THE LIST by Annie Delmedico

In movies, the end of the world makes everyone care about the right things, right when the right things are about to be gone. Not me. I want my money.

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JOE-DOG by Michael Haller

Joe was helping his ex-girlfriend Claire move out of her apartment (“the apartment where I grew as a person more than my previous four apartments”) while simultaneously helping his recycled girlfriend Lori move into the same apartment. (“Fucking creepy, I’m disinfecting this place when she’s gone.”) The apartment was a one-bedroom in trashy-trendy North Cumminsville, a blighted warehouse district in one of the mid-sized Ohio cities beginning with the letter C (not Canton, not Chillicothe, not Coshocton). Claire could no longer afford the rent in NC due to unpaid bills and the troubles they bring, and middleman Joe, a friend of the landlord, cluelessly arranged for Lori to meet the owner and win first right of refusal, without thinking that they might cross paths during the move. Joe chose to ignore any emotional discomfort this scenario caused by not thinking about it, and not thinking about “emotional-type things,” as Joe referred to them, was something he saw as an asset. His job, he told himself, was laborer; he was a packhorse helping one person move out and another move in. His secondary job, after the heavy lifting, was to stay out of the way, not make eye contact, and speak only when spoken to. His third job, if necessary, was peacekeeper, because the two women were no longer friends, all because of Joe. First, Joe dated Lori, then cheated on Lori by sleeping with her friend Claire, without Lori’s knowledge of course and without Joe’s knowledge that they were friends. Nor did Claire know that Joe was dating Lori until the two women were at a bar discussing the wonderful man they’d been seeing, who they discovered was the same man when they held up their phones and showed each other pictures of their beloved. Their smiles turned to eye-bulging disbelief, then mutual inquisition and accusation that launched a feud conducted in-person, via text, email, social media, and phone when they learned of each other’s “betrayal” (Lori’s term), an accusation Claire took issue with, because she didn’t know Lori was seeing Joe and said ignorance was the more accurate word to describe her part, the mutual recriminations and accusations causing them to distrust each other more than they distrusted Joe, who, because they adored him, and because he was the type of man in short supply—he had enough brains that he wouldn’t be called stupid, but not enough brains that he was smarter than either woman, who thought themselves alpha females. And he was so attractive it was like he was covered with chocolate syrup they wanted to lick off: 6’ 1,” 200 lbs., tousled brown hair, naturally muscular—“work muscles, not gym muscles,” Claire said—he worked in a lumber yard and could carry eight 2 x 8s stacked on each shoulder up a flight of twenty steps—with a strong upper body, and well-proportioned in all other areas, which was everywhere.

An impartial observer, however, may have cited Joe for unethical boundary crossing, breaking of trust, psychological damage inflicted on both women, with no certainty that even more damage wouldn’t be inflicted on them or on other women Lori and Claire were unaware of. Joe skated happily along, as another of his assets was his lack of introspection, although he wasn’t introspective enough to know this was an asset until his ex-lover Bruce Ford (he, him)—with whom Joe had his first, longest, deepest, and most intense sexual and romantic relationship (although Joe never thought of it that way)—told Joe, “Your gift is your lack of self-awareness regarding the negative impact you have on people—which self-knowledge would destroy anyone with scruples—while simultaneously you inflate the positive impact you have on others, so that you see yourself not as the pariah you should see yourself as, and should be seen as by others, but as a savior to anyone you love, is how you see yourself, a benefactor or kindly bestower of yourself onto others,” said Bruce Ford when Joe left him to date Lori. “Borderline sociopath in other words is how I would describe you, although your love is indeed the most wonderful gift I’ve ever received, so I’m not faulting you for your flaws, just pointing them out, and any time you want to come over for a back rub or foot massage—platonic, of course, I’m a one-man kind of guy, I don’t share—please, don’t hesitate.”

“Cool,” Joe said on his way out the door for the last time, then, “Well, I’ll see you around dude.”

Lori was parked in Bruce’s driveway honking the horn for Joe to hurry up.

“What did you see in him anyhow?” she asked as they drove away.

“See in him? Like, why did I hang out with him?”


“You know? That’s a good question. We’ve known each other forever—we were born on the same day, same year, same hospital, we lived three doors apart—”

“Ok, I understand. It’s not really important, as long as you keep getting tested once a week for the next six months.”

“Right on,” Joe said, sitting in the passenger seat, strumming an acoustic guitar left-handed, the fretboard sticking out the window.




While Bruce Ford was correct that Joe lacked introspection, it was not true that he lacked compassion, empathy, tolerance, and a natural ability to forgive and forget, so intrinsic to his nature that he was unaware he possessed these gifts and didn’t understand that others often lacked them. The emotional upheavals Joe caused always surprised him, as probably his deepest philosophical approach to life came from a cereal box interview with a surfer he read when he was a kid, something to the effect that life is calm seas and life is waves, and how you ride the waves determines whether or not you survive, it’s nothing personal the ocean has against you, it’s just something you put up with and try not to go under, and when he read this at age twelve, Joe internalized it and transmogrified it into an all-encompassing worldview that could be summarized as “go with the flow and don’t worry about things beyond your control,” and Joe would tell his friends, after the emotional devastations he caused, that his “victims” were fighting forces beyond their control (i.e., his behavior) and they should accept his actions, not fight them or question them, just go with the flow and you’ll be fine. This is how he explained his behavior to Lori and Claire, who were appalled at his brazen stupidity, but also fascinated that a beautiful grown man could have such a simple way of looking at things. They then thought maybe it wasn’t simple, that perhaps Joe was a savant, or Buddhist, maybe, not through studying but by natural disposition, he had, they reasoned, an advanced, sophisticated understanding of life and they were the dumb ones for not comprehending his God-given enlightenment, and all he was trying to do was share his wisdom with them.

After Claire was fully moved out (“eradicated” was Lori’s term) and psychically removed with three days of continual sage-burning that created an odor that permeated the entire 1920s apartment building where she lived, Joe moved his things back in because Claire had thrown them out the windows.

While the sage was still burning, and Joe had brought in his last bundle of clothes, Lori closed the door of the apartment, stood with her back against it so Joe couldn’t leave, and told him to take off his clothes. Joe was happy to comply, because he believed nudity, for him, at least, was the ideal state, and also because women, and men, liked looking at him, and because Joe was a people-pleaser more than anything, he was happy to give them something to look at. Only this time Lori told him to kneel on all fours and “stick your ass up high.” She removed her leather belt, doubled it in two, and slapped his ass so hard he howled in pain. Before he was able to ask what she was doing, she spanked him again. The belt left red marks on Joe’s rear, and when he saw Lori pull her arm back for another spank, he crawled to her and bit her between the legs. She was wearing jeans, and it wasn’t a ferocious bite, so she didn’t feel much, but seeing Joe’s beautiful face at her crotch inspired her to wrap the leather belt around his neck and tighten it like a leash that she used to pull Joe around the apartment. Joe played along, because Joe loved to play, even though this particular game was new to him. Little did he know it was also new to Lori, but she was assertive in a way that made Joe think this was something she’d wanted as soon as they had the chance. She pulled him into the kitchen and placed him in the corner--naked, leashed and collared. She removed a large plastic mixing bowl from a cabinet, filled it with water, and set it in front of Joe. She then took a drinking glass from the cabinet, wrapped it in a dish towel, and pounded the towel-wrapped glass with a hammer until it was broken into hundreds of shards that she sprinkled on the kitchen floor so that if Joe tried to crawl or walk out of the kitchen, he would cut his hands, feet, or knees.

“Don’t move,” Lori said.

“What the hell, babe? I thought we were cool.”

“Yeah, we’re cool. But do me a favor and get on all fours and start drinking from the bowl.”

Joe plunged his face into the bowl and suctioned water into his mouth.

“Not like that. Lap it. Lap it like a dog!” she said, and barked.

Joe started lapping the water, and that’s when she grabbed her phone off the kitchen table and photographed a naked Joe drinking water like a dog from a mixing bowl.




An hour later, after they made love, Joe asked Lori if she would put him on the leash again or if it was a one-time thing.

“I’m pretty sure it’ll happen again,” was her answer, as she massaged between his legs and coaxed another erection that she used to get herself off one more time.




Little did they know that before Claire moved out, she installed three surveillance cameras in strategic spots throughout the apartment so she could perhaps blackmail Lori, or at least embarrass her. One of the cameras was in a ceiling fan over the dining room table, angled toward the kitchen, providing a perfect shot of Joe’s slave-dog performance. Another camera was in the bedroom, and one was in the living room. Claire watched the tapes when she got home at 3:30 a.m. after tending bar for eight hours and getting stoned with a coworker. She was appalled at what she saw and then so aroused that she masturbated four times before falling asleep around 5:00.

Not much changed over the next month. Lori and Joe spent almost every night together, and almost every night, Claire came home and masturbated watching them. A routine had developed. Claire fell asleep blissed out and woke up anticipating the following night’s debauchery. She remembered that she had installed the cameras for purposes of blackmail, but she discovered instead that she was a voyeur, and this discovery lowered her self-esteem a bit, but not enough to stop her from watching. But her subterfuge made her paranoid. What if someone was watching her? She began thinking that perhaps her pot-bellied landlord—whose T-shirt always rode an inch above his beltline, revealing pale skin barely visible through a jungle of pubic hair that seemingly went from his crotch up to his neck, for more of the same hair sprouted from his shirt collar—installed cameras when Claire was at work, and while she masturbated to tapes of Joe and Lori, he masturbated to tapes of her.

“Does weed cause paranoia?” Claire asked Google, and Google said yes, around ten million different articles said yes, depending on what strain of bud was smoked, and what the smoker’s pre-buzz state of mind was, yes, paranoia was possible. Also, a tendency toward feeling guilty in general could be exacerbated by the herb. Claire decided she would drink more whiskey and smoke less dope, but whiskey made her angry, so she went back to weed.

“Does weed make women horny?” was the next thing Claire asked Google, and the answer, repeated ten million times, was that a woman’s horniness while elevated depended on what strain of bud was smoked, what time of month it was, the smoker’s level of fatigue before lighting up, and also, any pre-buzz anticipation of impending sex might intensify the desire for carnal annihilation.




Bruce Ford meanwhile was pining for Joe-Dog. Although he’d had a few lovers in the two years after Joe left, it was Joe he remembered most. He devised a plan: He would contact Claire and suggest she invite Joe over for a friendly chat. Bruce would already be in Claire’s apartment—in fact, he and Claire would be in bed, under the blankets, fully clothed of course because Bruce had only seen two women naked. (One was his mother [trauma!] and the other was a new-in-the-neighborhood fourteen--year-old named Brandy Sinclair, who had volunteered to be gangbanged by five boys of her choosing, two of them Bruce and Joe, but he was overcome with nausea when he saw her lying naked on the bed, her skin a sickly white, surrounded by the boys, touching and squeezing her until she took Kenny Listerman’s hand and put it between her legs. Bruce wanted to stay and watch the boys undress, but Brandy’s nakedness was a shock so troubling that he had to leave, and Joe followed.) Bruce hoped that, assuming Claire went along with the plan, Joe would see his two exes in bed and feel the whammo! of karmic devastation when he realized that what goes around comes around. Or something like that, is how Bruce Ford envisioned his destabilization of Joe-Dog, an emotional destruction he hoped would be so severe that Joe would plead with Bruce to come to his senses and “leave that woman and come with me.” Bruce then thought this scenario mightn’t happen. Perhaps Joe would get in bed with them, only to find they were clothed.

Bruce went to the Corner Pub, where Claire tended bar, a cinder-block hellhole as drab as its name might suggest. Upon entering, one noticed the low, drop ceiling, the absence of windows, wobbly tables surrounded by mismatching chairs, and almost no lighting except for the minimum the bartender needed to pour drinks and count change. In years past, the pub had featured non-nude dancers on a stage the size of a ping pong table, now home to the establishment’s lone pinball machine. Bruce had been there a few times with Joe and feared for his safety—bathroom graffiti included the message “if you’re reading this, you’re a fag”—so he dressed as straight as he knew how (which to Bruce meant cowboy attire) and practiced talking without the effeminate lisp he knew he talked with ever since recording himself saying the Pledge of Allegiance as a fourteen-year-old to see how obvious it was he was gay. (“I pledge allegiance to the fag—flag!—I pledge allegiance to the fag, oh god, the flag the flag…the flaggots…” and he stopped there because he knew he was doomed to announcing his gayness every time he spoke.)

Bruce came in and sat two seats away from a man somewhere in his sixties, who looked at him and said “Jesus Christ” and moved to the other end of the bar.

“What are you doing here?” Claire asked when she came over. “Are you trying to get killed?”

“Is it obvious?”

“No one dresses like that anymore.”

“It’s not macho?”

“It’s ridiculous. Gay men haven’t dressed like that since the ‘70s. You could at least have worn a shirt under your vest. And take that bandana off your neck!”

Bruce removed the bandana, eyeing the old drunk at the end of the bar, who, Bruce noticed, was staring at him with either hatred or lust.

“I think your other customer rather likes my attire.”

“Don’t. Ex-cop. Hates gays. Hates everyone except other ex-cops. Look at me.” Bruce looked at her. “Ignore him.”

“Okay, I’ll ignore him. But to answer your question why I’m here, I’m here because I have a proposition.”

Claire said his idea was silly and that he should forget about Joe and find someone else.

That night at 4 a.m., Bruce’s phone rang.

“Let’s do it,” an intoxicated Claire said. “I think it can work. But we have to invite Lori. I’ll set it up. I’ll propose a make-up party. I’ll invite both of them, and you’ll already be here in bed and I’ll get up to use the bathroom and I’ll get in bed with you and invite them into the bedroom.”

“Then what happens?”

“Then what happens? How should I know? We haven’t done this yet. I can’t predict the future.”

“What are you doing? You’re all huffy and puffy like you want to have phone sex but as you know, I do not lean in that direction.”

“I’m watching a…tape…..oh fuck! Oh fuck ohfuckinggod…”

“What sort of tape are you watching?”

“It’s…oh god…oh god…it’s Joe and—Joe and Lori!”

“What are you talking about? You have a tape of them fucking?”

“Hundreds. Every night. Before I moved out I installed cameras.”

“Oh. My. God. Can I come over? I need to see this. I mean, I’ll put my hand over Lori or something because that would ruin it, but if I can see Joe…”

“Hurry. Bring weed.”

“Girl, I am walking out the door.”

They fell asleep at six and Bruce woke at eight with an erection poking Claire’s lower back. It woke her up too, and she reached behind her and began massaging it. Bruce was aghast, but it felt so good that he came two minutes later, breathing heavily into the back of Claire’s head and noting with surprise the pleasant aromas coming from her hair.

“Mmmm…” Claire said. “Feel better?”

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” Bruce said, but Claire’s hand was still holding his spent but semi-hard penis, and he didn’t tell her to let go. Her hair smelled so floral, and the skin on her hand was a little rough—sandpapery, almost—like Joe’s hands—probably from twisting off thousands of bottle caps the last few years.

“Back to sleep now,” she said and took her hand away.

Bruce rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He was overcome with self-loathing for betraying the cause, as he now thought of his queerness, a politically and socially revolutionary lifestyle that threatened the status quo and rejected everything it stood for, meaning all of the insipid love songs and commercials and TV shows and movies and billboards that glamorized straight life by showing happy couples and unhappy couples and their children and cheerful dogs and that congratulated itself when, once every five years, they sort of got it right in a movie or TV show regarding what it was like to be a real man, which is how Bruce thought of himself every time he made love with a man. But this episode with Claire? He was confused. He stopped thinking about it, got dressed, and went home.




As the make-up party approached, the women no longer felt threatened by each other, but they didn’t know this because their friendship hadn’t recovered to the point where they shared secrets or exposed vulnerability. Lori walked with what she imagined was a triumphant air—regal, actually, because she possessed the man everyone wanted. She was victrix. She pictured herself a mythical Roman empress, a goddess of beauty and war who inspired her men to kill barbarians in every corner of the empire. She would exalt herself by ordering the Senate to proclaim her “eternal wife of Jupiter,” reassigning Juno as wet nurse to their sucklings. Claire’s satisfaction, on the other hand, came from her deepening attraction to Bruce, who was the second most beautiful man she’d slept with, after Joe.

The men were less enthused with the make-up party. Joe’s usual go-with-the-flow attitude was slightly disturbed at the thought of being in the same room with three people he’d had sex with. And although the gathering was Bruce’s idea, he too was confused, because for the first time ever, he was attracted to a woman. He was so upset he consulted a psychologist to see if he was either insane or a degenerate, but the shrink, who seldom made eye contact during the session, said that as long as he was engaging in consensual and legal behavior, there was nothing wrong. “The guilt, or shame, you feel toward this woman…Betsy?...Let me make an analogy: All your life, you hated watermelon. Didn’t matter if you put ice cream on it or brown sugar or deep fried it. Point is, you never liked watermelon. And then one day you’re at a picnic, and people are eating watermelon, and you get a craving for watermelon. Who knows why? So you get a slice of watermelon and take a bite. You slowly chew it into a pulp and swallow. You don’t throw up. You end up eating five slices, and on the way home, you stop and buy a twenty-pounder that you eat within a day.”




The make-up party happened on a Saturday night, two months after Bruce suggested it to Claire. He arrived early to help prepare the snacks and tidy up. But they scratched the idea of getting in bed together and somehow using a façade of intimacy to hurt Joe and Lori, because they’d developed a true intimacy over the last two months that would be damaged if they used it to play a joke on their guests. Bruce was now thinking of himself as bisexual, and Claire was wondering why she was only attracted to bi-guys—first Joe, now Bruce. But what really complicated things was their curiosity: Bruce was now thinking about Lori’s shiny blonde hair, and Claire had never forgotten certain looks Lori gave her during their three-year friendship: penetrating, lingering looks when it seemed Lori’s eyes throbbed, or pulsed, as they stared at each other. She’d never had any serious lesbian fantasies besides the daydream of making out with a beautiful woman, preferably on the beach at full moon. And the other fantasy of being caressed and catered to by three or four naked sorority girls. And also the fantasy of cuddling with a lovely but tragic divorced woman, giving each other the healing love they needed before finding another man to wreck their lives. But Claire had neglected to watch tapes of Joe and Lori when they weren’t having sex. If she had, she might not have been surprised when she opened the door at 8:00 to see Lori dressed as some sort of Roman goddess, wearing a sheer toga-thing, and Joe dressed as a shirtless gladiator.

Claire and Bruce were gollywomped with lust when the Romans walked into their apartment, but Bruce recovered quickly.

“Joe, are you one of those Roman slaves who gets crucified for having a bad attitude?”

“Hey Bruce,” he said and hugged his former lover. Bruce lost all motor control and would have collapsed if Joe hadn’t held him tight.

Claire had lost fifteen pounds since Lori last saw her, and had dyed her hair a deep auburn with a jawline bob that framed her face like the Sutton Hoo helmet. Two inches taller than herself, Lori’s feeling of superiority diminished somewhat looking up into Claire’s dark eyes ringed with black eyeliner. “My god, she’s turned goth,” Lori thought, looking at Claire, who she only ever befriended in the first place because she liked to be out in public with prettier women, as a way of attracting the men the pretty girls didn’t want.“Are you two”— she nodded at Bruce, who had recovered enough strength to stand on his own “—a couple?”Claire scratched her nails through Bruce’s thick black hair.“Is that what we are, darling?”

“Well, I’ve never been one for labels,” he said, Claire’s nails sending sparks through his body. “Are you two a couple or just…friends?”

“It’s too soon to call us a couple because there’s a trust issue”—and she shot a hateful look at Claire that softened into fascination with her makeover, “but uh,” looking from Claire to Bruce—“things are going well.”


The evening passed pleasantly at first, everyone slightly guarded until the marijuana was passed around. Within minutes, it seemed more than four people were in Claire’s apartment, as the volume of conversation, music, and laughter increased two-fold, then three-fold. A connective warmth passed through all four as their social armor fell off, replaced by a renewed trust and mutual interest that wasn’t a bogus effect of the herb, rather, the bud seemed to have breathed life into their former selves—spontaneous and trusting, everyone abuzz with the feeling (not yet knowledge) that they were still friends, instinctively drawn to each other, just like old times, which for Joe and Bruce was twenty-four years. Claire and Lori had known each other just three years, but they got along so well (before the rupture) that they felt like they would be lifelong friends.

As the evening wore on, Joe and Bruce ended up in the kitchen, drinking beer and getting reacquainted. Joe had put on one of Bruce’s white t-shirts, a bit small but better for the way it clung to his torso and exposed enough bicep that every time Joe raised his beer bottle, a hump of muscle formed that Bruce wanted to kiss, lick, bite, caress, slap his cock against. Claire and Lori sat on the couch, near enough that their knees could have touched if one had leaned toward the other. It’s possible that Bruce backed Joe against the refrigerator and leaned in close to kiss him, but instead rubbed his face against Joe’s to feel his stubble. It’s possible that Joe placed his hand on Bruce’s chest, either to back him off or because the adventurous boy in Joe was still alive to Bruce, and holding his hand there was like a magnet that kept Bruce near. None of this was seen by the women in the living room, who now had relaxed enough that their knees were resting against each other’s. Lori looked at Claire’s black-stockinged legs and told herself she needed black stockings…but would she look as slutty-hot as Claire? And what Claire could see of Lori’s legs, from mid-thigh down to sandaled feet, caused her to lose track of their conversation about work as she daydreamed about rubbing lotion on her friend’s thighs.

Joe and Bruce came in from the kitchen and sat next to the person they began the night with, but there’s no reason to believe that in the coming weeks alliances and attractions wouldn’t shift, in a less bruising way than before. With the good feelings and restored trust flowing in every direction, it’s best to think that, whatever the outcome of the renewed affection, the foursome’s friendship had entered a new phase that would see the bed-hopping and eavesdropping recede. Although it’s too early to predict who will end up with whom, the fact that friendship is being restored might be seen as a sign of emotional growth. And Joe, who had never thought of himself as the center of attention (because he seldom thought of himself at all), was relieved that his friends weren’t fussing over him. He could relax and go with this new flow and see where it took him.

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IF YOU CAN, LISTEN by Jake McAuliffe

First off, endings are quiet. As something/somelove dies, a spacetime wound will appear to you and crickets will come out. They will flood your ears and tickle your canals like cotton. Some cheeky crickety fucks are going to use your body as a musical instrument. This is normal. I think every bone and pipe inside the human body was placed on purpose. You may have heard the theory of “intelligent design” but try this: crickets frisking your insides for anything that can shake the air. That’s music, baby. And that’s how tinnitus comes about. It’s insects. It’s our slow air for death, the one which we alone cannot play. I heard it only yesterday. In the worst white room, my love pinched my palm pink before her last breath smashed the air flat. Then, C sharp.

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THE STOAT by Nick Perilli

We don’t know where the hole in the basement of our house goes, only that it’s far deeper than it looks. Our pet stoat made it last year before disappearing into it. She was always digging—into our wood floors, our garden, our couches, and pantries—but this hole was her masterpiece. The white fur on her belly darkened with dirt over time. Since the day we brought the stoat home, she didn’t pay us any mind; she only had time for digging. She escaped from her cage whenever we weren’t looking, and we admit we rarely looked.

Whatever the stoat was digging for, she must have found it, as we haven’t seen the thing since. Our youngest daughter of three, Aly, sat at the hole in the basement for days while she was home from school with the flu. She, most of all, wanted to follow the stoat wherever it went. To find the better place it had surely gone.

Charles from across the street watched her while she was sick and we were at work. He didn’t have anything else to do but sit in his bedroom on his phone, taking photos of neighbors from the window. Whether it was out of boredom or malice, he encouraged our youngest to search for the stoat.

“Take my phone,” he said, knowing it was at 3 percent. “You can use it as a flashlight.”

At the dinner table that night, we noticed scrapes along Aly’s elbows and some dirt she forgot to wipe away along her neck.

“What happened?” one of us—the angrier one—asked. “Did Charles do this to you?”

Aly hesitated, exploring her options to respond behind her darting eyes, then burst into small tears as she told us that she climbed into the hole in the basement. “And I found her!” she said. “I met the stoat somewhere near the end. I saw an odd light from another place peeking in behind her. She was very still, and her fur had turned all dark.”

She thought the stoat was dead until it shook its head and began cleaning its face with its front paws. It plopped onto its one side, then the other, scrambling like a furred snake. When Aly reached for the stoat, it bit her.

“You’re late,” it said, “but I knew you would follow me.” The stoat’s whiskers twitched. “I’m here to tell you to go right back.”

“What’s there?” Aly asked, looking beyond the stoat. She tried to get closer, but the stoat stood in her way, baring teeth again.

“False wonder and warped danger,” the stoat said. “Dreams of people like Charles up there for children like you.” The stoat barked at her, low and strong like a hungry dog with powerful jaws. It bit Aly again on as many fingers as it could get in its mouth before she pulled away. “It’s not what you need—it’s not what I needed either, I guess, and now I’m caught between these spaces unsure of what to do.”

It barked louder—more guttural, more rabid. Aly backed away.

“I suppose I’ll just stay right here,” the stoat said. “To stop you, your small children, and your children’s small children from ever getting by me. From ever falling victim to predatory wonder. I am prey, but you shouldn’t be.” The stoat snapped its jaws at Aly one more time.

Aly scrambled out of the hole. Charles grabbed her by the arms, begging her to tell him what she saw down there. The false wonder. The warped danger. He had a look in his eye. Aly leaned into him and bit him hard on the neck until he left. Aly said he tasted like pennies—red on her teeth—then pushed the rest of her dinner away. Her older sisters ate it happily.

We called Charles, but he didn’t answer. We still saw the shadow of him in his window across the street taking his pictures, so we knew he was home. In time, the shadow faded.

Over the next three days, we found Aly standing at the top of the basement stairs at three in the morning. She tried and failed to go down the hole a few more times, until she hit a growth spurt and forgot that it was even there. In a decade or two, her children tried. Long after we died and left the house to Aly, her children’s children attempted, then their children—and so on. All of them were bitten and turned away by the same soot-furred stoat.  

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I half-expect Chris to be draped in an American flag like a patriotic version of Jesus. Since enlisting, he’s all pro-war now, existing in a blind state of sacrosanctity. He shits red, white, and blue, and has Uncle Sam on speed dial. They grab beers together, talk sports. Bald and uniformed, no one would know that just last week Chris lit illegal fireworks off his parent’s pontoon and drank vodka tonics before noon. That he suffocated lizards and shot small dogs with bb-guns, gratified a Wendy’s. Growing up, his parents thought he was going to be a serial killer, not a soldier. Now, he tucks his shirts in and says, “Yes, ma’am.” Ana saw him help an old lady cross the street, so I guess Chris is a regular boy scout now.

Back when we were together, Chris never pulled out. I used to resent him for this, but I don’t anymore. I wouldn’t have minded getting pregnant, not really. It would have been a nine-month holiday of glazed donuts, pickles drenched in peanut butter, being lazy. I could have handled the morning sickness, the swollen feet, the back aches, the weight gain. I would have survived. I think about dying my hair neon green so my conservative family can discuss it behind my back. But boxed dye never lasts, and I hate wearing those plastic gloves. It’s not like I would be a good mom or anything. I’m not an idiot. Moms have ponytails that swoosh and schedule doctor’s appointments and eat fresh fruit. They floss. I barely remember to brush my teeth. Ana says Cadet Chris is coming over around 2. I hope to have an aneurysm before 2.

Outside, Dad’s nose is already peeling. His cap is on backwards, and he’s wearing a cutoff tank, the one with the bald eagle on it. His smile expands beyond his face as he fires up the grill. I haven’t seen Chris since he asked if he could hit me during sex. I said no, and he joined the army that afternoon. Ana’s convinced he enlisted as a form of self-punishment. It’s because he’s a sadist, but he doesn’t want to be a sadist, she said. I thought about submitting myself to him as an experiment—mostly, because it would be something to do—but I was tired and really wanted someone to paint my nails a happy person color. Getting hit for someone else’s pleasure just sounded hard. I knew I wouldn’t be getting anything out of it. Pain never excited me all that much. I already hated myself enough.

When my dad’s friend, Eddie, got laid off, he moved into the guest room for a couple months. Eddie made it a routine to piss while I was in the shower. I never told anyone about it, but it felt morally wrong, like killing an animal or running a red light on purpose. I started paying attention to how I shampooed my hair and thought about kissing Eddie on the mouth and telling people about it so he could go to jail. Really, I just wanted attention, and that didn’t sound like a good enough reason to ruin his life. When Eddie left, Mom let me binge-watch cartoons and never made me shower if I didn’t want to.

I lace up my tennis shoes and throw on a skimpy white tank top. There’s a ketchup stain near the bottom, so I tuck it into my waistband. My hair is so greasy that it looks brown. Dark, like dad likes it. I clasp the necklace Chris got me for my birthday around my neck, tight enough that it feels like he’s choking me. There’s already a red mark thrashed across my neck like a tiger stripe. I look pretty in an uncomfortable way—in the way bad car crashes and deep gash wounds are also kind of beautiful. Downstairs, Mom is playing old people music, something sad and twangy. She’s a pescatarian now, which is just an excuse for her to order sushi whenever she wants. Mom doesn’t care about animals. Once, she opened the backdoor so Jamie, my pet ferret, would run away. It ran and ran and ran.

“Caroline!” she yells. 

Her voice is so stupid.


I wish I had a stereo so I could blare it and then everyone would know I’m going through something and leave me alone. I stare at myself in the mirror and open my mouth as big as I can. I watch, waiting for something to escape it; the big, black hole inside me. Nothing happens.

“Come downstairs.”

I draw black eyeliner under my eyes and apply Dad’s stick deodorant. Ana’s toothpaste is caked to the mirror like permanent marker. Nose hairs clog the sink. Mom’s stopped cleaning the house on grounds of combating the patriarchy. She’s tired of being ‘oppressed.’ Now, the house is always dirty, and Ana and I aren’t allowed to have friends over. Not unless we clean the house, which neither of us are interested in doing. The barbecue is fine though because it’s outside. People can come over if they don’t go inside.

I stomp down the stairs to the kitchen. Mom hands me a cookie with red and blue sprinkles on it. Her lipstick is drawn above her lips, and her self-tanner is blotchy. There’s orange residue all over her white t-shirt. I wish she’d just poison herself in a bed of UV rays and get it over with. That would be less embarrassing, but she loves to embarrass me.

“You’re welcome,” she says. “For the cookie.”

“It would be better if it wasn’t store bought.”

She calls me an ungrateful little shit, and I don’t argue with her. 

I shove the entire cookie in my mouth and eat a second while she lectures me about getting a job and moving out and starting a family. I go outside while she’s mid-sentence. From the window, I watch her throw her hands up in the air in exasperation. I wonder if she truly hates me or if she’s just a bitch because she doesn’t love me and wishes she did and doesn’t know how to channel that energy without being called a “bad mom” by the neighbors. Dad’s face is clouded by grill steam. He’s already got a beer bottle in his left hand.

“Mom is on a Come-to-Jesus kick,” I say. “It’s exhausting. What’s happening? Do you not fuck her anymore?”

Dad laughs. “Cut your mom some slack. She thought you’d go on to cure cancer or something. You were such a driven child.”

“So, what? I’m a massive disappointment now?”

“Yeah. Something like that. Hey, toss me the paddies.”

Dad wipes his face with his King of the Grill apron and readies his tongs. I swear, he’s only happy when he’s manning the grill. I become very aware of my teeth against my tongue. They feel weak, like in seconds they’ll dissolve into the ether, leaving me toothless. 

“Dad, why are we celebrating Chris?”

“Caroline, come on.” He evenly distributes the paddies across the grill as if he’s going to be judged by a celebrity chef. “He’s going to the army.”

“Yeah, but he’s a prick.”

“Everybody’s a prick.” Dad downs the rest of the beer and hands it to me. “Get me another, would you?”

On my way to the cooler, Dad says my hair looks better dark. I go upstairs to research the dinosaurs. I want to understand how they wiped themselves out or why they did nothing when they realized they were getting wiped out. When I hear Chris’ voice, I hide under my covers, disappointed that I can’t disappear. As a child, I thought magicians could do that for a person. From the window, I see him. He’s wearing an America flag shirt, just like I knew he would.


When I move 90-miles north to Chicago, I start seeing a banker who works for some nondescriptive hedge fund. He has big teeth and a bad hairline and always wears three-piece suits that remind me of mobsters. He lives in an apartment with glass walls and steel appliances. From his room, you can see Millennium Park. I put my forehead against the window and watch. Down below, the people look like ants, the cars: bugs, the trees: miniature and decorative, pieces from a tiny Christmas village. The banker wants me to do rich people stuff, like read my horoscope and drink $7 iced coffees. My horoscope is never what I want  it to be, and the coffee is shit. I draft hate mail to the horoscope column and leave one-star reviews for the coffee chains. During the day, I paint and repaint my nails pink and yellow and blue. I hide the evidence of my cheese danish binges, buried at the bottom of the trash. When I’m alone, I dive into manic depressive episodes so deep that I lose consciousness. I flush chunks of my hair down the toilet; all of my clothes are too big. I’ve spent my entire life letting myself off the hook for being pretty.

Sometimes, I feel like a mannequin in the banker’s apartment, or a hospital patient. I check my wrists for bandages, for an identification bracelet, but there’s never anything there. His place is clean and sterile, like a psych ward. Once, I spent an entire day looking for hidden surveillance cameras or peep holes. I found nothing. I crave human interaction. Touch. Taste. Smell. I’m afraid to go outside without the banker. He pays for everything, so I quit my server job and move into his guest bedroom when he asks. The curtains are peach, and there are 12 decorative pillows. I don’t know what to do with all of them. I throw three out the window.

My mother calls to ask how I’m keeping. I tell her I’ve met Jesus in the shape of a rich balding man. She cautions me to be careful and to not take drugs from strangers. She doesn’t want to read about me in the paper; it would be disgustingly predictable for me to overdose. I laugh at this because I know she’s trying to be funny, but mothers aren’t wired that way. I think about telling her I’m pregnant. I don’t though because it would only be worth it if I could see her face, and I honestly don’t know how she’d react. She might be happy.

The banker is 23 years older than me. He tells his friends he’s intimidated by my ‘supreme youth’ but in a productive way, like standing next to someone who is significantly taller, or richer, smarter. This doesn’t bother me because he buys me expensive gifts wrapped in tissue paper. I act surprised when I open them and thank him, nauseatingly. When I’m in a good mood, I clap. This gets him off and always leads to hair-pulling, hate sex. The banker leaves bite marks and bruises down my spine like a trail of polka dots. It isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s easy, being submissive. You don’t have to do anything. I’ve stopped looking at him when he’s inside me. His pupils expand so big that his eyes turn black. I don’t know how to be loved, I think. This is why I’m like this. I’m not capable. It’s my mother’s fault. It’s easier to blame her than to accept responsibility. The banker is probably the devil. Not Jesus. I know this. I lie still anyway.

Because I am the banker’s plaything, I lose all sense of self-worth. I stop eating cheese danishes and deprive myself of water, soap, sunlight, cartoons, flowers, fresh air. I stare at blank screens and watch Lego-people in long coats walk to work and then, eight hours later, walk home. When Ana comes to visit during her holiday break, she calls me a ‘malnourished zombie.’

“By the way,” Ana says, pausing to inhale what’s left of her salad. I move my fork around in a circular motion, but my salad stays untouched. I can’t imagine chewing. “Chris was promoted. Apparently, he’s doing well in the army.”

I think about the day Chris pounded into me so hard, I couldn’t walk. When I mentioned it, afterwards, he said I needed to toughen up. I cried while he rinsed off in the shower. He always showered afterwards. He said it was to rid himself of me.

Even my salad mocks me. “Good for him.”

“You look like shit, Caroline. Like, real shit.” 

Ana’s hair has grown out. It touches her shoulders now, which means it’s been months since we’ve seen one another. Specks of red lipstick clump together at the corners of her mouth. If I were in a comedic mood, I’d ask if she’s taken to drinking people’s blood. It wouldn’t surprise me. As a child, she ripped the heads of our Barbies off with her teeth. Her eyes are pale, as if someone’s put a layer of fog over them. It seems like I’m seeing her nose for the first time. I don’t actually know anything about her, but she’s family, so it doesn’t matter.

“Thanks. I feel like shit.” I push my salad away. “So, did you get a nose job or what?”

“Jesus. You can’t just ask people if they got a nose job.”

“You’re not people. You’re my sister. I thought that made me immune to formalities, or like, being politically correct. I can be a dick because we’re blood.”

“Yeah. No. That’s definitely not how it works.”

Ana wants to complain about the salad. “It has an aggressive amount of lettuce,” she says. “Nobody actually likes lettuce. They just order salad to be perceived as a person who orders it. Like if you eat salad, you automatically have your shit together.”

We throw our salads into the wastebin and go to a burger joint down the street. Ana orders two double cheeseburgers with fries. She offers to pay, so I let her. The banker doesn’t give me an allowance. He doesn’t want to monetize our relationship. I pay for nothing.

“I think we eat so much because we were denied real pleasure as children,” Ana says. Burger juice swims down her chin and onto her orange Camp Tecumseh t-shirt. She went with our high school class. I was out with strep throat and never got a shirt.

“Yeah. You’re probably right.” 

I cover my mouth with my hand. The banker watches me eat, so I have to pretend I’m a polite person. He doesn’t want me to gain weight. He says it would mess up his image of dating a younger person. This is baseless, I think, because young people are fat too. My mother never gave me seconds and kept me on a calorie intake plan, so this isn’t shocking to me.

Ana burps and doesn’t say, ‘Excuse me.’ I find her disregard for manners intoxicating. I want to drink her in hopes that I’ll become her, in hopes that I can burp in public and get away with it, in hopes that I won’t be stuck, chained to this stranger in three-piece suits. “So,” she says. “When are you going to introduce me to Eric?”


“The banker.”

A breeze comes in from the left, forcing me to acknowledge my surroundings. Yes, weather exists. Global warming is real. People wear coats and hats when it’s cold. Birds fly horizontally. We adhere to stoplights and abide by laws made by old men in white wigs. We avoid sugar and dark sodas, drugs, strangers, alligators, sharks. People complete 30 minutes of daily exercise and check-up with their doctors. There’s a whole society of people out there, a whole system. I readjust my sweater to hide my collar bones. They’re sharp now. My hips too. If I run into something, I bruise. Whenever I see myself naked, I gag. It’s hard to believe someone with money finds me attractive. It must be a fetish.

“Oh. I forget he’s an actual person with a name.”

Ana scoffs at this. Since getting older, it’s become harder for us to gage one another’s feelings. She can’t tell when I’m serious or kidding, which depresses me, and I can’t tell if she’s mad or hungry, which depresses her. Though, Ana does have a buffet of problems she decides she wants to talk about. There’s this rash on her forearms that won’t go away, her roommate wants to fuck her to see if she’s bisexual, she’s meditating with a 40-year-old mom she met on Facebook Marketplace, and she doesn’t think she wants to be a veterinarian anymore. She had to dissect a black cat in class and didn’t make it to the bathroom. Puked orange specs all over the hallway. Everyone talked about it. Even the professors.

“Maybe I should drop out of college,” Ana says. “Like you.”

We both laugh at this. I wish the banker were here to tell me how to act. A group of loud-talking students come into the burger joint. I wish I could leave.

“Yeah. No,” I say. “Don’t do that.” 

I close my eyes and pretend I’m on an abandoned island. Just me, floating in zero gravity space with no air circulation. The burger feels heavy in my hands. Finishing it will be impossible, I know that. I blink until Ana comes back into focus. I wouldn’t be shocked if she weren’t here at all and I were just imagining her because I miss her. I reach out to touch her, and she squeezes my hand. She asks if I’m ok, but I know she doesn’t want the real answer. I’m older. I look at my hands as if they’re not mine, but his. 

“So, have you seen Chris?” I ask.

“No. He comes back this weekend. It might be good for you to see him. Dad’s doing a barbecue. Come on, you love his barbecues.”

“No? I hate barbecues. Of any kind. Especially Dad’s.”

“If you come maybe Dad will shut up about you.” She swallows a fistful of fries without breathing. “Oh. By the way, he’s in love with that Rite Aid girl. I swear to God he would ask Mom for a hall pass if he knew she wouldn’t leave him. It’s pathetic. He goes to Rite Aid, like, twice a day. He’s all depressed because of you.”

Dad only calls me on the weekends when he’s drunk. He’s taking me leaving personally. It’s not like you had a bad childhood, he slurs. Was it really that awful? I tell him no. It wasn’t. I wasn’t beaten or chained to a wall. They bought me rollerblades when I asked for them and got me birthday cakes with the correct number of candles. The banker told me that growing up, he lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his entire family. If you compared the banker and my upbringings side-by-side, I had a rich life. I know that. I wanted for nothing.

Sometimes, Dad and I stay on the line just to listen to each other breathe. I pretend we’re looking at the same moon, which is stupid because we are looking at the same moon. I never invite him to Chicago. I’m embarrassed of how I’ll act if he actually showed up. Of how he’ll act. I don’t think I can survive being pitied by anyone, especially him, but I do feel bad about leaving him with Mom and Ana. Objectively, they’re the worst. But he’s learned how to use the Miracle Mop, which I guess is a good thing. The house is cleaner than it’s been in years.

“Caroline, you should come home and see everyone,” Ana urges. This time her voice is short, like she doesn’t care about my feelings. She takes the burger out of my hands and shoves it into her mouth. I don’t stop her. “We’re actually worried about you.”

I hate what “we’re” insinuates. I picture the entire family and the neighbors and my 9th grade Algebra teacher all got together to discuss my well-being, like as a public debate. I’m not in the family group message anymore. No one fills me in on breakups or appointments or sales. It’s as if they think I’m incapable of handling information.

“Well, don’t. I’m fine.”

“Yeah. Ok. You’re fine.”

I consider spitting in her face for the sole purpose of contaminating her so people in our family can worry about her too. I stand up because she’s finished our food, and I don’t see the point in continuing a conversation neither of us are going to win.

I walk Ana to the bus station, her chunky black suitcase wedged between us for safety. Her skin is prettier than mine. Better. Clearer. If I didn’t know her, I’d say she’s a character from Greek mythology. Helena. Artemis. Cassandra. I want to ask her how she does it, but my voice is a box of broken pencils. I can’t imagine expending effort on my physical appearance. No one sees me besides the banker, and he likes me this way. He likes sad and broken.

There’s a family with two young kids waiting beside us. The kids are kicking each other’s shins, and the parents are smoking obliviously, pretending their children don’t belong to them. Men in big suits yell into cell phones. A younger couple with acne laces their fingers together as if the physical pressure of their hands will morph them into a singular entity. A middle-aged man wearing trainers reads a beat-up paperback. I want to know where they’re all going. I want to know who’s out there waiting for them. I want them to invite me.

“About the nose job,” I start.

Ana puts up her hand to stop me. “Don’t. It’s fine, really.”

“It looks good,” I tell her. “And I’m not just saying that. It seriously does.”

She touches her nose and smiles. “Thanks.”

The train pulls up and Ana gets on without hugging me. She doesn’t turn around to see if I’m still there, but I wave her off because we’re family and that’s what family does.

I walk all the way back to the banker’s apartment. By the time I get inside, my clothes are soaked through. It’s dark outside.


A week later, I’m down five pounds and sensitive to light. The banker wants to take me out for steak and mashed potatoes, but I don’t have an appetite. I turn on Cartoon Network for noise. The banker goes down on me while Tom and Jerry chase each other around a mansion with lots of chairs. I haven’t shaved, but the banker doesn’t mind. His work friends are bringing their wives to the dinner. He says this like it’s enticing, as if I actually care about his work friends and their wives.

“I’m not a wife,” I tell him. The television glare hurts my eyes, but I keep looking. I register nothing. I don’t even know what’s on the screen anymore. I hear myself say: “If you really want me to go, then you’ll have to propose to me.”

The banker gets down on one knee without asking if I’m being serious or just joking. 

The next day, I have a rock on my left hand, weighing down my finger. It’s difficult to perform simple tasks, like brush my teeth, drink coffee, masturbate. I don’t take off the rock in fear that I’ll lose it or flush it down the toilet on purpose or pawn it.  

When I call home to tell my family I’m engaged, Chris answers. I know it’s him by the sound of his breathing. I’ve been gone almost a year now.

“Caroline? Is that you?” he asks. His voice is high, like someone punched him in the nuts as a hate crime. He clears his throat. His voice lowers. “It’s me. It’s Chris. Chris Hannon.” 

I pull the phone away from my face, slowly, and stare at it wondering how the telephone towers fucked up this massive, but it’s my home line.

“Don’t hang up,” he says. 

I only stay on the line because he sounds pathetic, which makes me pulse. Everywhere.

“Why are you answering my parent’s phone?”

“We’re having a barbecue. I just got back. From war, you know?”

“Oh. Yeah. Ok.” 

I hold onto the wall to keep myself upright. Outside, a family sets up a picnic at the park. Two parents, one daughter. They laugh and drink lemonade and swat away the bees. I cross my fingers, hoping the little girl gets stung so I can see what she looks like when she cries.

“Aren’t you going to ask how I’m doing?” Chris says.

“No. You can tell me if you want, but I won’t actually listen.”

I’m surprised at how easy it is for me to say this. It’s like I’m slipping back into the old version of myself, putting on an old pair of jeans. But not really.

Chris laughs. I imagine squeezing the inside of his brain with my hands until it pops. Until it rains little pieces of Chris’ red, white, and blue brain. I hate him or whatever.

“You were in my macaroni and cheese yesterday,” he says. “And on the milk carton and at the movies. I dream about you too. I don’t know what that means, but I think I miss you.”

I sink down onto the floor of the banker’s apartment and try to recall Chris’ face from memory. I feel like a wet dishrag spread out across a long table. Chris could whip me with it, the rag, and I would stand there, pointing to all the places he missed. I wonder if you ever stop loving the first person you loved. If you loved someone once, you probably always do.

“Ok. Great. Can you put my dad on the line?”

Chris wants to apologize, but I tell him it’s ok. He didn’t try to kill me or anything permanent, he just wanted to inflict pain on me. He wanted to hit me and leave visible marks and make me cry. He didn’t do anything that bad. Not really.

“Can I come visit you?” he asks. “In Chicago.”

I drag a loose nail on the inside of my thigh until my skin bursts open. My thick, crimson blood paints the banker’s floor. I watch, excitedly.

When we first got together in the 9th grade, Chris prided himself on doing nice things for me. He bought me food, opened doors, let me wear his letterman jacket, complimented me. It was the first time anyone had gone out of their way to make me feel special. I don’t know what happened to him, to Chris, but he got mean. For a while, I thought it wasn’t his fault. I thought maybe he got struck by lightning and lost all of his positive atoms. In my head, this seemed better than any possible alternative. 

I swallow. “No. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I want to talk to my dad now.”

Dad ruffles with the phone. He’s drunk, I can tell, and in a way, I’m relieved. I know he’ll be diplomatic about the whole marriage thing. He won’t make a scene.

“Married?” he asks. “Who to? Jesus, Caroline. Why are you breaking my heart during a barbecue?”

“He’s a banker in Chicago. I’m marrying him because he asked me to.”

“Well, shit. That’s not a very good reason to marry someone. But, it’s your decision.”

I breathe a deep breath, so deep I’m convinced my insides are getting eviscerated with a paper shredder. I stay on the line, and when I close my eyes, I’m 13 again. Using strawberry soap in the shower. Singing along to the radio. Sneaking cookies with Ana. Running through the sprinkler. Laughing at nothing. I notice Eddie watch me through the cracks in the shower. My teeth chatter though the water is hot. My shoulders are scalded pink. I wonder how my life would look had I told my parents about Eddie. Maybe he’d have gotten help or been put on medication or jailed. Maybe he’d be a father. A husband. A good lover. A person and not a monster.

His skeleton fingers show up in my nightmares. His dark hair clouds most of my judgements. I wonder where Eddie is. If he’s alive. If he’s happy. If he’s miserable. If he goes into other girl’s rooms. Sometimes, when I shower, I think of him. I wonder if he’d still want to watch me shower now that I’m older. Now that I’m 25. I think it’s why I started seeing the banker in the first place. In the right light, I swear he looks just like Eddie.

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NAVIS by DM O’Connor

Tricky Dicky Manure, my first boss, said the raccoons on Lake Huron were dexterous enough to pick bicycle locks with their fingernails. He paid three fifteen an hour. His desk sat in the corner of a steel Quonset ex-military hangar which could hold every boat in the harbour in winter and only the coolest air in summer. Atop the desk: a hammer and a dictionary. Tricky Dicky liked shade, hated sweat. 

My interview was to fill the diesel mower without spilling a drop. One drop and you’re gone. Raccoon nails can cut a flap in a screen easier than a razor then open a fridge and shotgun a six-pack before you hear a floorboard creak. They shit and make love on the roof, occasionally simultaneously.

Dicky weighed a ton and wore a skipper’s hat. I got to keep and return all the empties I could find on the docks and riverbank. After a sunny long weekend, the deposit on the bottles and cans would surpass twenty dollars. New Dicky words: groin, dredge, ketch, bowline, teak, epoxy, latex. After drydocking the vessels, the season’s finale, I’d stain, varnish and winterise everything the tractor couldn’t load into the hangar. Dicky would drive off to Tampa Bay and I’d go back to school. 

Kelly’s Boogie Parlour’s staff docked a barely-buoyant houseboat in Tricky Dicky Manure’s Marina. Boy, did they leave a load of empties. Often bikini bottoms drip-dried over the dead soldiers. People passed out everywhere. On Labour Day, Dicky sent me to collect the arrear dock fee which gave them a real kick. You want our rears? They showed me full moons. Hosed me up and down. Cannonballed into slime. 

The boat finally sank that night and the staff skedaddled. I had to submerge into the algae and tie the winch cable under the back pontoon axle brace. Dicky towed her halfway up the bank, told me to douse her in diesel, which I did with pleasure before he tossed his lit Romeo y Julieta into the scuttled pontoon. 

Through the anticipatory silence before the flames took, I asked Dicky why vessels were always referred to in the feminine. The blaze grew, as did the red of his neckless face: I could tell you some inane jokes, paint and powder, metaphorical replication of a mother’s womb, she keeps you dry and warm, a place to sleep, maintenance costs, deep respect, blame Latin. All trite truisms. Next summer, you should find a better job. You’re worth more than I say.

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MAGNOLIA by Sarah Starr Murphy

The bumblebee swerves across the yard to a yellow daffodil.  The bee clings to the flower’s face for an instant, then crawls on her abdomen into the cylinder of the corona, stretching her tongue towards the sweet nectar and flattening her last two legs behind like a puppy.  She nuzzles in, wriggling.  She backs out, clinging onto the rim with her four hind legs.  Her front two legs wipe the pollen from her furry body.  It falls in tiny but discernible chunks.  She wipes her head a few more times, then buzzes off for the next flower.  

The young boy runs through the grass, holding a plastic camel in one hand. He flops down on his stomach, weaves his camel through the grass.  It’s in a standing pose, but its plastic legs are curved and uneven.  The camel has one hump and a bridle.  Its ears are back, fierce.  The boy makes it charge through the tall strands of grass, right up to a dandelion heavy with blooms.  He tips the camel’s face into the flower so that it can eat.  The camel’s muzzle is yellow with pollen.  The boy stands and runs away, galloping the camel in parabolas through the air.

The horse discovered that the gate to its paddock was unlocked.  The woman had forgotten to latch it that morning.  She had been in a hurry, currying his coat too roughly, her application of the hoof pick uneven.  The horse had shifted and shivered his flanks, had snorted his discomfort.  The woman had left, and he had followed her to the fence, grazed for a while.  When he reached for a fresh piece of grass, the gate nudged open on his forelock.  He wasted no time in stepping through.  He smelled skunk cabbage trodden by deer in the adjacent vernal pool.  The horse snorted, then trotted down the driveway. 

The man was late for work.  He poured his coffee from the single-serve coffee maker into a travel mug and set his house alarm.  He locked the door, the deadbolt.  He made a circuit from outside to ensure there were no open windows, no possible points of entry.  He was a correctional officer; he could not be too careful.  He walked to his small car, tried not to notice how it still smelled of last night’s takeout pizza.  He rolled down the windows despite the cool air.  The fact of his tardiness weighed down his foot on the pedal.  

The bumblebee selects another daffodil, but this one has a short orange corona and she must cling to the rim with all six legs while she drinks.  She gets drowsy on the nectar, rumbling from one flower to the next.  She sees more bright yellow on the dark strip of driveway.  Gluttony leads her there; she stretches her pollen-coated limbs. 

The boy feels the bee land on his back, a thump on his vertebra, and he cranes his neck.  He sees the bee with its big black eyes, its many stripes, and he shrieks.  He abandons the camel on the driveway and runs, the bee clinging to his yellow t-shirt.  His father, hearing the commotion, heads towards the door.

The horse reaches the road and hears a crash in the woods; the deer are returning to devour the orange-striped tulips in the woman’s garden.  All the horse knows is danger.  Adrenaline shoots down his long legs, rippling his chestnut coat.  His hooves strike the pavement and he gallops, tearing down the street.  Froth builds in his mouth.  Sweat runs down his flanks.  His hooves are together and apart, together and apart, the cacophony fierce and ancient.  He sees something yellow up ahead. 

The man reaches to adjust his radio, tired of the irritating jingle for the local dentist.  He presses on the accelerator as the car climbs a small hill.  

The father stands at the door and sees, improbably, a horse galloping from the left, a car speeding down the hill from the right.  His heart ceases to beat and he cannot breathe to scream because he sees his son standing in the middle of the road, doing some kind of dance.  

The boy sees the horse first.  Its mane is flying, saliva is streaming from its mouth, and its hoofbeats shake the ground.  He hears the engine next and turns to see a car crest the hill.  The boy realizes that he is in the road.  He will be in trouble.  The boy feels the air stir as the car and horse fly towards him, and he pulls his arms in and wraps them around his body.  He is perfectly still, and he closes his eyes. 

The man sees the boy first: a spot of yellow. He curses and yanks the wheel to the right, driving straight through a barbed-wire fence.  He sees the horse as he jerks across the bumpy field to a stop.  

The horse is afraid of the yellow boy and the veering car, but all he knows is to run.  He increases speed, hooves sparking, ribs heaving a fraction of an inch from the boy’s head as he thunders past. 

The boy opens his eyes.  He is alone in the road.  He checks the back of his shirt.  The bee is still there, and he feels a half-breath of panic, but before he can move, it lifts off and flies away.  He wants his camel and tries to remember where he left it.  Far away, he can hear men yelling.  

The bee flies to the next yard, to a towering pink magnolia, queen of the neighborhood.  The wind shifts.  The man, the father, the boy, the bee, and even the slowing horse breathe in the magnolia’s musky perfume.   

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