Flash

jason teal

EVERYONE TO BLAME by Jason Teal

In the past, when bodies turned up, or there were kidnappers, officers arrived on TV, badges glinting, to arrest the suspect. Marjorie is missing at the proctologist’s office, her job as office assistant. Maybe you are a suspect still.

Marjorie looked guilty. You remember that. You wish the phone receiver scalded her ear; you wish flames snaked across curled wallpaper like insects. You wish anything else happened, even if everything burned through and you had to start all over.

The call comes late at night, police knocking on your door. None of this seems real. No one has seen your boyfriend Simon for three days. Someone messed with his house, someone opened his mail, and last night, police found his truck, abandoned, with two slashed tires. Someone left dismembered doll parts in the truck bed. When you answer, you’re wearing one shoe, desperate for news. You’re lucky to wear one shoe considering you’re alive. Laying in the grass that night, the pieces don’t make sense: You lived with Marjorie and Simon’s dead and now you’re all covered in guilt. You survived.

This morning, the front door was open again. Put the chair back where it belongs. The kitchen smells like turpentine, scrubbed clean. So they found Simon, drowned and buried in the woods. You’re wanted for questioning. What’s the point of changing homes anymore?

“It’s not your fault,” said Marjorie. Remember she kept disappearing. They picked her up in Colorado once, heading west in a stolen RV. Simon had already been missing for weeks. Now there is a mini-series named for her (which is better than the independent movie from a few years before). Online forums dissect her memory. Here is one more reason: Marjorie was evicted previously for bogus claims of racket, records played too loud, high-pitched moaning and screaming. No one could guess what the song was supposed to be. Other applicants didn’t return your messages. In the interview Marjorie said, “I don’t even listen to music, like ever.” She was dressed typically in ripped blue jeans and a tie-die shirt, poor dreadlocks, wardrobe screaming Trustafarian.

Learn to trust yourself with time, purging Simon’s emails, little tokens planning love sprees, poems, inexpensive dates. Anyway: Marjorie stuck the note to your fridge, letters pasted together from magazines. The series didn’t capture her dark quiet. “I am dead tired,” you said one night unremarkably, but Marjorie stared at you too long, unconvinced, so you offered, “We can watch something else.” She made two cocktails, sweet mixes tasting like summer. You passed out hating work tomorrow, bingeing favorite cartoons and missing everyone from home. You didn’t tell anyone Simon still lived in town. Later, police think Marjorie picked up the phone, her voice springy like a used mattress. Your phone was in the kitchen. Remember—Marjorie helped you burn his photos a few days afterward. She kept a collection of old dolls.

You never go into her room.

At the morgue, you are shown the lobby. In here is cold tiles, old magazines stuck to each other. The room smells bad, and you can’t find a clock. It’s nowhere.

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jonah solheim

RECUERDA, OR THE CALL OF THE COMMON NIGHTHAWK by Jonah Solheim

He stood with his shoulder in the doorway, arms crossed, and she glared back at him.  The linoleum of the kitchen cold under her bare feet.  Another disparity between them, another contention: his slippers kept him warm.  He sniffed, more to do something than out of a biological need, and turned his head away from her.  She folded her arms, too, a soft click in her head telling her she was mirroring him and not caring to fully acknowledge the thought.  

Her feet cold and his warm.  The way of things.

In the heat of a moment now lying dead between them he had called her a bitch.  This was the final vocalized word the apartment walls had heard in ten minutes.  The sting of the word was as if no one else had ever uttered it before, as if he had saved it just for her, specifically to hurt her. But he had not budged from where he’d said it, as if the curse had roots.

An art deco print hung behind him.  She had always hated it and would never tell him, not even if they made up this time.  It was amorphously daubed, apparently with a child’s finger paints; the variety of colors seemed schizophrenic without context.  The title, in tiny black print at the bottom, provided no such reprieve.  

Recuerda.  

Fine, she thought, glaring past him.  I can remember.  I can remember a great deal.

I can remember last fall, trucking your sorry ass to a movie theater thirty miles away to get tickets for some new “experience,” only to find out they sold out the day before, and we should really check the website first next time.

(In her memory she skips past the part where, on the way home, dejected and irritated, they stopped for hot apple cider at a local farmer’s market and did not fight again for another three months.)

I can remember listening to the Cocteau Twins in your basement and racing to see who could guess the lyrics first and you not telling me you had memorized their first three albums while you were in the hospital the first time.

(She also conveniently excises his second hospital stay, when they both discovered John Williams — the classical guitarist, not the composer.)

I can remember finding you in the bathroom, doubled over, hands pressed to your torso as if holding in your own entrails, puke in the tub and tears in your eyes.  I can remember that.

These memories and still others flashed and sizzled across her mind like finger-flung water on a hot pan.  His shoulder’s nearness to the jamb caused a phantom ache as if he’d been punched, but he would not move.  He saw her determined look.  His stomach cringed at its potency; a cancerous churning started somewhere deep.  He followed her gaze to the painting, a gift from his aunt —- the eccentric one, not the lesbian schoolteacher.  He glanced back at her and tore himself from place, to the painting, to take the thing off the wall.  After a pensive moment, staring at the brighter space on the sun-drenched wall (now embittered by an ink black night), he broke the frame across his knee.  Glass sprayed into the carpet, across the linoleum towards her bare feet.  He looked up at her.

Her lips pursed, but no words came up her throat to move them.  A silence as wide as the one between them now roared behind her forehead, immaculately conceived goldfish in a dark bowl.  She could feel right down to her chilly toes a vacancy of charity on her part, as if the need to communicate with him was far outweighed by her own need to hide her stale bemusement with their situation.  This need growing as the wordless moments fled their rage. They could stay here all night and nothing would change; this they both knew. Yes.  He could break every painting in the place and she still wouldn’t have anything to say to him. An impasse.

His hand, nicked by an errant piece of glass, ran over his face, leaving a thin red streak from chin to temple.  He blew air out through his mouth, as close to a response to her grim nothing as anything.  The broken frame slunk to the floor, making a lopsided triangle over his left slipper.  His stomach lurched again, and he dared to let his eyes pass hers.  Four icy and silent lighthouses, manned by apathetic keepers both struggling to become beacons of apology.

She knew the look, registered it with a small splashback of similar memories to reinforce it, and did her best to remain outwardly unconcerned.  But where his health was involved, she was not impassive.  Could not be.  In that arena she was positively verbose, normally.  The muscles in her foot made like they wanted to lift, but the larger ones above remained frozen, so she stood there on cold linoleum with a half-tensed foot for a moment or two before relaxing again.  Tiny diamonds on the yellow floor, winking.

The novelty clock by the refrigerator chimed ten: the call of a common nighthawk.  He moved suddenly, pushed past her as she listened to it, startling her back a few steps.  His hand — her favorite one, the left — closed around the dustpan and a small brush.  With his arm he gently pushed on her shins so he could sweep up his mess.  She let him.  When he moved to dump the pieces in the trash, she stepped into the hallway, feeling as though she were passing through the ghost of his shadow as she bent past the jamb.  Began making a small pile of shards in a cupped palm.

He made a sound in his throat — ut — like his throat got sealed off before a real word could come out.  He saw her bare feet.  She turned the corners of her mouth down and kept preening the carpet fibers, ignoring the shard she could feel poking into her heel.  She had a flash of a monkey in Borneo performing the same action to its mate, two other nonverbal life partners stuck in a rut.  His sweeping brought him close enough that she could smell his body, and she cursed herself for wanting it so suddenly.  Some intoxicant, having a form other than hers to explore.  If she closed her eyes and ran her fingertips across him in the dark, she could take herself to an alien land with an utterly indescribable landscape.  This land also lived behind her forehead, pebbly kitsch for the fishbowl.  She didn’t know how to tell him this, so she didn’t.  Thoughts banged against the frontal bone of her skull, dead on arrival.

She stood with her shoulder in the doorway.  Arms limp. He sighed again and put his hands on his hips.

Remember, he said, when this was easy?

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jim ruland

RECOMMENCE by Jim Ruland

Carol is calling from Los Angeles. She wants to know how the cat piece is going. The cat piece isn’t going is how it’s going. I write for a golf magazine. Not the magazine per se, but the blog. A golf blog. I hate everything about it. Its obsession with swing mechanics. Its upper crust entitlement. I even hate the way it sounds. Golf blog. It reminds me of the noise that escaped from my brother-in-law the time he got a piece of $6 gristle stuck in his windpipe and almost died. When the waiter delivered his filet mignon he’d cut it into pieces and calculated the price of each bite. Damn right I’m eating the gristle. This is a $6 piece of gristle. And they say there’s no justice in this world. Carol wants a cat piece for the golf blog because “cats are Internet.” I don’t even know how to parse that sentence, yet I know exactly what she means. I’m the fashion writer, which means I have to find a way to bring golf and fashion and cats together in a way that will make golfers want to click on every hyperlink and banner ad on the page. Welcome to my $6 gristle. I can hear voices in the background, the gently mocking commands of Vietnamese aestheticians, which means Carol’s at the salon getting her putting surface waxed. Carol makes verbs out of the names of websites and signs off. The combination of golf + fashion + cats sends me to sites where the word “catwalk” is prominently positioned. One of them links me back to one of my own pieces. I chop up some off-brand Xanax and try my luck with videos and end up in a wormhole of cats imbued with powers that nature never intended. Fighting cats. Flying cats. Magic cats scorching mice with laser beams shooting out of their eyes. Then: pay dirt. A kitten on a putting green playing with a golf ball. Adorable. Ovary melting even. The kitten bats the ball around and then pounces on it. The ball squirts away and the ritual recommences over and over again until the dimpled sphere rolls toward the hole with dreadful finality and disappears in the cup. Camera closes in on the kitten with its WTF? Face before pulling back on a golf clapping foursome, every one of them dressed to the nines. I hit refresh a couple hundred times and wake up to the sound of the phone. It’s Carol. She wants to know how the cat piece is coming. I look at the screen and a video plays of little girl burying a shoebox in the ground sing-saying, Bye-bye, Fluffy. Bye-bye, Fluffy. Bye-bye, Fluffy. Goodbye.

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hannah stevens

CALL OF THE CIRCUS by Hannah Stevens

She didn’t know they were coming but she knew when they’d arrived. It was April and the weather was too good for the time of year.

She heard the noise on the breeze: the faint, twisted sound of faraway music from a tent. She was outside and sat on steps framed by wisteria. Purple flowers hung from the thin tangled limbs of the plant and the heavy, tapered bunches reminded her of grape vines. Her feet were pale and bare and the tops of them burned.

Every few minutes there was a lyric caught between the music in the air. Adel put on her shoes and began to walk towards the music. As a child she’d felt compelled to follow ice-cream vans and her mother had lost her more than once. It had never been the sweet things that drew her because they’d always hurt her teeth: it was the colour and noise that she’d had to chase.

The circus tent stood in the fields across the main road. It was tall and she could see the red top and stripes high above street signs and hedges. The sky above it was dark blue but faded to paler shades as it got closer to the earth. It hadn’t rained for weeks and the dust in the air turned orange in the falling sun.

Later, when Noah was home, she told him they would eat in the garden. It was Sunday and he’d been working overtime again. Outside, she’d already lit the barbeque and the coals were silver and hot. Coloured bowls of salad and rice were laid on the table and she’d chopped radishes in the shape of jagged flower heads.

‘We’re eating outside tonight,’ she said, ‘you just need to bring the wine and glasses.’ She handed him a cold, cloudy bottle from the fridge and watched as the condensation ran down its neck.

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘but what about the bugs: I’ll be bitten all over.’ He looked at her but she was already in the arch of the door.

‘There’s something in the cupboard for that,’ she said without turning her head. ‘I’ll see you outside.’

It was past ten now and though the garden was dark the sky still had patches of blue. It was as if day was waiting for something and wouldn’t leave.

‘Look at that,’ Adel said and pointed upwards.

‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘it reminds me of a toy I had as a child: it was like a jigsaw puzzle except it was made of wooden blocks. You flipped them over one way and it was a night scene. You flipped them the other and it was day. Sometimes I only turned half so it could be both at the same time. I always wanted it all, even then.’ He laughed.

‘That’s sweet,’ she said even though she didn’t mean it.

‘Maybe we’ll get something similar when we have children,’ he said and looked at her in that way he always did when he wanted something. She picked up the folded blanket beside her and pulled it across her legs.

She remembered the time she’d thought she was pregnant. It wasn’t that long ago and she remembered the sick feeling and how she couldn’t bear to do a test. Instead she’d looked up abortion clinics and how they did it. When Noah asked what made her restless at night she’d said it was work. Or maybe she was eating too late. It was probably just one of those things, you know how it is. In the end there’d been nothing to worry about after all. Either she’d miscounted the dates or nature had solved the problem for her.

‘Shall we go inside?’ he said. ‘I think I’ve been bitten. Plus we’ve both got early starts tomorrow and you look tired.’

She thought of the drive to work in the morning and reading the same street names as she passed them. She thought of the traffic crawling at its painful pace during rush hour and parents at school gates with purple circles beneath eyes they could barely keep open.

‘You go,’ she said, ‘I’m staying out a little bit longer.’

‘What about the cleaning up?’ he asked.

‘It can wait,’ she said. ‘Let’s be reckless.’ She picked up her glass then and swallowed the last of the wine.

‘Okay, just this once,’ he laughed and then he kissed her nose which felt cold now.

She waited until she heard the click of the door as it closed. Then she stood up and crossed the garden. The grass was cool and she could feel the material of her canvas shoes dampen as she walked. She stopped at the top of the driveway. A few seconds passed. There was still the sound of music but it was fainter now: maybe the circus had finished for the night. She hesitated for a moment and then stepped onto the pavement.

There were caravans lined up in neat rows behind the circus tent. In some she could see lights glowing from behind drawn curtains while others were in darkness. She wondered who was inside and if any of them were sleeping yet. There was noise coming from the circus tent and the music was louder there. She pushed aside the material that had been untied from its guy ropes and now hung across the entrance.

String lights were suspended from the ceiling and curled around supporting poles and ropes. They were shaped like lanterns and glowed red, yellow, green and blue. There were clowns in the centre of the tent and she watched as they stacked chairs and put props into boxes. Adel noticed a pile of empty beer bottles.

‘Are you okay?’ a clown in braces with bare feet asked.

‘Yes’, she said, ‘I was just having a look.’

‘Well the show’s over now, you missed it,’ said the clown, ‘but you can join us for a drink if you want.’ There was a gesture towards seats close to where Adel stood. She took a few steps and sat down. The clown offered her a bottle of beer and she leant forward to take it.

It was hot in the tent: the heat was damp and humid and Adel tasted salt on her lips. The clowns were still wearing their makeup and she wondered if she would recognise any of them once they’d taken it off. The clown next to Adel had smudged some of the white paint across her face and flashes of peach were slashed across her forehead.

Someone turned up the music and then there was dancing.

‘Let’s dance,’ said the clown with the smudge. She held out her hand as if inviting Adel to a formal waltz. Adel laughed and stood up. The clown’s hand was cool in spite of the heat and she was surprised.

‘When are you leaving?’ Adel said.

‘Tomorrow,’ said the clown and raised an eyebrow. ‘In the morning when most people will still be asleep.’ Adel could feel her phone as it buzzed in her pocket. It was Noah but she didn’t answer. The clown’s shirt was undone now and there was a vest she could see through beneath. A giant blue bow was still tied across her throat and she touched it. It was soft between her fingertips.

‘Even after all these beers?’ Adel asked and lifted her empty bottle into the air.

‘Of course,’ said the clown and she pulled Adel closer. ‘Come with us.’

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TIME TO MEET YOUR GOD by Chris Dankland

Mr. Coyote stuck his long down-curved nose through a crack in his apartment door. He pushed his head outside and looked left. He sniffed the stale apartment building hallway. He looked right. Nobody there. Thirty seconds later he left his posh 30th floor apartment holding a big bag of trash slung over his shoulder. He was wearing black gloves. Mr. Coyote calmly walked down the hall, opened the building trash chute, and dumped the bag of trash down the chute. He looked left. He sniffed the stale apartment building hallway. He looked right. And that, he thought, is the end of that.

Three hours ago, he’d been staring at a traveling collection of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The paintings were showing at the MoMA. They were exquisite. His favorite was a painting called Venus, showing a petite naked woman holding a transparent veil. Her eyes were thin and cat-like. Her thin pink lips were dented in a narcotic grin. Mr. Coyote couldn’t help but get as hard as a rock as he stared at her perfect painted skin. The true sign of a masterpiece.

The painting was still superimposed over his brain as he walked out the museum doors into the hot summer air, heavy with the smell of street piss and exhaust. Under his breath he absentmindedly mumbled the lyrics to Mystic Stylez as he strolled down the sidewalk a long way. Mr. Coyote suddenly looked up. He stopped. A petite teenager in a red t-shirt and jeans was passed out on the street, half leaning on a park gate. She obviously homeless. A thin layer of grime had accumulated sweat coated her skin. Her emaciated body spelled out junkie. Mr. Coyote though she was gorgeous. He walked closer and looked down at her. Two braless nipples poked through her skimpy t-shirt. Her jeans hung off her sharp skeleton hips, showing a small white lip of panties around the edge. Her thin pink lips were dented in a narcotic grin. Mr. Coyote put his hands in his pockets and moved them around.

A minute later he pulled out a bottle of Oxycontin. He bent down and shook the girl’s shoulder, shaking the pill bottle. Hey, he said, shaking her. Hey there. Do you see?

The girl stirred and slowly opened her eyes. She must have been doped up to seventh heaven. Anyone else who had been woken up in that position would have bolted upright. But this girl nearly climbed into his arms. Her eyes slowly flickered to life like a newborn butterfly. The girl looked up at him. She moaned, her body full of sleep. Daddy? she mumbled. Is that you, daddy?

He held the pill bottle inches before her face and shook it. That seemed to wake her up a little. Holy shit, she said.

That’s right, said Mr. Coyote. Holiest thing in the city.

She slowly looked up at him with purring kitten eyes. What do you want? she asked.

I want you to follow me home, said Mr. Coyote. Understand?

She nodded. I’ll follow you home, Daddy. She stood up, stumbling a little. Her clothes sagged off her. She was halfway dead already. Lead the way, she said.

Mr. Coyote shook his head. You walk in front of me and I’ll tell you the way.

The girl grinned. But I’m so little, Daddy, I’m not gonna hurt you.

It doesn’t take much muscle to slip a knife into somebody’s kidney and make off with their pills, he said.

She laughed. Do you have a cigarette?

Sure, he said. What kind do you smoke.

I don’t care, whatever you got. I like Camel Lights.

Mr. Coyote put his hands in his pocket and moved them around. A minute later he pulled out a pack of Camel Lights.

Thank you, Daddy. She pulled a cigarette from the pack and he lit it for her. Where’d you get that big bottle from, hmm?

Mr. Coyote put the cigarette pack in his pocket, pulled his hand out again, and pointed. My apartment is that way, he said.

She took a long drag and turned around and started walking. A long silver river of smoke curved through the city air as she moved from one cracked cement square to another with Mr. Coyote close behind. They walked four blocks like that, and she hardly turned around to look at him. She could feel his gaze on her body. She knew that he was following her as much as she was following him. Her tiny skeleton ass was fastened to his black, flesh devouring pupils. She was going to get high, all right. And anything else she could get, too. She was young and confident and stupid.

Back at his apartment, Mr. Coyote had her get on her knees and open her mouth to receive the pills he doled out. He put the pills on her tongue like a priest giving out the sacraments. He sat down on his expensive sofa and waited for them to kick in. He played Mystic Stylez on the stereo.

Soon the girl was floating through the apartment like a helium balloon, swaying and bobbing in the air, taking off her clothes exactly like he told her.

Mr. Coyote narrowed his eyes and stared at her. He licked his lips and spoke. You’re one of my babies, aren’t you? I think I recognize you.

Yesssss, said the girl. She floated through the apartment like a plastic bag in the wind. You’re my daddy.

As the girl’s body grew lighter and more and more weightless, the apartment darkened and sunk. Although they were on the 30th floor, the apartment was sinking underground, down below the never-ending battlefield of bloody, twitching hearts. The apartment was sinking down into the trenches. Down into the bone fields we call earth.

A flash of realization struck Mr. Coyote’s face. You’re a child of mine, he said. He stood up, walked over to the girl, grabbed her hands, and pushed his face close. The girl was suddenly frightened. Yes, said Mr. Coyote. Yes. Yes, I’m sure of it.

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sam pink

INTERVIEW WITH SAM PINK by Benjamin Scott

Sam Pink is the author of a dozen books, including Person, The No Hellos Diet, Hurt Others,  and Witch Piss.  I interviewed him about his latest book The Garbage Times/White Ibis, his paintings, and his time living in Florida.

BS: You lived in Chicago for a while but several years ago you moved to Florida. What sparked the move and why have you moved back to Chicago?

SP: I moved to Florida for the person I was dating. I moved back when we broke up.

BS: Sorry to hear about that. Does Chicago seem different? Where is the best place to eat in Chicago?

SP: Yes, it seems different, in that I view it differently but also that it is has slightly changed. The best place to eat is Arturo's on Western.

BS: You have a book coming out next month that contains two novellas: The Garbage Times/White Ibis. What are they about?

SP: The Garbage Times is about working at a bar in Chicago. White Ibis is about moving to Florida. They are also about a whole range of other things, both intended and unintended.

BS: Are you planning on doing any public readings? Or attending writer events/conferences?

SP: Yeah I have some readings set up, and hopefully more this year. I enjoy doing readings. I went to AWP this year as well.

BS: Your last book came out in 2014 you spent most of the past couple years painting while in Florida. How were the hurricanes?

SP: The hurricanes, where I was at, were very mild. I had an experience during one of them though. I went to my girlfriend's parents' house to hunker down because the news made it seem like the entire state was going to die. And as the time for the storm drew nearer, I had a panic attack (like heart racing and unable to stop thinking/calm down) consisting of envisioning the storm hitting, like visualizing the destruction of the wind, the walls of the house coming down and being pulled away by water, trying to save people, dying, etc., which continued to escalate in a way that was hard to endure, but then when I identified that there was a bad storm coming, and nowhere I could go, and that I'd have to try and survive and help the people around me survive as best I could, and that was just how it would be, I immediately became calm, and almost at the same time, the storm changed course and weakened and became nothing.

BS: How many paintings do you think you made?

SP: Including drawings, probably 200/250 or so.

BS: Do you plan on doing more?

SP: Yes, I just don't have a place to paint right now.

BS: Did you ever take any art classes in school?

SP: I took an art class in high school, which was basically like a crafts class/babysitting class.

BS: Why are art teachers quirky?

SP: Some spirits do different dances to get out.

BS: Where did you work while living in Florida?

SP: I was a dishwasher, a home remodeller, a medical warehouse employee, a machine operator, and an ice cream man. I interviewed to be a mortuary driver, but felt like the protocol of only sending me and not two people to pick up dead bodies was unreasonable.

BS: What is the worst/weirdest job you've ever had?

SP: (lights cigarette and looks off to side) Being me, dude.

BS: Are you working since you've moved back to Chicago?

SP: Not really, I'm looking for a job.

BS: How would you describe your books?  

SP: I wouldn't describe them. That's what the words inside are for. Plus I honestly think other people understand what the books are about better than me, based off what they've told me throughout the years.  

BS: Would you consider your books socially political as many of the characters/narrators are not out in front of society?

SP: Yes, in that you can interpret almost anything politically/socially. But no, in terms of any explicit ideas.

BS: Do you have a writing process? Do you make notes or have any habits? Does it take you a long time to write a book?

SP: Kind of. Usually I have a bunch of notes I've written down, or scenes I want to write, and then begin developing them. Usually takes a year to write a book.

BS: What inspired you to first start writing and painting?

SP: My spirit.

BS: While following your painting output I've  noticed they tended to get bigger and the patterns/colors would change. When painting do you just use whatever materials are around or do you seek out certain colors brush's medium etc? Do you still have paintings for sale?

SP: I used to, and sometimes still do, use whatever is around.  It helps to break patterns, and different tools do different things. But I have also gotten into purchasing art supplies, like specific colors, canvases, etc. I have two paintings for sale still.

BS: Do you work on one project (book/painting) at a time or do you jump between them?  Are many of your paintings related to the content of any of your books?

SP: Usually one at a time. My mind usually tells me when to switch. Like if I feel less enthused about writing, then I switch, and vice versa.  None of the paintings are directly related, but I have used them for book covers, etc., and also, I reference painting in White Ibis.

BS: Are there any authors that influenced your writing style?

SP: Yeah, but more in the way that they encourage me to 'tag in' and contribute, rather than giving me style points. I feel more influenced to 'do something' when encountering stuff that inspires me, rather than, 'I should do stuff like that.' Style is personality. Your personality is  your style. Even if you're writing about aliens, those are aliens from your personality.

BS: How do you feel about the current political climate in the USA and globally?

SP: Haha, man...

BS: Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones?

SP: No.

BS: How many cats do you have? What are there names?

SP: I have two, Benny and Dotty.

BS: Which authors/books do people need to read now?

SP: Oh man, too many to list and remember right now. I try to support as many of them as I can, with what ability I have. But there's a crop coming up that is kablooey. There are writers and painters and other people coming up right now that are doing a lot to make me excited. Don't worry about them just yet, they will announce when they're ready. One book people need to for sure read is Welfare by Steve Anwyll, coming out this fall from Tyrant Press. They have paid me nothing to say this.

BS: Why should people buy your book and where can they buy it?

PS: Because it will entertain them and maybe do other weird things with their mind and because I'm a sweetheart. They can order now through Soft Skull Press, or through various online and physical locations on may 1st when it comes out.

BS: Are you working on any future projects now?

SP: Yes, I'm working on a book of short stories that is pretty much done.  It's called The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories.

NEXT: EXCERPT FROM LIVEBLOG by Megan Boyle

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daniel handelman

HONOR SYSTEM by Daniel Handelman

"Maybe some people have both,” she said.

She was rolling up a joint. It had too much weed in it. The edges didn’t connect.

“The way she writes the male,” she said. “She knows the male. But does the male know the female?”

She leaned back into the couch. They’d gone to a motel. There was no Americana, no plastic flamingoes. It was a motel with none of that. It wasn’t what she pictured.

“There must be a male who knows the female,” he said. “Out of seven billion people, it is possible there is a male who knows the female.”

“Maybe,” she said. She removed a pinch of weed and sprinkled it on the coffee table. The joint wrapped up nicely now. She licked the seam, then offered it to him.

He shook his head.

“Sure?” she said, holding it an inch higher.

They sat looking an old TV. She lit the joint.

“Are we fighting?” she said.

“No.”

“You can tell me if we are fighting.”

It was night. A thin slice of light came through the curtains, splitting apart a watercolor of a boat and churning sea.

“We are fighting,” he said.

She leaned forward a little off the couch, her head between her knees.

“Getting in bed,” she said.

She took off her boots and pants and fell onto the mattress, bouncing, the crunch of springs.

“Would you wear jewelry?” she said from the bed.

“Jewelry?” he said.

“I wear this,” she said, holding up her hand. “The ring you gave me. You’ve never worn jewelry?”

“I wore a Saint Christopher,” he said, thinking. “And pookah shells. That was middle school, the mid-nineties.”

“Not now? — in the late teens?”

“I have the shirt,” he said, looking down at it. He liked it. There was a shark on it.

“No,” she said. “Something significant.”

*

In the morning she was up and out of the room before he woke.

He went out onto the balcony. The sun was a weak glob.

He saw her approaching, her head bobbing, jogging. She came up the stairs and slid her keycard. She took off her running shorts and shirt, then got in the shower.

His neck hurt. He stretched out on the floor, flipped through channels.

*

They drove to a gas station. A bird pecked at an oily puddle. They bought a bottle of wine and poured it into a canteen.

On the highway they didn’t talk but could feel the tension loosening. They were starting to feel happy. Some thick film between them breaking apart. Palm trees swayed freely. Cars on the road seemed friendlier.

They drove and drove through less and less civilization. Fast food, names of DUI lawyers. Everything was sweating. The freeway became a two-lane highway. Dirt roads led off into woods marked by bunches of mailboxes.

*

They came to a fruit shack.

They walked down the aisle of bananas, mangos, guava.

Coconut, watermelon.

He picked up a mango and put it to his nose. “This one,” he said.

She took it and set it down at the register. She added a hand of bananas and a guava.

They looked around.

“Nobody’s here.”

At the register was a lock box with a slot in it, a list of fruit and their prices.

“It’s an honor system,” she said.

She took out some money from her bag. He went back to the car for quarters. They kept expecting someone to appear, to take their money, but no one did.

It was getting dark. The two-lane highway connected with a freeway, back to civilization, where they came to the brand of motel they’d stayed at the night before. The woman at the front desk looked similar to the other, and for a moment they felt like they’d gone in a circle.

“Can you recommend anything for dinner?” she asked the woman.

“Mall’s your best bet,” she said. “Just down the road.”

In the mall, she lost him on purpose. When she tapped his shoulder, he hadn’t known she’d gone.

*

Back at the motel she reached in her bag and took out a gift box.

“For you.”

He pulled apart the ribbon and slid off the top. There was a locket, a gold heart on a silver chain, and a ring with a blue stone.

“Do you like it?” she said.

He put on the ring. She helped him with the necklace, turned him around and kissed him, took his hand and put it under her shirt.

He had the thought that he was her. That he wanted to be wearing her lingerie.

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rebecca gransden

BABY WITH A FLAMETHROWER, CHEWING GUM ON A MOUNTAIN by Rebecca Gransden

Stay back!

I will melt your mugs with fire if you move an inch, you police cordon shitmorons.

Your pink stinks.

Especially you. Stares at squat policewoman centre left

I’ve filed my baby teeth into pointy baby fangs, and I will bite with my baby jaw if you try to stop me. The pitball in the alley showed me how to do it. I watched its eyes too, you know.

Baby arcs flamethrower flame overhead making an infernal rainbow against a starry ink sky

My burping today is toxic gas, regurgitated from last night, from the barrels of radioactive waste I found at the back of the supermarket. Yes, I guzzled them. I’m a baby! I’m a chubby flesh house of tantrum and mayhem! I will have my barrels to feast upon, my chemical dummy to furiously suck, my substitute nipple of chaos and disaster! Bring them to me or I will burn you until it’s not funny anymore.

Police officer uses megaphone to address baby but baby cannot hear due to whooshing of flamethrower going berserk

Nom, nom, nom. Just thinking of it now gets me going. Green sludge of my dreams. Every second without it is a nightmare! I will unleash fury of the like your tiny minds cannot comprehend if I’m deprived any longer. Where is my waste? Get me my barrels, you incompetent inverted dick whistlers!

The police line retreats and huddles in a circle, deliberating

Baby goose-steps along the mountain path, the city at night displayed below

One of the officers breaks free from the circle and screams through the megaphone Stop doing that, it constitutes a form of hate speech”

You are going to make a point? Now?

Baby’s eyes glow with red rage

I’m a freewheeling baby without a care in the world, strutting the land on which I was born. I’m brand new and that’s a fact, and this, this? is how you react? You can’t swallow the freedom, can’t stand my show. You’re a baby too, didn’t you know?

The megaphone says Stop rhyming. I find it offensive”

Couplets, smuplets. You let me be, or I’ll fry every one of ye. See this fire, see this flame, I see the whites of eyes resplendent tonight, in my firelight.

Baby shoots a bolt of flame like a waterfall

Wanna be crispy? Wanna be a delight! Roast you up on a spit, fry your innards, cook your fingers, that barbecue aroma so sweatily lingers, onions and oil stench from your skin, endlessly turning. What a sight, what a smell, my fangs gnash in chomps of glee, in this future, that will be, surely. Now get me my barrels before hell is raised, and you, my stinky chums, are glazed.

Fuck off”

I’m getting ready to go turbo, up to the max. I’ve been pumping iron while weeping, in preparation for this day. There’s nothing you can surprise me with.

The circle disbands and a hefty police officer steps from her parting colleagues, a bazooka on her shoulder

Holy shit! Don’t bazooka me. Overkill! I’m just a baby! Baby cries Mother!

A man in a casual suit sidles up to bazooka woman, calmly takes the megaphone from the other officer and says My name is Mike Oldfield. Would you like us to contact your mother for you?”

Still crying No. I don’t want her to see me like this. Because I’d kill her. I’d pyre her just like the rest of you. Snot cries of disgust Get that patronising negotiator away from me. Give me a stake and I’ll burn you black on it. Yum.

The man slinks off, leaving bazooka policewoman to confirm her readiness with a wide load-bearing leg stance

You’re nearing your end, the end of you, flamed by an infant with an addiction to goo. What a travesty, a glorious way to expire, I’ll give you a way to be remembered, I know you care a lot about that, with your badges and accolades and slaps on the back. You drew the line of duty, and perished, what fun. Do you want me to disembowel you to add symbolic weight to your desisting? Hail me with bazooka! Split my entrails to bits, let’s see my flesh fly over this cretinous city, to the earth, a zit.

The officer picks up the megaphone and says For the record, why are you doing this?”

I’m bored. And your face hurts my eyes with its disinterest. I’m chewing this gum I’ve collected since I was born. When I slapped my way out of the afterbirth I had become conscious on, across a concrete wetted with the fluids of my birth, I lifted the umbilical, which had nearly strangled me, from my blue neck and took some breaths filled with ammonia and rot. I left my mother’s carcass to the back alley predators and crawled away shaking and weak. On my way to finding my feet the path was decorated with gum of many colours, smells, and, I discovered, tastes. Soon I was using my baby energies to claw the flattened gum away from the street, until I had a precious ball made from each piece squished together, a chewy gobstopper linking me to humanity, all those mouths turning the gum against their tongues, biting down with their teeth, infusing with their saliva and cells. Now I have them, I can taste them, every one of them. So give me my barrels! That slime is the only thing I’ve eaten that takes the taste away. Cleanse my palate, you rancid harbingers of nothing!

Flamethrower roars

Die, die, die! This infant malcontent will atomic bomb your soul in a booming eruption of fire vomit. I can hear your molecules praying. Squeal as you kneel, fucksters!

Bazooka whooshes from inside ball of hellfire and screaming

And misses

Not even a comeuppance!

Bazooka hits the hillside behind baby and shakes the mountain

The officers continue to die and moan

With my flamethrower ablaze I shall hit the city.

Baby waddles towards the twinkling city lights, thrusting the spewing head of flame forwards

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WHERE WE LEFT IXIAN COUNTY by Tobias Carroll

The suburbs of tiny Ixian County were unmade in the torrents and floods of 2003. After the waters had abated they left behind a highway exit, a handful of roads, and little else. Four towns’ worth of ruins and a farm, abandoned to bankruptcy years before, that had gone largely untouched. That was it. The ruined barn and the decomposing silos, now home to hundreds of bats that dined on the county’s grotesque moth population, mocked us all.

The mudslides, swore the relevant parties, were finished; the mudslides would never come again. Infrastructure was being built, they promised, at this very moment. Infrastructure would hold future mudslides at bay, and could perhaps even be yoked to some other sprawling plan, some sort of perpetual-motion device or industrial-strength divining rod. And so the municipalities of Ixian County were conjoined. Efforts to decipher this collage were heatedly debated. And so commenced the developments, the spirals, the roads that evoked cul-de-sacs but were something altogether different. This was our introduction into the future of our community; this was our introduction into some hallowed hole toward the mythic.

Call it the work of Glenn Detlof, the Robert Moses of Ixian County, if Robert Moses had been a recluse with mystical leanings who dressed like an aging Gram Parsons. Concentric rings, he said, and let the silence hang. He spoke about it all the time, at community meetings and news conferences and conversations both on and off the record with members of the local media. Periodically he raised the subject in formal interviews with certain publications dedicated to progressive and eccentric strains of urban planning and architecture.

Glenn Detlof looked at the received wisdom regarding how you built a neighborhood and a community and he chortled. Most people would say, housing development and housing development and housing development along a main road and along that main road you’d have your shops, your restaurants, your bars, your automotive dealerships, your magic shops, your pet stores, your trickery, your pizzerias, your bookstores, your adult bookstores, your florists, your vape shops, your other vape shops, your vape shops that first appeared to be something other than vape shops, your liquor stores, your toy stores, your furniture stores, your afterschool tutoring centers, and your institutes for distance learning.

Glenn Detlof said, no. Said, here’s what we do: we put those buildings at the center and we build the houses around them. So that’s why you find the burger franchise in among the homes and lawns of a neighborhood hundreds strong. That’s why the bait and tackle shop scalded into oblivion was reborn adjacent to two modest ranch houses in a tree-lined part of town. And that’s why several residents of the Millstone Acres neighborhood could walk to their local pharmacy and liquor store and puzzle shop. Why the age-restricted housing with the interstate humming in the distance was also adjacent to the local branch of a salad chain with a cult following.

We had a couple of reporters show up. We saw photographers waiting for the perfect day for a photo that would capture the arc and the full splendor of the sum total of the rebuilt community. Sometimes we’d see drones flying overhead on clear days to document the arrangement of buildings and greenery. It seemed great. It seemed wonderful. We didn’t see where it was all headed.

A reporter from Dwell asked a few of us if we ever headed to the point where the streets ended, after all the homes and businesses had ebbed away. And all of us asked shook our heads. Fewer of us began to wonder. True, we did hear strange sounds in the night. Some of us. Pursuit, perhaps. Or something prompt, in search of prey.

In retrospect, we’re all a little disappointed that no one said the word labyrinth when Glenn Detlof was around to hear the question. It really should have been obvious. I mean, have you seen a picture of Glenn Detlof? Picture Rasputin in a Nudie suit, and there you go. We should have been suspicious about Glenn Detlof’s designs on Ixian County, is all we’re saying. The man was, in retrospect, quite sinister.

Admittedly, even as we’d looked back on his body of work, there wasn’t much precedent for the work he did in Ixian County. He’d done master plans for a neighborhood that looked like a New Urbanist Tiki bar; he’d been involved in this floating city in northern Maine that no one could be sure was real. I mean, we saw photos, but they could have been faked. They could have been models. That one guy’s shirt could have been painted on. We didn’t know.

After it all went wrong, we spent a lot of time looking for the clues. The spiral designs were obvious. The branching nature of streets and paths. We lived in the suburbs; we had GPS to rely on. The seemingly random arrangement of streets was never unruly with mechanical voices guiding us. And the shops and the food establishments were all further in to the clusters than our homes. We would do our errands and get out. We never needed to proceed deeper in.

But that was the mistake, wasn’t it? Maybe we might have seen the things that served as warnings. Perhaps we’d have seen the watchtowers or the pits. Perhaps we’d have seen space for an oracle, steam still rising from the ground, awaiting someone to inhale the fumes and prophesy. Perhaps we’d have wondered just how the mudslides came; we’d have wondered if Glenn Detlof had been serving the whims of some old forgotten god and had made with some sort of ritual, some kind of summoning.

We’d have wondered if we lived on a new sort of altar; we’d have wondered if we were meant to be the priests or the offering.

But that was still to come. Most nights we celebrated this new space. We embraced its freedom and its strange avenues and the artist who’d conceived of it. We didn’t wonder about the other things; we didn’t comprehend. We didn’t shudder in our beds, dreaming of pursuit. That was still to come.

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A FEMININE DARKNESS REBORN: REVIEW OF MOTHER! by Christina Antonovskaya

(Warning: spoilers)

We were looking for the room at Champagne Centre for the appointment, and I found a pin on the ground that has “I feel it all” written on it and an image of a woman smoking printed on it. I took it and put it in the left pocket of my pea coat and will probably keep it there. This quote resonates with me and also with the themes of the script and film.

Impurity, more exact, the myth of pureness is depicted through Mother’s character with physiology, vicarious causation of surroundings, and the creator of Mother himself, as when Woman subtly hints that she is young enough to be his daughter. Mother has no choice but to be directly affected, as she is the house and the house is her, and whatever happens to one also happens to the other. She becomes “tainted” as the disciples enter. Meanwhile, Man and Woman both contribute as Man/mankind is literally dying and Woman is menacing with her unruly behaviour and minimal appreciation of consequences.

Labour of care and emotions as compassion

Even though Mother is selfless, this emotional labour is not necessarily reciprocated, and instead is diminished by the human desires associated with selfishness and money. Mother is unable to really relate to the motifs of the Sons at the level of resentment they feel towards each other due to problems caused by these same weaknesses of human nature. Yet, it still pains her to watch what happens. Mother is humane, but not really a human like them or us.

Nobody else is as connected to the house as she is, and while there are moments that lead up to immense pain and suffering, she is not at fault for it. Mother, much like real mothers and women do, committed to sacrifices and experienced significant loss.

The current climate

Current events within the year proved hubris of our need to invade the natural environment for our own purposes; government allowance of creating more infrastructure and development of oil and gas rigs and excavation, digging into the earth, minimizing nature’s resources more and more, and scientific “progress” that has questionable or uncertain consequences. Biblical allegories as warnings, or else history will repeat itself, and now it is us having to face it if we don’t pay attention.

Reference is made to Mother also as the subservient role of housewives, girlfriends, or any woman that finds herself in this situation today at the expense of men and others that are dependent on them. The “m” is lowercase. The earth and humans are in a directly codependent relationship in reality, and it is just as portrayed by Aronofsky that at some points, it actually is that destructive and unnerving, although within the context of the script it seems as though it was taken a step too far.

When the house, or earth, suffers, we all suffer vicariously through what nature has to endure, and this is a negative feedback loop that is difficult to break. Not until complete chaos and death, does that cycle break, and after even the child of Mother dies also. In the midst of the destruction and war in their house, the symbolic notion of the tower being built and things taking shape, reflective of society’s structuralism, and that it has taken its place there even under such dire circumstances.

What remains, and always will, is the spirit of womanhood, or particularly motherhood, as a seemingly pure crystalloid energy that is able to withstand all of the damages. While this is empowering, it still feels fiction-based, and sidelined from feminism that is relatable or current. Mother had indeed been killed, mercilessly, not just suffered “an assault” as Lawrence stated, and for no cause but reprise or rebirth into a new beginning. Again, this is at the expense of Him, undeniably the main man and mastermind behind all that has happened in the first place.

The story begins with Him being almost indifferent and struggling to find purpose of himself, as a writer, husband, and himself, almost as if to suggest that of course, being Him, this isn’t necessary for Him. However, tables turn by the end, and the one in full command of Mother and her fate is Him, as power dynamics are consistently evident to not be on Mother’s side, everything from who they welcome into their home to if they have sex or not. It is even difficult for Him to deny his disciples what they wanted, and then to make them leave Him and Mother alone as their force violated Mother, their home, and even turned on each other, as allegorical to the backlash of human destruction as creation.

Ogling the piece as an entity apart from the film almost feels like looking at a secret process. This could be of my cherished experiences with original scripts; this one and the Alice in Wonderland (1983 playwright’s edition, one of my best possessions and was attained mysteriously). It brings something to the reader much different from a viewing experience. This was a glimpse into Aronofsky’s honest stream of consciousness, or as close as we will get to it. Photos from the scenes are embedded in the screenplay, including some of the most grueling moments. Surrounded by destruction, these characters all exude their own livelihood and creation. Even though the film is focused on Mother’s perspective, the story is just as much about her as it is about Him. The rebirth is equally theirs, as they both are forced to start anew.

Hollywood, CA, Paramount Guilds, 2017 Paramount Pictures Corporation.  Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky.

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