MINOR GRIEVANCES by Christopher Gonzalez

Adam tells me no one else will be by the water after such a bad snowfall. Edgewater Park should be deserted: just us and the lake, frozen into solid hills. It would be quiet, which I preferred—I kept quiet about a lot. Like the Grindr app I downloaded onto my phone as soon as I turned eighteen. How I’ve scrolled down that wall of guys, those photos of abs and round bellies, and the few faces concealed beneath the bill of a trucker’s camouflage snapback. I’ve tap-tap-tap-tapped the flame icon on a number of profiles, hoping to create a breadcrumb trail to the man of my dreams.

At least today, it’s led me to Adam.

There are no other cars around, so Adam drives onto the beach, parks close to the water. “Maybe when we finish, we can climb the waves and walk across them all the way to Canada.” I don’t laugh but sense that I should. He squeezes the steering wheel. The entire ride up I hadn’t said a word. “Come on, that was funny,” he says. “Picture it: you, me, and Justin Trudeau, frolicking.”

“Sorry, sorry, I’m having a moment.” I point out the window. There is still some sunlight over the lake; I want to thaw out under its burning glow.

“Yeah, it’s beautiful, huh? Almost as pretty as you.” He moves his hand from the wheel to my thigh, begins sliding it closer to my crotch. I’ve been here many times before. All those Friday nights spent following Siri’s voice across Northeast Ohio, spider-webbing down back roads and alleyways, to meet some random guy in the black mouth of night.

I place my hand over Adam’s, try to absorb all of its heat in my palm. Then his mouth is on mine and I wince at his cold tongue. My lips crack and sting at the edges, and his beard scrapes too roughly along my chin—but these are minor grievances. I keep quiet and lean back in the passenger seat, familiarize myself with the sensation of his body pressed against mine.

The guys I connect with are always older, sometimes by decades. They’re white men, mean men, greedy men. They live in dark houses, keep to themselves. On occasion, they own a dog. They shoot guns and kill fish and salute the flag and pretend they fit into the idea of a nation that wants very little to do with them and nothing to do with me. And still I slide beneath these men, risk disappearing altogether. Perhaps I’m already gone.

Neither Adam nor I make any sounds of pleasure, then it ends.

After, we walk along the edge of the lake where the ice meets untouched snow. He climbs onto the lake and reaches down to help me up. It’s eerie—the waves are so still. I can almost hear them crashing into one another, can’t stop imagining all that movement, exactly as they should be.   

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BUTTLOAD by Caleb Echterling

The king’s chief of staff flipped the display numbers. The occupants of the blandest room in the kingdom clutched their flimsy tickets, and sucked in a collective breath. Trumpets flared, and a crier bellowed, “Petition the King Day, now serving A377.”

A group of well-dressed, barefoot gentlemen rose to their feet. “That’s us, move aside,” they said as they elbowed through the crowd into the throne room. “Your majesty, we are representatives of the Cloth-Sellers Guild. Look!” They each thrust one bare foot into the air. “We all have different sized feet.”

King Rupert stroked his beard. “I’m afraid the absolute powers of the monarchy do not extend to ordering my subjects’ feet to grow. If you wish, I could take a page from Solomon and trim the excess from the biggest ones, although I do not see what that would accomplish.”

Guild members hopped about on one foot to let King Rupert take in the true scale of the difficulty before him. “Sire, perhaps we should explain the problem in more detail. You see, we sell our wares by the foot, which we measure by removing our shoes. Some of our less scrupulous competitors are hiring short-appendaged apprentices to cheat the public. Our guild is getting a bad reputation.”

King Rupert nodded. “What you require is a standard measure. The one perfect foot, so that all across the kingdom, there is no question what is meant by ‘a foot’. I, of course, nominate my own foot. Clerk, make it so.”

Workers scurried to the throne, built a form around Rupert’s foot, and took a plaster cast. Copies of the cast were distributed to the Cloth-Sellers’ Guild, and sent to each corner of the kingdom. Guild members showered praise on the king, and rained kisses upon his royal appendages.

Trumpets flared, and a crier bellowed, “Petition the King Day, now serving D183.”

A group of gentlemen with pants around their ankles entered the throne room. “Your majesty, our butts are all different sizes.”

King Rupert covered his eyes. A wince rolled through the royal court like the wave at a football match. “If it’s any consolation, they are all equally hairy.”

“A thousand pardons, your majesty. Allow me to explain. We are from the Banana-Sellers Guild. According to local custom, our wares are sold by the buttload. A few unscrupulous banana sellers are hiring small-bottomed apprentices to swindle the public. We ask the royal court to order all small-bottomed purveyors of the banana trade put to death immediately.” The Banana-Sellers Guild, as if executing a choreographed dance number after hours of practice, all scratched their respective right cheeks.

“What’s wrong with selling bananas by the hogshead?” a royal courtier asked.

A representative of the Banana-Sellers Guild swished his hand about. “Hogsheads? We live in a modern, cosmopolitan kingdom, not some ignorant backwater. Now please kill all the banana merchants with small butts.”

King Rupert thumped the floor with his mace. The room fell silent. “If I may interject, what you need is a standardized measure. The one perfect butt, so that across the length and breadth of my kingdom, there is no confusion about the quantity conveyed by ‘a buttload’. I, of course, nominate my own butt.”

Workers scurried to the throne, built a larger frame, and submerged King Rupert’s hindquarters into wet plaster. The cast of the royal butt was, with much fanfare, distributed to all corners of the kingdom.

Trumpets flared, and a crier called the next number. A group cupping piles of excrement in their hands entered the throne room. “Your majesty, we are the Useless Junk Merchants, and our poops are all different sizes. It’s complete chaos. No one knows how big a crapload is.”

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After nine days of nights, I went. On each of those nights I hadn’t gathered more than four hours of sleep, adrift still-dressed from the previous day on a bed that used to boast plural ownership. On three or four of those nights, I twisted toward the ceiling and tried to mumble a prayer or blessing so quiet it wouldn’t bother anyone, not even me, but failed. Baruch atah Adonai––blessed are you, Lord. That’s as far as I would get. There’s even a prayer to wake up having slept without sleep greeting death halfway, the Hashkiveinu. I don’t remember the words, only one of the melodies. I remember a lot of things from when I was young; words are not one of them. Failing to start the engine on a prayer, sometimes I’d twist to the side and whisper a fact: two years and I still don’t know if that’s his real name. I’d also sometimes try to decide whether shadows could be considered a subcategory of night, or the other way around. I never could.

The days between the nights were crowded with various shadows, sometimes in the form of small refusals I could present to myself as if ceremonial offerings or in the form of translucent avoidance that gave my coworkers the gift of not having to ask, but mostly in the form of lessons in reluctance, alone in my office, door locked, shirt sleeves rolled up, braced against the desk lost in something between vertigo and nausea and tremors and unattached grief I was reluctant to give a name. When I was younger but not young I learned reluctance isn’t just a vocabulary but an entire language, and that while speaking it fluently made me feel better, it wouldn’t help me make myself understood. The recent past: I didn’t learn much else. I learned how to manufacture importance (but was unsuccessful) and I learned the difference between hopes and expectations (I don’t remember what it is) but I learned fewer names than I should know. Awake at night in a bed that isn’t entirely mine and is sometimes partly a stranger’s, bought by the stranger at an outlet down on 76th St., a store with big-enough windows to disguise its real identity as a warehouse, I would sometimes search for what it is that wasn’t a name. Some important thing. Actions, maybe, I thought for a few days, until deciding even actions were names. Names could not be escaped.

I met him two years ago at a fundraiser. Met him and was introduced. He told me he admired my tie, a quiet, unironic bowtie. Wearing them helped me know how quickly I could ignore men who commented on them depending on the shape of their descriptions, the hesitation or smugness slid beneath their queries, their explanations for bringing it up. “Met” is an action, not a name, though he never used the word when we used the bed for stage whispers. Found. “I’m so glad I finally found you,” he said. I wanted to imagine a younger version of him roaming the Earth, using his thick hands to help describe an outline of who I might be. I wanted to imagine this but could not. I could imagine the plagues retold every spring, but couldn’t recall all of them, or even how many. I remembered blood. I remembered a plague of complete darkness but couldn’t remember how it had arrived. I remember the rabbi always pausing to ask us all why we thought God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

On the tenth day, thinking something soft about plagues and blood and children I’d never have to worry about providing names that would make them sound successful, I peeled a lunch hour away from my Tuesday early and walked seven blocks from the building where I worked to the building where he worked without bothering to button my coat in the January wind, and ask I walked my misgivings began to solidify into more reluctance, familiar and uncomfortable like a wool sweater worn because it was the gift of a person encountered often. I stood in his building’s expensively empty gray lobby, hands in my pockets, thinking of whether one swipe of blood on the door would’ve been enough, back then, to be avoided, to be left unembraced, and readied myself to turn heel in order to paint my own door. When the elevator opened and he walked over to me, I forgot what my plan had been. I think I had wanted to ask him his name. Instead I told him I forgave him. I told him I almost forgave him. I want to forgive you, I told him, but I don’t know who you are. He watched me wait, and all he said is this: More than words, he said. More than words is how much.

I let him kiss me and I told him more than words was close enough. I even believed it, at least for a few years. I believed it for long enough to maintain warmth momentum through a yearlong storm of illness the specialists could never name, all of them whispering “stress,” I believed it until I was free to move west to a larger, less-icy city where I hoped no one had been searching for me but, when people did meet me, I’d say yes when they asked me if I tied the tie myself, and when they would ask my name and I would ask theirs, most of the time neither of us would lie.

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He wants a photograph of the baby in the bath. Or maybe lying on a sheepskin rug. You say you haven’t got a sheepskin rug and the baby’s already had a bath. Your father says, ‘ Well make up your mind, sweetheart.’ He wants a photograph of his grandson before he gets back on the plane.  

He picks the baby up, holds him by the window for a closer look. ‘There’s nothing wrong with him,’  he says. You point to the baby’s hairy legs.

‘It’s nothing,’ your father snorts. He declares the baby perfectly normal. He unscrews the cap on the camera lens.   

The baby, surprised by his own good fortune, kicks up a storm in the bath.   

You lift him out, a soapy shawl of hair over his back. Normal you say, perfectly normal as you wrap him in a towel. You wipe soap off his developing moustache.  Pat his legs and arms dry. You wonder whether a hair dryer would be better. But then you worry he might grab it, stick his little finger into the whirring head.

The baby’s warm, fat body presses into your back as you jog with him into the living room. Your father has already gone. He has other grandchildren to photograph. Already they are developing faster than he can ever record them.   

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THE TURTLEMAN by Patrick Reid

The turtleman has dark green skin, a thick, spongy surface, like wet clay. The turtleman lives by the lake. The turtleman has long, smooth legs, and even longer, skinnier arms. The turtleman reads fiction. The turtleman writes screenplays, hoping he will eventually sell one to Hollywood, but he doesn't let his hopes get too high, because he knows a lot of depressed screenwriters who have long since lost their creative spark. The turtleman has a mere bump for a nose, slits for nostrils, and two large eyes, cartoonish, mostly white. The turtleman has a shell. The turtleman walks on two legs, like the teenage mutant ninja turtles, although he looks nothing like them, he thinks, being much taller and lankier, although, sometimes, out of fascination, late at night, looks up YouTube videos of the live-action ninja turtle films from the 1990s and watches, with fear and fascination and a grotesque, uncanny sensation, the same way a normal man might feel watching the puppet character in "Mr Meaty".The turtleman tokes. The turtleman wakes and bakes, and then before breakfast, and then before driving to work, and then on the drive to work, and then at his first break at work. The turtleman has a job at Dunkin Donuts. The turtleman thinks the job is shitty, but he does not care what he thinks. The turtleman considers himself mindless and insignificant, and does not have a trace of self-interest, ambition, or ego. The turtleman is viewed by his coworkers as remarkably friendly and cooperative. The turtleman is responsive to people, like some kind of liquid moving around their solid, fuller existence. The turtleman steals white powdered munchkins throughout the shift, but only when he is working alone. The turtleman is nice to customers. The turtleman is never on his phone, but he does not correct coworkers who do use their phones, who read Twitter until customers grow visibly angry and shift or move something on the table to make a noise and get the coworkers attention, or say "hey" under their breath, because the turtleman understands why they would rather be on their phones than paying attention to their work. The turtleman knows that his coworkers could give a shit about their work at Dunkin Donuts. The turtleman still does his job well. The turtleman is Dunkin' Donuts employee of the month. The turtleman freaks his boss out, because she said once he seems like "a fucking robot," although she apologized later, so the turtleman was confused, although he understood where she was coming from. The turtleman understands people really well, and has a lot of compassion, and understands human flaws. The turtleman exercises 5 times a week, doing full body workouts, with an emphasis on back and legs. The turtleman plays basketball to cool down. The turtleman, after exercising, sits down in his apartment to write. The turtleman never finds it hard to be creative. The turtleman completed a screenplay last week about a woman who was raped, and sent it to Hollywood, fingers crossed. The turtleman, this week, is working on a screenplay about a man who was raped. The turtleman tokes while he writes, and feels it helps him think more clearly. The turtleman has many other ideas about many other kinds of people and creatures getting raped. The turtleman is always excited to get started on a screenplay. The turtleman reads. The turtleman has read Infinite Jest and Ulysses many times. The turtleman has murdered exactly 15 people over the course of the last 3 years. The turtleman is cute. The turtleman is desired by many women, but he feels no sexual attraction. The turtleman pokes himself sometimes to see his spongey skin pressed on like a memory foam mattress. The turtleman kills for fun. The turtleman feels bad after he kills. The turtleman does not rape. The turtleman has a very peculiar taste in art. The turtleman only likes art that centers around the topic of rape. The turtleman has right wing political views. The turtleman breathes. The turtleman tries to fall asleep. The turtleman thinks "fuck I'm fuck retarded" as he tries to sleep. "I can't articulate myself for shit" he says out loud. The turtleman says "Fuck. I want to rape. I want to get raped. I want to rape. I don't want to rape." The turtleman begins to cry. The turtleman screams. The turtleman smiles. The turtleman thinks "I can't even begin to express how retarded I FUCKING AM!" The turtleman thinks "3am shift, fuck," even though his shift is 4am.The turtleman wants to murder again. The turtleman is bloody thirsty. The turtleman, the turtleman, the turtleman. Then the dick slides off like butter.

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HERE WE ARE NOW by Melissa Goode

We play this game. You say something nice. I say something nice. You say something mean. I say something mean. We fuck. You aren’t so into it now. Your nice isn’t that nice—beautiful, really? That sounds like a lazy lie to me, but it’s my turn to say something nice. Your mean isn’t that mean. Something about my driving, like I care.

You say, “Are we just trying to manufacture feeling here?”


“Let’s keep it simple,” you say and take hold of my ponytail and pull it hard.

“Better,” I say. “Make it meaner.”

You do, making it hurt—I try and hide my smile.

You drain your beer and you don’t watch me over the bottle. You close your eyes and I tell myself it is against the glare of the fluorescent light in our kitchen, but there was a time when you wouldn’t let me out of your sight.


Last Friday night. You opened the bottle of tequila, sniffed the triple sec, and pulled out the fancy margarita glasses that were a wedding gift from someone forgotten. I couldn’t make the salt stick to the rim of the glass. You poured the salt into a saucer and left it on the table between us. We drank and put the salt to our mouths with a wet finger—my mouth, my finger. Your mouth, your finger. When did this happen?

The yard at the back of our house slopes downwards and has no fence, ending with a gully of trees. That night, it was a hill to be run down, full throttle, screaming all the way.


We don’t go out anymore.

Sometimes, I say, “Oh, [insert band] is playing at [venue in the city where we used to go].”

“I don’t even know who they fuck they are,” you say.

I say, “Maybe if you stopped listening exclusively to your nineties playlist on your phone, you would know them.”

This is your cue—Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, early Pearl Jam and no one else has ever measured up.


We don’t dance anymore, unless we are a bit drunk. Then it is in our front room, under the dim, yellow ceiling lamp littered with dead, gray bugs. It is slow. More like leaning against each other. You hold me close though, your mouth pressed against the top of my ear. I like that and I should tell you, while we still dance.


“Proud of you, babe.” You used to say that all the time. I didn’t have to do much—bake cookies, kill a spider, get you off.


“I don’t want to become maudlin,” I say now, when I’ve had three drinks, because that is my arbitrary point of no return and I don’t get happy anymore when I drink and it has nothing to do with the gin.

I know alcohol is a depressant, but I didn’t think it was until now.

You say, “Get drunk with me. Let’s get fucked up.”

I try. I do.

Every time, I come so close to saying it—can you believe that one day one of us will die first?


It isn’t too late for us to be the hipster couple making coffee in that new way that takes forever. Drip, drip. We have the red plaid shirts. You’ve got the facial hair. We’ve got the cannot-give-a-fuck attitude, except we mean it. I don’t know if they wear Converse.


Your appendix scar is a thin, silver-white line sewn near your hip when you were sixteen. We have been together for so long, but I want more. I want you from when you were sixteen and I was fifteen—as if we could run backwards into time.

I would have rushed to the hospital and brought you chocolates and a little teddy bear holding a helium balloon—GET WELL! And we would have made out, me lying along your uncut left side, until one of the nurses told me to leave your bed, this was a hospital not a hotel, and shouldn’t I be at school? Or maybe she would have smiled and told us we had three more minutes, but that’s all, swishing the curtain closed around us before she left, and we would have got it all done in three minutes in deathly silence, your hand covering my mouth.


This still works—you rising above me, lying down along the length of me, above my head, below my feet. Everywhere. Your mouth on mine tasting of our last meal and our last drink.


Sometimes you wash the dishes and you take your time with it, like you have all fucking night. You stare at the window above the sink, a mirror with the night behind it, and you sway and hum and sing every song from Nevermind, starting with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and ending with “Something In The Way”.

“Can’t you mix it up?” I said last time.

You were elbow-deep in lemon-scented suds and looked over at me. I swear you didn’t even see me when you sang, “I’m not gonna crack”.


You went outside onto the deck and made a call.

“We used to do shit,” I heard you say.

I didn’t know who you were speaking to, but I knew it was about us.

I pulled out our box of photos—when photos were printed, stacked in envelopes with negatives. There are photos of us on our phones and on the computer—not many though. Most of us is in that box.  

You came back inside, bringing the night-cold with you, tucking your phone into the back pocket of your jeans. I wanted to ask who you were speaking with. I didn’t though.


“Nothing lasts forever,” I heard you say. Or maybe I dreamt it. I dream about you all the time—me telling you not to leave. Know that. I don’t want you to go.

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EXCERPT FROM “DRIFT” by Chris Campanioni

Born Under Punches

The things I recall, I recall in zip pan, POV, a pullback shot without mise-en-scène. Or in darting moments, a brief flash, a passing scent, transposing and unblinking, and utterly distinct. Yet the whole of history favors similarities and slight anachronisms. The schism of time is in a class all its own, and even now I am racing through hallways of my subconscious without taking notice of the hall itself. The lino. A railing. Reverse angles by which you see your own self speaking. Everyday details. Everything passes. As a rule, I strive for lucidity in loneliness, long takes in cover shots, covering myself with the candy of imagination, the sweet gaze of the mind’s eye that seeks amusement and finds instead the truth. It strikes without warning. I am either writing it down, or scurrying for a pen. And of course, my palm as paper never does the trick. Too many callouses, rough spots or swollen joints makes for disjointed prose, words rising and falling on the flesh, out of frame, a chronic fear like a cough, or coughing fits in an elevator filled with mysophobics without relief of medicine. Time is relentless. All the memories I have of a certain age arrive with an eye for dissolves and split screens, ellipsis narration, the Kodak Junior camcorder above me, rising higher, slung across somebody’s shoulder. The older I got, the more conflated I became: rapid cuts into a montage set to something serious by Radiohead or Kurt Cobain’s hoarse voice asking to be raped. Again and again. Only every five seconds, three more images arrive in the form of bridging shots: a birthday party, Carvel cake, wrapping paper unfolding a gown and tassel. In the interest of time and patience, the camera skips the in-between phases, puberty, the Middle Ages, and suddenly time’s up, or forever passing, the screen goes dim. Remove the reel and I don’t exist, unfilled as an indecision, a figure shot from extreme distance, an unrequited gaze . . . The memories I have as a child, eyes agape in solicitous childhood, of five years and five months, or at nine, balloon mind, afraid of almost everything—¡Tribilin!—every converging train and each whistle and telephone ring and my mother’s laugh and my dad’s demands, and under tables all the faces I never knew from just their feet rising higher in the address of my dreams, conflated voices all talking separately at the same time around a dinner table, or at a cocktail party, or in my own mind, into and out of intuition . . . Readjust the lens to find emptiness, which is only thirty-three frames per second, a vast expanse of images, the darkness of the cinema, the places my mind goes when I stop to think, an isthmus for hermetic memories lost in the time it takes for perceiving anything. And time’s passing.

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BURGLARS by Francine Witte

I used to wish my parents were burglars. That would have been more honest.

Instead, we had to live in a shadow. It looked like a house, but it was a shadow. All dark and hushed and Daddy about to lose it anyway.

Always about to lose everything on some bad business deal. Some neighbor or something would tell him a mountain of lies, and Daddy would climb it like a stupid goat.

One night, I woke up to my mother screaming. Daddy started pounding the piano keys. When that didn’t stop her, he pulled the vacuum out of the hall closet. Ran it back and forth and back and forth.

And me upstairs, shushed up in pink curlers, transistor radio next to my ear. I was wearing the paper ring Daddy gave me from the cigar he bought that day to celebrate the money he had suddenly found. Kiddo, he had winked, sometimes, the thing you need is right there for the taking.

And now, later, much later, the vacuum roaring, looking to eat everything it saw. Then it stopped. Just like that. And my mother still screaming how he took the money from my Alzheimer uncle, and didn’t he have a soul?

And that should have stopped everything right there, but it didn’t, and Daddy yelled back how she was getting all wrinkled, and how would her boyfriend like it, and oh yeah, he knew about the boyfriend, and my mother screaming back that she had to take love wherever she could find it.

Next morning, my mother came in, panda mascara and hair like a scratchy tree , and told me that daddy lost us the house this time for real.

And I tore off Daddy’s paper ring, and wished again they had been burglars like the ones on TV, who wore masks and jimmied windows on sleeping houses, maybe making off with rings made of diamonds and gold, and that way my parents wouldn’t have to scrap for whatever money and love happened to be lying around.

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It’s Friday the thirteenth and day number four of your leave. You’re taking some time off work since “the incident.” You’re at the DMV because you’ve been meaning to go for months but you’re always working when it’s open. You’re afraid of seeing your students’ parents in the waiting area. You’re wearing the same Alf T-shirt and stretched-out underwear you’ve had on for the past two days. You’re pretty sure you stink. You glance at the people sitting beside you and determine they are too old or too young to have children in middle school. You may never return to work. All these years you’ve prided yourself on flying under the radar. If you return there will undoubtedly be meetings, performance analyses, watchlists. Maybe it’s time for you to switch careers. They call the number on your ticket. The woman behind the counter tells you to back up against a grey screen. “They let you smile in these pictures now, you know?” she says. Your face may have changed shape in response, but if it has you can’t feel it.

The last you saw of work was the hallway ceiling. Your co-workers, Margaret and Anita, carried you out to your car after you couldn’t get up from the floor yourself and you couldn’t stop sobbing. You hadn’t had much of an opportunity to talk to Anita, who was new to the district. After this, you are certain, she’ll only ever think of you as the lunatic. You’re pretty sure you broke some things – school property – but you can’t remember what. Margaret, the more maternal of the two women, made you promise not to drive until you were ready. You assured her you didn’t need someone to pick you up. (There wasn’t anyone to pick you up.)

When you were down there, intimate with the linoleum, the other teachers locked your classroom door. You heard a knock and a whiny voice calling, “Ms. Winn?” It was Ethan, the kid who visits your room each week to argue about his grade. Margaret opened the door a crack, stuck her head out and replied, “She’s busy right now,” as you sat merely two feet behind her, your face in your hands. You contemplated telling them you’re suicidal. But you were hesitant, knowing it’d land you in the hospital. It wasn’t so much that you wanted to kill yourself as it was that you couldn’t stop fantasizing about how you’d do it. And was that suicidal?

Either way, teaching had become difficult. You used to be confident. You were the ever-grinning entertainer for your daily audience of twelve-year-olds. Lately, your hands shook, you could barely speak. When a student asked you whether 64 was a root number, the only thought you could summon was leaning back in your Buick, listening to Sinead O'Connor while your garage filled with carbon monoxide.

You went home. You turned off your phone. When you finally turned it back on, six hours later, you had a voicemail from your supervising administrator and several text messages from your co-workers, who all seemed to think that what was happening in your brain could be fixed with enough wine.

After the DMV, you visit your grandmother. She has discovered Costco. Grandma is excited for you to stop by so she can fill shopping bags with her overflow of products for you to bring home. Today she has extra grapefruit and broccoli, tiny cups of microwaveable soup, frozen sausage patties filled with cheese. She dumps half a bag of kettle corn into a gallon ziplock and throws it on top of the pile of food. You come here now instead of grocery shopping. You sit with her in the living room after she’s offered you an individual bottle of iced tea from the pallets stored under the dining room table. It’s room temperature, but it tastes good. You realize you must be severely dehydrated. You remember one of your cousins telling you Grandma had depression too. When your mothers were young, Grandma would spend weeks in bed. By the time she got up, the whole back of her head would be matted. Your aunt would spend hours with her in front of the television, brushing the tangles out of her hair. Your cousin said, “Back then, Grandma called them ‘headaches.’” It seems a good euphemism, you think. Your head hasn’t stopped pounding from all the crying.

Grandma asks you how your sister, Trisha, is doing and you say, “She’s good,” even though you suspect the fights with her boyfriend get physical. They’re both covered with bruises when you see them. You worry about Trisha. You think she will open up, seek out your support, when she’s ready. For now, you call her on the phone but avoid seeing her in person. Your grandmother looks at you expectantly. You guzzle down the bottle to avoid saying more about Trisha.

“You like that?” Grandma asks.

You nod.

“Well, I’ll give you some to take home, then.” she smiles. It’s hard to picture her in a week-long nap while her children cried from heavy diapers. Your grandmother seems so happy now. You reach into the second shopping bag she brings you and open another iced tea. You drink it, and the pounding seems to ease a bit.

You’re about to ask her what it was like for her, when it started, how she made it stop. You’re staring at the hall closet while you try to form the words in your head. The words should be gentle. She is eighty-three. Grandma notices your stare and gets up. She opens the closet, yanks at the vacuum that’s too heavy for her to maneuver.

“I suppose you want to get to it,” she says.

You stand up to begin the chores she can’t manage on her own anymore. You catch a whiff of rotting fruit and remind yourself to take out the garbage before you leave. It’s a good sign, your sense of smell returning.

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CHERYL by Michael Seymour Blake

There was a loud crash outside the apartment.

We were in bed talking about leaving the city just as we always had around ten p.m. every night for the past million years. I’d bring up a photo of some paradise with green grass and a nice big blue sky, no skyscrapers or office buildings in sight, and Terry would go, “Yep, that’s the place for us,” and then we’d settle back into our misery and forget all about it. I was delinquent with two of my loans, Terry took a pay cut to save her job, and we had a whopping fifty bucks in our savings account. We were sick of the city and sick of ourselves and sick of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which is all we ate because who has the time and energy to make anything else?

“What was that,” I said.

“Dunno,” Terry said.

We stared at the wall for a minute. She nudged my ankle with her big toe.

“Guess I'll see what's going on,” I said.

I looked through the cloudy peephole—flickering bulbs, slimy brown banister, a pile of smelly shoes outside 2B. I opened up to see a massive chunk of ceiling right in front of our door. Dust and debris everywhere.

“Holy shit, we got a roof out here.”

Something moved in the pile of dust. I closed the door, leaving a crack open for peeking. The thing shook stuff off its fur. It was a damn coyote.

“We got a coyote too.”

Terry shuffled over, all crusty-eyed. She glanced through the crack, then at me, then back through the crack.

“Wait, there’s an actual coyote out there.”


She smiled. “Something’s finally happening.”

We named her Cheryl.

I built a home for her out of cardboard and reflectix and duct tape. She was a wild thing with green eyes and a burping problem. She burped like forty times a day. We fed her protein bars and baby formula, plus anything we could find in the neighborhood trash: pizza scraps, stale arepas, stuff in jars.

The landlord didn’t allow cats let alone coyotes, so we decided to keep her permanently inside. I resented the landlord for being such a stereotypical landlord. If we were a day late with rent, he’d come by with his chest puffed out, eyes like black crescents. He wouldn’t even say hello.

“Look at the hand,” he’d say.

I’d play along and look. The hand was thick and tan. It would be open, palm up.

“What’s wrong with the hand,” he’d say.

“Let me get the checkbook.”

“Answer me.” The hand twitched.

“It’s empty.”

“That’s right, empty. The hand hates being empty. Gets bored. Better give the hand something to hold, or the hand will busy itself by writing an eviction notice.”

So we tried to toilet train Cheryl. We’d sit her on the bowl and say, “Go potty! Go potty, good girl!” She’d stare at us. “Come on, use that potty!” She’d stare. Then we’d let her down and she’d pee on the floor.

Nights, Cheryl would sleep between our asses. It got harder than ever to leave for work in the morning. I just wanted to be home with the girls. Always. It was all I could think about. That, and the lioness.

I’d put up this image in my cubicle a while back—a lioness standing in a field of green grass with a cerulean sky up above. She had a desperate look in her eyes. Her lean muscles were covered in glistening, flaxen fur. Whenever my boss yelled at me for something, I stared at the lioness in a trance. Nodded and stared, unphased. Yes, I’m sorry. Won’t happen again. You’re right, I am a waste.

You learn these tricks after twelve years in data entry.

A week passed. There was a knock at the door. We were in bed with a burping coyote between our asses, which made things a little more bearable.

It was the landlord.

“Roof came down,” he said.

I looked at the pile of roof sitting in a sunbeam. We’d just been walking over it.

“Whoa, crazy,” I said.

“I have some people coming today, so don’t bother complaining about it.”

Cheryl came to the door. I tried to kick her away, but she bit my ankle.

“Get that thing out of here, no dogs allowed,” said the landlord.

“Oh, her? She’s a coyote.”

The hand twitched. Cheryl growled.

“Pretty sure that’s not allowed either. I’ll get back to you.” He squinted at Cheryl. “Don’t get comfortable,” he said.

I shut the door and thought about the lioness.

Next day, I let the cleanup crew in the building. Four sad looking guys in oversized overalls. “We’re here to fix a ceiling,” one of them said.

They brought a ladder to the top floor, scuffing up every wall they passed. After setting up the ladder, some brooms, spackle, paint buckets, brushes and stuff, they left, taping a note to the front door that read, ‘Back in five days.’

I went downstairs to get the mail and ran into 1B. We nodded at each other. She had the desperate lioness look, just like the rest of us. On my way back up, I saw a butterfly hanging out on the bannister. Bright yellow with tiny black spots. It lit up the hallway. I tried to save it, but it fluttered out of reach.

As I stepped back into our apartment, I heard a resounding thwack downstairs. 1B hated insects.

Terry was at the store getting some paper plates. Our sink was full of dishes, and neither one of us was going to clean them. We were happier now, but that last bit of lassitude clung to us like a bug to wet tile. I cornered Cheryl in the bathroom.

“No more going on the floor. Use the toilet like a normal person.”

Cheryl peed on my feet while maintaining eye contact with me. I let her out, and stood in the warm urine thinking about the lioness.

When Terry got back, we all choked down some peanut butter and jellys.

Someone knocked on the door.

It was the landlord.

“Coyote’s gotta go. You have until tomorrow night.”

“That’s not a lot of time to arrange something.”

“Tomorrow night, or the hand will start writing that eviction notice.” The hand twitched. “And get some air fresheners or something in here. Smells like hell.”

“All right.”

I shut the door and spied through the peephole. The landlord went upstairs and started inspecting the ladder. He peered up at the roof, mumbling.

I curled up on the floor, head resting on Terry’s crossed ankles. “We need something to happen again,” she said.

“Nothing’s gonna happen.”

“Then maybe we need to make something happen.”

But we couldn’t think of anything.

Cheryl burped.

The next night I got home from work and realized the ladder was gone, but the hole was still there. I went to investigate. Turned out the ladder wasn’t gone, just knocked over. I lifted it upright and positioned it under the hole. Then I thought, “Hell, I’m gonna climb this thing.”

And I did.

I climbed right up. I was heading towards the sun, but it was eight p.m. I popped my head through the dusty, crumbling roof and was met with a fresh breeze carrying the scents of soil and sage and summer. No offices or busted up apartment buildings in sight, just hills and grasses of all different kinds and lengths in shades of greens and golds. I ran my hand over some. My fingertips tingled. A yellow butterfly landed on my chest, did a little spin, and flew away.


“I think we can make something happen,” I yelled, bursting through the door.

I told Terry about the impossible world on the roof. We went to the grocery store and bought a few boxes of cherry Go-Gurt, fruit, water, and a big thing of trail mix, then I stuffed Cheryl under my arm and up we went.

We hoisted ourselves onto the grasslands. Cheryl ran circles around us, tongue wagging from her mouth. I picked a clover and handed it to Terry. She ran her fingers through the white, spikey flowers. Cheryl growled at something fifty feet away in a cluster of foxtails. We went over.

It was the landlord.

He was all eaten up, stomach torn wide open, bloody loafers resting in the grass. The hand sat separated off to the right, palm up.

“What could have done that?” Terry said.

“Don’t know,” I said. But looking at the landlord’s remains, I did know. “We won’t survive long here.”

“Maybe not, but I don’t want to go back.” She tore open a Go-Gurt and started slurping it down.

I launched a defiant burp at the sky and Terry responded with a monster burp of her own, cherry yogurt dripping from her lips.

Cheryl trotted ahead and we followed. We could hear hammering and voices behind us. They must have been fixing the roof. Goodbye city, goodbye data entry, goodbye everything.

Cawing black birds flew in a V overhead. A cool breeze made the cream-colored shrubs dance and whisper. Silhouettes crept across the horizon. The lioness was waiting out there. We’d have to deal with her when the time came, but first we needed to find shelter. Terry grabbed my hand. It felt good to walk in the sun with my family, felt good to move, felt good to know something was happening.

We followed Cheryl towards some trees in the distance, all of us panting in the wonderful heat.

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