LITELIFE by Jimmy Chen

The receptionist hid the instant message regarding the logistics of an imminent gathering behind her work email, though the only thing visible to others in the waiting area was the back of her computer, which featured a ubiquitous apple with a sole bite mark in its side. Those who waited did so with the fragile purposefulness of people completely consumed by their phone, and so weren’t actually “waiting”—an anti-event generally marked by ennui and restlessness—but rather, simply tending to labyrinthine text threads and neglected emails which, therefore, imparted a sense of accomplishment they ultimately found pleasurable. Behind her, on a very expansive and somewhat alienating wall, an array of air-plants were somehow affixed to it, such that it seemed these air plants were simply existing in midair, like being suspended in the reception area of a startup was the most logical place for them, and not the result of a complicated interior plant design contract which took several months of planning and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

One of the men who had meekly approached this attractive receptionist was interviewing for a job as a Quality Assurance Technician. He had just moved to the city and didn’t have many friends, but wanted to appear the opposite to the receptionist, and so scrolled through a social networking app to which nearly a sixth of the world’s population were subscribed, occasionally commenting on it in the manner of someone engaged in an actual text conversation. The table between this man and the receptionist was made of refurbished wood gathered from a farmhouse before being aggressively sanded and profusely lacquered.

The elevator doors opened and through it stepped a delivery man dressed in a brown shirt and shorts who had firm calves, as witnessed by the receptionist, who reciprocated his alluring smile, an encounter witnessed by the man waiting for his interview, now stricken by the notion that this delivery man probably had a penis much larger than his, one which, when erect, could not only satisfactorily penetrate the receptionist’s vagina and push its girth against its walls, but was long enough to transgress her cervix, feeding his seed directly into it, versus relying on the evolutionary trait of sperm coming out of regular-sized penises which then had to swim inward towards a nebulous egg in a fight for life. The man recalled a pornographic yet oddly clinical clip he once saw set in the point of view from inside the vagina which ended with ejaculate spewing out of the meatus, that is, the opening of the male urethra. He often wondered how they were able to get such extreme footage and settled on an endoscopy camera. By the time the receptionist called his name, the Quality Assurance Technician candidate was inadvertently aroused with these mental projections and had to stand with his back faintly arched in the fashion of men who have likewise had to hide their erections.

The app for which they were interviewing was a personal metrics system that monitored the number of steps one took in a day, or steps climbed, or miles ran; one’s heartrate, or simply the quality and duration of one’s sleep. It was also a lifestyle app that could keep track of calories consumed, or burned, tracking the arc of someone’s weight over a period of time. There was also a community page on which one could post their successes or failures, and on which friends could post their respective congratulations or sympathies. Quality Assurance Techs basically ran automated scripts looking for bugs before the product went out, then responded to actual bugs reported by customers after said product went out. Customers were usually aggressive type-A personalities who really wanted to get their steps in—not so thrilled about filling in online customer complain forms, or worse, being stuck on the phone.

The interview didn’t go so well. Instead of shaking hands, he had let his hand be shook; instead of looking the interviewer in the eye, he looked past him, at who was probably the interviewer’s girlfriend, in a framed photo on a boat, wearing a bikini and eating an oyster. The interviewer held the shell and had likely just shucked the oyster. He had nice abs, as brandished without a shirt, for displaying one’s abs was the primary perk of having them. Distracted by the gooey lob sliding down her throat, half-heartedly feigning an answer regarding his five-year plan, the candidate soon became the former candidate in the eyes of the interviewer as the interview was cut short.

As he left, the former candidate in the eyes of the interviewer saw the back of the receptionist’s slender shoulder, which he imagined digging his face into as he spasmed inside her anus. He loved anal creampies, the way the camera zoomed-in over the surreal landscape of an aggravated anus.

He went to a fast food establishment and ordered the most calorically rich meal on the menu, augmenting its size using a particular phrase from the franchise’s vernacular, and ate it in the corner. A group of urban teenage girls walked in and spoke loudly and full of expletives, at which other patrons shook their head. When any of them made eye contact with any of the patrons, they called them bitch. He dipped his fries in mayonnaise. In the bathroom, he tried viciously masturbating to the receptionist, but the acute smell of urine, feces, disinfectant, and bleach hindered the mental abandonment necessary to masturbate without the aid of visual stimuli. He’d gotten more and more into interracial cuckold porn in which black men with unsettling penises displayed grand acts of coitus in front of the perturbed cuckolds. The women sometimes, humorously, compared the size of the black men’s penis to their forearms. That the men sometimes wore sneakers to better brace themselves for pumping he found uncanny. He tucked his flaccid penis back into its fly and took some Lexapro.

As he exited the restroom, he accidentally caught the eye of one of the loud girls, who called him bitch. Andre was tattooed on her neck, in ornate cursive that betrayed unskilled hands, and he wished that for one night he could be Andre. He would dick whip her face, which seems misogynist but is essentially playful. The levity of his catharsis. Walking away, he walked faster and faster. Now everyone was calling him bitch. Not running, just walking really fast, though the app mistook the latter for the former. It was a shame, him being so misinterpreted. Someone would have to fix that.

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OLIVER by Kevin Maloney

I was sitting in a McDonald’s in Elkhart, Indiana, eating a Big Mac, crying and swallowing. The beef, or whatever gray rubber they wedge between the white bread and Thousand Island, was foul and made my stomach churn, but under my disgust was the pleasure of my unshackling. In Burlington, Vermont, the communist outpost where until 13 hours ago I’d lived in unhappy matrimony, everybody was vegetarian or vegan. Somehow, I’d gotten sucked into that nonsense; for eleven years, I’d subsisted primarily on kale, a leafy green that tastes the way doilies look. It was my wife’s doing. She wanted to save the world. Meat was bad for the earth, she claimed. It killed animals. Cows! Think about them. So pretty. Now imagine a bolt jamming deep into their brains.

I hadn’t set foot in a fast food joint since. I was overdue. When I noticed the angelic yellow M floating above the interstate, I put on my blinker.

I kept chewing and chewing, but the meat didn’t go anywhere. I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t food. It didn’t matter. The joy wasn’t in masticating, but in picturing Karen’s face. How mad she would be if she knew. The sensuous way her lips pouted when she was angry. I imagined her hitting me, then feeling bad for hitting me. Kissing the places she hit. All the places I wanted to kiss her back. Face. Breasts. The space between her legs, like a red crayon melted on a fur coat. Now some other man was doing God knows what to her. Boning. 69. Back door. All of it. It made me sick. Chewing, I tried to swallow, but I couldn’t. I spit out the meat, wrapped my burger in paper, and took sips from my chocolate milkshake.

I was about to clear my plate when I gazed out the window into the glass enclosed playstructure and noticed a lone child playing in a sea of primary-colored plastic balls. “Playing” is the wrong word. The boy just sat there, completely motionless. He looked dead. I liked him immediately. In appearance, he bore a strong resemblance to Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch. It was the haircut. I’d seen dogs pull off that look, but never a human. What kind of mother does that to her son? With a haircut like that, you’re basically saying, “Athletic boys will punch you for fun at recess, and you won’t kiss a girl until you’re 23, but every month I save $13 using a salad bowl and a pair of scissors.”

I looked around the McDonald’s for the sadistic barber. She wasn’t hard to find. She was eating a hamburger and drinking vodka out of a Nalgene bottle. I decided to tell her what I thought of the cruel experiment she was performing on her child’s skull.

“Hey, Lady,” I said, lightly touching her arm.

She didn’t flinch. A look of recognition came over her face, and she started crying. “It’s about time,” she said.

She reached into her purse and pulled out two $20 bills, crisp and new from the ATM machine. She handed them to me.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“The stuff,” she said.

“What stuff?”

“Jesus,” she whispered. “Tell me you brought the stuff.”

What at first I had mistaken for a normal mother I now recognized as a sick one. Hypothalamus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, hippocampus—all had been rendered inept in this woman by a single crushing need. I wanted to give it to her, whatever it was. Grind pills into powder, arrange it on a mirror, sit before her as she got her fix and watch Lazarus rise from death. But I didn’t have any drugs. Just a chocolate shake and a half-chewed burger.

“I’m sorry,” I said, returning her money. “I’m not who you think I am.”

“Liar!” she screamed. “Give me my fucking shit!” She reached for a salt shaker and brandished it like a weapon.

I apologized and backed away. Eventually, I found myself at the entrance to the glassenclosed play structure. I opened the door and climbed into the pit of plastic balls with the lifeless child. He opened only one eye.

“Hey kid,” I said. “Is your name Oliver?”

He shook his head, but just barely.

“It doesn’t matter.”

I offered him half a chocolate shake. He accepted it and slurped without speaking.

“Do kids beat you up in school?” I inquired.

He nodded.

“I thought so.”

The boy had a bloody Band-Aid on his chin. He smelled strongly of shit. I would have beat him up if I was his age. He was the weakest link. On the playground, if you don’t gang up on a kid like that—punch him in the kidneys, make him eat sand and small rocks—then it was somebody above you, punching your head, making you eat the earth. It was the law of the wild, the sinister truth Jack London wrote about, telling stories of sled dogs fighting to death under the northern lights.

But I wasn’t in grade school. I was an adult with the power to change this child’s life. In many ways, I resembled a saint with my broken heart and my schizophrenic visions brought on by my unfaithful wife. So I did what Mother Theresa or St. Francis of Assisi would have done in a situation like this. I borrowed a pair of scissors from the McDonald’s manager and went to town on the boy’s hair.

The way I figured it, he wasn’t going to make it as a “normal,” so I decided to give him a mullet. I trimmed the mop from his ears, cut it close on the sides, and took an inch off the top.

The back I left loose and wild.

When I was finished, I took a picture on my cellphone and showed it to him. He smiled. His teeth were brown. I realized I should have skipped the haircut and taught him the importance of brushing his teeth every night before bed.

Just then the boy’s mother appeared in the play structure. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Your son had a horrible haircut,” I said. “He has low self-esteem. His friends beat him up in school. I fixed it. I gave him a mullet. It rules.”

“He’s not in school,” said the mother.

“What? Why not?”

“He’s just a little boy. He’s two years old!”

I looked at him. Christ, she was right. He was just a baby. He was probably still in diapers.

“How dare you!” she screamed, hitting me with her purse.

“I didn’t know!” I said. “I thought you hated him.”

The child burst into tears.

The mother kept hitting me.

The manager came for his scissors and wanted to know why there was a bunch of hair in the play structure.

I started feeling uncomfortable. The world has always been harsh on its geniuses, and I was one of them. It was time for my punishment. I was going to burn like Joan of Arc or be crucified like Jesus, or more likely die alone from complications of alcoholism like all of my heroes.

I was about to tell these sadists that the world wasn’t what they thought it was, that this was just one level of consciousness, and that if you meditated long enough you became aware of other, more sublime realities. But when I opened my mouth to speak, I vomited. Then I vomited again. I couldn’t stop vomiting. It was a scene. Nervous about the flavor of meat (being so long unacquainted with that gray matter), I’d lathered my burger in a heroic quantity of ketchup. What came pouring out of me, therefore, was red ooze, which may have given the impression that I was throwing up blood.

Whether it was that or something else, those ungrateful freaks backed away from me.

The manager told me to keep the scissors.

The mother said that, on second thought, I’d done a pretty good job. Her boy looked handsome.

“You wouldn’t recognize Mozart if he dined among your rotten souls!” I cried, rushing out of the restaurant.

I stomped on the gas and headed west on Interstate 90. The sun rose and fell and rose again. America, seen from an automobile, is a vast, stupid country with little more between oceans than corn and cows standing around, waiting to die. With every bovine I passed, I felt that beef wiggling around in my intestines. Burping, I saw a heifer with big black eyes flirting with me. Karen, that witch, had cast a spell on me. I was a city slicker with weak bones. My spirit animal was a dead child in a sea of plastic balls. I drove over the Rocky Mountains into the land of cowboys, yearning for root vegetables and the hairy-legged wonders of the woman I loved.

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I am 4’9, 323 pounds. I cannot leave my house. I cannot lift myself from the couch. I cannot find the remote control. I cannot rub my feet. My butler robot can only make so many fried egg sandwiches. My maids have been instructed to black out all mirrors. I cannot remember what my face looks like. The sheet I wear is beige. How will I clean myself without you?

If you went to KFC and bought a bucket of chicken and drove to my house, when you used the intercom at the main gate and I heard your voice calling me Pretty Girl I would probably start to cry.

If you parked your car in the north garage, and came in through the staff’s quarters and surprised me by sneaking up behind the shark tank, with the bucket of KFC, I would probably scream and then start to cry.

If you walked in through the front doors, through the marble entryway, down the hall up the stairs, down the hall, past the library and game room and came into my sun lounge and surprised me with your bucket of KFC, I would probably cry.

I would cry because I am lonely and you brought me KFC.

You will feed me and we will eat

and then, when I have licked all of our fingers,

you will clean me.

You will not makes faces or squinch your nose; you will bathe me like you love me.

Even when you find things in my folds.

You will dry me with 27 freshly laundered towels.

I will dare to think ‘this is love’

but I know

you just want all my shit when I die.


if you keep

bringing me buckets of chicken,

might be

very soon.

But in the meantime

I make you fuck me

because everything

has a price

and $10.99

for a bucket of chicken

($12.99 with sides)

is just too huge of a bargain.

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mieze zuber


It was early spring, nearly like now, before Columbine, and I was drinking again in that bar perpendicular to the office where they’d housed me. I was with a couple of the bankers and J., the gay man who refused to admit what he was. He knew I knew, and that I wasn’t going to judge, that I liked him as he was. So he hovered close like security, almost like a pimp, and he was lovely to drink with and say much of nothing to. I slept over at his, overlooking the river. I took men back there. He did, too. It was a good arrangement. It was all right between us.

Drinking in that bar. And as usual, I’d had a lot. It was a Thursday night, and that was the one night in the week when that dead city came alive even when there was no baseball game at the stadium just across the way to flood them all in. Prospect Street. Go a few blocks down and you’d see the hotel that Led Zeppelin trashed in the ’70’s; you could see the hookers coming out and walking up and down until cars stopped and they got in and went for a ride. Ride, yeah. Ride. Thursdays were a good night for rides, with all the businessmen who stayed downtown to drink in anticipation of the weekend.

One of the bankers said that evening,—Your face isn’t the usual. I’d like to paint you.

—Do you paint, I asked him absentmindedly.

—No, but if I could, I would, he said.

—Ah, I said, and took another swallow.

—I need the toilet, I said to J. —And then you’re driving me home.

—Baby, he said. Stay a little longer. It’s too early.

—Yeah, I said. And I made my way up the staircase to the unisex bathroom.

When I came out into the hall, the last one I’d fucked and ended things with was there. K. He saw me and called me. Not a banker, not one of the work colleagues. He was far out of that circle. I was swaying, I’ll admit. I was well on my way. I’d been there for a while. The music was deafening and he leaned into my ear to tell me what he did.

—Come back, baby, he said. —I miss you. Come have a drink with me.

—No, come on, I said, shrugging him off.

—We’re not finished, he said.

—No, we are, I said. —Leave it. It’s over. Get one of your others.

—You’re here now, though, he said. —There’s no one else here. You come with me now.

I didn’t say more. I went back down the stairs to the bar. And then he was behind me; I felt him and there were no words coming from him but his fists were out, I felt them on my head and half turned and got one to the face and then I was falling. And I reached the bottom, the ground floor by the bar, and I tried to stand and someone I didn’t know, she was stopping me and saying, —NO, DON’T MOVE. And then I felt more hands on me, holding me back. I tried to stand and they stopped me. I saw white through my black stockings and thought, —What’s that?

Turns out, it was bone.

They phoned an ambulance while I kept saying, —I’m fine, leave me alone, it’s fine. I was transported to the inner-city charity hospital emergency room. Saint V------'s. Laid there on a slab of an examining table, next to a homeless guy in the next bay. He was crying and I wasn’t. I just ignored the pain running up my leg, into my pelvis. I wanted to smash something. He was crying; he was crying for his mother. I looked over at him in a haze of something and saw his weathered face, his black ashy skin.

—You’ll be okay, man, I said. My voice didn’t sound like my own. It was high and thin and cracked. I sensed some kind of feeling, some deep and sharp thing. I still couldn’t identify it as pain.

—I’m going to die, he said. Wailed it.

—No, no. You’re fine. You’re going to be fine.


—Shh, I said. Shh. It’s all OK.

—I’m telling you, bitch, I’m FUCKIN’ BLEEDIN’. I’M DYIN’.

I didn’t say more. The pain had manifested; the pain was making itself known. And I was unable to even turn on my side to see if he actually was bleeding. And there I was lying there on that fucking slab of an examining table, and I just wanted to get up and walk away and I couldn’t. I lay there, trying to erase K.’s face from my head. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth.


I’d chosen K. because he was precisely such a brute. I’d met him in that very same bar in late winter. Another Thursday. J. had crinkled his nose at that choice. K. was blue collar and sweaty, garage car mechanic, shaved head and Neubauten tattoos. He bought me a couple of shots and actually sniffed me.

—Don’t tell me that one’s coming home with you, J. said.

—Why not? I’d laughed, and hugged him.

—He’s disgusting, said J. —And he’s a fucking freak. I don’t need a radar for that. Yours is totally broken. Pick someone else.

But I didn’t. I knew J. was right. I’d seen it myself. I knew K. would fuck me up but good, and it was exactly what I wanted that evening. J. wouldn’t let me stay at his that night. He told me that if this was the new romance, I could take it back to mine. And I accepted that, and I did.

I was bleeding from various places the following morning. I let K. out the door at 5 am with stinging promises of more. He came back twice, and we went out together once, and then the fourth time we got together, he kept talking about other women. And he left his pager on and kept using my phone to answer their calls, arguing with them about this and that. Funny I couldn’t put up with it. It wasn’t like I was in love or anything. I just found it annoying.

When he hung up from the last page saying, —Sorry, I’ll turn it off, I told him that I would rather that he leave. We argued and he gave me a few slaps and punches, and I told him, —OK, enough now. Go home.

Surprisingly, he did, and he left me alone. Up until that night in the bar, early spring. April 8th, I think it was, into the early morning hours of the 9th.


After the x-rays, they told me my tibia was fractured and close to a break. They would keep my leg mobile. J. was allowed in to see me then.

—I phoned your mother, he said. —Your dad picked up.

—Fuck, I said.

—You’re going to need him tomorrow, baby, he said. —How else are you going to get back to the hospital? They’re about to release you right now. I can't take you.

—They won’t give me anything for the pain, I said. My face was wet, and he wiped it for me.

—I’ll get you something, don’t worry, he said. —We’ll get you home tonight and stay with you.

I didn’t say anything for a few minutes, and he didn’t either. J. If I could explain to you how much I miss him in this exact moment, writing this.

—And don’t worry about that fucking asshole, he said, almost as an afterthought.

—K.? I asked.

—Yeah, K. No one called the police. You’re not going to have to worry about him again. A couple of guys from the bar took him out around back.


Nearly two decades removed from all that. It’s sordid, it’s shit. I’ll tell you more about that emergency room. I’ll tell you how that man next to me cried for his mother and asked me to sing him a song to keep him occupied. I’ll tell you how I gave in and did it, in a cracked and off-key voice. I’ll tell you how much it hurt, and how much I deserved it or didn’t and got it anyway, how playing with fire guarantees you’ll get burned and how it echoes, how everything from the past resonates, how your entire life of skull fractures and bruises the school nurse questions leads to it. How it echoes. I’m here, safe now, removed. But all the echoes. It goes on and on until you can finally call it past and can finally call it over. And what it means when you reach back and dredge it up because you realize it’s never over until you really call time on it. Just know, this is calling time on it. The narrative from then isn’t finished, but I’m calling time on it now.

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LIMITLESS by Chris Dankland

Rhubarb Jones died choking on vomit in her teenage bedroom. Her favorite kpop album still hung in the air when her corpse was discovered nine hours later. The name of the album was Limitless. She had set it on repeat.

An hour before, she had slapped together and eaten a ham sandwich. It was the only thing she could manage to make on {a high amount} mg of xanax. Pre-sliced slivers of ham inside two pieces of bread. She fell asleep four times, mid-chew. But she swallowed it down. She passed out on her bed with the crumb-littered plate only six inches from foamy lips, more shining and ominous than a bloody knife.

She had passed out and drifted into a dream about Kuala Lampur. She was visiting the city with her boyfriend, the dead French writer and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery. He had flown Rhubarb into the city on his little silver plane. They had gotten a hotel and were smoking a blunt on the patio.

You’re so wonderful, she sighed.

I need you, my darling. I want you to be with me always, said Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Me too, said Rhubarb Jones. But I’m scared. I’m scared that if I stay with you, I’ll never come back.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery took a long drag and laughed. But why should that scare you, my darling? That should thrill you! Thank God that you’ll never come back! The world you know is nothing but piss and shit and ashes.

I love how I feel when you kiss me, she said. I love when you take me flying. It’s like I forget everything. It’s like nothing else exists.

Yes, isn’t it perfect? said Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Let’s soar into the night and disappear into the shadows.

I don’t know, said Rhubarb Jones. Give me another puff of that blunt, please.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery took a long drag and leaned forward, pressing his warm pink lips to hers. He sighed a long slow warm lungful of smoke into her. They kissed for a long time. When he finally pulled away, she sat in the chair grinning, her eyes closed.

When you kiss me like that, said Rhubarb Jones, everything feels limitless.

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