SHOPPING AT TARGET WITH MY E̶X̶-̶L̶O̶V̶E̶R̶ FRIEND by Cat Dixon

You say you need to find an ointment that your father asked for, so we’re in the pharmacy department: shelves full of pain relief, allergy relief, gas relief, dietary supplements. Last year I heard that big brand companies pay more for eye-level shelf space; someone had studied how we shop, and then schemed and plotted for that cough syrup and nose spray’s spot. You’re searching the shelves closest to the floor, and I keep getting in the way. The aisles are crowded with carts and gray-haired ladies—excuse me—so I wander to the end-cap filled with bandages and Neosporin. I select…

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GENIUS by T.J. Larkey

I’d been a process server my whole life.

Well not really.

I remember my dad driving me around a lot after school, leaving the car running as he knocked on strangers’ doors.

At seven seeing his Vietnam Vet fearlessness for the first time, ducking a crackhead wielding a broken lawn lamp.

At fifteen working in his house/office, and at seventeen feeling so lucky to have a job that didn’t leave me smelling like grease.

And at nineteen using the savings to move away to California.

So it really only felt like it.

Like I’d never done, and wouldn’t ever do, anything else.

The rightful heir to King Larkey of Larkey Process Professionals.

 

 

I was driving to work in Tempe, hungover.

One of those apartment complexes I’d served since high-school, the same drive in the same car down the 101 freeway.

It was hot out when I left but even hotter when I got there.

I took a minute to get used to it with the windows down while I plugged in my headphones and found the right playlist, titled “That Real Shit.”

Then I started my circular walk around.

The same walk.

Est. 2010.

“Hi there!”—bitch-ass subservient tone—“Is ___ or ___ home?”—sheepish smile—“This is a late rent notice from the leasing office for you.”

And when done right, the response: “Thanks(?)”

It wasn’t hard to pull off.

Placating their anger with idiot grins and clown dances.

Climbing staircases like I expected a statue of myself hands to the clouds to be built at the top.

Dancing through the parking lot, shoulders and head bobbing.

Tapping lightly and rhythmically on doors to match the song I was listening to privately so others could enjoy it too.

And if they did get angry: just silently absorbing the shit with a smile, that half-lie in the back of my brain whispering seductively, “I’m not the bad guy, I have my own problems paying rent, and it might as well be me and not those dead-eyed chain-smoking creatures from the court.”

 

 

“Hi there!”

An elderly woman so happy to have company she didn’t understand what was happening.

A college kid too bro’d out to respond with anything but, “Fersher dood.”

A mom of three with a toddler on her hip, talking on the phone, too busy for words but angry enough to give me a look I wouldn’t forget.

I served and served.

Thinking only of ways not to have to serve anymore.

Fantasizing about anything else.

Numbing my surroundings with rap music.

Drifting into your life bringing change but on to the next door so quick you felt violated.

Stuntin’ like my daddy.

 

 

The rapper in my headphones was talking about being awesome, getting money because he was awesome.

I thought about becoming a rapper.

Another rapper made me laugh.

I thought about being a comedian.

The next rapper said, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy,” and I thought about being a genius.

Dear Kanye, is there another option for crazy people other than being a genius?

Dear Self, you are not a genius.

No.

No fucking way.

Not even sure why you’re thinking that you fu—

“What do you want!?”

A big shirtless thing in a dark room, standing behind a half-open door, looking at me.

“Sorry,” I said, popping out my headphones. “Is Kyle home?”

“Kyle who?”

“Kyle”—checking paper—“Lind?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, okay, well, I have a notice here for him from the Leasing Office.”

“Kay.”

“Could you give it to him?”

“Nah there’s no Kyle here.”

“Uhh”—I looked at the paper, the number on the door—“But this is the apartment number listed, and it’s from the leasing office. Also I’ve served you before man.”

“There’s no Kyle.”

“None Kyles?”

“There are zero Kyles here.”

He closed the door.

I folded the paper up to tuck it in the door, then tucked it in the door.

He pushed it out.

I tucked it in again.

The door opened.

He said, “I will kill you dude, seriously.”

I said, “I will die willingly, just try it.”

No I didn’t.

I walked away briskly with my hands at my sides like I hadn’t heard him.

Because I am not the bad guy.

I just can’t do anything else.

I’m crazy for not doing something else.

Name one crazy that ain’t genius.

 

 

I got to my car and locked the door.

Laughing nervously.

There were still more notices to be served at the complex but I didn’t feel like serving them so I did my special process server trick that wasn’t really a trick and was actually just crumpling them up and throwing them on the floor underneath the passenger seat.

I had sparkling water cans, fast food wrappers, gas station pizza boxes, and my little snack bag down there too.

I grabbed my little snack bag.

Pulled out a beef stick thing (extra-large, to carry me through the rest of that day) and ate slowly, trying not to have a panic attack.

Then I checked my remaining work.

Only two stops left.

One on the way home, and one out of the way.

I decided to pull another process server trick.

Which really was a trick where you serve the close one and type the other into GPS so you know how long it would take to get to the place you didn’t really go to but then write the time down like you did go to it and then drive home where it is safe instead.

Because fuck all of Arizona except my apartment.

Especially Tempe.

Fuck every resident of Tempe, past and present, except the celebrated hip hop trio Injury Reserve.

Yeah—Tempe—yeah you—we were never really friends.

The absolute worst (I’d done no research whatsoever) stretch of college-ness ever.

College town, party town, number one at being the worst town, cop town, fuck town U.S.A.

I drove out of it as fast as possible.

 

 

Downtown Phoenix, the old historic neighborhood, off the 10 freeway at 7th Ave.

Out of College Town and into Artsy/Murderous/Fancy/Opinion Town.

I passed the old timey hipster diner on 10th..

Then past a row of houses all similarly beaten down until I hit the newest looking of them, with a small white gate like those in the old movies.

There was a dog barking as soon as I got out of my car and when I approached the gate, he made himself known.

Big drooling bastard, a killer, absolutely beautiful.

He poked his nose out of the gate, barking viciously at me.

Hello gorgeous—I said, reaching out my hand and almost losing it.

What beautiful teeth you have—I thought, smiling maniacally.

Suicide by man’s best friend—I fantasized.

The door opened behind him.

His barking stopped.

His owner said things and when I said things back his (the dog’s) barking started up again.

“Sorry! He usually stops.”

I said it was okay, that dogs acted differently around me than they usually do.

“He/She is not usually like this”—I heard that a lot.

My dick and balls had been sniffed, nuzzled, borderline molested by almost every dog I’d ever met.

They can smell genius—I thought, hiding a smirk.

“A notice! From the Realty Company!”

I waved the paper and the man understood.

He walked out and received it from me graciously but was not happy about it.

An understanding.

That feeling when people knew you were just doing your job and you had no control over the way landlords or realty companies operated.

It was something like a head nod between strangers on the sidewalk or when you find a loose cigarette under your passenger seat, under all that garbage—so human, so good.

“Have a nice day!” I said, but what I meant was I love you. “Sorry to bother you.”

“No worries!” he said.

 

 

Back at home I loaded the bad news papers along with the service info into my printer/scanner and sent them off to my dad’s office/home.

I was sitting on my hard little futon couch trying to get comfortable.

Drinking beer very fast.

A movie on in the background.

But distracted by my neck pain and my back pain and my asshole pain.

Prostatitis—or Trucker’s disease—from sitting on your ass too long.

I also wasn’t breathing very well.

I’d been hit in the face too many times, taken a few drunken headers on rock and concrete, and the result was a skull that didn’t sit right on my neck.

I had daily stretches and exercises created by this Russian-Israeli physicist named Moshe Feldenkrais—the only thing that worked, even after seeing doctor after doctor specializing in everything from the heart to TMJ to the psyche—but I hadn’t done them in a while.

I drank instead—i.e. lazy—until the pain went away and I didn’t care as much about my short breath or my racing heart.

Just as I was feeling a little better, my phone went off.

I ignored it.

It went off again.

I saw on the screen that it was the big man.

“Hey Boss.”

Like we were in the middle of a conversation already: “Did you serve that Buckeye?”

I lied and told him I had.

The papers were scanning now.

It was just my printer, that piece of shit printer.

“Never mind the printer, the guy said you didn’t serve it.”

“What guy?”

“The owner of the house. He lives next door and said he didn’t see you, or the notice on the door. He was watching all day.”

I said why would he do that.

My dad said that the owner wanted to see how the guy reacted to being served.

I said what a bitch.

My dad said you didn’t serve it did you?

I said how dare you question my work ethic.

No I didn’t.

I apologized, said that this was the first time—only because Buckeye was so far away—and that I was grateful for him and that it wouldn’t happen again and that I loved him.

“Cut the crap. I know it won’t happen again,” he said. “You’ll lose your license. You want to lose your license? You want to leave me stranded doing everything by myself for weeks?”

“No.”

I hung up the phone.

Guzzled some cold coffee.

And walked out of my apartment and into my car.

My asshole still hurt.

 

 

Buckeye.

A sort-of town out in the desert you never think of unless you’re driving through it to California, or you’re a process server.

A long two-lane road with not much to look at except signs and roadside memorials.

I had a tendency to seek out roadside memorials, a habit since I’d made the drive to Los Angeles and back so many times.

And I saw a few really new and beautiful looking ones and couldn’t help zoning out.

Feeling (something).

People around me though, they didn’t seem to be appreciating the view as much.

They were going twenty-five to thirty over the limit and swerving around me like assholes.

A testament to Man’s big fallacy that even the roads with the highest body counts never seemed to deter them from driving like assholes.

One asshole rode my bumper in a way that said: “I’m angry with you and need you to know it.”

Another asshole flashed his lights at me.

And the toughest of assholes—of course—throwing a potentially fatal fit so I can feel punished and shamed.

Yes absolutely, sorry, and thank you.

A single head nod and a smile for you, no eye-contact no matter how long you honk.

A one-handed clap for you, while the other rubs my sweaty stringy-haired balls.

A silent and immortal don’t care to all and good night—don’t even care how tired it is to say it.

You’re welcome.

I made it there safely.

 

 

A lot of the neighborhoods out in the middle of the desert were very nice and had protective gates because of the secluded area surrounding them.

Small winding road surrounded by cacti that lead into a narrow passageway with a keypad and nothing else.

I didn’t have a gate code though.

I looked at the notice for a gate code but there was no gate code.

I didn’t have any room to move to the side for others to get through to the keypad so I sat there waiting for cars for a few minutes.

No cars came or went—the community looked small.

I called the number on the notice—no answer.

I wasn’t expecting an answer.

It was late and most of the realty companies or landlords didn’t answer calls, afraid (I’m guessing) they’d have to speak like a real human with someone they were potentially kicking out onto the street.

Uhh-unh—that was mine and my dad’s job.

“Speak forth,” Dad said.

“Hey I’m stuck at a gate, do we have anything about a code? I tried calling already.”

My dad said he’d look and then went to look and then came back to the phone to tell me he didn’t find anything.

“Someone will come through eventually,” he said. “Just wait.”

So I waited.

Rolled down the windows.

Lit a cigarette.

Listened to the desert sounds.

Smelled a pleasant familiar scent from a plant (they were all over Arizona) that I wanted to know the name of but didn’t know the name of because I was too dumb/lazy/disconnected to remember.

A few minutes of that until a car pulled up to the gate from the other side.

The exit side, which was not connected to the enter side.

I waited until the car was halfway out and then turned slowly toward him in case the gate closed back up quickly.

When the car was fully through, I sped up and, almost immediately, had to slam on the brakes.

Because the car leaving had slammed on his brakes first, blocking me on purpose.

I reached for the notice, evidence I wasn’t a thief, and rolled down the window.

The man in the blockade car had rolled his window down too, to give me a look.

There was something to that look.

I flashed my notice and yelled, “I’m a process server!”

Smirking, he replied, “I’m president of the Homeowners Association.”

“Oh!”

“Yep. And I don’t know you.”

“Well fuck,” I said, then blacked out from disgust/anger. “Fuckety fuck shit blah blah (something about asking him if he’d like to be president of the ‘being headbutted to death association’) fuck and more fuck fucks.”

“Real nice,” he said, and drove off after seeing the gate had closed completely.

I reached for one of the cans under my passenger seat and threw it at him, hitting my hand on my door and missing badly because the can had no weight to it.

That useless adrenaline pumping through me now, shame and hatred adding to the trash medley smell.

Twenty minutes passed.

I was getting tired.

I pulled up to the gate, inspected it for weakness, decided I could go face-down through the bottom.

I pulled my car around and then onto another street close by, parked it.

As I walked through the desert I had a nightmare/fantasy about being bitten by a rattlesnake and having to go through many trials to save my own life, then being awarded some kind of certificate that entailed never having to work again.

I got to the gate, dropped to my hands and knees, took a deep breath, made it through, scuffing up my shirt.

My GPS took me past all these houses that looked the same.

It was taking longer than I’d anticipated and I started getting paranoid about my car being towed.

I picked up the pace, started a jog that turned into a run, until I was at the house.

“Hi there, is—”

“You alright man?”

A man not much older than me, staring at the sweat and pavement residue on my shirt.

“Yeah,” I said, still trying to catch my breath. “Just had to crawl under the gate.”

“Why’d you do that?”

“The president denied me safe passage.”

He laughed: “Oh, umm, okay, do you want some water or something?”

“Really? Yeah that’d be great thank you.”

He walked away, leaving the door open, came back with a big glass of ice water.

I drank it slowly but forgot to do the polite thing and not touch it to my lips.

He didn’t seem like he cared.

“So what’s up?”

I looked down at the notice. “I have a thing here, for you, I think.”

“Nice.”

“No I mean, a bad thing. It’s a late rent notice. The wording on here is scary but really it’s just like a warning. The owner of the house has to do a lot more paperwork in order to kick you out, so you have time to pay.”

“Oh no worries,” he said, jerking his thumb at the house next door. “I know the guy. Knew something was coming eventually.”

I handed the paper and the empty glass over to him.

“Thank you,” I said, then stood there waiting in case he wanted to get anything out of his system.

“So hey, can I ask you something,” he said. “Do you do just these, or like, do you do the whole process serving thing?”

“You asking if I do what (Actor) does in (Movie About Process Server)?”

“Hell yeah man. One of my all-time favorites. In high school I wanted to do exactly that job.”

“Yeah, I can imagine, that was the golden age for us.”

“So you just like drive around all day getting stoned or what? You must have some crazy stories too.”

“Not really. Served a guy who flashed his gun and asked me if I wanted to ‘catch some lead’ once, but I just laughed and he kept the gun in his waistband the whole time.”

“Oh shit, you gotta be careful out there.”

“Yeah definitely, I have a routine though.”

“A real pro huh?”

“You could say that. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I mean kind of my whole life.”

He held out his fist and I bumped it.

“Anyway,” I said. “Sorry to bother you.”

“All good man, take it easy.”

“You too,” I said, and walked back to the gate to crawl under it.

I made it to my car, which hadn’t been towed.

Then I drove home.

Feeling an embarrassing level of excitement for the weekend approaching.

THE SOUND OF VIOLENCE by Ryan Norman

Usually the orchard was all light, sunburn cooled by a welcome breeze, but not that day. Fog crept up from the river and swallowed every tree in its path, whetting its appetite for the too short grass that cut like blades, soaking the cicadas’ song. I sat on a cold cinder block and watched my boyfriend wash his car, questioning why he would shine it on such a gloomy day, but daring not to say it aloud. His phone rang and I looked at myself in the shiny apple red door. Winked. Shot some finger guns. Fell to the floor….

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COME HOME NOW by Danielle Chelosky

When apologizing to you for fucking up, I’d buy you flowers. The first ones were blue—not like the sky, but abrasive and ethereal like from a video game. I broke the stems so they would fit in my bag without peeking out, and the color dripped onto my palms and stained them for days. If it were red, it would have felt accusatory; this ultramarine was comforting, safe. * The risk for fucking up was lethal. Not for me, but for you. * I was seventeen. I fell in love fast, curled up against you while we watched movies. My…

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UNDERTOW by Tara Stillions Whitehead

We pinned their name tags to our knitted sacks. Reynolds. Solomon. Childs. Kennedy. We wrote their room numbers on our wrists and waited for them on the cement benches near the commandant’s office. We sat with our legs crossed, condoms in our back pockets, while they marched the line in their parade uniforms. We tracked sand from dorm to bedroom sheets. Someone’s mother washed their civvies and kept them in the guest room or the pool house, convinced we were the ones doing the civilizing. There were boys whose names we couldn’t share. Boys whose names we’d seen taped inside…

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WHEN YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE A GUN AND NOT A TARGET by Sutton Strother

He’s the only other person you know who loves David Bowie. Not like your friends tolerate David Bowie for your sake or how your mom only knows the radio hits. He knows all the albums you talk about, every deep cut. “Modern Love” is his favorite Bowie song (killer drums, he says right before the first verse kicks in), so on days when there’s a test in his class you listen to it while you dress for school. It reminds you not to hate him, no matter how difficult he makes the questions. There’s power in the not-hating. And when…

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LIVER MUSH IS AN ESSAY ABOUT MY MOM by Graham Irvin

I want to talk about liver mush. Liver mush is a breakfast meat from Western North Carolina made of boiled pork parts and corn meal. It’s my favorite breakfast meat. It’s my favorite word. Liver mush is more than pork parts and corn meal, though. There is also sage and black pepper. But, liver mush is more than breakfast and sustenance too. It’s something close to that, but not exactly. It’s home but not home, but not exactly. Liver mush is more than a piece of fried pork parts and corn meal. Liver mush is more than old white dinner…

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MOUNTAIN MUSIC by Michael Seymour Blake

All kinds of warning lights are flashing on the dashboard, and the front bumper is mostly held together with duct tape. Chelsey and I are driving my cousin’s car through the Catskills, searching for a trail that leads to an abandoned hotel at the top of a mountain. It’s supposed to be crumbling and overgrown, a long-ago meeting place for communists. It’s getting late, but we figure we have time to hike out, see this thing, and get back to the car by sundown. The GPS has us turn up a narrow, dirt path that circles the mountain in a…

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PET by Danielle Chelosky

The night we met, I showed up at your apartment with fishnets shoved inside my bag. I was too nervous to wear them as I walked from my car to your door. I got catcalled three times anyway. Catcalling is really bad over here, you told me while we ascended the stairs. You took the lead; I followed timidly. I couldn’t take in your apartment as we stepped inside because I had too much going on in my mind. Your room, though, came across as beautiful—the light soft and careful, your bed sheets floral and muted, your walls white with…

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THAT’S ALL YOLKS by Alex Juarez

I think about crawling into Arizona’s skin. It would be easiest to go through her eyes. A few years ago, I read an article about a girl who while on meth performed self-enucleation. Her pastor found her screaming, “I want to see the light,” while holding her eyes in her hands. I don’t want to hurt Arizona, but I think if I could slip inside, we would be easier. Before our alarms go off, she has a headache, so she presses her palms against her face and groans. I mirror it to make her feel like our emotional bond is…

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