EXCERPT FROM “DRIFT” by Chris Campanioni

Born Under Punches

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

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BURGLARS by Francine Witte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You like that?” Grandma asks.

You nod.

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

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

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

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

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troy james weaver

HOOKS by Troy James Weaver

A few days after I heard the news, that he’d tried to carve a hole for himself inside the earth, I wondered if it were possible for a man to rip out his own vocal chords. One night, I actually Googled it, came up with a bunch of misleads. Wouldn’t have mattered anyway—I’d just get a little black board and hang it around my neck and write it all down for him with chalk. The things I saw, the thoughts I had. Voices still exist, even if you can’t hear them. Maybe it all came down to selfishness. For a minute I thought I’d just swallow down some fish hooks and rip them back out of me and hope for the best—what I’d call “trying to be a good friend.”

Often he’d stand at the corner outside Al’s, sipping at his Mocha while holding court with himself, just talking and blabbing away to nobody. If anybody tried to join him, which, as friendly and welcoming as his smile was, was often, he’d clam up and do more drinking than talking, staring right though their caring faces out beyond and over the dirt road to a place where the sun patched the hills with gold.

He hadn’t always been like that, sure, that all started up after Marti took the Mazda and hitched a U-Haul to the back, stuffed all of her belongings into it, and headed off into the great belly of America, telling him she had to go out and find herself, where exactly she fit in in this too-short disaster called life. That’s when he stopped talking, around then, even though he kind of still talked to me. You couldn’t call it conversation, or exposition, or anything, really, other than short observational bursts, guarded clues into the state of his thinking. I even made him go to the doctor one time, and not without a fight, either, because I figured maybe he’d had a miniature stroke or something, but Dr. Bruner said he was healthy. His face didn’t droop any more than usual and he still seemed to walk just fine.

After the attempt, though, he had to spend a few weeks locked away with some head doctors out in Mulridge County. The day he got out, I went over and found him in his rocking chair on the front porch whittling away at some totem he held tightly in his palm. From where I stood, it looked like he’d fashioned himself a tiny baby.

“Hey, Scott,” I said. “Long time no see.”

He looked up and nodded, kept whittling away at the infant, sweat beaded along his brow in thin rows. I detected in the dying light a few streaks of gray in his sideburns. He was only twenty-five and starting to age at a rapid clip, though his face remained boyish, in fact, strangely so, and you couldn’t help but think that there were a million other faces that were just the same, you’d just never seen one.

He finally folded and pocketed the knife, set the baby on a little table to his left, and said, “Finn. Been a minute.”

“What’d you carve there?” I said.

“Marti,” he said.

“Looks like a baby.”

“It’s Marti,” he said.

“All right, then,” I said. “Marti it is. How’re you feeling?”

He didn’t say anything, just nodded.

“Looking good,” I said.

He lit a cigarette, took a long pull and sighed, staring off through the lighted windows of the house across the street.

“Well,” I said. “I’ll go ahead and get out of your hair. Just wanted to stop by and say hi, that’s all. Don’t want to be a bother.”

As I was walking away, I heard him.

“Sure is hot,” he said.

I turned around. “Hit ninety-seven today,” I said.

“Hot,” he said.

I nodded right into an immense moment of silence and just kept nodding.

“Want to come in?”

Still nodding, I followed him in and sat at the dining room table, a darkly varnished thing littered about with unopened mail, while he rummaged through the fridge.

“Want a Coke or something?”

“That’d be great,” I said.

He sat down across from me, offered me a cigarette.

“Thanks,” I said, but he just sat there staring at me, not saying a word.

We smoked in silence for a while, sipping our Cokes.

“I have to clear the air,” he said.

“You don’t have to do that, trust me. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s not Marti. It’s my job. My job’s got me all fucked-up,” he said.

“You’re an IT guy, right?”

He nodded. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“The half of what?” I said.

“My job.”


“I work in the city.” he said.


“I sit at a table with rows of other people. These people, they do the exact same thing as me.”


“I worry about them.” he said. “They don’t even know what kind of damage they’re doing to themselves.”

“Okay? What do you mean?”

“What I do. You want to know what I do?” he said.

“Of course.”

“All the evil shit you hear about being on the internet. My job is to view all that stuff and decide whether or not it should be scrubbed from the internet.”

“Seems like the lord’s work to me,” I said. “Why you feel so bad about it? Somebody has to do it. It’s honorable, right?”

“You just don’t get it. Nobody gets it. Marti didn’t get it. You don’t get it. The doctors don’t get.”

“Hey, hey, slow down,” I said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I’m not upset. Just get on, you should go. But finish your fucking Coke first. Don’t want it going to waste.”

I chugged the Coke down and said, “You need to chill a bit, okay. Calm down. I love you.”

“There is no such thing,” he said.

“Whatever, man,” I said. “I’m leaving.”

When I got out onto the porch I took his stupid little wooden baby he’d carved and threw it across the street into the neighbor’s yard. My anger got the best of me. I started thinking about how if he tried killing himself again, he’d do well to pick out a surer method. Rather have him dead than crazy.

We didn’t talk much after that. His hair grew long. He stopped going to Al’s, recused himself from the world around him. And in a way, so did I.

Maybe if I could’ve kept my mouth shut long enough, his silences would’ve been voice enough for me to “get it.” Perhaps that’s the real matter, after all—“getting it.”

It’s never so much the swallowing that hurts, it’s the ripping out. If fish hooks could talk, I swear to god they’d tell you to run.

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WE CLEAN UGGS by JP Sortland

Yes. No. Hand washed. No machine.

He was the only man who shined shoes at George’s Shoe Repair. The tiny refuge was located below ground at the 51st and Lexington subway station.

Yes. Hand. Wash. Personally. You’ll like.

There were two or three ladies of an implacable foreign origin who also shined shoes in silence. Customers predicted the mystery women came from Bolivia to Tajikistan and everywhere in between.

Buddy’s origin was clear as mud too. But wherever he’d come from before ending up at George’s had made him an amicable fellow. Unlike the shoeshine girls, the patrons of George’s never wondered where Buddy was from. Instead they wondered how anyone could be so nice.

Friendly like a Canadian, one customer said to his coworker. German maybe? Yeah, kinda I dunno. Except a different accent and everything.

The leopard coat girl had little faith in Buddy and therefore she had faith in nothing.

His hands rested carefully atop her Uggs. His fingertips ready to pluck them off the counter with a gentle squeeze of his fingertips into their furry insides. To Buddy, this exchange should already be done. Those soft boots should already be in line with the others.

You’re sure you won’t like ruin them, right?

Buddy gave her a smile to deflect the insult. Hidden behind his friendliness was a plea for understanding and trust.

Clean Uggs every day.

And you’re not gonna throw them in a washing machine right? Because the tag says spa-cifically they have to be hand washed.

Yes. No. Hand washed. See? Wash by hand. Stuff with paper to keep good form. Help dry. Protective spray for leather. Good care.

Um. Okay?

The leopard coat girl released the boots. The cynicism however, her lack of faith in Buddy and therefore mankind, stayed with the Uggs.

Buddy handed her the ticket and the leopard coat girl hesitantly took it. Her face twisted in confusion and looked like written information had never been conveyed to her.

Buddy wanted nothing more than for George’s shop to be profitable. A busy shop meant money for Buddy. However, a crack in his resolve made him wish the leopard coat girl had never stepped foot into that business. Into his consciousness.

I need those by tomorrow.


Yes. No. I don’t know. So sorry.

Buddy shook his head at George. His arms fell to his side.

I have the ticket? They were here yesterday?

The leopard coat girl snapped her gum. Buddy silently thanked her for it.

He knew how George loathed the sticky substance. He had seen more gum on the bottom of shoes than anyone in New York City.

I’m real sorry, miss. We’ll compensate you for the loss.

They were like two hundred.

George winced.

Two hundred new. How about one-fifty?

Fine. Whatever. I’m never coming back here.

Understandable, miss.

Buddy remained quiet at George’s side. Obediently bearing witness to the berating.

You sure you didn’t see them nowhere?

Yes. No.

Buddy shook his head.

I like just don’t understand how you lose boots?

Buddy looked down at the floor.

He’d be paying for those boots unless George found forgiveness in his shoe polished heart. It was the price he had to pay. It was a fair price.

Someone could’ve run in and snagged em. Buddy here turns his back for one second and that’s all they need.

George handed her the monetary apology.

Buddy weighed the relationship he’d built with his employer. This was a setback, but it was repairable.

He’d looked high and low but the boots were nowhere in the shop.

He knew because the last time he’d seen them they were flying off the Queensboro Bridge into the East River.

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HEAD TO TOE by Molly Montgomery

One day, Penny woke up with her consciousness in her feet. She could still feel her head, blink her eyes, watch the procession of sunlight from her shutters ripple onto her bed, but it all felt very far away. Closer to her, the flannel blankets cushioned her arches and as she flexed— her feet that is, but it felt like she was stretching a larger muscle, like her back— her toes popped out of the warmth of the blanket, giddy like bright-eyed children, singing at last, at last it’s our turn now. They waved, creating a breeze in the rumpled blankets. She sighed with her feet, her heels arching and releasing, breathing, in a way. It didn’t occur to her that it would be strange to go through the day with her soul stuck to the floor. After all, she was a yoga teacher— maybe she had jumbled around her energy a bit too much the night before while performing a handstand. She rolled out of bed and let her feet sink into the carpet. She hadn’t vacuumed in a while, she realized as she felt the sharp edges of leaves and other unpleasant textures prickling the pad of her feet. The dead skin on her heels caught on the carpet, tugging painfully. How could she not have noticed before? It was like waking up to realize you hadn’t combed your hair in a week. She had to do something about it, immediately.

The cool bathroom tiles sent a shiver of pleasure up her legs. In the shower, she commanded her arms, which felt like phantom limbs, tingling and barely present, to twist the knobs and release a stream of hot, hot water onto her thirsting feet. The rest of her body winced, but her feet, tougher than the other parts and tired of taking beatings for the rest of her body’s sake, incited her to turn the temperature higher and higher until, at last, they eased. She flailed her feet before her, the rest of her body sinking into the bathtub. Finally, the pressure released, the terrible pressure, which she hadn’t realized was there until it was gone. It was like a migraine lifting, as she let go of the pounds and pounds of useless flesh pressing, pressing, pressing on her feet all day long. She scrubbed the hard calluses that roughened her feet like stubble, stripping off layers until they were raw and throbbing. The throbbing filled her. Her hands turned the water off, and she crawled out and wrapped a towel just around her feet, writhing with pain and pleasure.

Her toenails, slicing menaces, cut into the neighboring toes. Stop stabbing, stop stabbing, please, she pleaded and grabbed a nail file from her box. These toenails had not risen up in protest this much since her pointe days when they would rip her already demonically twisted feet to shreds and bleed on her satin shoes, the resin mixing with the blood to make a crusty callus of its own.

How much damage had she done her poor feet, she now wondered as she struggled to calm their fiery furor. Massaging them with a soft towel, she reached for some eucalyptus lotion she had in her medicine cabinet and began to knead the ointment deep into the crevices of her feet. She felt the blood vessels in them opening and a calming feeling spread from her feet, up her legs, and to her core.

Now that she was down in her feet, things seemed so different than they did above. She didn’t recognize herself. Who was this woman who could have exploited parts of herself, treated her own foundation like it didn’t matter? She would have never banged her head around like she had her feet, or let it get cut and scraped and swollen with infection like she had when, as an impetuous college student, she launched herself foolishly into a bacteria-laden river from a rope swing, the heel of her foot catching on sharp jagged rocks on her graceless tumble downward. She would have never choked her mouth the way she had choked her feet in sweaty, unbreathing sneakers in PE until a fungus invaded her toenails. She would have never constricted her fingers like she did her toes when she shoved them into wedges that narrowed to an inhuman point. Even her moment of triumph, the highlight of her career— stepping onto that stage with steady powerful strides that she had taken for granted and accepting the award for her choreography— it twisted horribly in her memory as she let herself feel the pain she had held back that night, her feet strapped like hostages into those teetering, torturous stilettos. How she resented her selfishness now, so bent on recognition, her head taking credit for the work of her feet.

After her injury, the one that ended her career on the dance floor, she had hated her feet, her weak left ankle in particular, which cracked under the stress of night after night of pirouettes. Her feet had failed her, so she stopped paying attention to them, like a mother who stops reaching out to her son after he breaks her trust one too many times. Then came the endless months of physical therapy, which she performed diligently, though she knew her body would never be the same. She built strength back into her muscles until they contained not as much as before, but enough for her to feel dignified. But how could it be even after she had recalibrated her relationship with her body, finally finding a sort of equilibrium in yoga, she still wasn’t at peace with her feet? Then again, she wasn’t at peace with her mind either, and that’s where she spent most of her efforts these days. Rewiring her circuits, talking through her loss with her therapist, trying to figure out how to her meld her mind into a body that no longer obeyed like it used to. Fuck that, she thought. It was a relief to be in her feet; the darkness in her head hovered like a thundercloud, but it couldn’t reach her down here. Still, she couldn’t hang out on the floor forever.

Vaguely, she reached for thoughts in her cerebrum, like rummaging in a dark cabinet. She had appointments, a class to teach; her daughter, still asleep, needed a ride to school and back. But her feet, objecting to her wavering attention, sprang with cramps that undid the tenuous connection to her task-oriented brain. Pedicure first, cancel everything else, spa day, spa day, they cried, and soon a chorus of rebellion resounded throughout her bounded body.

Massage me, her knee croaked as her consciousness jumped to it, then to her strained back tight with resentment. I’m next, cried her neglected neck. And her feet continued to pound, pulling her down, down, down.

Yes, let’s, she thought, let’s spend today together just for us. Her feet sought her soft slippers, kicking off whatever attachment she still felt to the rest of the world.

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You live two blocks from a city park that hosts the Fourth of July parade, carnival and fireworks. Once a year your sleepy neighborhood will be taken over. Hoards emboldened strange by the holiday license to drink in public and be stupid with explosives will arrive bearing lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, flags, transistor radios and cherry bombs. They blithely make your yards their parking lots, trespass and trample and choke sidewalks and streets in lit processions of flash lights and aluminum sparklers. Their orange cigarette tips will bob ahead like lures.

Soon their blankets will cover the fields all the way to the woods. Progress in the dark is a mine field of hands and feet, plates of potato salad, dry humping teenagers, dead soldiers of Blatz, Schlitz, Strohs, Rolling Rock, Fanta or Seven-Up bottles, a land where any unthinking remark or misplaced look or bump or nudge or gesture can set off the explosive potential waiting whenever so many people come together in the dark. Do not be afraid. It is your first taste of civic anarchy, to be forever flavored with the tang and bitters of gunpowder sulfur and beer. Everywhere the adults are eating, drinking, smoking, tonguing, grasping, gasping, laughing, cursing.

They who run the world will all be here: in straight sharp lines of brow and jaw like tail-fins; in car interior colors of cream with red, blue or black; in men’s crew cut, ivy league, d.a. or rockabilly pompadours; in women’s bouffant, beehive, pixie or artichoke cuts; in pants of cuff-rolled denim or white Capri; in shirts Hawaiian or Cabana or T’s, (the latter tight and bicep-rolled to hold non-filter cigarette packs). Many of the men will brandish “back from ‘Nam” (or Baghdad or Afghanistan) stares, cadences, shrugs, slang, stiletto-macho X-15-age werewolf sideburns and teeth and eyes that will have you, the different kids, in a seizure of terror, and release. Now will be the time to act.

You will talk and scheme and worry out minute plans without regard for what the Big Night will actually be. Someone will say it is like “striking a giant match across the skull of the world” and you settled for that. You are “the brains,” “the mad scientists,” the 11-year old nobody “nerds” (at a time when the term has the obscene punch of “kike”, “cunt” or “nigger.”)  You say, Come Kill Your Darling Country.

On the early morning of the third your plan is to break into the fireworks truck parked in the corner of the field and tamper with the charges. You have talked about living lives risked in extreme experiment, and here is the big one: mixing combustibles for a new world of shapes and colors, out-doing their show with fun that will hurt and laughs that give all of them the same stranger’s face; incantations in sparkler across hot night air, striking a giant match across the skull of the world. Come, kill your darling country.

The first skyrockets will tear into the sky and the ahhhs and ohhhs rise from the quaking blankets all dark around you in a sea. You run and dive as into an oncoming wave at the beach. You will be heedless, fearless, senseless. You will kick at faces and ran faster, climbing people like stair steps, flying over grasping hands, battling through screams of pain and rage lost in booms, and groans of awe for the hot chemical show overhead. You keep on, straight into the woods. Angry voices are close behind. You will enter the woods in an exalted state of fearlessness and inexhaustible energy, skipping down a narrow switch-back path we know by heart, to the right of the shale cliff you call “H,” (without knowing why).

A sharp zigzag down the back-way crashes into a narrow, noisy stream. You take positions off the path and a little downstream, at the edge of a gully behind big mossy rocks. Above you a willow tree catches a new, cool breeze, fluttering leafy vines over the ebony water. Your panting breaths finally slow and you listen but hear no sounds of pursuers. Above you silver mag stars, fat on titanium and bromides, flash revelations of smoke, solid and sheer as cliffs. They are quickly riven apart by detonations of other hot metals, fuel and casing types: copper halide blues, strontium reds, cesium indigos, potassium violets, barium greens, calcium oranges, lamp-black golds playing The Palm, The Ring, The Diadem, The Crosette, The Spider.

The show reaches its finale: multi-break Whistlers and Hummers that “strobe” multiple explosions falling closer and closer to the crowd. You count the explosions. After many bursts you count one, two, three too many, too loud. The rockets will reach the ground while still burning, hissing and twitching, like cicadas locked to mate and die, igniting grass and blankets and flesh. Shrieks will cut through the booms, echoing into strange cacophonies between pain and pleasure, the human and the animal. There are alarms and sirens and cries to God. Then echoes, the crowd dispersing, cars starting up and driving off. Stars poke through the colored smoke. It thins, they brighten, and the air goes cold.

You will wait. Then one of you, then another and another will whisper of your getaway, your next move. The way ahead, someone says, is lit by a giant match raked across the skull of the world! Your voices join and rise into chant, hot and luminous, words lit from inside your throats as if you’ve swallowed sparklers whole, and do not and will not feel one damn thing in the great parade ahead. Come, let’s kill their darling country.

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In times of life-and-death, nobody quite grasped the concept of “be quiet.” But for us, it didn’t matter. My peers panicked, whimpered, some nearly hyperventilated—but nothing outclassed the tormenting screams coming from an adjacent room. Nothing could abolish the cackling gunfire, bullets penetrating walls and possibly bodies. Nothing stopped the killer from heading to our room next, glaring at us with a face of apathy, drawing our attention to boast about his body count, and how we were going to add to it. Nobody could do a thing, except for me.

I wouldn’t consider my actions gallant. I charged the moment the boy appeared distracted. An amalgam of fortunate events led me to overpower the shooter, using his weapon against him, my following actions fueled by pure trepidation. I realized I’d rather the boy fall than to witness a firearm pointed at my face again or hear the anguish of my friends. The worst part: the shooter was a student too. We acknowledged his bleeding corpse more than we ever did him. His name was Ethan, and only a few of us knew that.

An absolute silence plagued the air, and I began to pace the classroom, “no” continually slurring from my mouth. Nobody mentioned a word about the murder, not our teacher or my friends. No one.

* * *

There wasn’t much blood on my hands, although the few smears on my shirt reminded me of the monster I had become. I expected my classmates to see me in the same light. That wouldn't explain their reluctance to speak, or even to move. They were afraid of me, their fear cemented in a truth that not only had one of their peers became a killer, but also another.

My best friend began to speak, my name slowly rolling off her tongue.

“I can’t, Marissa,” I interrupted.

“Jerome, you saved us,” she whispered.

“I still killed Ethan! I’m done for. My future, everything. I could go to jail.”

“No, you’re a hero,” she said. She searched for validation from our other classmates. “Right?”

Everyone remained quiet. Then, some of my classmates began to cry while others seemed to struggle to preserve their sanity. And I felt for all of them. I understood, but I knew I had to withdraw from my emotions to prepare for the arrival of the authorities. Picture this: an emotional, erratic, brown teenager with the blood of another student on his clothes. Yeah, that’s a minimum of 25 years.

“Jerome…” Marissa murmured.

“Stop. Please, just stop.”

* * *

Ten minutes passed, and the authorities arrived. Everyone was escorted from the building to the fields outside, like we were in a  prison line, distress printed on their faces, or even scarier: the expressions of those who were still processing—blank, unworldly.

I couldn’t stop picturing Ethan, another student, his glare, a rifle dangling from his hand, blood stains on his clothes—imagining my face stamped above his. A monster. If I wasn't a monster, then why did the authorities scrutinize me with disdain?

Police officers pulled aside students from my class for questioning. Paranoia struck me like a chisel shaping a stone statue—one final tap and I’d crack. Some of my classmates clearly talked about me, peering back and leading the cops to notice me more than they had. Before I knew it, I stood alone. Then, it was my turn to be probed.

A stocky pale officer approached. “How are you, son? What is your name?”

“I’m okay. It’s Jerome.”

“My name is Officer Anderson. You don’t seem too shaken up by things, Jerome,” he said, examining at the small blotches of blood on my shirt before returning eye contact. “You’re quivering. You seem more terrified of me than anything.”

“That--that’s not true.”

The officer huffed. “Can you tell me what happened? If you’re uncomfortable talking about it, we--”

“No,” I said. “It’s okay.” I gave him a detailed chronology of events, up until Ethan’s death.

“So, the student massacres the entire classroom next to yours and then comes into your room to provoke everyone before killing himself?”

It sounded more artless after the officer repeated it. When I nodded, he suddenly grew reticent, looking down on me with eyes of censure. “That’s not what your classmates are saying. In fact, they’ve claimed you convinced Ethan to cease fire, and when he realized his wrongdoings and felt contrite, he impulsively took his own life. Correct?”


“You and your entire class could’ve died if it weren’t for you.” Officer Anderson patted my shoulder with his right hand before meandering back to his colleagues. “Son, you’re a hero.”

“Hey!” Marissa called and trotted over to me. “Why are you all the way over here, Jerome?”

Attempting a smile, I replied, “I don’t really know.”

“We need you.”


Her eyebrows furrowed. “Because you saved us. Word is spreading fast, and people from other classrooms aren’t taking this well. The media is already here.”

In spite of what she did for me, she still didn’t quite understand. “Marissa, thank you.” I looked down at my palms, slowly twirling them while opening and closing my fists. “But sometimes heroes can’t wear brown skin.”

She nodded before tightly gripping one of my arms, that and the familiar way her nose twitched before speaking gave away her frustration. “People also don’t get to choose what color skin they’re born into. For what it’s worth, I think for you to be able to do these things, while fighting so many other battles, is something that deserves recognition.”

I smiled, shaking my head. “That’s incredibly sweet. But, there are consequences to my actions, all of them. Risks I’m usually not willing to take.”

She turned to see how our peers held up. “Well I’m glad you took one today.”

“May I ask you something?”


“Why are you so calm? Everyone’s freaking out.”

Marissa finally looked back at me. “I could ask you the same.”

“Well, where I’m from … let’s just say this isn’t the first time a gun has been pointed at me, or has been fired in my vicinity.”

She looked away again. I guessed she couldn’t grasp the idea of such horror. “I think it’ll hit us sooner or later. This all feels too surreal, but being around you helps.”

“As long as I’m me, I can never be considered a hero.”

Exhaling, Marissa placed her two hands on my shoulders. I could tell she wanted me to own the title, or maybe she was hinting that I needed to do that for everyone else, at least for now.

“Jerome, we’re friends. We’ve got each other’s back. That’s all that really matters.”

Perhaps Marissa’s right, but probably not. Because of her and a few others, despite the color of my skin, I didn’t go to jail. I thanked Marissa once more. And with her, I joined my class.

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rob mclennan

THE NAMES OF THINGS, by rob mclennan

I gave my attention to the pause.Angela Carr, Here in There


I am downsizing, for practical reasons. I gift my belongings before the choice is no longer mine. Ending six months of aggressive treatment, some small strength returns. Moving through boxes and bins and shelves, I name items as I release them into the world. I name you, glass figurines I salvaged from my grandmother’s possessions, as her quiet death ended the decades they sat in her sitting room. I name you, pilfered coffee mugs, each adorned with a different company logo.

That summer we drove through the prairies and out to Vancouver, as yet another mug slipped into my bag at a rest stop. You were not amused.

I name you, dresser: the scratched and scarred second-hand chassis with lime green coat over almond brown over deep red over powdered blue, salvaged from Neighbourhood Services when I was eighteen.

Downsizing, sized. My body erodes. The clothes on my back.

I name you, silver pocketwatch: handed down from my great-grandfather, from his time in Montreal. Now set in the palm of my sister.

Family lore holds that during his first decade away from home, he worked as a conductor for one of the newly-established lines of the Grand Trunk Railway. A decade saved, and spent, before relocating again with the emergence of a wife and three children, back to his eastern Ontario nesting grounds, where he gathered a further fifty-five winters. They say he moved non-stop until he finally did.

I name you, small wooden box, discovered in my mother’s closet. The musty nest of crumbling paper scraps: correspondence, postcards, a pendant. A locket, held in an envelope. Dust. Her maiden aunt’s engagement ring. This is all that remains. She, who died when my mother was young. I name you, Marjorie, aunt of my mother.

Heirlooms: objects for which we are but temporary caretakers, a loom that weaves in and out of the hands of ancestors down, and from mine to my sisters, nieces, nephews. Brother.

I name you, long dark curls, like my mother, back in the day; as her sisters, too, and their mother as well. Curls that hadn’t the seasons to autumn, to silver.


In my youth, I collected; perhaps more than I should have. I saved, and kept everything. Girl Guide badges, nuts and bolts from the driveway, miniature carvings of frogs. I constructed scrapbooks of fauna and flora, a field’s-worth of clover. I gathered my late grandfather’s wartime diaries, secured in a steamer trunk. I collected a single smooth stone from each childhood beach, carefully placed on my bedroom bookshelf as tokens. As tangible memories. From our suburban backfill, a daily memory of a particular Nova Scotian beach at sunset.

A vial of red sand from Prince Edward Island shores, St. Margaret’s Parish, where my mother’s family historically cottaged. A vial of water from the Athabasca Glacier. What had once been what it no longer can.

In our first shared apartment, there was the alchemy of a half-hidden compartment of books in a cupboard, unlocked. Paperbacks, mostly. Mass-market stuff from an earlier decade. I immediately decided they were there precisely for me, and read everything. Susan Dey’s For Girls Only. The Hawkline Monster. A Brief History of Time. I absorbed each one, until there was nothing unread. Upon our eventual move, more than a couple of titles managed to slip in among our possessions.

I name you, library. I name you, history.


I name you, rage. I name you, anger. A cracked wooden bowl. Stage four. The one where nothing left can be done. Meeting with doctors and lawyers and further doctors. I name you, comfort; I name you, recollection. I name you, heartbreak.

In a fever-dream, the moon asks: Why do we melt?


They say to name a thing is to suspend it, freeze it into a singularity. To name is to reduce, some say. To name is to provide weight to something otherwise nebulous, unformed. To name is part of being. Biblical Adam, who spoke, and the animals became what he named; as the Word of God, also. He speaks, and what has spoken is solid.

I name instead to remind myself of each object’s purpose, and to give them air.

To make concrete, self-contained, and release.

I have been contemplating both religion and spirituality lately, but am undecided, as yet.

Soap bubbles, carried away.


I name you, signed first edition of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, from a lover whose name I’ve long forgotten. I name you, soft and dear and nameless. I name you, address book that belonged to my mother. I name you, Red Maple leaf, set between the pages of a hardbound, wax paper saved from summer camp. I name you, first kiss by the strawberry bushes. I name you, lakewater silt that spawned from our overturned canoe.

I name you, squeamishness. Layers of blood, burned brown on white linen.

I name you, intimacy. I name you, pigmentation. I name you, jade elephant.


Lorelei believes that people are a construction of memories and experience, and can be pieced together though what they have abandoned. Nigel remains unconvinced. He claims: we are made up of stories. Without stories to accompany, items are stripped of their substance. And yet, once beyond us, they become clean, able to collect anew. Are our possessions allowed lives beyond ours? If no-one knows why I owned a jade elephant or where it originated, will that even matter?

I have a jade elephant, attached to a string. Purchased at an outside market, I think. London? Paris? I suspect I might be losing my rigorous attention to the integrity of each object.

I consider writing your name on a paper scrap, something I can ingest. Something I might keep.


Terminal illness can’t be fixed, it can only be carried. I am putting it down. I release it. From here on, everything lightens. Even my step. Living well, as they say, the finest revenge.


I name you, school portrait of my first love, squirreled deep in the pockets of my leather jacket, circa 1995. I name you, 1980s Polaroid of my father in the kitchen window.

I name you, shadows; cast in the doorframe, the hospital blinds.

I name you, tears of my mother. I name you, legs and arms. I name you, mouth.

I name you, morphine. I name you, breath.

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nikolas slackman

SHAVER by Nikolas Slackman

“All of my hair is leaving me.”

But I was the one who’d shaved it all away. To say it left me was a compulsion to attract that rich melancholy self-lovers look for. I knew within mundane choices was the opportunity to feel abandoned.

I’d electric razored the whole thing top-down and looked like a flesh pear. I ran it against the arms, down the back, around the tits. A little cut up shaving the neck, but the cuts from nerve damage jitters don’t count, I’d said. Tweeze the brow, but you always tweeze the brow. I could feel George’s smirk inside the razors hum. What makes you think it grows just for you to shave it?

I waited in the lobby for my haircut. Doctor Gupta said coffee would do my nerve’s no favors, but I took up the receptionist’s offer. I could save the complementary Milano cookie for after the haircut. I drank the coffee in maybe four gulps, despite the heat. You could hear my curls screaming “Don’t cut us off, you motherfucker!” under the sips, if you listened closely.

My hair had been shoulder length since middle school. Before George started cutting my hair and turned me onto garage punk, before my late body hair had sprouted. Before high school, where I’d made some real friends then lost them, made some new friends then lost them, and Mia, who I’d dated and broken up with and dated, broken up with, and was in some inbetween thing with, maybe, when I suddenly heard the sound of my own thoughts. They sounded like buh dee duh dee duh dee duh and my hair sounded like horrible screaming. I remembered when George told me he’d watched his friend OD back in the 80’s. I thought that he was the only punk I’d ever met. I downed another coffee and asked for more, trembling.

George looked ridiculous when he came out from the back. The tight leather pants with chains draped around the thighs were notable. His stupid Noel Gallagher haircut even more so. His former muscle bro haircut was gross but understandable. This was not understandable. Not nearly enough of his shirt buttons were buttoned, and his chest was comically bare. He came up to me and said something like how’s it going man and I was like what’s up man so both questions were left rhetorical.

He sat me in front of his mirror when I noticed my scalp’s violent trembling. It only showed in my eyebrows, but I could feel it where the curls would root and bisect. He offered me the usual trim but I interrupted him with this story about how my friend Jordan told me I have Dad hair. George gave me this “you totally do have Dad hair” look. He started listing all the options I had but his voice drowned under the intensifying screams. I smiled and nodded, pretending they’d stopped until they did. He slapped me on the back and said “I’m glad you’ve come to this realization” while his assistant led me to the sink. I asked for another coffee.

Waiting in front of his mirror, I took some final gulps. George fixed his apron around me.

“So what have you been up to dude?”

I responded buh dee duh dee duh dee duh.

“Your brother, how’s he been doing?”

Same answer. I wished I had eaten that Milano earlier, the coffee made my stomach growl.

“You still with that one girl?”

I smiled and blinked insanely ha ha ha ha ha kind of I’m not sure, where’d you get those pants?

George went off about his budding fashion career. He knew the guy who assisted the woman who would custom tailor pants for Slash, through a mutual friend, apparently. They’d been chatting the last couple months and he was hoping to take her style, but apparently that’s a big no in the fashion world, even though she’s been an off the grid junkie for, like, six years. George said Lars Ulrich and Nikki Sixx miss that old style. Apparently George planned on calling her to ‘borrow’ that style to sell his own brand. George said he’d love to see those designs on Slash again. George said he’d apparently rather be home right now working on his designs than here cutting my hair. I looked up and my head wasn’t my head anymore. It was George’s old head.

I smiled and glanced towards him. I heard his assistant sweeping the death away. There was no more screaming. No more nerves. He put a shitload of product in my hair and that was that.

He shook my hand and looked at me with eyes that said you have no idea what real death looks like.

I stared at him with his head and drank the cheap melancholy fumes in the air. We were abandoned from each other, it tasted like the Milano I ate walking home.

Apparently George’s old head snubbed dreams about girls, about Mia, or whatever. That night, it had a wave of swarming red light sink through its eyes. It penetrated the cornea, it’s sharp breath wrestling my half-baked nerves. I couldn’t tell if my body was rejecting the head or the head my body. It smiled in sleep, savoring the conflict. My body lay still, I’d always shirked confrontation.

Soon, the wave saturated into a reflection of the sclera, all white. The old head opened its eyes. The light had drilled deep, and lingered unaffected. Triangular shadows patterned into a spiral formation, collapsing the tense whiteness into a new dimension. They inverted and warped. Nothing budged. The lost dreams rang through the act. Another few minutes passed before the light had emptied out into a leathery darkness. He’d hijacked everything.

“It isn’t the nerve damage then?” the head asked.

“Not entirely, just somewhat” Doctor Gupta replied.

The tarp beneath the body would crinkle whenever I squirmed, which was often, still adjusting to shaven skin. The pediatrician I’ve been seeing since middle school offered a list of ophthalmologists to consider.

“How long’d it last, do you suppose?”

“Only a few minutes, maybe.”

There was a sticker poster of Spongebob in front of me. His right leg was torn off, and the top of his head stripped away. His gigantic cartoon eyes spilled crudely into the pale wall. He’d been on the walls for the decade I’d known Doctor Gupta, but it seemed unfamiliar now. White noise filled the room, maybe the low hum of air conditioning, the sigh of growth droning above.

Gupta changed the subject. “Eating too many hamburgers, eh?” he joked, squeezing a roll of my torso. I would have done my typical ha ha ha, but George didn’t flinch.

I worried that Mia would be upset about the weight, then George reminded me she was gone. An effect of change, he said. The body dreamed about the end of change. My dying nerves reached for the end of change. George said she’s made you sick and ignored me from then on.

Gupta tussled my hair.

“Handsome boy.”

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