Joshua Hebburn

Joshua Hebburn recommends Steven Arcieri, Nathan Dragon, and Honor Levy.

RUSSIAN ADVICE by Joshua Hebburn

The only tenderable advice Mom had given him was if a woman threatens to throw a plate at your head, she might, but if she takes her shoes off first, she's going to kill you. Mom said she learned this while reading Turgenev. In college. 

He started taking magnesium supplements for better sleep. His therapist recommended it when he mentioned his disturbances in his sleep and insomnia. He Googled magnesium. He learned that magnesium burns especially hot, and that bad people—child pornographers, hackers, drug cartel accountants—used magnesium-based flip-switch ignition setups to melt their hard drives full of illegal information when the men in heavy gear and gas masks stormed in. He learned about nutritional magnesium. He went to Target. His dreams became vivid from the magnesium. The dead and the lost things in his life returned to him in everyday settings, and the famous people—politicians and actors and actresses—all articulated together into nonsense. The people were speaking out of character, sometimes in a language that was almost decipherable. The settings flowed into the wrong next one. They committed unconjoined, sometimes tender, sometimes disgusting acts. These would be disturbing. This isn’t speaking of the objects and other nouns. That is if they weren't, as memories, faint, thin, and rapidly fading. But maybe they wouldn't: they don't wake him up in their progress. He thinks of these as his magnesium dreams. He has magnesium dreams almost every night now. He didn’t dream this much before, either. He likes it even if it makes him feel bad. 

The other advice Mom gave was—for instance, only eat cake after thirty if you’re not married, women like plump guys but don't keep them—it was stuff that made only surface sense, made too complete a feeling, was calculated to imply a kind of person, it was like a magazine ad. 

He thought of the way she would turn her hand palm up when she talked. She curled her index finger in towards the palm. It alarmed him that he couldn’t think of the hand beyond the gesture. In his mind’s eye it was a smudge, like the limb of one of the figures in the background of a painting, exactly what came into his mind when he thought generically of a “woman’s palm,” or “woman’s index finger.”  He could look at his own hand and observe the fold of flesh in the groin between his thumb and his pointer. He wished he could see a picture of the same place on her hand, or, if he could only consult a reference to jar his memory into particulars.  He imaged some library that contained volumes of photographs of human hands, human wrists, human arms, and all of the other parts, photographs made in hard light and printed in large format on thick, smooth art book paper.  It would be forgotten, the form of any human hand, her hand was going to be forgotten, and even his own hand as it was now because it would be another hand in the future, a hand with different creases.  

Nobody's home. He went to her room and applied her makeup from the crowded table. He does it in the same way you might invert your shirt and go bongos on your belly, or sing a song loudly and badly, inserting cusses and slurs, or the way you pretend to be Jim Carrey in The Mask. Hummanahummana! Because you can. First a metallic dusting. Then an outline with a wet black pen. An oyster colored, oyster cool cream on the hands that smells like lavender, and salt. The satisfying twist of the plastic gold tube to raise the ruby worn down by Mom's lips. I'm a glamorita, a glamourpuss. I look divine.

He was occasioned for all of this. He thought while he sat beside his second wife, who he knew he didn't love recently, or maybe never. His hands were folded into his hands. The pew was hard. Everyone wears black. The pastor said the pastor's scripture of love, God, and death. The light passed through the stained glass windows and it filled the enormous room with color.

He thinks of Mom smacking the bottom of the bear shaped bottle of pure clover honey, then looking at Dad at the kitchen table, and moving her hand to the hollowed bear rump, patting and laughing. Later, she would throw something at Dad, and for a reason. He couldn't remember if she was wearing shoes, she often did or didn't inside the house. How did she feel? 

Like a duel, he supposed, you make a commitment and do it out of some idea that you will feel some way after you've gone through. They say, go through with it. You go to the dentist. You go to the funeral. You snort cocaine. You divorce a wife. You say Jesus Christ.

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ASSIGNATION by Joshua Hebburn

He bought flowers at the grocery store and put them in a wine bottle with a little water and an aspirin. He put them on the nightstand. There, for her, so the room wouldn't smell of him.      

He took the ingredients from the plastic bag that said, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You in red block font on the side. He took out the butcher block. He smashed, peeled, and chopped the garlic. He halved, skinned, sliced, and chopped the onions. He blinked, he blinked, he blinked. He put the onions in a bowl. He put the onion bowl where it wouldn’t bite his eyes. He quartered the brussels sprouts and put them in a bowl. He put the big pan on the range and swirled olive oil supposedly from Tuscany on it. He salted and peppered the steak. He ate a raw brussels leaf.

She didn't arrive. From the kitchen, through the living room, he went. He sat on the bed. He took the flowers from the bottle and drank the aspirin and flower water. It didn't really make him feel anything, but it was something different to do. It forced him to make a face. He’d found, but would never acknowledge, that he could do almost anything if he was alone and he stopped imagining somebody.

A little while later, he put the flowers back in a bottle with water, this time, for himself. 

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THE ROSE by Joshua Hebburn

Driving back after the funeral, he stopped at a Target to get Starbucks and take a piss. He'd stayed overnight at a motel, and he left the motel early in the morning to make it back east by driving all day. 

Driving that morning he thought of the black and white picture of a Joshua tree in the room. It was the only thing not reusable in the motel; it was the sort of picture somebody would take in an intermediate photography class, not something tastelessly good the owners would get in a bulk purchase of decor. 

There was something too amateur—too ambitious but clumsy—about the composition of this picture of a Joshua tree, and the overexposure of the image—and there was the starkness of that, it was the wrong tone for a motel. It made your eye stop, and in a motel you shouldn't seem to have had eyes.

He'd drove—drove not really seeing anything but the spiky black silhouette of that Joshua tree, and the grainy white of the blown-out desert behind it—and the gray of the highway, the tires below the bumpers, and the loss of time they represented.

The Target was empty this early in the morning. The aisles were pristine, walls of familiar merchandise waiting brightly in fluorescent light. The store seemed eager—except for a yawning cashier. It was stunning after the monotony of the drive and his thoughts. 

When he went into the bathroom, a light on a motion sensor turned on. There was a pleasant artificial cherry smell. It was all gray slate, white porcelain, straight lines. It was easy.

He did what he came to do.

Going to wash his hands, and in the mirror he noticed the boots in the little stall. He'd assumed he had been alone pissing because of the motion sensing light—that was wrong.

The boots were cowboy boots. They had dark bluejeans tucked into them. The jeans were stiff tubes, almost hollow seeming. The man's legs must be thin.

The feet were planted far apart, as if the person in the stall were bracing for one to give the devil. But the jeans weren't down. 

Embroidered on the side of the boot closest to him, which was almost under the gap of the little stall, was a rose.

It was the kind of rose you would imagine tattooed on the bicep or chest of a biker or sailor. 

The bathroom was new, even the grout on the floor by the boot was clean and white. The boot with the rose also appeared to be new. The red threading of the rose shone like silk. The leather had not yet crinkled or cracked. The leather wasn’t dusty or soiled. The point of the boot was sharp. 

The figure was still and quiet in the stall. The sound of the ventilation system filled the room. 

He looked away from the stall, the boots, the mirror. He rinsed his hands in the automatic faucet and wiped them on his slacks. He pulled open the door and went out.

The episode of the man in the stall was one of the small strange occurrences that we overlook, and then forget, in the course of a life.  

We have all had something like a man staring into the window of our house from the street in the middle of the night—something like being in the fog on a beach in the morning and coming upon a rotten seaweed-entangled heap that gives us a feeling—had something like a lost object turning up after a few days in a place we knew we didn't leave it.

He went and got a venti iced coffee. He added whole milk and three paper sachets of sugar. He was in for a very long drive. 

He listened for bootsteps behind him as he made his way through the empty store to his car. He heard only ice shifting against plastic and ice. 

Years later, looking through all the stuff he had to sort through a few weeks after the next funeral, he turned a page, and there were the boots. They were on his Dad.  His Dad had an armful of Mom. They were by the bulk of a redwood. They were young. 

He put the album down, he got into his car, he turned the key. He idled in the driveway. He noticed he was covered in a sweat gone cold. 

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