Flash

rob mclennan

THE NAMES OF THINGS, by rob mclennan

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

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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?

4.

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.

5.

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.

6.

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.

7.

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.

8.

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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SPD TOOK MY BLIND DATE AWAY by Braxton Younts

Once she told me she was an Iraqi war vet, I was hesitant to meet up with her, but I was lonely and horny, so I invited her to join me at my neighborhood bar after work.

Back then I was more attracted to militant feminists. I liked my women brooding over gender politics, listening to Bikini Kill, tattooing their arms, and dressing in combat boots. You know the one: mohawk haircut, bone through her nose, and an anarchy patch on her black leather jacket. Studs intricately arranged as if bedazzled by a seamstress on meth. Let me see if she can hang. See if she can verbally spar with me and my boys. If she can drink with the best of us.

Directly after clocking out of the kitchen at work, I booked it up hill on Pike Street, but before arriving the watering hole where we were to rendezvous, I stopped off at The Comet for party favors, including but not limited to one gram of shitty-stepped-on coke. Dad may have been a functional alcoholic. Dad may have enjoyed the competition of NASCAR racing and ACC basketball. He may have wondered why I preferred painting and science. But over years of self-realization, I gained a competing edge, winning the battle of egos, when I one upped his substance prowess and graduated to the hard stuff. And the hard stuff wasn't straight whiskey, rather my hard stuff was mainlining heroin and snorting eight-balls of cocaine on the back of toilets in Seattle's dive bars. In dank holes in the wall, I found camaraderie. Guys who didn't care about sports, stocks, jobs, life, or limits. Unlike my role model, Dad, we broached subjects like shortcomings, tattoos, and latent homosexuality. Fears and weaknesses. The unfairness of capitalism and racism. We even allowed each other to cry, sometimes.

When my date finally joined William and I at the bar, we had been there for a couple hours prior. You know, warming up. The more I drank the more loquacious and affectionate–the more human–I became, so theoretically it behooved me when trying to impress a potential lover to get a jump on the liquid buffet.  A few bumps of shitty coke with William. A few beers, and I was worth being around.

"Don't talk to that guy. He's not friendly until he's had at least three beers," said Brad. "He's a sensitive writer." Brad said with a suggestive, presumptuous, indicative lisp.

"Fuck off,” I said. “Had at least seven since work."

My date and I had only seen pictures of each other via email. When she walked in, I didn’t readily recognize her. A cotton candy-colored, asymmetrical bob with Chelsea fringe and a fatigue jacket was what I noticed. Warning signs in my flight manual. Yet she took to me like a duck to water, running her fingers through my greasy locks without invitation. I introduced her to William, and she said she could tell by our boyish giggling he and I had been sitting a spell and to pay her no never mind. By her calculations, she simply needed to slam a few tequilas, and we’d all be on the same level. Over her shoulder, I spied bulging set of blue eyes and plum-colored mug observing the entire mess. With Bukowski breath, Tim was not only a playwright, but also an actor and director. A literary movement was in the making. More than one of us artists would make it. I was positive.

After a few more rounds and very little equalization, a naked man waltzed into the room, past the row of bar stools, past the jukebox, past the big gay Indian who always became more affection toward me with each beer. At first no one batted an eye, for it was Friday evening in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s most odd neighborhood. Mr. Birthday Suit began pestering the bartender for drinks and said-bartender refused him service. All the while, beers were imbibed, and people made merry.

"How do I know I'm not gay?" said Turpin. Shaking my head, unsure I wanted his answer, I waited in kinetic anticipation.

"When I was locked up in NOLA, I let a guy fuck me in the ass. And didn't like it," Turpin said, laughing. William and I laughed, nearly spewing beer out our nostrils.

William was a barstool philosopher, an addict and an artist. Turpin was a cook, a junkie, and a tattooist. I was a writer, a cook, and a drunk. Were drunks attracted to the arts? Or did the arts attract drunks? Or did crushing self-doubt attract us to substance abuse? Who knew? Who cared? Not us.

True alcoholics we were. Nights when booze and coke absconded all our money Turpin and I, on occasion, popped in at The Man Ray or Sea Wolf to wrangle drinks from men. We cozied up to flamboyant, intoxicated patrons, gave a sly smile, and made small talk. Attention starved, these guys bought us beer after beer. If it worked for women, then shouldn't it for us. And, brimmed of what we craved, Turpin and I parted ways and staggered to our respective beds.

How we arrived at this level of chaos was vague. The bar atmosphere here was jovial and thus conducive to heavy-handed pours and over-consumption. Feeding the jukebox quarters, the bartender, Bayonne Bob, was playing quintessential AC/DC: "Highway to Hell," "She Shook Me," and "Have a Drink on Me."

At some point, not long after aforementioned Mr. Birthday Suit’s entrance, Bayonne Bob, nonchalantly locked the front door, trapping Birthday Suit. When someone phoned the authorities, my date decided to become a liberator. She took up the cause of freeing the imprisoned naked man. Like so many innocent Iraqi civilians, Mr. Birthday Suit needed liberation from a dictatorial bar staff.

About then two Seattle Police Department pigs rolled up, and my date was in a full-on donnybrook with bartenders and customers who were attempting to corral Mr. Birthday Suit. As the police entered the establishment, they inadvertently released the naked man while scraping with my date. She thrashed around and cussed at the cops. To no avail, implored them to release her war-torn ass. After a quick word with the bartender to ensure all was good in the business of intoxication, the pigs cuffed and stuffed my date into the back of a police cruiser.

A time later, after the we stopped giggling and gasping for air, William and I slammed one last beer, paid our tabs, and staggered out into the dank air to say our goodbyes. And as I was walking away, I heard my name, disembodied, from the interior of a parked cop car, “Braxton, can I call you?”

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TRIAL by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle

The mystery shopper is ambitious, athletic, with a big dick. It looks good on you. I’ve been here for a while. I ask him what his Myers-Briggs type is and he says he is an INFP. What, INFP, but I’m an INFP. You don’t seem like an INFP, I don’t know if you are actually one. I am, he says, that’s what I got when I did the test. Ok, I say, I’m going to the test right now and pretend I’m you while I’m doing it.

I walk the perimeter of the mall. I really want to buy something but I can’t find anything to buy. Then I can’t find my way out of the mall. I get lost three times. As I am getting lost someone I know messages me to say they just matched with my ex-boyfriend on an online dating site. I am late to my job trial. The job trial is in a suburban but industrial part of town. I have to put pasta sauce into 50 plastic bags with a very large ladle and I’m not supposed to get any sauce on the sides of the bags. I am very slow and I keep checking the weight of the bag and trying to scoop up excess sauce back out of the bag with the large ladle which keeps touching the sides of the bag. I’m not a practical person. Two people are watching me and the warehouse we are in has high ceilings and no windows. One of the women watching me says, Are you just out of school? I say, No, I’m 26. She asks me what I studied at university and I say creative writing and she says Oh, well, that’s not going to lead to a job is it. She criticizes the way I am placing spinach on rice. She pulls me aside. We’re not really sure what you’re looking for, she says.

I take a taxi to the mystery shopper’s house. Did you get paid for the trial, he says, and I say no. We lie on the bed. I say my hand is too sore to give him a handjob right now sorry because of the arthritis in my hand. He says, You don’t look sick, you seem too young to be sick. I want him to be my boyfriend but he doesn’t want to commit. The mystery shopper says, Maybe you should be a teacher I think you’d be good as a teacher and additionally, you already dress like a teacher. I say I already thought about that. I applied for teacher college and a few weeks after my interview, the interviewer called me to her office and asked me what my plans were for the upcoming year. I said, Well, the teaching course?? I hope? She told me I was academically strong. But that I seemed too fragile and submissive to be a teacher. Are you sure you want to a be a teacher, she said, Why don’t we brainstorm some other possible options for you for this year?

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isabella esser-munera

BANGKOK by Isabella Esser-Munera

He begins to paint.

Frescos. No. But layers. Layers.

There are faces. Clouds. He paints feverishly. Time is obsolete. His hand is limitless; it isn’t his. His body; not his. He makes love to himself in paint.

~

It is July 4th and he takes the four pieces that are left from the box in his drawer.  He eats them quickly and quickly lays down on his bed.

It is a mat, long and thin.

The room is bare and feels like it is opening. Like a box, as though the walls were slowly falling away by a pulled string. The color white, but something softer than that.

The man is not old. His arms are thin and at his sides. They fold over his chest. He is waiting for something.

Then he gets up, rapidly, like he knows. This is when he begins to paint.

It happens like this:

He left the room, saw two people. More accurately: two people saw him. Face bent, angled, Asian. Sharp hair, sharp features, light cutting across his shoulder. A staircase shadow, sinking down the steps. Cloaked, eclipsed. Harrowed. Gone. He was quick, he did not see them.

It is difficult not to pause, outside the door.

He pauses outside the door.

He is breathing.

What he is breathing: smoke, gasoline, food, other things. More importantly: the building, and their inhabitants. There is color. Flesh.

He walks.

Swiftly, anonymous. Like everyone else. It is fascinating. He thinks this to himself: fascinating. Escape: into, onto—others. There is color, there is flesh.

He hears it: gently, twinkling like a lullaby. Not the cart, the infinite piles of avocados. Not the man, woman, child. A pruned face giving way to a smooth one. Not the multitude of flashing eyes: lecherous, tired, pleading, bored. The twinkling, silver drums.

He sees them: ten thousand silver, pure, thin-sheet-silver metal drums. Tiny porcelain dolls, robots, playing on the drums. A long line like dominos. They are drumming their nails.

There. A window like a fish tank. It is glowing. He feels it, there, in his chest. His ribs are plastic. They are bowing out. He feels bigger. His heart overflowing. He walks into the store.

Things are slow and up close.

Or maybe no.

In the store there is color.

No flesh.

Color. Brilliant, saturated, blossoming.

He feels it in waves of texture. He breathes, dizzy. So much. The paint lined against the walls like dominos.

A small windmill outside the door spins, is singing.

It sounds like an angel.

He wants the color. He swallows it, standing there. It is not enough. He wants more. His ribs are plastic. Burst into arms. Reach out. His heart is bigger. Overflowing. Dribbling to the floor. Drooling.

He wants the color like a lover. Like water. It is not enough, standing there.

He steals the paint.

All of it.

There are no cameras. He fills his pockets, his pants, his hoodie. Mechanical. He is a robot.

He leaves the store.

He does not stop outside the door.

The flesh surrounds him. A wall.

Get through.

He moves. The flesh surrounds him, parts.

He is swelling. He is peeing. He is fine.

Back in his room.

His room is a box. He never noticed before.

Sweating, sweating. Sweaty. He peels off the navy hoodie with his thin, pale arms; the white, wet shirt. So much white. Sticky. Sweat on his forehead, clinging black hair. He lets out a moan. Unintentional. Glass is falling to the floor. Nothing breaks. There are no cameras. He breaks.

There is color.

White.

He is in a city that does not celebrate July 4th.

He begins to paint.

He does not have a brush. He does not find it until later.

He uses his ribs. His thin arms. His tongue. His penis. He lets out a groan. Unintentional. He is masturbating, he is naked.

Writhing.

There is color, there is flesh, he moans.

He holds up his hands.

They shake. Some asshole called them feminine once. Against the light they are snowflakes. His face is wet. So is his body, so. He looks at them, slender, plastic bones. He wants to bite them. He doesn’t. He looks. Snowflakes.

His cheeks are high and spread across his face like dove’s wings. Dovetailing down: his sharp chin. Like his mother. The blinking eyes which close, curtain. The hair, flattened back in odd angles.

His mother with her face over the bowl of soup.

As if it were a round pocket mirror, propped up, the reflections doubled, split down the spine like a horizon line, one face on the table, one face floating above it. A stillness in the morning, with the feeble light filtering through.

It caught her eyes, set them glowing. The house filled with stillness, cold light.

Her skin was pale and as thin as moth’s wings. Raising her eyes, over the bowl, over breakfast, she was all light, he said nothing. And at the seam where her faces met, the clasp, her chin an arrow pointing in—a necklace dangled, the one his father gave her.

His father is in the United States of America, Long Beach Island now. He could be his younger brother instead of his son, if. His elder sister, glamorously sprawled on the couch with a magazine, smirking, “When you get there, what’re you going to do? Make art? Fuck men? Huh? Fuck men and get high? Go, faggot. Go like your fucking dad.” Her legs scissoring over the couch, cupping a cushion like two fingers the plush meat of a cigarrete. I can’t, fuck, those. Kinds of hips, white as the sky.  

The downturned navy hoodie, she would remember, flattened down in the middle like his nose, his sister thought, as he left. As he left he lifted it over his head with pale, thin fingers. Like a cloak, a curtain, closing, edging down, and with a hiss, sweeping the cloth over the floor.

His eyes are closed.

Making love to himself in the paint.

There are cameras. They are like mirrors. They are like eyes. His room is a box, he is sure. He is sure there are cameras. He is on a stage, there are floodlights, the opening magician’s act, he will saw himself apart, his bones will oblige.

He paints with his body, the white white room.

Finds a toothbrush.

He is going to paint a fresco.

No. But there are faces. Clouds.

He is determined, so he paints. He paints frantically. He is in a city that does not celebrate Independence. Independence Day. There is color. He makes, bleeds, cries color. There is no flesh. He paints. He will find a lover. He will come home. He will not come home. He will not find a lover. He might be crying. There is color.

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shane kowalski

CRAWL ON ME by Shane Kowalski

A lot of times, after having disgusting sex at her slow nephew’s cabin, we’d just get very sick of each other and begin volleying hurt back and forth.

Don’t call my nephew slow, she’d say.

I have a cousin who’s slow, I’d say. It’s okay.

My nephew’s not slow though, she’d say.

Have you met him? I’d say.

She’d put her silver hair up, spit in my shoe. I’d tell her not to do that. Oh what are you going to do, she’d say. And I wouldn’t do anything.

Why am I thinking of this now?

…I think it’s because I was feeling very bored yesterday: a deep, gnawing kind of boredom that begins to change the community of blood inside me. So bored I was, in fact, that I had raced in my car away from my big house to the nearest grocery store. I thought it was going to be like the old days. I’d pick up an older lady in the bakery section, whisk her away, pack of donuts hitting the floor, and let her do disgusting things to me, and vice versa. She’d have a slow nephew, too, and we’d go to her slow nephew’s cabin and not have children that looked like us.

Nothing happened though. The grocery store was practically empty. A couple construction workers waited for meat at the deli. A little boy in tiny crutches, with his average-looking mom, was walking down an aisle. Not one older vixen! Outside, an ugly as hell employee on his smoke break asked me if I wanted to get high. I hated his stupid fucking dumb as shit red hair. I told him that, too. I was looking for something to happen. He punched me in the face—he was strong!

I stayed down on the ground for a little bit: desperately hoping somebody—anybody—might crawl on me and do sexual things to me while I lay there. Soon though the manager of the grocery store came out and said get. Just kick me a little, I said. Go, he said. Just spit on me and give me one kick! I pleaded. Get, freak, he said, or I’m calling the cops. I got up, unsatisfied, and left.

On my way home—after wondering if I might be the exotic topic of dinner conversation later in the grocery store manager’s home; his wife and children all going to bed with steamy, misty thoughts of me in their boring heads—I ended up with only my memories of when getting hurt was fun. I was older now, too. I was naïve to think there’d always be a person willing to hurt and be hurt as much I myself. Then I started to laugh! Ha ha ha! I was in a BMW, unlucky as fuck, lights all turning on around me in the evening, not caring at all that I had somehow let myself—finally, after so many years—become myself.  

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BEACHY COVE BEACH by Sofia Banzhaf

My father looks up the wet steps illuminated by the beaming headlights at the top of our driveway. He opens the door for me.Thanks, I say.But what I’m really saying is: thanks for not asking about who is picking me up.Thanks, in fact, for never asking me anything.Thanks.The car door is heavy because it’s a truck. I imagine myself as a tiny monkey, swinging the door open and hanging on the handle, feet off the ground. I close the door with a slam.Hi, I say.How was your evening, he says, deviating from his usual mumble, he enunciates every word.  I feel flattered.He pulls out of the driveway.It is raining and it is night.I don’t know where to put my bag because the floor is caked with dirt and the bag was expensive.Do you want to go buy some coffees, he says. I’m sorry, he says.There is never anything to do here.Newfoundland.We buy coffees.I linger in the Starbucks parking lot and he gets back in his truck. I look at the sky.Are you coming, he calls.I’m coming, I say quietly, but I’m saying it to the stars.We drive around.We drive to where he works. It is a warehouse of some kind. I don’t ask what he does at the warehouse. I’ve known him for too long, it would feel strange to ask him. On our way to the warehouse, we pass by a car parked in the middle of the street. It seems reckless to park a car in the middle of the street. A girl is sitting in the back. The inside car light is shining on her like a spotlight. She is wearing leggings that have a picture of a purple galaxy printed on them, and she is hugging her knees.When we round the bend we see a boy zipping up his pants. He is walking back to the car with the girl in it.We park and he rolls a joint in silence. The silence is okay.He starts the engine again.Did we just come here to roll, I say.I don’t want to smoke here, he says.I feel confused and also thrilled.As we leave the parking lot we pass by the couple in the car. The light is still on. The girl who was hugging her knees now seems aggravated. They are both wildly searching for something in the car. I can hear her yelling, but I can’t make out the words.Trying to find their last crack rock, he says.It seems like a fact. We were just driving to his warehouse to roll a joint in the suburbs of St. John’s, and now there is a teen couple in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night, looking for their last crack rock.

We drive around smoking. I make an effort not to get too high.I drink the milky coffee with vanilla syrup and ice cubes melting.We drive to a beach. We park so we can see the ocean from the car. I feel incredible. I feel that this is a perfect night. I feel high.Man, I feel like I’ve been a shell these past 6 years, he says.Yeah, I say. Why.I don’t know man, he says.Were you isolated, I say.Yeah, he says.It’s a good thing you broke up, then, I say.Yeah, he says.He removes the arm rest between us.I didn’t know you could do that, I say.Have you never been in a pick-up truck, he says.There is a lot of space between us.Do you want to go down to the water, I say.We walk to the rocky beach. It’s drizzling. We can see a ship on the water. It has little lights on it. I wish I was on the ship.I wish I was on the ship, I say.He is looking at the ship.I don’t, he says.I touch his wrist even though it’s far away from me. I made an effort to reach his wrist. I touch it gently and let go again.But he keeps looking at the ship.This is harder than I thought it would be.What do you think they’re doing in there right now, I say. Playing cards.Probably, he says.Playing cards and eating mashed potatoes and drinking whiskey, I suggest.Probably not drinking, he says, unsmiling.Oh, yeah, they can’t, I say. They’re working. That’s good.We walk back to the car. I’m touching his wrist.It is so quiet. Just the ocean.Your hair smells like pineapple, he says.There is a lot of space between us.I look at him, making eye contact for what feels like the first time.I’m trying to dissect my attraction. We have nothing in common. He is good looking, but none of my girlfriends agree. He has a shaved head and dark eyebrows. Since high school, he’s become slightly overweight, which I like.Can you drive me home, I say.He drives me home. He doesn’t protest or suggest anything else, even though it was a test.We park at the top of my parents’ driveway.The headlights are shining down to the house.The stairs are wet.Can you at least kiss me, he says.You kiss me, I say.He leans over and kisses me. He tastes like coffee.Fuck, he says.We keep kissing.I don’t mind it.Can we go somewhere, he says.I didn’t think you wanted to, I say.Suddenly, I’m annoyed.You are sexy, he says.I am fantasizing about never seeing him again.Come on, he says. We can do it quickly.I laugh. I try to communicate everything in the laugh.I slam the car door shut. It’s a heavy door, you need to slam it.I walk down the wet steps. I walk around the kitchen quietly so I don’t wake my parents.I microwave some noodles.

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EYE UPON THE DONUT by Gregg Williard

"She could be one of them.”  Matt nodded toward the end of the counter.  A Japanese woman of indeterminate age with fuchsia hair and an aqua hoody sat alone with a donut and coffee. Jake had never seen anyone eat a donut the way she did, from the outside surface moving in, turning it with each nibble until there was nothing but a perfect ring around the center. She placed it on the counter to study between sips of coffee.

Matt whispered, “She’s here every Saturday morning.  Orders coffee and a cake donut, always real careful not to bite the hole.”

Jake said, “Yeah?”

Matt leaned closer, talking low and fast.  “So, let’s say that everybody and everything is a projection of extra-dimensional forces that ‘interpret’ us in three dimensions, OK? And if we’re all electromagnetic metaphors downloaded from quantum data streams compressed to infinity inside the sentient black holes that are ‘dreaming’ us, then some people, just a few people , like that woman there, could be a black hole’s version of a ‘lucid dream’.”

“Yeah…”

“…which posits the donut batter as ‘objective correlative’ for plasma crushed in a torus of solenoid magnets, pressurized and accelerated until the nuclei fuse, which of course makes her eating the donut a representation of a representation, an avatar of a circular particle accelerator that is, in turn, a lower order, non-sentient expression of their dreaming us into being, you know?”

“Yeah.  But…”

“But what?”

“But don’t black holes eat matter and galaxies and stuff?  Are they dreaming us up just to eat us? Like, you know, a chef imagining a new recipe for poached quail eggs?”

Matt blinked.  “That’s a complete distortion, Jake.”

“I just don’t get what they want.”

“What they want?   Jake!  The question has no meaning. Even if it did we’d be incapable of ever knowing the answer. The consciousness we’re considering is infinitely more complex than ours. I mean, do you even ever know what your own consciousness ‘wants’ , let alone anyone else’s?”  At that moment Jake’s eyes met the woman’s. Neither looked away. Her pensive expression softened. She smiled, and he blushed. And smiled back.

“You know what I mean? Jake?

"Jake?”

 
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DESERVED IT by Sebastian Mazza

But I know, it's my own damn fault. – Jimmy Buffett

The lightning bolt lit up the parking lot, fizzing, spitting, then evaporating into the gloom. After my eyes adjusted, I could just make out Dad’s fuzzy supine form across the lot and the man still standing over him. Before that night I’d never seen the man, who looked a bit woebegone and clumsy and irresponsible, a bit stocky with a bristly mustache, but not like a truly bad person, even now in memory. I’ve tried to pull up anger at him but end up mad at Dad instead, at how he left me all alone in the teeming shopping mall while he ate his ice cream cone in the food court farther underground. Now he’s left us all alone forever.

Eventually I found him finishing his cone just through the sliding doors to the parking lot. They slid and slid. Then the man bounded up to us and said Dad’s name, who couldn’t shake hands because his were very sticky. The man’s hand hung briefly in the air alone. They got to talking, speaking as if they had this long history or rivalry together, referring to strange names and other things I didn’t understand. Actually, it kind of shed some light on Dad, who had always been so guarded about his life before Mom and me, to think of him in relation to this man, to think of them as basically similar.

But the crux of the encounter, from what I was able to make out after Dad ordered me back to the car, was that suddenly the guy got really dangerous and turned on Dad, a bit like if you get hopelessly lost on a hike, or if a drunken hookup with a stranger becomes violent. There’s this residual half-smile of disbelief on your face, but now the trail is gone, the trees are black, these hands are in your mouth and on your throat and here’s this seriously horrible thing happening to you.

​Next morning Mom and I tried to speak but couldn’t, felt fewer by so many more than one. Household objects stood in for Dad wherever we looked—the stupid terracotta flower pots sculpted with faces with open mouths, a folk guitar, a leather chair—and Mom cleaned all the dishes while I tried to read. It turned out that all along our lives had been that stale gray dully glowing layer we’d sometimes taste just underneath.

It kept replaying in my mind. The glowing parking lines. The insectile shapes of cars. The weight of the shopping bags. When Dad gave the man a jovial pat on the back with the heel of his non-ice cream hand, he stiffened.

“Don’t touch the back,” he said.

I remember him saying “the back” instead of “my back,” as if it were no longer a part of him, as if every part of him were becoming progressively detached from his core of authority, and that all these fragments, the humid mouth, the oily face, the sex, the stomach and the hand, were subsequently going mad and turning back upon his inner core to take revenge.

I laughed nervously then, too loudly, and the man looked at me with his blue and beady eyes.

He described a surgery he needed but could not afford, involving the threading of inch-long steel needles through his spinal cord. Then he took a heated, whispered phone call, the blue beads rolling around the lot. But I looked at his phone, a flip phone, and he hadn’t even opened it, it wasn’t even on. It was squashed against his stumpy ear as he cursed and muttered into nothing. That’s when Dad gave me his bags (the milk bag, the veggie bag, the grain bag, the bag of foreign coins) and sent me to the car.

​It was like in dreams, when the big things happen so fast you never quite have enough time to think or consult anyone’s opinion. At home I kept walking into rooms and stepping over different glowing laptops on the hardwood floor and barely noticing. I kept waiting for the police to come, someone from the government, to file a report of death. Sometimes I checked Dad’s Facebook wall. Mom would go to work or tie up her hair, which she had grown out in Dad’s absence, and lie with magazines across the couch in the living room. Lights from cars and street lamps through the windows sometimes passing over her and lighting up strange novel sections of her face. I always assumed that if Dad went away, Mom and I would hang out more. Then I felt the closest thing to a sense of purpose since that night: since I’d seen it all happen, and Mom had not, I had a story for her.

“Mom,” I said excitedly from across the room in Dad’s old leather chair. “As Dad sprawled out on the asphalt, clothes in tatters, bloodied and beaten, and that man stood over him, panting, eyes wild, holding the thrumming lightning bolt aloft, Dad never looked away, or closed his eyes, or moaned in fear, or pleaded or cursed or screamed.”

But Mom wouldn’t swoon at Dad’s resilience. She would not cry with me. I don’t remember her saying he was coming back or anything like that, but I realized that way back when I’d walked into the house without him and she hadn’t said anything or asked any questions and had slept that night in their big bed all alone while I hugged my covers to me on the far side of the house, the lighting bolt flashing repeatedly before my tight-shut eyes, and then the next morning when she and I sat at the table with our coffees just the two of us forever, Mom’d already felt something subtle about why Dad wasn’t there, assumed something that had nothing to do with death, at least death as I’d conceived it up until that time.

​At high pressures, sadness begins to resemble dread. Memories that used to wet my eyes dried out and sort of wrinkled in relief. Dad’s scratchy falsetto singing “Margaritaville” in the basement, strumming his cheap guitar diffidently. I think Mom’s feeling was the kind that has to develop over a longish period of time, so you can refer back to things. And I did begin to get some sense of those old things—not a clear sense, just an outline, a hint—and they were the terrible complicated sick hot honeyed lovely things of love I knew I could never bear to think about my parents for too long. And I was surprised to feel my own feelings finally, to realize how hard Dad’s going had made me, how angry and stupid and slow, the fact that he was never coming back compressed into itself, away from anything unnecessary. And still how much it throbbed and hurt and made me scared, now maybe even more, that there was still so much out in the world of which to not be sure, of which I knew nothing at all.

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VICTORY PARTY by Sheldon Lee Compton

He talks to me through the trees. Not through them, like he’s standing on one side of a treeline and I’m standing on the other, but like he is the trees.

We will stay together, become taproots, strong and lasting, he says. Or we are both oaks.

Discussing trees and strength becomes tedious, and, sometimes, he starts in about my little sister. Those conversations don’t last very long.

***

The Olympics. 1984. Summer, because both Daddy and the man were wearing tshirts instead of coats. And because I’ll always remember Katarina. It was their fight that brought the police to Fox Bottom. Our area anyways, the part in the far northwest corner where Fleet Mitchell had his ratty garage fixed up as a body shop. But he didn’t fix vehicles, he sold cocaine. And this was at a time when almost everybody was only selling pot or cheap liquor.

One of the two men was my daddy. The other man, John something or other, was a nobody to me, just some guy who decided that night, the night the Olympic ice skating was on television, was the night he was going to shoot Daddy. It was Fleet who wanted him to do it.

That’s what he told us right before the fight started. He looked at me and my sister and said he was going to go shoot our dad. I remember his eyes were like wet glass in his sockets and his mouth sagged when he talked. I remember he smelled like mothballs. Then he whispered as he walked away that Fleet was going to set him up nice for doing it.

***

Before Dad went to prison we used to get together with all the uncles and aunts and cousins on Sunday nights and watch episodes of Chiller. It aired late Sunday night, 2 a.m., and me and my sister didn’t have to worry yet about school, being so little. The night Fleet tried to have Dad killed I kept thinking of how the show opened with that dark swamp and the craggy old tree and then the weird hand coming up out of the fog of the swamp. The music sounded sinister and then how, from somewhere in that deep blackness came a voice saying only hooooo and then chillllller. These days horror movies or shows remind me of how alone I am, skipping to the bathroom in the dark and back to an empty bed.  These days I’m in one of those episodes all the time.

***

It’s not that we shouldn’t be talking about my sister, his daughter, our kin, it’s just that we shouldn’t be talking. As in hearts would be lighter if we kept words out of it. We should be keeping that line, holding that grudge. But trees have that knack of sticking around, and I’m not going anywhere soon. So here we are, swaying and dying and returning to life and not talking about my little sister as best as I can manage. I have to remind my father. I’m right on point with, Let us remain positive; let us lift our chins. Let them not touch our breastbones in defeat.

***

Mom and a lot of her friends knew something was coming that evening and rustled all the kids into the top floor apartment where Mitzi had her little beauty parlor set up. It was the only place with a television. She turned on the television, told us not to go outside, and left. The channel it landed on happened to be showing the moment Katarina Witt took her second gold medal in figure skating events for East Germany.

All these years I’ve thought it was an argument about my mom, but that wasn’t even close. Daddy and the John guy were fighting over cocaine. And they were fighting, and yelling, more importantly, about cocaine loud enough so all of Fox Bottom could hear.

Estill Buchanan heard. And he called the police. He’d been waiting for a reason ever since Fleet moved into the bottom a year before and I blamed him hard at the time, but looking back on it I see he was an old man with no family. He was scared all the time.

***

It’s not that he died recently, alone at the head of a holler four counties away while I ate ice cream in Chevy Chase and later went to a Wildcat game. It’s not exactly that. It’s that the last time I saw him was at a victory party for his first cousin, a close family member who had just won an election for county clerk. He sat beside me when I got there and held out his hand for me to take. I didn’t take it. I still remember how the long hairs on his arm glowed in the sunlight and how he shrank into an old man when I got up to leave. It’s a ruination, forgiveness. I can’t have my mind changed about that. When he spoke he sounded like Shakespeare writing the Bible.

***

Before we talked through the wind in the leaves he gave me one, and only one, piece of advice that has lasted and never failed me. Always slap a man, and make sure you do it at the first sign there’s going to be trouble. They can’t charge you with any real conviction in a court of law for an open hand slap. This as opposed, of course, to a nice, tight fist. And, little missy - this is how he said it - and, little missy, it will break a man’s will with him standing right there in front of you.

***

When the police came the whole place lit up red and blue. The mountains went from dark to disco bright and dark again with trees flashing like Christmas lights. We all went to the windows to watch three cops drop Daddy to the ground and handcuff him. They dragged him belly-first to the squad car. It hurt like heartbreak at the time. It hurts like heartbreak now, and nothing makes me angrier. Not what happened, but that I still hurt.

So, yes, Katarina Witt won two gold medals for East Germany. That’s what I focused after the arrest. For weeks I followed news about Katarina Witt. I wanted to change my name to Katarina. Later on, the East German government gave her cars and jewelry, property and homes even, to keep her from defecting. I don’t know if she ever accepted any of the gifts but I always imagined she did. And I hated her for it, being famous, beautiful, successful, and getting gifts. And because it wasn’t only East Germany who loved her, the whole snobby world loved her.

***

I sat in a swing covered by a wedding ring quilt my aunt made. She was my dad’s older sister and therefore one of the few who would speak of him without reservation for the fragile and small amount of pride he had built up since prison. Part of that was this election win, his cousin’s day in the sun and, of course, his day in the sun. Maybe his first.

Seeing him move around the party so naturally, so organically, but, at the same time, with that underlying insecurity when he thought he might not be as welcome as he hoped reminded me of a wind hoping to gain strength but always held back by some object in its path. Even a force of nature is only as strong as the nature it encounters.

***

Little sister heard the same advice about taking a man’s pride by stunning him with an open hand but hardly listened. Something inside our father had been broken apart and my sister could see it, could sense it like a stench all over the man, and she was offended that she came from such weakness. She knew that for all the braggadocio and mustache pulling, our father was weak. The man’s desires made him so, the way he gave up on a thing the moment it took a little fight. His neediness. I was never able to feel that hurt as sharply. It never darkened my mind in the same way.

***

He had went from one end of Pike County to the other campaigning, knocking on doors the same way they did it in the old days. He bought votes; he drove those same voters to the polls. He attended church picnics by day and argued good old boy policies in honky tonk bars until they shut out the lights. And he loved every minute of it, that’s what it’s important for me to remember. The political process, the human side of it, the side where a campaign can become a spotlight to dance in, fed his ego. Now he wanted his daughter beside him, holding his hand at the victory party. He wanted the cake and wanted to eat it too. He wanted someone to bake it, in the meantime, and pay the grocery bill, pour the milk, light the candles. I’m of the mind that he’s old enough that his wants won’t hurt him.

***

But let us remain positive; let us lift our chins. Let them not touch our breastbones in defeat. Maybe I am a white oak and you are a hickory. And maybe you say one strong thing and it’s always another, weaker thing. So here we are, still talking and then not talking. The trees wave along the hillside, bending, but not for long. If taproots hold the ground here, you wouldn’t know it by the way the wind bullies them.

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