HOME by Madeline Anthes

You say you’d follow him anywhere, so when he asks you to move across the country, you do. You say you’d do anything for love, and you love him.

He wants you to love your life with him.

You try.

Your rented house has plain beige walls. It’s in a suburb and has a fenced-in yard. You don’t have dogs or children to use it.

The kitchen is tiny. You bump into each other every night as you fix your lunches for the next day. You’re watching infants at a childcare center. You change diapers and clean spills all day. You hate it, but there aren’t any teaching jobs in October.

You say you’ll keep looking for another job. He has his new dream job, after all.

A career. He’s managing a plant, staying late, getting tipsy at corporate dinners. He comes home rosy cheeked and full of stories about men with names like Bill and Frank. You are never invited.

The point is he’s happy. You tell him you’ll keep trying.

He’s heard you tossing at night, seen you staring at the beige walls, watched you bite the inside of your cheek until your mouth fills with the taste of rust.

He asks you over and over what he can do.

You tell him you miss the sound of the ocean, and the feel of salt air through a cracked window. How the ceiling fan would press the air down and make you feel heavy when you were falling asleep.

He buys a machine that plays the sound of crashing waves and plugs in a fan next to your bed.

You tell him you miss how sand piled in the corners of the kitchen. You miss how the wind carried bits of shell and coral, and how you’d find flecks of it stuck to your scalp when you showered. You miss how you could scratch and scratch all day and still find bits of grit under your nails.  

You find a bag of potting sand in the hall closet and perfectly-formed piles near the fridge. One night you wake to him sprinkling sand in your hair; it pools on your pillow and sticks to the sheets. It makes your skin itch.

You tell him it’s the air and the smell and the way people dress. You tell him it’s the way you could close your eyes and feel present, alive, like a current connected you to the walls of the house. You miss belonging.

He brings in jars of sea air and wears flip flops around the house. He wears Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts to the grocery store. He looks like a parody of your old life together.

What more could you want, he asks you. What else can he do?

You tell him you don’t want anything else. There’s nothing else he can do.

You can’t replicate the heartbeat of a town, or the rhythm of a household, or the texture of a life. Even if you went back now, it’d all be different.

So you listen to your sound machine and step over the piles of sand. You tell him it’s time to start a new life.

At night, you run your fingers along your scalp and look under your nails for traces of sand.

Read More »


Phoebe was practicing being blind. She was nine years old and alone in her hotel room. It was supposed to be fun, but it wasn’t. There was no under-the-bed in which to hide, in case of a knife-wielding intruder. The closet, too obvious. She squeezed her eyes closed and reached her arms in front of her, sweeping them to either side. If the lights blinked off, she’d remember this slope of chair-ridge, the whisper of the bedspread against her thigh. Here was the sharp edge of the wall where the room narrowed to what her mom would call a foyer, her dad a hall.

She wished her brother were there so he could tell her they wouldn’t be invaded. Mason couldn’t come with her and their dad to New York because of work, he said. Or maybe because of his friends with dark makeup and chains hanging from their pockets. Because of the thin fairy scratches of poetry he wrote for a girl named Emmy. Maybe he hadn’t come because he had better places to be.

Phoebe sat on the bed and folded her legs under her. She flipped through the channels and glanced at the alarm clock. Her dad was getting a drink in the lobby while she got ready for bed, and then he’d come tuck her in. He’d left an hour ago though. She had brushed her teeth and changed into her nightgown, the one with the scalloped hem and little brown flowers. In fifteen minutes, she would go check on her dad. While New York  was actually a very safe city (or so he’d told her) it was still possible he had been abducted.

Phoebe climbed under the covers. She hated the sound of the polyester rubbing against itself, that swish swish with an under-sound like nails on a chalkboard. One week earlier, back home in Memphis, Phoebe’s family had gathered in their kitchen, seated at their regular spots around the table. Her dad stared over her head and out the window. Mason looked down at his folded hands, his nails black-tinged at the edges from the polish that their dad had made him remove the night before.

We’re getting a divorce, their mom said. It’s nothing to do with you two.

Their mom looked at Phoebe like it was Phoebe’s turn to talk. Instead she curled in her chair and watched her brother through the fringe of her hair. Mason didn’t look up from his hands. His fingernails pressed into his palms and Phoebe could see the red around them, the little crescent moons they’d leave behind.

Later, in her bedroom, Phoebe opened her closet and pushed all the stupid clothes to the side, hangers screeching across the metal pole. She hid in the corner where she’d stuck glittery stickers of horses and sharpied a rhyme she found on a bathroom wall. If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie, wipe the seatie.

Her dad called her name.

The click of the doorknob, footsteps, brown loafers and the cuffs of khaki pants approaching her.  

Phoebe, come on out, he said. I found an apartment. I want you to come with me to look at it. We can get ice cream.

The khaki legs shifted back and forth.

You’ll have your own room, and you can get bunk beds, he said.

I don’t even care about bunk beds. Phoebe rolled to face the wall. What’s Mason get? she asked.

Phoebe, her dad said. Come on. Don’t make things harder than they already are.

In the hotel elevator Phoebe realized she’d forgotten shoes. She hit L for lobby, but it stopped on the second floor, and a man came in and smiled at her. She stared at the snaking pattern in the rug and felt naked under her nightgown. She worried about foot fungus.

Hello, dear, the strange man said. How are you tonight?

She looked up. She’d been told the gaze of her wide grey eyes was unsettling. I’m fine, she said. Just going down for a night cap. She covered one naked foot with the other. I’m in town on business.

He laughed and nodded—pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and punched the buttons.

The doors parted, and the light from the lobby filled the elevator. Blue and purple bulbs shone from tracks on the ceiling, bounced off the smooth stone floors. There were glass coffee tables and chairs shaped like hands that held you. Phoebe stepped out and tugged at the hem of her nightgown. She looked around for her dad.

The bar area was in the corner, defined by a red carpet that deepened the light. A swath of shining wood and one man hustling around behind it, smiling. The bartender held a bottle high and tipped it toward a glass, let loose a glowing stream. And there was her dad, seated at a small low table rather than at the bar itself, smoking a cigarette with a woman Phoebe did not know. He cupped a glass that sparkled and prismed light across the table. He leaned back in his chair and talked to the woman, waving his hand, trailing smoke. Phoebe had never seen him say so much, not in her whole life. Tomorrow, when they got back to Memphis, her dad wouldn’t live with them anymore. No one said that, but it was true.

The elevator man touched her shoulder to move her out of his way, and the doors dinged shut behind her.

She turned and pushed the up button, because her dad didn’t smoke and she shouldn’t make things harder than they were.

On the elevator Phoebe said her room number to herself. Three-oh-four, like a song, like if you were counting and exciting about it, three-oooooh!-four. That’s how she didn’t forget. It hit her as she walked down the hall toward her room, but she pushed the thought away, hoping it would resolve itself. Standing in front of the little slitted mouth of the lock, however, she had to admit it. No key. Her nightgown, no pockets.

Shit, Phoebe said under her breath. Shit shit shit. This felt good though. Grown up. She had forgotten her keys. She was in a real situation.

Back down the hall, down the elevator, into the murky light of the lobby. Smelled like smoke and musk and Phoebe breathed it in deep. She wasn’t scared. The table where her dad had been, empty now. The woman gone too.

Phoebe made her way to their now empty table, glancing around to see if anyone was watching her. Her dad’s cigarette was crunched out in the ashtray. The last sips of his drink melting like sunlight around fancy cubes. Phoebe lifted the glass from the table, maneuvered the little black stir straw into her mouth and slurped up the last burning sips of the drink. She felt the feeling of eyes on her and set the glass down, hurried away across the lobby. A real situation.

Read More »


On December 7th, 1953, Adelbert W. “Dutch” Sherman, an unassuming man, did something to shock the whole of America. He died.

Some several hours after typing that line, I got tired of staring at a blinking cursor, and shut off my computer. “This book,” I announced to the empty room, “is putting me through Hell.”

I had thought of scrapping it more times than I could count. But, Hobbs was releasing his book on the Sherman case in a year, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t one-up him.

The problem was, Hobbs and I were starting from exactly the same place: there was a man named Adelbert Sherman, and for the better part of his story, he followed the steps laid out by the Rosenbergs before him: live an ordinary life, more or less. Be accused of treason. Be tried. Become a spectacle, for good capitalist Americans to watch during their morning oatmeal. Be convicted. Spectacle continues. Die…only, he skipped straight from Step 3 to Step 7, and left no note.

The problem with writing The Truth About “the Last Atom Spy”: there were too many truths. A warden. An informant. A niece. A soldier. A spy.

Bennie Lennox remembered Adelbert Sherman as a model prisoner. He never raised a ruckus, never cursed the guards or shouted to the heavens that he was innocent. He didn’t have much interest in socializing with his fellow prisoners, which was just fine, since they didn’t have much interest in socializing with him. He spent most of his time in the prison library, or reading something that girl of his had brought him. The Bible, the Times, The Postman Always Rings Twice, it didn’t matter, so long as it took him away from where he was. He stalked the streets with Cain’s fallen-angel heroines, played at solving crimes to make up for the ones he committed in reality.

From where he sat alone in the mess, or the yard, or the corner of his cell, he’d call “Hey, warden!” when Lennox passed by. If the warden afforded him an answer, he’d strike up a conversation about whatever volume he was currently buried in. On the day before he died, it was Myths of Greece and Rome, Guerber.

“You know the story of Prometheus?” he asked.

“Maybe I do,” Lennox answered, “maybe I don’t. The name isn’t familiar. It sounds Greek.”

“It is. Prometheus was a Titan — you know what that is? It’s kind of like an angel, or a demon, but not really either. The Greeks didn’t have the same good-evil dichotomy in their stories that we do. Anyway, this particular Titan, he stole something from Zeus. I’m sure you know who Zeus is.”

“Sure, I know who he is. The capo di tutti capi of the gods.”

“That’s the one. Anyway, Zeus didn’t much like being stolen from. He chained Prometheus to the side of mountain, and sent a great bird to eat him alive.”

“Jesus.” Lennox’s stomach twisted. “What a horrible way to die.”

“Oh, but that’s the thing: he didn’t die. His flesh knitted itself together during the night, and in the morning it started all over, the ripping-apart and stitching-back-together. Rinse and repeat. For thirty thousand years, according to this book, until Heracles came along and cut him loose.”

His stomach twisted harder. “Jesus.”

Sherman nodded. “The Greeks were fond of blood and guts.”

“What did he steal,” Lennox asked, too curious to abandon the conversation, no matter how he wanted to, “to make Zeus so angry with him?”

“Fire. He took the fire of the sun, smuggled it down to Earth in a bundle of leaves, and gave it to humanity.”

Lennox remembered taking the book, flipping through it, though he didn’t know what he expected to see; perhaps the story was in fact as Sherman had told it, perhaps it wasn’t, and he wouldn’t know either way. He’d never read the Classics. He’d never read anything, even in school. His wife read him the newspaper every morning. His mind couldn’t make sense of words in ink; it translated them mixed-up. They hurt his head. He practically threw the book back at Sherman.

Sherman caught it with ease.

Lennox bragged, later on in life, that he’d predicted it. That his conversation with Adelbert Sherman served as a kind of suicide note. He became notorious for it. He gave interviews until the day of his death.

His boast, of course, was a lie.

Mina Michaelson (Mikhailov) remembered Dutch Sherman, first, as a photograph in Agent Mayer’s hands. “This is our man. The one that got away. You’re going to get close to him, you’re going to find some dirt on him, and you’re going to bring it back to us.”

“And if I can’t?”

“You’re a pretty girl and he’s a man. You’ll get close to him, somehow, I have no doubt.”

“I mean, what if I can’t find any dirt on him? What then?”

“Make some up.”

“I thought you were supposed to stand for truth.”

Agent Mayer chuckled. He blew smoke in her face; it brought tears to her eyes, and she blinked them away, knowing he would laugh if he saw them. “You won’t have to make something up wholesale,” he assured her. “You’ll find something that could pass as dirt, if nothing else. I have no doubt.”

“Do you doubt anything?”

“Nope. Can’t afford it.”

“And what if,” she repeated, “I can’t find anything? I simply can’t?”

Agent Mayer looked at his watch, like he hadn’t a care in the world. “Do you know how easy it was to send your grandmother away? How easy it would be to do again? Slap the word Communist or anarchist on you, show off those oh-so-incriminating diaries of yours, and it’s off to Russia with you, Miss Mikhailov. I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”

She remembered him, too, as the teaching assistant sitting alone in Professor James Ashley’s classroom, reading the New York Times. President Denies Clemency to Rosenbergs in Spy Case. Still dressed in his dark brown coat and hat, wet from the sudden rainstorm. He didn't look up from the paper when she sat in her desk.

“Did you know him?”



“It was a big place. Hundreds of people, what with scientists, dirty-work personnel, wives and children. Maybe I tipped my hat to him one day, talked about the weather, but no, I didn’t know a David Greenglass existed until this whole spying mess began.” He looked over his glasses at her, all severe brown eyes and ink-stained fingers as he folded the paper in his lap. “You aren’t the first person to ask me that, and I’m sure you won’t be the last, Miss…Michaelson, isn’t it?”

“Call me Mina. Mina Michaelson.”

“Adelbert Sherman, but I guess you knew that already. You can call me Dutch. Everyone does.”

Mina Mikhailov lived in America until the day she died, and if anyone called requesting a comment about Adelbert Sherman — a journalist, the makers of a TV documentary, Jonah Hobbs in the middle of writing his book — she hung up on them without a word.

Adelbert Sherman had a sister, Gabrielle, and she had a daughter, Jetta, and Jetta barely remembered her uncle — in flesh and blood — at all. He was the specter that haunted her mother, a series of dead-eyed photographs on the wall. He was her first lesson in the ways of Death.

He looked like a wax figure in his casket, too white and too still to be human. Jetta’s mother called him a kind man, but his face didn’t look kind at all. It looked eerie.

Jetta only half-remembered her mother gripping her hand so tightly she whimpered, pointing out a black-veiled woman in the front row. “That woman,” Gabrielle said, “is the reason your uncle is dead now. She set him up, and he couldn’t take it. She’s as good as a murderer.” Sometimes she remembered it clearly, sometimes she didn’t at all, sometimes it felt like a dream.

Years later, she would watch with a kind of detached curiosity whenever her uncle’s face popped up on the TV screen, or in the pages of National Geographic or suchlike. The word “trial” was always present, and “Trinity,” and “thallium.” The word “atom” and the word “spy,” usually in close succession. And a name: Wilhelmina Michaelson. “Key witness.”

Murderous bitch, she thought. She had no idea where the thought came from.

U.S. Army Captain Adelbert W. Sherman — “Dutch” to his soldier friends, for the unusual first name his parents imported from the Netherlands — was twenty-four years old and far from home, and he barely knew who he was.

He didn’t set out to become a thief. He stole the secrets he did (and they were petty secrets, worth almost nothing on the black market, even if he’d wished to sell them) to prove to himself that he could. He stole them because he was angry, in the deepest pits of his soul, about the secrecy and the lies and the destruction he could feel in my stomach that America was about to wreak. He stole them to show his middle finger. He held onto them so someone else could share his anger one day.

He held on too long.

Dutch Sherman, his friends confirmed, turned to the study of religion after Los Alamos; something about Jainism, in particular, captured his mind. While he made no effort to follow its every rule, he became obsessed with its core motif: live well, harming no one, and death will not be the end.

This is why, I reason, he wasn’t afraid to die.

Thallium poisoning isn’t quite as gory a death as being eaten alive by vultures, but it was hardly pleasant. It starts with a fever, sweating buckets. Then vomiting. Then the fits started, and by the end he was seeing things, raving and screaming. (Hallucinations be damned, Sherman kept his eyes open until the very end. If he wanted to die blindfolded, he’d have accepted the chair.)

Being dead sounds much more peaceful.

Here’s what I think, though I have no way of confirming it. His soul stayed close to his California home: it settled in a great redwood tree. The forest, unlike us meddling writers, wasn’t concerned with secrets. The forest wouldn’t care if he was a Soviet, and it didn’t care that he wasn’t. It didn’t attempt to dissect his motivation, and he was grateful for it. Perhaps no one could truly understand that he was whatever the American people needed to be, that some needed a martyr and some needed a monster and he was willing to be both. History would ask and answer who Adelbert Sherman really was until Kingdom Come, and he? He would listen to the birdsong and the whispers of his fellow redwoods, without a care in the world. Soon enough, he’d even forget who he’d once been.

There are worse fates, I think.

Read More »


That morning I had my usual breakfast: a bowl of pimples soaked in apple cider vinegar. However, this morning the pimples were inflamed. Each pimple had a little demon erupting from its infected head and each demon was bending over and showing me its hairy ass.

The meter lady came to the door and wanted to read my tonsils. I said “I don’t have tonsils anymore. They were removed when I was five.” She said, “Exactly” and made an angry hash mark on her little clipboard beside my name. I threw a symbolic kitten at her back as she clomped down the path to her armored dune buggy and roared away.

My life was like a lot of people’s lives except it had my name on it.

My boyfriend looked up from his laptop and asked me, “how many people do you suppose you have kill to be technically considered a serial killer? Is three the minimum or will only two do?”

When I asked him why he wanted to know he ran off into the living room and peered out coyly from the cactus farm I’d planted there.

My life was like a suitcase a stranger thrust into my hand at the train station, running off before I could object.

I’m left standing here on the platform waiting for a train with the rest of the hyenas. I didn’t see the point of going any further but the policeman said, “Well you sure as hell can’t stay here” and shoved me through the closing doors.

I took the only seat still available, beside a morbidly obese man already taking up most of the seat beside him. I asked him, “Do you happen to know where this train is headed?”

He said, “No. But wherever it’s going I hope they serve hamburgers there.”

This seemed to me a singularly significant and wise response under the circumstances. My respect for him climbed a millimeter. So I asked him, “Do you think I’m the type of girl a serial killer would mind killing?”

He said, “It just so happens that the first thing I thought when you entered the train was ‘that’s the kind of girl a serial killer wouldn’t mind killing.’”

“Thanks,” I said. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day.”

“Don’t mention it,” he said.

We both seemed to intuit the conversation could only go downhill from there and so neither of us risked the  exchange of a single additional word. The scenery flew past us in the windows like the contents of a blender mixing up a rat smoothie.

I must have dozed. When I woke up I was still alive. The train had stopped in the middle of nowhere. My throat had not been cut. I was not disemboweled. In other words, I had no excuse for remaining on the train. I would have to disembark. I said goodbye to the morbidly obese man on the platform. I picked up my suitcase and headed for the taxi stand.

My life was like a bomb that a stranger had foisted on me and warned me not to tell anyone about or else.

I slid into the first available taxi. The driver looked into the rearview mirror. “Where to ma’am?”

I closed my eyes. “Five-four-three-two-one,” I said.

I opened my eyes. Everything was still there.

The driver said, “Five-four-three-two-one where, ma’am?”

“Never mind. Just take me to wherever you have polar bears in this town. I think seeing some polar bears is just the thing I need right now. If you don’t have polar bears, then I guess anywhere you can get a decent plate  of pancakes.”

The cab pulled away from the curb.

“Five-four-three-two-one,” I muttered under my breath.

I opened my eyes.

Everything was still there.

Read More »

GARGOYLE by Zac Smith

I sit on the front porch to get out of the apartment, to watch the children practice soccer in the field across the street. My neighbor comes in and out with his dogs. Every time, I pet the dogs while he tries not to make eye contact.

He is out of shape. Tall, but bloated. I see this. I remind him by looking at his body. When he looks at me, I look at his stomach. His gut, how it pokes out between the drapes of his flannel shirts. As I look at his gut, he looks at my gut. He thinks about his health, my health. Our health. He thinks about my heart surgery: quadruple bypass. He thinks about my recovery: slow and pitiful. He thinks about the future. His future, my future, our future.

I’ve seen him with junk food, bags of takeout, six-packs on the weekends. I leave the dregs of my own takeout meals on the top of the trash can out front, piles of styrofoam and foil and leaking sauces the first thing he sees when he stashes the remnants of his own sad refuse.

I pet his dogs. I can find all their sweet spots with ease, they wag their tails, they stare at me lovingly, ignoring him, ignoring the walk he is trying to take them on, and I tell him how I used to have dogs, how they slept in my bed, how we used to go on walks on days like this, and I describe their illnesses, their deaths – I describe putting them down, and I describe my loneliness thereafter, the sadness that came, and how I never got another dog, and how I came to only have cats, which I hate, because they are horrible things that stay inside and ignore me.

But I shrug, because what am I going to do? Nothing – there is nothing I can do.

I pet his dogs and I tell him about my first cat. It was my daughter’s – she moved in with me for three months, brought her cat, taught me how to care for it, then she moved out, left the cat, and I haven’t seen her since, no contact, not a word, for years, it’s been years and I don’t know why, and sometimes all I do is wonder, I wonder why she’s gone, because she’s gone, she’s a ghost, but I still have her cat, at least, I guess, and I ask him how his wife is doing, because I know she’s pregnant, it’s their first baby, it’s beautiful that it’s happening, I’m so happy for them, and I pet the dogs while he watches the kids play soccer in the field across the street, thinking, worrying, about to tug on their leashes and try to escape, so I let him go with a smile and he wanders off into the sunshine, dogs pulling in all directions because it’s so nice out, just a perfect day, I am going to keep sitting here and enjoy it.

I am a gargoyle. I am a bad omen, a shadow that haunts our front stoop, and I will wait for him to come back, for him to let me pet the dogs some more, to let me tell him more things about what comes next; I want to tell him about the cats I have now, how they yowl at night and crawl on me in the dark, how they were my ex-wife’s cats, how I never asked for them and she just left them here when she left, and tell him about my ex-wife, about her leaving, about all the things she left behind when she did, about how the unwanted cats just pile up, how everything just piles up, up and up and up and in any case I don’t think I could even climb all the stairs right now, God, there are so many stairs, I’m out of breath just thinking about them – I have to go slow, I have to halt and breathe and wheeze, I have to balance on the last stair and squeeze in through the door so the cats don’t get out, and then I have to sit in the stale air, sit with all the cat hair, with all the bills and old gauze and medicines in their little orange jars, with the old boxes of old things, the bad memories, the bad things to come and the sun just feels so nice, it’s so nice to be outside, it’s nice to walk the dogs, to watch the kids play soccer, to talk to someone, to be somewhere else, to get out, to get out while you can before you can’t, and there, there he is, I can see him now.

Here he comes.

Read More »

ROTTEN TOOTH by Kim Magowan & Michelle Ross

Blinking in the darkness of the school auditorium, Rajiv spots his ex-wife Sangita. Her filmy green shawl is flung over the back of the empty seat beside her, reminding him of how their daughter, Alisha, puts a plate and cutlery out for her imaginary friend, Mr. Potato (not to be confused with the toy with the interchangeable facial features). The first time she did this, Rajiv thought Alisha was setting a place for her mother, and he’d wondered if the intention might actually conjure Sangita.

“You saving that seat for Todd?” Rajiv asks Sangita. Her boyfriend, pink-faced with thick, blond hair: Todd looks like a mayonnaise-based potato salad. Every time Alisha talks about Mr. Potato, Todd’s face is what Rajiv sees. If only she’d chosen some other produce as her friend’s namesake. Even Mr. Frisée or Mr. Dandelion Greens would leave a less bitter taste on Rajiv’s tongue.

Sangita sighs. “I thought you said talking to me was like having a cavity filled.”

“Root canal,” Rajiv says.

When Alisha first set that place for Mr. Potato, two years ago, Rajiv half believed Sangita would materialize, even though he knew perfectly well she was in Bermuda with Todd. Probably spreading aloe on Todd’s grotesque, sunburnt, mole-studded back. In movies, when children announced a presence the adults couldn’t see, those children were generally onto something. Rajiv sliced some frozen cookie dough and put it in the oven, just in case, so if Sangita miraculously walked in, the house wouldn’t smell only of takeout curry.

“You like to suffer,” Sangita says. “You like to feel sorry for yourself.”

“But after a root canal, the pain goes away,” says Rajiv.

Sangita looks at him with pity. “You need to find a seat. The concert will start any minute now.”

Rajiv finds a lone unoccupied chair two rows behind Sangita and watches as Todd settles in beside her, roping his thick arm around Sangita’s shoulders.

Then the curtain opens, and the band director thanks them for coming. He talks about the piece with which the concert will open, Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.” A lullaby, he calls it. He explains the opening lines to them: “Sheep may safely graze and pasture/When a shepherd guards them well.” It was written, he tells them, for the birthday of Duke Christian, a patron of Bach, the nobleman praised for protecting his citizen flock.

Rajiv watches Todd massage Sangita’s neck with one of his giant, boiled ham hands, watches her whisper something to him. “My work is just as important as yours fucking is,” Sangita once whispered in Rajiv’s ear at a preschool play. This just after he’d kissed her cheek. Rajiv knew that things were often not what they appeared. He also knew that thinking like this was ridiculous when the thing you hoped you saw wrong was your ex-wife and her new—no, not new—partner.

The song the children play is so gentle that the music is like a hand rubbing soft circles onto Rajiv’s back, telling him to lie down and rest. “Let go of your troubles, weary travelers”: that had been Alisha’s one line in that school play.

Rajiv remembers the root canal he’d gotten ten years ago. How tender the endodontist was with him. The miracle of the Novocain sponging up his pain. And then after, when the pain was gone for good, how he had felt smitten with that endodontist for removing the thing so excruciating he’d consumed nothing but liquids for three weeks.  

His analogy was all wrong. Sangita was no root canal. She was a rotten tooth. Not that she was to blame. When Rajiv first went to the dentist about his pain, he insisted the diagnosis had to be wrong. He routinely flossed. He hardly ate sweets. Then the dentist had explained that his tooth had a hairline fracture. Rajiv grinded his teeth in his sleep. That’s how the infection had gotten in: when he was unawares, convinced he’d done everything right.


Read More »
claire hopple

GRIP by Claire Hopple

Let us tell you about Louise. At the moment we started to really pay attention, she was stuck behind a vehicle that read “Criminal Transport Unit - Dept. of Corrections” on the highway.

When traffic cleared and she finally made it to the park, she was handed a universal key to all the glass showcases by her father.

“Add more furnishings to the blue-tongue skink cage,” he said, gesturing toward an open box on a picnic table.

Louise pulled what looked to be a mini tiki hut and micro lounge chairs out of the box and headed toward the showcases. The skinks did not seem to react to the new arrangement, though Louise thought it could’ve been because they were far too large to fit into the chairs.

Here she was working with her father and living with her father and somehow her brother Bill had made it all the way to Colorado, even if he was transporting dead bodies for a living.

Naturally, he loved to tell everyone about picking up Joe Cocker’s body, who passed away on December 22, 2014 in a place called Crawford, Colorado, population 431.

“Too many cigarettes,” Bill always said, like he and Joe were buds.

Just as Louise noticed how the park pavilion smelled exactly like camp in some murky way, her father came back over.

“If things get...if they go...if things become cumbersome today, the code word’s sarsaparilla,” he garbled.

She opened her mouth to reply and he said “what” in a way that wasn’t really a question and she said “nothing,” but it was really that if something actually went down today, she would panic and not remember any real, helpful words let alone any code words, especially one like sarsaparilla.

He was off to prep the leopard geckos. She wasn’t allowed to touch them because they could lose their tails if handled too roughly.

Sure, Louise was offended that her father thought she wasn’t up for a task like that, but she was also relieved. One of the leopard geckos had this pendulous tumor that she couldn’t help staring at.

This party was for some family friends of theirs. Mitchell, the father of Chase the birthday boy, used to be the older kid on the block when Louise was at her most aesthetically vulnerable.

She noted that she’d first seen him practice-making-out with a front door screen, and now she was watching him unclasp his son from a carseat.

Even these days, he would take his glasses off and Louise found that looking at his actual eyeballs would be this very personal thing. He would seem naked in a way that was more naked than nakedness, and she couldn’t look at him but also couldn’t not look at him.

The crash was more of a beginning than an ending. In the early party pandemonium, no one saw who did it. But the smashed cage was a reality nonetheless.

The Pacman frog’s cage was shattered, though it looked like he (she? it?) had escaped. Of course, the amphibian with “an easygoing nature ideal for a life of captivity” was the one set free. We had witnessed Louise do a little research of her own on these creatures, though we’re not sure exactly why she wanted to impress her own dad.

A pink Post-it lay beside the glass with the words:

For E.G.

As if the destructive behavior were lovingly devoted to this person.

Well, that was what we called the tipping point for Louise. A crowd had formed. She turned the moment into a confessional.

“I have a habit of stealing phone books off of my neighbors’ stoops,” she began.

We knew this, and the neighbors did too, but they were so thankful they didn’t have to dispose of them that they didn’t say a word.

“I stack them in the basement closet that houses the water heater,” she continued.

She was losing them.

“I - I think it’s because things have gotten out of hand. I was fired. The woman who replaced me was supposedly hired just because the CEO hit her with his Range Rover while she was crossing the street. This phone book collection is my only grip on life.”

There was a pause.

“Well, we all knew that,” said her father from somewhere in the group.

She didn’t know what to make of this.

The glass shards fell through the slits in the picnic table, landing somewhere just behind her and the memory of her pride.

As soon as we heard her outward yearning we knew no more exotic animal birthday fun would be had that day.

We found that Louise had reached that point in adulthood where she thought everyone flying planes and cutting people open should be older than her, but they were not. Not always.

Meanwhile, she spent her time doing things like compiling lists of words that were rarely unpaired. Like how nothing ever seems to “spurt” except blood.

That, and we knew for a fact she was waiting out the crinkly man four houses down. He was bound to die soon or at least move into a home, and she was preparing a way for them both. She thought he had no mortgage or family left and that this would work out for her. She helped him paint his siding three weeks ago and we think she was really helping herself.

Anyway, it was easy for us to see that her one regret in life was not just one but multiple. And that maybe she was secretly hoping that we were all axolotls, who have cannibalistic tendencies but if bitten, can regenerate their body parts over time.

Read More »

BIO by Nick Perilli

Ernest Scheetz is a writer and carpenter living in Hudson, North Carolina. He smells like sawdust. Other work of his can be found in The Coyotee Review, New Langdon Quarterly, Triage Journal, New Coke Magazine, Holden Press, Instrumental Annual, Endeavors Review, Found Horizon, Form Letter Journal, Synecdoche Zoo York, String Lights Theory Magazine, Dwayne J. Quarterly, The Exorcism of Emily Prose, the garbage, Muted Xylophone Literary, The Flea Market, the Scheetz family plot, the eyes of his first son, the eyes of his dead father, Dreamboat Lit, Tourniquet Journal, Tall Tales & Ice Cream Horror Review, his friend’s copy of Teen Beat, a bathroom stall somewhere in Wyoming, Fresh Hell Annual, Khrushchev’s Lucky Fiddle Weekly, the Ragnarok Online forums, Laser Lightshow Literary, a house in Connecticut whose lumber bones are from the tree in the woods near his house that he used to carve words into with his buddy Sean, Angst & Poetry, Closed for Submissions Indefinitely, Been Where Done What Lit, Fluid on the Brain Review, Milton Bradley’s Mouse Trap, Single Slices $0.50 Annual, Twenty Sixty Quarterly, on the white cabinet drawer in the dresser down in his parents’ recently flooded basement, Horse-Drawn Fiction, Inconsequential Literary Magazine, in Stephanie Torey’s sixth grade desk with a stuffed bear, False Idols Quarterly (formerly Khruschev’s Lucky Fiddle Weekly), still in the printer at work that he isn’t allowed to use for personal documents but he doesn’t have any ink in his printer at home and the library charges $0.20 per page and he doesn’t have the cash right now, Bare Bones Construction Review, Eat at Lit, sitting completely forgotten on his old laptop’s hard drive as the best piece of art he will ever create until it’s thrown away and the hard drive is pecked to bits by seagulls , Funk House Quarterly, Oliphant Digest, in yesterday’s dream that he can’t quite remember no matter how hard he tries, The New Borker: A Canine Literary Experience, Kit Kat Lit—

Stuck in time as a good idea he had on the way home last week that’s lost to him and drifting away every passing day until someone grasps time travel enough to make a time machine in his lifetime, at which point Ernest will go to this person and say, “Please, I will risk the trip.” Having exhausted all volunteers (RIP), this person will say “Sure” and advise Ernest to touch nothing in the past; but when Ernest sees himself pull into his driveway, he won’t be able to refrain from jumping on him and holding his keys to his throat. “What was the idea?” he will yell at his younger self and his younger self will tell Ernest something like this but something not like that and Ernest, having damaged time, will say “That’s not very good,” Cap’n Horatio Crunch’s Crunch Review, elsewhere, and the rest.

He has a cat.

Read More »

LAND SPEED by Alex Evans

On October 24th, 2011, Oscar Valentine broke the land speed record riding his Schwinn through a suburb outside of Madison, Wisconsin. People said that this was impossible, that Oscar Valentine, being neither a professional high-speed driver nor a legal adult at the time of the achievement, could not have exceeded 760 miles per hour. Others cite the vehicle as their source of skepticism. Not only does a bicycle seem an unideal method by which to compete for speed, but a close friend of Valentine has publicly stated that the tires on the Schwinn were nearly flat that morning, and he ought to know, as he was the owner of the only bicycle pump on the block. But the fact remained, it happened.

Many explanations have been posed for this inconceivable scientific phenomenon, each more implausible than the last, but almost all prior investigations have turned to the cosmos for answers, citing freak meteorological events, gusts that travelled from the Gulf to Wisconsin and buffeted the rusting bicycle from A to B in record speed. None have looked at the boy himself, Oscar Valentine, to understand what inspiration a teenager might have for that level of speed, instead assuming that the inspiration was the same for everyone who competed for the land speed record, that Oscar Valentine and the drivers of rocket fueled super cars were in fact one and the same. This is a flaw in the existing research and will be corrected here. This story aims to set the record straight, showing Oscar Valentine for what he is: not the victim of a meteorological coincidence, but a lover of chess, a dutiful son, and a boy who would stop at nothing to pursue his passions.

The reality is this: on the morning of October 24th, 2011, Oscar Valentine was running late. He had agreed to join two friends for a game of chess in the park, having already promised his mother he would go to church. The church was four blocks from his home, and the park was fourteen blocks in the opposite direction. Realizing his mistake upon waking up to his mother calling for him, Oscar was faced with two unconscionable options: to skip his planned chess match and thus risk disappointing his friends and losing his rank as Monroe County’s finest chess player under the age of 18, or to disappoint his mother and, by extension, God himself, whom Oscar felt certain was already not fond of him. Neither option was ideal, and in that warped state between sleeping and waking where impossibilities becomes possible, Oscar decided to do both.

The mass began promptly at 8:30 and lasted one hour, though Father Chandler usually cut it short early, on account of his drinking and resultant forgetfulness, which caused many parts of the service to go missing. On one recent Sunday, it had only been fifteen minutes before Father Chandler had called out, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” at which point the congregation had stood and filed out as usual, each member too polite to bring up that there had been no verses read, no communion, and no homily. It was upon Father Chandler’s unpredictable timekeeping that Oscar’s plan depended.

His chess match was due to begin at 9:30, and though his friends were fond of him, they were also hungry for power, as most teenagers are, and Oscar knew they would seize any chance to eliminate him and take his title. Thus, he wheeled his bike to the church and left it outside, ready at a moment’s notice for Oscar’s escape to the park and to victory.

At this time, all of Wisconsin’s communion wine was produced by the Glory of God Vintners, LLC. They signed an exclusive deal with the archdiocese two years earlier, and every church in the area had been well-stocked with their stigmata-emblazoned cartons ever since. However, one week before Oscar’s fateful ride, the Madison Police discovered an enormous quantity of cocaine and a stash of jewelry belonging to the deposed king of a small European nation in the factory of Glory of God Vintners, LLC. It was the largest drug bust in Wisconsin’s history, and aside from giving the Madison Municipal Police some much needed good P.R. after years of rampant corruption, it also created a major shortage in communion wine, as the entire production was seized by the state. Thus Father Chandler was sober for the first time in almost a decade, and he had many thoughts on the ways God punishes man which he intended to share with the congregation.

So you see, rather than running short, the mass had potential to run longer than ever. Oscar Valentine loved his mother and could not leave early. It would break her heart, and though Oscar was many things, he was never a heartbreaker. So, he squirmed in his pew through Father Chandler’s homily, eyes on his watch. He would have missed his chess match entirely, stuck in the church all afternoon, had it not been for Winston, the organist. It was Winston who had made meaningful eye contact with Father Chandler and gestured to his watch. Thus the service had ended with seconds to spare, and thus our hero, having taken a majority of those seconds to shake hands with members of the congregation, was forced to either admit defeat or confound the laws of physics.

The rest is history. It has been demonstrated that in times of immense stress, humans are capable of performing extraordinary feats of strength. Like a mother lifting a midsize sedan off her child, Oscar pedaled his bicycle at a speed which, by all calculations, ought to have caused both his legs to detach at the hip. Those who do not believe it can check the satellites. On October 24th, 2011, Oscar Valentine broke the land speed record on a bicycle, but he lost his chess match, and that’s the end of it.

Read More »

LILY IN THE LIGHT by Megan Pillow

Lily isn’t sleeping, but I still try to get up from the bed without making a sound. The curtains are closed, and I open them a peep so that a thin shaft of light comes in, not enough so that anyone from the outside can see us. The shaft travels to the bed, to the body lying there, like someone has traced a line across her belly with a golden brush, and beneath that lick of gold, her skin, oh, Lily’s skin lights up like one of those paper lanterns that you set on fire and send into the sky. I close my eyes and open them again. She hasn’t disappeared on me yet.

Lily isn’t sleeping, but she’s still, and her hair runs across the pillow like a rivulet of water. I kneel next to her. I pool it in my hands just like Steven and Marcus and Ahmed and Dan all did before they put their lips to her throat while she lay there unmoving, just like the painter who spilled it across the pillow again and told her she was his muse and now she had to still herself.

Lily isn’t sleeping, but she’s still in my bed, looking past me to the curtain, to the courtyard, to the room she should have slept in last night, to the path and the prairie and the hundred animals that are stirring and stretching and inching their way through the whispering grass. I loose her hair from my hands. I turn her face toward me. She doesn’t meet my eyes. She’s still looking out to the sun and the stream and the roads that travel like arrows into the city where her husband is probably still asleep in their bed. I run my hand from her cheek to her shoulder, the curve of her breast, the swell of her hip, the top of her thigh, where the hair shimmers in the golden light, where the hair is downy as the fur of the rabbits creeping toward us through the brush. I know that thigh has pushed the doors ajar in a hundred old houses, pressed against her calf as she squats to take another picture of the structure of shadow and light. I know that thigh flexes when she runs through the city at night and the only thing she hears is the sound of her breath in her ears and the faint scream of sirens. I know that every man who climbs into her bed folds that thigh around himself the way he folds a bedsheet and tosses it to the back of the closet. I know the painter folds her thigh in the light the same way he folds the wings of a paper crane and then traces his eyes and his brush along every unmovable curve.

Lily isn’t sleeping, but she’s still in my bed, and she is motionless, the way she always is with men. I want to whisper to her that here in this bed, we are women, and we are the only two in the whole wide world.

This is how they like me, she says.

This is how I like you, I say, and I spread her legs, and I put my tongue inside her, and for the first time, she is alive. Lily in the light jumps like a rivulet of water against the hot of a pan, like a rabbit darting through the brush, like the pulse in her thigh that thrums against my cheek when she folds her legs around me. I put one hand underneath her and the other on the gentle swell of her stomach, on the skin that is glowing in the light of the beam, and in that light we are moving, in that light we are married, in that light we are making art better than any man’s, and I do not tell her, I would never tell her, but in that light I mourn a little, because just like the light, I know the art won’t last.  

Read More »

MAPLE & GOO by Anith Mukherjee

The Orb glowed, the room shook, pink slime dripped from the ceiling. The Orb shuddered. The Orb split open. Gestating ultraviolet flesh. Flesh appendages reached out and grabbed Maple by the neck, they pulled her into The Orb’s living centre. She felt blood circulating around her, absorbing her. She faded and dissolved. She did not scream. It felt like a kiss.


Town Nouvelle Vague is a paranoid city. Steeped in irony and sarcasm. Sincerity was outlawed. No one knew what anyone was really thinking. There was a constant underlying analysis of meaning. The paranoia fed into the general theme of contempt. Everyone disregarded everyone. There were no real friendships. Relationships revolved around sex and sarcasm. Non smokers were exiled. Emphysema was the town’s leading cause of death. Jazz blared from giant speakers scattered throughout the city. Your life must be soundtracked to Mingus, Coltrane, Ellington, this was not a choice. Everyone had nervous ticks, stress induced neurosis, underlying anxiety. None if it ever showed. Everyone adhered to the strict code of style. Style was essential, mandatory by law. Maple watched all this, wandering the streets, calm and invisible.  


She had decided to burn her past. Fizzle it out of existence. She was starting fresh, unburdened by old mistakes. She did this by sitting on her bed, systematically flowing through her memories. They came to her, one by one, from early childhood to yesterday’s conversations. She quietly removed the ones that were painful, awkward, pointless. She categorised each negative memory and burned the synaptic flash that held them in her brain. She was tired of being this person. She was going to create a curated and stylised narrative for her identity. Nouveau Maple.  


Goo was a mixture of a lunar eclipse and a radioactive sunrise. Her tattoos writhed and mutated across her skin. She had ultraviolet fingers, melting neon eyes, liquid hair. She would pull out her eyeballs with the tip of her switchblade, the black holes in her head absorbing nutrients from the sun. She carried a snub nose revolver with her always, strapped to her ankle. She seduced businessmen, and as they took off their clothes she would gently place the revolver by the side of their skull, stripping them of their cash. She enjoyed the work, and felt no moral remorse.   


Maple had been watching Goo for days. Something about her made her the perfect subject. Some electric quality, a tangible mystery. Maple knew she was hiding something, some underground section of her life. She followed her into cafes, walking the streets, she watched Goo carefully watch others. Maple wondered if she had found someone else like her, someone with a similar gift. She watched Goo flirt with strange men, before following them back to a house or apartment. She never saw what happened inside.


It was late at night, there was no moon, the streets were empty. Maple had followed Goo down some back street and lost her. She walked around, searching for Goo’s figure in the dark. Electricity ran down her spine. She heard the click of a revolver’s hammer.

She heard someone whisper,

“So what do you want?”


Maple and Goo sat in a midnight cafe. Around them were insomniac loners and jittery winos. Maple told Goo that she just liked to watch. Everyone. She liked to watch and see what happened. That she wasn’t interested in them personally, just in how they behaved.

Goo said,

“That’s very strange.”

Maple shrugged. She lit a cigarette, she coughed, she put the cigarette out.


Maple and Goo would work together at night. Maple would watch, observe closely, finding men who seemed rich and foolish. She would find their routine, their patterns. She would tell Goo where and when was best to find them. Goo would either seduce them, or, on lazy nights, simply lead them down some blind alley and point a gun at their head. They split the money. Iridescent in cash and crime. Afterwards they smoked and drank black coffee.


His name was Johnny. He knocked on Maple’s door in the early morning. The sun hadn’t risen, the stars seemed jittery and frightened. She did not open the door. He knocked again, louder. Maple silently walked to her kitchen and pulled out a knife. He knocked again.

He shouted,


She put the knife down. She nudged open the door. He stood tall and shimmering, an ultraviolet shadow.

He flashed his badge and card.


There was something about him.

He walked inside.

He said,

“We have an offer for you.”


Goo had found a new man. He was affluent and ungraceful. He was new to Town Nouvelle Vague. He did not suit the style of the place. His hair was too clean, his suit too fresh. She wanted to get him before he was exiled. She wanted to get inside his apartment, to rob it clean. He was easy to seduce. He lost himself to her gaze instantly. He unlocked the door. He walked inside. Goo followed. Maple stood, gun drawn, pointed at Goo’s chest. Goo, with a reflex she didn’t know she had, immediately reached for her revolver. Maple fired. There was no scream. Goo fell. Crimson ripples staining the floor. The town shivered.


Johnny sat in Maple’s apartment. A dead and silent night. He gave her a new set of clothes. He said to trash everything she owned, to become unrecognisable.

He said,

“We’ve transferred the money to this account.”

He handed her a card.


And she dreamt of a night she once spent with an ultraviolet girl. They sat high in a treehouse overlooking the city. The girl lit a joint, held it up to the sky, and said,

“We’re double high."

Read More »


In their twenties love was ineptitude—being there to fail together.

Separately they delved the snowy miles between Erie and Rochester. A quest for meaning, those birthplaces their only landmarks, logical lapses in the dense contract language of northern hardwood. Their paths converged in a college poetry workshop, a group exercise where they fixed their willful corrections onto a hapless third’s verse.

She had green hair and wore face jewels. He wore steel toes and a red bandanna, ebony plugs in stretched earlobes. She worked at the campus library circulation desk. He worked on cars and bused at a diner built to resemble the railroad car it wasn’t. Her fingertips inked, his oiled. Her window faced a man-made lake where featureless fox decoys endured snowfall the geese had fled. He had no reason to doubt his mechanic’s heart—so far it had worked on all tasks, an all-purpose tool bought from late-night TV. She worked up the natal charts of TV characters and wondered if it was poetry—Do I decide who I want to be, then be her? Or learn who I already am? She wept in public, became a mirror image. In society’s blind spot she caroused with this despairing twin, transcending to higher and more wicked realms of privacy, an incandescent flash of holy grief too painful to look at. On breaks at the diner he smoked by the dumpster and chatted with the fry cook through the grimy screen door, workplace grumbling and small-town gossip—DUIs, domestics, too-soon deaths. After closing, he trudged home. Winter facsimiled him, his spirit burrowing in, tunnels of self so secret they had no openings. Converging again, they exploded into one other’s warmth. After, he’d smoke and spin records. His day’s petty remainders failed to bind, ashes scattering. Hers, though, had strange polarity, gathering into constructions unintentionally keen; bristling letters to the world. She imagined these missives tucked into envelopes sealed with an ironic sigil—a heart bursting with radial rays, the electrotheremin from Good Vibrations warbling screw-loose in the background. Little by little in this waiting embryo, they made actual plans. Superlatives deformed under impractical weight.

Years later, they’d reached the marital beach—a New England crescent strewn with beer-bottle rocks. A heart drawn in sand. Still the red bandanna, the green hair. The horizon was real. They’d chased it to Stellwagen Bank, whale watching. After three hours, seven boats starved for encounters surrounded a pair of ghostly green humpbacks. The eye contact seemed meaningful. If the horizon was this real, they thought, it was worth refining. They searched one another’s eyes for adornments to come and honeymooned on a friend’s air mattress.

Then a pregnancy. A glow striving, an attempt to expand. She wanted to be surprised by the sex, to decorate the nursery in neutrals. He shrugged. She started on a woodland mural. Talk of names pervaded—names’ operational beauty. As she knelt at a faceless fox with a line brush, he came in reciting from a book of baby names. She turned and prettified the air with something Gaelic, a flick of her brush. He parried: Aaron. Alexander. Andrew. Their eyebrows sparred. She turned back to the fox, her brush shy to mark its snowfall blankness. An envelope fell to her lap. Heart burst sigil.

They abstracted the naming so it was unclear what mattered. They resolved to build from scratch. It had worked before. Munching tortilla chips on the patio at the Mexican restaurant, her hand on her belly, they gleaned inspiration from the signs of businesses: O’Reilly Auto. Sherwin-Williams. Shawnee Optical.

O’Sher, Willshaw, Reilin

They searched out their server’s name on the check: Desireé.

Des, Desi, Desilin

At last, a binary: Desmond if a boy. Fern if a girl.

Good. They clinked glasses. The sky unsustainable blue.

A decade later, Friday afternoon: Dad’s wearing a backpack at the curb of the George Eastman House in Rochester, museum brochure in one hand, the fingers of his other tracing the hole in one distended earlobe. He’s waiting for the ex, the sky a pink-and-gray Formica of autumn.

He’s waiting for his kid.

The brochure’s central image depicts the sitting room’s signature elephant bust, a glass-eyed idol of judgment. The feature exhibit is called Murano. Photography on Italian glassmaking—glass threaded with gold, imitation gemstones. The copy contains words like smalto and millefiori and lattimo. He imagines crossing beneath the elephant. Will he freeze there? Wrongly stabilize, succumb to fear’s hardening? Before, the stakes were low; now he dreads to forget even what’s simple—walking, swallowing. His heart having reached the limits of its utility—no more hidden potential there, no more tricks or surprises; just an object of finite nostalgia.

His backpack brims with curios—things meant to say something (everything) deftly, silently, safely. Good Vibrations on 45—the most expensive single of its time, a guiltless sound. Comic books, curated and bundled in a manner wanting to convey care and hospitable weirdness. An autographed 8x10 of Richard Kline from Three’s Company, a left-field gag meant to evoke the nuclear family, one he now realizes is meant entirely for the kid’s mother—she will analyze these gifts. The photo made more sense earlier; now the joke feels way too desperate. Beneath it all: a Kit Kat bar, wrapped in a threadbare bandanna.

After the separation—many reasons, many sharp-cornered envelopes flung from the past, some earned, some not—he read to the kid. Comics, cereal boxes. Anything. Random stuff from the news, cutting out what was upsetting, dressing what remained. A National Geographic story about flooding in India—a grown elephant washed away in flood waters, carried from Assam to Bangladesh. The elephant survived, went on to live life. The bedtime lesson maybe about hope? Did you know elephants don’t run? Part of them is always on the ground!

Another night in the car on the way back from baseball, another bluff—Pangea. Pseudo-wisdom meant to divert, to salve the sting of the faltering athletic experiment (the bench warming, the strikeouts, being hurt when the cliques didn’t notice you, hurt worse when they did), the glove finding its final purpose hiding tears. It’s okay to fail. Silence. The fireflies’ cipher plaited gray atmosphere. Then the Pangea thread found higher purpose. The world might break—but it forms anew!

The black hybrid whispers up, the ex in dark glasses. Short blonde hair now. His chest is a dunk tank. They’d gone so long apart it all rings like fever—two lives across a checkerboard in a sanitarium common room, waiting on the angel of wellness. She leans toward the passenger seat, flips up her glasses. The passenger door pops open. A small foot emerges in a red-and-white checkered shoe, then draws back, door closing. Mom’s talking. Last-minute instruction.

His mood, a painstaking exhibition of control, starts to warp. The backpack feels too heavy—the insufferable toll of need. He stares at the car. He wants only to listen—participate, perceive. Be there.

He stills himself, stroking the void in his earlobe. The loneliness brings him back to those years ago in the hospital corridor, weighing surgery on their intersex child, not quite a year old. Boots crunching in a vending machine’s wreckage. Security on the way. Kicking out the glass had not been a plan—just a reply, a sudden island of circumstance erupting.

How she’d stared at him like a stranger without context. Kneading his ear, index finger spiraling the glossy black plug, that screw-loose gesture, his heart pounding, eager for a doctor, a professional, someone to take charge, sweep up, tase him to death. His boots grinding up glass, toeing candy aside. Their family was still forming. How do you explain this? Invisible faults? The kid was healthy. Mom had gone down the hall with the hospital administrator on damage control. He guessed it was then that her hair began to change, blonde casting out green. How could either of them remain what they had been? How do you stay the self you’d fashioned while having to choose for another—Desmond, or Fern? One, or the other? Perhaps both? Perhaps neither. Imposing their fears, imagining an entire world waiting to traumatize the child with their guess.

The administrator took pity. But dad needed to clean up and pay. Maintenance hunting down gloves, but dad had already begun. He collected the candy bars first. After that, he moved to the glass, having pulled off the bandanna to protect his fingers. He picked up the big pieces, then moved to the small. He was careful, and still he put blood on the floor. Clarity seized him, held him in sight, said Be there. Someone brought a garbage can near. His wife. She would see them through.

In the black hybrid, mom’s done. The passenger door opens again. Mom looks back. He doesn’t meet her eyes, leaves that distance complete. He watches the door. One little red-and-white checkered shoe, then the other. They touch pavement.

There: Clarity.

Read More »

FOOTNOTES by Erin Cork

Stopped at a red light, Malfunction Junction. A seventies model Chevy pickup ahead of me, bull balls dangle from the trailer hitch and a faded bumper sticker that was probably added when the truck was new, “Disco Sucks”.  There’s a man-child anywhere between the ages of 18 and 30 in the driver’s seat. It could be a hand me down, his father’s rig.

I’ll never share the memory of peeling the backside from that sentiment and slapping it on the tailgate in front of me. But I do have a scrapbook full of goose bump gospel moments in the fellowship of outcasts.

The anti-disco slogan, ‘Disco Sucks’ available on t-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons and more…” Luis-Manuel Garcia explains, “…wasn’t just a metaphor in the ‘70s: it was a direct reference to cock-sucking, aiming a half-spoken homophobic slur at disco and its fans.

I came of age in queer bars. I’m not gonna lie, I had some moves. I’m like Pavlov’s dog when I hear the thump of a drum machine and the pulse of a synthesizer. My shoulders roll, hips gyrate, feet slide and arms rise towards swirling colors real or imagined.

The light turns green, a new generation on my playlist; Janelle Monae’s “Django Jane” revs into the speaker, volume up, foot on the pedal I’m singing along, head nodding. I’m as fired up as ever.

My education began in earnest in the basement of the Palace Hotel and house parties in the late seventies. I was still in my teens. I was reading Our Bodies, Ourselves, Rita Mae Brown and Patricia Nell Warren. Holy Shit, I wasn’t alone.  

House parties grew into clubs. We danced to meet each other, to be together, to celebrate. We were outcasts in high schools and hometowns. We were weirdos filled with shame but when we twirled and moved sang out “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, “I Will Survive” and “We Are Family” always ending our nights with “Last Dance” it was with a fist in the air.

It was life schooling. I enrolled in advanced courses of acceptance and denial, hitting the floor with an earnestness I had previously reserved for class officer campaigns. “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir, Voulez vous coucher avec moi”?

In 1979 radio D.J Steve Dahl lit the fuse on the Disco Sucks movement in Chicago where he blew up disco records in Comiskey Park at a baseball game. AIDS was new and on the rise, terrifying the club scene. Confusion about what it was and how you might catch it contributed to the backlash.

Fran Lebowitz commented on the events, “There’s music I don’t like, but I don’t make a career out of not liking it-I just don’t listen to it. ‘Disco Sucks’ was kind of a panic on the part of straight white guys. Disco was basically black music, rock ‘n’ roll was basically white: those guys felt displaced.” A familiar refrain today, a scratchy record on repeat.

About the same time the assault on Disco was picking up speed my parents split for good. My father left his longtime teaching job in a local high school after falling in love with his student teacher, a young man in his mid twenties, closer to my age than my dad’s. Pop came out in a blaze of glory or burning bridges depending on which angle you looked at it. He moved to Portland and went to work for the Oregonian.

Thinking about it now, I may have wanted him to hang his own balls from his rear-view mirror like he had dice in his Northern Montana College days. I guess this might really be a sign of castration. These are steers, not bulls. Whatever. Anyway, I wanted him to be my dad again, not the poster child for a mid-life crisis. I jumped in my ’66 Dodge Pickup, a retired forest service truck that I had painted sky blue and followed him out west.

I pulled into the city, both cocky and overwhelmed as I went the other way on a one way. I had a meager savings, a typewriter and big dreams, muted and muddled but recurring. Dad and I had some reparation to be done. At least I thought so. His part included subsidizing my writing ambition. After all, he had created and nurtured this monster. He couldn’t just walk away.

The transformation he was going through had nothing to do with fatherhood. He was trying to leave his past, all of it behind. I wasn’t going to make it easy for him. After all, this was about me.

In the beginning of this contract I wrote by day. I was working on a brilliant debut novel about a talking dog that had witnessed the murder of his mistress, stunning the world when he exposed the killer that had tried to silence him with peanut butter. Ha, who wouldn’t want to read this?

At night, Dad and I would hit the town. A weird and tentative twist on our relationship. I wasn’t old enough to drink but I had swagger. In my black polyester pants, matching vest, white t-shirt and cowboy hat that may have had a feather in it, I must have been hard to resist. We’d dance until the bars closed then work all day. Eventually, the arrangement got uncomfortable. Watching my father cruise was unsettling. I started venturing out to different clubs on my own like The Other Side of Midnight, Embers and Aaron’s.

I was shaking my stuff to A Taste of Honey with a local DJ who had befriended me when a small, beautiful dark-haired woman moved in and up on me. She winked at the other woman, pulled me away and into her.

This was Kris, a local attorney in her thirties. She fed me maraschino cherries from her amaretto sours. I’d practice tying the stems in a knot with my tongue.

Kris treated me well, took me to concerts, the theatre and barbecues with her friends. She’d pack a picnic lunch, her secret recipe potato salad. We’d drive into the mountains in my pickup that she claimed was a chick magnet. We’d lie on a blanket by a stream where I continued my lessons. We’d laugh hard and loud. I’d tell her about all the stories I wanted to write. She’d kiss me and tell me that she believed I could do anything. At night, we’d go dancing. God, I loved to dance.

Dad wanted me to find work if I was going to stay. Supporting the nightlife for both of us was taking a financial toll. I tried to convince him that I was working. My novel was my job. He was a patron of the arts. Unconvinced, he wanted me to contribute to the household, pay rent and help with the utilities. In a fit of rage and abandonment issues I left. I drove back to Montana where I found refuge in the arms and house of my high school sweetheart. I went to school and found a part time job.

Disco wasn’t dying, it was alive and well. I sought out house parties with the music cranked where I could find my groove again. I needed the fix. I felt alive on the dance floor with a girl running her hands over my body and whispering in my ear.

Later we’d have makeshift clubs of our own like the Amvets and Daddy’s. These were our safe havens away from the slurs, mumbled hostilities, nasty shout outs and bashings. We found refuge under the rainbow tent, in our big ol’ queer revivals.

I struggled to settle down, met another girl who would eventually get me to Seattle where I would let the colored lights and thumping beats take hold again. I just wanted to dance. When we split in the mid-eighties I gravitated toward the clubs like Neighbours where I would spend my weekends shouting and singing, going home with miss “right now”.

Our community though was experiencing devastating losses, our brightest, most creative men, our friends were sick. They were dying.

I have a painting that hangs on my wall done by Seattle artist Matthew Luzny. I shared a house with Matt. He had a quick, dry wit and a bark of a laugh. He’d whip his shirt from his lean and muscled body. He’d shake, shake, shake in the heat of release. He loved light and color. Oh the things he could do with texture, glass and paint. He had vision.

I’d met him through an artist I was dating. His diagnosis was perplexing and stunning. We didn’t know what to make of it. He and I had talked about having a kid together. The reality of such a venture was just the beginning of what we would come to understand about HIV and AIDS.

The “we” was taken out of it because I would never fully comprehend what it meant to live with the disease, the terror of a sore throat progressing to a full-blown cold. Matt died in 1994 at the age of 36.

In her book Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture, Alice Echols says, “Lesbianism has never carried the same cachet as male homosexuality in either the music business or in disco studies. Disco’s only self-declared and unambiguously lesbian performer, Alicia Bridges, came out twenty years after she scaled the charts with her 1978 hit “I Love the Nightlife” And yet lesbian and bisexual women were part of disco culture-both in their own bars and in gay male and mixed clubs.”

Our history like history in general centers on men even in gay history. The dances and parties were filled with women too. These men were our brothers, we danced and sweated right along with them but little of it is documented. We participated in the seduction, the lure, our own sexual awakenings side by side.

  • In the first minutes of January 1st, 2014 Musab Mohamad Masmari dumped gasoline down a stairwell at Neighbours the popular Seattle gay club.  The 750 people inside escaped without injury, certainly not the attacker’s intent.
  • On June 24th, 1973 an arsonist set fire to the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans.
  • On February 21, 1997 the American terrorist Eric Rudolph set off an explosion at the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta.
  • October 6, 1998 Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead near Laramie, Wyoming.
  • September 22, 2000 Ronald Gay opened fire in a gay bar in Roanoke, VA, killing one and injuring another six.
  • On March 1st, 2009 Lawerence and Lawrneil Lewis along with their cousin Alejandro Gray launched chunks of concrete at customers in a gay bar in Galveston, TX.
  • On June 12, 2016 Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
  • June 28th, 1969 a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York caused an uprising and led to gay pride marches. Pride as we know it.

We cut loose. We were free. We got to be with people who understood. When you say, “Disco Sucks”, you can’t comprehend how we found one another or the way our bodies moved together. The risk involved was everything. It’s how we created community.

I love Disco. Dance music. It’s not the only music I love, I’ll put my eclectic collection up against anyone’s but I won’t be embarrassed by the 12” mixes that have contributed to my education as much as any lecture I sat through. Stonewall, discos, the seventies helped us find and shape our identities. It didn’t suck.

“I’m Coming Out” is an anthem we scream and shout. Don’t stop the dance.

Read More »


The last address was easy to remember. But in a year living on the outskirts of downtown Portsville, Calup still confused First Street with Second Street about every other time. Maybe that’s what happened with his last letter. Confusion was now his general state of mind, even on good days, when it was only mild. At eighty-six years old, there were more days when he could remember what was in his lunch box the day the Number 2 tipple burned on Shelby Creek than he remember what street he lived on.

The post office lady pulled to his mailbox. He got up from porch swing and started toward her. She cradled a large pink box in her arms. Written on the side were flowery words reading Thirty-One. Not for him, no sir. Before Calup could make it to the edge of his yard, the lady shook her head and hunched her shoulders, hopped in her truck and sped off.

When he sent the contents of the storage chest to his daughter in Indiana he used a large media package. Calup half expected Cayaha to send it back. But now that it seemed she might be taking a notion to keep what he sent, he was seriously regretting sending the love letters he had written Susan, tucked away all these years at the bottom of the chest.

There wasn’t much in the chest, not like you’d expect from a package sent to a daughter from a father who was barely there most of the time. One would expect a whole spread of things trying to make up for lost time. But Calup knew that wasn’t possible. And there was nothing of any real value in the chest. All the same, three weeks and no response. He had to have mixed up First and Second again. It was the only thing that made sense. It happened the last time he sent Cayaha a card for her wedding anniversary. She told him so when he finally got her on the phone a couple months later.

When Cayaha was still in grade school they sent her to stay for a month with Susan’s brother up in Indiana. Susan said it would do her good to visit family and get her nose out of books, play like a normal girl, quit worrying about skinning her knees and get a little dirty.

Susan’s brother, Paul, drove cross-country delivering RVs, hauling his Chevy Rabbit along and driving it back from every state you could think of and some you couldn’t. Calup’s reservations had a lot to do with the fact that he never cared much for Paul from the start. Paul drank, played cards with drunks, fought with his wife, Nora, night and day. Paul and Nora had three daughters. Striped snakes were more kind, easier to get along with on account of the fact that their parents mostly left them alone. Kids left alone and bored are going to find the time to head in bad directions.

Paul’s three girls – Melanie, Sara and Brit – were all older than Cayaha and pure hell on wheels. This added to his worries, which he kept to himself and, instead, thought about all the possibilities after Susan slept easily two feet away from him. Those sleepless hours were tough, watching shadows of branches cast from the moonglow appear and disappear along the walls of the bedroom. In those black forms he saw Cayaha being bullied, shunned, yelled at, ignored, lonely with no books, no solitude. For others, maybe not a big problem. For his Cayaha, it was a straitjacket, no sunlight, no hope. During those hours alone with his thoughts beating away at him, Susan snored. Calup could not imagine what she dreamed of because she smiled between breaths, and it didn’t seem there was anything to smile about then.

What he couldn’t know was that the reality of Cayaha’s circumstances in Indiana was about as bad as he thought it was, but with a stranger set of characters. For the entire month she stayed with Susan’s family they were visited nights by a crew of people headed by Rocky and Kelly, a couple who had stayed drunk, to the best of Calup’s recollection, the entire twenty-five years they had lived together. The two of them moved north with Paul when coal busted for a while and factories elsewhere was the best option for work. Of course they had no intention of working, whether they were in Kentucky or Indiana or anywhere else for that matter. Rocky and Kelly’s only intentions were to party, their own unique blend made up of poker games, loud music, and drinking. Lots and lots of drinking, along with the occasional joint, if it was available.

Had Calup been there (and how he had wished a thousand times over that he had went with her) he would have been able to negotiate the kind of swarm that happened within a household when people like that got together, negotiate it for Cayaha, rustling her from one room to another if arguments started or drinking got out of hand. But he wasn’t. Nothing about that was ever going to change.

Turned out Susan thought the trip would toughen Cayaha up. Instead she came back saying she woke each morning and watched deer scatter across the yard and sprint toward the pond at the back of the house. She cried the way an adult would cry, no expression, just tears dropping every few seconds from the corners of her eyes, telling how one morning a big dog, a German Shepherd, she thought, chased a deer down and killed it at the property line in front of the house. She remembered how the steam lifted off its torn belly and floated away like smoke.

The trip was a failure on all levels, and the weeks and months and years that followed were picked apart by family, by counselors, by psychiatrists until Cayaha was a husk left by crows, empty and slowly dying. Still empty, still dying, but he was through thinking about it just now. It had cooled considerably after sunset and the Braves would be playing since they were off Monday. Baseball, beer, and a cool breeze could wipe a day clean better than about anything else.

He situated the radio on the porch rail. With Pete Van Wieren calling the count, Calup could almost forget. Some nights he prayed out loud to come down with Old Timer’s disease. Forgetting would be a way to stop one hour from becoming the next hour. These days it seemed getting from afternoon to evening and from evening to the next morning was the longest walk he’d ever taken. And he was tired, and he needed rest, and he needed Brian McCann to knock at least a sac fly and get Chipper in from second. It would be nice to take a series from the Mets at Citi Field. Calup tipped his beer and took a long swallow. This was the kind of evening that could almost clean him in a spiritual way, lift his guilt and regret for a brief time. Susan never understood why he carried, as she called it, his suitcase full of bricks, and now, six deep on Wildcat Cemetery, she never would. She took everything in stride. Parents make mistakes, she would say. Children are stronger than we give them credit for. Not everything bad that happens to this family is your fault. It was nice to know she almost certainly died at peace, probably telling herself that nobody was perfect and you’d be surprised who could get into heaven these days.

Calup woke early as usual the next morning and went to the porch with his coffee. Post lady would be here in an hour or so. He watched the sun coming up and searched for whatever sort of inspiration or glory people seemed to find there, but all he ever saw was that color of bright washed pink, like a nosebleed from a cloud. That sort of bitterness that stole even a beautiful morning ate at him most days now. It was a new feeling, and one he didn’t welcome. Keep moving along, bitterness. We’re all full up here.

He sipped his coffee, already cooled from the milk he added, and fought off those old bedtime thoughts, fought at them until he heard the rumble of the post lady. He watched her place a stuffed manila envelope in his box, struggle to close the latch, and then finally leave it hanging. She waved and he waved back. When she marched to the truck, she stopped and slapped her thigh, bent and grabbed a package, his package. Turning, she held it up and smiled at him. Calup didn’t move from the swing. He motioned for her to sit it down outside the fence, and she did. The sun was bleeding yellow now, the color of ripe corn.

It didn’t matter what was in the envelope; it didn’t matter the package was the same size as the chest he sent to Cahaya. All a man could do was everything he could, and the fact that he hadn’t done this enough in his life was its own trip to Indiana. It was grief on top of grief on top of grief. But time won’t stop so a person can catch their breath. Time falls across the world the same way it always has, with a hatred for living creatures unable to lean into that forward motion. Calup held his wristwatch to his ear and counted off ten, twenty, thirty seconds. The sun had stopped at the edge of the sky. Who knew when it would move again.

Read More »


Terrance tells me choose a record and I struggle. He’s a new friend. A very sexy friend. I need friends. We have one in common, Metal Matt, who’s orchestrated this meetup, aka blind brunch date, slash hook-up. But with friends with records like these, you know. Plus I don’t want to offend.

There’s Rihanna, understandable.

Peaches, okay.

But the predominance of ‘80s music stupefies.

The closest thing to metal: Alice in Chains. I figure sure why not. I pull the album from the shelf.  

I say, How’s this, and hold the record high.

He’s in the kitchen constructing our bowls of quinoa and garbanzo beans and swiss chard (easier to digest than kale, I’m informed) real bacon (for him) and tempeh bacon (for me).

We’re both trying to get healthy. No booze. No wheat. No drama.

He doesn't look up but says, Doesn't matter.

I say, Honestly? Everyone always says that but really?

He says, If I own it, I should have no problem playing it.

I say, I agree.

But secretly I don't. There’s times I want something specific, the long hard build up of doommetal or the fast punch in the face of thrash.

Everything matters.

This shit’s serious you know.

I pull the record out and it has this plastic sleeve that crinkles and bunches. I can’t imagine trying to slide it back on. I figure I’ll deal with the stress later and place the album on the turntable. The needle moves and the speakers crackle to life. But it’s not anything remotely like metal. These synthesizers hum, slow and rhythmic. Then another joins, an octave higher. A drum machine begins and bumps along. It all coalesces into this rhythmic clapping beat and all I can do is bob my head. Suddenly, Terrance races in from the kitchen with a spoon and acts like it’s a mic. He belts along with this nasally singer: This is not love / This is not even worth a point of view, and it’s the worst, most beautiful thing ever.

I say, This is not Alice in Chains.

He says, This, my friend, is the immortal Gary Numan.

I say, Never heard of him.

He says, Sadly, he’s mostly a trivia trick question because his biggest hit is called Cars and everyone thinks it’s by the band Cars.

I say, Wait. Are you serious? It’s not by Cars?

He smirks but says, I’m so glad you found it. I’ve been looking for it.

I say, You have?

And realize I sound so dismissive and he’s so cute.

He says, Sometimes what you need finds you.

I sit cross legged on the carpet in this one bedroom apartment and smile up to him. I must look some kind of way because he says, Let’s dance.

I say, It’s like 10:30 in the morning. I’m not only sober but haven’t even had any coffee.

He pushes me and says, You're afraid you can’t dance because you're sober and uncaffeinated?

He stares at me. He’s still holding the spoon up to his mouth. Like he’s hungry. I look at his chest and see he’s got a handmade tattoo of that trucker lady logo. I see the legs pointing toward his armpit.

I say, You want me to dance to this song?

He says, What would you like?

I say, Not the 80s.

He says, Fine, and kills the record player and steps to the computer on the coffee table and flips it open.

He says, How’s this playlist: Cali Love. Don’t ask what’s on it. Let’s just find out together.

I shrug like of course but I can’t help it. I step to the screen and see some names I know: Joni Mitchell, Missing Persons, Warren G and Kamaiyah. But then I see the A Tale of Two Andre’s album cover and the song “My Homeboy’s Chevy.” I click on it. It opens with Mac Dre saying, Stop thugging out and get your weed from the store the legit way. He begins to rap and we both bounce our shoulders to the beat. Then Terrance dances. And I dance. We keep two feet distance between us and then I reach a hand out and he reaches out and we touch. Like needle to record. Like voice track to drum track. Like welcome home and stay a while.

Read More »

THE COAT by Robert John Miller

You don't wear coats. You wear layers.

You're outside, what, five minutes, ten minutes at a time?

Apartment to bus. Bus to work. Next door for lunch.

Coats are such a bougie luxury. What are these people preparing for? Ice fishing? Everest? You're never more than ten seconds from a clean well-heated place.

But you tire of the questions. And there's an online flash sale. Maybe a coat would be nice.

Remember: You know nothing about buying coats.

But that one on sale looks like the ones everyone has. Red patch. White thread. Maybe a goose is involved.

Two days later, you have a coat. Just like in the picture. Just like everyone else.

You put it on, go to work. Your patch is different, though. Red, yes. White thread. But huge. It looks like a hammer over the arctic. It's not even a knock-off. It's an entirely different brand.

No one ever fails to comment on this coat. It becomes a primary topic of conversation.

"Yes, I bought it online."

"Yes, it was on sale."

"Oh, yeah, I guess it does sort of look like those other ones."

You start leaving the coat at home. Back to the layers.

One day you come home early and the coat is moving around the house of its own accord. It has turned the heat off. You watch it call the gas company, cancel the service.

You try to have a conversation but it just hangs itself back up in the closet.

You call the gas company.

"You literally just called us," they say. "There's a note on the file that says you would call back, and to ignore you." They hang up. You start wearing layers around the house now, too.

The other coat questions return at work. The same questions that inspired you to buy the coat.

"Sure is cold out there," they say. "Where's your coat?"

You come home one night after a Christmas party. You have to force the door open.

A puffy goose down anorak is by the door, not thrilled about letting you in, but you squeeze by. There's a ruby red camel coat dancing by your turntable. A raincoat and a trench coat come over to chat up the anorak.

A toggle coat is by itself in the corner, playing with its tassels. You go stand by it. Try to blend in.

Through the window you spy a duster out on the deck, sharing a cigarette with a bomber, both trying to impress a chesterfield looking longingly back inside at a motorcycle jacket. The field jacket to its right gets fidgety.

A group of varsity jackets are standing in a circle in the kitchen, drinking all your beer.

A cape and a cloak and a poncho are sitting around a roaring firepit in the back. You never got around to buying a firepit, so it's confusing.

You follow a trail of noises into your bedroom, flip on the light. A parka and a pea coat are under your covers, zipping and buttoning and then unzipping and unbuttoning, then zipping and buttoning, faster each time. It's a cacophony of snaps and whirs. They throw a pillow at you but you've already closed the door. The noises make you feel like you might get sick and you speed walk to the toilet. The door is locked so you start pounding.

Your bathrobe comes out wearing a smoking jacket underneath. Or maybe the smoking jacket is wearing your bathrobe, you're not quite sure.

You call customer service. No returns. All sales final.

The party starts to wind down. Finally. You put on the kettle. Put on your pajamas.

Then the anorak sees you fighting to get your bathrobe to stay on and gets the varsity jackets to throw you out. They were leaving anyway. You ran out of beer.

You sleep in the bus terminal. At least it's a well-heated place. In the morning you call a locksmith but they won't help you get back inside unless you can prove you live there. They call the police for you. The police ask you to put the locksmith back on the phone. The police tell the locksmith who finally tells you that a police report had just been filed the night before about a prowler matching your description trying to get inside that same address, and that you should probably get out of there pretty quickly.

You go to the bank. They know you at the bank. But this time, they say, they are so sorry but they have to check your ID. Your ID is in your apartment. You're still wearing pajamas. They aren't supposed to tell you this without ID, they say, but all your accounts were liquidated that morning. They're sure things will get sorted out though, they say.

You are afraid of showing up to work in pajamas, given the queries about coats, so you don't go. No one notices. You're sure things will get sorted out.

You now spend each day trying to find someone who might help you. The DMV wants your Social Security card. The Social Security office wants your birth certificate. City Hall says they have no record of your birth. The hospital where you were born has since closed. The library says you're overdue on something called "The Trench Book" by Nick Foulkes. Social Services says they can get you on assistance, but they want you to sign a form that says you're a homeless transient.

"But I'm not a homeless transient," you argue. "I've just been locked out for a bit."

Meanwhile, you keep sleeping at the bus terminal.

One day you walk by your old office. Your coat is at your desk. It looks like it just told a joke. No, no, it was making a toast. Your old boss pops champagne and sprays it all over your coat.

Someone notices you standing there. A moment of recognition, finally.

You nod. Smile. Wave.

They shut the blinds.

Read More »
wilhelm scream

THE WILHELM SCREAM by Gregg Williard

Before her senior year of high school she spent every day of the sweltering summer on the side porch of her parents’ house writing an essay on existentialism while her little brother, back to her and arms outstretched for balance, inched past the windows outside, wobbling on a ledge no deeper than his heels until he lost his balance and plunged, screaming, into a sea of lava five feet below, then climbed up the drain pipe and did it again, all morning, every morning: inch along the ledge to Kierkegaard, lose balance to Heidegger, wave arms to Hegel, scream piercing terror to Dostoevsky, plunge to lava sea with Sartre, climb up the drain pipe with Nietzsche, then inch along the ledge with Kierkegaard, again.    

Years later in bed she reenacted the scene (and the sound that had haunted her for years) for her first husband Thomas (the man who showed her she was a writer, and later, that she was nothing at all). Thomas the Cinephile swore her brother’s movie scream actually had a name: “The Wilhelm Scream," a stock sound-effect used in more than 200 films, originating in an early ‘50’s western titled Distant Drums, wherein a Private Wilhelm, that first screamer, dives to his death clutching an arrow in his chest with that distinctive yelping shriek she thought belonged to her brother alone.  

Thomas played the wiki sound file for her. He was right (always, in those days).

Read More »

MORE by Tyler Dempsey

Servants scatter. The psychoanalyst enters the room. He regards his surroundings: Apollo’s wife, Aphrodite, scrolls Facebook. Her Admirers lounge. Various articles—bedside tables, a rocking horse, bowling pins, Fruit Roll-Ups—lay adrift across the floor. Aphrodite refurbishes goods, like Fruit Roll-Ups, from thrift stores.

Apollo enters, his humor betrays immense slaying. He approaches an Admirer, slays him. Tosses a bloody scimitar to the recliner. The Admirers scoot over. He sits.

—How do you feel?


He cracks a Pabst Blue Ribbon, gallantly. Loosens his golden codpiece. Apollo props his heels on the dead Admirer.

—I was whipping adversaries. The sun was angling, hitting clouds, casting them in that special glow of honey and Fruit Roll-Ups. The leather cracked in my hands, I thought: we never capture what we’re worth.

The psychoanalyst writes in his notebook. Aphrodite ‘likes’ a video of two kittens attempting to nurse from a pot-belly pig.

 Apollo glares.

 She opens her blouse. A spray bottle. Sprays oil. The Admirers shift uncomfortably.

—Your marriage, has been, on the rocks?

—He doesn’t love me an adequate number of times. And I’ve told him of the inadequacy. This, took our relationship from blended, to on the rocks.

—How often?



—2 to 4 times, monthly.

He scribbles maliciously in the notebook.

—Your job, Aphrodite—does it, fulfill you?

—I’m 27. How many husbands, can someone who’s married, expect to have? Refurbishing’s stable. Still, a career out of what most respectable people do while they’re in college?

—You’ve no interest in college?

—I tried three times.

An Admirer sketches a nude of Aphrodite. Another approaches to stare intently at her breasts. They are wonderful. I’m a mineralogist for the U.S. Department of Minerals, he says, Capricorn, half-kitten, half-pot-belly pig, I play Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 in F major, on a yo-yo.


—You were born in Lubbock, Apollo—is that right?


—What was that like?

—Deuteronomy 4:9 says: Be careful, watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children, and to their children after them. Lubbick.


The Admirer shows the sketch. Beautiful. Beautiful.  Beautiful.


—Tell more of your unhappiness. We’re all-ears.

—We dislike, different things, he and I. I strive for: the dubious, equivocal, faint, fuzzy, hazy, imprecise, nebulous, obscure, uncertain, unclear. He doesn’t. He unequivocally doesn’t strive for those things.


—Call me old-fashioned, Doc. I endeavor for biscuits and gravy, Lightnin’ Hopkins, that dog’ll hunt. The 401(k). Dirt road, dirt floor, dirt mini-mall. All-Things-Eastwood. Every night, at 9 p.m., I brush my teeth with a Model A Ford.

She rips a bit from Nora Roberts: . . . they implement relatively simple processes of template matching and pattern recognition, that is, processes that are paradigmatic cases of perceptual processing . . .


—Aphrodite suffers from Present/Post-Present Befuddlement, the direst of today’s situations, listed in my D.S.M.

 Aphrodite sprays oil.

—Certainty’s robotic. Not malleable. She’s expressing, non-robidity. Searching for, searching for, searching for.

—Any hope?

—Wallow. General wallowing. Anguish. Agony, Grief. Heartache. Heartbreak. Misery. Sorrow. Suffering.

He kicks a Corinthian helmet (purchased from Lubbock Pawn) out the window.

—My Code of Conduct, tattooed on my manly codpiece, spells happiness. It’s striving. I’m nothing. Failing lifts me upward, to Heaven, where Apollos who came before me . . .

—She hates dim-lit diners, oil pipelines, shoulder-fat, Deuteronomy.

 Aphrodite stabs a trident in Apollo’s leg.

 More, she says, more.

Read More »

AUTOGRAPH PARTY by David Williamson

All the girls have their binders and they are all beaming, and she just has her arms all covered in her sleeves and wondering if her mother will come back before the party ends. It appears to her that the ends of Beth Beachie’s mother’s mouth almost touch her ears. Beth Beachie’s mother smiles crazy and starts it off by going to the record player and dropping the needle. A song plays that she thinks she’s heard before in a department store. Beth’s Beachie’s mother rings the bell. All the girls bounce around the floor and come together like atoms colliding on shag. She pushes her back against the corner of the fireplace.

Blaire Gurnsey comes up, starts sharing. Blaire Gurnsey has Krista Kelli the mall-pop star and one from rapper Eponymous Rex. There are others like Vic Vittles and Damien LeStrange who Blaire says are a pair of celebrity priests. When Blaire asks for hers, she shakes her head and Blaire does this back-stepping away thing even before Beth Beachie’s mom rings the bell again.

Beth Beachie comes up with a cardboard box of binders of autographs from every civil engineer from the previous year and is pushing a trade for LaDonna Marie who replaced all the town’s stoplights with artisan roundabouts but was recently fired for blocking off both lanes of traffic when managing the bridge-tunnel repairs. The bell rings and Beth Beachie moves on.

Marcy McDaniels has one single autograph from her father Dante Ferguson. Marcy McDaniels says she’s never met him and is not willing to trade anything for it unless it’s a photograph of Dante Ferguson to know for sure if she has his eyes, which her mother says she does. Does she have a picture of Dante Ferguson? No, she shakes her head.

Her arms ache from keeping them crossed. Her mother had encouraged her to fling them wide open, to be generous with who she is and what she has. That other girls would like her and would surely want what she has to offer. For several minutes she thinks of this and she suffers through more names: Snake Dog Peppers, Valerie Middlebury, Romero Bogero, Kitsch Bowers, Vip Hershey.

Jenny Oliver comes last with a binder and stares right into her insides, it feels like. Jenny asks if she has any autographs, and she says yes but doesn’t proceed to share. Jenny opens her binder and displays pieces of people protected in plastic sheets: a puss-colored fingernail clipping once belonging to the late zoologist Icky Picky and a lock of blue hair from water-dune explorer Bill Pickles. Shriveled blister skin Jenny swears is from the big toe of city psychic Lucity McLaughlin. Three impossibly large teeth, supposedly from the mouth of Os Penny, Highland monk, bulge out the plastic on one page.

Jenny Oliver presses her for what she has and advances. Arms crossed, she backs away and retreats into a small room where there’s a small bed with a floral duvet. The other girls follow and demand to know what’s happening. Even Beth Beachie’s mom with her bell comes, her pumpkin head floating above them, craning, leaning, leering in.

Fine, she thinks. She pushes up each sleeve, turns out each wrist. All the girls look at what’s scrawled from the crease of her elbows all the way to the crease of her wrists. They read each name, some fluttering on their small lips, others said aloud, and others asked as questions because the names are impossible to pronounce. After they take in the names, Venessa Bermuda says, I haven’t heard of any of those people. Janus Cooper asks, How do we even know those are their real autographs?

Do you want any? She asks.

The girls tilt their postures, and Beth Beachie’s mom shifts. Everyone looks uncomfortable. They back out slowly, not wanting any of her autographs.

She stays in the room for the rest of the night. She stays through ice cream and popcorn. She stays and watches the darkness descend upon the house. Watches for cars to come. Watches for her mother. When her mother comes, she doesn’t wait for a knock at the door. Before she slips out of the window and enters the warmth of the car and drinks it all in - the dashboard lights, the sticky pale leather, her mother’s cigarette fingers - she sloughs off her skin, leaving the inscrutable cursive of names no one wants shriveled and coiled in the folds of the comforter for someone else to find. Someone else to bear.

Read More »

JEANETTE by Steve Anwyll

I've never worn a wig before. But as she walks up to the van. I know for a fact that hers isn't on right. The netting isn't supposed to be down so far. It ruins the illusion. It makes her look insane.

But who the hell am I to judge her motivations?

Mark takes the large rolling luggage from her. He does his best to stuff it into the storage space behind me with all the other bags. A noble feat I'm sure he'll fail. Until I hear the latch gently catch. And envision our belongings shooting out the back. Scattered somewhere between here and our final destination.

The new passenger waits at the door. She's dressed in all black. 50 years of wrinkles. Back hunched. Wrists like twigs. A fog of pungent perfume. My eyes watering already. And she's only hanging in the door.

Having Emily beside me is a godsend.

Then like lightening the old woman scampers up into the van. And right back out. Surprisingly too quick for Mark to slam the door shut. She takes a step away. Paces back and forth. Snow crunching. Never breaking eye contact with the last remaining seat. Her only choice.

I start to chuckle. Emily nudges me before it turns into something deeper. The woman climbs in. Mark wastes no time blasting the door shut. The van shakes as she tries to settle like a dog wandering around a rug before it finds where it wants to sleep.

Mark gets in the drivers seat. His weight outweighs the rest of us. And the whole vehicle sinks down towards the front left. When he turns the key, the old piece of shit coughs into life. The local classic rock station plays through the speakers.

Hand me Down World about halfway through.

As the van putters through the streets. Making it's way towards an on ramp out of town. The old woman turns to the girl she's sitting beside. Extends a skeletal hand and introduces herself as Jeanette.

Oh hi, the girl near screams with cheerleader enthusiasm, I'm Julie. They shake hands. Mark pipes in from the drivers seat. Then a pretty girl I hadn't noticed. Sitting in the front passenger seat. Turns around to say her name is Beth.

The old crone starts craning her neck in our direction. As it creaks towards us I pull a pair of cold mirror tinted glasses from my pocket. Slide them on just in time to avoid eye contact.

Any small success I always say.

Emily introduces herself. And I let her do the same for me. A quick nod my only form of communication. The college kid beside me. Hiding in the shadows. Stays silent. Until prodded by Jeanette. When instead of a name. He gently emits a soft moo.

Jeanette, with the undernet of her wig pulled down to her eyebrows, looks at him like he's nuts. And I sit there stupefied. Unsure of who the bigger kook is. But it doesn't matter. Because before I can come to any conclusion. Julie asks Jeanette what she's doing. Where she plans on going.

Work, she says without elaboration. Hunh? If she takes a 2 hour rideshare to work every day she's crazier than I thought. And I'm not the only one. Beth can't hold her tongue. She asks her what the hell?

My mother has a house downtown. I stay for the week. Which makes more sense. But I'm in the back imagining a dark sitting room. A mummified mother sitting erect in an old chair. Jeanette singing softly to her as she dusts. Like nothing in the world ever goes wrong.

What do you do for a living Jeanette? Mark asks while turning his torso completely away from the road.

I'm a bouncer at a club downtown, she says like it's what we were all expecting. But it's not. And after she names the place. One notorious for patrons bleeding to death on the sidewalk out front. My eyes shut. And I see my mind explode into a million tiny bursts of light.

Read More »


There were bears there too, and tigers and wolves, and all manner of carnivorous things.

She walked around all her life, not knowing why she hurt so much. Always wondering why she was so hungry and so thirsty; always leaping at passing flames without a thought for her skin, which was worn and scarred from so many lost opportunities. And she would roar, sometimes, in the night, without knowing why. Or her mouth would suddenly be full of fangs and the taste of blood. And she would weep for the death she felt in her stomach, and kneel upon the floor. Not knowing why she hurt so much.

After many years of suffering, for no reason at all, she decided to find out what was wrong with her.

The first doctor she saw was a tired GP who looked at her strangely and said: Lady, you are fine. There is nothing wrong with you. Go home, please. There are people dying out there.

The second doctor was a little better. He at least smiled, and said she wasn’t alone. And would she like some pills?

The third doctor tried to rape her. He pressed his robber-glove hands into her crotch and whispered that he could take the pain away if only she would put his cock in her mouth.

After that, she gave up on doctors.

Instead, she went east. And in an ashram overlooking the filthy, sacred body of the Ganges, she met a guru who claimed he could levitate using only the power of his mind. She never saw this for herself, but all the other lady yogis swore it to be true, so she thought it could be possible.

The guru agreed that yes, her chakras were out of sync, and perhaps her bandhas were a little bent, or even broken. But these things can be fixed, he said, smiling like a car salesman.


She left India unsatisfied, and considerably poorer than when she arrived.

On the way home she found herself stranded in Amsterdam. Flight cancelled, wallet empty, heart pounding and spiting with all the rage of all the wild creatures. So, having no destination, she walked the midnight streets, trying to warm herself and silence the roaring in her veins. It was then that she thought that perhaps the third doctor had been right, after all. Perhaps flesh was the answer.

It was winter, and the snow fell with a deadly silence in the red-lit streets, looking like blood as it congealed around the lampposts. The ladies were out in force that night. With their shining faces and false designer handbags, heavy with the scent of plastic sweetness. They grinned at her and opened their arms, and for once in her life she felt like she wasn’t being lied to. Felt close to something honest. Something not yet violated by the pathetic corruption of human pretension.

So she did the only thing she could do, in the circumstances. She wedded those streets; became a bride of dark rooms and cheap perfume. Short skirt, hair bleached and wilting, lips ever smiling or snarling at those she called her prey.

She rather enjoyed it, the fucking. She had men and women of every race and class. Over and over. For years and years as the fat fell away, and her cheeks hollowed and her eyes grew sharp. And it almost, almost, worked. She could sense it, close. Something like purity. But still her toes itched to be claws and her bare breasts yearned to be smothered in fur. Still she hurt.


Then one night she met the psychopath in a coffee shop. She knew he was a psychopath, because he said so. I feel nothing, he said. I am like the pale canvass drawn upon with white chalk. My emotions are like rain falling in the ocean. My self swallows all to the point where nothing survives.

She agreed that yes, this was very interesting, and decided to take him to bed.

Later, exhausted and lying beside his naked body, she told him about her predicament. About her lifelong problem.

Oh, he said. This probably won’t work, but… May I? With that he took a ball point pen from his bag and drew upon her ruined skin, following the pattern weaved by a thousand tiny scars. From ankle to elbow. From wrist to navel. From philtrum to anus. They looked like constellations, at first. But no, it soon became clear that what he was drawing was a zip, running all around her body. And as he traced it with the touch of the ink she felt herself unraveling, unfurling. Coming apart.

Oh fuck, she groaned, as all the wild, starving things abruptly spilled form her body, pouncing and diving and gripping the naked psychopath, who laughed as he was consumed; his last, gargled words being: I feel… I feel... And then there was nothing but a few scattered bones and a large pool of blood, gently seeping into the carpet.

The lady lay back, then, empty on the soiled bed, and experienced a happiness so perfect it could only be called sublime. For endless minutes she drifted through a landscape of thoughtless satisfaction. A place that fitted together absolutely. And all her walls were gone, and all her hunger filled. And her eyes shone with cleanliness and joy.

But then, suddenly, she mourned.

Read More »

REFILL by Fernando Schekaiban (translated by Toshiya Kamei)

Here I am again, in this café that has transformed into a shelter of excuses. I don't know why I come back here every week. But I know myself and my pretexts. Some say I'm patient – those who value me the most – while others call me nuts. I'd say I'm in love with the sound my favorite chair makes – the one in the only corner available to customers – when you drag its wooden legs. OK, the chair is not the recipient of my love, nor is my visit to an "overcrowded" place, which allows me to listen to every sip of my coffee. The truth is, this place is becoming increasingly sadder: without people – like our relationship – with worn tablecloths and uneven coffee stains – like the echoes of my affectionate words – and with such a bad service – like her – that forced me to choose another flavor of my own resonant coffee today.

I waited for her here every week. She never showed up at the hour I expected, always a cup or two late. Did she have excuses? The first time she came, the refill of my café Americano cost me extra. She took the seat in front of me, and without offering an excuse, she asked for a menu to cover those eyes I had fallen in love with. But I was so annoyed – for having to pay for the extra coffee – that I paid my bill and left. The word "nuts" rumbled through my head. But I shouldn't let it get to me. I know we'll see each other again.

On the second date, I was dragging the chair that wasn't really mine – Forgive us, but we can't ask the other customers to avoid sitting where they want – because they would talk about the curses that the use of my things would bring upon them. She looked into my eyes from the entrance, with that strange grimace that forces her to knit her eyebrows and press her lips together, and took three steps... toward the exit. I thought about following her, asking her forgiveness for my behavior, but I heard the sound of the chair getting out of hand. There will be a third time, I told myself.

After the third, fourth, and fifth occasions, I jokingly told myself that our dates were my refills. Even today – patient – I know I'll find a new excuse – nuts – while I hear you sip your coffee. Sometimes in front of me, one or three tables away; at other times at the entrance when you first look at the place and notice that it's not to your liking; at some other times, when I still believe in love at first sight, but I can't bring myself talk to you.

Read More »

ACHE by Josh Denslow

I fell in love at age seven. Twice.

The first time was with the exquisite pang I felt when I pushed my loose upper right lateral incisor with my tongue. I'd withhold that sweet ache for hours, as if I was the drug dealer and my best customer at the same time. I'd wait as long as I could, yearning for a fix, and finally another push and the engulfing ecstasy. I never wanted to lose that power. But the damn tooth ditched me while I was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and it didn't even have the courtesy to give me one last jolt. It wasn't until I crunched into it that I realized it had come out. I washed it off and stared at that pathetic deserter, angry that our time together had come to a close. Then I put it under my pillow that night as I was told to do.

After that, at the risk of stating the obvious, I fell in love with the tooth fairy.

Claire knew, of course. In our tumultuous beginnings, I'd always tried to remain honest. It was during our longest break-up that I'd decided to buy the ring and tell her about my first love.

"I'll make you forget her," she'd said that night as I extended the engagement ring.

"I guess you can try," I said.

She lowered her bright trusting eyes to me. "Otherwise, if you bring her up again, I'll punch you directly in the face."

That certainly seemed fair to me.

She took the ring, so I figured we were all good. We got married, separated for a time, bought a house, another short separation, and then we had a son who slowly grew a mouthful of teeth and got taller and started school and played sports and then finally, after poking it with his tongue for a week, lost his first tooth.

I took a shower and changed into my favorite blue and pink striped shirt.

"Do you have a job interview, Dad?" my son said as I tucked him in after his bath.

"It's nighttime buddy," I said.

"That's the shirt you wore to that job interview."

"Which you didn't get," Claire reminded me from the doorway.

"It's my lucky shirt," I said.

Claire snorted.

"Let's move on," I said. I turned to glare at Claire and she curled her upper lip like a feral dog. She had no idea it was the same face she made when in the "throes of passion" as they said in the romance novels she voraciously read. But if I told her, she might want me to prove it, and then I'd miss out on seeing the tooth fairy. And I couldn't wait for her to see me all grown up. Other than being a lousy husband and father, I'd turned out pretty great.

"Where's your tooth?" I said to my son.

He looked really confused. "The one I lost?"


"I don't know." My son yawned, exposing the place where his lower right cuspid used to be.

"Come on, man. I told you to hang on to it."

"It's just a tooth, Dad."

"I told you it was important."

Claire clenched her jaw.

"It's probably on my desk or something," my son said.

"Go get it," I said.

"Can't I do it tomorrow?"

"No." I gave him my hardest look, eyes narrowed.

"Give him a break," Claire said. "He can look for it in the morning."

I looked at my son and talked in that quiet voice I used when I was angry. "You find that tooth and you put it under your pillow. Now."

He sniffled as he got out of bed, but as I suspected, he knew exactly where it was on his desk. A tear ran down his cheek as I gingerly tucked him back into bed.

"Don't you want a present?" I said.

"I guess." Another whimper.

"Of course you do. Now close your eyes and I'll be right back."

There was no way I was wearing my job interview shirt when the tooth fairy arrived. I pushed past Claire without looking at her.

By the time she followed me into our bathroom, I'd already switched my shirt three times and stacked the discarded contenders on the sink.

"What's with all the shirts?" she said.

"I was figuring out which looked better."

"They all look good. It's the rest of you that's a pile of shit."

"I'm not doing anything wrong. I just want to talk to her." "In your best shirt."

"Sure. Like a business meeting."

Claire rubbed her temples. "A business meeting with a person who doesn't exist. The tooth fairy isn't real."

I laughed. "Since when?"

"Since forever. It's a story we tell kids to make them feel better about their teeth falling out of their head."

"You have no idea what you're talking about," I said and decided on the maroon shirt because it would pop more in the glow from my son's nightlight.

"I know I've been distant lately," Claire said.

"Distant?" I said and looked up at her for the first time since tucking in our son. She looked hunched and defeated. In my excitement, I'd forgotten that Claire had feelings. And a lot of them had to do with me.

"See, you didn't even notice. I was ignoring you."

"You should have told me," I said.

"That I was ignoring you?"


Claire sighed. "It's a pattern with you. You push me away, and then, just before I'm completely cut loose, you let me fall back into place. It's wearing me out. I can't hold on much longer."

I almost said it wasn't true, but I knew it was.

"What we have here, in this house, that's what's real. Not some childhood masturbation fairy tale. And now your son is upset. Really upset."

Claire never looked more beautiful than in that dim light above the sink. A radiance that could only be credited to something internal. She crossed to me. For a moment, I was ready to forget everything and follow her anywhere. Maybe tell her about the face she made during sex and how I liked to read all of her romance novels before she boxed them each month and took them to Goodwill. Then she punched me in my cheek, her knuckle smashing into my upper right lateral incisor.

"I guess we had a deal," I said and rubbed my chin.

Claire shook her hand in front of her, her fingers slapping together. "God that hurts."

"Well my entire head is made of bone. There's hardly anything else there. Can I get you an ice pack?"

"Did you ever love me?" she asked.

I hesitated, even though the answer was yes. An unquestionable yes. Couldn't she see that I had? But she was gone before I opened my mouth.

Her absence felt final in the same way a tooth can never be reconnected to the gum. I'd always believed she'd never go away, no matter hard I pushed. Now I could never tell her how she'd made me forget about that night when I was seven-years-old, but I'd been too much of a fool to notice. I shut off the bathroom light and stepped into the hallway.

My son was sitting up in bed, eyes red from crying. Hair flattened from where Claire had been rubbing it. "I put the tooth under my pillow," he said as I sat at the foot of his bed.

"Good boy. That's a good boy. Dad's not mad at you." I poked at my incisor with my tongue and felt a dull throb.

My son peered at me to see if I was telling the truth. "For real?"

"For real," I said.

"What's the tooth fairy like?" He asked, and then it all came back and I was in my childhood bedroom, jerking awake as a shape moved under my pillow.

"She takes your tooth," I said. "And she leaves you a present."

My son put his head on his pillow and smiled. "I can't wait to meet her."

"Go to sleep," I said and he closed his dewy eyes. "It's better if you're asleep."

I watched his eyeballs twist under his eyelids until they finally stilled. Then I pushed harder at my incisor, my jaw aching with the effort. The pain ballooned, radiating through my gums until it was impossible to feel where it had begun. I pushed again. I looked down at my maroon shirt and a sliver of blood ran from my lip and splashed onto the front. I pushed harder. Again. And again.

I wasn't going to stop until the tooth was gone.

Read More »


I was told to meet the driver at 300 King Lear Street, which was in this subdivision full of these corny ‘medieval’ names. Court Jester and Shakespeare and shit like that. It was like the developer was stealing street names from a book of word-search puzzles. There was a sign that said “REAL HOMES”. At the end of the street a bunch of the houses were still wrapped in plastic. Later the driver told me they brought the townhomes in in pieces and then assembled them on the spot Ikea-style. I said that was weird but couldn’t explain why.

I parked my car in the parking lot of the pool, which was closed for the winter, and walked around, wishing there was a bathroom somewhere where I could pee, waiting for the driver.  One of the first things I learned about working in a delivery truck was that you didn’t get to pee much.

Finally, a big brown and gold truck showed up, and I waved at the driver so he’d know I was his helper. I was on winter break, and wanted to make money, so I’d signed up to be a “driver helper,” which was pretty much exactly what the job title implied. I put on a reflective vest with a brown and gold logo and got in the jump seat, which folded up onto the wall like the seats in a movie theater. The driver’s name was Irvin. He looked like he could be a member of Weezer, or maybe a band that was trying too hard to be Weezer.

Morrisville, it turned out, was full of this type of subdivision. All of them were brand new, with these stone facades that were supposed to look rustic and homey, but looked cold and plastic and fake. Of course, I, too, lived in a suburb, but at least my suburb had trees. There were no trees here. “They’re gonna run out of air if they keep developing like this,” Irvin said at one point. “And the road structure isn’t thought out well at all.” I supposed you became an expert at Morrisville road structures if your job was to drive through Morrisville all day.

“They call this job the golden handcuffs,” he told me. “Everyone hates it, but the benefits are too good to leave.” We made small talk about the job market, and about how expensive and stupid it was to go to college. So I felt silly saying I was studying English literature on my family’s dime, but at least I was up front about my job prospects, which were zilch.

“I was listening to a segment on NPR about student debt,” Irvin said. “And they were talking to this guy who went thousands of dollars into debt to go to Oberlin, and you know what he studied? Trombone.” As if out of everything you could study at Oberlin, trombone was the most ridiculous.

 As it happened, I knew someone who was studying trombone at Oberlin—a friend from high school. But his parents were plastic surgeons, so he could study whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted. I didn’t tell Irvin this.

A lot of the job involved speed walking up to people’s doors and up apartment building stairs, but a lot of it was just driving, too. I’d been driving a lot the past couple of days because I’d come back from college and then gone back the next day to get stuff I’d forgotten and then I’d come home again, and in between that I’d driven to pick my sister up from school but she goes to high school somewhere farther away than where I used to go, so I took two wrong turns and ended up in a different county driving over one of those nuclear power plant lakes that stay warm year round. Even driving from Apex to the distribution center in Durham was a hike. I wondered how I’d cope with a job on the road, if I were to do this full time.

The subdivisions were treeless, but once you got on the main road, the woods swallowed you up. As December afternoons are prone to do, it got dark pretty quickly. And with the trees being all empty, you could see really far through the forest. It would all be gone soon, probably, what with the developers stripping chunks of land and putting more houses down, but when you were driving through it, it looked endless. The whole time I was thinking about the Blair Witch Project, which I’d recently seen for the first time. It scared me shitless. But the scariest part of that movie was how they were trapped in the woods, and how they couldn’t get out, walking in endless circles, screaming with nobody around to hear them.

The woods looked like they could have been in the Blair Witch Project. And if it weren’t for all of these highways, you could get lost in them. I was thinking about how roads and cars made everything smaller. Like if you were a dumbass, like I was, and forgot your hiring paperwork at school, like I had, you could drive back to Greensboro to go get it, and still be home in Apex in time for dinner. And that was a couple hours’ drive, but walking that distance would take days. You could probably have five separate Blair Witch Projects in the space between Greensboro and Apex. There were enough woods for countless dumb college kids to get lost in over and over and over, going in circles for days. But we didn’t. We just cut straight through and used GPS.

We ended up near the airport, where Irvin did a lot of airport deliveries. We went past the main terminals, which I’d been to before, and then we drove around all these back parts I’d never been in, other hangars and smaller airfields for private jets. “That’s where the Carolina Hurricanes’ plane is,” Irvin told me. “I saw them boarding once. One of the rookies on the team had this massive bottle of vodka sticking out of his bag.” There wasn’t a lot for me to do near the airport, because all the deliveries there were business deliveries, which needed signatures.

We made a lot of warehouse stops. Irvin knew all the warehouse workers by name, and they greeted him when he pulled up. He’d back the truck up to the big sliding door of the warehouse and we’d load package after package from the warehouse to the truck.

At the end of the night we took all the packages we’d picked up back to the distribution facility, and put those onto a massive conveyor belt. Irvin told me about the place in West Virginia where he grew up. “It used to have more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in America,” he told me. “Because so many people owned small businesses. Auto shops and groceries. And everyone in town would spend money there, because you could make a decent living working in a factory. Then all the factory jobs went overseas. Now the place is a total dump.”

Afterwards he drove me back to 300 King Lear Street, and I said goodbye and gave the vest back and unlocked my car and sat in the driver’s seat, exhausted. I was so tired that I considered just lying there and taking a nap. After running packages for hours and hours, my little car felt like home. I would total it the following summer, while driving home from a high-ranking, full-time, paid government internship. I didn’t know that yet. All I knew was that my phone was about to die and I had to remember how to get out of the neighborhood before it ran out of battery and left me horrifically stranded in Morrisville.

The route home took me through the Research Triangle Park, a place that a lot of people liked to compare to Silicon Valley. All the roads and signs looked so smooth and new. It always calmed me, driving at night. When I finally made it home, my mom was still up, doing crosswords on her phone, waiting for me.

I never saw Irvin again. The second day I had a new driver, named Jenny. She was also my driver the day after that, and the day after that, all the way up to Christmas Eve.  I was told to meet her in the parking lot of this tiny grocery store on the corner of a busy intersection two minutes from my house. It was in what my friends in high school had liked to refer to as “the ghetto part of Apex,” and I had shushed them for being insensitive. But as I sat there in the parking lot, surrounded by construction workers on their lunch breaks, I realized that when it came down to it I was no better than my friends. I was just as uncomfortable as they would have been: a skinny nineteen-year-old blonde lady with my slicked-back soccer-mom ponytail in an expensive fuchsia athletic jacket with a high school honor roll magnet stuck on the bumper of her car. And I didn’t know how to stop being uncomfortable. It felt bad. People were loitering around in the parking lot, ordering from a taco truck, and giving me weird looks for taking up one of the five parking spaces and just sitting there in my car. When Jenny drove up in her big brown and gold truck, I rushed out to greet her, and she said they’d tow me if I parked there, and let me drive to a nearby bar that wouldn’t tow me.

Jenny had only been driving for three weeks. I asked her how it was so far. “It’s hard,” she said. She had four daughters. They were in her phone background, all dressed up in their Sunday best and smiling for the camera. As it turned out, her route went through three neighborhoods: mine, and two that I drove through to avoid traffic at rush hour. So I knew the street names better than she did: she was still relying on her phone’s GPS to guide her.

The whole time that we were making deliveries, I kept wondering why there were so many houses. What were they all for? Who lived here? It was my own neighborhood, but I realized that for all the nearly two decades I’d lived there, I still didn’t know the majority of the people in the neighborhood. For every house whose residents I knew, there were ten full of strangers. Neighbors and strangers alike, I delivered their boxes and boxes of things, big rugs and doormats and bags of clothing and Omaha Steaks and computers and Christmas wreaths and Bluetooth speakers.

When I was a kid one night—and maybe this was a dream and maybe it was real—I’d been hit with a bout of restless insomnia, and my dad had taken me on a drive around the neighborhood in his car to lull me to sleep. I remembered it so strangely, the way the houses and the trees were so still at night. It was calming, too, sitting in the back of my dad’s car, the same car I’d later drive around in and ultimately total. The neighborhood became a recurring location in my dreams, until the dreams became so vivid that they’d bleed over into the waking world, and I’d wander the sidewalks gazing up at the trees, struck by uncanniness. Now, in the dark, I traveled up and down the streets again and again, jumping out to run packages, running back in, wondering if I could do this for the rest of my life. Every bike ride, every school bus stop, every sugar-fueled Halloween romp was painted over the neighborhood; the sidewalks lined my strongest and most persistent memories. And I painted on more layers with repetition, package numbers, the bitterness of the wind and the aching of my knees as I stormed up and down the stairs of every house, deposited the package (sometimes gently, sometimes not), turned heel, leapt down deftly, and clambered back into the truck. Hundreds of times I repeated this, until the houses blended into each other, a long string of memories as dark as the winter sky at 6PM.

One Thursday, Jenny was sick. She looked like she had the flu. "I'm so weak," she kept telling me. But her supervisor didn’t care, so long as there were packages to be delivered. I didn't think we were going to make it through the route. We had so many packages—the truck was full, past capacity, at twice the capacity, stuffed to the brim with cardboard. The hardest part of the job was to get the right package at the right house at the right time: all of the logistics. And she usually took care of that, mostly. You had to look for the numbers on the box, and then for the house number, and her board—the handheld device that stored all the information—kept freezing and acting up, and we were fighting her brain fog. I had the mornings off, and only helped her with the residential part of the route. She was working twelve-hour days. She was fatigued and over-worked and surviving off of packaged junk foods. While we were re-arranging packages on the shelves, her oldest daughter texted her to say she’d gotten accepted into one of her top choice colleges.

I realized it then: why she’d taken the job. She had to put her daughters through school. I felt like my heart was breaking. There in the back of the truck, Jenny started to cry. I felt like I was watching a tragedy occur. This wasn't where I liked to watch tragedies occur. I preferred them from a distance, with a screen between us, so I could turn it off or click to a different tab if I didn't like what was happening.

I wanted so badly to quit. The delivery route was in the neighborhood where I lived: I could've jumped off and ran home. Selfishly, I considered it. I’d done that before—not as an employee of the delivery company, but in equally uncomfortable situations. I liked running away from things. But I made myself stay through the entire wretched evening. I knew she'd be worse off if I left, and that I wouldn’t be able to face her ever again if I ran off, so I kept running packages and trying to make up for our lack of brainpower, correcting her when she made mistakes and matched the wrong package number to the wrong house. I let myself feel like I was making some kind of grand sacrifice, like there was something noble about me sticking through with it, even though she was the one in pain.

At one point I started to cry, but in the darkness of the truck, nobody had to know. I just did the only thing I could do: when we got the right package, I took it and ran. My calves had been sore that morning, and my knees were getting torn to shreds, but it was like I didn't feel them. Jog up the lawn, place the package on the porch, jog back. Run up the lawn, put the package on the porch, run back. Sprint up, toss package, sprint back. The faster I ran, the faster it would be over. I don’t know why, but I didn’t get winded. I used to not be able to run in winter air at all—my chest would get all tight and I’d start wheezing like an asthmatic.  But that night, I ran faster and harder than I’d ever run before, and I barely felt it.

Finally we delivered the last wretched package and Jenny drove off, and I came home just as my family was getting ready for dinner. My mom had cooked the Omaha Steaks my grandparents had sent us, and the Bluetooth speaker was playing Christmas music from some a capella pop group I couldn’t stand. The Christmas tree was lit with electric lights, and the cat snuggled up to my ankles. My mom was in an unusually good mood. “I thought we could use some red meat,” she told us. “Some iron.” I showered the grime of the truck off of me, and came downstairs in pajamas, clean and dry. We all sat around the table to eat—something that didn't happen much anymore—and as I looked around the dining room, chewing my Omaha Steak, I stopped seeing home. All I saw was the inside of a house that was one of hundreds in a sprawling suburb with streets named after nothing.

Read More »


FEATURING !! Michael Seymour Blake !! Shannon McLeod !! Francine Witte !! Chris Campanioni !! Melissa Goode !! Carey Shook !! Patrick Reid !! Frankie McMillan !! Simon Henry Stein !! Caleb Echterling !! Christopher Gonzalez !! Edward Mullany !! Benjamin DeVos !! Michael Mungiello !! Zac SmithDOWNLOAD ISSUE #9 JANUARY 2019
Read More »


The problem with my friend Johnny was the goiter on his neck, because not only was he self-conscious of his own conspicuousness, but I also found it terribly distracting—it reminded me of the plums on the plum tree in my backyard, which my parents cared for as if it were another child, i.e. a sibling of mine, which is a depressing story in its own right.

When I looked at the goiter I wanted to bite into it and my eyes reflected this and sometimes Johnny saw, and the look Johnny always gave showed a combination of reproach and general futility that reminded me uncannily of a specific, somewhat recent incident in which Gwen caught me staring at her cleavage—Gwen was a friend of mine who had recently cleared the air of any delusion on my part on the prospect of romance.

You know when someone stares straight through you and it is frightening, because you’ve died somewhat inside them or whatever, but also because you’ve just never seen it before, like somehow your everyday POV has been replaced by a film screen and there’s a touch of some horror there and you want to look away but you can’t and like, this is just your life now?

Anyway the thing with Gwen isn’t something I need to recount or spell out—it was just like some recursive nightmare of social erring: offending Johnny in real time and then immediately reliving the incident with Gwen, and in my mind they were each angrier every successive time Johnny caught me staring at his big goiter.

I thought I was gay, it seems stupid now, but something in the chronological overlap of my discovery of my parents’ liquor cabinet and his brother’s pot stash and the development of the goiter, which went from unnoticeable to quite noticeable in only several months, caused an earthquake in me which opened up this big horrible cloying maw of empathy unlike anything I had experienced before.  When I went to bed at night I would shiver thinking about him, maybe cry a bit; I would listen to sad music and feel so overwhelmed, like my head would explode and my body would evaporate into the confined space of my bedroom—my sheets still had Pokémon on them.

We were playing video games when I leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.  I returned to my position facing the TV screen—a pixelated Stone Cold Steve Austin was celebrating his victory in an endless and silent looping animation—and we just sat there in the whole strange miasma of it until he stood up and threw the controller at my head and said,

“Get the fuck out of my house, dude.”

Walking home was lonely.  I sat under the plum tree in my yard and saw one plum on the ground that was rotting a bit and flies were buzzing over it and I thought of Johnny’s disquieting look and then Gwen’s and obviously I thought about what had just happened even though it was difficult.

When I laid in bed that night I was sad but it was fine—I’d been so long with such tapered feelings—and I wondered if things were still all right between me and Gwen.  And I thought about Johnny’s goiter.

Read More »


You were Mia Wallace for Halloween and I was sexy Harper Lee. 'How to fake blow' was stained on your phone's search history under the spiderweb cracks that cut up my fingers where I typed in my name. In all honesty, I wasn't even going to leave the house, but stoned in bed with headphones digging into the pillow is not where new friends are made. Dancing at the church party, we saw four other Mia Wallace's, each with blood running from their nostrils to the bleached spores of their mustaches. I thought we'd reek of fog machine juice forever, but it leapt from our clothes the second we stepped outside into hurricane season South Carolina. Into pie crust cooked with yams that were already purple at the edges.

'Don't worry, I'm easy to forget about. You won't even notice I'm gone, I promise,' was what you said but it was all glitter sleeting from the band of my bowl cut. It was all wet palms.

The next year you were 'Frankenstein Mia Wallace.' Same wig, white buttoned-down and blood, but with olive skin that made you look seasick, finished by a surgical scar you drew from one corner of your forehead to the other in the visor mirror of a Taurus. An expert on pretending with baking soda. On glued-in bolts. Here it was agreed upon that we were the kinds of people who bail and eventually there would come a time when we probably wouldn't talk anymore. Realistically, most people who are friends now won't still know each other in five or so years, right? It's just how things work. Two Halloweens is a good run, let's just appreciate that. But then the make-up became real.

We found out you were allergic to cheap face paint that night and for some reason I obliged when you asked me to take an Instagram of you in the hospital bed. True devotion to the character. Method acting in a wing of Scorpio babies born under another tropical storm.

By the fourth annual Monster Smash we got more specific. This was getting a little ridiculous. I asked you not to watch over me if your dream ever came true. That recurring one about a poisonous grasshopper biting you in the field behind your parent's house. It was narcissistic to think you'd want to follow me around when you had the galaxy to explore, but we still shook on it. We would not hang out as the drafts that make curtains look like they are breathing. I wouldn't haunt you and under no circumstances would you ever, in a million years, haunt me.


There were no more costume parties. There were gaps. There was returning with a sketchy tattoo of some non-existent planet, which was really a logo the city branded to you. You drew re-imagined Disney princesses in Photoshop while I stayed at home, making fun of you to my friends in our father's armchairs. 'Miriam used to be normal. She was cool. Remember that?' Before you were seized by tall buildings and drooled back out an entirely different person. Jeggings to high-waisted jeans. Dust to dust.

I heard it happened driving home from your parent's house in the Pennsylvanian woods. You swerved to avoid hitting a deer and your Taurus ended up upside down in the empty river, blood rushing to your head to rush out of it. They tested you for chemicals to see if that was a factor, but only found shrimp scampi in your stomach because that's what you always asked your mom to make. Your dad began to feel something again from the Classics of Rock Pandora station. He will spend the rest of his days hunting for deer. Avenging your death with bottle upon bottle of Buck urine.

It had been over a few years since we had talked and the person you were to me was made from different parts. Frankenstein, not Uma Thurman. Only the traits I chose to recall, branded cattle iron style on the rosy sirloin of my brain. You said 'it's all about authenticity. I know that incision mark is there, even though it's covered by the bangs of the wig.' I thought a lot about the scorpion kids born when we met and how they were all old enough to run away from home or hide up in trees now.

I didn't go to your stupid wake. I heard they played an acoustic cover of Van Halen's 'Dance the Night Away' like it was a g.d. trailer for an erotic thriller. My eulogy would've involved the shrimps trapped in your belly, that you decided to take with you. They were going down with the ship, into the barren tributary of the Susquehanna. Miriam would do that. No one would've gotten it except us.

But these were not things that were said. These were not things that happened at all. Rather, I stayed at home to watch a movie on my laptop and during a quiet part I think I heard your sneeze. We didn't make it weird, though I knew it was you. The actual you. The kind of person who, no matter how much they spit in your hand, will break a pact.

Read More »

SCUFF MARKS by Alecz Yeager

The corner of a tortilla chip rested vigilantly against the surface-smooth chest of Ivan’s “School is overrated” t-shirt. Next to it pooled a puddle of drool that was escaping from the twelve-year old’s chapped lips. The remainder of chips lay hidden beneath his hand that limpishly slept inside a plastic cereal bowl. It was five o’clock in the afternoon, and after eight hours of middle school boredom, Ivan had come home, sat in his favorite chair, cracked open a root beer, and began eating chips and salsa: a perfect mirror to his father’s drunken habits.

When his mother woke him up to set the table, he unstuck his lashes from one another and wiped the sleep from his face. He wasn’t even hungry at this point, but Mother had cooked dinner, and Ivan knew that Father would be no such help.

He lifted his body from the pleather, sweat-drenched chair and placed the last bit of chips on the ground for later. He knew that Pepper would probably find her way to the bowl at some point, and he’d only have to refill it later, but for now, Ivan could see the Golden Doodle wagging her tail in the yard and deemed his snack safe.

The placemats that hid in the third drawer from the left of the stove were always used for everyday dinners. Mother only let Ivan pull out the fancy cloth mats if company was over. The plastic mats were plain except for a rooster pattern that bordered the edges, and they came in a pack of four. Ivan’s family only needed three, and that was a good thing because one of the mats was melted in the middle from when Ivan accidentally put it into the dishwasher. That was the same day that Father caused the scuff mark on the dining room table when he thought that Mother had been the one that made the mistake. The other three placemats covered the table’s mark nicely, though, just like Mother covered her own.

Read More »

CHILDISH THINGS by Barrett Bowlin

Hours after I first hear her voice in line at the bank, I make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for the both of us with tall glasses of cold milk, edible memories from decades ago, and then she and I move to the daybed, together, her voice as cozy and warm as a mother's breasts.

“Point to something pink," she says, my fingers on her chest.

Her voice is bright and clear, a sparkling peal of sound, a live version of the recording made for the Little Reader for Girls I remember having in second grade, the one that took four 'C' batteries. And she's with me here, right now, warm and next to me in the nighttime.

"You found it!" she says, laughing.

You found it, the Little Reader would say, its rainbow push-button keypad worn down where I pressed my fingers.

She arches her back in my bed, cocks an eyebrow at me, says, "Point to something red." In the corner of her mouth is a breadcrumb. I leave it where I find it and move my hand away from her lips.

“Super job!" she whispers, the crow's feet at the edges of her eyes contracting. "That's great!"

She's tanned everywhere I can see, with the lines on her forehead stilled by clinic-grade botulinum, and she lives here in Santa Monica, I've learned, neighborhoods of stucco and adobe away from me, stringing a late retirement together off royalties from the recording sessions for toy companies like Hasbro and Fisher Price, from the studio work done for Mattel and Tyco and Disney. She drives a pink Mercedes she's parked in my complex's handicapped spot.

“It is great,” I say, blushing and happy after years spent away from the toy box. Somewhere over in Riverside, somewhere in my mother's attic, next to the luggage my father didn't take with him, the Little Reader for Girls' batteries corrode in their slots, acidic and dusty.

We kiss. We touch. We stretch and pull toward each other like figurines. On the nightstand next to my bed, the glasses of chocolate milk are empty, just gray rings at the bottom and lip prints on the rims. "Do you remember any other lines from the Little Reader for Girls?" I ask.

"Did you know Mattel sold millions of that unit?" she says, finding the breadcrumb on her lips and flicking it onto my floor. She's taken me up on an invitation, one stranger asking a favor of another while in line at the bank. Due for an appointment with her nephrologist first thing in the morning, she's explained, this is a one-time thing, and we'll have to be quick, so I wedge my hands under her skin.

“Can you find the letter 'C'?" she says. The words come out like music through a warm speaker.

I breathe her in close and mumble out, “Thank you so much for this,” remembering Saturday afternoons spent in an oversized papazon, pushing letters and numbers and seeing LCD cells flash on and off while the voice behind the plastic belts out, That's right! This will be over soon, this happy memory in the making, so I say, "Thank you for everything.”

She sighs after a sweet minute, rolls and turns away, and we stare at the flecks of white paint on my bedroom walls.

When she lifts up to fasten the clasp of her brassiere, she shoots a glance at her chain watch. It's late. The cloth rises up her legs like sea foam from the Pacific.

“Sorry to bother you,” I ask, “but could you say, 'It's matching time!' for me?”

The light from the neon outside glints on her fingernail polish as she clasps the front of her bra. She smirks at me before letting her lips curve down into a flat smile that says it's time to go. I smirk back, abashed, somewhere years away from here, and I watch as a stray hair from her head wheedles up into the air, dances in a blizzard of dust motes only I can see from this angle.

"Please stay," I ask. "I need this."

"You all do," she says as she clips her earrings back on, her voice turning and leaving away from me. "Every single one of you does."

Read More »

BOREDOMS by Grant Maierhofer

I’m a better tabloid than citizen. A friend of mine once wound up on the cover of their city’s something having passed out near the lawnmower he worked. He’d fixed up nearby within a building for soil and various landscaping tools and nodded off on a hillside holding his penis. I met him in treatment. He’d left one day for court and returned with pornography flat against his belly, tucked and sweated within jeans. He’d exhumed it and hatched a plot to scoop away the ceiling’s makeup and tunnel into the female rooms. I hid that night seated on the shower’s curtain while it ran, my foot wedged beneath the door so as to stop intruders. We weren’t allowed locks. This method sometimes left massive red scrapes on feet and some hid, compulsive, on the floor—their backs against the door—to compensate. I’m always compensating. I grin often and phonily. I’m not in treatment any longer.

On leaving I discovered circles of likeminded tabloids not comfortable in therapy and we’d formed groups who’d caused eruptions of boring discord. First I’d gone to the university and spraypainted NEVER WORK repeatedly down its walls. Then a friend and I we’d freed a slew of kept animals. My friend spent the night drinking and howling as was his wont, I followed the animals I kept pace with ensuring they were not hit by cars, ambling furry masses of potential yipping and sprinting at lights. I woke up sunburnt in weeds near a highway and spent the morning trying to fashion materials with which to write.

I did work, and it didn’t suit me. When I met Ivan and his cronies, then, my mind was exhausted with possibility. Ivan had worked for radio stations mostly, deejaying a bit or cleaning up, holding fundraisers or conducting yearly festivals. Through this he'd managed to start a minor label primarily made up of Japanese noise acts and solitary rural black metalish recording artists who'd likely have taken to terrorism were it not for whatever this was. I'd attended regional shows where androgynous blondes might punch guitars to spray their blood and hooded art students might conduct some throb on ancient drum machines. Ivan recorded these sets meticulously and shared them online for interested droolymouthed depressives. He sold albums, either on tape or seveninch vinyl he'd pay to have pressed when money existed. Mostly this meant nothing was released but when it was you'd hear it whispered at and slowly cults might build.

This was the nature of the thing: youths without desire for parents hunched over in rooms while longheld droning notes pushed them and they pushed back. Some were older, I was older. My friends and I we’d get in fights and get called immature by cops who’d break them up. They were right but we were searching. We’d fight each other by various rivers and fall in laughing while night slouched its dullard way to day. I don’t care for bands but experiences. I have long teeth and people look at me quick to turn and change their mind. We fed our heads on slews of chemicals and having eradicated one possibility moved on to tempered, acceptable rebellions. Bands worked. People were desperate to make these bands perform. People bought generators and stole generators and found fields far enough away where bands would play in cold. We’d circle up what cars we had to bob and hobble into one another swelling and contracting with the music. It wasn’t about longevity or rejection, it was about the sense of fabric against your skin and knowing it might rip but pushing and quieting the language in your head. It wasn’t about relating but still existed this primal scream to dress and stitch clothes together while dying down in alltoohuman smelling basements in the day.  

Read More »

STUNG by Sheree Shatsky

Mary found her honey bee the same way as her momma and her momma before. She paid for him.

She first saw the fine young man while watching the Billy Graham Crusades on television.  He sat next to the big man himself and she liked how his suit shined in the sunshine. It was enough to make a girl pull out her credit card and tithe online and that she did, adding a note—More where this came from should you email back stating the name of the spiritual being sitting left of the world’s finest preacher.

Deacon Willis, came back in reply. A woman true to her word, Mary tithed ten percent of the amount she felt appropriate for a Christian match-up. Please have Deacon Willis email me at LordmyGodinfinity@gmail.com and I’ll finagle a few more dollars your way.

An email popped up in her mailbox, a form letter request for contributions to help the suffering children enduring life in the war zone known as Haiti.

Happy to help the effort, Deacon Willis, she replied, upon learning your first name. Best, Mary Temple.

The answer popped up quicker than quick. William. William Theodore Willis. (If I may be so bold, as the Lord has instructed us to go forth and procreate, I am happy to say, I am a single man in search of a good woman.)

That I am, a very good woman. You sound like a gentlemen I’d like to meet, a true man of the cloth. I imagine Billy Graham doesn’t travel to the place of my home and heritage. Yet, I would not find you presumptuous to board a plane and come calling.”

Thank you for your kind invitation, Mary. I’ve placed your contributions in my personal travel account and will catch the next flight your way. Our brief counsel will console me during my mission to Haiti when darkness falls and the streets are lined with candles and the debris of lost souls.

Sir, I’m off to buy a fancy dress to meet a faithful man. Let’s meet with the Lord’s blessing Sunday at Hopewell Church. I’ll look for you at the church supper.

Following services, she scooted past the milling parishioners and sat at the far end of the table by an impressive potted split leaf philodendron. An enthusiastic reception greeted the deacon as if Billy Graham himself stood before them. Willis maneuvered around the table, shaking hands and greeting the ladies.

Mary watched him save her for last. The philodendron tickled the back of her neck as the breeze trickled through the screened window. He stopped behind her chair and rested his hand on the back. The tickle turned red hot. She dabbed a napkin at her lady dew as he asked all to bow their heads for the blessing. “Thank you, Lord Jesus,” he breathed down her neck, “for this bountiful food and these good people. Amen.”

He sat himself down. “That is a very nice plant you’re wearing, if I may so say.”

“Oh, this old thing?” She laughed. “My name is Mary Temple, which likely you well know and I promised to support your mission in some small way.” She removed an envelope from her purse.  

Willis slid open the flap, his eyes on her. He unfolded the legal document inside, the title of her home.“Why, Mary. I can’t accept this selfless contribution, but I tell you what.” He whispered in her ear. “I’d love a tour.”

“Deacon Willis, by all means. Let me show you the way.”

The deacon made his excuses to the gobbling congregation and met Mary out front of the church watching a woman parade by, pushing a baby stroller with a wild-looking dog leading the procession and a black cat taking up the rear.

“Bless you,” Mary call after the odd procession.  

The woman stopped short. “Sunday words don’t pay the rent,” she said, turning round the stroller. “How ‘bout blessing me with something a bit more substantial?””

Mary took a step back. “I meant no disrespect,” she said.

“That’s quite a dog you have there,” Willis offered, stepping in front of Mary.  “What’s the breed?”

The woman shrugged. “No telling, though It’s said, if a black cat follows along after a dog, it’s sensing a bit of the wolf. Or so, I’ve been told.” The black cat looked at Willis, closed its eyes slow and opened wide slower, strolling over to peruse the deacon’s ankles, rubbing the full length of his body in and out.

“Cats don’t usually take to me,” he said.

Mary fished through her best purse for a couple of dollars. “Again, I meant no harm,” she said, handing the woman the money.

She accepted the offering.  “None taken, it’s just I’ve got my brood to care for,” she said, giving the stroller a sharp tap and a harsh jiggle.

Willis chuckled. “What’s inside? A wolf pup?”  

The cat circled eight around the deacon’s ankles one last time.

“See for yourself,” the woman invited, zippering open the stroller enclosure. “I won’t charge you one red cent.”

Willis leaned in.

The bees swarmed the deacon and knocked him flat to the ground. His struggle proved short. After certain he was good and dead, Mary fished a cartridge from the pocket of her new fancy dress and freed a queen bee. The bees followed their mistress and were gone as quick as they had come, a dark cloud of audible darkness.

“That cat is never wrong,” the woman said to Mary. “Senses the wolf each and every time.”

Mary smoothed away the hair from what had once been the forehead of a handsome face. “I don’t know, I sort of liked this honey bee.”

The woman sniffed.  “Now don’t you start getting all blubbery on me.” She zippered the sticky stroller closed. “Plenty of fancy pants out there preying on those with little or without, stealing and thieving whatever they’ve got, all in the name of the Lord.”  

“I think Momma would’ve liked the deacon.”

“Good Lord Almighty, child!” She bent over laughing, clapping her hands together. “Your momma would’ve liked you tossing the queen bee into the mix, though she probably would’ve watched that no good shyster swell a few minutes longer. She was hard like that.”

She looked Mary straight in the face. “I knew your momma and though she struggled with passing on the work to you, as sure as I’m standing here, she was dead right to school you in the family tradition, just like her momma taught her. Don’t ever lose sight of your purpose on this earth. As for me, I am happy to help you rid the monkey suits from our little piece of heaven, bees willing, as long as I walk among the living.”

Mary sighed. “How much do I owe you, Ora?”

“I’ll take the watch. I need myself a reliable time piece. You’re doing the Lord’s work, sugar.” She pushed the stroller on down the sidewalk, dog in the lead, cat in the rear, heading towards the hive back home where she would find the bees killing off their queen, like their mommas and their mommas before.

Read More »

DOGS AND THE SMELL OF GIN by Scott Manley Hadley

In the years since my nan died, I’ve taken to drinking gin. She always smelt of it, it reminds me of her.

I didn’t realise what her scent was until I was a student, only a few years before cancer killed her. One morning after a party, I woke up not alone and was confused by how vividly the smell of the room made me think of my grandmother. Diving into old memories, I sought repressed images of cross-generational incest, but (thankfully) there were none. I sniffed harder at the smell of the room and realised what I recognised and, finally, I understood that my nan was an alcoholic.

Many things suddenly made sense: the clinking sound that accompanied her alone in a room; the muttered comments my mother used to make when I came home drunk during my last years at school; my mother’s repeated discouragement of me and my sister from ever getting into her mother’s car. My nan smelled of gin. All the time, all through the day, however sober she seemed. Less so, the last few years of her life as she began what was to be a fruitless fight against tumours (when she began, instead of juniper, to smell of nothing and, later, rot) but for all my childhood and teenage years, that weird smell of my grandmother’s wasn’t perfume, it was liquor.

I am an alcoholic, too. People say that it runs in families, and I suppose I’m proof that it does. My mother is pretty much tee total (often a response to parental alcoholism), and my father – though he drinks occasionally – I have never seen drunk. Neither of them seem to like it, the feeling of intoxication. I’ve tried many other intoxicants because it’s really not hard to get hold of them, but nothing’s ever felt as good as alcohol. It raises you up, straightens you out, lets you sleep and makes you happy. You can still laugh, you can still cry, and you don’t feel unfuckingstoppable. Alcohol extends the self without erasing it, subdues anxiety and tastes delicious in a myriad of ways. There is nothing like a cold beer on a hot day, nothing like champagne to celebrate, nothing like a swig of neat gin to, just for a while, quieten the furies in your head.

My drinking’s been a problem since adolescence, but over the last few years it’s gotten worse. Perhaps it’s more noticeable because I’ve got less friends now, and most who remain are also alcoholics. Perhaps it’s more noticeable because I drink mostly at home now, and the empty bottles are waiting, collected, in my weekly recycling rather than scattered across the city’s bars. I get the DTs when I don’t drink. The days after I haven’t been drinking hurt more than the mornings after I’ve blacked out. The days when I drink, I carry on until I pass out. And as I usually drink at home, now, nobody knows how bad things have got. Nobody knows I slept half the night next to a pile of vomit on the kitchen floor. Nobody knows I was so hungover on Sunday I didn’t take my dog out, and he shat next to my bed. Nobody knows I left the shit there until Tuesday.

My nan had dogs when I was a child. She had three when I was a baby, and slowly they died. The last one, a rescued Labrador, lived until I was around eight. She is the only one whose name I remember, it was Kirsty. A year after my nan’s death, I bought my own dog. For the first few months, I was better. Better behaved, drinking less, getting up early every day to walk him. But I’ve since realised that the hole I thought he was filling was a hole much bigger than a dog. My grandmother had dogs and gin to hide her unhappiness, and then only gin; then death. When she lay on the bed she died in, skin hanging like fabric from her bones, I held her hand and said, “Thank you” and “I’m so sorry”. I don’t think she’d enjoyed her life and I think she knew I wasn’t enjoying mine. She also knew, though, that I’d been happy when I was a child, back when the world was something I hadn’t learnt to worry about, when cancer and booze and depression were words I didn’t know.

And for me, that combined smell of dog and ethanol-juniper is the smell of childhood, the smell of warmth and peace and contentment, the smell of my nan being alive and the smell of the future feeling like one long adventure I could enjoy forever.

You’ve probably read about alcoholism before and you might think it’s boring and repetitive, but imagine how boring and repetitive it feels to live. Imagine being stuck in repeated habits where the only thing that gives you release traps you tighter.

Alcohol feels like it helps, even though it doesn’t. But, as I know and my nan knew, having something that feels like it helps is better than having nothing at all. Having a dog helps, but having a dog is hard and having a drink is easy. And when everything else feels hard, too, having something easy is difficult to resist. I need to walk my dog. But first I need a drink.

Read More »

RHETORIC, GIRL! by Amie Norman Walker

Radio wire mutated with the Cicadas, every Midwest heart bled to this expectation.  Knowing of no reason for time to come undone she perched herself on the couch as Carjone’s car snaked the driveway. Elevated humidity levels sweat the brows of every surface as evening rolled over, drooling for nightfall’s reprieve. Unstable minutes turned around the clocks face before he walked in with blood on his hands in a stride unfamiliar to her. She stared at him, her head cocked left and her lips pursed tight until they popped open with confusion. A need for her reflexed in his shadow. A smile straighter than his muscles acclimated, licked across his lips before he spoke.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Angel.”

Thumb on one cheek, four fingers pressing into the other, he squished her face forcing her mouth back shut, then into puckered lips.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Angel,” he hushed at her moon-eyes. Her mind spun webs of wonder around every thought of what he had done to produce this new gait and heretofore glean of violence in his eyes. He leaned in and she thought he might kiss her. Inimically opening her mouth with pressure, he slipped two fingers past her lips, pressing against her tongue.  Salt and metal coiled her taste buds as he fingered her cheeks interior, sliding back wisdom tooth deep. Fingers threatened her appetite but panic yet to sway her perch, arched on the precedence of his swagger. He knew her gag reflexes lacked control, over the years he had to learn to accept the self-sacrifice of each contraction. She gagged against his fingers slender tips, her gut reacting with his gentle push to the floor, so from her knees she’d vomit at his feet. He didn’t expect her to grovel, his need was to see her bow, and if he knew her at all, she required force into such a position. Her insides heaved molten, splattering the tile and his shoe tips, the bottoms already marked with the dog shit he stomped through on his way out her lovers door.

“I’m not going to hurt you” he confirmed again, as if convincing himself, wiping her mouth against the back of his hand. Crouching down his rhetoric seared, “What was it you were hoping I’d find?” Panic thrust for a turn to choke her, eyes shut tight, she pressed forward until her face met the floor, vomit reaching for her hair. She numbed the rush of fear to reason what foment the shift in paradox. A defeating larrup to her cerebral cortex, she suddenly smelt the dewy rush of this morning. She left his address on the kitchen counter, left behind, in the steno pad under the “?” she sketched in grey pencil shades, curving out her feelings into a simple symbol. The ? mark symbolizing not only risk of dalliance, but undulating her impuissant cerebral firing. Carjone’s taught her everything she knew. Carjone’s reminded her daily of the promise she must keep for him. This maldestro error, unacceptable in its formation, was the suicide she’d not asked for.

Some people do not survive outside familial derivation of monogamy, a fact bunked against hypothesis producing population health risk adjustment factors. The Status Quo wet-nursed the belief anything they control is theirs and theirs only. Dearly devoted demand their possession, labeled love, wean from all others, to promptly be tethered solely and firmly to the other in a package christened commitment.

Carjone was a man of his commitments, Carjone wasn’t capable of living outside any boxes. She however, worried no reasonable thoughts after she removed the veil of misunderstanding each other. Her tether to Carjone’s did not demand passion but he worshipped her as if the ground she shat on moored the gateway to eternal youth. Materialized out of actions unmistakably natural, her pheromone ejections of interminable sums, pumped Carjone’s ego but would also that of any caught in the trajectory.

“I’ll tell you pretty baby, I don’t need to question you.”

She had not mistook his new stride, tuned to the Midwest’s old song, from a time when cowboys were more than junkies. She had not mistook the blood, red and caked, on his hands baked unmistakably against Carjone’s rage. Between his worked hands and her saliva it formed a glue, sticking to her chin as he cradled her up into his arms. Panic grasp at her expression, molding it submissively into position.

Her breathing held a steady pace, continuously, by her own demand, but she couldn’t control her heart. Palpitations un-steadied her, she grasped his arm in a natural pull at survival. Her thumb pressed against the scar he won when he tripped over her playing hide and seek under the warm vanilla sun chasing a hunter's moon. Childhood suddenly seemed far away, trembling she lost a reason for words.

“I’m not gonna hurt you, Angel.”, he whispered. She anticipated his actions would fall into that scars memory, warm as it bled back then, and perhaps he would not end her.

“In fact, I brought you a present. How do you like that?”

Her mistake inspired a killer. She caught it again in his eyes, causing her thighs to empty out an ache, collapsing her out of reality then back into it, drowning any possibility of truth beyond that her lover is dead. A certain hurt need be felt before a person can do the most amount of letting go they’re capable of. Carjone’s felt that hurt. She now felt it as hard. He half pulled her up with him, she floated on along.

He wrapped his arms around her, choking out a silence capable of healing, but a cry interrupted from over his shoulder, a sigh she didn’t recognize, breaking the domestics into a louder noise. She felt tension shatter when she found the girls face held recognition, this was the face of her lover’s daughter. “I’m not gonna hurt you, Angel. But that mistake was killer.” he grinned through his confession. He gasp at the reflection he caught in the mirror, as he turned around to leave her, as if it spoke his rhetoric, who was the most monogamous of all?

She walked backward into the bedroom closet, truth setting into her face, blood gloaming her jawline. Blood was on her hands, blood in her veins beat against her new pain. She hoped the wardrobe would swallow her into a place too dark to return from. She yearned to be forgotten, lost into the closet, passing through inanition with guilt the limbic grand finale fed through the amygdala. She sucked back her breathing and shut the door on herself, listening to her Daddy’s new lover cry.

Read More »


Henry had to abandon his car. It was clear that the winter storm had curbed all travel, as massive snow serpents slid across the vacant highway. Had he hit a deer, or was it a person? Either way, any visible evidence had disappeared, and the car wouldn’t start. He was on the highway miles from civilization, but the county’s landfill loomed close like a craggy white mountain, where a single soft green light pulsed. He fled for help.

Snow quickly filled Henry’s boots as he plowed through a deer run toward the dump. Before squeezing through a small hole in the rusty fence, he turned back to affirm the location of the road, or to find a landmark in which to anchor his direction, but everything turned blinding white, and Henry’s orientation became scrambled. A foreboding chill swept over him.

Beyond a small trash heap of a hill littered with thousands of gulls, he saw the light that pulsed from inside a small concrete structure. Weaving in and out of the tittering gulls, a deep but quiet voice called out to him. Paralyzed with fear, the voice came again. Looking down, coming from all things, a gull. He nervously adjusted his knitted winter hat, and muttered, “The fuck?”

Casually, the gull said, “Friend, you will die here.”

Henry disagreed and barreled through the snow toward the structure. That conversation never happened he thought, he must have been hallucinating from the crash. Out of nowhere, a heavy bill whacked him in the head and ripped at the back of his neck. Henry fell down, covering his head. Panic set in, it was real.

Every time he attempted to walk towards the glowing structure, thick bands of snow would develop and turn him around. He wondered if something was actively preventing him from seeing what was inside of the structure. If not snow, the crows would swoop in, litter the ground leading to the structure, and block him from continuing. He tried hiking back to the road, but that was equally unsuccessful. Henry scrapped the idea and decided to escape in the morning, so for the night, he carved out a spot within the mass of gulls, hiding from Gene, the one that attacked him.

Unfortunately, morning never came. It stayed dark for days, the snow subsided and it turned warm—so warm, he stripped himself of his winter coat, at one point attempting to use it as a pillow. He fell asleep on and off between the unworldly noises the gulls made. How long had it been night, he was unsure, but he knew he needed food. A gamey, malodorous smell now consumed the wet dump. Henry’s nose burned from the soupy garbage, he couldn’t understand how the warm spell came on so quickly.

A fog, as thick as cake batter, kept him from finding his way out of the rank hell. Further disoriented, he tripped over a bowling ball and fell on a broken bottle. He conjured everything inside of him to get to the structure. The light flickered. He dragged himself over as far as he could go. Henry finally closed in, although now, the mud thickened and swallowed him. The pulsing glow electrified the top of his head, he was so close. Out of nowhere, Gene, like a kamikaze pilot, came up from behind, and Thwap! His thick spear of a beak went right into Henry’s ear puncturing the eardrum. Already trapped by the thickening, slurry mud, his arms were stuck to his sides. He cried out like a short-circuited ambulance siren. His hat was being carried off by a lousy crow. Gene sidled up next to Henry and and said, “Get up.” Knowing full well Henry wasn’t going anywhere.

Bright fluorescent lights from all angles suddenly flooded the dump, and tens of thousands of gulls consumed the sky, whirling in a giant mass of screaming havoc.

His last flickering visage was of a large 4-wheeler charging towards him with two glass-masked men who appeared to be dressed as surgeons, blades out. They shoveled Henry’s limp body into the back of the open air vehicle and roared back to their bunker. The green light turned off until the next one arrived.

Gene hardly registered the commotion, instead, he preened his pale white knives, alone, lording over his kingdom of beautiful, rancid wreckage.

Read More »

THE WEEPING NUDE by Jennifer Lewis

“Get up.”

“No. It’s not even light out. I want to sleep.”

“You heard me.” He lights a candle, then another. Then claps his hands. “Move!”

She smells the turpentine. Hears the clinking of glass bottles. The room is freezing. Tiny sounds of the night drift through the walls. A horse kicks a stone, then neighs.

“I’m not posing,” she says.

“I’ve told you before. You never have to pose. You must be yourself.”

The Weeping Nude, Edvard Munch 1913

This makes her smile. She likes being different than the others. Not another archetype, or myth or stupid symbol. How 18th century? She’s the youngest of his models. Only seventeen. A strong peasant girl with a wide face and wide-eyes, who earns room-and-board for cleaning the house of a lonely painter, who had just spent eight months in a sanatorium suffering from hallucinations and anxiety.  

“Fine,” she says, gathering herself under the blankets. She rises to all fours, articulating her spin, the blanket still on her back. She looks like tent. Her head thrashes and her hips shake until the blanket falls off.  She stands on her knees and takes of her white nightgown. Her now-famously dark hair covers her breasts. It keeps her warm. She’s thankful to her mother for giving her this thick mess.

She hears the bristles of the brush dancing on the canvas, the palette knife scraping the surface. She smiles to herself under all that hair. She loves the power of her beauty. Its ability to wake up this old man in the middle of the night.   

“Don’t move,” he says, commanded by inspiration. Grinning at her like she is  some kind of God. She wonders what his friend, Dr. Fraud, would think about this?

“Stay still, Moss Girl.”

Her thighs burn with fatigue. Her fingertips and toes are frozen. She fidgets. She doesn’t want to stay still anymore. A draft moves over her nipples and belly. She wants to crawl back under the blankets, but the chance that her portrait may hang in a museum keeps her still.

“You’re stronger than you think you are,” he says, “You’re a healthy girl.” She narrows her eyes. She feels badly for him. He had told her that he was a sickly kid, that he watched his mother die of tuberculosis when he was five, then his older sister at fourteen. One night when he allowed himself to drink, he said, “Illness and madness and death were the black angels that stood at my cradle.”

She stays motionless until her thighs can no longer take it. She falls back on her heels. Her left leg cramps and she lunges it straight. She hates him for waking her up. She hates her mother for encouraging her to work for him. She hates that her only skill is to please this insane man. She places her head in her hands and feels her belly convulse with rage.

“Fantastic,” he says. “Bravo!”  

Read More »


Reaching with a blind hand, Rebecca pulls a loaf from the back row and reads its scarf. David buys the wrong sort; he buys bleached, ghost-bread, even though he knows she doesn’t like it. The price of bread is an economic barometer. There’s a trick to selling a house: bread in the oven. She sniffs the loaf. Bread is as old as farming, as old as the domesticated dog. She wants a dog. David doesn’t. In the UK, we throw six million loaves into our waterways each year. This disrupts the whole ecosystem and is bad news for amphibians, fish, and ducks. Bread is wrapped in plastic. She watched a TV programme about the Pacific Trash Vortex. There was a time the baker would take a loaf from the shelf and hand it over, dusting the counter in flour. No plastic. Her nan had a breadboard, breadknife, and a square yellow gingham towel to cover the bread. Only self-checkouts these days. Less contact. Next to the self-checkout machine are three loaves, white, the ones David buys, each with a sticker: ‘Still Fresh.’ She hovers the barcode over the glass. Beep. Contactless. She hovers the card above the machine. Plastic hovering above plastic, a sliver of space between, like reiki, hovering hands, ch’i. Contactless. She moves the card closer, narrowing the space, and she can’t remember the last time David kissed her, or a time he went down on her, or a time they did that thing with their hands, interlacing fingers so it looks like a zip on a coat. Beep. She swaps the loaf for one that is ‘Still Fresh,’ and walks out of the shop, the loaf, expiring with every second, held close to her chest.

Read More »
nick gregorio

STILL, BIRDS by Nick Gregorio

Joe’s head bursts and fills the office with blue birds. Singing, chirping, flying figure eights around the ceiling fans. The red-faced, foamy-mouthed ranting Bill just popped Joe’s head with should’ve produced something more vicious. Snakes exploding in every direction like those gag cans sold at junk shops in malls. Or badgers, gnashing their teeth, snarling, sinking their teeth into people’s calf muscles. But blue birds flying, tweeting Jackson 5 tunes, swooping, diving, gliding, barrel rolling over the network of cubicles is…I guess that sort of thing just doesn’t add up for me. Standing in a mess of bird nest that acts more or less like a bed for Joe’s body, so he can regrow his head in comfort, I clench my teeth to keep my own head from popping. Last Wednesday, rhesus monkeys leapt from my shattered skull, threw clumps of dung at everyone in the office—but mostly at Bill. By the time my brain was finished stitching itself back together, the suit he’d worn that day was in a ball on my desk. The note on top of the heap told me to dry clean the thing. Immediately.

The Monday before that, late getting back from lunch, I kept tapping my toe on the gritty linoleum in the fast food restaurant down the road a bit. Couldn’t stop looking the kid behind the counter up, down, up, down, while he built order after order on tray after tray. Struggled to not stare at the number on my receipt. Not a single tray of food was mine, and not a number that came whimpering from that kid’s mouth was on the crushed piece of paper in my fist. I filled the place with bees. When I came to, I had to apologize to a bunch of blotchy, swollen people with my new hair matted with honey.

And the day before that I was home on the couch. Doing nothing in particular. Had to clean wads of earthworms and dirt off the walls, the hardwoods, the couch, the coffee table. Brinkley, my golden retriever. Once the worms had begun to dry up and stick to my driveway, I googled names of therapists, made a list. But once the ink had dried on the last letter of the last name, the worm thing was another funny story I could tell my buddies at the bar. They’d laugh, we’d drink, and the worms would’ve been ground into the driveway enough by then that it’d be like they were never there at all.

Six months or so ago, my general practitioner told me that exploding my head could be a stress reliever, even a cathartic event. “But considering the frequency at which you’re blowing your custard,” she said, “And the often morbid and violent creatures that fly out, I can’t say it’s exactly healthy.”

Even on the pills, I was still spraying my desk down with maggots. Showering the lunch room with piranhas. And because of the hatchling crocodile incident a month or so back, a portion of my paycheck will be relegated to Dana-from-accounting’s hospital bills for the foreseeable future—finger reattachments are neither cheap, nor guaranteed.   

Ever since, though, people manage to smile when we happen to lock eyes. They ask me to happy hour. Or make sure I get a piece of cake during office birthdays—especially Joe.

Still, “How about that game last night,” and “Doing anything fun this weekend,” and “Think we’re going to skip over fall and go directly to winter again,” can become tedious. At best.

I’ve named all the birds by the time Joe’s head grows back. Melody is the plump one who perches on computer monitors whenever she gets tired of the fan circuit. Chorus is the quick one who darts between people’s legs, around their heads. Song likes the acoustics in the bathrooms the best. Tempo flutters from shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. Note stands, chirps, chirps, chirps under the nozzle of the water cooler, enjoys a little bath anytime someone needs a paper cone of water.

And Mark opens the fucking window and lets them all fly the fuck away.

That’s when Joe stops by my cubicle, calls me bud.

“I’m fine,” I say. “Thanks for asking.”

“You don’t look fine.”

I unclench my fists, my jaw.

Relax my eyebrows, my shoulders.

Catch my breath.

“I’m good,” I say.

Joe says good, knocks on the top of my cubicle wall—like, knock-knockknockknock—to mark his exit.


He turns, raises his eyebrows.

“Why did birds fly out when your head blew up?”

A smirk, a shrug. “I don’t know. I like birds.”

“Me too.”

Joe says but like it’s a question.

“But birds never fly out of me.”

Joe nods, says, “I just like to remind myself that most everything doesn’t matter, and I’m the only one who gets to decide what does.”

“Aren’t you afraid?”


“And still, birds?”

“Still, birds.”

Joe’s knuckles on the cubicle again.


Out the window, Melody and Chorus and Tempo and all the rest of them, they fly new patterns. They zig-zag, barrel-roll, zip to, fro. They sing that Jackson 5 tune again. And I can hear them even though they get farther and farther away.

My head out the window, I’m listening, watching their blue little bodies turn into black specs on a blue sky. They’re singing tweedily deedily dee, tweedily deedily dee.

People call my name.

Joe first.

Bill next.

Then Mark.


They start yelling my name.


Even louder.

But I keep watching, singing along, watching.

And then I feel it.

The pressure.

It’s going to happen again. Again.

And just before my head breaks open, I cross my fingers for birds.

Read More »
georgia bellas


I wash dishes. I am 12, 27, 14, 19, 31. I am two in a yellow shirt and checked shorts and a bowl cut standing on a chair at the sink, hands clasped above the soapy water, grinning open-mouthed at the camera while my mother is in the hospital recovering from another Cesarean section. I am nearly 43. The age my grandmother died. There are bubbles. Lots of bubbles only my mother can make, her knuckles raw and red.

We use a dishcloth here, not a sponge. There are systems. Taxonomies unfathomable to the uninitiated. Flour is in the second cabinet on the bottom with pots. Cornmeal bought to make cornbread once is up with boxes of pasta and cake mixes and cans of tuna. Chocolate chips are underneath the silverware drawer with miscellaneous items like a hot water bottle, the cover to an electric skillet that no longer exists, and instruction manuals for decades’ worth of appliances. But when we were children their hiding place was higher, above the sink in a yellow ceramic mixing bowl with J.R. engraved in cursive on the bottom. My grandmother’s initials.

The bowl is still there. The dishes are the same. Same plates. Same flowers. Same chips. Same cracks glued back together.

Chia seeds are in with the paper plates and liquor bottles, Styrofoam coffee cups and cracked leather thermos for Scotch, in the bottom cabinet by the back hall door, where mom goes to smoke her cigarettes and take calls on the cordless phone. The Seagram's purple felt bag protecting the Crown Royal is plusher, more regal, in my memory. But the paper stamp still seals the bottle with a cross, 1962. The chianti in a straw basket is empty but for dust. Ouzo is plentiful. When you are Greek, people give you ouzo. Bottles for anniversaries, Christmases, baptisms, celebrations. Or Metaxa, five star. Too good to drink. That goes in the back hall, up high, out of reach.

Turn on the radio when washing the dishes. Set the dial and travel to the ’80s or ’90s. Dishcloth. Bubbles. Light. Wash. Rinse. Dishcloth. Bubbles. Wipe. Dream.

Warm weather, Garfield Aries nightgown. Cold weather, blue Saint Joseph’s sweatshirt from oldest sister, first to go to college. Black and rainbow shell afghan crocheted by great-grandmother who died when I was two. She used to hold me, would take two buses across the city to come see us when I was a baby. I don’t remember being in her arms but my middle name is hers.

Unopened Clapper — As Seen On TV! — wrapped in plastic. Mr. Coffee, unused. My parents drink Maxwell House.

Chests and boxes and rooms and drawers and wallpaper and photographs. Cedar chest holding secrets. Family histories squirreled away where no one can find them. Family histories hiding in plain sight. Pencil lines on the kitchen doorway marking heights over the years. I haven’t grown since junior high.

There is always dessert when you are here, a brownie or ice cream, some sweet treat. It used to be Little Debbie’s snack cakes or chocolate pudding, sometimes a toaster strudel.

It is 2018, yet there’s a new X-Files on in my parents’ bedroom. Same room, same Mulder and Scully. The images flicker, dark and blurry on the screen, as pixel-poor and crappy as the first time around in the nineties. I sit on the edge of the bed and my mom brings me a toaster strudel on a napkin. The time warp runs deep.

I wash the dishes. Same plates. Same flowers. Same chips. Same cracks reglued. Still holding together.

Read More »

CVS by Sean Thor Conroe

April 2018—

It’s been two months since I’ve purchased anything besides tobacco and rolling papers since I’m two months behind on rent and it’s been two months since I got my SNAP card approved and my check from my construction gig has yet to arrive and every bike delivery payout I get goes straight to keeping my almost maxed out credit card almost maxed out, but tonight I’m making a concession since my next credit card payment isn’t till the end of the week and I can’t, haven’t for the life of me been able, to find any of my goddamn uni-ball pens—need me my uni-ball pens—despite all the room cleaning and organizing and item-culling I’ve been doing for when, once my check arrives, I will leave this godforsaken city I don’t even know why I returned to, well I do actually, I came back to mend things with X, then still O, so I could be near her, fake woke-ly “be there for her,” since her recurring gripe was always “her being there for me” while I ran all over the country in my van or on foot, only now I’m near her, much too near, and need to get out, away, long gone, especially so since the book about running all over the country in my van or on foot I wrote for her is complete, has been submitted, is out of my hands until further notice, if ever, after much self-destructive, responsibility-shirking, job-dodging, mostly nocturnal and consistently manic dedication, meaning it’s now time to write again, only I can’t find any of my goddamn uni-balls, all I have is this U-Haul ballpoint that keeps dying on me every third word, so I’ve decided, have been left with no choice but, to break my abstention from purchasing anything besides the entirely essential, to bite the bullet and trek out to CVS late-night to cop a uni-ball two-pack, only if I’m to do that, figure I might also grant myself the concession of purchasing one sucrose item, something chewy or chocolate-y or nutty, since during these past two months with zero or negative money, of doing without all amenities beyond the entirely essential, I’ve also been deprived of cannabis and stimulants and psychedelics, one of which, at separate points since I’d stopped running all over the country in my van or on foot, I’d self-prescribed in micro- or perhaps-not-so-micro-doses so that I’d be optimally equipped to write the very best book about running all over the country in my van or on foot, which was, of course, at root, an apology to X for running all over the country all those years when I could have been There, with Her, working on Us—all of which strategic self-medication of course had nothing to do with her deeming me unfit to remain her O—all to say, I’ve been such a good boy of late, the least I could to was grant myself one dose of sucrose, yes, that’s what I’ll do, only by the time I gear up, decide on which podcast I’ll walk to, walk, and get to the CVS candy aisle, the kind I’m eyeing, turns out, are 3 for $3, 2 for $3, or 1 for $1.50, so I mean, sure I could just get one like I said I would, only Reese's Pieces or Milk Duds, whose to say which is better, neither is since both are best is what I’d say, except both is $3 and both plus another is also $3—damn right I’m looking at you, Charleston Chew—so fuck it might as well cop all three, and stat, the way this graveyard security guard keeps eyeing me, pacing up and down this aisle like I am at this hour, making jerky, juke-like movements each time I change my mind, forcing him to look up from the YouTube video he was pleasantly enjoying before I had to pull up and kill his vibe, so now I’m at self checkout, clutching my movie-sized candy boxes like I’m prudently preparing to save a few bucks at the concession stand at, say, the Black Panther premiere I’ve bought tickets in advance for, like I’m a regular ole twenty-something doing regular ole twenty-something things, off to a movie with a couple pals, coworkers or classmates, all set to surprise them by providing them with their choice or Pieces, Duds or Chews so they can save a couple bucks of their hard-earned paycheck or stipend or grant money on this weekend outing they’ve been looking forward to all week, only it’s not the weekend, it’s Tuesday night, technically Wednesday morning, and there are no pals, is no paycheck, nor a movie, there’s only this 3 for $3 deal and my sadness I will try to sugar coma my way out of once I get home, if I even get home before finishing all three, I’m not even at Walnut and my Pieces are dust, and come Market I’m combo-ing my Dud dregs with my all-but-chewed Chews, chomping like a cow or mouth-breather how moist my mouth is, jeez I’m damn near home already, pump the breaks a sec would ya, the whole point was to deliberately ingest the sucrose in conjunction with caffeine in order to optimally spearhead the new writing Jesus fuck the goddamn uni-balls—

Read More »

DIRTY SHIRLEY by Sophie Ruth

I have a rash on my neck and it must be because I wear my short necklace to bed every night and it tries to choke me in my sleep.

I look over to my left at the wine bottle left over from my time with A. I think I wear the necklace to bed because I miss him. His hands did what I wanted them to and he wore the same sneakers as my dead grandpa. For the first time, I wonder what shoes my grandpa was buried in. I strongly consider asking my grandma and then decide against it. His memorial service was held last month even though he passed away over a year ago. It’s all because my grandma doesn’t like pity. On the way to the memorial I ate chocolate covered raisins, and when I read the ingredients I was disgusted to discover they contained milk fat. When we got to the funeral home, I made myself throw up in the bathroom. When I walked out of the stall to fix my mascara in the mirror, the Rabbi walked in. I thought at least this is the best place to be seen with wet eyes.

I want to have a baby. I want to have a baby and I think about what it’d be like to have a baby with everyone I’ve been with this year. Except the one from vacation, he doesn’t count. And if I am forgetting anyone, that means they don’t count either. There are already two guys I call my baby daddy in my head and they have no clue. It’s all their fault for being all the same and reminding me of my father. What is familiar to us is a curse because that will be what we attract. So you better pray you get born into some good shit.

Sophomore year I had about 6 hickies around my collarbone and neck. The rest of my skin was snow white and I wore a shirt that showed it all. I went to listen to a hot drummer play music and a different hot drummer gave me the hickies. I told Ariana I wanted to hit on the hot drummer. She said you already have hickies from the other hot drummer. You don’t even care do you, you like it. I smiled in the way that I knew I was made of cherries only then.

Read More »

ANALOGUE by Sara Kachelman

I share a face with a famous killer. Before I was nobody. Now women ask to have their pictures made with me. When we stand together I slide my hand down their backs until they quiver. It thrills them. I am a dangerous man! The killer kills women. He says it is not sexual. I know him. We stood next to each other in a lineup. I admit he is attractive. We shook hands at the station. “You are good at what you do,” I said. “You are good at what you do,” he replied. Then he winked. I had the extraordinary feeling of watching myself on film. They released him that day. Lack of evidence. I know I should not like him, but I do. He is a man who does not take himself too seriously. The killer has a good supply in Amsterdam. He passes a woman in the bike lane after the bars close. He has no preference on how they look. As I said before, it is not about that. Maybe she looks slow or small or kind. He crashes a few meters in front of her and grabs his leg, moaning. Then the woman stops and offers to call an ambulance. When she gets off her bike, the killer jumps her and drags her aside.He's a strangler. He is consistent that way. But women are so stupid, they continue going out at night. They pretend they are smarter than the others before them. Many died before he was caught. They caught him in a public latrine. People have no respect. Before the killer was arrested I squatted in a cathedral with other young foreigners. But now, with endorsements, I may be able to afford an apartment of my own.  I am the most popular disc jockey in town. Dark wave, doom metal, post punk. Many women want to fuck me. I take them to the park at night. I put my hands around their necks. I squeeze until I feel their pulse in my hands. They beg me never to stop.
Read More »

MORE MORE MORE by Neil Clark

First thing on your first day, you were instructed to go down the basement and have a picture taken for your security pass.

Down there, they told you a joke and said, “Now hold that smile and look at the camera.”


They printed the photo and handed it to you. You were pleased with how it turned out. Your smile was genuine. The joke they’d told you was a good one.

Then they passed you a piece of sticky tape and said, “Stick the photo to your forehead, please. And smile a little more.”


They printed the second photo - of you smiling a little more with the first photo stuck to your forehead. Handed it to you. Told you to stick it to your forehead.

“Please smile more and look at the camera.”


They handed you that photo. “Stick it to your forehead. And can you smile a little more than that, please.”


This process continued through your lunch break and into late afternoon.

“More.” ‘Click’ “Even More.” ‘Click’ “More still.” ‘Click’




By 5pm, the floor was scattered with discarded photographs and pieces of used sticky tape mottled with dead forehead skin. Lactic acid paralyzed your jaws and cheeks. The corners of your mouth trembled, not daring to drop south.

They asked if you’d stay a few more hours. They just wanted your security pass to be perfect.

“Of course,” you said.

Finally, they clipped clothes pegs to your cheeks and hoisted them towards the ceiling.


You showed your security pass to your new boss and got asked why 745 unanswered emails had built up in your inbox since the morning. This, you were told, was not in keeping with #1 and #177 of the Sacred Company Values: ALWAYS HAVE A CLEAR INBOX.

At your retirement party sixty years later, you preach all 177 Sacred Company Values in a stirring speech that you cap off by raising your glass and saying, “More more more!”

Your employees applaud. Raise their glasses high. Hoist the clothes pegs on their cheeks higher still as they repeat, “More more more!”

Afterwards, in private, you make sure your inbox is clear before unhooking your own sixty-year clothes pegs. Your cheeks droop to the floor and dangle by your feet like tired rubber bands.

You place your security pass on your desk. Before leaving the office for the last time, you stare at the old photo: your innocent face; its plush hoisted cheeks; your trembling mouth; the photo taped to your young forehead.

You look at the photo within the photo, then into the photo within the photo, the photo within that photo, the photo within that. You keep going. Deeper. More deep. Deeper still, until your eyes pinpoint the first photo taken on the morning of your first day. The one with the genuine smile.

It was a good joke, you remember.

Read More »


This love story has nothing to do with me. I’m not involved. Even the small parts—the earrings, the dog, the money—I only care a little bit about. What’s actually important is how it ends. It ends on a boat.I started following Lorenzo because he lived next door and he looked exactly like me. It was an added advantage that he was ignorant of almost everything. For example, he never noticed I was following him. I followed in my car and on foot, I took buses I didn’t have to and sat in the row behind him. Lorenzo always wore headphones.I was amazed at the emptiness of his life: how much of it he spent at work. There was a coffee place across the street from the BMW dealership. I read some good books there when spying got boring. Mostly self-help books. How to Find a Job. How to Find a Job Part 2. How to Find Another Job. Etc. Lorenzo biked to work.I saw him sell. He made my hand gestures. His teeth were whiter, he seemed more at ease than me but I saw him clench his jaw after customers walked away. I followed him back by car, relying on mild traffic to make my otherwise menacing creeping speed look accidental.I’d watch and wonder, is that what my back looks like? Do my shirts also get detucked during the day? I guess I hoped some other stranger (maybe another neighbor) was following me. (He could answer my questions.)The whole time I lived next door, I never heard Lorenzo play music. Which means he wore headphones inside his own house. Do you see Lorenzo? As tall as a refrigerator, pale, blue eyes, prematurely grey hair; long pants even when it’s hot outside, button-ups. I never saw the inside of his apartment, I can only imagine it perfectly. Delivery people rarely came so he cooked his own food. Then came Sheila. Sheila ruined everything. One day Sheila thought, “Well, why don’t I buy a car?”On that day I did what I’d never done before: cross the street, cross the lot, come inside and look around. BMW 1 vs BMW 2 and so on. Made a thinking face. Fixed my posture like I’m a regional manager with kids.Lorenzo looked up and saw me. I saw his face go, “What? No way. What?” And he got up to come talk to me like I was a normal customer and cancel out the uncanniness. But he failed. The door opened and he was distracted.It was Sheila.Short as an oven, artificially white hair, very small nose.And Lorenzo forgot I exist. Seeing Lorenzo see Sheila, for a second I forgot I exist too. Sheila broke through his big ignorance. I felt him change.I assumed they became boyfriend and girlfriend because I heard him say, “I’m Lorenzo” and I heard her say, “I’m Sheila.” My face was velvet drapes. I didn’t belong there anymore. I dashed out and never followed Lorenzo again. I went home and fed no pets, watered no plants, watched no TV. I didn’t read anything. I didn’t have plants or pets or a TV, although I did have books.Next day, a knock at my door, a note slid under. 

Dear Weirdo,

I know you’ve been stalking me. Stop. Get help. Or I’ll call the cops.

 I thought about telling him I’d already decided to stop, but no. I didn’t want to stoop to his level.I did want to explain myself, though. “Hey buddy” or “Dude” or “My man” or “Uh excuse me?” My fingers went numb with excitement as I contemplated the first words I’d say to Lorenzo.I opened the front door in time to see a shiny BMW pull out of the parking lot. Sheila driving, Lorenzo in the passenger seat. I felt whatever song they were playing, the car’s bass hurt. I thought, “BMW must stand for ‘Blasting Music, WOO!’” I thought, “Ha.” Then I thought, “Blasting music? Lorenzo, you’ve changed.”I was going to go back in but I saw something glint in Lorenzo’s bristly welcome mat. I bent down and saw two earrings. 

. .

 Modest but elegant. The kind of restrained jewelry that says, “I’m actually rich.”I picked them up and put them in my jacket. They clinked together with spare change. I walked to the beach. It was 7 on a Wednesday night. Lorenzo and Sheila were probably on a mid-week date night date. They were probably eating dinner at a place where the napkins were linen and on a table, not paper that came from a cube.I got a dollar slice and took it to the beach. I sat on the sand and munched. I chomped. I scharfed. I was some kind of gavone I kept my mouth open because the slice was so hot.A lady was walking a dog. Both of them were tiny and white with frizzy hair. I love dogs so I trained my eyes on some adjacent cloud so I could watch the dog out of my peripheral vision without making the lady suspect I was staring at her. I didn’t want to stare like a “weirdo.” But soon enough I was staring because the dog saw something and started barking. But not a normal bark, a bark like it was begging for its life, crazy. The lady said the dog’s name four times: confused; cloying; stern; scared. She pulled on the leash but the dog pulled harder and the lady fell forward and let go of the leash. The dog looked left and darted left then looked right and darted right then stared straight ahead past the horizon and ran into the water.“Oh my god,” I said.“My dog,” the lady said.Then the crazy thing. The dog doggy paddled maybe five feet out. Retrieval’s no problem, right? Except a dolphin slid by and swam under the dog, essentially acting as a self-steering surfboard for the dog, who was shuttled far away before our eyes. I imagined doggy legs quivering.“Wow,” I said.The lady looked upset.“Don’t worry,” I said. “He’ll probably come back when he’s hungry.”She nodded at me solemnly like I was right. Or like she wanted to tell me to go fuck myself.A long whistle insinuated itself. It was Lifeguard Joe, huge arms, with his paddleboat.“Let’s go,” he said. This was the day he’d been preparing for his whole life.The lady started to walk over but fainted.“Shit,” Joe said.“Wait,” I said. “Sir, that dog is my wife’s pride and joy. She’d never forgive me if I didn’t try to save him myself and besides the dog is very anxious and only responds to me or my wife.”We rowed hard for a long time. I teared up when it was clear the dog was gone.“Dolphins move fast,” Joe said. “I’m sorry I got your hopes up.”We got back but the lady was gone now too. Or maybe we’d just rowed away from her by accident and she was still waiting. I never saw her or Joe again, after I helped Joe put away the rowboat.I lay on the beach. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was outside. My jacket wasn’t actually warm. But I bet Lorenzo and Sheila were snug near a blazing candelabra at their fancy restaurant. BMW’s had seat warmers. I left the beach and took a Lyft home. The driver’s name was Fred. I said nothing.When I got back my key didn’t work. I tried four more times before I for some reason knocked. Of course nobody answered.I used the flashlight on my phone to look at the lock. I also saw an envelope taped to my door. 

Dear Tenant,

We are alarmed to hear of your behavior which has affected another tenant. We have changed the lock on your door using your security deposit. Your possessions will be returning in due course.



I fidgeted with the earrings, turning them around in my fist like they were stress release balls but they weren’t stress release balls so one I wasn’t less stressed and two the earrings stabbed my palm. My bleeding hand.“Fuck.”I didn’t want to stain the jacket pocket so I slapped my hand onto Lorenzo’s door and smeared. I smeared until the tiny hand holes stopped.On the boardwalk I saw flyers. “See This Dog? Call 1-800-LORENZO, it belongs to (my gf) Sheila’s sister, $5,000 reward.”Who was the dog? The dog on the dolphin. I was touched by Lorenzo’s generosity. And if he could be so selfless, I could too. Why not? We looked just like each other. This flyer told me something about myself, some soft bright thing.I remembered where Joe left the boat.I picked it up.I ran to the ocean while carrying the boat.The whole time I was thinking how meaningful Lorenzo’s flyers must’ve been to Sheila.Imagine, some guy loves you and proves it.Tries to find your sister’s dog.The water was too cold but I ran further, slowly.I threw the boat on the water and got on.Sheila was opening Lorenzo’s door, probably, returning from a visit with her sister.I paddled.Lorenzo finished cleaning the kitchen. He got a glass of water for each of them.I was looking left and looking right and paddling forward.Lorenzo showed her dogs up for adoption on Craigslist. He showed her pictures of a dog on the beach. She smiled. She said, “Our own family.” She said, “Alaska.” She lay her legs on his lap. She knew he wanted to quit his job. His life before her—creepo neighbor, shitty job. His life with her—“it would be amazing,” he said. She put her hands on her stomach.I didn’t dress for this; it was cold. I thought salt from the water was being blown into the holes in my hand. I had nowhere to live. I didn’t even know what dolphins do at night.For all I knew Lorenzo was proposing to Sheila that night, on the couch, on their way to Alaska. They were sharing his headphones. They were on Craigslist selling his bike. Lorenzo was reading a book about Alaska, learning everything, stroking Sheila’s hair. Attentive.The moon was big. No stars or clouds. And I saw a tiny white dog gliding toward me on the back of a dolphin. The dog was making its long way from far off and I realized that in my fantasy Lorenzo had cleaned my blood off the door before Sheila came home so she wouldn’t get scared.The dog telepathically asked me, “Are you scared?”The moon telepathically answered, “He is.”The dog was zooming now, closer, and I tried to paddle backwards but couldn’t. I was excited like I’d been playing a game with someone better at the game than me. He was about to make the winning move and out of admiration I took pleasure in my own defeat because it was his victory.The dolphin zipped past me and into the horizon forever.I paddled.
Read More »

THIS IS WHAT I WANT by Tina Wayland

This is what I want.

I want to change the locks on our front door. My front door. I want to pry the deadbolts from the wall, break them with a hammer. Feel the echo of every strike travel up my arms and through my skin, settle in my bones.

I want to throw away the key that hangs from your belt buckle, forget the way you’d bend your hips to the lock like a dance, swaying to catch the keyhole, then tumbling into the room as the door swung open, catching your balance on the picture of us that always hung crooked.

I want to sweep out whatever’s left of you under the bed—the t-shirt you bought at some concert and wore until it grew armpit holes. The corners of old condom wrappers and clumps of dust made from your dead skin, like some snake that took years and years to shed its old life.

I want to scrub your fingerprints off all the dishes, remove the grease stains your lips left on the glasses, the smudges on the silverware. I want to erase the way you hold a cup in your palm, fingers splayed, balancing its weight against your skin. That delicate touch I thought you took with everything.

I want to pull down all the pictures of you off the wall, leaving nothing but dirty outlines and patches of clean nothingness underneath. The parts you couldn’t get to. I want to tear them to pieces, destroy every evidence of you, of us—

—at the beach that first summer, when I burned my mouth on marshmallows and cut the pain with the last of your whisky

—with our used blue Cavalier, when you made the salesman take a picture of us—me in the backseat, and you upfront, my chauffeur in a tweed cap

—at your graduation, wearing the long black gown I spent hours ironing, trying to take out every crease so everything would be perfect

—in the mountains on our last trip—late spring? early summer?—when you wore a new shirt I didn’t recognize and I asked you about it but you didn’t answer…

I want to de-ink this tattoo of our names on my arm, turn the intertwined letters into serpents that eat one another whole until we disappear. You folded your fingers into mine when I said it hurt, promised to run the pain into your own skin so we’d be forever imprinted on each other. So we’d be carved into layers too deep to cut out.

I want to wash your smell out of everything. Bleach the towels and sheets, scour the white leather couch where you’d sit texting, laughing, telling me never mind, babe, doesn’t matter. I want to whitewash the blue screen that reflected off your face in our room, in the middle of the night, filling our space up with the light of words that left me in the dark.

I want to rip up every road that drove us to your parents’ farm, where you’d toss hay bales into the attic and bless me when I sneezed. When the cows came in for winter we’d warm up in a stall—the thick, animal smell of us filling the barn, the cattle echoing our lowing. Once you called me city girl and I bought a checked fleece to prove you wrong. I wore it the day you wanted to leave early, and when I stood up my shirt was covered in hay. A hairshirt. My hair tangled in straw.  

I want to forget all the names you ever called me, all the things you whispered up close or not quite far enough away—




—I can’t…

I want to break the hands of the clock that ticked away at our final days, filled every room with a beating heart that hadn’t yet broken. I want to tear the spines from the books you’d bring back, pages warped and lined in yellow marker like beacons. Like warnings. I want to take back all the times I said OK, stay late, study. Then you’d stack your books in piles by the bed, the bookmarks bent but barely moving.

I want to burn the stairs where you stood when you told me. The long, spiral staircase that we’ve walked a hundred hundred times to our apartment. My apartment. I want to set the top step alight and watch it burn away the memory, turn the wood to ash that will fall to a pile and scatter in the wind, your chain of painful words floating down some dirty alley to bury themselves amongst the other garbage there.

I want to forget the way you held my arm like we were at a funeral. The way you said her name, a life preserver, a rescue raft come to whisk you away. I want to erase the feel of your cheek off my fingers, where they slapped you hard enough that you lost your balance. When you grabbed the railing I wished it would melt in your hands, let you slip through the molten metal, trap you forever at the top of the staircase.

I want to retrieve all those years. To be 18 again. To tell myself not to listen. Cover my ears when you asked me to come for a walk. Push you away when you pulled me behind the tree. Plucked a leaf and held it up to my face. Told me I was a reflection of nature, with the green of the earth and the blue of the sky in my eyes. I want to warn myself that your kiss was not worth it. That your hand cupped my cheek in a clasp, not a caress. I want to stop my back from falling against the tree trunk and letting go.

I want to go back and delete it all.

I want it to never have been.

I want us to have never existed.

I want you to have never been here at all.

This is what I want.

This is what I want.

This is what I want.

Read More »


Read More »


It had been arranged that she would take a stroll through the engine room before supper. Captain Venkman had assured her that they would hold a place at the captain’s table for her if she were detained. Not for his command were the martinet’s peevish demands. He prided himself on, not only an “untight” ship, but a downright anarchic one. “I have found over the years of our voyage, Randi,” the captain had confided on their first interview, “that a rudderless, aimless, and frankly lost ship is no place for unnecessary rules.”

“Some might differ,” Randi protested gently. She sensed a game of some kind that she wished to negotiate in a properly playful spirit. “In the absence of external order, internal discipline is said to be the only refuge of the survivor, don’t you think?”

Captain Venkman laughed long and heartily at Randi’s words. “That might apply to the usual kind of lost, where there is still hope of finding one’s way, but you see, the Sundstrum is not merely lost to land or destination. Within we are truly lost to the world.”

"I don’t understand,” Randi said. “There are plentiful provisions, and the crew and passengers all seem filled with hope and expectation.” She found her breath caught in her throat. “I myself have someone waiting. To be told there is no hope…” She regained her composure and rebuffed his warm eyes with a sharper tone. “You said that anarchy reigns here, Captain. I see no evidence of this. Everyone seems perfectly well behaved, and the ship and crew are smartly appointed. There is lights out at nine bells, and stewards fluff our pillows with alacrity and cheer.” Her voice faltered and tears clouded her eyes. She was furious and distraught.

Captain Venkman gave Randi a monogrammed handkerchief stitched with HMSS in the queen’s blue and gold. “I’m sorry, Randi. Of course there is order and regulation. Up here there is hope and steady compass, sextant and GPS and the stars. There will always be steady progress marked, and made. I only meant to suggest that if you are a little late for dinner we will understand, and accommodate.”

“But Captain, why invoke this vision of chaos?”

“Randi,” and here Captain Venkman’s eyes darkened and his voice grew low and rough, “it’s the engine room. Down there, we are lost. There is no governor. There is no way.”

“Do you forbid me to go, then? Why not declare it off limits?”

Captain Venkman stood then, the cabin suddenly shrinking with his girth. “No, Randi. I don’t forbid your stroll through the engine room.” He pushed open the cabin door roughly and stabbed a shaking finger into the passageway. “I command it. Go.”

Read More »


How to tie a Slip Knot

A simple loop in a piece of rope, this functions well by itself on the surface. It’s easy to undo, remake. The void it creates is reaching out for something, wanting purpose, to be entwined. Some may tell you it cannot be defined, but these are the people who tell tales of elusive mermaids and fiercely protective sea-serpents.

How to tie the Fisherman's Knot

Tie a loose knot with the working end of a rope around another rope. Best used to tie two separate but equal pieces together quickly, but not so quickly that they don’t know what they’re getting into. Can be pulled in two different directions to test it, such as thinking of long nights at sea with the world rocking under your feet versus searching for the salty taste of zephyrs.

How to tie the Backup Knot

If you have established the Fisherman’s Knot will probably hold, but it is inexplicably filled with yearning for something it cannot touch and can hardly describe, wrap the free end of a rope around an extra piece. Work the end back to the primary knot, for extra security against slippage such as dreams filled by the memory of water droplets against scales.

How to tie the Water Knot or Ring Bend

This is the best knot for webbing, for straps or harness, not for unexpected connective tissue developing between fingers or toes, or other throwbacks. Tie an overhand knot in one end leaving a measured length free, for a given definition of freedom that changes every day. Retrace the knot in the opposite direction and pull tight. Be sure to inspect for signs of slippage such as falling into stagnant water and not coming up for air.

How to tie the Constrictor Knot

If tied carefully, it grips to itself and cannot be undone. One mistake and many years of hard work can be released like an oyster expelling its pearl. Starting in front of the desired object, wrap from right to left, bind and cross over. Remember to make enough eye-contact for dominance but not so much that it makes you consider the impact of these actions.

Repeat until there is no searching, no dreaming, no falling. Revel in the rawness as the rope burns your hands. Ignore the voices chanting that the more you try and hold onto something that doesn’t belong to you, the more likely it is to find a way to slither out of your grasp.

Read More »

ARBORIST by Lanny Durbin

Guy was just standing there in my backyard. He was hacking at the Sweet Gumball Tree that reached up through powerlines and my touched my neighbor’s roof with its old, outstretched arms. Chopping at it with an axe. I’d been watching him for fifteen minutes from my kitchen window. He’d barely gotten through the stiff bark. The spiky little gumballs that grew from the tree’s veins were raining down on him. He just kept chopping, chopping, chopping.

This was bullshit. I’d called off work again, spent the morning willing myself from the bed. I’d driven across town to the used video game store and bought a Sega Genesis. I was depressed and I was going to try to numb it by sinking into some old soft memory for the day, because that’s what you do sometimes when you’re depressed, you line up every futile gesture you can think of. I was going to play Zombies Ate My Neighbors until things cleared up or until my boyfriend came home and shamed me, whichever came first.

I watched him chop away. He looked so angry yet so determined. I decided I should find out why he was trying and so far failing to kill my tree.

“Why are you chopping at this tree?” I asked as I approached.

“S’posed to do it,” he said.

“Yeah, okay, but I mean...you know.”

It seemed that the man couldn’t be reasoned with.

“Who sent you?” I asked. I didn’t see a work truck around or any orange flags or a company logo on his grey T-shirt. He didn’t have the build of a city worker, that burly, greasy look. He was skinny and soft like me. “Do you have some ID or something?”

“No ID,” he said. “Listen, buddy, I work for the city. Tree removal.”

“But this tree doesn’t need removed.”

“Says who.”

“Me. It’s my tree.”

The man stopped hacking then. He considered me and considered the tree again. “Is it really anyone’s tree?”

“Mine. My house, my yard, my tree.”

“But think about it. You didn’t plant this tree. Way too old, look at it. Can you own something that’s already there? It’s just there?”

 “What is happening right now?”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead and swung the axe at the tree again. I went back inside. I poured a glass of water and drank it over the sink. I stared at the brown tile behind the sink, wondered what the hell just happened out there. He had me stumped, no pun intended. I wondered if I was getting pranked. I sat down on the couch and tried to focus on the video game again. Still, the chopping continued over the digital bleeps. I poured another glass of water and went back into the yard.

“What about this,” I said to the guy’s back. “If the tree’s not mine then it’s not yours either. By your own logic this tree belongs to no man, so what gives you the right?”

He stopped and leaned against the axe while he reflected on my inquest. Finally he said, “Well, got me there.”

“I suppose,” I said. I handed him the glass of water. “Hot as hell out here.”

He smiled and drank up.

“Can I assume that you’ll stop chopping my tree down now?”

“I’ve already gotten through the bark though,” he said. “Would seem cruel to stop now. Listen, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“You’re telling me.”

“I thought this would do the trick,” he said, almost as he if he was just thinking out loud. “See, I don’t work for the city. It’s just, well, things aren’t going so good for me. I don’t know anymore. I wanted to be an arborist when I was a boy but now I’m too old to follow that dream, huh?”

“I don’t think arborists just chop trees for no reason,” I said. “They study them?”

“Study, chop down, what’s the difference.”

He looked like he could cry. I walked away and went into my garage. It was packed full of shit my boyfriend James and I had bought and never used. We’d come to the realization that there wasn’t anything left that we liked in one another, so we started buying shit. To fill the space, I don’t know, but now I understood this man in my back yard chopping my tree. In my garage there was a brand new axe we’d bought for some reason. I had to peel the plastic sticker off the handle.

“Know what,” I said to the guy when I returned. “I hate this tree.”

We started hacking at it together, one on either side. Maybe if we’d been better prepared we would have gotten one of those long, two-manned saws. We chopped together, the spiky gumballs raining down hard. Bugs crawl away, squirrels took the hint and hopped to another tree, birds wondered what the hell. The guts of the tree really started to show, pale and splintered. My arms were killing me already.

Still, it felt good. Something was loose inside again.

James came home from work and flipped. The guy and I shook hands and he walk on, axe over his shoulder. I think of him now when I see an arborist on the landscaping TV show and wonder if he’s okay. I think of him when I don’t want to see James anymore. I think of him when I wonder what’s wrong with me. I think of him, and I wait for him to come back so we can finish chopping down this fucking gumball tree.

Read More »

TIME-EATERS by Kaiter Enless

“I don't have no problem.”

“Sure seem like you do.”

He shook his head, a fractional gesture, noticeable only due the couple's proximity.

“Well, I don't. Was you what started yappin.”

She folded her arms below her breasts, turning slightly away, staring at nothing, muttering, “Fine.”

“Yeah. It is. Why you being this way, Lyla? Ain't never was like this between us before. Now, all a sudden, you're constantly screwing up your face, hmph-ing all over the place, snapping at me for no good reason, constantly try'n ta start something...”

“Ain't try'n ta start nothing.”

“Good, cuz there ain't nothing to start.”

She made an expression that was midway betwixt the spitting-upon-of-disgust and the-self-indulgent-sigh-of-petty transgression. Harmon Kessel finished his frozen yogurt, threw it in the parking-lot trash can and turned to his girl with a expression she could not place and then fished out a cigarette and stuck it between his blood-red lips and stood smoking and watching the gulls turn circles in the thermals above the pavement.

It was one big cliché. A stupid and boring one, Harmon thought to himself with mild irritation. This venomous exchange and the countless ones that had gone before it. He was not a intemperate man but his reserve – like as every others – had its limits and in Lyla's constant scrapping he was finding his. He blew a circle of smoke up and out over the parking lot before the ramshackle plaza, proud he'd remembered how.

“We've had this conversation before, Bluebird, and before we had it, we heard it.”

She turned to look at him from the corners of her eyes. He didn't like that. The way she side-eyed him as if he weren't worth the fullness of attention, as if he were merely a speck of colorful paint, floating at the terminus of all perception.

“What are you on about?”

“It's the same argument I always hear from couples – that everyone hears – whether its from memories of my parents or from the parents of my friends or from my friends, newly-wed, or from some book or movie. I've heard it and so have you. I reckon people have been hearing it since they was able to do so. People arguing bout nothing. Eating up time. We're time eaters. Time eaters what pay no mind to whats on their plate. That's our problem as a species.”

She cracked an awkward smile, frailer and less broad than it used to be. He dearly missed the way she used to smile, a little slice of moon with the twin suns of her dark coffee eyes shining above it.

“Anyone ever tell you that you're strange?”

Harmon took a drag, considering. Nodded and spoke flatly.

“Bout once a week nowadays.”

“Can't say I'm surprised.” She was flipping through her phone now, less than half-listening. Harmon took another drag, his expression falling into a drab blankness. He'd meant the statement as a joke. She used to laugh at that sort of thing, at his dry, off-kilter humor drive by flat overstatements of the commonplace. Just two years ago she'd have been cackling like a hyena. Now she couldn't seem to tell when he was being serious or not. Harmon thought maybe in him some fault lay for that; maybe he was too serious, too tense on the thread of life, like as his father had said. He never smiled anymore. It was just his way. One of the gulls swooped down to the parking lot and pecked a greasy hamburger wrapper that some litterbug had left behind. Prodding with its baldish beak til it found a fry. As Harmon watch it abscond with its prize and flutter up into the shine he wondered why he couldn't feel sadness. Given the situation, it seemed appropriate; like as it would be the normal response. For all Lyla's accusations of peculiarity, Harmon had always considered himself a relatively normal person. Average in most ways. Average height, average looks, or maybe, a little above average looks, average job ghostwriting with under average pay, average build, maybe leaner than most. Lean but muscular. It was only when it came to his mind that any peculiarities began to manifest themselves, odd turns of phrase and archaic words which pleased his ear and so oft poured from his lips; ruminations on the state of things that seemed beyond all ken, save his own. His grandfather had once said that Harmon spoke like a man that were unweaving a secret loom that only he could see. The random girls at the bar thought it was “sophisticated,” their boyfriends “pretentious,” Harmon's amiable acquaintances just said he “talked funny.” He took a long drag of the fervid Fortuna and thought on the phrase “amiable acquaintances.” Most of what he had that were social were such. He reckoned he didn't have any friends. Not anymore. None save Lyla. Only she was different. Friend and lover. Sweetheart since high school. A bond worked for nearly 12 years. Most of the others he'd withdrawn from. He liked his solitude and hated hypocrites, whiners and backstabbers of every stripe and in his estimation the great writing mass were usually some combination of the aforementioned. His snail-like ways had never caused him any trouble, like some he'd knew who'd moan about being misunderstood. Most people weren't hard to understand and if one found oneself alone it was only for two reasons: because one were worse than all or because one were better and didn't seek to lead. Harmon knew he weren't the latter as the socially ostracized were merely the plaything of the moment for him, no different than changing a tire or scaling a blue gill. Just another thing to do. But he wasn't too sure about the former.

He looked away from the gull. Back to his girl.

She was still on her phone, drifting towards the passenger-side door.

“I've gotta meet, Serena.”

“Right, right. Art show.”

Harmon finished off his cigarette, dropped it to the blacktop and crushed it out beneath his heel with a faded serpentine hissing and then got in after the girl and drove out of the frozen yogurt shop where they'd shared their second kiss, the gravel sputtering beneath the ceaseless, half-deflated wheels of the battered 1990 Ford Escort Hatchback.

He looked over at her and smiled.

“I had a good time with you. Been too long, Bluebird.”

“Yeah.” She replied without excitement, gaze still fixed to her phone, as if afraid to look up. He guessed she was still talking to Serena or one of her other art school friends he'd never met.

His smile faded and he drove the rest of the journey in silence, smoking and tapping the ash out the crack of the window and watching it sputter in butterfly whorls into the oblivion-warp beyond the ambit of the roiling machine.

Read More »

ANIMAL HOUSE by Kara Vernor

Hard Rock Hare clamped headphones over his ears and hopped around in front of the stereo. He liked The Clash and Black Flag, but today he listened to Johnny Cash. He thought Cash was good too, if not a little somber.

Stoner Hare reclined on the couch and smoked a joint, first watching his roommate’s pogo, then becoming distracted by the involuntary twitching of his own nose. He focused on it, his eyes crossing a bit, and tried to still it with his mind.

The Tortoise barged in, as much as a tortoise can barge. He said, What’s going on in here? I can’t concentrate with all the banging.

The hares rushed him, laughing, and bounced back and forth over his shell.

Cut the crap, the Tortoise said. I was trying to meditate. Now I’m going to chomp some lettuce. Maybe you’d like some, too?

Stoner Hare would have eaten a couch leg had he been offered one. Hard Rock Hare never turned down food. He’d toured extensively in a multi-species grindcore band and learned to eat whenever the eating was good. They joined the Tortoise around the lettuce bowl until they grew sluggish and full, eventually tilting onto the floor.

Do you think there’s life on other planets? Stoner Hare said gazing at the popcorn ceiling above them, its moon-like divots and bumps.

Most definitely, said Hard Rock Hare. They’re here already, running biological experiments. How else do you explain ferrets?

(His drummer had been a ferret.)

The Tortoise thought to defend ferrets but instead said, Let’s focus on our breath.

The hares breathed themselves into a soundless slumber, the headphones bellowed I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and the Tortoise, his mind now alight with thoughts of alien life, tapped a foot to the beat

Read More »

SURVIVOR! by Julia Tausch

The grouchy buildings of The Six, the dirty snow’s hectic dance – it was all far beneath me now. Keely, my thirteen year-old niece, had taught me to call Toronto “The Six.” She reeked of perfume that seemed to combine garbage with vetiver and beets but was surely expensive. The smell emboldened me – rot and beauty enmeshed. It blurred my warring worries and desires.

So far, I loved flying. The soothing keen of the engines; my seat a mini-empire, a customizable media-pod; the shiny dossier in my seatback pocket pregnant with a secret I was itching to share. I loved, instantly, the neighbours I was nestled between – a rumple-suited man with a sparse ring of gossamer hair, a woman with a large mole on her cheek in head-to-toe baby pink (sweat suit, eye mask, neck-pillow), both asleep since before we taxied out. I loved, too, the slim aisle of knobbly carpet between the banks of seats, the flight attendants gliding along, resplendent, serene, behatted.

I had to stop thinking like this or I might talk like this on TV. No one liked the type of person who said “behatted.” Partly I’d been spending time with Keely to emulate her guarded vocal fry. It sounded so lovely, like she had countless better things to do than finish her words, let alone her thoughts. If Keely had been chosen to compete on Team Togorna upon the pristine beaches of Laos she would simply drape her bikinied body over a log and wait while the other contestants wept snottily, suffered night terrors, sprained their ankles and yelled about rice. Then she’d saunter home with the million dollar prize.

But it wasn’t Keely with seven bright bikinis folded into neat knots in her backpack. It was me. Yes, it had been her who’d helped me pick them at some ungodly store on Yonge. Street where the squealing staff descended like jackals; it had been her who’d insisted upon the very thorough waxing her clique swore by. At thirteen. But this had seemed like a good time to follow her lead.

Over post-wax salads I’d spluttered “I can’t go! Who’ll take care of Nana? The new meds make her so withdrawn. She hardly talks and when she does...she told me about her and your grandpa’s final fight last night as if it were yesterday! If we just knew what it was, I’d feel better, but…Your mom can’t look after her, she’s so…busy. She doesn’t –”

Keely cut me off. “Oh my god,” she said. “Suzy? Don’t even stress.”

Now here I was with my bathing suits. What Keely had said had dug its little nails into my brainstem. I held a picture in my mind of her face when she spoke those words in the jubilant light of the juice bar: blank save for a crinkle of irritation and maybe, even as her eyes flicked back to her phone, a slight clench connoting concern. Hard to tell; therein lay the power. I carried it with me as we hurtled toward Bangkok. I would not stress.

An hour in I ordered sparkling wine and reviewed the waivers I’d signed, the big font disclaimers, the glossy photos in my dossier. The beach, the host, huts and tents from seasons past, old teammates hugging, robust again after their emaciating ordeals. Soon this would be me. In Bangkok I would meet Team Togorna, board a private jet, and fly to our secret locale. I sipped and the bubbles exploded, tiny pricks of pleasant pain against my tongue.

Last I’d drunk sparkling wine had been at Keely’s mother’s – my sister Kendra’s– wedding. During the dancing I’d plucked a ball of spun sugar off the cake and held it as I gazed out the window of the restaurant Kendra’s new wife owned – fifty-seventh floor of a bank building. I wept because the highway-coloured lake and red-eyed towers were at once so achingly beautiful and familiar as death; my sister had been, in her sparkling dress, like something of spun sugar herself; our mother wouldn’t take her dark glasses off; and Keely had ignored me all night in favour of some new goth cousins. I could never have imagined then slicing through that smoky sky.

But now! My seatmates snored lightly, the window gone the fuzzy gray of no-time. Service-summoning dings offset the engine’s low drone. Again I scanned the disclaimers. I didn’t do great on no food; probably I’d cry a few times. But no sleep? Please. I spent most nights awake, inhaling my shows (competitions only – you can have your teen moms), recording strategies in Excel. By week three I could predict the final two.

Some nights I drove the five minutes to my mother’s, held a mirror to her sleeping face, and waited for the fog. Just in case.

Other times I went to the 24-hour gym. At thirty-seven I had a slamming body in spite of my dead-end desk job plus a brain that pulsed with the will and tools to win.

Don’t even stress.

When I closed my eyes, I saw it. The crew erecting their equipment like spindly totems behind a scrim of blowing sand. The wavy-haired host in his cabana, studying the games and their rules. The craggy, reddish cliffs hugged by humps of verdant jungle, blurred at the edges like so much smudged pastel. The elegant swath of sea – now turquoise, now beige and irate. Though my journey had just begun, I could see, too, the end, as it actually came to pass. When I stood for hours on a stump – no mother on my mind, abs engaged, ignoring the sweat that snaked around the buttons of my sun-singed spine until immunity was mine. When I addressed the council for the final time – just as I’d rehearsed back in The Six – the steamy jungle redolent with freshness and decay. When they listened and I won and could, at last, make it rain.

Read More »

alone i am always smoking by Clare Schneider

Tobacco companies support nicotine patches because, studies have shown, that without counseling, nicotine replacement therapy hardly ever works. Tobacco companies view all “nicotine products as a way to support smoking”

i quit smoking for you and then you left me. this seems unfair.

Girls who start smoking before age 15 are nearly 50 percent more likely to get breast cancer

a woman watches me intently as i smoke outside a restaurant

a man walks past me while i'm on the phone smoking

someone sees me smoking in my car and rolls up their window

my drunk uncle rubs my shoulder after i go outside to smoke

“you’ll lose that pretty complexion of yours if you keep doing that”

i am wearing a see-through shirt. A mother walks by me with her child, they are holding hands.

She yanks him close to her, like i might try and take him away. i remember i am smoking. i put my jacket on.

Secondhand smoke was first determined to be causally associated with lung cancer in 1986

Will fake coughs when we walk by a middle-aged man smoking by the post-office.

“Smokers are bad”

“well, they’re not bad, smoking is bad.”

“no, it’s bad.”

he can’t hold complex, apposing ideas because he is 7.

Ryan called me a horn-god. i mean, dog. And then left me. he left me!

and now i wear these stupid patches all over my back.

the patches big tobacco wants me to wear.

a man at the bar notices the patch peeking out from my shirt.

“what’s that” he says pushing it like a butt. i mean a button.

i have compiled a list:

20 percent more smokers quit after a $1 price increase

The more smoking kids see on screen, the more likely they are to smoke

Girls who started smoking before age 15 are nearly 50 percent more likely to get breast cancer

Studies have shown i quit smoking for you and then you left me

when i was 18 i got “you are a child of the universe” tattooed on me.

“who is you?” you ask facetiously.

i roll a cigarette. i smoke it out your window.

Last week on acid i threw my cigarettes out your window.

“i'm going to quit.”

The next morning i went and got my cigarettes from where they’d landed in the driveway.

my loves, i’m sorry, i will never leave you.

“drugs do wired things” i say gravely over coffee. “i mean weird.”

you cried and told me you were so glad i quit. you cried!

i think you cried because your dad died.

so glad, you wept.

but then you left me. so i’m not sure why you’re glad.

once when i was drunk and in Fiji i asked a man for a lighter but he said he didn’t have one. But he sat down next to me anyways. and he bought me a drink. and he agreed to go swimming in the ocean with me even though it was night time and he was cold. and he saw me in my underwear. and when he swam close to me i swam away. and he said hey wait. and i laughed. and when we got out of the water and i started to roll a cigarette he said: don’t roll another one, you just smoked one and i laughed but then he got upset: smoking isn't attractive. and i laughed. But then he got upset: you know its unhealthy, right and i already swam for you and you’ve smoked so much already tonight. and i laughed. but he got upset: it’s me or the cigarette. and i laughed but he was serious. he was so serious he screamed it at me: it’s me or the cigarette.

and i smoked the cigarette and it was so good.

Big tobacco, I will never leave you.

Read More »

SHE GETS A LOT OF HELP by Kristina Ten

“You have a beautiful home here,” says the man’s boss, taking note of the layered window treatments and the gleaming hardwood floors. Over the mantel hangs an abstract painting of a female nude—tasteful, the boss thinks: wide, flesh-toned brushstrokes, no embarrassing details.

All of this bodes well for the man, who the boss knows is angling for a promotion. That’s why the boss has been invited to dinner at the man’s house, and why he’s told his wife, who was invited as well, though more as a courtesy, that the night probably wouldn’t be of much interest to her.

The man’s house smells of lamb chops. The man’s wife wears an apron, which is neatly pressed and has no stains. She greets the man’s boss warmly as she sweeps into the dining room to place fresh flowers on the table.

Later, when the meal is finished and the man’s wife has left to brew the espresso, the big boss leans over and tells the man:

“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but your wife is really something. The food, the house…”—he waves his arms generally—“She does this every day?”

“Sure,” the man can't help but grin, knowing he’s made an impression. “But between you and me, she gets a lot of help.”

“How do you mean?”

The two men roll up the sleeves of their dress shirts to the elbows as the man tells his boss about the mechanism of the Grub ‘n’ Scrub™.

“It’s new on the market,” the man tries not to sound too proud. “It looks like your average dining table, but the interior is lined with wires and water jets.” He lifts up the tablecloth to show there’s no outward difference.

The big boss nods, rapping his knuckles appraisingly against one of the table legs.

“The sensors on the tabletop know when the dishes are empty, the sensors on the chairs know when no one’s sitting on them anymore, and they’re all connected to one another, exchanging information. Then the tabletop just opens up and the dishes slide into the hidden compartment, where they go through a wash cycle. No clearing the table anymore. It’s all automated.”

“Fascinating,” the big boss murmurs, and asks to see the Grub ‘n’ Scrub™ in action.

The man’s face flushes. “Oh, it’s set on a timer. The wife likes for it to run after we’ve gone to bed.”The man’s wife comes back into the dining room holding a tray with a pitcher of milk and a trio of tiny porcelain cups. They clink against their saucers cheerfully.

“Of course, these gadgets aren’t cheap,” the man adds as a way of closing the conversation. “But you know what they say: happy wife, happy life.” He winks in the direction of his wife, who is busy distributing the cups and doesn’t notice.“Besides, it’s incredibly quiet. We run it every night and I barely hear a thing.”


The man’s buddy from college is in town for the weekend and the man offers him the guest room. They spend their mornings at the gym, where they both pay for day passes because the man has misplaced his membership card. In truth, the man hasn’t been a member at this gym in a decade, but remembering the effortlessly lean, muscular physique of his youth, he thinks it would be better if his friend thought otherwise.

They spend their mornings at the gym and their afternoons drinking beers on the patio, reminiscing about their college years and comparing their successes since.

Every time the man’s buddy returns to the guest room, even if it’s just to grab a jacket, the pillows are fluffed and the bed is perfectly made.

On his last evening in town, feet against the patio railing and a cold glass in his hand, the man’s buddy comments on the bed linens:

“Looks like you got yourself a good one, huh? I remember your place on campus. There’s no way you’re making that bed all the time.”

The man laughs. “I can’t complain. But between you and me, she gets a lot of help.”

He goes on to describe the Magnificent MagEdge™.

“It’s so simple, when I found out about it, I couldn’t believe nobody had thought of before. The one downside is that you have to get it as a set: frame, sheets, comforter, mattress, everything. So it ends up costing an arm and a leg.”

The man’s buddy looks skeptical.

“It’s just magnets, man. Really strong magnets on all four corners of each piece, so the magnets on the covers lift up and pull down to attach to the magnets on the frame. You get up and it just sorts itself out.”

“But how does it know whether or not someone’s in the bed?”

The man explains the sensors on the frame and the timer function, which his wife controls.

The man’s buddy shakes his head, amazed. “I’d never even heard of it. Guess I moved out of the city and now I’m living under a rock.”

“Don’t beat yourself up too bad,” the man tops off his buddy’s beer. “I gotta admit, I didn’t know about it until the wife mentioned it, and by then she had already had it installed. She has a knack for finding this stuff. You know what they say: Work smarter, not harder.”

The man’s buddy nods and the two make a toast to the world’s ever-advancing technology, and its ability to improve their everyday lives.


It’s a nice day in early autumn, so the man and his wife have their neighbors over for a game of cornhole. While the man’s wife is making the lemonade and putting out the beanbags, the man entertains the neighbors in the pleasant chill of the air-conditioned living room.

Looking out the window at the manicured lawn, the neighbors—a couple about the same age as the man and his wife, but newer to the neighborhood—lament the state of their own backyard.

“The season’s barely started and the leaves are already coming down like crazy. It’s a mess. It’s like we spend the whole day raking and blowing, then we barely get a chance to sit down before the yard is covered again. I don’t know how you keep yours so tidy.”

The man observes his wife bending over to set a basket of beanbags next to one of the raised platforms. They always play blue; the neighbors will play red.

“Honestly, I remember how much of a pain that was every fall. So I can empathize. Now the yard is the wife’s domain.”

The neighbors look mildly surprised.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says quickly. “She gets a lot of help.”

Curious, they sink further into the plush sofa as the man continues. This is one of his favorite stories, and he delivers it like a sales pitch:

Tired of that annual struggle? Unsightly leaves piling up, and you powerless to stop them? If you think about it, even evergreen trees aren’t really evergreen. If you’ve ever had a Christmas tree, you know that pines shed needles like nobody’s business. Now imagine if every tree could keep its leaves where they belong: up on the branches, up off your yard. Introducing: TrueEvergreen™.

“They’re not real trees, per se,” the man says, “in that they’re not organic. But they sure had me fooled. Same bark, same roots, same leaves. They even give off some sort of scent that attracts all the same kinds of animals. And if it’s good enough for the birds and squirrels, it’s good enough for me. The wife had them planted while I was at work, and if she hadn’t told me about them one day, to this day I wouldn’t know the difference.”

The neighbors exchange jealous glances and the man kicks himself. He has this habit of coming on too strong. He was hoping to be able to talk next about the self-alphabetizing bookshelf or the dust-free flooring—all these innovations that set his home apart.

But the TrueEvergreen™ modification isn’t a good opener; even his mother thinks it’s too extravagant. Carrying on in this vein would be impolite.

As if on cue, the man’s wife taps on the window and waves them out into the yard. The game is ready to start.


The phone rings in the house where the man and his wife live, and where so much gets done. The phone rings once, twice, three times. The man’s wife is sitting on the sofa, waiting, counting. When the phone rings a fifth time, she sighs and lifts herself off the cushion. She returns the throw blanket to its place on the back of the armchair.


“Hello,” says a soprano voice on the other end. It carries a slight accent. “Is this the man’s wife?”

And the man’s wife says, “Speaking.”

It’s the wife of the big boss who stopped by recently for dinner and came home with fantastical tales of a dishwasher disguised as a dining table. It’s all automated. It’s all programmable. It can be fully customized to meet your needs.

The boss’s wife first apologizes for missing the dinner. She mumbles something about an unreliable sitter. She’s sure the lamb chops were exquisite. “Now, the reason I’m calling…”

The boss is a big boss; money is no object. If there are devices that can make their lives easier, that’s the sort of convenience the big boss would be willing to pay for. They have someone who cleans the house, of course, and she’s a lovely woman.

“But you know what they say: Good help is hard to find.”

Besides, the boss loves new things.

The boss’s birthday is coming up and his wife would like to surprise him with the unusual piece of furniture he hasn’t stopped talking about since he went over for dinner that night. She thought she might find it at the department store, but nobody working there knew what she was talking about.

The boss’s wife is wondering if the man’s wife can remind her what the amazing object is called and, better yet, tell her where she got it. And if it’s not too forward of her to ask—not that it matters, really—could the man’s wife tell her how much it cost?

The man’s wife blinks into the phone. In the silence, she can hear the birds chirping in the trees outside, the squirrels chittering and leaping from branch to branch. Finally, she says in a measured tone:

“I don’t know what it’s called. And I don’t know where to find it. And I don’t know how much it would cost.” She pauses. “But I do remember telling my husband about something like that once. I’ll spare you the specifics, but it was one of those heated conversations that you don’t remember much of and try not to dwell on after it’s done.”

The man’s wife goes on, “I suppose I am the inventor of this piece of furniture, and of a number of others, come to think of it. I’ve always had a wild imagination. I just didn’t think his imagination could be as wild as mine.”

And suddenly it dawns on the boss’s wife, and she turns sheepish and contrite. Her speech speeds up, her accent faltering and her voice picking up gravel.

“Oh, how stupid of me! How stupid of us! How silly for my husband to believe yours. And for your husband to believe you! How could he be so, I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this”— and she searches for the word, not so agitated as to be careless—“so uninformed?”

The man’s wife thinks about this for a while. She thinks about the man and his mother. She thinks about the man’s boss: a cloth napkin left crumpled and covered in marinade on the dining table by the floral centerpiece, petals already curling at the ends.

She thinks about the man’s friend from college, who she knows sleeps diagonally because of the way the covers were kicked off the bed; these intimate details of a stranger.

She thinks about her neighbors and how she sees them out in their yard sometimes when she is out in hers. The two work their yard together, one with the rake and the other with the leaf blower. They switch from time to time, each taking their turn, but they never once look over.

How could he believe her? The man’s wife remembers the boss’s wife on the other end of the line.

“Well,” she replies. “He gets a lot of help.”

Read More »

PABLO’S HAIR by Sandra Arnold

When we got to the farm Bill explained that the dead boy’s parents had asked him to keep the pregnant mare and her two year old colt till they found a buyer, but none of the guys who came to look at her could even catch her.

“Don’t worry, Beth,” he reassured, “I’ve asked Pablo to do a bit of schooling so she’ll be calm enough for you to ride.”

We turned the corner into the barn and saw the colt tied to the fence. His mother, a beautiful bay, was tied to a pole while Pablo, sweat soaking into his red bandanna, laid into her with a whip. The mare was foaming at the mouth and you could see the whites of her eyes as she galloped round and round in terror.

I stopped dead in my tracks. “You call this schooling?”

Dad flashed me the look he reserves for when I open my mouth before I get my brain into gear.

Bill explained that he was starting a riding school, so it was important that the horses were quiet and well-trained.

“Yeah, right,” I shot back, “like that’s going to happen if you let Pablo loose on them. Tell him to untie her.”

Dad told him it was okay, so Bill said something in Portuguese to Pablo. The minute Pablo untied the mare she tore out the barn like there was a lion on her back. I grabbed a lead rope and followed her with everybody running behind me. When the mare got to a safe distance she started grazing. I approached her real slow, talking to her all the time. After a few minutes she let me stroke her shoulder. After another minute I slipped the rope around her neck and walked her back to the barn. By now half a dozen of Bill’s agronomy students had wandered over. They were all looking at me as if, like, “What planet do you come from?”

 Dad said if I wanted the mare she was mine. I asked Bill what her name was.

“Cristiane,” he said. “Her colt doesn’t have a name yet.”

A thumb-sized humming bird buzzed in front of my face before diving into a flower.

“What’s the name for humming bird in Portuguese?” I asked.

“Beija-Flor,” Sal said. “It means kiss-flower.”

I stroked the colt’s mane. “Hi Beija-Flor,” I whispered in his ear.

After we bought Cristiane and Beija-Flor I went to the farm every weekend. When Bill saw the way I rode he asked me to go to a horse auction to help him pick out some decent horses for the riding school.

We got three beauties, a gray, a chestnut and a roan. Bill said I could name them. The roan was very close to foaling and she reminded me of my first pony, Gloria, so that one was easy.  Then I offered to come every day to train them all. Bill whistled between his teeth and said he had to be careful not to offend Pablo, who was still smarting over the Cristiane episode. For once I did get my brain into gear before voicing my opinion about Pablo.

I saved this for Sal, a few days later, after we’d watched Gloria’s new foal stagger up off the straw on his matchstick legs and take his first drink.

“We’ll leave them to get acquainted,” said Bill, ushering us out of the paddock and closing the gate. “I’ll have Pablo check them over this afternoon.”  Seeing my expression he grinned and said, “But you can choose his name.”

“Glorious,” I said. “Son of Gloria.”

“Perfect,” said Bill.

Sal and me headed over to the farmhouse to have a game of volleyball.  “Pablo check them over?” I began, incredulously.

My sentence was interrupted by an explosion of swearing from inside the farmhouse and Pablo’s goat flew out the front door on the end of someone’s foot. Pablo’s head poked over the top of the pigsty. When he understood the reason for the racket he came lumbering out, scratching his neck. The goat saw him and bounded over as if it was about to fling itself on his chest in pure joy. Even at that distance the pong was enough to singe a layer or two off your tonsils.  Pablo grabbed it by the horns and dragged it towards us.

Me and Sal started gagging. It did no good though. “What stink?” he always said when we whinged about the goat. He tied it to a tree.

“Why can’t you take him into the pigsty with you?” Sal complained.

“Because I’m chopping up a stillborn calf for the pigs,” he answered, sliding his eyes across at me.

When Sal translated this I gagged again, this time for real. His face split into a grin like a sliced melon and he went swaggering back to the pigsty, hoiking and spitting.

“He hates me,” I sniveled.

“Nah. He’s scared of you,” Sal said. “The other day he was trying to catch the new Appaloosa and it kept running away from him and one of the guys said,  ‘Let Beth do it’.”


“But then Pablo said it wasn’t a job for girls, especially skinny snooty up-themselves white girls from a country nobody’s even heard of.” She hooted with laughter at the expression on my face.

I watched the top of his bandanna bob up and down behind the wall in the sty. That bandanna was probably red because it was saturated with blood. Nobody’d ever seen Pablo without it. I bet he even slept in it.

Once, Sal dared me to ask him why he never took it off and he said it was because he had this real thick curly hair and it was difficult to keep it clean with his work on the farm, but Sal and me had our suspicions. Soon after that we saw him dive in the lake and swim underwater all the way to the other side. When he climbed out he was completely starkers, but his bandanna was still grafted in place. He stood still for a minute, just gazing over the water, looking like one of those huge termite mounds that were all over the farm.

The fumes from the goat made us abandon any idea of playing volleyball and in two minutes we were out of gassing range and heading back to the barn.

Beija-Flor came up to me and stuck his nose in my neck. I decided to ask dad if we could ship him and Cristy back to New Zealand when Dad had finished his contract here. I sure didn’t want them to end up as street horses pulling carts of rubbish and being flayed with sticks to run faster and faster when they were exhausted and thirsty and the sun was blazing down on their poor mangy coats. Cristy plodded over to me and breathed in my face. For the millionth time I made a wish that I could be with her when her foal was born. Then I blew my breath back into her nostrils.

She was bleeding from three new cuts and was covered with ticks again. “Gross, eh?” I said to Sally, picking one off and bursting it between my fingernails. Over the squawking of the guinea fowl, that started fighting for the ticks we chucked at them, I heard Bill’s voice and saw him and two of his students, João and Roberto, trudging across the paddock to the barn.

The guys said something to Sal and she translated, “João wants Roberto to race you. He says he’s going to bet all his money on you.”

Sal thought Roberto was cute, but I didn’t like his voice. He sounded like Donald Duck.

He said, in pretty good English, “I’ve got some cream for you, Beth. You spread it on the cuts and when those vampire bats drink the blood it gets on their feet. Their friends lick it off and it poisons them all.”

I made a face.  “I hope it’s a quick death.”

Bill said, “The other horses are looking pretty good Beth, since Pablo’s been treating them with that cream. It’s only your two the bats are after now.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I don’t want Pablo anywhere near my horses. I’ll put the cream on myself. I’ll get dad to drop me off every day. I could break in the new Appaloosa for you at the same time,” I added hopefully.

Bill sucked in air through his teeth, “Sure, if you can get Pablo to agree to making you an honorary guy.”

Roberto and João cracked up.

I glanced at Sal, who rolled her eyeballs.

Bill took his glasses off and rubbed them on his shirt. “Honey, we’ve just been looking at that new foal. One of the other horses must’ve kicked him. His leg’s broken.”

“Glorious?” I said in disbelief.

He nodded.

My mouth went dry. “But he’s just been born. Are you going to shoot him?”

“I don’t have a gun, Beth. Pablo’ll have to whack him on the head with an axe.”

My face went as green as the tick I was holding.

Bill said, “It’ll be quick. Pablo’ll  know what to do.”

“Speaking of the devil,” Sal muttered.

I looked up to see Pablo sauntering towards us with his parrot, Rosa, squawking in his ear.

Bill told him about the foal. Pablo listened, staring at the ground, scratching his head. If   I walked out he’d see my green face. No way would I give him that pleasure. Bill said he’d know the exact spot to hit the foal, but what if he missed?  Beija-Flor stuck his nose in my ear. I was grateful for the excuse to bury my face in his mane.

There was a long silence. Then Pablo coughed and said, “We could donate him to the veterinary school. Give him a chance.”

I lifted my head from Beija’s neck and looked at Bill, biting my lip. Bill rubbed his chin.

“I’ll ring them,” he said at last, half-running in the direction of the house.  Pablo lumbered after him with Rosa perched on his head like a tattered wedding hat.

Nobody uttered a word. Then Roberto cleared his throat and said, “He found Rosa when she’d just hatched. Her mother was dead near the nest. Dogs probably. Pablo took her home and raised her.”

I watched Pablo disappear into his shack.

“So what about that race?” said Roberto.

He didn’t really sound like Donald Duck.

“I’ll let you ride Skewbald,” I said. “I’ll take Madonna.”

“You nuts?” said Sal. “If she went any slower she’d be dead.”

After the race we cantered back to the barn, laughing and yelling. Bill looked up from the saddle he was cleaning. I waved at him. He’d know from my grin that I’d won again. But his face was the colour of putty.  I vaulted off the horse in one movement. “The vet school said no, didn’t they?”

“I’m sorry honey. So Pablo had to ...”

Sal burst into tears. The guys got very busy unsaddling. I ran out the barn with my hand over my mouth and bent over in the long grass near the henhouse and puked.

I lay there for a minute, letting the sun warm my cold skin, trying not to think of Pablo feeding bits of the foal to his disgusting pigs. Oh wouldn’t he just love that!  I squeezed my eyes tight and hit the earth with the side of my hand pretending it was Pablo I was chopping up into little pieces. Then I bawled my eyes out.

When I was all cried out I hauled myself up and wiped the snot off my face.  My body smelt sour, like cheese left out in the sun. The air burned and stung and crackled. Two swallow-tails flew low over the baked red earth and skimmed the surface of the lake. Yeah, I’d go for a swim and try to feel clean again. As I trailed past the hen-house I heard a high-pitched wheezing coming from inside. I back-tracked and peered through a gap in the planks. Pablo was sitting on a box that was covered with chicken shit, wiping his nose with his bandanna and breathing like he was having an asthma attack. But it wasn’t the sight of the tears glistening in the black leathery cracks of his cheeks that stopped my breath. It was his head. As bald and shiny as a light bulb.

Read More »


Me, Myself, and Eye

My earliest memory is my mother’s panicked expression as she grabbed my face and told me to look at her. I assured her, as best a three-year-old could, that I was looking at her. I had developed a lazy eye, but that wasn’t my first foray into the world of eye troubles.

When I was thirteen months old, I was a quiet baby who didn’t cry, but whose eyes darted back and forth and watered continuously. I’m told my eye pressure at the time was 40, which is extremely high. I was diagnosed with open-angle juvenile glaucoma. The lazy eye, my left eye, my weaker eye, would be a later side effect. Multiple surgeries would take place by the time I was five.

Before I knew how to spell, count, or tell time, I knew I was partially blind. I had to wear glasses long before I knew how to take care of them; even in the McDonald’s PlayPlace ball pit, where a pair still remains undiscovered. I was told for years that a field of vision test was “just like a video game." I had to bring a note on the first day of every school year that explained why I needed to sit in the front row and completely throw off the alphabetical seating chart. I know how to live with it because I’ve never lived without it.

I find it hard to write about my disability for two reasons.

One reason is that I don’t fully grasp it. For most of my life, it has been something handled for me, never by me. All doctor’s updates were directed at my mother, and most of the terms flew, and still fly, over my head. I am not an expert on my disability, which makes me feel like a fraud.

The other reason is that I have the luxury of hiding my truth. You don’t see me as disabled until I tell you. And when I tell you, when you see me that way, even when your intentions are good and your heart is pure, I become incapable in your eyes. It becomes easy for you to see me as someone who cannot achieve anything. And that’s a hard way to be viewed.

But I’m going to try to write about it. So I can see myself clearly. For once.

Explaining Myself

Loosely cup your hands around your eyes like a big pair of binoculars. Now you see what I see.

That’s the explanation I’ve used since middle school because it’s simple; makes me sound like I understand what is wrong with my eyes and I’m dumbing it down for outsiders. It was harder to explain when I was younger.

It started with a cloth eye-patch that would go over the left frame of my glasses. It was used to strengthen my right eye and alienate me from fellow toddlers. I had two alternating patches; one with an embroidered train, the other had a teddy bear. I would wear my glasses lower on my nose and just look over them.

This resulted in an upgrade: flesh-colored adhesive patches that covered my eye and stuck to my young thick Italian eyebrow. My routine became:

Have my mother administer drops.Put on a fresh eye-patch.Have concerned peers on the playground ask me what happened to my eye.Itch around my eye.Have an attendant at the after-school center rip off my eye-patch to administer eye drops.Rub my eyebrow.Put on new patch.Have my mother rip off my eye-patch before bed to administer drops.Rub my eyebrow.From a distance, you would look at me, the flesh tone of my eye-patch blending with my skin, and think I didn’t have a left eye socket.

In middle school, I didn’t have to wear the patch and came up with the binoculars metaphor. I was selective with who I told, but word got around. I was never bullied, but it did come up. It was acknowledged, but never outright mocked. Velma from Scooby Doo, a white Ray Charles, Mr. Magoo, a white Stevie Wonder, or, as a friend from AP English said, “an ancient Greek oracle, a blind prophet.” Or a white Denzel Washington from The Book of Eli.

I would laugh along, only slightly bruised, but knowing that most of the people used as references were fully blind. They didn’t have the luxury of the label and the ability to see the person pointing the finger.

Now, I mostly refer to myself as “legally blind.” An asterisk next to my disability. A technicality. Something I get to use if I need it, hide if I don’t, be ignorant about, and reap the benefits from. A privilege.

Sometimes I’ll try to look up articles about glaucoma and learn about the details of what’s happening to my diminishing peripheral vision and deteriorating optic nerves, but usually, I just get depressed.

There’s no magical eye drop or surgery that could cure me. It can be stabilized when monitored correctly, but any vision lost can’t come back. Right now, I don’t see the importance of becoming an expert. All it would give me is more acute anxiety.

You’re standing on a mountain looking at the most beautiful landscape you’ve ever seen. Loosely cup your hands around your eyes like a big pair of binoculars. To your surprise, you see the magnified details of the landscape and notice a growing darkness racing towards you. There is no way to escape. The darkness will consume you. Do you focus on the darkness for the remaining moments? Or do you put your hands down and enjoy the view while you can?


I love movies. I have felt stronger emotions toward movies than I have most people. Friendships have been ruined based on opinions about movies. And one day, maybe, my glaucoma could progress to the point where I would never be able to see a movie again.

It’s hard for a young kid to sit still in an exam room and get their eye pressure taken. You have to rest your chin on a big metal device with lots of lights and rotating parts. The doctor tells you to stay perfectly still, look forward, and don’t blink as a small blue-glowing nub comes towards your eye. Luckily, pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Arthur had a TV in a cabinet in the corner of his office with a VHS player.

I would spend hours as a seven-year-old agonizing over whether to bring The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King. The selection was ultimately pointless. I’d only get to see about four or five minutes before my pressure was checked. But I was always transfixed. So much so that I didn’t realize until years later that the blue-glowing nub was even touching the surface of my eye.

I’ve spent a lot of my life looking past what is happening to me and focusing on a film. Instead of focusing on an eye exam, I’ll watch “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Instead of wondering why the cable’s been turned off again, I’ll watch School of Rock. Instead of dealing with my unresolved emotions over a break-up, I’ll watch Sleepwalk with Me five times in a row.

On the nights when my mind anxiously wanders through all the possible scenarios of my life and my health and my vision, I wonder what the last movie I’ll ever see will be.

I hope it’s a good one.

Bad Habits

When asked if they brushed their teeth, it is instinct for kids to say Yes, even if they mean No. That same instinct kicks in when you ask a kid if they put in their prescribed eye-drops every morning and before bed every night. They say, “Yes, I’m taking the drops that regulate my eye pressure so it doesn’t get too high and weaken my optic nerves,” but they mean, “No, I’m ten years old with terrible aim and no concept of responsibility.”

I don’t know if my mom knew I wasn’t taking my drops. I do know that every three or four months, when we went to an eye doctor appointment, she would give me the drops right before going into the office. I do know I grew up without facing the consequences of having a messy room, not doing laundry or dishes, general laziness. I don’t know if it’s fair to entirely blame my mother for my bad habits. Shouldn’t I be held accountable too? She never communicated the severity of my condition to me, but I never asked questions to begin with. She never made sure I brushed my teeth, or cleaned my room, or took my drops, but I never cared about myself enough to start of my own accord.

At a point, I became willfully ignorant.

At a point, I went to college over eight hundred miles away in the Western Mountains of Maine where I didn’t take an eye-drop or see an eye doctor for four years.

While engrossed in Theatre and Creative Writing classes, I neglected my physical and mental health, like a majority of college students. There was a subconscious belief that I was immortal. I could bounce back from anything. Everything.

Now a year out of college, I have to actively tell myself that I can’t eat pizza every day, that I have to brush my teeth before bed, that I should try to stretch in the morning, and that I have to face the inevitable consequences of the effect these last five years have had on my eyes.

At the time of writing this, I’ve scheduled an eye doctor appointment. I’m trying to figure out how my insurance works. I’m trying to make sure I have all the right records and information. I’m trying to not stress myself out about my deteriorating vision. From my perspective, nothing about my vision has changed, but since when have I been an expert?

I don’t regret my actions. For a brief time, I got to live without a disability. Or at least pretend to.

Defining Myself

I once had a friend ask me if he was only getting cast in productions because of his race. He was constantly overthinking things, so I gave him a stern, “No. You’re a talented actor, duh.” I thought he was crazy to assume that his race was a factor in a talent-based audition.

Then I started applying for jobs, fellowships, and gigs. To stand out on the page, I would identify as a “legally blind playwright” to hopefully off-set my checked boxes of “white” and “male.” I got a small sliver of what my friend experiences on a daily basis. Is my work being recognized as good work? Would I receive the same attention anonymously? If I get a great opportunity, is it because of my talent or because I fit into “a diverse collection of writers”?

But, walking down the street, I get to blend in. In classes and workshops, my disability is never a factor in the work I present or the notes I give. I never have to speak on behalf of a whole community or justify my right to exist. I get to hide in plain sight, only revealing the full truth when it’s convenient for me.

I’m always trying to find that balance of identification. In high school, my IEP teacher would always tell me if I needed anything, like an iPad or something, the state would pay for it. Of course, I wanted an iPad, but I never needed one for anything related to my vision. I always understood that those resources should go to other IEP students who actually needed assistance.

However, there are resources I do need. I’ll never be able to drive, so I need to live somewhere with a good public transit system. I’m currently applying to get special rates on transit because costs add up quick. And I dream of the not-so-distant future where self-driving cars give me the independence felt by every teenager with a fresh new license.

It’s a hard line to walk: advocating for myself, but trying not to take advantage. Fully representing myself, but not letting my disability define me. Blind, but only legally blind.

Right now, I define myself as Zack Peercy, a twenty-three-year-old writer who loves pizza, movies, and theatre. I don’t have a good singing voice, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. People in my improv classes think I’m weird, but seldom in a good way. I spend a lot of my time fabricating the reality that my friends hate me. That U2 album is still on my iPhone because I never figured out how to delete it. I probably masturbate too much. And I feel more comfortable sharing personal things on stage or in my writing than I do with the people I love.

My disability is part of what defines me, but it’s not how I define myself.

Am I renouncing my community by saying that? Am I doing enough with my privilege to speak out for others? Is it my responsibility as someone on the fringe to speak as or for this community? Am I writing about this for my own journey, or am I writing for you to see me as someone special, honest, real? I’ll get back to you on that.

Looking Myself in the I

My eyes, with a panicked expression, grab my face and say, “Look at us. Acknowledge us.”

And, after twenty-three years, I do. As best I can.

Listen to the audio recording of this essay on SoundCloud here.

Read More »

THE FILTHY OLD MAN by Connor Goodwin

The filthy old man crunched his hand and tossed an empty can over his shoulder, eyes on the road. It landed on a pile of other cans and started a noisy avalanche of aluminum. Some of the crushed cans were tied up in yellow plastic bags from Super Saver, but most were loose and littered the floor. When he had time, he’d take them to the can guy.

The can guy operated out of a parking lot. It was just him and a bunch of flies. The compactor looked like a tall semi-trailer. At the base was a conveyor belt that carried the cans on high. We called it the Stairway to Heaven. Heaven smelled like stale beer, like the old man’s winter coat before he got filthy. When he had time.

The filthy old man lived in a van. And the van, like the man, was filthy. No one would be surprised if, one day, the garbage men mistook the van for a dumpster and lifted it and shook its contents loose. Out would pour a never-ending waterfall of trash: cans, wrappers, newspaper, plastic bags, yellow paperbacks, scraps of paper, half-empty Gatorade bottles, hairballs, plastics of all kinds, spoons, coffee lids, magazines, yogurt cups, sun-bleached clothes, dirty socks, soccer shoes, baseballs and gloves, dirt, loads of boogers, Barnes and Noble receipts. Only one thing belonged and that was the ice scraper. The ice scraper, of course, was broken and frankly, ought to’ve been thrown away.

The filthy old man climbed atop his dirty gold van. He smelled Heaven. Then he nosedived down like a torpedo, curled into a tight cannonball, flipped round three times and stuck the landing. He thrust his arms skyward in triumph and out his raggedy sleeves flew dirty handkerchiefs and stained playing cards. Ice scraper in hand, he planted it like a flag and did a little jig once around. His swinging legs kicked trash in every direction. He then withdrew the ice scraper like Excalibur and batted and golfed away loads of cans in such a fury that he kicked up a cloud of dust.

When the air finally cleared, everyone could see the cherry he sculpted. The cherry was actually a pulpit. And from his mountaintop, the filthy old man surveyed the land. He leaned back and hawked up a loogie and slingshot it into an empty can of beans. Ping!

This signaled the sermon had begun. A nation of crusty men, with nowhere to go but around, gathered to hear his sermon. The filthy old man’s face was nothing more than a red scab - a scab he picked and picked and never let heal, like an irritable volcano. And boy he glowed. He was spitting fire from the pulpit.

The filthy old man’s sermon began: He who is filthy, let him filthy be still. And the crusties below shouted Amen! Then he recapped last week’s games and the crusties nodded knowingly. Some high-fived and some fell to their knees and wept. Then he lamented the price of gas and the dirty wars in the Middle East that hurt or helped Middle West ethanol. The crusties nodded along, Amen! He ended with a prayer and that prayer was a dirty knock-knock joke.

Then he shoved his pulpit off the peak and leaped aboard and rode down the trash mountain to join his crusty congregation below. A cloud of flies trailed in his wake. More converts.

He’d been to Heaven and back. Why not kick the can down the road.

Read More »


The terrarium has always been. It’s made of glass with a great mesh lid on top. A lamp provides warmth throughout the day. We were once scientists and art teachers and coffee baristas. Now we’re just people. Some still go by their name. Some go by titles. They call me Six because I was the sixth one to wake up here.

When the mesh lid is drawn back and The Hand reaches down from above to deliver food and presents we rush to the center, fight for our scraps despite there being enough. The youngest of us scuttle off with bread and grapes, the strongest take turkey legs and bottled wine. Often enough a quarrel ends in a draw, even the weak get a taste of luxuries like cheese and kiwi fruit.

Sometimes we’ll meet by the waterfall and talk about life before we were here. Stories are told of late night talks with friends and first sexual encounters. We like to discuss old sitcoms and favorite restaurants-- none of us know whether these are still active facets of the community we left behind but it’s all we have to remember. Stories about great canyons and tropical forests are told around fire pits. Here, we just have a couple dome houses and a giant wheel to spin around in. It smells like Home-Depot. The Doctor likes to pick up our bedding, composed mostly of shredded newspapers, and read the scraps of information out loud. We always get a kick about what’s bothering the outsiders; politics and celebrity gossip run rampant in headlines still. Imagine if they had to fight for their bread.

At first we wanted to leave, who wouldn’t? We missed our friends and families. We missed our movie theatres, our dogs, and local super markets. But eventually we realized it wasn't going to happen. Whoever wants us here will keep us here, and that’s fine. You might lose an ear or a finger, but still, once everybody is fed it’s not so bad. We have everything we need besides organized rations; friends, doctors, make-shift lovers, and even though our reflection looks at us from beyond the glass we don’t crave to be there anymore. Life inside the terrarium is fine, maybe even better. We have no bills, no appearances to keep up. There’s no pressure to have kids or get a degree. Things are simple. Primal, perhaps even evil when stomachs get rumbling, but incredibly simple. And that’s enough for us.

Read More »

GARBAGE GIRL by Jules Archer

It's trash day. I know it by the cramps in my belly. Not the calendar on the fridge. Or the City of Evanston's website. Or my mother's finger, poked in the face of my father as a reminder to take out the trash because last night's rotisserie is starting to smell.

Once a month, ever since I turned twelve, my cycle's synced to the sound of the garbage truck. Not the full moon or the new moon or the tides. I cramp and menstruate on trash day. My stomach is like Adele, rolling in the deep. But I can't make a peep to anyone because I'm just a garbage girl in a recycling world.

From my bedroom window, I see the solid waste services truck outside. The awkward clang of its arm against plastic can. Aching cramps pulse in my hips, my lower back. The trash can is hauled high, and then dumped. Right on schedule, I bleed.


My mother takes me to a doctor. I tell him about the pain in my belly. She interrupts him to explain the problem with my reproductive organs to me. My mother says, The technical term for it is abdomen. Use medical terminology, Lucy. Use your brain. She takes my hand, presses it lower, near my hipbone, the curve of my pelvis. She slaps my flesh. Hard. She does it again. She sounds it out, says, This is your ab-dough-man. It's where your cramps live. It's where you try to be a woman. Make yourself one if you can.

The doctor watches from a corner. He prescribes only a muted smile. It's the same one my father wore when he left, because no shit, buddy, my mother's awful.


My cycle has changed. Sometimes the cramps arrive on trash day. Sometimes they come at the strangest of times. Like when my mother says to keep it the fuck down or get out of her face. Or the time I overhear a slice of President Trump's speech on TV. Or the day Molly McGrew laughs and announces to the class that my father really ran off with a barmaid. I take a swing at her head. The blood starts to gush out of me. Teachers gather. She's fine, I tell them. She's not the one bleeding.


I Google, what is the definition of trash?

From dictionary.com—

  1. anything worthless, useless, or discarded; rubbish.
  2. foolish or pointless ideas, talk, or writing; nonsense.
  3. a worthless or disreputable person.


Milo, a boy from English class, kisses me, says he loves me. He touches me in nice places and shows me the messy tattoos on his hairless body. The shamrock for luck. The heart for his dead sister. The bed is soft, the room warm, and we take off our clothes. I lean in and bite at his lip very gently. And then I begin to bleed all over the bed. I am early, not due for another week, so perhaps this is a sign. Milo draws back, his face made miserable by nature. You ruined the mood, he says, and I tug on his hair and say, you're right, but it's better than getting ruined by you.


I come to think of my period as a little friend who tells me a monthly secret. When the boy with long hair promises forever, or a piece of litter blows across the ground, or when a college friend promises to pay me back, or when I visit my mother one weekend and she tells me to remember the time she almost ran me over, just think about that, Lucy, think about that, and all I can do is picture shoving her down the staircase, shoving a tampon down her loudmouth gullet, I take a breath. I close my eyes. I use my body. I let it work for me. Let it get me out alive.


Pads and tampons won't cut it any longer. Instead, I sit on the couch, bleeding alone, a rag between my legs, and ruin my pajamas. I send my professor an email. I ask to retake the chemistry test next week. If I leave the house, I'll drown the world. I watch my marmalade-colored kitten paw at the front door. Hear the rumble of the garbage truck. Usually, I'd make my way out to the sidewalk to wave at Ned, my residential curbside collector, and he'd say, Lovely Lucy, how's your new kitten, does she still cry at night, and I'd say, No, not today. Not anymore.


Over coffee, my father apologizes for leaving. Though it is my time of the month, I do not bleed (it holds off until later, when a customer at the pharmacy claims he never received his Xanax prescription), and I accept his apology. This worries me because I wonder if I rely too much on my body. If I try too hard to gauge the garbage of the world with my gut. But I know this is what the world wants me to do. Trick myself out of trusting myself. So they can be the last piece of trash to touch you.


The tattoo artist frowns at the drawing I hand him. He's handsome with a scruffy beard and bed head-like hair, and wears a bowling shirt embroidered with the name Scott. He says, Is this. . .? A tampon, I finish. I point near my hipbone. But it's a friendly tampon. With little arms and legs and a smile and everything.

The tattoo artist laughs. It's a laugh I want to crawl into. Earlier this week I saw him standing beneath the awning of the tattoo parlor. I liked the delicate way he flipped his butterfly knife back and forth, and now I want to see the way he wields a tattoo pen.

I ask, Can you do it?

He stares at me in awe. His eyes, a beautiful, chocolaty brown, crinkle. He grins, says, I can do anything. Where do you want it?

I hear my mother's voice in my head. Abdomen. Interrupting. Like I knew she would.

Right here, I say. I pull up my shirt. Jerk down the waistband of my jeans. I give my skin a light slap. Right on my belly.

The tattoo artist leans down. He studiously examines my stomach, up-close and with fervor. Runs petal-soft fingers over my hipbone. This looks good, he says, and his breath is so warm against my skin, he could steam open my ovaries.


On our wedding night, my husband dances me across the threshold of our honeymoon suite. His palm brands the small of my back. His hand curls around mine like smoke from a fire. Scott says, Remember that time I gave you a tampon tattoo and when I was finished, you cried? It was two years ago, but of course I remember. I kiss his lips, slip my hands into his pockets. You made me happy, I say. With you I knew I could always wear white.


I Google, What to do when trash collection service is interrupted?


Before bed, my daughter eats slices of Satsuma orange and drinks warm milk dashed with cinnamon. She strips off her pajamas, runs around the table naked. I crouch beside her. A tendril of juice runs down her pale Buddha belly. I wipe it away. All that innocence, all that wild. I suck the sweetness from my finger.

Do you love my tummy, mama, she says, rising on tiptoes to loop light arms around my neck.

To the moon and back, I say, telling her a line that is not mine as I watch Scott roll the garbage can to the curb for tomorrow's collection. A red sun backlights him, the falling rain, and I feel the way the blood collects hot down below, the way it readies itself for another day of trash.

Read More »
marston hefner

SO COME BACK, I AM WAITING by Marston Hefner

“You won’t see me again.”

I thought she was wrong. This is such a small city. I thought I saw her at the farmer’s market. I thought I saw her at my yoga studio. She is everywhere I go.

Her name is Leah. She is the woman who causes me mental pain.

If you asked me if I loved her, I’d say of course. I wouldn’t even make exaggerated hand motions.

It is her, driving my car down the 101 after a weekend in San Francisco. I’m in the passenger seat listening to my iPod. She puts her hand on mine and speaks, but I can’t hear what she is saying. I pull off my headphones.

“Can you stop listening to music?” she asks.

“Sure.” I put my hand in her lap. I’m happy to be with her, but I’m also tired of being with her. It’s been a long weekend. We’re always moving when we’re together. Vacations are filled with activities. We equate movement with life. “I want you all to myself,” she says.

It is her, not dying but I think she is dying in the Emergency Room in Lake Arrowhead. She has a urinary tract infection that messed with her bladder or something. I’m sitting across from her dying face. She’s pale and smiling at me. Fluids move into her veins since she’s also dehydrated. She’s dying and I’m looking at her face and she’s smiling at me. I have to be strong. She has no time for the I-will-die-for-you part of me. She has no time for my depression. So I am the strong boyfriend, holding her hand.

Or it is her, at a Halloween Party at my father’s house. She’s dressed as Dexter’s victim, and I am Dexter. Her costume is great. She is exquisite.  She has Saran Wrap around her naked body. We didn’t realize she won’t be able to pee in her costume until she was already in her costume. After a while, we go into my room so she can change. She pees and walks into my bedroom. I pick her up and place her on the sink.

It is her, watching Drunk History with me. We’ve been living at my father’s house for a few days, and we watch Dexter and Drunk History before we make love and then fall asleep. I order the usual fruit bowl for the two of us. A butler brings it in. We’re in bed, looking at a tv that seems too old to be in the room. We’re in a room with pink and white striped wallpaper. We’re in a room with light fixtures that are plastic and black. This was once my mother’s room, but I don’t recognize the room. I don’t recognize the house I’m in.

But with Leah, I am home.

Then there were those other times.

“I mean what kind of father would you really be?”

She felt the love story I wrote about her was too much.

She broke up with me for no reason and came back.

She asked, “But how can you be so certain about me?”

“I just am,” I said.

“I wish I had that.”

And if for some reason she were to cease to exist through a rare blood cancer—did you know someone is diagnosed with blood cancer every 3 minutes?—maybe she’d cease to exist in my head. Because every moment she is alive means there is an objective possibility that she will come back.

We have split 5 times. She has come back to me 5 times.

I am writing a book about my father’s death, but the book is really about Leah. Many times, I’ve written stories that have eventually happened in real life. I wrote about a man dating a woman in a wheelchair, and then I dated a woman in a wheelchair. I wrote about a man who was uncomfortable in an AA meeting, and now I’m in AA.

I wrote a book about a man grieving his father’s death as he falls hard for a woman named Leah.

When my father died, Leah sends me a text, even after I told her to never talk to me again if she didn’t want it to be romantic. She knows every time she reaches out to me, I grab on tightly. She writes her condolences. She says if I need an ear, there is hers. So I tell her I’d like her ear and to see her for coffee.

When I see her, she is shorter than I remember. It has been 4 years since seeing her face to face. She is always breathing heavy. She is always sweating. She pulls her hair from her face.

We walk. We go to an Organic Café/Dinner spot. We don’t talk about us. I am disappointed. It doesn’t seem like she feels anything for me.

But she tells me over the phone she loves me but I know she’s just in love with being in love.

The day after she breaks up with me.

A month later she texts me again.

“Can we talk?” she asks.


“I like you so much and I’m afraid how much I like you. I’m afraid of what people will think. I want to take it slow because I’m going to be all in if this real. It feels so right on so many levels.”

The day after, she forgets to call me.  When she does, she says,  “Like on an emotional level we are 100% compatible, but I just don’t see you in a physical way. I don’t think. I’m sorry.”

“Are you really, really doing this again?”

“It’s not like we were boyfriend and girlfriend or anything like that."

Read More »

FORAGERS by Jaime Fountaine

My mom brought this new guy, Jeff, home, and they want to have dinner together at the table, like I’ve met him before. He’s cooking, which I think is supposed to impress her. She never cooks, so joke’s on him I guess.

Right now the joke is on me, because my mom is doing the thing she always does when she meets a guy where she pretends to be a totally different person, and expects me to do the same.

She says men don’t want you to like them too much right away. They want to work for it. She never says what it is. I know it isn’t sex. She doesn’t make anyone work for that.

Jeff came over with a bunch of grocery bags and made himself comfortable. Too comfortable, really. He took his shoes off without asking and dumped his pockets out by the door, just making himself at home like this isn’t the first time he’s ever gotten here when it’s still light out.

It’s not new. My mom says she loves a man who takes charge, but what she means is that she loves a man who thinks he owns everything in front of him, like he’s the fucking Lion King.

When I was younger, she’d drill me on politeness. All these rules that don’t even apply to me, like how long you have to write thank you notes for wedding gifts. She said that people only think you’re trash if you act like it.

I’m pretty sure that Jeff’s never sent a thank you note in his life.

My mom had perched herself on the counter to watch, ashing her cigarette in the sink while Jeff shuffled and chopped. She always tries to make herself smaller with a man around, as if folding her body in on itself is a disguise. She’s like an actress, playing the woman she wants men to think she is, instead of the one she feels like. It never works for long.

My mother’s no good at containing her feelings. She tells me I’m going to get cancer from bottling mine up, but I don’t see the point in putting everything out there for people to see if there’s nothing they can do about it. She doesn’t see it that way. She wants people to know that she’s hurting, and that she thinks it’s their fault.

Jeff brought those egg noodles that old people get, the ones that come in bags and taste either uncooked or wet, depending on who makes them. I watched them fall out of the dirty plastic grocery bag and shatter on the floor. It didn’t faze my mother, who smiled as she picked them up and put them back, alongside a pile of loose, dirty mushrooms.

“Why did you take those out of the package?” I asked. My mom glared at me. She hates the way I talk to her boyfriends. It ruins the illusion.

“Oh, they weren’t in one. I found a big patch of them on a job today, so I helped myself.”

It’s not like I don’t know where vegetables come from. But if the only thing I know about a guy is that my mom likes him, I don't trust him not to poison me.

“How do you know if they’re the edible kind of mushrooms and not the poison ones?” My mother’s voice was sweet when she asked, as if she was impressed, although I could tell from her eyes that she didn’t trust him either.

“I read a book about it once.”

Jeff doesn’t look like a guy who reads. Jeff doesn’t even look like a guy who thinks. It’s enough for my mother, though, that she smiled and let it go immediately. She never eats much with a new man around, anyway. She could shrug this off no problem.

I don’t really eat breakfast. My mom just drinks diet coke all day until dinner, so there isn’t much around. I’ll get lunch at school and make due with what we have afterward. It’s not usually a big deal. In the summer, half the time, I just camp out in front of the window unit with a sleeve of saltines.

“I know you eat like a bird, but you’re going to love this.” Every guy my mom brings around tries to act like they didn’t just meet at the bar, like they’ve known each other forever. She just swallows it up.

“She looks like she can eat. Hopefully I’m making enough.” They laughed like I wasn’t in the room. It’d serve both of them right if the mushrooms were poison.

I tried to remember what we had in the cabinets, if there was anything I could sneak later. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me eat.

Jeff was narrating the whole thing like he was on a cooking show. I’ve seen cooking shows. There is a calmness to them, watching an old lady or some French guy casually building order out of food and knives and pans. Recipes take shape, things are created. It wasn’t like that.

“You know, people tell you to wash mushrooms with water, but that just makes ‘em soggy. What you got to do is take a paper towel and — shit, Kerri, this knife is terrible. I almost cut my fucking finger off.”

“Oh, honey, are you okay?” My mom slid off the counter to his side, murmuring an apology, like it was her fault he wasn’t paying attention.

“What we’re going to do is get you a better knife. Protect those hands of yours.” He wrapped himself around her like he was comforting a child.

I’ve spent my whole life so far waiting for the day when I stop getting treated like a kid. I don’t understand why she always defaults to helplessness. It’s not like any of these assholes are supporting us. She’s always the one paying.

I wanted to leave the kitchen, but it was clear that the performance was supposed to be for my benefit. My mom always wanted me to see how each man was different than the last one. “He’s not like Daniel was,” she’ whispered, when he turned his back to us. “Jeff cooks.”

I can’t remember if Daniel was the one who broke a plate when he was mad about something or if he’s the one whose wife answered the phone when I called looking for my mom. They all seem the same to me. They’re all bigger than her, a little red in the face from drinking or working outside or both, arrogant for no apparent reason.

They all look at me like I’m a disappointment. I don’t know what she’s telling them.

I started picking at the frayed edge of my shorts, so I didn’t have to look up and see the face I knew my mother was making. I think someone must have told her it was cute once, but it isn’t. The way she opens her eyes as wide as possible and tilts her head to one side reminds me of a big dumb animal, like a cow or something. It’s her pleading face, and she makes it every time, as if I have control over any of this. You can’t make somebody love you. I’ve figured that out already. I don’t know why she can’t see it.

Jeff tried to drain the noodles with a flourish, but all he really did was dump a bunch of water on the ground and didn’t even pretend he was going to clean it up. He just stepped over the puddle and plopped the wet mass in the pan on top of the poison mushrooms.

“Hey kid, why don’t you make yourself useful and set the table?”

I could feel the heat rising in my face. I grit my teeth to keep my mouth shut. I turned to my mother, to get some kind of backup, but she didn’t give a shit. She was just watching Jeff pour a McCormick seasoning packet into the pasta like he was some kind of genius.

If she wants to be spoken to like an idiot, that’s her problem. I don’t know why I’m expected to just sit here and take it.

I knew she’d be mad if I were too dramatic about the whole thing, but there’s really no quiet way to set a table. I could feel his eyes on my back as I plunked the plates down. I knew he was going to sit himself at the head of the table no matter how I set it, so I put myself opposite him. At least then I’d be able to stare him down.

“Babe. Babe, you’re going to love this.” The wet, slapping sound of the food hitting the plate made my stomach clench. He motioned for us to sit down, and started digging into the milky gray slop.

My mother shifted the egg noodles around, and took a bite. “Oh, Jeff, this is great,” she said, but I saw her wincing.

“Go ahead, kid. Eat up.” He glowered at me, like you better not ruin this for me, like my mom was going to suddenly come to her senses if I didn’t eat this fucking pasta. My mom just made her stupid cow face again.

What I wanted to do was scream at both of them that they’re adults and they don’t need my input. Scream at Jeff to get out of my house and take his disgusting dinner with him. To scream at my mother. I wanted to get up and leave and never come back.

But I couldn’t. So I lifted a forkful to my mouth and swallowed it without chewing. It went down slimy and gritty, and I wanted to gag, but instead I looked Jeff right in his eye without blinking, and had another bite.

Read More »


David Tilker is a brewer located in San Antonio, Texas, and he hired me last spring to write his biography. During his vetting process he read some of my work, including two stories here at X-R-A-Y about a character named Jannick Meisner. In the second of these stories, “I Was Married By A German Expressionist,” Jannick officiates a wedding for two close friends and orchestrates a violent and spectacular confrontation with a guest during the ceremony. This guest is actually Jannick’s secret lover. Jannick’s antics intrigued David Tilker and he asked, in a hopeful tone, if the events of that purported work of fiction were based in truth and whether Jannick Meisner might actually be a real life individual.

Jannick Meisner is real, I admit. His audacity is real. The danger he once posed is real. I met him first in Lake Charles.  We were drinking buddies. And we had many mutual friends and I too was a guest at that infamous wedding, on the bride’s side. I witnessed the whole fight. For his own amusement, Jannick had fisticuffs at a wedding he was presiding over. Tilker’s immediate reaction was: you have got to find this bastard, this iconoclast, and bring him to San Antonio. David Tilker was getting married and he wanted the Jannick Meisner treatment.

The finder’s fee was considerable, enough to keep me in single malt scotch for a year, so I agreed to the preposterous task of drawing Meisner out. I first traveled to Lake Charles to search for Meisner at his usual haunt, Pappy’s Bar and Grill. According to the regulars, he had gone to New Orleans to join the Merchant Marine. So I then went to New Orleans and endured the hipsters and tourists and confederate flag wavers and the lousy goddamn smell of the place. I found Meisner’s ship, just back from Kolkata, and his captain complained that Jannick had abandoned the crew in Ho Chi Minh City, to trade in exotic birds.

That night I phoned Tilker to give him an update. He became excitable, “Yes! Follow the goddamn Bavarian to the ends of the earth, if you must.” David Tilker had become infatuated with Meisner and had even started taking German lessons at Texas State University.

So I went to Vietnam. It is a vibrant country. The people are remarkable. Meisner had gotten into trouble with the local authorities and had fled across the border into Laos. And from there he had gone to Myanmar, all the while traveling with a contingent of small, colorful, rare birds he had captured and trained to circle above him and terrorize any who might reproach him, or show any unkindness to children or defenseless women. In point of fact, he became a sort of myth on the Indochinese peninsula, protector of the innocent, that sort of mawkish thing. But like all lawgivers he had flaws, in his case an obsession with orgasm control. His partner would have to bring him to the threshold and stop, and repeat and stop, all day. The criteria for loving Jannick physically was simply burdensome. According to the people I interviewed, ranging from simple villagers to high powered businessmen in Bangkok, he never reciprocated.

In Singapore, exhausted, I confirmed Meisner had chartered a flight to Brussels, and in Brussels I tracked down an apartment he had rented. I went there armed with whiskey and diazepam, only to find that the apartment had been recently abandoned and that it contained the corpses of six murdered Interpol agents. Jannick was the target of an expansive investigation into the smuggling of endangered species.

“Jesus fucking Christ” I said volubly at a cafe afterwards, and they scoffed at me as if I were yet another Ugly American.

“I’m coming home,” I told Tilker in an email. He was not amused but he understood. Meisner had gone completely unhinged.

I flew back to the States in August of 2018, after months away. In early September, I was reading all the local Texas newspapers for the sports pages. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’m a bit of a gambler and I like to bet primarily on high school women’s bowling. And yes, there is a sexual element to it, if we are being frank. Out of Marathon, I happened to glance at the Life & Culture section. There was a photograph of Jannick Meisner, though the caption read Jeff Coolbody, standing next to the sculpture of what appeared to be a deformed giraffe.

After Brussels, Jannick had come back to the States and settled in West Texas. Every day huge shipments of animal feces were carted to him on the Missouri Pacific or some other rail line and he would take the feces and shape them into the animals which produced them. This was an artistic medium that began in Russia, Jannick told me. He’d sold the birds and in turn had received enough money to afford the logistics of his art, the cooperation of the railroads and zookeepers, et cetera. I went to visit him and he welcomed me with a five course meal.

“This is my dream. I dreamt of this since I was a boy in Munich,” he said.

“And what of Tilker’s wedding? He’ll pay you handsomely,” I said.

“But I’m happy. I am at peace,” Meisner said to me and I believed him. He bid me Gute Nacht, reminding me of the spare room and the full liquor cabinet and the Wi-Fi password before shuffling off to bed.

Perhaps this will surprise no one, but the death I speak of is not literal. It is the death of an idea: the insane, cornered, malevolent, discerning German. He is no longer that person, and he can no longer be properly embellished, at least by a serial abuser like me. His artistic conceit is odd, very odd,  but he is earnest about it, like a young child coloring. Nothing to disparage there, though certainly nothing to lionize. And there is no twist, by the way. I promise you. Were this one of my usual accounts, Jannick would have died while working on an elephant. Its torso would collapse on top of him.

All I can say is that Jannick was alive and happy and real when I left him. He works under aliases obviously. He cannot stay in Marathon forever, since he is still a wanted man. He’ll be moving soon, I imagine, but follow the smell and look on his works.

Read More »
lily hackett

ANIMALS by Lily Hackett

I only ordered so I could have the wine got for the cat’s man. But in the takeaway box, they had black shells and polished eyes. They had big claws. I searched for ‘Clawed prawns’. Crayfish. I left a message. I saw one twitch, thrash in the sauce. Its shining eyes were on me. It crawled out from the tub. The seven legs went click across the tub’s rim and click click, softly, on the wooden table. It moved clumsily, trailing chopped shallot. The second followed. Each was as long as my hand. They had toad bellies and dog whiskers. They were flat and black as lice.

They might begin to skitter. If they dropped off the table, I would have to stamp them underfoot. And I hated the sound of small things cracking, spines of game birds, or the muffled shatter of a snail shell. They crayfish were moving faster, going click click, softly, on the wooden table. I was slow opening drawers so nothing slammed. I rustled out a pyrex salad bowl. I turned the bowl quick onto the table like a dome. I trapped both, but snipped a leg with the glass rim. It felt worse to hurt them than it would to hurt something nice. Seeing one bug crippled, guilt only made me want them dead. I thought I could fume them dead. I lit four cigarettes and edged them one by one under the dome. When the plush smoke cleared they seemed bigger but had clustered their legs under.

I could see white body through their joints’ splits. Their shells wheezed and popped. I couldn’t know if it hurt, if growing was something that they did, or that happened to them. Their eyes were too polished to see inside. They shook the shells loose. Through the glass and their bodies I saw the tiny violet systems. I liked their sudden fleshness, could trick my eye that they were hairless pink kittens. I wasn’t soft. I stoned a grouse once and made myself wring it finished. I watched the dome. They ate their shells. I pushed the leg back into the dome and one ate that. I watched their spindled mouths. Their bodies had grown so they pressed flush up against the glass. Flesh hardened, fused, and the one new shell made one new bug. It had a quantity of legs, four eyes, and one stout, glossy tail. It was as orange as new peel all over. I had looked so long and closely that it couldn’t disgust me. It was like a terrible thought, that through repetition of thinking stops its horror and becomes the mind’s friend. Plus, I had no choice. I couldn’t ring vets anymore. It was big though. I lit two more cigarettes, and edged them under the dome to keep it still. I went and ran a bathful. I came back into the kitchen. I lifted the dome. The shell against the glass went click click. I wrapped the bug in a clean tea-towel and held it tight to my body. I didn’t love it - I didn’t want it to snip me. A one leg trailed on my arm. I meant to place it gently but I threw it off me. It scraped the tub’s avocado coat. It was very tangerine against dull green. The scrape sound called to the twin enamel of my mouth. I didn’t want to have to fume the whole room. I got the bottle from the kitchen, pulled the thick cork, smelling straw and alcohol. I poured it on and into the bug in the tub. I sat on the avocado toilet and had a swig. I laughed, I was sick in the avocado sink, I rinsed it away. I went to bed. I came down and put a chair against the bathroom door. I went to bed.

The cat’s man had this pregnant cat. It’s body was like a sack. At the time I was still walking out, buying stock cubes, buying medicine. The cat dragged her slack along the ground. I wondered if she might fray her belly on the pavement, if she might split, over by the betting places, and spill her kids. The man really loved it, called it Miss, Lady. I also wondered if when the cat split, just one small boy would spill, with a tail and tiny incisors. They’d have to lock the cat’s man up for crimes of sickness. It followed me back. It settled, fat and loose in the front of the machine. I was half-cut from stopping off. ‘Littel woman’ I said. I opened a tin of curried chicken. She settled her head away from it. ‘Spoiled bitc’ I said. The cat wouldn’t eat. It wouldn’t leave either. She was a serene thing, queenly feeling. I imagined the cat’s man placing sushi-grade on his flat tongue for nibbling. I kicked her belly. She split like a sack. Seven kittens spilled onto tile. The cat couldn’t live, bled and died. I was practical. Bricked rabbits in lanes with tics in their eyes. I filled the mop bucket. I drowned them with quickness and skill. It was all found out somehow. They hissed in shops. I couldn’t buy the things I needed or call anyone about the crayfish.

In the morning I took the chair from the door. The crayfish was grown dog-big. I used what I had to make it quiet. Christmas ales with big percents. Hot Mahon gin with a windmill on the bottle. Advocaat, split in the bathwater. ‘I won’t let you drink aloen’ I said. I think it roamed at night. I heard click click when I woke having headaches. It was always back in the tub by morning. ‘Yur sly’ I said.

I clicked a video. A chef spoke strictly. ‘Lobsters feel no pain’. She took a glistening knife and struck through the head. She boiled salt water. ‘It’ll feel at home’ she said. She smirked. She took a different knife and cracked the shell in half. She picked out white chunks and dipped them in melted butter. ‘Respect it’ she said. Clicked. A lobster in boiling water made a whistling sound. ‘This is not a scream. This is air leaving the shell’. A woman in a foreign country chopped the chubby legs off a crab while it was living. She burned onions. A living crab in another pan. This one had its legs and was grabbing ginger to its mouth, eating what seasoned it. I ordered a knife. Japanese. Clicked. Videos: my knife cutting tomatoes so thinly they looked like glass. My knife cleanly halving a single sheet of paper. I ordered butter, wrapped in wax paper, from Normandy.

The crayfish was on the turn, looked rotten with black spots. The water was black, particularly grisly: stout and blue curacao. It tried to roam again. I pushed it back into the water and buttered the sides of the tub, a trick done once or so on ladybugs. The knife came rolled in tan canvas, tied with leather string. I practised it on day cushions. I couldn’t use fruit or the like – didn’t keep much fresh in – but didn’t before really either. I brought it to the bathroom. After days I saw white flesh in the splits. The shell whistled like an old home. The body shivered off the shell. I dropped the knife through water through into the head. It was brainless, without pain. Black punch slopped. I drained the bath. I thought I might mount the heavy shell, like a fisherman, if I could easily learn how.

I went and melted six pats of that good butter in a pan, swirling it so the curds couldn’t catch. But when I returned to the bathroom, the body looked grey, like its tracts were filled with ash. I gripped again and sliced meat from it. It was sour, sick-tasting. I felt briefly grieved for six or so planned meals. I set the knife back on the avocado sink. I put a towel across the body and heaved it up. It was big-dog big. I carried it through the kitchen and through double door onto the garden. Outside was brown. Everything was dying according to its time. I dumped the bundle and took to the spade, Irish, made with oiled red wood. It wasn’t much under: the information had dictated deeper. But nothing had disturbed it except myself. Inside, a dozen other bundles. I rolled the crayfish in. ‘Iam a practical woman’ I said to the spiders on the leaves. ‘Repsect it’ I said to the flies gummed up in the webs.

Read More »

THE LIGHT AND STARS by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

A couple of days ago somehow I wrangled an OK Cupid date to drive down an hour from Virginia to come sit with me on my porch. And he read me Merwin like he’d never read Merwin out loud to anyone before. If you don’t know who Merwin is, that’s okay. It doesn't mean you ain’t as smart as me- I just went to writing school. But Merwin is an old ass prolific poet who lives in Hawaii and likes to translate other languages and talk about “light” and “stars”.

And while this OK Cupid date was reading ol Merwin to me on the porch, talking about the light and stars, the man with the huge tumor stomach, looks like he’s pregnant with a watermelon, walked by. He lives down the road, sells weed, maybe heroin.

Then the kid with his hood on who mumble raps to the wind like always. Then the little girl whose daddy just died at home, rotted away from cancer, she starts swinging and swinging so high the ends of the swing-set come out the ground.

And I see this but my OK Cupid don't stop reading Merwin, he’s caught up in the “light” and “stars.”

My town is a mile wide. It’s name is Woodland, North Carolina. Each street’s named after a tree. I grew up on Hemlock and live on Chestnut now. There are 3 churches, a Dollar General, and the gas station’s The Duck Thru. There isn’t a stop light or a bank or a grocery store.

But this is common for my county. I saw all the old abandoned things falling apart when I was little but thought that was how everything everywhere was. After my liberal arts education in the city is when I came home and saw rotting-maybe-used-to-be-homes-sitting-alone-way-back-in-fields, can’t-tell-they’re-so-old buildings. Everyone-who’d-know-anything-about-it-is-dead-already-kinda feel. Hard-to-shake-the-sad-feeling-kinda-feel.

My town was founded by Quakers. There used to be 3 factories. They made baskets, zippers, and caskets.

Now all the things in yards- couches, trucks, mattresses, pots, pans, buckets, refrigerator boxes, plows.

And now (as an adult as someone who has loved and lost and will only keep losing) all the dead things in the road, the ditch, deer, possums, owls, cats, sometimes dogs. Once even an eagle. When you drive by the wings fly up, can’t tell if it’s still moving.

But my town does have the best Sunday buffet in the county with collards/cabbage/fried chicken/catfish/cornbread/frog legs/tomato pudding/corn pudding/country ham/livers/gizzards/chicken pie/snaps/candied yams/beets/deviled eggs—want y’all to feel this abundance.

And this OK Cupid date is a poet, reads philosophy, has spent time backpacking Europe, etc. etc. maybe y’all know the type. Has college degree holding parents, joins them at protests, doesn’t eat meat. “I’d love to try the Sunday buffet,” he said, “but don’t they season the vegetables with pork?”


It’s fat back, side meat, hog jowl.

So instead of getting food, me and my date drive 30 minutes to get a beer at the new and only brewery in the history of Ahoskie, North Carolina. We were the only people there and the beer was expensive for what it was. The waitress looked at us like we were out of towners cause of the way we were dressed even though I talked liked her, told her I was from Woodland. And yeah, this hurt my feelings.

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that place,” she said, “A man from over there, last name was Barefoot, he was in AA with my brother. Always came and picked my brother up and took him wherever he needed to go- was good as gold.”

Me and my date sat outside on Main Street during the setting sun. There were shirtless men straddling their bikes on the corner smoking weed and talking like yelling like laughing, doves were flying in and out of the abandoned theater across from us cooing, the high windows of the buildings around were all busted, insulation coming out of them like internal organs, a throbbing pink. Look down and it’s like this the whole street. Except there’s a broken train and if it would be running it’d be going far out from here up to Virginia somewhere with pretty windows- new and clean.

But for some reason the train’s sitting there starting to ding like crazy.

And that’s when my date said, “This is a strange place. I’ve never been anywhere quite like this before.”

As if that were possible.

As if him going on about how it reminded him of some town he'd been through in a Pennsylvania mountain winter once was supposed to make me feel closer to him.

First of all I’m from a very flat place.

And he was saying everything he could to not say “poor.”

A recitation of a memory he had once being for the first time in a place that wasn't like the clean neighborhood cul-de-sac, he learned to ride his bike in circles like that, seeing the same thing.

I learned on the swamp path puddles, had to look out for snakes, briars.

He wanted me to hear him say where I was from was all okay, he’d been somewhere like this before, he could come down again and visit. He wanted to. It wasn't that bad at all.

But walking here we weren’t touching but I could feel him tense up when we rounded the corner, came up on the men and their bikes.  I asked them how they were doing and they said “Mighty fine.” My date looked at me like I should have been scared.

After beers he wanted to walk up and down the street “take in the scenery” he said, instead of just going to walk around in Walmart where I could get things I needed— won’t often I drove to Ahoskie and that’s where the nearest thing other than Dollar General to get things is. But we walked down the street and I watched him stand outside the abandoned music store, staring at the two rotting organs displayed in the full dusty ass windows. Probably trying to think something Merwin-like to say about it all to impress me.

But I didn’t care. Because Merwin would never come down his Hawaiian mountain to have a beer in Ahoskie, North Carolina to listen the men here on their bikes, to try to translate their language, find within it the light and stars.

On the ride home from Ahoskie it was dark dark and these roads here don’t have reflectors. Nothing but fields on either sides of us and woods and woods beyond that until we got to my town. My car was hurling us through the darkness when my date said, “Don’t you get so lonely here?”

I waited to answer him. I was looking for deer, eyes shining.

Read More »


I live with my best friend in a mansion. My room is a small box. Sometimes we go swimming in the mornings, other times only I do, in white underwear that's small and classic and only gets caught up sometimes on the insides of my thighs. It's purple outside when we finish swimming, and I use my grey towel to dry up so I can have wheat thins inside. We close all the windows and watch tv on my best friend's tv set while we sit on hard wood benches. Then we go to sleep before the Sun comes, in a big bed, and I'm always on the outside, looking at the wall. My best friend gets close with her whole body and no sheets. She wraps her arms around me and whispers I'm her little spoon as I go to sleep. I pretend the walls are glass, and I can see the people outside with strollers pass our mansion's grass while they go for walks, jogs, in sweats or jogging pants and with their hair tied up in pony tails. When I fall asleep I dream of my best friend's hands wrapped around me, tight because she wants to show me that she's there. She is always holding so tight that I am almost red from it.

We have to keep close in this big, empty house where we live alone. It's so easy to forget everything and wander into a dark corner. I wake up almost every day to knocking above us, like there are people walking on another floor. “There are 89 rooms and 5 stories in this house,” my best friend says, “And there is never any knocking.”

Read More »
colleen rothman

ASSASSIN by Colleen Rothman

Between bites of avocado toast, I tell her first. She sucks her breath and smacks the table, rustling the ridiculous pussy bow on her polka-dot blouse. Despite her vow not to cry, mascara clumps her lashes in betrayal. It must not be the waterproof kind I talked her into during our last mall pilgrimage. Better than sex, the glistening pink tube bragged, as though it knew something we didn’t.

She asks what’s on my bucket list. Watching The Bucket List, I tell her. I’m on my third Bellini. She asks whether they have Make-A-Wish for grownups. Yeah, why should sad little kids have all the fun? She asks what I want to do, as though I have a choice in the matter. All I want to do is to sit in this chair, so that’s what I’m doing until I don’t feel like doing that anymore. As long as I sit here, we’re just two basic bitches brunching on a three-season patio. She asks how Dan is handling it. I tell her he’s golfing. I figure I’ll fill him in eventually. I haven’t known him as long.

The sprouted-grain toast forms a gummy bolus in the back of my mouth as she scolds me for not understanding marriage. Paul would be furious if she withheld such information, she says. Of course he’d be furious. He rants about the N.S.A. archiving his emails to anyone who’ll listen, while making no secret of reading his wife’s. You know there’s no escaping a man like Paul.

I swallow hard and shout over the nearby bus, beeping as it kneels, that I haven’t told Dan yet because he’d tell the kids—who, at six and three, can’t quite grasp the bitter karma of Mommy having slept around before she met Daddy. Without looking, I can feel the faces of the diamond-draped biddies at the adjacent table swivel in our direction, then turn away, newly quiet. We have an audience.

“Oh, god. The kids,” she says. Sometimes she forgets they exist. She never asks to see pictures. It used to bother me.

We chew in silence and watch a police cruiser sail past without a siren. My tongue glides over the slimy chia seed embedded in the molar I chipped last year, a casualty of grinding. I don’t want a warm-up, but I let the waitress fill the mug anyway.

Shit or get off the pot, something in me blurts, letting my tongue find the words. “If I got a wish, it would be to wake up next to Ben one more time.” Saying it out loud is easier than I’d expected, though harder than the other thing. Saying it out loud means admitting I’ve been lying to her for years.

“Christ. That’s still happening?” Her face has the serial monogamist’s mask of pity, like it did those mornings I’d stumble home to our three-flat wearing the previous night’s bandage dress. I’d make her swear not to judge me as I peeled off that fetid layer of skank and crawled under her comforter, my hair reeking of smoke from some 4 a.m. bar. I preferred to sleep off my mistakes while spooning her in a Blackhawks jersey from some forgotten boyfriend as she thumbed through a gossip rag. I would have been content to hang out there forever, but then came Paul. “He’s in private equity,” she gushed as she packed her share of our belongings and moved to a neighborhood by the lake that I still can’t afford.

“Only every few months,” I say. “Trade shows, mostly.” A hidden perk of work travel. My editor sent me to trend-scout at the Fancy Food Show, where I sampled Ben’s artisanal marshmallows. Days later, I could still taste the fine dusting of his sugar on my lips from our glancing connection. I pictured him toiling on his Vermont farm: kind brown eyes behind clear plastic frames, cuffed denim revealing inked forearms, leather apron. I contacted him for a follow-up interview for an article I only pretended to write. Our first emails were professional, until I sent him my number one evening, after an accidental bottle of rosé. Now we text photos, though never anything that would appear explicit: artfully plated charcuterie, his pug Belinda in dog booties, elaborate knots. A safe escape from the life I hadn’t known I’d need to escape from.

I haven’t told him yet, either, in case you’re wondering.

She crosses her arms and tells me it’s a terrible wish, that a genie would scold me for being a ho-bag. “Not to mention the kids,” she says.

“Exactly,” I say. “I’d prefer not to mention them.” I promise her I’ll come clean, right after I tell Dan about my chitchat with my obie-gynie to discuss the biopsy results. I hear I get a free pass on everything that comes after. Though, frankly, I’d rather wipe my phone on my deathbed and croak while Dan still thinks I’m a saint.

The waitress reaches under the propane heater’s canopy to flick it on, blasting my face with an uncomfortable warmth as the lecture continues. “I can’t believe you held this for a week. I’d be texting you before I left the doctor’s office.” She’s right. We took personality tests once, while job-searching. Her suggested careers were for people-people: gallery assistant, art teacher, hairstylist. I gawked at her soft skills in envy; my results included pilot and assassin. I still owe her for those months of our rent from the gap between her landing a dream job as a floral designer and when I started writing news briefs for a trade publication devoted to food service equipment. There’s something catchy for my tombstone—Here lies an expert on stainless steel.

“I’ve been busy—working on my bucket list,” I say. Time to find the little girl’s room. I stand and toss my wadded napkin on the table. A yellow ginkgo leaf spirals down into my empty chair, where it fans out comfortably, as though I were never there.

Nineteen-dollar cocktails mean that each toilet gets its own walk-in closet, adorned with throwback peony wallpaper and a heavy door that locks with a thud. I try to summon a shit, but nothing comes, a waste of the soundproofing behind the wainscoted walls. Instead, I break the seal, thinking as I do every time of when I first learned of this concept: that night we got giggly on the loose Zimas I’d smuggled in my kitty-cat backpack as we watched a group of New Trier boys play GoldenEye.

I hold my hands under the waterfall faucet until my fingertips go numb, then splash my face, leaving cakey smears of foundation on a rolled washcloth that smells like gardenias. In the gilded mirror, my face looks like raw pork tenderloin. My handbag holds emergency makeup, but what’s the point. She’s seen every worst part of me, and she’s still here.

From the lounge-stall, I taunt Ben: I think I’ll be a little tied up when you come next weekend. Instantly, a gray bubble materializes—a screen shot of a Burlington Bowline. One of the safest ones to use, it leaves behind no suggestion on the skin that a rope was ever there. My lips curl upward into something that almost feels like a smile.

I aim the dirty washcloth toward a homely wicker basket that looks out of place, but I miss the shot by a foot. I don’t bother to pick it up. If you tip north of twenty percent, you can get away with anything.

At the table, her phone is on her ear. She’s frowning. Our eyes lock as I brush more fallen leaves from my chair. She thrusts the phone at me. Her screen, larger than mine, feels heavy in my palm, like an old rotary. “It’s Dan,” she says. “He’s between holes. He knows you have something to tell him.”

I stare at the mug’s steam, still rising, and spit the loosened chia seed into the faux-dish-towel napkin, faint streaks of last year’s lipstick shade staining its striped border. I’d always thought she was someone who knew the shortest path to destroy me but would never take it. Here I’d mapped it out for her and loaded her with ammunition. So much for asking her to do the eulogy.

Read More »
ran walker

TALONS by Ran Walker

Her story went like this: When she was three years old, she was playing with her brother in the backyard, when an enormous hawk swooped down, latched on to her, and lifted her from the ground. The only thing that stopped her from being carried away was her brother grabbing hold of her legs and snatching her from the bird’s grasp. The only evidence the incident had even occurred were the parallel, permanent scars left on her shoulders.

We had been dating for a month before she told me that story. I smiled and tried to play it off, but the whole thing disturbed me. For some reason I just couldn’t shake the notion that my girlfriend was almost prey, that she could have been pecked to death by birds, her flesh stripped slowly from her small body.

The idea haunted me, even as we made love that first time. I could feel the slight raise of her skin when I scooped my hands around her shoulders and pulled her closer. Once I felt her scars, I was unable to remove my hands.

Each time we were intimate I’d rest my hands on those scars, sometimes imagining wings were beginning to sprout from them.

One night I awakened to find her straddling me, the darkness masking my ability to see clearly. I reached for her shoulders, but she eased my hands away. She made love to me, her hands gripping my arms like talons, pinning me in place. When she climaxed, I swore I could see wings unfurling from her shoulders against the night.

Not long after that, I realized I was not cut out for a relationship with her. Much of our relationship had been spent in the dark, and while I was unsure if what I thought I had seen was true, I could never overcome my fear she would one day clamp onto me and carry me off, somewhere deep into the night, where I would be devoured by a family of hawks, not unlike those who awaited her many years ago, my skin pecked from my body strip by strip.

Read More »
cathy ulrich


This man who’s in love with you, he’s married. You play in the symphony orchestra together. He’s a second violin. You play the oboe. What he likes best about you, he says, is the purse of your lips when you play. He is sharp elbows, good posture, freckling of gray hair at his temples. His hands are very soft with you.

His wife used to be a dancer when they met. She doesn’t dance anymore.

You know how it is, says the married man. How there were things you used to do and now you don’t, you know how it is.

I love you, he said once, tipping your head up, kissing you on the chin. Looked at your face. I love you.

Thank you, you said.

You saw the brief flicker of his face. You can’t remember the last time you wanted something.

He spoke to you the first time after a concert, said something clever about Chopin. You thought it was charming, how his flirtations all involved dead composers, how his fingers trembled when your hands brushed.

You meet the married man for furtive dinners at an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of town. You always order the lasagna, pick at your salad, let him select the wine. You sit across from him, generic strings playing on the speakers overhead, reapply your lipstick after you’ve shared breadsticks, liking the way he watches the color spread across your mouth.

Did I smear any?

He says: I can’t tell.

He says: Let me get closer. Leans across the table, wipes at your lower lip with his fluttering thumb.

There? you say.

There, he says.

This is what he tells his wife that nights he meets you: rehearsal ran late. You don’t know if she believes him, don’t care if she does. You would like to have known her when she still danced, would like to have watched her onstage, legs shuddering with effort, beautiful. You wonder what he loved about her then, cleft of her knee, pigeon-toed walk, tendril of hair escaping a ballerina’s bun.

Do you love playing the violin? you ask him.

He tilts his head. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.

You nod, dab at the corner of your mouth with your napkin.

You love the oboe, of course, he says.

Of course, you say, flick your eyes to one side.

You always get to the restaurant early. There is something romantic about the waiting, you think, in a restaurant you don’t like, for the man who loves you. The hostess is always the same hostess. She knows your face, knows your table. Doesn’t offer you a menu anymore, doesn’t make small talk. You like that about her, and the way, once, you found her in one of the bathroom stalls, tissue wadded in her hands, balanced on the lip of the toilet, crying.

Sorry, she said, sorry, I’m sorry, so sorry.

You didn’t think her apology was for you, pulled the stall door closed on her. Left before it came open again, relieved yourself in the men’s room, one finger tracing graffiti on the wall, for a good time, call, wondered if it was the hostess’s number.

When you met the married man again the next week, neither you nor the hostess mentioned it. She didn’t even blink, just took you back to your regular table, poured two glasses of water.

Have a good dinner, she said like she always did.

You never finish your lasagna, let the waiter take it away with the remains of your salad. They used to box it up, but you left the box behind, again and again. The waiter smiles blandly when you order your lasagna and side salad. The married man is always trying new things, always offering to split dessert.

What’s the special? he asks, selects a wine that pairs well. You leave traces of your lipstick on the rim of your glass, rub at it with the broad part of your thumb until your skin is stained too.

When dinner is over, you let the married man walk you to your car, let him put his arm round your waist.

You say: Dance with me.

Above you, the moon is half hidden by clouds, and you think how much larger it is, really, than it seems, and how hard it is to believe that anyone has ever touched it.

You say again: Dance with me, and the man who loves you pulls you close to him, desperately, you think, the way your oboe teacher used to kiss you, sways you back and forth to the sound of music playing from your car radio.

The lights go off in the Italian restaurant; you have the parking lot to yourselves.

You’re a terrible dancer, you say, keep your voice kind. How can your wife stand it?

The married man stiffens, tries to smile.

I guess, he says, she can’t.

The hostess comes out the side door, a bag of garbage in her hand. You smile to her, tiny cat-smile, and let the married man tilt your head up, run his mouth along your throat. You stare up at the moon until you hear the latching of the restaurant door.

Read More »


abandoned toys 'r' us love story

stone cold steve austin sits unaccompanied by a military grade transport vehicle, unflinching in someone’s captured breath, hidden amongst a dark spot on a crowded aisle, watchful and waiting beneath elsa’s hollow glare and woeful pale complexion.

piped music aches in surges from corners and unmarked spaces in the ceiling, whispering ‘so many times’ or ‘say you were the only / toy for me’ underneath ruptured squeezes from a presumably cheap keyboard. aisles creak with age, while skateboards precariously occupy spaces in plain view. the ghost walks with a wry shuffle from sports to outdoor. nerf guns remain unloaded and boxed, resting as an implication. a singular basketball hoop gathers dust, unswished.

small animals infiltrate daily, badgers and cockroaches and spiders and eels and mice and foxes, each looking for their next meal, or action figures, or a crib for a small child.

the ghost wanders at a speed that allows his bed-sheet attire to drift cautiously behind him, almost summery in its airiness, bright and filled with an inherent grieving, from his deathly birth to the point at which he approaches a small wooden cabin, sugary and juvenile with its caricature architecture. he crouches down at the plastic green entranceway, and raps his knuckles across it, polite even in haunting.

is there anybody in there? he asks, hoping.

abandoned sports world love story

and from a small hole that a hungry and ponderous fox had made in the far left hand side wall by the car seats and baby clothes, permeating into the sports world next door, a wilted and frail voice makes its way through the air, in a pink and hazy way, lifted by suspicion and communal yearning, navigable in expectation, crossing paths with words like adidas, and drifts softly into the other side, where it reaches a small wooden cabin.

you sound like a ghost, the voice offers.

and the ghost stands up.

captain america sits still nearby, with a stern, discerning look on his face.

friction buzzes within the ghost, as he shuffles mournfully towards the car seats and baby clothes, in search of the voice.

he approaches, hesitant, a fearsome anticipation akin to some desire to stroke a particularly endearing grizzly bear, and brings his face up to the small hole in the large wall.

oh, you are a ghost. wow, i’m getting good at this. wow, replies the voice, gruff and ashen. what’s your name?

the ghost thinks for a second, and then for a few seconds more, before looking down at himself, then through himself, into the walls and shelves behind him, wide and towering, filled to capacity with beautiful things, named things, all staring outwards with a consummate sheen.

what would you name me? the ghost asks. if you had to?

Read More »

A WANTED WOMAN by Paul Beckman

I told him not to call anymore so he started sending me postcards. I had my lawyer tell his lawyer onay on the postcards or any mail. Then the texts started. This time we went to court and the judge gave him a restraining order and we left figuring that was that and no more and good riddance to bad rubbish but the planes started flying low and slow pulling messages—I Love U— I Miss U, etc.

So it was back to court and the judge threatened him good and added planes to the list and threw in drones for good measure. Hot air balloons. We can’t think of everything so I hear what would have been our song blasting.  At Last by Etta James over and over and over and I stood on my deck holding my cell phone up so he waved goodbye only to show up in the balloon the next day when I was sunbathing in the yard and no music but he started dropping leaflets until my yard was covered and yes they all said the same thing—Marry Me—I love you.

So the next day back in court and the judge takes a shotgun out from under his desk and hands it to me. He tells me I can shoot the balloon down. So the balloon is out of the picture and he’s gone to ground and I ask around if anyone has seen my Maid of Honor and the looks and coughs and subject changes come out and one day I get a wedding invitation to their wedding and no I’m not going and no I’m not pissed at Sally but I’m not going because I’m afraid these two have cooked up a surprise wedding for me and I don’t want to have to use that shotgun.

Read More »

I AM SPACE MAN by Amanda Tu

I used to think my greatest challenge as a writer was identifying, in the most precise possible terms, how I feel. Most of the time, though, I know what I feel. This is palpable when I am stricken by an emotion I’ve lived through before. No matter how traumatic the sensation—the icy terror of being found cheating on a sixth grade reading quiz calling to mind the chilling shame three years earlier when my dad caught me illicitly scratching off a lottery ticket—there is comfort in believing that feelings are drawn from a massive, but ultimately finite, palette.

Perhaps the challenge, then, is not in the knowing, but in the writing. Language is not what is, but rather a tool for communicating such. It is tempting to conflate the two, I believe, because language is often the most convenient, universal, and expedient channel through which to express our realities. We are instructed as toddlers to “use our words.” My two-year-old sister is learning how to talk, and my stepmom says this all the time. Use your words. Words are helpful for expressing one’s most granular desires. I want milk. Put me down. Where is Mom? But when my sister cries, when she fills our house with these awful, pathetic screams for hours on end, I can’t help but think: is there anything more true than this? How could “I want milk” possibly encompass the depth and scope of what she so desperately seeks to convey?

There is what is and there is what is articulated, and these are two discrete entities unbound by physical phenomena. The best we can hope is to craft the latter to be as faithful as possible a facsimile of the former, approaching asymptotically the trueness of the matter that lives itself in a plane independent of language. This is why I am driven so mad by cliché. Because to be trite is to use a crutch, to say the thing that is almost true, to gesture toward the approximate and beg your audience to fill in the gaps from their lived experience, instead of immersing them—with atomic focus—in yours. To do the bare minimum. Ball’s in your court. The most insidious form of laziness. You know what I mean? Cliché is the reason I can be a vocal participant in math class all quarter and still earn a failing grade. When called on, I can always explain the procedure: well enough to appease my professor, not well enough to solve a single problem.

This failure of precision is reinforced by the way most of us learn English in grade school. First we cover the basics: phonics, spelling, punctuation, grammar. Only when we have mastered fundamentals do we move on to fun stuff. A simile is a comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as.’ In tenth grade English class, I once had a test over all these literary devices, maybe eighty or so. I sat in the library one day after school, drafting up a thick deck of flashcards: Metonymy. Synecdoche. Asyndeton. When I actually sat for the quiz, I was disappointed to see that it was just one big matching exercise. I had studied way too hard. That exam was as easy as stealing candy from a baby.

The very framing of these tools as “devices” implies they are window dressing. You don’t say: “her eyes are beautiful,” because, my teacher told us, that is boring. Try instead: “Her eyes shine like diamonds.” Points for style. We internalize the notion that the world is simple, and, I guess, to keep morale high, we must invent creative ways to describe the basic phenomena of our existences. This—I have come to believe—is backward. Perhaps it is the universe that is more complex than we could ever begin to communicate with symbols on a page. That the most artful, vivid, evocative poetry is, in fact, the simplest thing we could conceive.

I know what it feels like to be in love, I am so confident I know. I know how it felt the first time I told my first boyfriend “I love you,” my whole body pressed up against him in the grass, my lips firm against his neck. I know how my whole being tingled electric, every cubic inch of me, how I wanted to cry. I know how right it felt, saying it again and again. I couldn’t fathom anything else: I love you. I love you. I love you.

But even that seems unfinished. Tingled electric. What an impossibly insignificant phrase. In attempting to write this paragraph, I have contemplated electricity and fire and flora and oceans, the very biggest and the very smallest. I don’t feel insufficient so much as I feel incorrect. I have made an error. In describing how deeply I felt for him, I have told a lie. I might as well be recounting the relationship of two strangers.

And even this: love. Who taught me that this word is that feeling? Maybe the birds and the bees talk should always include this critical clause. That every parent in the universe should have to sit his child down and tell her: one day, you will meet a person who makes you feel as if there is a current running through the deepest part of your being, the strongest possible force your body can withstand before splintering into a thousand bits. And you should say: Love! And they will know what you mean.

The night before my nineteenth birthday, I had a dream so juvenilely transparent in its symbolisms it is nearly too embarrassing to recount. As in most dreams, the logic of its universe was tenuous and inconsistent: rigidly committed to certain physical principles with zero regard for others. I was traversing what I can only describe as a parking garage with a hollow core, of infinite height and devoid of gravity. I could send myself accelerating upward through the building with the slightest push off the floor. Sometimes, though, without understanding how I had gotten there, I would end up standing on solid ground. It looked like the interior of an office, maybe, or an old library.

As I explored the levels of this structure, I kept running into people I knew. My ex-boyfriend was there, inexplicably, irritating me over something I can’t recall but perceived with sharp awareness nonetheless. I bumped into a guy who had run and lost for student body president at my college, whose face I’d seen on a poster outside my dorm every day for two straight weeks. He was smiling, but for some reason he was wearing an awful chartreuse velvet sweater I’d paid twenty dollars for the month before. That sweater had been final sale, and I had regretted the purchase since the second I’d left the store.

A few family members filtered through the loose outlines of the narrative. This included my dad. In real life, Dad and I barely spoken in months. We had not had a falling out, but rather an awkward, glacial drifting apart. I knew, deep down, he loved me, but I don’t think he liked me very much. I spent a significant chunk of my dream working on something for my dad. I can’t recall what. I remember he was disappointed in me: not for what I was doing, but for trying at all. As if any measures I took to appease him just made him more upset. I kept circling this building, floating up and down, and every once in a while crossing his path. He never confronted me, but I could tell he was not happy with me, and I was not happy with him. This all felt so familiar.

I could not explain why, but eventually, I was stricken with the knowledge it was time for me to leave. I drifted back down to the bottom of the building, planted my feet on the cement floor, and walked over to say goodbye to my family. My dad wrapped me in a tight hug. I couldn’t tell you a single detail of what he looked like, but he was there, I know for sure. I loved him so much. He was so far away; I missed him. I started weeping, and I felt my face grow damp. I cupped his chin with one of my hands. I told him: “I am space man. You are earth man.” Dad looked at me, deep into my eyes, and he nodded. He understood. He let me go.

And then I pulled away from him, and I leapt upward with the tiniest exertion, ascending into the abyss headfirst. My eyes were blissfully shut and my limbs elongated to full, graceful length like a free diver gliding through water, floating to the surface. I was off to somewhere, alone.

I awoke, then, in that moment, soaring high above the ground. I touched my cheeks, and they were slick with tears. It was my birthday. I am space man. You are earth man. How special it is, to finally say what you mean.

Read More »


The two women with blood sprinklers in their eyes stood at the railings and looked down at the water. It churned about like great whips of cream under a lazy spoon, throwing petulant fountains of oyster salt over the groynes. Foam bubbled at the shore when it came in with the morning tide and seagulls barked at the brooding ceiling of grey. The flags along the pier whipped against their poles with heavy slaps.

'The doughnuts are smaller than they used to be,' Poppy said. She brushed the sugar from her fingers and fished the pebble from her pocket, a souvenir from the night before. It felt dry between her forefinger and thumb, like the rub of a tongue against a brick wall. 'Oh, God. Betsy.'

A woman wearing a pink meringue for a dress was walking barefoot along the beach, lipstick-pink heels in one hand. One of the straps of her dress was halfway down her arm but the white sash was still tied over one shoulder. Her cheeks were purple pomegranates, clashing with the pink of her dress and the orange knit-bundle of her hair.

'God, I hope she didn't sleep on the beach,' Poppy said. 'Let's—'

'I can't face anyone yet,' Marie said.

A seagull came into landing on the dome behind them and war-cried, its gullet throbbing with undulating golf balls. The other gulls joined the chorus of laughing madness and swept low over the pier, looking for smash-and-grabs.

 'Listen, Marie, it happens all the time. No one's going to say anything. Dave probably did the same thing on his stag—'

Poppy's words dropped between them like ducks shot from the sky. Marie removed her elbows from the railings and followed the boardwalk out to sea. She watched her feet, heard their rhythmic clapping against the wood. She watched the zoetrope of water in the recesses between the boards, washing up against the iron pilings below. The rank rot of tequila still lined her throat and she tasted it on her tongue.

 'You're not thinking of telling him, are you?' Poppy asked.

Marie walked on, past the kiosks selling joyous Saturday rock and oversized rainbow dummies and fish and chips and crepes. She leaned up against the face-in-the-hole photo board and doubled over. Poppy opened the paper bag of doughnuts and held it out under Marie's mouth like a horse's feedbag, wincing as it filled up.

Marie straightened up and wiped the back of her hand across her lips. She looked at the picture on the board, of the bride and groom riding off together, their faces missing; through them she saw only the sea, bleak and rusted green, frothing all the way to France.

Read More »
bram riddlebarger

MARBLES by Bram Riddlebarger

"Sit down and take a load off," said Jack.

"We've been working like the queen's bees."

"Yeah," said Tommy.

He was tired.

"Which one did you go out on today, Tommy? I thought I saw that #4 sagging a little."

Jack wasn't joking.

Tommy was real fat.

He was tired, too.

"No," said Tommy. "I stayed on shore and flirted with that cute little Amy. The one with only one eye. Besides that, she's real cute."

"Are you shitting me?"

"Nope," said Tommy.

They drank warm beer out of brown bottles.

Jack couldn't believe this Tommy.

"Hitting on the ladies, huh?" said Jack.

"You know, I'd watch out for that one-eyed . . . "

But that was as far as Tommy would let Jack go.

He let Jack have it with some real dialogue.

"Now, hold on there, Jack," said Tommy.

"Just watch your mouth about the one-eyed women.

Amy seems okay."

"Okay?" said Jack.

"Have you lost your marbles? Or did this one-eyed Amy eat ‘em already?"

Jack was a mean-spirited man.

He had watched Amy switch around in the office at the building beside the water many times himself.

He had wondered what it would be like to be with a one-eyed woman.

Tommy said, "Yeah. She ate them."


"She ate them."


"She ate them."

Jack emptied his brown bottle of beer.

He looked at Tommy.

He squinted at Tommy with one eye closed.

And he knew that they weren't there anymore.

Poor guy, he thought.

No marbles.

Jack stood up to get another warm bottle of beer.

Tommy said,

“We both got something missing now."

Read More »
chelsea houghton

SISTERS ARE NOT DOGS by Chelsea Houghton

My sister ran away when she was fifteen. She disagreed with my parents about something – she’d been a bad girl most likely, I don’t know, I was too young to be included. We’d never really got along. I was happy, it was quiet without her. No bitching or barking in the middle of the night. Always taking the best bits and leaving me with the scraps.

We didn’t hear from her for weeks. She’d been sleeping in friend’s rooms, once in a neighbour’s garage. She was fed and cared for from place to place, until her friend’s parents found they didn’t want a stray around.

We found her one night out the back of the liquor store, standing in the floodlights. We’d been searching for a long time, catching glimpses of a mirage of her brunette ponytail walking with some friends.

Then suddenly, there she was. Her hair was tangled and droopy and her oversized hoody made her frame look small as it hung over her jeans. She’d been sleeping among the pallets behind the skip in the carpark.

She emerged, hackles raised, poised for attack or escape. We moved slowly and calmly, finding a blanket to herd her towards the car. When you got up close you could see the swollen belly beneath the thick fabric.

She came, tail between her legs, sighing with her head submissively leaning against the car seat. It was that or impoundment. For months, we could hear her whimpering into the night.

Read More »
oliver gaywood


Annabelle always answered her aunts accurately, as abruptly and authoritatively as an adolescent. Their ambitious attempts to addle gone awry, the astonished aunts acted aloof afterwards, averting avuncular attention.

Boastfully, I birthed a bright and bubbly baby. Belle behaved brilliantly and blossomed beautifully. The bairn boosted brainpower by borrowing books before bravely badgering bigger brothers; battling, besting then beleaguering Bobby and Billy.

The clever child collected certificates: creative calligrapher, crossword completer, chess champion. Certain with challenges but clumsy with chatter, companions cold-shouldered the classroom chief.

My darling’s dad was delighted his daughter devoured details. Daddy diarised daily, diligently depicting developments: dilemmas debated, doctrines deduced, dissertations debunked.

Elsewhere, emotions were elevated by the enraged ears and eyes of early equals. Envy evoked as their enthusiasm eloped. Even equitable elders were earnestly embarrassed.

Friendships faltered and feelings faded, but our family's faith was forever firm. Father felt fantastic forecasting future feats. He fuelled fate’s fires with fulfilling facts, fanned the flames with fables and fantasies.

The girl's genius grew and grew. Good at geography and glorious with grammar, she was guided to grand goals as she gathered golden grades.

He hurrahed, not hearing his heroine’s harboured hopes: her hunger for a hip hairstyle and a humble hobby. He had high hopes for Harvard, however she hankered for a horned horse and a happy home.

I was immensely impressed -- Ivy institution or not. I imparted infinite intelligence into an inspirational infant. Impossible? Inconceivable? Irrefutable.

Indecently, I idolised the incomparable intellectual; ignored the inferior imps.

My jealous juniors jostled for a jot of justness. Jovial and jolly, jesting and joking, their jubilance was jettisoned when my jewel journeyed into the joint. Their joy juxtaposed with jeering.

Kin gave no kindness nor kisses, only knuckles and knicks. The kid kept on, knowing that kudos knocks keenly for knack and knowhow, that knowledge is key.

Lessons in language and a love of libraries led to a learned and laudable lass. Not a lamentable lady who languidly loses her love of life; a listless life learnt from ladies who lunch, who laze, who leech -- not liberated, leading ladies.

My mother made me miss the modern movement: “Make meals and mend materials. Marry a mediocre man and make that man merry.” Mundane matters for madeup mannequins.

My method motivates: Memorise melodies, maintain morals, master the mind. Make men move mountains.

No numbing natter.

No novelty nuisances.

No nonsense.

Our offspring will be outstanding. One is outstanding: onwards to outdo and outlast. Others observe and obey; their optimal output is only okay. Ours outshines and outrivals, overachieves and overwhelms.

Predictably, us proud parents pushed the perfect protégé, pleased with praise prised from piggish pouts.

Pa, particularly, prioritised -- preferred, perhaps -- the prized progeny. Pushed the poor pair to the periphery.

Queued in a quiet quarantine, a questionable quagmire, a quantity of queries qualified for quick-tempered quibbles and quarrels.

Robert reacted rottenly and rallied relations to rebel. A revengeful ruse rose into a ruckus, a rough rumble as Robert raged and regretfully rushed.

The sister stumbled and slipped, spun and swirled, smacked and splatted. Screamed and screamed and screamed.

Small savages silently scurried.

She slowly stilled, sitting splayed by the stairs, saliva spilling into streams. Skin sliced, skeleton shattered, skull split.

Surgeons said she's safe but she should step slowly and skip school -- shirk strenuous science, stressful studies and simple sums.

"She's spasticated" shrieked a small scamp, sobbing sorrowfully into his sleeve.

Teachers toiled tirelessly, tutors tried tenaciously to train. They told the tricks of times tables and the tantalising tales of Tolkien and Twain. Then Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Tired and thwarted, terrible tantrums traipsed in.

Unnecessarily upbeat uncles ushered us in. Unfortunately, useless utterings were unable to undo the ugly and unwanted upheaval. The unkind universe usurped utopian understandings. University is unachieveable, as unlikely as an undergraduate unicorn.

Vindictive vengeance by vitriolic vigilantes vanquished the viable valedictorian. Vividly visualised victories vanish.

William whimpered -- "We... we wasn't... we weren't..." -- whispered what we all wanted: a world where we watched the weird and the wonderful, where we weren't wholly watching the wonderkid. A world with worth. William wishes well, but wishes won't work for our weakened warrior.

X-rays were explored by extra experts who explained the extent exceeded existing expectations.

As young as you are, you yawn. Yesterday's yardstick is youthful yore. You yap, yelp, yell. Your yokel yowls yet to yield. You yearn, yet you yawn.

Zonked and zombified. Zeal zapped and zest zithered. The zenith zoomed to zero, zipped to zilch.

Read More »
salvatore difalco

VÉRTIGO by Salvatore Difalco

Juan rose to pee in pitch darkness, his eyes fluttering. He found the toilet, but peed all over the unraised seat, splashing his shins and toes. Catching jeweled glints of chrome and glass, his eyes oriented to the darkness.

Incomprehensible, his next move—he lurched right, toward the bathtub, and not left toward the door, which led to his bedroom. The shins, bright with urine, walloped the side of the bathtub and his body pitched forward. A reflexive extension of his arms kept him from face-planting the tub.

Swollen and contused, the left shin blazed to the touch. Juan screamed and walked to the kitchen where he found an ice-pack in the freezer. It was 3:15. Thoughts of returning to sleep made him grimace. He’d need a horse tranquilizer for that.

In the living room, he switched on a lamp, and sat on the sofa, propping his left foot on the coffee table edge, next to a crystal cigarette-box that had belonged to his mother. The only remaining memento of her, all else lost or sold. He pressed the ice-pack to his left shin. The cold shock made him wince but numbed the pain.

He continued icing for a time, then got up to make coffee.

As he drank the black brew by the balcony window overlooking the courtyard, something dark and bulky fell past his balcony—bizarre, as his unit was on the topmost floor of the eight-story tenement. He stepped out on the balcony to inspect.

In the darkness—the courtyard lights long ago stoned—grainy lumps and bulges dominated. A dog barked from a recess of the courtyard. The ringing acoustics obscured the dog’s location.

After bandaging his shins, Juan dressed, took the elevator down, and limped through the shabby lobby, with its dead banana trees and ruptured red couch, and exited the front doors.

The cool, excremental air reminded him that spring was near. A time of hope. Maybe things would improve. He hobbled across the broken concrete slabs and rutted grounds of the courtyard. An almost full moon loomed behind a screen of smog, bearing a bizarre resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock. A few trees planted last spring had not survived winter and stood against the graffitied buildings in skeletal silhouette.

Juan approached the area where an object falling from the roof or sky would have landed, in respect to his balcony: nothing but clumps of sod and stone garnished with garbage. An old-fashioned sewing machine, half-buried in earth and dog excrement, drew a second glance, but its presence there preceded the incident.

He looked up. Most units were dark, but a few glowed with lamplight or flickered with the cold blue of flat-screen televisions. He surveyed the area again and, seeing nothing untoward, decided to head back.

Then, in the charcoal disorient of shadows, he detected a flicker near a concrete bench. He gingerly stepped toward it on the uneven path. When he drew closer to the bench, he observed, with a start, a pale face floating beside it, the eyes darkly luminous—apparently disembodied.

No sound issued from the face, yet it seemed to be mouthing words, or at the very least drawing breaths. He moved closer. The head wasn’t disembodied; someone was buried to the neck. Did this person fall from the roof or the sky? And land so precisely as to be buried—and still alive—up to the neck? He walked closer to the small, round head, the black hair flattened on the skull, the inky eyes gazing nowhere.

“Hey,” he said, “are you okay?”

The face continued mouthing silent words or gulping air. The dilated pupils evidenced signs of shock.

“Miss? Sir? Buddy?” Nothing. Juan stepped closer for a better look.

When he saw a thin gold hoop in the left ear, he figured it was a woman, but upon reflection decided he could not draw that conclusion: some men wore earrings. He touched the dark hair. It felt normal, perhaps sticky from product. Provoking no reaction, he let his hand fall squarely on the scalp. It was warm.

“Yo,” he said, “how did you get in this predicament?”

The head twitched, almost in irritation at the pressure of Juan’s hand, but he held it firm. A survey of the balconies revealed no peepers, at least not so far as he could tell.

He fronted the head and bent down so that his nose came close to its nose.

“Why don’t tell me what’s going on and I’ll go get you help?”

The face opened and closed its mouth, the eyes throbbed darkly, but no words emerged. It was a woman, he determined, or a man with delicate face bones. He touched the cheek. Despite the mud streaks, it felt soft and warm. Now the eyes regarded him. Perhaps the senses, after suffering a terrible shock, were slowly regathering.

“Did you fall from the roof?” he asked. “Did someone throw you?” he asked before hearing a response.

The mouth moved, but the voice box must have been blocked.

“Okay, just nod. Did you fall?”

The head nodded.

“Did someone push you?”

Again, the head nodded.

“From the roof?”

Again, the head nodded.

Using a small end of two-by-four he found by the bench, Juan dug away some of the surrounding dirt, so tightly packed around the neck it proved difficult to turn over. Sturdy shovels or machinery were needed to clear enough dirt to free the victim.

“This is unusual,” Juan stated.

The head nodded.

These days so many things defied logic and credibility that you never knew where you stood. He bent and studied the face.

The mouth spat up dirt. Juan wiped the lips with the back of his hand. He stroked the cheek. How warm to the touch, that cheek—and soft. He smiled. Then, for reasons he could never explain, he opened his hand, drew back his arm, and slapped the face hard enough to rock the head back. The sound reverberated through the courtyard.

Juan jumped up and looked at his stinging hand as if it belonged to someone else.

“I’m so sorry I did that,” he said, horrified at himself.

The dark eyes moistened. Juan felt terrible. What was he thinking? He stroked the cheek he had slapped. The eyes shut, and the face leaned warmly into his hand.

Afraid he had crossed some line, he stood up, heart racing, and headed to his building. He took the elevator up to his flat and called 911.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“Someone’s buried up to their neck in my courtyard.”

“Did you say buried up to their neck?”

“I think she fell off the roof.”

“Have you been drinking, sir?”

“I have not been drinking.”

“How do you know she fell off the roof? Did you push her?”

“I didn’t push her. I’m not sure she fell off the roof—I’m not making this up.”

The dispatcher took the address and said paramedics would be there shortly.

“Sounds like she’s in some pickle.”

“Yeah,” Juan said looking at his hand, “it’s unusual.”

He rang off. He took the elevator down to the lobby and was headed to the courtyard when he ran into the super, Mr. Greenwood, standing there with his right hand locked in an involuntary half-salute.

“Morning, Mr. Greenwood.”

“What are you doing here at this time?”

“Long story.”

Silver-haired Mr. Greenwood, mustachioed, fond of Tartan cardigans, suffered from early onset dementia. He rarely slept beyond 4 a.m. if he slept at all. His face evidenced the softening and slackening signs of gradual and irreversible stupefaction.

“I’m going to walk the dog,” he said.

Despite knowing Mr. Greenwood had no dog, Juan scoped the lobby.

“So what’re you doing here?” Mr. Greenwood said. “Up to no good?”

Juan balked. “What do you mean by that?”

Mr. Greenwood’s silver moustaches shook as he laughed. His right hand shook as well but remained raised as though in mid-salute.

“A girl’s buried up to her neck in the courtyard,” Juan said.

“Do tell,” Mr. Greenwood said.

“Dunno know how she got there.”

“Kids these days are animals.”

Smiling mirthlessly, Juan exited.

As sirens approached, he hastened his step. He wondered if someone had buried the woman to make a point. People do all kinds of crazy things to make points.

He walked to the bench, but when he looked for the buried woman, he discovered, to his chagrin, that she wasn’t there. Indeed, the hole where she’d been buried was filled in. He stood there glancing left and right. He’d been gone no longer than a few minutes.

When he stepped on the spot where the woman had been buried to her neck, the ground looked undisturbed. He glanced at the sky and its smog-dimmed Hitchcock moon and shuddered.

The sirens intensified. A dog barked. Juan’s eyes searched the courtyard, but shadows prevailed. Then, on the verge of tears, he saw something glinting in the ground. He stepped to the spot and kneeled.

He pulled a gold hoop out of the dirt, blew it clean, and held it in his palm. At that moment a flashlight beam shone in his eyes, blinding him.

“Put your hands where I can see them,” barked a voice behind the beam.

Juan raised his hands.

“Don’t fucking move,” said another voice.

Before Juan knew it, two uniformed police officers seized his arms. He demanded to know why they were manhandling him.

“Someone reported a prowler,” said the officer with the flashlight, beaming it at himself and casting a large ghoulish shadow against the tenement.

“I called 911,” Juan said. “There was a girl.”

“What girl?”

“She was buried—”

“You buried a girl?” said the other officer, tightening his grip.

“I didn’t bury her,” Juan protested. “I think she fell from the roof.”

Both officers looked at Juan.

“Where’s the girl now?” asked the officer with the flashlight.

Juan shrugged. Tears filled his eyes. He tried to exhibit the earring left behind to the officers, but they ignored him.

“Show us,” said the officer with the flashlight.

“What do you mean?” Juan said.

“Show us where the girl jumped off the roof,” said the other officer.

“Yes, take us up to the roof and show us.”

The officer with the flashlight led the way through the courtyard, the other officer close on Juan’s heels.

They passed Mr. Greenwood in the lobby.

“He’s no good,” Mr. Greenwood cackled. “He’s no good.”

“We need roof access.”

“Follow me,” Mr. Greenwood said. “And don’t mind Rexy, he don’t bite.”

The officers exchanged a glance but kept mum. They took the elevators up to the eighth floor and then walked through a door opening into a shaft with a set of metal stairs. Juan had always wondered what lay behind the door. The stairs led to the roof.

The four men stood on the roof with Alfred Hitchcock sizing them up.

The officer with the flashlight blazed it in Juan’s face. “Show us,” he said.

“But show you what?” Juan said.

Mr. Greenwood sat on a steel duct, right hand raised, whistling, as if for a dog.

“Well,” said the flash-lit officer, “if you don’t show us, maybe we’ll show you.”

“That’s a perfect idea,” said his colleague, grimacing. He removed his cap and jacket, and then slipped off his shoes and socks.

The officer with the flashlight followed suit.

Then, they faced each other in their shirts and trousers. They slapped each other on the shoulders. The officer with the flashlight turned and tossed it to Juan.

“Illuminate us,” he said.

Juan did as requested and shone the flashlight on them. They looked bloated and unhealthy. Then, the officers locked arms and in total silence leaped off the roof, down into the darkness of the courtyard.

Juan dropped the flashlight.

“Rexy,” Mr. Greenwood whispered. “Rexy. Bad dog. Bad dog.”

Read More »
kevin bigley

PUNKER by Kevin Bigley

Leslie stalked the stage with the palpable anxiety of a mountain lion locked in an exhibit. His shoulders were hunched, guitar still echoing the final chord from the previous song, his face bleeding rivers of perspiration. He slithered from end to end, fighting existential hysteria.

“Play ‘Ready to Go’!” cried a fan near the lip of the stage. “Come on, dude. Play it!”

Leslie ignored the fervent fan, wiping his damp forehead with his already drenched t-shirt. He sweat profusely, battling his intense flu-symptoms. He had a fever of one hundred and two degrees. His stomach flipped like a rabid circus chimp, gargling the indigestible street tacos and Budweiser. He looked out into the crowd of thirty-or-so punks with exhaustion and hatred. He was bored with them and he was bored with himself.

He hated playing in Sacramento. It called itself a capital like someone calls themselves an “Assistant Manager” at an Arby’s. It reeked of overcompensation, a city arguing with you, attempting to convince you that it was substantial. It was a half city, half cow-town that was easily driven through in under two minutes. The people were peculiar, but not enough to be interesting. Many of them had tinges of southern accents. What was that about? Why was the city fighting to be southern? Even so, you wouldn’t find the same edge here as you would find in a Memphis or New Orleans. No, Sacramento was a homogenized south. These people were as southern as Leslie was Irish. The Sacramento bars were always the same: honky-tonk vibes with elk horns on the walls, filled with accidental audience members who, as he began his sound check would perk up with curiosity. “Oh, is there music here tonight?” “Hey look, a live band!” “Cool, is this a cover band? Is it 80’s night?” Leslie would target these people, usually playing the most uptempo, abrasive song he had within his is catalogue. He’d lock eyes with them, watching as scowls flooded their faces when they realized they hated him. “Oh, maybe we should go,” they’d mouth to one another. He loved to watch them drift out the door.

“Mickey! Come on, Mickey,” the fan cried out to Leslie. “Come on, Mickey, you motherfucker. Play ‘Ready to Go.’ Play the T-Mobile song, Mickey!”

“Ready to Go” was originally a throwaway tune. It was immature, caveman punk. Three chords the whole way, two minutes in length. But somehow it had found its way onto a Grand Theft Auto soundtrack and garnered the attention of T-Mobile executives. Just like that, The Morons had their first and only hit (the term “hit” is used relatively, of course, as this is as close to a hit as an indie punk band could ever hope for). The fact that the song was a throwaway reinforced Leslie’s disdain for the chaos and injustice of the music industry. Nothing makes sense. He was chained to his vapid hit just as he was chained to his angst-ridden, alter-ego “Mickey Moron” of The Morons.

Presently, The Morons existed only in name. The original members, with the exception of Leslie, had all left. Matilda, his ex-girlfriend, had gone solo with great success playing power pop. Roger, the drummer, had left music altogether and was finishing up his associate’s degree. Leslie was the last spinning plate, and even he wanted to bring it crashing down. He had been experimenting with a new sound, a sound the gratuitously-pierced audience presently standing before him would despise. He was going for something slower, less fuzz-induced, with actual singing. Something Roky Erikson-esque. He always admired Roky, a reverb prophet who sang haunted tunes that were more American than Springsteen, with intricate picking, and nuanced lyrics about complex themes. Of course, Roky was no role model. He had been in this business for so long that he had nearly drank himself to death to the point of being unable to speak. The only working component left in his brain was the music part. He still toured, still sang, but couldn’t converse. Now going on thirty-three and still playing music for a living, Leslie was beginning to wonder if Roky’s cautionary tale would be his own.

“Play ‘Ready to Go,’ Mickey!” shouted the peevish fan. “Play it, motherfucker!”

Leslie sneered, smacking his lips as his mouth over-salivated. His stomach was beginning to bubble and boil, rejecting the beer and street food. He was pale, paler than normal. His jeans no longer fit. He pulled them up, trying to get them to a sticking point. He had grown a potbelly sometime after turning thirty. The fat cascaded over the front of his jeans and love-handles ballooned over the rear edges. His face was bloated and tired. He still had his long blonde hair, a tribute to Cobain. But these days, his hair resembled his fraying psyche: a delusional gun fighter who was outnumbered and outgunned, but had stubbornly convinced himself that he could still shoot his way out of anything.

He was staying with Katy, an old music friend he knew from their days of starting out. She lived in Sacramento with her husband Chris, a real estate agent. They had a lovely home and had just welcomed their second little girl. Katy used to be a punker, playing in a three-piece industrial hardcore band; she was lead vocals and bass. But her shaved head had been replaced by bangs, her piercings were now scars, and her tattoos were merely conversation pieces at block parties. She was nursing Leslie through his flu, providing him with homeopathic medicine, which was a huge help as he didn’t have health insurance. Chris was a nice guy, funny too. He and Katy had built a nice life, filled with picnics in the park, vacations to the coast, and a budding wine cellar. Leslie envied them.

“Ready! To! Go!” chanted the fan. “Ready! To! Go! Ready! To! Go!” Leslie stared into the crowd as if it were a placid surface of a still pond. His mind wandered.

He was wrought with the cliche musician crossroads of The New Stuff versus The Old Stuff. What do you play? Either you’re a dinosaur who can’t adapt, or you’re a fool who thinks his new shit is any good. He stared at the audience with festering acrimony. He’d heard stories of Dylan saying “fuck it” and turning his back to the audience as he played. Kim Gordon staying as still as possible so as to deprive them of even the slightest bit of “show business.” Cobain throwing his frail body into the drum-set, hell bent on destroying himself before he plays “Smells Like Teen Spirit” one more time.

As he sipped his beer, he suddenly felt light-headed and stumbled, almost falling on his face. He could feel the audience holding its collective breath. Camera phones floated into the air. They wanted to watch him fall apart. They wanted a show.

Fuck Sacramento, he thought. But at least it wasn’t Los Angeles. He hated playing in LA even more. Clubs that were CBGB wannabe’s with crowds of hipsters who were there to sponge up art. They stood with their arms folded in the back, slowly nodding as if they were members of an indie rock jury. They quietly formulated bullshit opinions and their own, personal Pitchfork ratings. They were too cool to mosh, too cool to show emotion, and too cool to interact with one another. And there was always a musician friend Leslie knew, someone doing much better than him. Someone who had successfully transformed, evolved, waiting for him by the bar. Afterwards they’d buy him a beer and give him an empty compliment, “What a show,” “Man, you guys really went for it,” “Super loud, dude.” But he knew what they thought. He was a thirty-three-year-old playing music he wrote when he was twenty-one. He was pathetic, and there was a tacit tone to make sure he knew that.

He paced with is beer, his band staring at him, waiting for his signal to continue. But Leslie would have none of it. He drank the rest of his Budweiser, gulping it down and virulently throwing the can into the audience. They cheered at his outburst. His gut was folding in on itself, queasy and disturbed. His senses were alert, taking too much in all at once. What if he just gave up? What if he just dropped his guitar and walked off the stage never to be heard from again? The myth of Mickey Moron would spread. Where is he now?

“Fuck you, Mickey!” cried the fan in front. “Play it, Mickey! Fuck you!”

All this time he thought he was the smart one. He thought he had it all figured out. He pursued the thing that he loved, got really good at it, shared it with the world, and made money. It was all so simple. He used to pity the people he knew from high school who became accountants, salesmen, teachers, etc. They had failed and he had succeeded because he had it all figured out. But as time passed he realized that he was the fool. He had convinced himself that he could make a living out of a hobby.

Heat rose in his intestines, a warning that something was on the rise. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He had to continue. He thought about the next song, the chord changes. He was a teenager trying to suppress a boner with desexualized thoughts. As his mind focused on the next song, he felt his nausea subside. He had thwarted it for the moment. He took a deep breath.

“The T-Mobile song, Mickey! Come on, dude! Play it!”

Out of nowhere, Leslie thumped power chords with ferocity. “Ready to Go” was music a monkey could play, but it was catchy as hell. The whole song is made up of three chords (A, C, and G). He started at A for four beats, then changed to C for another four, then G for three with a quick finishing beat at C, then back to A. As he came to life, so did the crowd. They began to jump, push, and jostle. He had infected them. The drums pounded their repetitive 1, 2, 1, 2, standard punk beat with heavy snare and kick drum. The fan that had badgered Leslie writhed with primal joy.

But instead of the opening verse, a stream of vomit erupted from Leslie’s maw. Tacos, beer, Katy’s homeopathic medicine, and other undigestible rubble spewed from Leslie’s oozing face and onto the truculent fan. The fan, shocked and disgusted, was too horrified to move. Once a tough-as-nails punk, he transformed into an humiliated child. Finally, his jaw trembling, he dropped his head and slinked away, heading for the bathroom.

The band slowly ground to a halt, looking at Leslie to make sure he wasn’t about to pass out. Leslie nodded and tossed them a thumbs up. He felt instantly better. He moved to his pedals and turned off his SuperFuzz, and instead shifted to a high-toned, reverb-heavy, tremolo SkySurfer pedal. He strummed an a-minor chord that resonated throughout the small, western-themed bar with the haunting sounds of neon beer signs, Roky Erickson, and the San Fernando Valley at midnight. He picked slowly, allowing the tones to paint every corner of the space. He smiled as he watched disappointment spread, spider-like, as it crawled across every punker’s face. He delicately unleashed his new sound and watched as bar patrons mouthed “Oh, maybe we should go.” They settled their tabs, and drifted into the night.

Read More »
ashley naftule


Pennies are spilling down my throat. I can feel the copper pieces smelting as they pass through my lungs, pooling at the bottom of my guts. Something cold and sharp is waiting there to greet them.

It takes some effort to peel my head off this hot pillow. I've never slept on a pillow this big before: it's as big as the bean bag I had back in my dorm room days. My cheeks are burning and a strange scent has hooked its fingers into my nostrils, like the way a cooling pie on a window sill can hoist cartoon hobos into the air. That smell must have shaken me awake: the smell of burning popcorn.

The light around me is liquid, flowing and congealing and dissolving into shapes. I see a gas dial, a key, a tree with a cherry at its heart. They disappear in the swirling light, replaced by stars and flickers of arrows. The click-click-click of a turn signal. And a familiar voice floating above it all: Ric Ocasek.

An unfamiliar voice, out of the frame, asks if I'm okay. I say no, of course not. I've mistaken Ric Ocasek for Benjamin Orr. This is his song, the best Cars song. I show the voice I know what I'm talking about by singing:

“Who’s gonna tell you when/it's too late.”

Orr is far ahead of this part of the song, but it feels wrong for me to not start at the beginning. I try to sing the next line but there are pennies in my mouth and that sharp coldness in my gut feels like it's spreading.

“Who’s gonna tell you things/aren't so great,” the invisible voice sings to me. A hand, soft and gentle on my shoulder.

I can't hear Orr anymore. All I hear is sirens and small metal wheels spinning and a door wrenching open and panicked voices and calm voices and a sound that throbs like the whole world is being squeezed and released squeezed and released and it's my heart I know it's my heart beating but it's in my ears now and that can't be right it doesn't belong there I don't belong here.

“Oh, you know you can't go on, thinkin’/nothing’s wrong.”

I don't know if I'm singing those lines or if it’s Benjamin or the hand on my shoulder. All I know is that I love this song. I love this song so goddamn much. And I hope I’ll get to hear it again soon.

Read More »
brad baumgartner

TO BE OR NOT TO BEFUDDLE by Brad Baumgartner

Drowned out, like an ant’s ear drums (having not yet “ears to hear” in order to “listen and understand”), as it sits, uncertainly, on a twig placed atop the crevice between a washing machine and a dryer, is our consciousness of Consciousness. The twig is also a razor’s edge, on which the ant balances itself, and in which lurks the seed of the failure of gravity. On one side of the razor’s edge the ant enacts faith upon its future, knowing in full measure that it will not fall if it maintains (via will) the clarity of balance. On the other side of this razor’s edge, however, sits the unknown permeability of caprice, the strange undoing of the twig by the unevent of the opposite of sound, a gone-poof where the ant’s lack of ear drums has nothing at all to do with anything.

This caprice lets loose the will’s nonsensical parody of itself and asks skeptical questions of it pertaining to hidden biological functions, hereditariness, what happens inside a vessel of blood, etc. This nothing at all to do with anything is actually a something, but a sum-Thing that does not require one’s active thinking of it to be anything. Is this something then a nothing? And could it not also be said to be the wyrd relationship an individual might, quite unsuspectingly, that is, ignorantly, have with oneself, as one peers into the tilted mirror of being to see something so bewildering that the experience of this being-fuddled becomes a comico-frightening endeavor, one which promises nullity but secretly vows erasure?

Ultimately, one must balance oneself on this twig, but in such a way as to simultaneously remove the twig’s being-as-precept, to exhort the blurring of the gap between oneself and the world and of the crevice’s acosmic blurring of world and world. Blurring the gap dispels the incisive derision of identity, of the plugging up of the ineffable, of the fear of falling. Make not love with the succubus that indicts and invites the mirror of being’s reflection, but rather with the one that calls it into question.

If one would only realize that one is always already the deaf ant…. that our ear drums resign us to a certain mode of consciousness in which fear itself is the ultimate, illusive sound….


The elders in the community often spoke of an old dreadlocked sage who was brought into prison. He never said a word to anyone. But one night, as the sage slept deeply in his room, a guard heard these words being whispered from the sage’s unmoving mouth:

“I know a room, a room you cannot enter. I know this room from the inside-out. It took me a long time to find my way into it, and now that I’m there, I wish not to leave. It is so cozy; at once intimate, comfortable, and yet large enough to fill a universe. But just as you see this room from the outside-in, not yet able to walk in, I have a restraint as well. I cannot open the door to the outside. That door must be opened by one who has found the key. Until then, I will keep the windows clean, so that an onlooker’s gaze can view the inside of this beautiful room. At this time of year, the windows will surely be dirtied by sandstorms. But they must. What else can a window be other than itself, an eternal passageway that, like Janus, looks inward and outward at the same time, beckoning the senses to become what they were meant to be, instruments of divinity.”

The guard continued his service until one day, long after the old sage had passed away, he earned his retirement papers. The people in his community were surprised when he opened up a small shop fixing windows. It is said that he charged no one for his services.


As a young man, the old dreadlocked sage once came across an unsightly Thing in the woods. The Thing whispered to him:

“Have you ever known that all of your words are completely useless if you cannot attribute to them the non-experience of a divinity so vast that its own incommunicability becomes its manner of suspension (of dis-belief), where the love of its lostness and the lostness of its love combine to form one ubiquitous, auto-flagellating Word, the Word, the One to which your lofty unborn gaze draws itself. This cataclysm of utility marks your dereliction from the divine, that ontological slaughterhouse in which you place your trust, confining you to the horizon where cosmic thought is banished by your own reptilian nature.

Think about this, and then swiftly forget it: non-thinking is the only way out of this reprehensible hologram of yourself. The world is purely world until it becomes other than itself, just as you are merely you until you are other than yourself, which is to say, not you and not-not you, but rather what is you when the is is not. You are dwarfed by your own incomprehensibility. Step outside, which is really inside, and then reverse the outside to be inside and the inside to be outside. This Outside-Inside is the negativity of the All, and once you reverse the reversal you may be granted entrance into the eternal darkness that is your shimmering light.”

The old man never told the Thing that he was in fact deaf, and just nodded. Though one day, many years later, after many trials and tribulations, he watched himself (as if from atop a hill) pass his younger self on the street. The man stared, bewildered. His younger self winked, mutely mouthed hello to him, and walked off into the sun-lit city. At that moment, the old man heard and understood exactly what the Thing had told him.

Read More »
william falo

THE RESCUE by William Falo

The sirens wail and I howl along with them. My human sleeps. I lick his face and feel coldness. Why doesn’t he get up? I bark and lick. He doesn’t pet me. Something is wrong. My tail hangs low and I whimper. I spin in circles, but not happy ones.

The door is banged open and two men come in with a bed on wheels. I stand in front of my owner and growl.

“It’s okay.” One says while the other one grabs me. I am small. He puts me in another room and shuts the door, but I stick my nose in at the last second and it doesn’t shut tight. They wheel my owner out and I follow onto the street. The truck drives away with sirens and lights flashing.

My small sore legs can’t keep up and I am lost. I lose the smell and can’t find him. My tail hangs low and my legs hurt. I find home. A woman there says words that sound bad. I recognize two of them.

“I’m sorry.” She picks me up and takes me to a building with a lot of cages. Barks fill the air.

I whimper. “Sorry,” she says again.

She is gone. Another person puts me in a cage. It is cold, but there is water and I drink for a long time. A blanket in a corner is not a bed. Tiredness overcomes fear and I sleep on it. My owners face fills my dreams and I whimper through the night.

People come and bring food. Once in a while, a kind hand is extended and I lick it.

The cage has an outdoor opening and the sun is shinning, but I stay inside on the blanket.

My hearing and seeing are not like they once were, but I see people come inside. Some pet me, some read the papers on the cage, while others shake their heads.

Days go by. Dogs that I recognize from smell vanish. Others leave on a leash with people, some are led toward the back of the building and never return. I whimper.

My bones are sore and a chill is inside me. I can’t live much longer.

The coldest day that I ever knew feels like it could be my last. The door opens and someone walks toward me with a crate. They smile. I know when someone is happy, but are they kind.

They stop and reach out a hand. “You’re a good girl.” The woman opens the door.

I back away, but she is quick and scoops me up in her arms.

“We’re taking you out of here.”

Inside a crate, I whimper and my legs start to shake. I can’t stop them.

A hand occasionally reaches in and rubs my ears. It’s not enough to take my fear away. I remember the dogs who vanished.

Before long, I am inside a house. A woman opens the crate and lets me out. I shiver, but the house is warm. There are other people here too. Some have uniforms on and others stand by themselves. The woman picks me up and brings me over to one of them.

His hands shake and he doesn’t try to pet me.

“Jake,” she says. “It’s okay. This dog has been through a lot. Her owner died and she was left at a shelter.”



He reaches out his shaking hand and rubs my ear. “She’s not too bad for a dog.” He gives a slight smile.

Another man came up and pets me too. He has only one arm, before long I was in the lap of a man in a chair with wheels.

“Anna. Thank you.” He says to the woman who brought me here.

She takes me to a woman who stayed away from all the others. Her dark hair covers her eyes and she doesn’t look at me.

“Emma, I have a dog here.”


“I know you used to like them.”

Emma looks at me. She isn’t happy. I sniff toward her and smell blood. A line of recent cuts covers her arms and I try to lick them, but she pulls away.

“Take him away,” Emma says.

“She was living in a shelter alone for a long time. Her owner died. They were going to euthanize her soon.”

“You saved her?”



“Because someone needed to and I’m going to bring her here every day.”

“A therapy dog? Will I be able to take her home?”

“Maybe, but first I got to teach her.”

Emma reached out and I was put in her arms. She rubs her hands through my fur. Tears fell down and she wouldn’t let go of me for a long time.

“Will you bring him back tomorrow?” Emma hands me back.

“Yes. I promise.”

“I’ll be here.”

“Great.” Anna walks out with me in her arms.

“You made a great impression tonight. This place is for people suffering from all kind of mental disorders including PTSD and depression. Someone told me Emma was suicidal and we got her in here. She was abused and refused to talk to anyone before, but I knew she had a dog once. I hoped.” Anna stops and wipes her eyes. “I think she will look forward to seeing you tomorrow. You may rescue her.”

She drives to her house. Inside, I lay down in a soft bed.

“Tomorrow I start training you to be a therapy dog.”

Before she finishes talking, my eyes close and I see my owner’s face and feel his hand going through my fur. I hear him speaking.

“You’re safe now. You’re a good girl.”

When I open my eyes, he is not there, but I notice that my fur is ruffled. I close my eyes and drift back to sleep. I am safe now.

Read More »
jason graff


Katie just wants to rip it out. A length of string, some fortitude or, even better, a burly man in uniform, a marine or naval officer would do. Clearly, it was the eye tooth on the upper right side of her mouth that was the trouble. Why shouldn’t a stranger pull it out? How much better would a dentist be than some twine, a golf cart and a driver with a heavy foot?

She sips her iced coffee through a straw whose tip has been stained by her lipstick. She knows she wears too much but “they” say men like it thick. And today isn’t one of those days that finds in her in the mood to tell “them” to fuck off. For the last half hour, she’s been working on some young guy who’s looking to spend some of his father’s money. She’s tried to get him to see the wisdom in buying a place rather than renting one. He’s got a red crew cut, an unusually ruddy complexion and ‘Stacey’ tattooed in cursive on the side of his hand. Whoever did the job didn’t know how to do an S properly in cursive. It lacks the top loop. This bothers Katie almost as much as her tooth.

The kid leans further forward as she talks about the condos still available in the building. This guy’s no marine but she thinks about asking him for help. A great investment of his time.

She cannot be sure by the way that he is looking at her if he is listening to what she is saying. Opening her bag, she places some papers before him to show him things in print that she has already said. Katie would feel better if his eyes were elsewhere.

She furtively checks the buttons on her blouse, as though his pale blue eyes might’ve slipped one loose through sheer effort. But of course he hasn’t. Of course, he can’t help her like that either. She touches her tooth through her lip. Well, her eyes ask him with finality, are we done here?

Read More »
babak lakghomi

I KEPT LOOKING FOR IT by Babak Lakghomi

After working as a dish washer, my sister found me a job that paid more than the minimum wage. Every morning, I had to wear a wetsuit and dip my hand deep into a pool of sewage for a sample. Sometimes I had to get into tanks and wash off sludge from filters with a hose. Otherwise, I mostly sat in a control room full of screens with the other operators. I kept an eye on pumps turning on and off, numbers changing on screens. I had only dropped out of college in the third year, so this was the easy part for me.

It was a hot summer and most days the operators were hung over, or outside feeding a ground hog they’d tamed. One of them, a boy younger than me, had an infected wound he kept touching. Watching him touch the wound made me reckless. I wanted to escape that place, like I’d always escaped everything else.

When I complained to my girlfriend about the job, she thought that I was just being lazy. She reminded me of the better pay, of my similar complaints working as a dish washer.

Outside, the smell of wet grass and trees would take me back to my childhood, to our backyard where my sister and I would roll worms into little balls.

The sewage plant wasn’t accessible by public transport, and every day I took a long walk from the last bus station, walking in the bank of a river. Wild geese blocked the narrow road, and cars that passed had to honk and wait for the geese to clear the road. I would walk past the geese very quietly not to attract much attention.

One morning as I was walking by the river, I saw a little bird, the size of a sparrow, with a red tail and a long beak. I didn’t know what kind of bird it was. I’d never seen anything like it. I kept looking for it on other days, wondering if I’d really seen it.


I don’t know what happened on the night when I punched the door. I was still staring at the hole in the door when the cops showed up.

My girlfriend had called 911.

I would have never hurt her.

The next day, my girlfriend came to the station. We both cried. She’d called my sister who came in after she left and bailed me out.

My sister wanted to take me to her place, but I told her that I had to go to work, and she drove me there.

The geese were blocking the road, and as we were waiting for them to pass, I told my sister about the little bird I’d seen one day.

She pulled over and stopped the car by the river. We both sat there in silence, our eyes searching the horizon.

Read More »
troy james weaver

CALCULUS by Troy James Weaver

Calculus, 8:00 A.M.—Concentration is already an issue, even when I’m on my meds, and this asshole named Martin, who knows where I sit and why, was in my spot when I came running into class five minutes late. I took a seat in the back, deciding it was a waste to even try to pay attention. It was spite on his part, no doubt, a power play, him just being his dickhead self, probably because I’d fucked him within the first week of class then ghosted his ass, like, man, I don’t owe you shit, get it? And like most men, he didn’t get it, would refuse to get it, like, I just wanted to have some sex, no strings attached, that’s all, and he’s all wanting to tell me he’s in love and stuff. I tried to explain to him that I’ve already been through middle school. He told me he felt used, and I told him, So what? Did you enjoy yourself? That’s what it’s all about, not some gooey dating bullshit. You should be happy

After class, I told Martin to go fuck himself for taking my seat then went to meet up with Christina at the Student Center. I was starving, but had no money for food, so I drank lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup while she talked on and on about her weekend in Boston, all the food she’d consumed, all the booze she’d drank. I hardly caught any of it, just heard blips of sound and nodded, occasionally said, Damn, you serious?

That was the only class I had on Tuesday, so when Christina finally ran out of breath, I went home and masturbated to an old X-Files episode until I was tired enough to go back to sleep. When I woke up, I had a text from this guy Kevin who I met at Club X one night last semester. Took him long enough—I think he was scared of me. It was either me or my penchant for trying to get some pegging done inside those strange wide folds of a sloppy night. I tried with him, as is my modus operandi, but, trust me, there’s no convincing anybody when you’re dealing with a nerd of that magnitude.

Chelsea called me around noon. “I’m pregnant. Again.”

“Yeah, what’s new?” I said.

“It’s already grown quite a bit. I’m three months into this thing,” she said. “I’ll have to have a real abortion.”

I knew what she meant by real. She ate morning-after pills like they were candy.

“I’m sorry, girl. Whose is it?”

“That guy Kevin. The guy you hooked up with last semester,” she said.

“That’s totally weird—he just texted me out of the blue, wants to take me out for some beers sometime.”


“Don’t worry, I haven’t responded yet.”

“What’re you going to say?”

“Obviously I’m going to tell him to get lost.”

“No, for real, you should go,” she said. “Seriously. He doesn’t know I’m pregnant. You should go, for real. Get the inside scoop.”

“I have no interest in doing that,” I said. “He got super pissed when I suggested doing butt stuff. He yelled at me. Said, ‘What, you think I’m a faggot?’ and I was like, ‘No, dude, it’s just something people do, okay, chill.’”

“He said faggot?”

“I know, right? Total douchebag,” I said.

“Probably has a tattoo of Elliot Rodger on his foreskin.”

I laughed. “Yeah, we need to get ourselves a couple of Chads, don’t we?”

“Yup, I’m tired of these incel assholes. I don’t even want to ask him for money. He’s probably one of these dudes who will try to tell me I have to keep it, you know.”

“Oh, definitely, he shouldn’t know about it,” I said.

The alarm on my nightstand went off, signifying lunchtime with dad. We had lunch together twice a week, even though I couldn’t stand him. It was just one way around not having to eat Ramen or Mac N Cheese for the umpteenth time in a day.

“Hey, Chels, I have to go. Lunch with dad. Call me later, okay? All right, love you. Talk soon. Bye.”

We always ate at Applebee’s. We always sat in a booth. My dad always ordered the same thing. I always tried something different. This time it was a monstrosity called a brunch burger—a cheeseburger with hash browns and a fried egg, loaded with ketchup. I scarfed it down while my dad told me he was thinking about leaving my mom. He kept talking and talking and I kept chewing and averting my eyes.

“Well,” he said. “What do you think I should do?”

I burped and grabbed my stomach. “Goddamn, that was a lot of food.”

He just looked at me, waiting, sipped a bit of his Coke.

“I’ll tell you one thing—I’m going to have to abort this fat-ass food baby in a minute. Hope you’re cool with that.”

“Jesus Christ,” he said, unamused. “Can’t you take me seriously for even ten goddamn minutes?”

“What do you want me to say?” I said. “You want me to comfort you—tell you it is okay to leave my mother? You’re fucked. Sure, that’s what I say, dump the bitch. Is that what you want from me?”

He looked embarrassed, ashamed, and I was good with that, even though a part of me felt sorry I’d made a scene.

He drove me back to my apartment without uttering a single word. I stood in the parking lot for a minute, wondering what in the hell was wrong with me, I mean why couldn’t I have just kept my mouth shut? But also, my mother didn’t deserve to be deserted like that, did she? No, she didn’t, so…what the fuck ever. Fuck him.

I went into my bedroom and sprawled on my bed, watched General Hospital on mute while texting Kevin. I told him I was not interested in going out for drinks, not in the least, not ever, and he should just up and lose my number, because, frankly, I’m way out of your league, dude.

He never texted back, thank god.

Chelsea called me later that night, as promised, and said she wanted me to go to the clinic with her next Tuesday. I told her, “Of course. I’ll be there. Hang in there. Try not to freak about it or anything.”

“I’m feeling all right,” she said. “Thanks for being so good to me.”

“Of course—I love you, boo. I’ll see you tomorrow”

I called my dad and canceled our lunches for the next couple of weeks. I said, “Sorry, dad, but I can’t handle you anymore. I’m not your fucking marriage counselor. Maybe if you want to get together sometime and ask me how I’m doing, we can do that. But for now, until that can happen, I don’t want to see you for a while.”

I hung up the phone and a sad satisfaction rippled through me. I couldn’t believe that this life we live is real, and all you can do is try to make the most of it, you know, even when everybody and everything is so fucked up, including yourself.

I had to vent, so called Christina, told her all about my shitty day, and that golden bitch, she let me.

“Wait,” she said. “Maybe your mom should peg your dad.”

“No. Gross.”

“Seriously,” she said.

“Fuck off. No.”

“I mean, you never know,” she said. “Maybe then he’d see the light.”

Read More »
danny swain

I AM A WRITER by Danny Swain

I make up symptoms to get unnecessary hospital treatment.

Because I'm a writer.

I don't bathe for years and scratch smiley faces in the dirt on my body. I photograph the faces and send them to random strangers through the post.

Because I'm a writer.

I drink booze until my soul intrudes on the secret meetings between God and Satan.

Because I'm a writer.

When my dog died I had sex with it.

Because I'm a writer.

I hang out with tramps who I only speak mock Chinese to.

Because I'm a writer.

I traveled forty miles west and tried to kill a man with a pencil.

Because I'm a writer.

I dress up as a woman and offer sex to men. When we get into an alley I take a dump in front of them and run off screaming "RAPE!"

Because I'm a writer.

I once babysat two kids and I injected heroin in front of them and just laughed.

Because I'm a writer.

I didn't touch those kids though.

Because I'm not a very good writer.

Read More »

RELAX INN by J. Edward Kruft

Pat sat in his boxers on the edge of the bed, digging into his ear with a Q-tip. When Barb finally turned off the hairdryer in the bathroom, he called to her.

“I sure wish you hadn’ta done this.”

“What’s that you say?” asked Barb, entering the room in her slip.

I said,” he emphasized, “I wish you hadn’ta done this.”

“Oh,” she swatted the air, “they’re nice enough folks.”

“I don’t even know why they’re staying here. They got that goddamn travel trailer just sitting there, wasting away.”

“Well, they’ve been on the road a long time. Mitzi said every once in a while Bob likes to splurge and stay at a motel. Besides, they like us.”

Pat and Barb, Mitzi and Bob, met the day before at a craps table in Reno. Pat and Bob, self-proclaimed bourbon aficionados, got increasingly drunk trying to outdo one another, and became excessively and unintentionally chummy in the process. Barb and Mitzi looked on, neither of them surprised.

“And anyway, you’re the one that told them where we were staying,” added Barb.

“Another thing,” said Pat. “How is it we got room two, and they got room seven?”

“What difference does it make?” asked Barb, slipping into her “fancy” dress.

It makes a difference,” he emphasized, “because seven is a winner, and two craps out. Besides, their room is closer to the pool.”

“Pat, will you just get dressed?”

Meanwhile, in room seven, Bob lay on the bed, dressed and with his shoes on, watching scrambled porno on the motel TV.

“Bob!” declared Mitzi when she noticed.

“Ope,” he pointed at the set, “I think that was a boob!” and laughed.

“Come on,” she said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Zip me up.”

“With pleasure!”

“You know,” said Mitzi, “I was reading some brochures in the tub. That lake that the restaurant is on, it’s fake.”

“Whattaya mean ‘fake?’ How can a lake be fake? Hey, I made a rhyme!”

“I mean it wasn’t always there. It’s man-made.”

“Of course it’s man-made. We’re in the desert!”

Mitzi, on route back to the bathroom to attach her eyelashes, stopped short and turned to Bob. “Do you think they really like us?” she asked.


“Who! The Krendalls. Pat and Barb.”

“Sure, why not?” asked Bob, and then took a sip of his Jim Beam, which he two-handedly perched upon his chest.

“Well, Barb seems genuine. But I get the distinct feeling Pat is all show. I mean, what did you think of the way he told that cocktail waitress at Circus Circus he was a bullfighter? I mean, really!”

“Ahh, she knew he was pulling her leg.”

“I don’t know….”

A rapid knock came at the door.

“That’s them,” said Bob, gulping down his whisky.

“I’m not ready!” cried Mitzi, closing herself in the bathroom. “Entertain them!” she yelled through the door.

“Will do!” said Bob, pouring himself a quick half-finger of Jim Beam and downing it.

Outside room seven, Bob found Pat and Barb standing on the welcome mat that read: “Relax Inn.”

“Howdy, fine people.” Pat and Barb offered their hellos. “Don’t you look nice, Barb! And you clean up pretty good, too!” he told Pat.

“Where’s Mitzi?” asked Barb. “I hope she’s not ill.”

“Just putting on her face. She’ll be out in a jiff.”

The three of them then stood in awkward silence, looking at each other, the ground, the moon, the back of a hand where a small scab rested just below the middle finger. Finally, Barb said: “I’m hungry!” and Bob agreed and Pat nodded. None too soon, Mitzi emerged, her right upper eyelash affixed noticeably higher than the left.

“I’m hungry!” she declared, and everyone agreed.

At the restaurant, they got a table on the lake. “I reserved this one special,” Pat told them. (Later he would complain to Barb that Bob took the best seat, the one that looked most fully at the water.) Pat and Bob ordered their bourbons: Pat’s on the rocks, Bob’s neat. The women each ordered a glass of riesling.

“Anyone having an appetizer?” inquired Mitzi.

“I’m having the prime rib,” said Pat.

“She’s asking about appetizers, Pat,” said Barb.

“So, I’m just saying, I’m” – he emphasized – “having the prime rib.”

“You know, that sounds pretty good,” said Bob. “I’ll have the prime rib, too. And a baked potato with the works!”

“I think I’ll start with a side salad,” Barb told Mitzi.

“Okay, I’ll do that, too,” Mitzi told Barb.

“So, how do you like room seven?” Pat asked Bob.

“Fine, fine,” said Bob.

“Close to the pool,” said Pat.

“Yeh, yeh,” said Bob.

“Seven,” said Pat. “That’s a good number.”

“Pat….” warned Barb.

“I’m just saying, seven is a good number,” Pat emphasized.

The waiter arrived with their drinks, and the table fell silent. They all sipped, and just as Pat’s lips parted to begin again, Mitzi jumped in.

“It’s fake,” she told them.

“Beg your pardon?” said Pat.

“The lake. This lake. It’s fake.”

“What she means is,” explained Bob, “is that it’s man-made. Well of course it’s man-made, we’re in the desert!” Bob laughed.

“No,” insisted Mitzi. “That’s not what I mean. I mean it is fake. You can sit here and pretend otherwise if you like, but I know perfectly well. It’s fake.”

Again, the table fell silent. Mitzi lifted her riesling and took a tentative sip. Pat looked at her from across the table. He pointed to his own right eye.

“It’s higher,” Pat said to Mitzi. “That one, on the right, it’s higher than the left.” Bob caught onto Pat’s point before Mitzi did.

“Now wait one cotton-picking moment there, Pat.”

Pat thought for a second and took a quick glance at Barb, and then stopped pointing at his own right eye and placed his hand on the table. No one said anything for a while, and then finally, Barb broke the silence:

“Boy, I tell you what, I really am starved!”

Read More »