Shit Monster coaching staff who thought I’d returned! Thought I’d decided to accept my fate again as the mascot of their sorry team!

Someone was yelling, What are you doing? Get dressed get dressed. The  game is about to start.

I tried to pull away but the football team wasn’t having it. A Shit Monster line backer had my left arm. A Shit Monster defensive end had my right arm. A punter had my foot, I shook my foot free and kicked him in the gut. A Shit Monster tight end gabbed that foot. The assistant coach came running over with the rodeo clown outfit and I went into wild hysterics. The mascot’s outfit was pulled over my thrashing body. They finally released me when I was zipped up in it and had the zipper Velcro’d down so I couldn’t find the way out. I’d become the clown and I was loose on the field, stumbling and rumbling across the thirty yard line and then sharply into the visiting team’s orange huddle.

I broke away from them and fled under the bleachers. Some kids were under there, I didn’t see them first as kids. They were crabs passing glowing white orbs back and forth in their pinchers. I burst out the back of the bleachers and hit a chain link fence, kept thrashing against it. And behind me there was cheering, something had happened on the field. I could hear the marching band making mistakes. The whistles went wild. Voices were closer and mumbling my dog’s name.

I grabbed the clown head and I pulled it and then there were other people helping and it came off with a savage tearing and I began to scream. I’d wrongly assumed that my actual head had been ripped from my spinal column. But there was the cool night air and the back glow of the stadium lighting bathing the cedars in blue, and I was alive!

The pinchers hoisted me over the fence and I crashed down into the forest on the other side. That’s where I learned I still had my own skull and my own face and my own past and my own future. I took the head of the jester in my oversized gloves, with my bells jangling, and threw it violently back over the fence onto the playing field. The size twenty clown footwear, acted like snow shoes that helped me trudge through deepening powder, away from the contest.

When I reached town, I saw my reflection in a shop window. I looked like a mutilated cartoon, but all the gore was scribbled on with a white crayon. I decided to walk to the jail to see my brother. On my way there, I saw a pile of dog shit outside of the VFW hall and I stood in that spot for an hour or so, trying to figure out if there was any chance it had come from my dog who was lost out here. I’d take a gun from a sleeping guard and I’d shoot the locks and break Scotty out and then we’d go to the underworld to get drunk with Mom and Dad. But I knew—ah, my brother is in the underworld already. And headed to another, as soon as the judge finally signs the order. Wait, on closer inspection, this couldn’t possibly be my dog’s shit. It was just a paper bag stuffed between the leg of a park bench and an overflowing garbage can. I put my hands on the icy chain link, composed myself.

Down the street I saw the cop coming. He was shirtless in his car. He stopped, You need a ride?

No.

I found the velcro, I found the zipper. I gave him the costume for his bin.

He waved and kept going around the bend.

Did I tell you? I forget if I told you.

At the joint wake, my father’s identical brother, Kim, was there looking down into his brother’s casket, holding the edge so tight I thought he’d splinter the wood. While just feet away, my mother’s identical twin sister, Aud, was looking down into my mother’s casket and her palms were up as if supporting an invisible baby.

Meanwhile, our lives whatever was left of them, were suddenly, same as ever, our own to live.

READ NEXT: Melissa Goode's "Here We Are Now"

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SPD TOOK MY BLIND DATE AWAY by Braxton Younts

Once she told me she was an Iraqi war vet, I was hesitant to meet up with her, but I was lonely and horny, so I invited her to join me at my neighborhood bar after work.

Back then I was more attracted to militant feminists. I liked my women brooding over gender politics, listening to Bikini Kill, tattooing their arms, and dressing in combat boots. You know the one: mohawk haircut, bone through her nose, and an anarchy patch on her black leather jacket. Studs intricately arranged as if bedazzled by a seamstress on meth. Let me see if she can hang. See if she can verbally spar with me and my boys. If she can drink with the best of us.

Directly after clocking out of the kitchen at work, I booked it up hill on Pike Street, but before arriving the watering hole where we were to rendezvous, I stopped off at The Comet for party favors, including but not limited to one gram of shitty-stepped-on coke. Dad may have been a functional alcoholic. Dad may have enjoyed the competition of NASCAR racing and ACC basketball. He may have wondered why I preferred painting and science. But over years of self-realization, I gained a competing edge, winning the battle of egos, when I one upped his substance prowess and graduated to the hard stuff. And the hard stuff wasn't straight whiskey, rather my hard stuff was mainlining heroin and snorting eight-balls of cocaine on the back of toilets in Seattle's dive bars. In dank holes in the wall, I found camaraderie. Guys who didn't care about sports, stocks, jobs, life, or limits. Unlike my role model, Dad, we broached subjects like shortcomings, tattoos, and latent homosexuality. Fears and weaknesses. The unfairness of capitalism and racism. We even allowed each other to cry, sometimes.

When my date finally joined William and I at the bar, we had been there for a couple hours prior. You know, warming up. The more I drank the more loquacious and affectionate–the more human–I became, so theoretically it behooved me when trying to impress a potential lover to get a jump on the liquid buffet.  A few bumps of shitty coke with William. A few beers, and I was worth being around.

"Don't talk to that guy. He's not friendly until he's had at least three beers," said Brad. "He's a sensitive writer." Brad said with a suggestive, presumptuous, indicative lisp.

"Fuck off,” I said. “Had at least seven since work."

My date and I had only seen pictures of each other via email. When she walked in, I didn’t readily recognize her. A cotton candy-colored, asymmetrical bob with Chelsea fringe and a fatigue jacket was what I noticed. Warning signs in my flight manual. Yet she took to me like a duck to water, running her fingers through my greasy locks without invitation. I introduced her to William, and she said she could tell by our boyish giggling he and I had been sitting a spell and to pay her no never mind. By her calculations, she simply needed to slam a few tequilas, and we’d all be on the same level. Over her shoulder, I spied bulging set of blue eyes and plum-colored mug observing the entire mess. With Bukowski breath, Tim was not only a playwright, but also an actor and director. A literary movement was in the making. More than one of us artists would make it. I was positive.

After a few more rounds and very little equalization, a naked man waltzed into the room, past the row of bar stools, past the jukebox, past the big gay Indian who always became more affection toward me with each beer. At first no one batted an eye, for it was Friday evening in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s most odd neighborhood. Mr. Birthday Suit began pestering the bartender for drinks and said-bartender refused him service. All the while, beers were imbibed, and people made merry.

"How do I know I'm not gay?" said Turpin. Shaking my head, unsure I wanted his answer, I waited in kinetic anticipation.

"When I was locked up in NOLA, I let a guy fuck me in the ass. And didn't like it," Turpin said, laughing. William and I laughed, nearly spewing beer out our nostrils.

William was a barstool philosopher, an addict and an artist. Turpin was a cook, a junkie, and a tattooist. I was a writer, a cook, and a drunk. Were drunks attracted to the arts? Or did the arts attract drunks? Or did crushing self-doubt attract us to substance abuse? Who knew? Who cared? Not us.

True alcoholics we were. Nights when booze and coke absconded all our money Turpin and I, on occasion, popped in at The Man Ray or Sea Wolf to wrangle drinks from men. We cozied up to flamboyant, intoxicated patrons, gave a sly smile, and made small talk. Attention starved, these guys bought us beer after beer. If it worked for women, then shouldn't it for us. And, brimmed of what we craved, Turpin and I parted ways and staggered to our respective beds.

How we arrived at this level of chaos was vague. The bar atmosphere here was jovial and thus conducive to heavy-handed pours and over-consumption. Feeding the jukebox quarters, the bartender, Bayonne Bob, was playing quintessential AC/DC: "Highway to Hell," "She Shook Me," and "Have a Drink on Me."

At some point, not long after aforementioned Mr. Birthday Suit’s entrance, Bayonne Bob, nonchalantly locked the front door, trapping Birthday Suit. When someone phoned the authorities, my date decided to become a liberator. She took up the cause of freeing the imprisoned naked man. Like so many innocent Iraqi civilians, Mr. Birthday Suit needed liberation from a dictatorial bar staff.

About then two Seattle Police Department pigs rolled up, and my date was in a full-on donnybrook with bartenders and customers who were attempting to corral Mr. Birthday Suit. As the police entered the establishment, they inadvertently released the naked man while scraping with my date. She thrashed around and cussed at the cops. To no avail, implored them to release her war-torn ass. After a quick word with the bartender to ensure all was good in the business of intoxication, the pigs cuffed and stuffed my date into the back of a police cruiser.

A time later, after the we stopped giggling and gasping for air, William and I slammed one last beer, paid our tabs, and staggered out into the dank air to say our goodbyes. And as I was walking away, I heard my name, disembodied, from the interior of a parked cop car, “Braxton, can I call you?”

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kristin lafollette

SHOOTER by Kristin LaFollette

I was walking next to Maureen at a slower pace than usual. She was always walking slowly, mostly because she was usually talking too much. I was actually surprised to hear from her when she had called me the day before. It had been months since I’d heard from her. I knew it was because of the incident, but if I was truly being honest, I wasn’t sorry for what I’d done. Maureen had always been a subpar friend, even if we did claim to be “best friends.” Every time I had a crisis situation going on in my life, she would still find something about herself that was more important to talk about instead. She drove me crazy most of the time, but I had agreed to meet up with her in an attempt to clear the air about the whole Ryan situation. Over lunch, she hadn’t even mentioned it once, which was good, I thought. I didn’t want her to see my less-than-genuine apology if it came to that. Plus, I didn’t want to have to tell her that Ryan and I were still seeing each other.

“So, how’s your job going?” Maureen asked as we walked into the coffee shop around the corner from the deli where we had eaten lunch.

If there was one thing I hated talking about, it was my job. I was home for the summer between my junior and senior year of college and had landed an internship at a small magazine in town. I thought it was going to be prestigious and give me great experience to take back to my writing program at school, but all I did was follow the editor around and do his paperwork for him. The truth was that I was embarrassed about how belittling the job was, so I always felt the urge to lie every time someone asked me how it was going.

“It’s fine,” I said, standing in line with Maureen behind a couple of young girls in halter tops. “I think I’m getting a lot of experience.”

“Have you written anything lately?” she asked, staring at the menu behind the counter as if she didn’t always order the same thing when we came in.

This was another question I hated to be asked, but I was always getting asked it anyway. I had really slacked off on my writing that summer, mostly due to the fact that I was spending so much time with Ryan. But I couldn’t tell Maureen that. I was starting to question why I had agreed to meet up with Maureen in the first place. Ryan was all for us meeting up and talking; he said Maureen had a right to know about us, but I felt differently about the whole situation. I would have rather ignored Maureen for the rest of eternity than tell her the truth. I hated conflict.

“I’ve been working on some short fiction for a compilation I’m putting together,” I lied. “I’m hoping to have it finished by the time I go back to school.”

She looked skeptical. If there was one thing Maureen knew about me, it was that I loved to talk about my writing in detail. When I didn’t, she had to know something was wrong.

We ordered our drinks and waited for them at the end of the counter. Maureen was playing with a curl of her blonde hair, something that was a very annoying habit of hers. It made her look stupid. I was trying to think of something to say when she spoke up again.

“Chrissy, I just want you to know that the whole situation with Ryan is in the past. I’m over it and have moved on. Things don’t have to be awkward between us.”

I should have felt relieved, but I felt suddenly nauseated instead. I felt a strange pain deep in my organs somewhere. She was willing to move on from the whole thing, but she didn’t know the whole truth. Ryan was actually waiting for me a couple streets over in the parking lot of a bookstore we often went to together. We were meeting up after my outing with Maureen. I knew he would want to know how lunch went, and I would have to tell him that I didn’t tell her the truth.

“Great,” I said. “That’s what I was hoping you would say.”

I didn’t know what else to say. I felt like a coward, especially because I wasn’t quite sure how Ryan and I would continue our relationship without her finding out at some point in time. I just didn’t want to start an argument with her, especially in the middle of the coffee shop.

We left the coffee shop, walking slowly again while Maureen examined her paper coffee cup in an effort to avoid the silence between us.

“Don’t you have anything you want to apologize for?” Maureen finally asked.

Here was the moment I had been hoping to avoid the whole time. I kept looking down at my feet as we walked, unsure of what to say. My first instinct was to lie.

Before I could say anything, I noticed a one-hundred dollar bill lying in the grass next to the sidewalk. I stopped walking. Maureen took a couple more steps and turned around. She saw the money, too.

For a moment we just looked at each other. I turned back and the money was still in the same spot it had been. I looked a little closer and it looked as if the bill was stuck to the ground with a sewing pin.

“Aren’t you going to pick it up?” Maureen said as I stared at the bill.

“It’s pinned down, like someone put it there,” I said. “Like it’s a joke or something. Like some prank.”

As I was contemplating whether or not to pick it up, I glanced up at the high-rise apartment building in front of us. About five stories up, I saw a man standing in the window. The window was open and the white drapes were fluttering around him in the breeze. He had a gun propped up on the windowsill and was looking down at me through the scope.

I pointed up at the window and screamed.

“Run, he’s got a gun!”

There were many people lining the street and sidewalks, and they all looked up at the window. Everyone started to run at the same time, a stampede of wild animals.

I took off running with my head down and as I heard the gun go off. I didn’t know what kind of gun it was, but it kept going off. I had my back to the shooter as I ran. I kept expecting to feel a sharp pain and then a hot stream of blood down my back. I ran as fast as I could to try to clear the street and get around the corner. I didn’t turn around, but I heard people screaming as I ran. I thought of Ryan, sitting in the driver’s seat of his car in front of Barnwell’s Books on Main Street, waiting for me to jump in with my coffee in hand and tell him all about how Maureen had given us her blessing. Could he hear the gunfire?

I finally made it to the end of the street and ran around the corner, dropping to my knees as soon as I did. I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t realize until I had stopped running that I had managed to lose my purse in the process of getting away from the shooter. I didn’t dare look around the corner to see how many people were down or if the police had arrived. Or to find Maureen. It was like I was deaf. I couldn’t hear anything but my own breathing.

My feet hurt from running. I looked down and saw that my skin was raw and red from the straps on my sandals. I took them off and left them on the sidewalk. I needed to find Ryan. I started jogging to put more space between myself and the guy with the gun. As I neared the street where I knew Ryan would be waiting, I saw the Barnwell’s Books sign in the distance. Underneath the sign was Ryan’s blue car. He had the windows down with his music playing, as if nothing in the world had changed. As if people weren’t dying on the street nearby.

I sprinted to his car and pulled the passenger side door open, nearly diving in and slamming it behind me.

“Chrissy?” he said, reaching forward and turning down the volume. “What’s wrong?”

My hair was stuck to my forehead with sweat and I wiped at it with the back of my hand. I was sweating everywhere. My hearing was coming back to me and I heard police sirens in the distance.

“Didn’t you hear it?” I nearly screamed at him. “Couldn’t you hear the gun?”

“What are you talking about, Chrissy?” he said, his expression changing from curious to something between concerned and angry. “Where’s Maureen?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “There was a guy standing in a window with a gun. He started shooting. How could you not hear it?”

We sat there for a couple minutes in silence, not saying anything. Ryan had his hand on my back, my sweaty heat radiating to his palm. My skin stuck to the leather seat of his car.

Finally, Ryan said, “I’m getting out. I’m going to find Maureen.”

I slowly opened the door of the car, putting my raw feet on the hot concrete one at a time. I had been so worried about not letting Maureen know about Ryan and me, and now all I wanted to do was find her and tell her. Maybe out of guilt. Maybe because I didn’t want to feel like a coward.

We walked back toward the street in silence. I heard ambulance and police sirens echoing off of the buildings around us. As we rounded the corner to the street where the shooter was, I saw a figure in a blue dress standing in the distance. Her blonde curls bounced as she talked with a police officer. She was crying.

“Maureen!” Ryan yelled as he took off running.

I hugged my arms around myself.

Maureen turned around and ran to Ryan. They hugged each other as Maureen spotted me over Ryan’s shoulder.

“Chrissy?” she said. “Chrissy, I had no idea where you went. I thought he got you, the shooter.”

I walked up and hugged Maureen. Her sweaty hair clung to my neck.

“Ryan, what are you doing here?” Maureen said, wiping tears from her pale cheeks.

Ryan glanced over at me. I kicked a cigarette butt around on the ground with my bare left foot. For a moment, we were all silent.

“We never stopped seeing each other, Maureen,” I said, looking down at my feet.

Maureen looked at Ryan. She was still crying. Behind her, dozens of policemen and emergency workers were ushering people out of the street and onto the sidewalk. I saw one man lying on the pavement, writhing around and grabbing at his leg. Another woman lay face down in the middle of the street.

Maureen reached up and slapped me across the face. I didn’t move or say anything, I just looked down at my red feet again.

“Chrissy, I told you my brother was off limits! How can you be my best friend and go around with my little brother behind my back? Don’t you have any boundaries? Any morals?”

Ryan stepped in between us and grabbed his sister by the shoulders. He was talking to her but I wasn’t listening. My ears started ringing and I feared the deafness would return. I turned and looked up the street again. Off in the distance, I could still see that one-hundred dollar bill stuck to the ground, the sun reflecting off the tiny piece of metal pinning it down.

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X-R-A-Y ISSUE #6

DOWNLOAD ISSUE #6 AUGUST 2018zachary kennedy-lopez // benjamin niespodziany // jonathan cardew // troy james weaver // bob raymonda // anastasia jill // nayt rundquist // kevin sampsell // joseph grantham // paul curran // marston hefner // s.f. wright // sam phillips // dylan gray // bud smith
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TRIAL by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle

The mystery shopper is ambitious, athletic, with a big dick. It looks good on you. I’ve been here for a while. I ask him what his Myers-Briggs type is and he says he is an INFP. What, INFP, but I’m an INFP. You don’t seem like an INFP, I don’t know if you are actually one. I am, he says, that’s what I got when I did the test. Ok, I say, I’m going to the test right now and pretend I’m you while I’m doing it.

I walk the perimeter of the mall. I really want to buy something but I can’t find anything to buy. Then I can’t find my way out of the mall. I get lost three times. As I am getting lost someone I know messages me to say they just matched with my ex-boyfriend on an online dating site. I am late to my job trial. The job trial is in a suburban but industrial part of town. I have to put pasta sauce into 50 plastic bags with a very large ladle and I’m not supposed to get any sauce on the sides of the bags. I am very slow and I keep checking the weight of the bag and trying to scoop up excess sauce back out of the bag with the large ladle which keeps touching the sides of the bag. I’m not a practical person. Two people are watching me and the warehouse we are in has high ceilings and no windows. One of the women watching me says, Are you just out of school? I say, No, I’m 26. She asks me what I studied at university and I say creative writing and she says Oh, well, that’s not going to lead to a job is it. She criticizes the way I am placing spinach on rice. She pulls me aside. We’re not really sure what you’re looking for, she says.

I take a taxi to the mystery shopper’s house. Did you get paid for the trial, he says, and I say no. We lie on the bed. I say my hand is too sore to give him a handjob right now sorry because of the arthritis in my hand. He says, You don’t look sick, you seem too young to be sick. I want him to be my boyfriend but he doesn’t want to commit. The mystery shopper says, Maybe you should be a teacher I think you’d be good as a teacher and additionally, you already dress like a teacher. I say I already thought about that. I applied for teacher college and a few weeks after my interview, the interviewer called me to her office and asked me what my plans were for the upcoming year. I said, Well, the teaching course?? I hope? She told me I was academically strong. But that I seemed too fragile and submissive to be a teacher. Are you sure you want to a be a teacher, she said, Why don’t we brainstorm some other possible options for you for this year?

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