Creative Nonfiction


The first thing I thought of during the coup was your cock. I think of it when I need comfort, and what I wanted to remember was the first time it saved me. We were on your bed, a Friday afternoon, both skipping work. I’d been bent over in the shower, but you know I faint easily so you moved us out of the hot water. Our just shampooed hair made dark blotches and streaks on your grey sheets, while stars encroached on my vision and echoes rolled through my ears, the two telltale symptoms I’m about to pass out. Instead of the stars and echoes, I focused on your cock like my life depended on it, and the deeper I plunged it into my throat, the more I kept the fainting at bay. Your cock brought me back to full consciousness, so now when I don’t have my faculties or when my faculties are too present, when I need a jolt or a numbing, it returns me. When I have to wake up in a few hours but haven’t gotten a whisper of sleep, your cock comes faster than sheep into my head and soothes me. When I almost drive off the road and need to stay awake for a few more miles, remembering the taste of the first lick of the head puts me on cruise control until I pull into the garage. When I’m on my knees about to retch into a toilet, I think about swallowing you down, and my stomach immediately stops churning. So when guns and Confederate flags filled the screens again, the first thing I thought of was your cock, and how it’s never been used for violence. When crises arise, I think of your cock and I know how to stay alive.

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HAUNTING by Edee James

A ghost is a boy who always comes back to you.

We were kissing in his car, which he’d initially parked by the side of the road so we could volley insults at each other responsibly. With his breath sweet and warm on my neck, and his tongue darting in and out of my ear, it was easy to momentarily forget why we were fighting.

It was about another girl.

I grew up learning that a man will stray. You shouldn’t kill yourself just because your man is a community penis, my aunt said. All I had to do was pray he didn’t gift me something incurable. My position in his heart was solid if he had a string of female names on his phone, but it was ‘code red’ if he was focusing on one specific girl.

There was one specific girl.

The boy said it was either me or her whenever he was ready for marriage. The fight wasn’t about the fact that he had options. It was because he wouldn’t spell out my position in his list of eligible women. I told him to go and fix his limp dick, and he told me they were selling oils for my receding hairline. Then we were giggling and kissing, mouths and hands everywhere, stray moans escaping throats, goosebumps like we’d been submerged in ice. An army van screeched to a stop in front of us, tires spraying gravel and sand. Three soldiers leaped out with guns slung over their shoulders to buy roasted corn from a roadside seller. It was then I lost control of my bladder.

There was a pool of urine on my seat when the boy dropped me off.

We didn’t talk about me peeing myself. We didn’t talk about the fact that it wasn’t really about the soldiers--my dad was in the army, so I was quite familiar with officers. We didn’t talk at all.

It was about their guns. 

The boy dropped me off without a word. We had been on and off for five years. It was clear we were off again. Inside my house, I stepped out of my soiled skirt and flung my bra and wig against the wall. I shivered under the spray of cold water in the shower, but it was alright because it helped dilute my warm tears.

Right then, I knew two things:

1. The boy and I, currently off, would be on again in about a year2. He was never going to marry me

I knew.

I have always known things. My cousin calls me before he bets on football games. My friend won lots of money after I blurted out winning numbers. When I was younger, my mother took me to a prophet because she couldn’t understand it all. A girl working in my mom’s beauty salon noticed how I always turned up right before my mom started eating lunch on her break. No one believed the girl, so she decided to set a trap for me. She bought ice cream and said my mom couldn’t eat it until a certain time. I appeared as my mother swallowed the first scoop.

A ghost is a dearly departed soul who doesn’t know how to return home.

I was drying plates in the kitchen the first time I saw the ghost. It was running up and down, restive. I told it to stop, then wondered if my insomnia was finally catching up with me. The next day it was back, a figure in white floating around the periphery of my vision. Annoyed, I told it I wasn’t responsible for its death.

I was there the day the ghost died. I had swept his skull fragments into a dustpan with my hands after the kidnappers emptied a clip into his head and spilled his brain. He had come to cut my uncle’s hair at home but stuck around because he wanted to help me clean the house. He owned a barbershop in town, and my uncle was one of his VIP clients. That Sunday, he finished his job and got paid, but he insisted on dusting the furniture before leaving. I pried the cleaning rag out of his grip after the police came and took my statement and his body. An officer scribbled something indecipherable as I recounted the event:

a. I was frying plantains when the kidnappers cameb. They took everyone to my uncle’s bedroomc. They asked us all to lie facedownd. They asked for a pen and a piece of papere. One of them asked if I was the maid, and I said yes because of the way his greedy eyes X-rayed my bodyf. They wrote down the number we had to call to pay the ransomg. They killed the barber on their way out because he recognized someone in the gangh. No, they didn't wear masksi. They kidnapped my uncle

I told my aunt about the restless ghost, and she looked at me funny and asked me how I knew. Apparently, some prophet had told her the same thing. We brought people to pray and bless the house. 

A ghost is the first love you will never forget.

The boy came back. He glossed over the urine incident now that a year had passed, telling me how I had squirted and almost ruined his car just because of a little kiss on the neck. He suggested therapy when I told him about the dead barber and the kidnappers and the guns.

The boy and I started sexting back and forth until we had chapters of erotica. I’d wake up to the wicked things he was planning to do to me, and I’d reply, threatening something even more delicious. We threatened each other with ice cubes and whips, fire and handcuffs, lace and blindfold. Yet I knew that everything we wrote and did would only help his sex life when he married his specific girl. I was only helping him build a library.

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You say you need to find an ointment that your father asked for, so were in the pharmacy department: shelves full of pain relief, allergy relief, gas relief, dietary supplements. Last year I heard that big brand companies pay more for eye-level shelf space; someone had studied how we shop, and then schemed and plotted for that cough syrup and nose sprays spot. Youre searching the shelves closest to the floor, and I keep getting in the way. The aisles are crowded with carts and gray-haired ladiesexcuse meso I wander to the end-cap filled with bandages and Neosporin. I select the pink and white polka dot no-name band-aid box and return to your side to put it in the cart. You raise an eyebrow. For my daughter, I answer, and throw in kid sunscreennot the expensive kind with the babys diaper falling offlotion thats thick and blinding white and probably expires before the end of summer. After finding what your father needs, we stroll to the groceries. Again, youre looking for a salecans of chili and soup—and I’m eyeing the refried beans with the green label “Vegetarian.” In the next aisle, I drop a plastic sleeve of gum and a box of gumdrops next to the sunscreen. My items take up most of the cart, for you have placed yours next to the handlebar where a baby would sit, where my purse would normally rest. We go down every aisle with you pushing those squeaky wheels, and after an hour, we head to the registers. We both dislike self-checkout so we wait. At the conveyor belt, you place everything togetherunsortedand insist on paying for my items along with yours. Ive learned not to argue when a man says hes paying, but I say thank you five times, and outside I watch as you put the cart back in the corral, rebag, and make sure your items are in their own sack. You carry everything, including my 24-case of Diet Pepsi. We load up my trunk and then yours. You ask if I want to grab a bite to eat, and I say, let me pay. Now were in a Dairy Queen booth. You slurp a milkshake, using the straw as a spoon, and I munch on hot French fries and chicken strips. As we shopped, we discussed your fathers health condition, my discipline challenges with the kids, and American consumerism, but now I ask about the past. Why did you respond to that desperate email a dozen years ago when you were six hours away by car and un-tethered to Omaha? Back then, we hadnt spoken in six months when I sent you that note: I was getting a divorce, my husband arrested, my skin bruised. I expect you to say that you had loved me all along, a city bench at that Dodge Street bus stop that sits undeterred through snow, ice, and wind, waiting for the thaw and all those commuters to return in the spring. You say, pity. You say, friend. I wonder if everything has been done out of pity for I am a pitiful creature who has spent years wandering grocery stores and malls hunting for the best deal, only to fall victim to my flat feet. I want to ask what kind of pity makes a man put his hands down a womans pants, finger her till she comes, over and over. But I dont. Perhaps its pride that lifts my head, puts a smile on my face while I nod as if I have known all along that you, with that straw hanging out of your mouth, never intended to take me home. Ive been left alone to spoil.

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GENIUS by T.J. Larkey

I'd been a process server my whole life.

Well not really.

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

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

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

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

So it really only felt like it.

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

The rightful heir to King Larkey of Larkey Process Professionals.



I was driving to work in Tempe, hungover.

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

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

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

Then I started my circular walk around.

The same walk.

Est. 2010.

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

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

It wasn’t hard to pull off.

Placating their anger with idiot grins and clown dances.

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

Dancing through the parking lot, shoulders and head bobbing.

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

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



“Hi there!”

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

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

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

I served and served.

Thinking only of ways not to have to serve anymore.

Fantasizing about anything else.

Numbing my surroundings with rap music.

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

Stuntin’ like my daddy.



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

I thought about becoming a rapper.

Another rapper made me laugh.

I thought about being a comedian.

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

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

Dear Self, you are not a genius.


No fucking way.

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

“What do you want!?”

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

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

“Kyle who?”

“Kyle”—checking paper—“Lind?”


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


“Could you give it to him?”

“Nah there’s no Kyle here.”

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

“There’s no Kyle.”

“None Kyles?”

“There are zero Kyles here.”

He closed the door.

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

He pushed it out.

I tucked it in again.

The door opened.

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

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

No I didn’t.

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

Because I am not the bad guy.

I just can’t do anything else.

I’m crazy for not doing something else.

Name one crazy that ain’t genius.



I got to my car and locked the door.

Laughing nervously.

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

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

I grabbed my little snack bag.

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

Then I checked my remaining work.

Only two stops left.

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

I decided to pull another process server trick.

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

Because fuck all of Arizona except my apartment.

Especially Tempe.

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

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

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

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

I drove out of it as fast as possible.



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

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

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

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

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

Big drooling bastard, a killer, absolutely beautiful.

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

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

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

Suicide by man’s best friend—I fantasized.

The door opened behind him.

His barking stopped.

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

“Sorry! He usually stops.”

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

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

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

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

“A notice! From the Realty Company!”

I waved the paper and the man understood.

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

An understanding.

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

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

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

“No worries!” he said.



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

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

Drinking beer very fast.

A movie on in the background.

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

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

I also wasn’t breathing very well.

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

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

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

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

I ignored it.

It went off again.

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

“Hey Boss.”

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

I lied and told him I had.

The papers were scanning now.

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

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

“What guy?”

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

I said why would he do that.

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

I said what a bitch.

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

I said how dare you question my work ethic.

No I didn’t.

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

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


I hung up the phone.

Guzzled some cold coffee.

And walked out of my apartment and into my car.

My asshole still hurt.




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

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

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

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

Feeling (something).

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

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

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

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

Another asshole flashed his lights at me.

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

Yes absolutely, sorry, and thank you.

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

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

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

You’re welcome.

I made it there safely.



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

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

I didn’t have a gate code though.

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

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

No cars came or went—the community looked small.

I called the number on the notice—no answer.

I wasn’t expecting an answer.

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

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

“Speak forth,” Dad said.

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

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

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

So I waited.

Rolled down the windows.

Lit a cigarette.

Listened to the desert sounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was something to that look.

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

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


“Yep. And I don’t know you.”

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

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

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

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

Twenty minutes passed.

I was getting tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi there, is—”

“You alright man?”

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

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

“Why’d you do that?”

“The president denied me safe passage.”

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

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

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

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

He didn’t seem like he cared.

“So what’s up?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah definitely, I have a routine though.”

“A real pro huh?”

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

He held out his fist and I bumped it.

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

“All good man, take it easy.”

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

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

Then I drove home.

Feeling an embarrassing level of excitement for the weekend approaching.

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Usually the orchard was all light, sunburn cooled by a welcome breeze, but not that day. Fog crept up from the river and swallowed every tree in its path, whetting its appetite for the too short grass that cut like blades, soaking the cicadas’ song. I sat on a cold cinder block and watched my boyfriend wash his car, questioning why he would shine it on such a gloomy day, but daring not to say it aloud. His phone rang and I looked at myself in the shiny apple red door. Winked. Shot some finger guns. Fell to the floor.“What are you doing? I have to go do something. Stay here,” he ordered.“I want to come. Where are you going? How long will you be gone?”“A deer’s trapped in a fence in the upper orchard. I have to kill it, or it’ll make a big hole in the fence, or break its neck.”“I’m coming.”

I didn’t know deer screamed until that day. I watched in awe, my eyes wet, standing at a distance from this huge creature, all muscle, as it screamed into the damp air. Thrashing wildly against an almost invisible wire fence, its antlers trapped, entangled with imminent death until finally all went quiet. I touched my forehead and pulled away sticky droplets on my fingertips. That welcome breeze returned, and my heart sank. I had never witnessed death, and never imagined I would. He told me the deer would be skinned, the meat eaten. Nothing would go to waste. But I sat in silence as the truck hurtled past trees into the thick of fog, uncomfortably aware that in the open bed lay a blood-soaked deer, jiggling stiffly with every pebble on the road. I imagined the process of preparing the deer for consumption, sliding a sharp knife between the skin and muscle. I knew some details. The indignity of it all. Hanging it by its hind feet to drain the blood, eyes wide open like black holes. But hadn’t I done the same? 

Descending the stairs in a southern New York lab, wearing clothes on top of clothes to keep out the formaldehyde—a sticky stench—entering a room with two dead bodies given to science. We were assigned a cadaver, a trick of the language to distance ourselves from the fact that we would be cutting into dead people with scalpels. Uncovering secrets. Naming muscles, veins, arteries. Draping white cloth for dignity. Digging into intercostal muscles with no breath sounds. A smell that hasn’t left me. And when the draping slipped, an image that hasn’t left me either. All that muscle. Exposed on a stainless-steel table. So much gray. Could I really judge my farmer boyfriend for killing a deer when I cut into a human? 

He had been offended by that lab as much as I was saddened by killing a trapped deer. He had told me to stay. Wasn’t it my own fault? But life carried on. Sadness blurred. Judgment faded. We went about our usual things, no hang ups. Trivia on Wednesdays, sunsets on the roof, cider on the porch watching the train rush by. Until we drunkenly ran through the woods one night, searching for a waterfall. We set up camp in a small clearing on the property of the orchard. A tent built for one. We stopped to eat over fire, a hunk of meat thrown onto a cast iron skillet. He fed me a small piece and it was nothing I recognized. I asked him what it was, and he asked, “Remember that deer?” And it tasted of pain and fear. It tasted of violence. I spat it out. 

The moon guided us to water, as she is wont to do, and the rushing sound plummeting past wet, slick stone drowned our voices. We left our clothes on the dirt embankment and swam in silver flecked streams, our bodies glowing green underwater and star white on top. I watched him there, standing in a warrior’s pose on an outcropping of rocks among the frothy water, drunk on apples, and admired every inch of his marble-carved body. Maybe I was drunk on apples, too. Everything began to wobble, so we went back to his tent. He laid down, just another naked body in the summer night, his skin still cold from the green river. The moon cast his skin gray as he laid there on a slab of earth, no modesty, just the thin floor of his tent. I covered his face with my palm, his breath heavy, fog caught in my lifeline, obscuring love, and lust; my tongue a scalpel plunging deep into him. I wondered at his muscles quaking with each scream, stealing the silence of the night until I was full.

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COME HOME NOW by Danielle Chelosky

When apologizing to you for fucking up, I’d buy you flowers. The first ones were blue—not like the sky, but abrasive and ethereal like from a video game. I broke the stems so they would fit in my bag without peeking out, and the color dripped onto my palms and stained them for days. If it were red, it would have felt accusatory; this ultramarine was comforting, safe.


The risk for fucking up was lethal. Not for me, but for you.


I was seventeen. I fell in love fast, curled up against you while we watched movies. My mom spammed my phone one night with texts: There’s a tornado warning !!! Come home now !!! We laughed. Tornadoes never happen on Long Island. American Beauty played on the screen in front of us. We kissed while the storm raged, the wind vibrating the house, my phone buzzing.


You spent every night in my bed for months. When I unplugged yellow lights, I left the blue ones in. Then, as if by association, I’d reach my lips up to yours and climb on top of you. We fucked slow and carefully, as if the whole thing were fragile. I love being inside you, you’d say, so in love. We talked about getting married every day.


I checked your location. You checked mine. We were both dots on a map.


In the winter, we drove up to Syracuse. We dawdled around a DIY venue waiting for a band called Fiddlehead to play songs about grief. Rumors circulated that they were late because the frontman was a teacher and he got held late at school. You got nervous in crowds, but I held your hand. They went on and the sound quality was abominable in the best way. Static rang in our ears. You took photos with our shared disposable camera. In one, the band is drenched in a deep blue, almost underwater.


I am not anybody’s first, or second, or third, your poetry read, written years before. I am a residence put up for foreclosure, the weeds overgrown and the flowers dead. 


We drove to Maine for another trip. After a show in Connecticut, we went to a hotel in Massachusetts. The air conditioner turned on and off throughout the night, waking both of us at 4 A.M., our consciousness syncing up. You wrote of the moment: “A kiss good night turned into passionate caresses until I found myself inside her half-asleep. We made love in a dazed narcoleptic dream. We then fell back asleep, this time fully naked, knotted in each other’s arms and legs.”


You worried you weren’t enough for me. You were often insecure, often implying that I was a slut.


According to News 12, there is about one tornado on Long Island every year. Where am I during these?


Another old poem of yours: Awoken by shrieks rippling into the dreading silence of 4am, I wipe the cold sweat from my forehead. The hazy vision from the night prior still remains. I think to myself how it reminds me of the steamy car windows that probably still reek of one too many stale beers and poor decisions. The rain still beats the gutters relentlessly and my headache pounds just as heavily.


You were a scorpio, a water sign. Sensitive, sentimental, intense.


I had the house to myself one night. You came over and we watched Pulp Fiction on my couch. I wanted to be Uma Thurman—mysterious, smoking cigarettes, bleeding out of my nose. We made cookies and popcorn, and then you fucked me on my translucent kitchen table because you could.


You kept getting sick. I didn’t know what that meant.


Maybe every time there was a tornado on Long Island, I was away with you. Maybe it was when we went to North Carolina. Or during our trip to West Virginia. Or amidst our Pittsburgh adventure. Or while we were at your aunt’s lake house in New Jersey.


We fought in the parking lot of a casino, but it was romantic. You hugged me every time I cried.


You were growing away from me. I checked your location. You were at a friend’s house. I thought you loved being inside me, then you weren’t even near me. When you were, I unplugged the yellow and blue lights at the same time, knowing you didn’t want your body in mine. I wished we weren’t separate entities. I wanted to be one with you. There was a gap between us, filled with static.


There is a website where people can predict tornadoes. The worst one to ever strike Long Island will be on July 9, 2141. I won’t be alive to watch it.


I checked your location. You were getting heroin. I had no choice but to go about my day. I went to Barnes and Noble because I needed books for class. I slid paperbacks into my bag and headed to the restrooms to sob and try calling you again. On the line, a woman told me: You look like a cartoon. Not in a bad way, I’m an artist.


You moved to Philadelphia for recovery. I drank gin in my room alone. The dot became a never-ending loading symbol.


One morning, I was sitting at a cafe reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and getting ready to drive to you. It was two and a half hours away and the drive sometimes gave me panic attacks. I always went 90 on the Jersey Turnpike. When I started cleaning up to leave, you texted me asking if we could do the next day. I cried and cried and cried. I found out later that it was because you relapsed and were sick again. 


I asked you if you could get me flowers. You never did.


You found someone else to love when I faded out of your life. Someone to spend nights in hotels with. Someone to post pictures of. Someone to replace me. Someone to relapse with—even better than me. I was someone you hid from; she got to see you down to your core, float with you in that staticky world you loved to escape to. Someone to save you, someone to bring you back from the dead, someone to wake you up from that nightmare that took the air out of your lungs. I was in another state when your heart stopped beating, and I didn’t find out until months later, like it never happened. I can’t hate her because she is why you’re still alive.


A loneliness flooded in that I had not felt in years. I thought: I am not anybody’s first, or second, or third.


I underlined in Bluets: “For to wish to forget how much you loved someone — and then, to actually forget — can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart.”


I have memories, but they are just images, ideas, fragments, poems, parts, pieces, and you are just a person, far away, a dot on a map I no longer have, a tornado swirling through a different city.

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UNDERTOW by Tara Stillions Whitehead

We pinned their name tags to our knitted sacks. Reynolds. Solomon. Childs. Kennedy. We wrote their room numbers on our wrists and waited for them on the cement benches near the commandant’s office. We sat with our legs crossed, condoms in our back pockets, while they marched the line in their parade uniforms. We tracked sand from dorm to bedroom sheets. Someone's mother washed their civvies and kept them in the guest room or the pool house, convinced we were the ones doing the civilizing.

There were boys whose names we couldn’t share. Boys whose names we’d seen taped inside other girls’ lockers. Boys whose hips were like rip tides. Boys with thirsty eyes. Boys in beach stairwells and stolen cars. Boys in bathroom stalls above the fire pits at Coyote, behind the air hockey tables in Mr. Peabody’s.

Wharton. Claussen. Holt. Phelps.

We carried their desire. We carried the sea.

When they were expelled or graduated or disappeared, we pinned their names between the Christmas lights on our bulletin boards. We cocooned ourselves in our salty-air bedrooms and drank wine coolers and collaged, high on unspent touch, sweating them out like a forever hangover. We kept their parents’ secrets and sent encrypted letters, silently thanked God for cigarettes and earthquakes and all things California.

Today, I write their names on a receipt with crossed out numbers and a long-past pediatrician appointment scribbled in the corner. Heinneman. Daltz. Prescott. The spellings don’t look right, but when I dig through the few boxes harboring those fugitive years, the photos are too blurry for confirmation.

I search Google and find an article about the boys the commandant gave whiskey to and took home. My chest rises and falls with the surge of events I thought fear and shame had erased. The boy who drowned in the undertow by academy barracks. The dime bags he kept in his beret. The boy who touched so long as I didn’t touch him back, his moaning in the beach stairwell, his blank unrecognition when I saw him at the winter formal. There was the boy who sold pills. The boy who bought and could not stop taking the pills. The boy who got so drunk he told us what had been done to him. The boy who slept with his rifle. The boy who fucked his rifle. The boy who wrote poems and was sent to the desert. Somewhere in between, sometime after, there was the boy who called me to tell me he’d been released from prison, to tell me he is not a boy anymore, that he never was allowed to be a boy then.

In the article, I see the commandant’s face for the first time. I read his name in the caption, five times in the article, one for each charge against him.

I do not see the boys’ names—McKee and Smith and Wright—but I hear them—Webb and Fritz and Oh—calling from the Mariana Trench, whispering just below the surface, translating the language of sand far from the sea. 

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He’s the only other person you know who loves David Bowie. Not like your friends tolerate David Bowie for your sake or how your mom only knows the radio hits. He knows all the albums you talk about, every deep cut. “Modern Love” is his favorite Bowie song (killer drums, he says right before the first verse kicks in), so on days when there’s a test in his class you listen to it while you dress for school. It reminds you not to hate him, no matter how difficult he makes the questions. There’s power in the not-hating.And when your step-dad slams your step-brother's body against the side of the family van, he listens. And when your mom gets knocked up, he listens. He listens during lunch and after school and on his planning period (he won’t rat you out for ditching history to visit him). You sit together on the tables of his empty classroom, your leather platform boots kicking the toes of his Payless loafers.He lets you steal his CDs – not just Bowie but The Police and Peter Gabriel and The Who – and brings you DVDs from home. He tells you what to love about everything, and you repeat his opinions back to him like a clever parakeet. He compliments the haircut your friends say is butch. He tells you your singing voice is beautiful when you practice “Kashmir” for the talent show. When the bell rings, he stops you in the doorway of his classroom to finger the sleeve of your new satin blouse and whisper his approval.He signs emails with Love and his first name.He smells rotten. It’s nothing you’d notice if he weren’t hovering over your desk to murmur an inside joke, but he hovers so much. Sometimes you catch yourself putting distance between the two of you, avoiding the radius of that stench. You’re never quite sure where on his body it’s coming from, but it’s bad enough to keep you from doing something stupid. Not that you want to do something stupid, although at seventeen you’re aching for some wildness that could set you apart from the Christian girls in Abercrombie. The joke, of course, is all those girls are getting laid while you’ve wasted two years pining for a boy who doesn’t want you and a girl who can’t want you. Nobody will ever want you. There will only ever be him with his stink and his weak chin and the swirls of back hair peeking through his cheap white dress shirt. You don’t want him. There’s power in the not-wanting. You wrest his desire from his own hands to wield against him. You mock it with friends who call you a cock tease, and even then you say things like What if I’m not teasing? then cackle when they shriek Who would ever fuck him? Certainly not you.Though if you did, you wouldn’t be the first. When you were a sophomore, all the seniors told you a soccer player sucked his dick for a college recommendation letter.But that might not be true.And anyway, you wouldn’t. Not that he was asking (the smart ones never ask, you’ll learn from some feminist blog when you’re twenty-two). He talks a lot about giving up teaching to become a doctor. Some days he means it, and on those days, you come home and cry.You wish he were your step-dad, real dad, foster dad. He’s barely old enough to be any of those things.And he’s too old to marry. Isn’t he? You sometimes imagine it anyway, more thought experiment than wish. It would mean living with his mother, but she would die eventually. It would mean never leaving your hometown. It would mean a partner with a steady job and a music collection you didn’t hate. You could do worse than that. Your mother did worse than that. But there’s the stink of him to consider (maybe it’s halitosis, you and your friends posit, maybe it’s a glandular thing). You think of curdled milk and mummy wrappings. You couldn’t endure it for very long. Then one day you’re in a crowded room somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, watching a robot from North Carolina battle the robot your classmates built, and suddenly the stink is everywhere. It stings your nose, trickles sour down the back of your tongue, clogs your pores. It settles on your hair and clothes like smoke. Two hands grip your shoulders from behind and begin to knead them. You remember the day sophomore year when he taught your class about chromosomes. The boys all laughed and said you were so mannish you must have been born with an X and a Y. He laughed too, but when you gave them all the finger, he didn’t frown or tut or send you to the principal’s office. You let yourself believe he was on your side.You lock eyes with a friend across the room. She’s taking all this in, biting into her lip like she’s holding in a scream (I was jealous of that attention, she’ll confess fifteen years later, I just wanted someone to love me, even a creep like him) and you’re holding in a scream of your own (you’ll tell her you wanted the same thing). He slips his fingers beneath the collar of your T-shirt, and no one is stopping him (he will kiss your face at graduation, in the middle of another crowded room). You’re not stopping him (next year, when you’re at college, he’ll tell his students lies about you). This moment just won’t stop happening (you’ll hear a rumor that he’s sleeping with one of those students). You bite your cheek and keep holding in the scream (this time you’ll know it’s true). You believe (he has probably done all of this a dozen times before), you have got to believe (he is probably doing this right now), there’s power in the not-screaming.
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I want to talk about liver mush. Liver mush is a breakfast meat from Western North Carolina made of boiled pork parts and corn meal. It’s my favorite breakfast meat. It’s my favorite word.

Liver mush is more than pork parts and corn meal, though. There is also sage and black pepper. But, liver mush is more than breakfast and sustenance too. It’s something close to that, but not exactly.

It’s home but not home, but not exactly.

Liver mush is more than a piece of fried pork parts and corn meal. Liver mush is more than old white dinner plates in my mom’s kitchen at the table with the tile square top. Liver mush is more than feeling the sun on the top of my face and forehead and hairline, not looking out the window because I know it will be blindingly bright. It’s almost that, but not exactly. Liver mush is just a word, but the word means nothing to almost everyone and to me it means cracking open my skull and pureeing my memories into a grey mush that makes sense to the world.

Liver mush means as close as I can get you there with me at my mom’s kitchen table. It means we ride through downtown Kannapolis past the empty law offices and clothing stores. It means we stop to see the Dale Earnhardt statue and watch people get their photos taken below him and get our photos taken below him. It means my mom’s dog is loud and mean but gets used to you fast. It means my mom’s dog wants you to rub his belly now. It means my mom wants to know what we have planned and how long we want to stay and if we’re hungry and if she can help with anything. It means she hugs you right away. It means my bedroom hasn’t changed since high school. It means you’re going to make fun of the framed National Honor Society certificate because it I worked really hard to get it, and the framed puzzle of Time Square because I cared so much about New York, and the skateboard posters on the back of the door because the men are all 50 now.

Liver mush means we skip dinner with my mom and drive to Charlotte and my mom understands but we know it hurts her and we apologize but we know it’s not enough. It means we meet D and T at Common Market and sing karaoke at Snug Harbor and D and T are still together and Snug Harbor is still open. It means D isn’t surrounded by people I don’t know and living in an uptown apartment and doesn’t offer us coke. It means he hasn’t left for California yet.

It means we have enough time to get burgers and shots at The Diamond and I drive home drunk, 45 minutes on the interstate at 4 a.m., and even though we try our hardest to be quiet, we set off the alarm and wake up the dog and my mom says, “Grahamer, you okay?” and asks if I’ve been drinking when she smells it on me and I always deny it. It means we don’t brush our teeth and sleep in my high school bed together.

It means my mom still makes us breakfast in the morning, even though we’re hungover and not hungry and have to go back soon. It means I finally convince you to try liver mush because you made it this far so, why not?

It means you say it’s not that bad.

It means you say it’s actually pretty good.

It means you’re blown away by how good liver mush is with a name like liver mush.

Every time I tell my mom I have to go back I don’t say the word home because it hurts her feelings. She says, “Can’t you stay?” and I say, “No” and she says, “I was just picking.”

In my childhood bedroom, I put dirty clothes in the bottom of my overnight bag and decide to make the bed, even though my mom will change the sheets when I leave to keep busy while the house is empty.

When I hug my mom and tell her I love her and hug her again and tell her I love her again and tell her I’ll text her when I get there and tell her I’ll be safe on the drive, I feel home but not home for the rest of the day.

Liver mush means something like that.

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MOUNTAIN MUSIC by Michael Seymour Blake

All kinds of warning lights are flashing on the dashboard, and the front bumper is mostly held together with duct tape. Chelsey and I are driving my cousin’s car through the Catskills, searching for a trail that leads to an abandoned hotel at the top of a mountain. It’s supposed to be crumbling and overgrown, a long-ago meeting place for communists.

It’s getting late, but we figure we have time to hike out, see this thing, and get back to the car by sundown.

The GPS has us turn up a narrow, dirt path that circles the mountain in a steady ascent. We tell ourselves all the private property signs are probably just more abandoned relics from a bygone age. Soon, there’s a sheer drop to our right and jagged walls of rock to our left. The car trembles as we gain altitude. It feels like there’s an earthquake under our asses.

“Didn’t your friend come here once?” I ask. “She mention anything about this?”

“Not that I remember.” Chelsey’s chin juts forward with determination, and her red hair is filled with dying sunlight.

Last week, while we ate dinner on the floor in front of the TV, the demons above us in 3B got into another scuffle. Flakes rained from the ceiling as they tumbled around up there, screaming at each other, “I’ll kill you this time. I’ll kill you!” We don’t have the money to move, and they’ve already declared war on some of the other tenants in our building who’ve complained, so our tactic is to huddle down and turn up the volume. “This city has been closing in around us for a long time now,” Chelsey had said. “It’s starting to feel like I can’t even stand up anymore. What the hell is left here for us anyway?”

“We are,” I’d replied.

This afternoon, when the hot water turned off unexpectedly for the fifth time this year, we came up with our last-minute Catskill Mountains escape plan.

We go round and round, creeping up the exposed path at a crawl. Big houses appear now and then on our left, each with chunky-tired, tough-looking vehicles parked on long, rugged driveways. This is no place for a borrowed, beat-up Nissan Versa hatchback.

“This must be a mistake,” I say.

“You think everything is a mistake. Relax for once.”

I turn on the radio. The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music” is playing.

The path bends to the right and then slopes upwards at what seems like a seventy-degree angle.

“No way,” I yell over the Doobie Brothers.


“No way are we making it up this thing.”

 “We’ll be fine,” Chelsey says.

And for a short while, we are.

But then the car comes to a rumbling standstill about twenty feet before the path levels out. Up ahead, there’s another one of those long driveways leading to a house that’s all wood and windows with a big balcony overlooking the green treetops and thin, wormy roads below. A man in a silk robe watches us from that balcony. We’re churning up explosions of dust and rocks, not making any progress. Chelsey hits the brakes, but instead of stopping, we start rolling backwards. The gritty sound of dirt against wheels pierces through the music.

Chelsey’s eyes widen. “I don’t like this, I don’t like this,” she says.

I tell her to give it some gas, which she does, but we’re still losing momentum. And the curve in the path below is too sharp to navigate backwards without any traction.

I notice a small, snowflake-like chip near the top right corner of the windshield, and beyond that, the blood-bright leaves of a distant red oak waving in the breeze as if to say, “Bye-bye, dummies!”

I’m struck with the possible reality of us leaping from the car seconds before it plummets down the rock face. This is not an option. The speed of life returns as I realize that no one is going to save us except us.

I jump out, slide down into the cloud of debris, and throw everything I have at the rear bumper. Pebbles ricochet off my skull. With the bitter taste of dirt and dust in my mouth, I yell, “Floor it.”

The man in the robe is gone so I figure he’s on his way over to help. I’m thinking, If this thing goes over with Chelsey inside, I’m jumping after it. Then I realize I’d probably be crushed before I even got the chance to jump.

I attack the car with everything I’ve got as The Brothers continue to belt it out. Even on the verge of physical and financial disaster, some part of my mind is still cognizant of how good this song is.

I give one more big push. Blood surges through my small frame. My temples throb. “Come on you son of a bitch,” I yell. Then the engine roars and the car blasts off like a Roman candle. Chelsey cuts to the left just in time, skidding to a halt at a strange angle across the man’s driveway. I scurry up after it.

Chelsey stares straight ahead, still gripping the wheel. I reach through the window and turn off the music. The man is back on his balcony, but now he’s got a mug.

“You OK?” I ask Chelsey.

“Yeah,” she says. “You?” She places her clean hand over my filthy one.

The man sips whatever’s in his mug.

“Fuckin’ guy would have just casually watched us fly off the mountain,” I say. “Not this time, buddy.” I pat our car’s scalding hood. “Not this time.”

“Now what?” Chelsey asks. “GPS says the trailhead is only ten minutes up that way.”

“The only thing up that way is certain death.”

“That’s it then? After all this?” she says, but I can tell she agrees. We’re done here.

“Want me to drive?”

She climbs across the center console to the passenger seat.

“Hope you enjoyed the show,” I say to the man before getting in.

He makes no indication that he hears me, but as I buckle up and shift to reverse, he raises his mug to us and nods.

I pull out of the driveway, and we begin our sliding descent down the path, past the boulders and out of the woods, back to our world of nightmare neighbors and crumbling ceilings and shitty jobs. But we still have rolling wheels and a working engine and oxygen in our lungs and bones that aren’t crushed. Things could be worse. Duct tape can work wonders, and we’re not finished yet.

Windows down, we watch the sun cut into the horizon and the sky burn orange.

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