This love story has nothing to do with me. I’m not involved. Even the small parts—the earrings, the dog, the money—I only care a little bit about. What’s actually important is how it ends. It ends on a boat.I started following Lorenzo because he lived next door and he looked exactly like me. It was an added advantage that he was ignorant of almost everything. For example, he never noticed I was following him. I followed in my car and on foot, I took buses I didn’t have to and sat in the row behind him. Lorenzo always wore headphones.I was amazed at the emptiness of his life: how much of it he spent at work. There was a coffee place across the street from the BMW dealership. I read some good books there when spying got boring. Mostly self-help books. How to Find a Job. How to Find a Job Part 2. How to Find Another Job. Etc. Lorenzo biked to work.I saw him sell. He made my hand gestures. His teeth were whiter, he seemed more at ease than me but I saw him clench his jaw after customers walked away. I followed him back by car, relying on mild traffic to make my otherwise menacing creeping speed look accidental.I’d watch and wonder, is that what my back looks like? Do my shirts also get detucked during the day? I guess I hoped some other stranger (maybe another neighbor) was following me. (He could answer my questions.)The whole time I lived next door, I never heard Lorenzo play music. Which means he wore headphones inside his own house. Do you see Lorenzo? As tall as a refrigerator, pale, blue eyes, prematurely grey hair; long pants even when it’s hot outside, button-ups. I never saw the inside of his apartment, I can only imagine it perfectly. Delivery people rarely came so he cooked his own food. Then came Sheila. Sheila ruined everything. One day Sheila thought, “Well, why don’t I buy a car?”On that day I did what I’d never done before: cross the street, cross the lot, come inside and look around. BMW 1 vs BMW 2 and so on. Made a thinking face. Fixed my posture like I’m a regional manager with kids.Lorenzo looked up and saw me. I saw his face go, “What? No way. What?” And he got up to come talk to me like I was a normal customer and cancel out the uncanniness. But he failed. The door opened and he was distracted.It was Sheila.Short as an oven, artificially white hair, very small nose.And Lorenzo forgot I exist. Seeing Lorenzo see Sheila, for a second I forgot I exist too. Sheila broke through his big ignorance. I felt him change.I assumed they became boyfriend and girlfriend because I heard him say, “I’m Lorenzo” and I heard her say, “I’m Sheila.” My face was velvet drapes. I didn’t belong there anymore. I dashed out and never followed Lorenzo again. I went home and fed no pets, watered no plants, watched no TV. I didn’t read anything. I didn’t have plants or pets or a TV, although I did have books.Next day, a knock at my door, a note slid under. 

Dear Weirdo,

I know you’ve been stalking me. Stop. Get help. Or I’ll call the cops.

 I thought about telling him I’d already decided to stop, but no. I didn’t want to stoop to his level.I did want to explain myself, though. “Hey buddy” or “Dude” or “My man” or “Uh excuse me?” My fingers went numb with excitement as I contemplated the first words I’d say to Lorenzo.I opened the front door in time to see a shiny BMW pull out of the parking lot. Sheila driving, Lorenzo in the passenger seat. I felt whatever song they were playing, the car’s bass hurt. I thought, “BMW must stand for ‘Blasting Music, WOO!’” I thought, “Ha.” Then I thought, “Blasting music? Lorenzo, you’ve changed.”I was going to go back in but I saw something glint in Lorenzo’s bristly welcome mat. I bent down and saw two earrings. 

. .

 Modest but elegant. The kind of restrained jewelry that says, “I’m actually rich.”I picked them up and put them in my jacket. They clinked together with spare change. I walked to the beach. It was 7 on a Wednesday night. Lorenzo and Sheila were probably on a mid-week date night date. They were probably eating dinner at a place where the napkins were linen and on a table, not paper that came from a cube.I got a dollar slice and took it to the beach. I sat on the sand and munched. I chomped. I scharfed. I was some kind of gavone I kept my mouth open because the slice was so hot.A lady was walking a dog. Both of them were tiny and white with frizzy hair. I love dogs so I trained my eyes on some adjacent cloud so I could watch the dog out of my peripheral vision without making the lady suspect I was staring at her. I didn’t want to stare like a “weirdo.” But soon enough I was staring because the dog saw something and started barking. But not a normal bark, a bark like it was begging for its life, crazy. The lady said the dog’s name four times: confused; cloying; stern; scared. She pulled on the leash but the dog pulled harder and the lady fell forward and let go of the leash. The dog looked left and darted left then looked right and darted right then stared straight ahead past the horizon and ran into the water.“Oh my god,” I said.“My dog,” the lady said.Then the crazy thing. The dog doggy paddled maybe five feet out. Retrieval’s no problem, right? Except a dolphin slid by and swam under the dog, essentially acting as a self-steering surfboard for the dog, who was shuttled far away before our eyes. I imagined doggy legs quivering.“Wow,” I said.The lady looked upset.“Don’t worry,” I said. “He’ll probably come back when he’s hungry.”She nodded at me solemnly like I was right. Or like she wanted to tell me to go fuck myself.A long whistle insinuated itself. It was Lifeguard Joe, huge arms, with his paddleboat.“Let’s go,” he said. This was the day he’d been preparing for his whole life.The lady started to walk over but fainted.“Shit,” Joe said.“Wait,” I said. “Sir, that dog is my wife’s pride and joy. She’d never forgive me if I didn’t try to save him myself and besides the dog is very anxious and only responds to me or my wife.”We rowed hard for a long time. I teared up when it was clear the dog was gone.“Dolphins move fast,” Joe said. “I’m sorry I got your hopes up.”We got back but the lady was gone now too. Or maybe we’d just rowed away from her by accident and she was still waiting. I never saw her or Joe again, after I helped Joe put away the rowboat.I lay on the beach. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was outside. My jacket wasn’t actually warm. But I bet Lorenzo and Sheila were snug near a blazing candelabra at their fancy restaurant. BMW’s had seat warmers. I left the beach and took a Lyft home. The driver’s name was Fred. I said nothing.When I got back my key didn’t work. I tried four more times before I for some reason knocked. Of course nobody answered.I used the flashlight on my phone to look at the lock. I also saw an envelope taped to my door. 

Dear Tenant,

We are alarmed to hear of your behavior which has affected another tenant. We have changed the lock on your door using your security deposit. Your possessions will be returning in due course.



I fidgeted with the earrings, turning them around in my fist like they were stress release balls but they weren’t stress release balls so one I wasn’t less stressed and two the earrings stabbed my palm. My bleeding hand.“Fuck.”I didn’t want to stain the jacket pocket so I slapped my hand onto Lorenzo’s door and smeared. I smeared until the tiny hand holes stopped.On the boardwalk I saw flyers. “See This Dog? Call 1-800-LORENZO, it belongs to (my gf) Sheila’s sister, $5,000 reward.”Who was the dog? The dog on the dolphin. I was touched by Lorenzo’s generosity. And if he could be so selfless, I could too. Why not? We looked just like each other. This flyer told me something about myself, some soft bright thing.I remembered where Joe left the boat.I picked it up.I ran to the ocean while carrying the boat.The whole time I was thinking how meaningful Lorenzo’s flyers must’ve been to Sheila.Imagine, some guy loves you and proves it.Tries to find your sister’s dog.The water was too cold but I ran further, slowly.I threw the boat on the water and got on.Sheila was opening Lorenzo’s door, probably, returning from a visit with her sister.I paddled.Lorenzo finished cleaning the kitchen. He got a glass of water for each of them.I was looking left and looking right and paddling forward.Lorenzo showed her dogs up for adoption on Craigslist. He showed her pictures of a dog on the beach. She smiled. She said, “Our own family.” She said, “Alaska.” She lay her legs on his lap. She knew he wanted to quit his job. His life before her—creepo neighbor, shitty job. His life with her—“it would be amazing,” he said. She put her hands on her stomach.I didn’t dress for this; it was cold. I thought salt from the water was being blown into the holes in my hand. I had nowhere to live. I didn’t even know what dolphins do at night.For all I knew Lorenzo was proposing to Sheila that night, on the couch, on their way to Alaska. They were sharing his headphones. They were on Craigslist selling his bike. Lorenzo was reading a book about Alaska, learning everything, stroking Sheila’s hair. Attentive.The moon was big. No stars or clouds. And I saw a tiny white dog gliding toward me on the back of a dolphin. The dog was making its long way from far off and I realized that in my fantasy Lorenzo had cleaned my blood off the door before Sheila came home so she wouldn’t get scared.The dog telepathically asked me, “Are you scared?”The moon telepathically answered, “He is.”The dog was zooming now, closer, and I tried to paddle backwards but couldn’t. I was excited like I’d been playing a game with someone better at the game than me. He was about to make the winning move and out of admiration I took pleasure in my own defeat because it was his victory.The dolphin zipped past me and into the horizon forever.I paddled.
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SHE GETS A LOT OF HELP by Kristina Ten

“You have a beautiful home here,” says the man’s boss, taking note of the layered window treatments and the gleaming hardwood floors. Over the mantel hangs an abstract painting of a female nude—tasteful, the boss thinks: wide, flesh-toned brushstrokes, no embarrassing details.

All of this bodes well for the man, who the boss knows is angling for a promotion. That’s why the boss has been invited to dinner at the man’s house, and why he’s told his wife, who was invited as well, though more as a courtesy, that the night probably wouldn’t be of much interest to her.

The man’s house smells of lamb chops. The man’s wife wears an apron, which is neatly pressed and has no stains. She greets the man’s boss warmly as she sweeps into the dining room to place fresh flowers on the table.

Later, when the meal is finished and the man’s wife has left to brew the espresso, the big boss leans over and tells the man:

“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but your wife is really something. The food, the house…”—he waves his arms generally—“She does this every day?”

“Sure,” the man can't help but grin, knowing he’s made an impression. “But between you and me, she gets a lot of help.”

“How do you mean?”

The two men roll up the sleeves of their dress shirts to the elbows as the man tells his boss about the mechanism of the Grub ‘n’ Scrub™.

“It’s new on the market,” the man tries not to sound too proud. “It looks like your average dining table, but the interior is lined with wires and water jets.” He lifts up the tablecloth to show there’s no outward difference.

The big boss nods, rapping his knuckles appraisingly against one of the table legs.

“The sensors on the tabletop know when the dishes are empty, the sensors on the chairs know when no one’s sitting on them anymore, and they’re all connected to one another, exchanging information. Then the tabletop just opens up and the dishes slide into the hidden compartment, where they go through a wash cycle. No clearing the table anymore. It’s all automated.”

“Fascinating,” the big boss murmurs, and asks to see the Grub ‘n’ Scrub™ in action.

The man’s face flushes. “Oh, it’s set on a timer. The wife likes for it to run after we’ve gone to bed.”The man’s wife comes back into the dining room holding a tray with a pitcher of milk and a trio of tiny porcelain cups. They clink against their saucers cheerfully.

“Of course, these gadgets aren’t cheap,” the man adds as a way of closing the conversation. “But you know what they say: happy wife, happy life.” He winks in the direction of his wife, who is busy distributing the cups and doesn’t notice.“Besides, it’s incredibly quiet. We run it every night and I barely hear a thing.”


The man’s buddy from college is in town for the weekend and the man offers him the guest room. They spend their mornings at the gym, where they both pay for day passes because the man has misplaced his membership card. In truth, the man hasn’t been a member at this gym in a decade, but remembering the effortlessly lean, muscular physique of his youth, he thinks it would be better if his friend thought otherwise.

They spend their mornings at the gym and their afternoons drinking beers on the patio, reminiscing about their college years and comparing their successes since.

Every time the man’s buddy returns to the guest room, even if it’s just to grab a jacket, the pillows are fluffed and the bed is perfectly made.

On his last evening in town, feet against the patio railing and a cold glass in his hand, the man’s buddy comments on the bed linens:

“Looks like you got yourself a good one, huh? I remember your place on campus. There’s no way you’re making that bed all the time.”

The man laughs. “I can’t complain. But between you and me, she gets a lot of help.”

He goes on to describe the Magnificent MagEdge™.

“It’s so simple, when I found out about it, I couldn’t believe nobody had thought of before. The one downside is that you have to get it as a set: frame, sheets, comforter, mattress, everything. So it ends up costing an arm and a leg.”

The man’s buddy looks skeptical.

“It’s just magnets, man. Really strong magnets on all four corners of each piece, so the magnets on the covers lift up and pull down to attach to the magnets on the frame. You get up and it just sorts itself out.”

“But how does it know whether or not someone’s in the bed?”

The man explains the sensors on the frame and the timer function, which his wife controls.

The man’s buddy shakes his head, amazed. “I’d never even heard of it. Guess I moved out of the city and now I’m living under a rock.”

“Don’t beat yourself up too bad,” the man tops off his buddy’s beer. “I gotta admit, I didn’t know about it until the wife mentioned it, and by then she had already had it installed. She has a knack for finding this stuff. You know what they say: Work smarter, not harder.”

The man’s buddy nods and the two make a toast to the world’s ever-advancing technology, and its ability to improve their everyday lives.


It’s a nice day in early autumn, so the man and his wife have their neighbors over for a game of cornhole. While the man’s wife is making the lemonade and putting out the beanbags, the man entertains the neighbors in the pleasant chill of the air-conditioned living room.

Looking out the window at the manicured lawn, the neighbors—a couple about the same age as the man and his wife, but newer to the neighborhood—lament the state of their own backyard.

“The season’s barely started and the leaves are already coming down like crazy. It’s a mess. It’s like we spend the whole day raking and blowing, then we barely get a chance to sit down before the yard is covered again. I don’t know how you keep yours so tidy.”

The man observes his wife bending over to set a basket of beanbags next to one of the raised platforms. They always play blue; the neighbors will play red.

“Honestly, I remember how much of a pain that was every fall. So I can empathize. Now the yard is the wife’s domain.”

The neighbors look mildly surprised.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says quickly. “She gets a lot of help.”

Curious, they sink further into the plush sofa as the man continues. This is one of his favorite stories, and he delivers it like a sales pitch:

Tired of that annual struggle? Unsightly leaves piling up, and you powerless to stop them? If you think about it, even evergreen trees aren’t really evergreen. If you’ve ever had a Christmas tree, you know that pines shed needles like nobody’s business. Now imagine if every tree could keep its leaves where they belong: up on the branches, up off your yard. Introducing: TrueEvergreen™.

“They’re not real trees, per se,” the man says, “in that they’re not organic. But they sure had me fooled. Same bark, same roots, same leaves. They even give off some sort of scent that attracts all the same kinds of animals. And if it’s good enough for the birds and squirrels, it’s good enough for me. The wife had them planted while I was at work, and if she hadn’t told me about them one day, to this day I wouldn’t know the difference.”

The neighbors exchange jealous glances and the man kicks himself. He has this habit of coming on too strong. He was hoping to be able to talk next about the self-alphabetizing bookshelf or the dust-free flooring—all these innovations that set his home apart.

But the TrueEvergreen™ modification isn’t a good opener; even his mother thinks it’s too extravagant. Carrying on in this vein would be impolite.

As if on cue, the man’s wife taps on the window and waves them out into the yard. The game is ready to start.


The phone rings in the house where the man and his wife live, and where so much gets done. The phone rings once, twice, three times. The man’s wife is sitting on the sofa, waiting, counting. When the phone rings a fifth time, she sighs and lifts herself off the cushion. She returns the throw blanket to its place on the back of the armchair.


“Hello,” says a soprano voice on the other end. It carries a slight accent. “Is this the man’s wife?”

And the man’s wife says, “Speaking.”

It’s the wife of the big boss who stopped by recently for dinner and came home with fantastical tales of a dishwasher disguised as a dining table. It’s all automated. It’s all programmable. It can be fully customized to meet your needs.

The boss’s wife first apologizes for missing the dinner. She mumbles something about an unreliable sitter. She’s sure the lamb chops were exquisite. “Now, the reason I’m calling…”

The boss is a big boss; money is no object. If there are devices that can make their lives easier, that’s the sort of convenience the big boss would be willing to pay for. They have someone who cleans the house, of course, and she’s a lovely woman.

“But you know what they say: Good help is hard to find.”

Besides, the boss loves new things.

The boss’s birthday is coming up and his wife would like to surprise him with the unusual piece of furniture he hasn’t stopped talking about since he went over for dinner that night. She thought she might find it at the department store, but nobody working there knew what she was talking about.

The boss’s wife is wondering if the man’s wife can remind her what the amazing object is called and, better yet, tell her where she got it. And if it’s not too forward of her to ask—not that it matters, really—could the man’s wife tell her how much it cost?

The man’s wife blinks into the phone. In the silence, she can hear the birds chirping in the trees outside, the squirrels chittering and leaping from branch to branch. Finally, she says in a measured tone:

“I don’t know what it’s called. And I don’t know where to find it. And I don’t know how much it would cost.” She pauses. “But I do remember telling my husband about something like that once. I’ll spare you the specifics, but it was one of those heated conversations that you don’t remember much of and try not to dwell on after it’s done.”

The man’s wife goes on, “I suppose I am the inventor of this piece of furniture, and of a number of others, come to think of it. I’ve always had a wild imagination. I just didn’t think his imagination could be as wild as mine.”

And suddenly it dawns on the boss’s wife, and she turns sheepish and contrite. Her speech speeds up, her accent faltering and her voice picking up gravel.

“Oh, how stupid of me! How stupid of us! How silly for my husband to believe yours. And for your husband to believe you! How could he be so, I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this”— and she searches for the word, not so agitated as to be careless—“so uninformed?”

The man’s wife thinks about this for a while. She thinks about the man and his mother. She thinks about the man’s boss: a cloth napkin left crumpled and covered in marinade on the dining table by the floral centerpiece, petals already curling at the ends.

She thinks about the man’s friend from college, who she knows sleeps diagonally because of the way the covers were kicked off the bed; these intimate details of a stranger.

She thinks about her neighbors and how she sees them out in their yard sometimes when she is out in hers. The two work their yard together, one with the rake and the other with the leaf blower. They switch from time to time, each taking their turn, but they never once look over.

How could he believe her? The man’s wife remembers the boss’s wife on the other end of the line.

“Well,” she replies. “He gets a lot of help.”

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PABLO’S HAIR by Sandra Arnold

When we got to the farm Bill explained that the dead boy’s parents had asked him to keep the pregnant mare and her two year old colt till they found a buyer, but none of the guys who came to look at her could even catch her.

“Don’t worry, Beth,” he reassured, “I’ve asked Pablo to do a bit of schooling so she’ll be calm enough for you to ride.”

We turned the corner into the barn and saw the colt tied to the fence. His mother, a beautiful bay, was tied to a pole while Pablo, sweat soaking into his red bandanna, laid into her with a whip. The mare was foaming at the mouth and you could see the whites of her eyes as she galloped round and round in terror.

I stopped dead in my tracks. “You call this schooling?”

Dad flashed me the look he reserves for when I open my mouth before I get my brain into gear.

Bill explained that he was starting a riding school, so it was important that the horses were quiet and well-trained.

“Yeah, right,” I shot back, “like that’s going to happen if you let Pablo loose on them. Tell him to untie her.”

Dad told him it was okay, so Bill said something in Portuguese to Pablo. The minute Pablo untied the mare she tore out the barn like there was a lion on her back. I grabbed a lead rope and followed her with everybody running behind me. When the mare got to a safe distance she started grazing. I approached her real slow, talking to her all the time. After a few minutes she let me stroke her shoulder. After another minute I slipped the rope around her neck and walked her back to the barn. By now half a dozen of Bill’s agronomy students had wandered over. They were all looking at me as if, like, “What planet do you come from?”

 Dad said if I wanted the mare she was mine. I asked Bill what her name was.

“Cristiane,” he said. “Her colt doesn’t have a name yet.”

A thumb-sized humming bird buzzed in front of my face before diving into a flower.

“What’s the name for humming bird in Portuguese?” I asked.

“Beija-Flor,” Sal said. “It means kiss-flower.”

I stroked the colt’s mane. “Hi Beija-Flor,” I whispered in his ear.

After we bought Cristiane and Beija-Flor I went to the farm every weekend. When Bill saw the way I rode he asked me to go to a horse auction to help him pick out some decent horses for the riding school.

We got three beauties, a gray, a chestnut and a roan. Bill said I could name them. The roan was very close to foaling and she reminded me of my first pony, Gloria, so that one was easy.  Then I offered to come every day to train them all. Bill whistled between his teeth and said he had to be careful not to offend Pablo, who was still smarting over the Cristiane episode. For once I did get my brain into gear before voicing my opinion about Pablo.

I saved this for Sal, a few days later, after we’d watched Gloria’s new foal stagger up off the straw on his matchstick legs and take his first drink.

“We’ll leave them to get acquainted,” said Bill, ushering us out of the paddock and closing the gate. “I’ll have Pablo check them over this afternoon.”  Seeing my expression he grinned and said, “But you can choose his name.”

“Glorious,” I said. “Son of Gloria.”

“Perfect,” said Bill.

Sal and me headed over to the farmhouse to have a game of volleyball.  “Pablo check them over?” I began, incredulously.

My sentence was interrupted by an explosion of swearing from inside the farmhouse and Pablo’s goat flew out the front door on the end of someone’s foot. Pablo’s head poked over the top of the pigsty. When he understood the reason for the racket he came lumbering out, scratching his neck. The goat saw him and bounded over as if it was about to fling itself on his chest in pure joy. Even at that distance the pong was enough to singe a layer or two off your tonsils.  Pablo grabbed it by the horns and dragged it towards us.

Me and Sal started gagging. It did no good though. “What stink?” he always said when we whinged about the goat. He tied it to a tree.

“Why can’t you take him into the pigsty with you?” Sal complained.

“Because I’m chopping up a stillborn calf for the pigs,” he answered, sliding his eyes across at me.

When Sal translated this I gagged again, this time for real. His face split into a grin like a sliced melon and he went swaggering back to the pigsty, hoiking and spitting.

“He hates me,” I sniveled.

“Nah. He’s scared of you,” Sal said. “The other day he was trying to catch the new Appaloosa and it kept running away from him and one of the guys said,  ‘Let Beth do it’.”


“But then Pablo said it wasn’t a job for girls, especially skinny snooty up-themselves white girls from a country nobody’s even heard of.” She hooted with laughter at the expression on my face.

I watched the top of his bandanna bob up and down behind the wall in the sty. That bandanna was probably red because it was saturated with blood. Nobody’d ever seen Pablo without it. I bet he even slept in it.

Once, Sal dared me to ask him why he never took it off and he said it was because he had this real thick curly hair and it was difficult to keep it clean with his work on the farm, but Sal and me had our suspicions. Soon after that we saw him dive in the lake and swim underwater all the way to the other side. When he climbed out he was completely starkers, but his bandanna was still grafted in place. He stood still for a minute, just gazing over the water, looking like one of those huge termite mounds that were all over the farm.

The fumes from the goat made us abandon any idea of playing volleyball and in two minutes we were out of gassing range and heading back to the barn.

Beija-Flor came up to me and stuck his nose in my neck. I decided to ask dad if we could ship him and Cristy back to New Zealand when Dad had finished his contract here. I sure didn’t want them to end up as street horses pulling carts of rubbish and being flayed with sticks to run faster and faster when they were exhausted and thirsty and the sun was blazing down on their poor mangy coats. Cristy plodded over to me and breathed in my face. For the millionth time I made a wish that I could be with her when her foal was born. Then I blew my breath back into her nostrils.

She was bleeding from three new cuts and was covered with ticks again. “Gross, eh?” I said to Sally, picking one off and bursting it between my fingernails. Over the squawking of the guinea fowl, that started fighting for the ticks we chucked at them, I heard Bill’s voice and saw him and two of his students, João and Roberto, trudging across the paddock to the barn.

The guys said something to Sal and she translated, “João wants Roberto to race you. He says he’s going to bet all his money on you.”

Sal thought Roberto was cute, but I didn’t like his voice. He sounded like Donald Duck.

He said, in pretty good English, “I’ve got some cream for you, Beth. You spread it on the cuts and when those vampire bats drink the blood it gets on their feet. Their friends lick it off and it poisons them all.”

I made a face.  “I hope it’s a quick death.”

Bill said, “The other horses are looking pretty good Beth, since Pablo’s been treating them with that cream. It’s only your two the bats are after now.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I don’t want Pablo anywhere near my horses. I’ll put the cream on myself. I’ll get dad to drop me off every day. I could break in the new Appaloosa for you at the same time,” I added hopefully.

Bill sucked in air through his teeth, “Sure, if you can get Pablo to agree to making you an honorary guy.”

Roberto and João cracked up.

I glanced at Sal, who rolled her eyeballs.

Bill took his glasses off and rubbed them on his shirt. “Honey, we’ve just been looking at that new foal. One of the other horses must’ve kicked him. His leg’s broken.”

“Glorious?” I said in disbelief.

He nodded.

My mouth went dry. “But he’s just been born. Are you going to shoot him?”

“I don’t have a gun, Beth. Pablo’ll have to whack him on the head with an axe.”

My face went as green as the tick I was holding.

Bill said, “It’ll be quick. Pablo’ll  know what to do.”

“Speaking of the devil,” Sal muttered.

I looked up to see Pablo sauntering towards us with his parrot, Rosa, squawking in his ear.

Bill told him about the foal. Pablo listened, staring at the ground, scratching his head. If   I walked out he’d see my green face. No way would I give him that pleasure. Bill said he’d know the exact spot to hit the foal, but what if he missed?  Beija-Flor stuck his nose in my ear. I was grateful for the excuse to bury my face in his mane.

There was a long silence. Then Pablo coughed and said, “We could donate him to the veterinary school. Give him a chance.”

I lifted my head from Beija’s neck and looked at Bill, biting my lip. Bill rubbed his chin.

“I’ll ring them,” he said at last, half-running in the direction of the house.  Pablo lumbered after him with Rosa perched on his head like a tattered wedding hat.

Nobody uttered a word. Then Roberto cleared his throat and said, “He found Rosa when she’d just hatched. Her mother was dead near the nest. Dogs probably. Pablo took her home and raised her.”

I watched Pablo disappear into his shack.

“So what about that race?” said Roberto.

He didn’t really sound like Donald Duck.

“I’ll let you ride Skewbald,” I said. “I’ll take Madonna.”

“You nuts?” said Sal. “If she went any slower she’d be dead.”

After the race we cantered back to the barn, laughing and yelling. Bill looked up from the saddle he was cleaning. I waved at him. He’d know from my grin that I’d won again. But his face was the colour of putty.  I vaulted off the horse in one movement. “The vet school said no, didn’t they?”

“I’m sorry honey. So Pablo had to ...”

Sal burst into tears. The guys got very busy unsaddling. I ran out the barn with my hand over my mouth and bent over in the long grass near the henhouse and puked.

I lay there for a minute, letting the sun warm my cold skin, trying not to think of Pablo feeding bits of the foal to his disgusting pigs. Oh wouldn’t he just love that!  I squeezed my eyes tight and hit the earth with the side of my hand pretending it was Pablo I was chopping up into little pieces. Then I bawled my eyes out.

When I was all cried out I hauled myself up and wiped the snot off my face.  My body smelt sour, like cheese left out in the sun. The air burned and stung and crackled. Two swallow-tails flew low over the baked red earth and skimmed the surface of the lake. Yeah, I’d go for a swim and try to feel clean again. As I trailed past the hen-house I heard a high-pitched wheezing coming from inside. I back-tracked and peered through a gap in the planks. Pablo was sitting on a box that was covered with chicken shit, wiping his nose with his bandanna and breathing like he was having an asthma attack. But it wasn’t the sight of the tears glistening in the black leathery cracks of his cheeks that stopped my breath. It was his head. As bald and shiny as a light bulb.

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FORAGERS by Jaime Fountaine

My mom brought this new guy, Jeff, home, and they want to have dinner together at the table, like I’ve met him before. He’s cooking, which I think is supposed to impress her. She never cooks, so joke’s on him I guess.

Right now the joke is on me, because my mom is doing the thing she always does when she meets a guy where she pretends to be a totally different person, and expects me to do the same.

She says men don’t want you to like them too much right away. They want to work for it. She never says what it is. I know it isn’t sex. She doesn’t make anyone work for that.

Jeff came over with a bunch of grocery bags and made himself comfortable. Too comfortable, really. He took his shoes off without asking and dumped his pockets out by the door, just making himself at home like this isn’t the first time he’s ever gotten here when it’s still light out.

It’s not new. My mom says she loves a man who takes charge, but what she means is that she loves a man who thinks he owns everything in front of him, like he’s the fucking Lion King.

When I was younger, she’d drill me on politeness. All these rules that don’t even apply to me, like how long you have to write thank you notes for wedding gifts. She said that people only think you’re trash if you act like it.

I’m pretty sure that Jeff’s never sent a thank you note in his life.

My mom had perched herself on the counter to watch, ashing her cigarette in the sink while Jeff shuffled and chopped. She always tries to make herself smaller with a man around, as if folding her body in on itself is a disguise. She’s like an actress, playing the woman she wants men to think she is, instead of the one she feels like. It never works for long.

My mother’s no good at containing her feelings. She tells me I’m going to get cancer from bottling mine up, but I don’t see the point in putting everything out there for people to see if there’s nothing they can do about it. She doesn’t see it that way. She wants people to know that she’s hurting, and that she thinks it’s their fault.

Jeff brought those egg noodles that old people get, the ones that come in bags and taste either uncooked or wet, depending on who makes them. I watched them fall out of the dirty plastic grocery bag and shatter on the floor. It didn’t faze my mother, who smiled as she picked them up and put them back, alongside a pile of loose, dirty mushrooms.

“Why did you take those out of the package?” I asked. My mom glared at me. She hates the way I talk to her boyfriends. It ruins the illusion.

“Oh, they weren’t in one. I found a big patch of them on a job today, so I helped myself.”

It’s not like I don’t know where vegetables come from. But if the only thing I know about a guy is that my mom likes him, I don't trust him not to poison me.

“How do you know if they’re the edible kind of mushrooms and not the poison ones?” My mother’s voice was sweet when she asked, as if she was impressed, although I could tell from her eyes that she didn’t trust him either.

“I read a book about it once.”

Jeff doesn’t look like a guy who reads. Jeff doesn’t even look like a guy who thinks. It’s enough for my mother, though, that she smiled and let it go immediately. She never eats much with a new man around, anyway. She could shrug this off no problem.

I don’t really eat breakfast. My mom just drinks diet coke all day until dinner, so there isn’t much around. I’ll get lunch at school and make due with what we have afterward. It’s not usually a big deal. In the summer, half the time, I just camp out in front of the window unit with a sleeve of saltines.

“I know you eat like a bird, but you’re going to love this.” Every guy my mom brings around tries to act like they didn’t just meet at the bar, like they’ve known each other forever. She just swallows it up.

“She looks like she can eat. Hopefully I’m making enough.” They laughed like I wasn’t in the room. It’d serve both of them right if the mushrooms were poison.

I tried to remember what we had in the cabinets, if there was anything I could sneak later. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me eat.

Jeff was narrating the whole thing like he was on a cooking show. I’ve seen cooking shows. There is a calmness to them, watching an old lady or some French guy casually building order out of food and knives and pans. Recipes take shape, things are created. It wasn’t like that.

“You know, people tell you to wash mushrooms with water, but that just makes ‘em soggy. What you got to do is take a paper towel and — shit, Kerri, this knife is terrible. I almost cut my fucking finger off.”

“Oh, honey, are you okay?” My mom slid off the counter to his side, murmuring an apology, like it was her fault he wasn’t paying attention.

“What we’re going to do is get you a better knife. Protect those hands of yours.” He wrapped himself around her like he was comforting a child.

I’ve spent my whole life so far waiting for the day when I stop getting treated like a kid. I don’t understand why she always defaults to helplessness. It’s not like any of these assholes are supporting us. She’s always the one paying.

I wanted to leave the kitchen, but it was clear that the performance was supposed to be for my benefit. My mom always wanted me to see how each man was different than the last one. “He’s not like Daniel was,” she’ whispered, when he turned his back to us. “Jeff cooks.”

I can’t remember if Daniel was the one who broke a plate when he was mad about something or if he’s the one whose wife answered the phone when I called looking for my mom. They all seem the same to me. They’re all bigger than her, a little red in the face from drinking or working outside or both, arrogant for no apparent reason.

They all look at me like I’m a disappointment. I don’t know what she’s telling them.

I started picking at the frayed edge of my shorts, so I didn’t have to look up and see the face I knew my mother was making. I think someone must have told her it was cute once, but it isn’t. The way she opens her eyes as wide as possible and tilts her head to one side reminds me of a big dumb animal, like a cow or something. It’s her pleading face, and she makes it every time, as if I have control over any of this. You can’t make somebody love you. I’ve figured that out already. I don’t know why she can’t see it.

Jeff tried to drain the noodles with a flourish, but all he really did was dump a bunch of water on the ground and didn’t even pretend he was going to clean it up. He just stepped over the puddle and plopped the wet mass in the pan on top of the poison mushrooms.

“Hey kid, why don’t you make yourself useful and set the table?”

I could feel the heat rising in my face. I grit my teeth to keep my mouth shut. I turned to my mother, to get some kind of backup, but she didn’t give a shit. She was just watching Jeff pour a McCormick seasoning packet into the pasta like he was some kind of genius.

If she wants to be spoken to like an idiot, that’s her problem. I don’t know why I’m expected to just sit here and take it.

I knew she’d be mad if I were too dramatic about the whole thing, but there’s really no quiet way to set a table. I could feel his eyes on my back as I plunked the plates down. I knew he was going to sit himself at the head of the table no matter how I set it, so I put myself opposite him. At least then I’d be able to stare him down.

“Babe. Babe, you’re going to love this.” The wet, slapping sound of the food hitting the plate made my stomach clench. He motioned for us to sit down, and started digging into the milky gray slop.

My mother shifted the egg noodles around, and took a bite. “Oh, Jeff, this is great,” she said, but I saw her wincing.

“Go ahead, kid. Eat up.” He glowered at me, like you better not ruin this for me, like my mom was going to suddenly come to her senses if I didn’t eat this fucking pasta. My mom just made her stupid cow face again.

What I wanted to do was scream at both of them that they’re adults and they don’t need my input. Scream at Jeff to get out of my house and take his disgusting dinner with him. To scream at my mother. I wanted to get up and leave and never come back.

But I couldn’t. So I lifted a forkful to my mouth and swallowed it without chewing. It went down slimy and gritty, and I wanted to gag, but instead I looked Jeff right in his eye without blinking, and had another bite.

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henry gifford

WHAT COMES ALONG by Henry Gifford

An arachnid in the corner carefully traipses through the crack, under where the baseboard just fails to meet the worn and oaky floor. He weaves himself, and step by step by step times eight he finds himself new diversions: a knot in the hidden wood or a crumb that’s been swept into his corner by the fat old man who comes and goes every morning and night and sleeps on the thin bed that doesn’t quite carry him. With these he can make a day last longer or shorter, go faster or slower, all depending on what he wants. He does not want the day to choose its length.

There is no more family for the spider. He finds this funny, and sometimes laughs about it. He webbed them all up one day in their sleeps, and though they resisted, first by pulling then by biting then by a linguistic attempt, fruitless without their six spinnerets and their lovely thread, though they resisted in these three ways, our corner arachnid relentless did nothing, and only laughed at them. Now they are mildewing, rotten, and covered in cobweb. He is getting old, like the man, and thin, though every crawler that comes creaturing into his web is his for the eating. He grows, he grows, he grows thinner and thinner.

The old fat man has never had a woman with tits in his room. The spider would like to see tits, he thinks. Sometimes the old fat man goes out in the morning determined to meet a woman, a nice supple one with the tits of an actress, the spider can tell because the man says a thing like today today I’ll have my way, in fact makes songs of them. But then he comes back at night with his penis still trying and failing to harden, not even nearly succeeding, he has not even nearly succeeded, and he noodles his noodle for the night and then goes to sleep with the thing hanging out, the limp old wrinkly.

But when the old man goes out the spider does something peculiar that he does every morning when the old man goes out. He hears for the click of the door and the click of the key – click, exhausted suspiration, singular silence, click — and then skitters out frantically, seeing the light of day from the window that opens into the courtyard the man has not even yet reached. He is still walking down the four flights of stairs, down four, three, two, one, the click of the door, the click of the key, the man bursts into the courtyard into which the light liquidly pours and reflects off the front and then into the man and the spider’s house. By the time the old fat man, who has jowls, has reached the courtyard’s front step, our spider has stopped his skittering, has made his way to the cater-cornered corner, leaping over the gaps between the dry sheets of wood or fording them, refusing to nestle or drown in their depths, and crawling right out, depending on their size and his particular feeling.

Then he is at the opposite corner from where he lives, where his family doesn’t, and he begins to skitter-scurry up the old paint-thickened wall to the cornice, which is the old fat man’s favorite thing about the room. And there at the tip of the cornice, where one of its horizontals meets another, the corner arachnid, who feels no more guilt for the good old filicides than he does for not eating their dinners, it had to be done, you see, he is, after all, a filthy spider, there, at the corner of the cornice, he lets himself fly.

No — he does not jump, though he feels for a solitary moment that the air is the only thing keeping him groundless. He splays his legs, but his instincts always and do now get the better of him. His old and functional spinners do spin their thread the moment he drops from the out-jutting ledge, so that he has only a second of freedom from contact with anything, only one measly jumping second where he is finally, truly alone. Then he feels it tauten and he is dangling.

The reason for all this is really to dangle, to dangle very specifically. This way he calls warding off the fatness. Like the fat old man he does not want to be fat. So every day he weighs himself in this manner, by jumping from the cornice, by feeling himself free, and then by dangling. He releases more thread and more thread until he can see through his eyes the top of the bedframe, which maybe, he has to admit to himself, has changed its height over time as well, with seasonal swelling and an old fat man’s weight, but it’s surely not such a significant change. There he lets himself stay, in any case, directly across from the top of the bedframe, and then he gives himself a bounce, and however much further he goes, well that’s how fat he is. Today he is not so fat. He has not eaten for a week.

The spider is proud of himself, he has dangled so high that his hunger strike must have gone well, yes, he must look really weak and unpleasant now. He must look awfully frightening. He does not, because the fatter the spider the more frightening, it seems, a thick old body on thin legs, that’s where the fear comes from. He looks now more like something to be flicked away than smushed, and to be flicked is a not very pleasant thing. Sometimes it means even death, as it did once for the corner arachnid’s poor mother, and sometimes it means only divorce from everything and, pity, no time to prepare for or appreciate it. The spider does not know what makes a man want to flick, though, and he has seen thin spiders before, and found them distasteful, and he wants to be thin and distasteful and frightening, just like the others. He wants to walk on water, with only the tips of his legs dipping under the tensile surface.

He raises himself, zips himself up, brings himself back to the cornice, around which he crawls, this time he may as well stay at the top, instead of racing across the bottom of the floor, with all those gashes gaps and knots and cavities, he likes the ceiling and the cornice, the vantage point and the smooth bevels, which the years have not aged even nearly as much, in fact it was the fat old man who had the cornices installed, they did not come with the apartment, why would they have, the place is old but not that kind of old. He liked something to look at, to run his eyes over.

The spider scurries four legs after the others, step by step by step and so on, across the smooth new wood, and comes to a conclusion in the cater-cornered corner to where he once was, to where he jumped and spun his thread. He crawls down the not-so-nice knobbly plaster wall that he’s climbed up before, and doesn’t lose his grip or his balance, oh no, he continues on down with a firmness and surety. He is a very talented spider, though he is thin and old and when at the bottom, when he crawls back under the baseboard crack, his family looks tucked into bed. Despite all that he is very good at being a spider.

The spider has been waiting and sleeping and even a little bit starting to worry, yes, he’s even starting to worry that the man won’t come back. The bed will go, though not the mattress, and the desk will go as well, and that’ll be the end of it, an empty room will stand where the spider can still skitter, and he’ll still be able to go up to the cornice, but he won’t be able to dangle there, will he? No, because there won’t be a bedframe anymore, those damned parasites will have taken it.

Well, he has come back, and the spider hasn’t heard him this time, and the spider doesn’t know to scurry back under the baseboard. He doesn’t hear the click silence click or its next iteration; he doesn’t hear the piss or the flush, he doesn’t hear anything at all, he’s fast asleep, the poor spider is, but he does hear when the man says EH? over the bed, seeing this nasty spider, this murderous nasty hungry fat thin spider, this won’t do it all, no, and he’s on his bed, this is the same damn spider that skitters across the floor, isn’t it, teach him a lesson, and the spider’s too thin to be smushed, so here he goes, the spider’s awake, he lifts his finger, he curls his finger, he brings his finger down to where the spider sits and quakes in his final fear, he flicks.

And he knew, the arachnid in the corner, he knew from day one that one day he’d be flicked. He’d always known, and by the fat old man? So be it. That’s just fine. He knew one day in the end he’d be flicked, and you can’t prepare for a flick better than he’d prepared, so let him go loose, the spider flies. The air bears him aloft, he cannot shoot, he will not spin his thread. The ground is so far away from him now. The ceiling is so far away. Every wall is so far away and the spider, for just a fraction of a fraction, is in the center of the room. He sees from his eight half-blind eyes that the walls are nowhere near him. The cornices are so far away, and so is the baseboard, his family, and was this how his mother felt? It is how he feels right now. He feels that he has nothing tightening round him, that he is in this fraction alone. Then down he comes, to the floor he goes, but it’s okay, there’s nothing to be done. He doesn’t want to touch the floor, but it’s too late now. He touches the floor, he hits the floor, the floor with its gaps and knots is a weight on his body, the spider flattens-squashens, and finally, after all of that being alone, the spider, forgotten already, is dead.

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I AM SPACE MAN by Amanda Tu

I used to think my greatest challenge as a writer was identifying, in the most precise possible terms, how I feel. Most of the time, though, I know what I feel. This is palpable when I am stricken by an emotion I’ve lived through before. No matter how traumatic the sensation—the icy terror of being found cheating on a sixth grade reading quiz calling to mind the chilling shame three years earlier when my dad caught me illicitly scratching off a lottery ticket—there is comfort in believing that feelings are drawn from a massive, but ultimately finite, palette.

Perhaps the challenge, then, is not in the knowing, but in the writing. Language is not what is, but rather a tool for communicating such. It is tempting to conflate the two, I believe, because language is often the most convenient, universal, and expedient channel through which to express our realities. We are instructed as toddlers to “use our words.” My two-year-old sister is learning how to talk, and my stepmom says this all the time. Use your words. Words are helpful for expressing one’s most granular desires. I want milk. Put me down. Where is Mom? But when my sister cries, when she fills our house with these awful, pathetic screams for hours on end, I can’t help but think: is there anything more true than this? How could “I want milk” possibly encompass the depth and scope of what she so desperately seeks to convey?

There is what is and there is what is articulated, and these are two discrete entities unbound by physical phenomena. The best we can hope is to craft the latter to be as faithful as possible a facsimile of the former, approaching asymptotically the trueness of the matter that lives itself in a plane independent of language. This is why I am driven so mad by cliché. Because to be trite is to use a crutch, to say the thing that is almost true, to gesture toward the approximate and beg your audience to fill in the gaps from their lived experience, instead of immersing them—with atomic focus—in yours. To do the bare minimum. Ball’s in your court. The most insidious form of laziness. You know what I mean? Cliché is the reason I can be a vocal participant in math class all quarter and still earn a failing grade. When called on, I can always explain the procedure: well enough to appease my professor, not well enough to solve a single problem.

This failure of precision is reinforced by the way most of us learn English in grade school. First we cover the basics: phonics, spelling, punctuation, grammar. Only when we have mastered fundamentals do we move on to fun stuff. A simile is a comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as.’ In tenth grade English class, I once had a test over all these literary devices, maybe eighty or so. I sat in the library one day after school, drafting up a thick deck of flashcards: Metonymy. Synecdoche. Asyndeton. When I actually sat for the quiz, I was disappointed to see that it was just one big matching exercise. I had studied way too hard. That exam was as easy as stealing candy from a baby.

The very framing of these tools as “devices” implies they are window dressing. You don’t say: “her eyes are beautiful,” because, my teacher told us, that is boring. Try instead: “Her eyes shine like diamonds.” Points for style. We internalize the notion that the world is simple, and, I guess, to keep morale high, we must invent creative ways to describe the basic phenomena of our existences. This—I have come to believe—is backward. Perhaps it is the universe that is more complex than we could ever begin to communicate with symbols on a page. That the most artful, vivid, evocative poetry is, in fact, the simplest thing we could conceive.

I know what it feels like to be in love, I am so confident I know. I know how it felt the first time I told my first boyfriend “I love you,” my whole body pressed up against him in the grass, my lips firm against his neck. I know how my whole being tingled electric, every cubic inch of me, how I wanted to cry. I know how right it felt, saying it again and again. I couldn’t fathom anything else: I love you. I love you. I love you.

But even that seems unfinished. Tingled electric. What an impossibly insignificant phrase. In attempting to write this paragraph, I have contemplated electricity and fire and flora and oceans, the very biggest and the very smallest. I don’t feel insufficient so much as I feel incorrect. I have made an error. In describing how deeply I felt for him, I have told a lie. I might as well be recounting the relationship of two strangers.

And even this: love. Who taught me that this word is that feeling? Maybe the birds and the bees talk should always include this critical clause. That every parent in the universe should have to sit his child down and tell her: one day, you will meet a person who makes you feel as if there is a current running through the deepest part of your being, the strongest possible force your body can withstand before splintering into a thousand bits. And you should say: Love! And they will know what you mean.

The night before my nineteenth birthday, I had a dream so juvenilely transparent in its symbolisms it is nearly too embarrassing to recount. As in most dreams, the logic of its universe was tenuous and inconsistent: rigidly committed to certain physical principles with zero regard for others. I was traversing what I can only describe as a parking garage with a hollow core, of infinite height and devoid of gravity. I could send myself accelerating upward through the building with the slightest push off the floor. Sometimes, though, without understanding how I had gotten there, I would end up standing on solid ground. It looked like the interior of an office, maybe, or an old library.

As I explored the levels of this structure, I kept running into people I knew. My ex-boyfriend was there, inexplicably, irritating me over something I can’t recall but perceived with sharp awareness nonetheless. I bumped into a guy who had run and lost for student body president at my college, whose face I’d seen on a poster outside my dorm every day for two straight weeks. He was smiling, but for some reason he was wearing an awful chartreuse velvet sweater I’d paid twenty dollars for the month before. That sweater had been final sale, and I had regretted the purchase since the second I’d left the store.

A few family members filtered through the loose outlines of the narrative. This included my dad. In real life, Dad and I barely spoken in months. We had not had a falling out, but rather an awkward, glacial drifting apart. I knew, deep down, he loved me, but I don’t think he liked me very much. I spent a significant chunk of my dream working on something for my dad. I can’t recall what. I remember he was disappointed in me: not for what I was doing, but for trying at all. As if any measures I took to appease him just made him more upset. I kept circling this building, floating up and down, and every once in a while crossing his path. He never confronted me, but I could tell he was not happy with me, and I was not happy with him. This all felt so familiar.

I could not explain why, but eventually, I was stricken with the knowledge it was time for me to leave. I drifted back down to the bottom of the building, planted my feet on the cement floor, and walked over to say goodbye to my family. My dad wrapped me in a tight hug. I couldn’t tell you a single detail of what he looked like, but he was there, I know for sure. I loved him so much. He was so far away; I missed him. I started weeping, and I felt my face grow damp. I cupped his chin with one of my hands. I told him: “I am space man. You are earth man.” Dad looked at me, deep into my eyes, and he nodded. He understood. He let me go.

And then I pulled away from him, and I leapt upward with the tiniest exertion, ascending into the abyss headfirst. My eyes were blissfully shut and my limbs elongated to full, graceful length like a free diver gliding through water, floating to the surface. I was off to somewhere, alone.

I awoke, then, in that moment, soaring high above the ground. I touched my cheeks, and they were slick with tears. It was my birthday. I am space man. You are earth man. How special it is, to finally say what you mean.

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salvatore difalco

VÉRTIGO by Salvatore Difalco

Juan rose to pee in pitch darkness, his eyes fluttering. He found the toilet, but peed all over the unraised seat, splashing his shins and toes. Catching jeweled glints of chrome and glass, his eyes oriented to the darkness.

Incomprehensible, his next move—he lurched right, toward the bathtub, and not left toward the door, which led to his bedroom. The shins, bright with urine, walloped the side of the bathtub and his body pitched forward. A reflexive extension of his arms kept him from face-planting the tub.

Swollen and contused, the left shin blazed to the touch. Juan screamed and walked to the kitchen where he found an ice-pack in the freezer. It was 3:15. Thoughts of returning to sleep made him grimace. He’d need a horse tranquilizer for that.

In the living room, he switched on a lamp, and sat on the sofa, propping his left foot on the coffee table edge, next to a crystal cigarette-box that had belonged to his mother. The only remaining memento of her, all else lost or sold. He pressed the ice-pack to his left shin. The cold shock made him wince but numbed the pain.

He continued icing for a time, then got up to make coffee.

As he drank the black brew by the balcony window overlooking the courtyard, something dark and bulky fell past his balcony—bizarre, as his unit was on the topmost floor of the eight-story tenement. He stepped out on the balcony to inspect.

In the darkness—the courtyard lights long ago stoned—grainy lumps and bulges dominated. A dog barked from a recess of the courtyard. The ringing acoustics obscured the dog’s location.

After bandaging his shins, Juan dressed, took the elevator down, and limped through the shabby lobby, with its dead banana trees and ruptured red couch, and exited the front doors.

The cool, excremental air reminded him that spring was near. A time of hope. Maybe things would improve. He hobbled across the broken concrete slabs and rutted grounds of the courtyard. An almost full moon loomed behind a screen of smog, bearing a bizarre resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock. A few trees planted last spring had not survived winter and stood against the graffitied buildings in skeletal silhouette.

Juan approached the area where an object falling from the roof or sky would have landed, in respect to his balcony: nothing but clumps of sod and stone garnished with garbage. An old-fashioned sewing machine, half-buried in earth and dog excrement, drew a second glance, but its presence there preceded the incident.

He looked up. Most units were dark, but a few glowed with lamplight or flickered with the cold blue of flat-screen televisions. He surveyed the area again and, seeing nothing untoward, decided to head back.

Then, in the charcoal disorient of shadows, he detected a flicker near a concrete bench. He gingerly stepped toward it on the uneven path. When he drew closer to the bench, he observed, with a start, a pale face floating beside it, the eyes darkly luminous—apparently disembodied.

No sound issued from the face, yet it seemed to be mouthing words, or at the very least drawing breaths. He moved closer. The head wasn’t disembodied; someone was buried to the neck. Did this person fall from the roof or the sky? And land so precisely as to be buried—and still alive—up to the neck? He walked closer to the small, round head, the black hair flattened on the skull, the inky eyes gazing nowhere.

“Hey,” he said, “are you okay?”

The face continued mouthing silent words or gulping air. The dilated pupils evidenced signs of shock.

“Miss? Sir? Buddy?” Nothing. Juan stepped closer for a better look.

When he saw a thin gold hoop in the left ear, he figured it was a woman, but upon reflection decided he could not draw that conclusion: some men wore earrings. He touched the dark hair. It felt normal, perhaps sticky from product. Provoking no reaction, he let his hand fall squarely on the scalp. It was warm.

“Yo,” he said, “how did you get in this predicament?”

The head twitched, almost in irritation at the pressure of Juan’s hand, but he held it firm. A survey of the balconies revealed no peepers, at least not so far as he could tell.

He fronted the head and bent down so that his nose came close to its nose.

“Why don’t tell me what’s going on and I’ll go get you help?”

The face opened and closed its mouth, the eyes throbbed darkly, but no words emerged. It was a woman, he determined, or a man with delicate face bones. He touched the cheek. Despite the mud streaks, it felt soft and warm. Now the eyes regarded him. Perhaps the senses, after suffering a terrible shock, were slowly regathering.

“Did you fall from the roof?” he asked. “Did someone throw you?” he asked before hearing a response.

The mouth moved, but the voice box must have been blocked.

“Okay, just nod. Did you fall?”

The head nodded.

“Did someone push you?”

Again, the head nodded.

“From the roof?”

Again, the head nodded.

Using a small end of two-by-four he found by the bench, Juan dug away some of the surrounding dirt, so tightly packed around the neck it proved difficult to turn over. Sturdy shovels or machinery were needed to clear enough dirt to free the victim.

“This is unusual,” Juan stated.

The head nodded.

These days so many things defied logic and credibility that you never knew where you stood. He bent and studied the face.

The mouth spat up dirt. Juan wiped the lips with the back of his hand. He stroked the cheek. How warm to the touch, that cheek—and soft. He smiled. Then, for reasons he could never explain, he opened his hand, drew back his arm, and slapped the face hard enough to rock the head back. The sound reverberated through the courtyard.

Juan jumped up and looked at his stinging hand as if it belonged to someone else.

“I’m so sorry I did that,” he said, horrified at himself.

The dark eyes moistened. Juan felt terrible. What was he thinking? He stroked the cheek he had slapped. The eyes shut, and the face leaned warmly into his hand.

Afraid he had crossed some line, he stood up, heart racing, and headed to his building. He took the elevator up to his flat and called 911.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“Someone’s buried up to their neck in my courtyard.”

“Did you say buried up to their neck?”

“I think she fell off the roof.”

“Have you been drinking, sir?”

“I have not been drinking.”

“How do you know she fell off the roof? Did you push her?”

“I didn’t push her. I’m not sure she fell off the roof—I’m not making this up.”

The dispatcher took the address and said paramedics would be there shortly.

“Sounds like she’s in some pickle.”

“Yeah,” Juan said looking at his hand, “it’s unusual.”

He rang off. He took the elevator down to the lobby and was headed to the courtyard when he ran into the super, Mr. Greenwood, standing there with his right hand locked in an involuntary half-salute.

“Morning, Mr. Greenwood.”

“What are you doing here at this time?”

“Long story.”

Silver-haired Mr. Greenwood, mustachioed, fond of Tartan cardigans, suffered from early onset dementia. He rarely slept beyond 4 a.m. if he slept at all. His face evidenced the softening and slackening signs of gradual and irreversible stupefaction.

“I’m going to walk the dog,” he said.

Despite knowing Mr. Greenwood had no dog, Juan scoped the lobby.

“So what’re you doing here?” Mr. Greenwood said. “Up to no good?”

Juan balked. “What do you mean by that?”

Mr. Greenwood’s silver moustaches shook as he laughed. His right hand shook as well but remained raised as though in mid-salute.

“A girl’s buried up to her neck in the courtyard,” Juan said.

“Do tell,” Mr. Greenwood said.

“Dunno know how she got there.”

“Kids these days are animals.”

Smiling mirthlessly, Juan exited.

As sirens approached, he hastened his step. He wondered if someone had buried the woman to make a point. People do all kinds of crazy things to make points.

He walked to the bench, but when he looked for the buried woman, he discovered, to his chagrin, that she wasn’t there. Indeed, the hole where she’d been buried was filled in. He stood there glancing left and right. He’d been gone no longer than a few minutes.

When he stepped on the spot where the woman had been buried to her neck, the ground looked undisturbed. He glanced at the sky and its smog-dimmed Hitchcock moon and shuddered.

The sirens intensified. A dog barked. Juan’s eyes searched the courtyard, but shadows prevailed. Then, on the verge of tears, he saw something glinting in the ground. He stepped to the spot and kneeled.

He pulled a gold hoop out of the dirt, blew it clean, and held it in his palm. At that moment a flashlight beam shone in his eyes, blinding him.

“Put your hands where I can see them,” barked a voice behind the beam.

Juan raised his hands.

“Don’t fucking move,” said another voice.

Before Juan knew it, two uniformed police officers seized his arms. He demanded to know why they were manhandling him.

“Someone reported a prowler,” said the officer with the flashlight, beaming it at himself and casting a large ghoulish shadow against the tenement.

“I called 911,” Juan said. “There was a girl.”

“What girl?”

“She was buried—”

“You buried a girl?” said the other officer, tightening his grip.

“I didn’t bury her,” Juan protested. “I think she fell from the roof.”

Both officers looked at Juan.

“Where’s the girl now?” asked the officer with the flashlight.

Juan shrugged. Tears filled his eyes. He tried to exhibit the earring left behind to the officers, but they ignored him.

“Show us,” said the officer with the flashlight.

“What do you mean?” Juan said.

“Show us where the girl jumped off the roof,” said the other officer.

“Yes, take us up to the roof and show us.”

The officer with the flashlight led the way through the courtyard, the other officer close on Juan’s heels.

They passed Mr. Greenwood in the lobby.

“He’s no good,” Mr. Greenwood cackled. “He’s no good.”

“We need roof access.”

“Follow me,” Mr. Greenwood said. “And don’t mind Rexy, he don’t bite.”

The officers exchanged a glance but kept mum. They took the elevators up to the eighth floor and then walked through a door opening into a shaft with a set of metal stairs. Juan had always wondered what lay behind the door. The stairs led to the roof.

The four men stood on the roof with Alfred Hitchcock sizing them up.

The officer with the flashlight blazed it in Juan’s face. “Show us,” he said.

“But show you what?” Juan said.

Mr. Greenwood sat on a steel duct, right hand raised, whistling, as if for a dog.

“Well,” said the flash-lit officer, “if you don’t show us, maybe we’ll show you.”

“That’s a perfect idea,” said his colleague, grimacing. He removed his cap and jacket, and then slipped off his shoes and socks.

The officer with the flashlight followed suit.

Then, they faced each other in their shirts and trousers. They slapped each other on the shoulders. The officer with the flashlight turned and tossed it to Juan.

“Illuminate us,” he said.

Juan did as requested and shone the flashlight on them. They looked bloated and unhealthy. Then, the officers locked arms and in total silence leaped off the roof, down into the darkness of the courtyard.

Juan dropped the flashlight.

“Rexy,” Mr. Greenwood whispered. “Rexy. Bad dog. Bad dog.”

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kevin bigley

PUNKER by Kevin Bigley

Leslie stalked the stage with the palpable anxiety of a mountain lion locked in an exhibit. His shoulders were hunched, guitar still echoing the final chord from the previous song, his face bleeding rivers of perspiration. He slithered from end to end, fighting existential hysteria.

“Play ‘Ready to Go’!” cried a fan near the lip of the stage. “Come on, dude. Play it!”

Leslie ignored the fervent fan, wiping his damp forehead with his already drenched t-shirt. He sweat profusely, battling his intense flu-symptoms. He had a fever of one hundred and two degrees. His stomach flipped like a rabid circus chimp, gargling the indigestible street tacos and Budweiser. He looked out into the crowd of thirty-or-so punks with exhaustion and hatred. He was bored with them and he was bored with himself.

He hated playing in Sacramento. It called itself a capital like someone calls themselves an “Assistant Manager” at an Arby’s. It reeked of overcompensation, a city arguing with you, attempting to convince you that it was substantial. It was a half city, half cow-town that was easily driven through in under two minutes. The people were peculiar, but not enough to be interesting. Many of them had tinges of southern accents. What was that about? Why was the city fighting to be southern? Even so, you wouldn’t find the same edge here as you would find in a Memphis or New Orleans. No, Sacramento was a homogenized south. These people were as southern as Leslie was Irish. The Sacramento bars were always the same: honky-tonk vibes with elk horns on the walls, filled with accidental audience members who, as he began his sound check would perk up with curiosity. “Oh, is there music here tonight?” “Hey look, a live band!” “Cool, is this a cover band? Is it 80’s night?” Leslie would target these people, usually playing the most uptempo, abrasive song he had within his is catalogue. He’d lock eyes with them, watching as scowls flooded their faces when they realized they hated him. “Oh, maybe we should go,” they’d mouth to one another. He loved to watch them drift out the door.

“Mickey! Come on, Mickey,” the fan cried out to Leslie. “Come on, Mickey, you motherfucker. Play ‘Ready to Go.’ Play the T-Mobile song, Mickey!”

“Ready to Go” was originally a throwaway tune. It was immature, caveman punk. Three chords the whole way, two minutes in length. But somehow it had found its way onto a Grand Theft Auto soundtrack and garnered the attention of T-Mobile executives. Just like that, The Morons had their first and only hit (the term “hit” is used relatively, of course, as this is as close to a hit as an indie punk band could ever hope for). The fact that the song was a throwaway reinforced Leslie’s disdain for the chaos and injustice of the music industry. Nothing makes sense. He was chained to his vapid hit just as he was chained to his angst-ridden, alter-ego “Mickey Moron” of The Morons.

Presently, The Morons existed only in name. The original members, with the exception of Leslie, had all left. Matilda, his ex-girlfriend, had gone solo with great success playing power pop. Roger, the drummer, had left music altogether and was finishing up his associate’s degree. Leslie was the last spinning plate, and even he wanted to bring it crashing down. He had been experimenting with a new sound, a sound the gratuitously-pierced audience presently standing before him would despise. He was going for something slower, less fuzz-induced, with actual singing. Something Roky Erikson-esque. He always admired Roky, a reverb prophet who sang haunted tunes that were more American than Springsteen, with intricate picking, and nuanced lyrics about complex themes. Of course, Roky was no role model. He had been in this business for so long that he had nearly drank himself to death to the point of being unable to speak. The only working component left in his brain was the music part. He still toured, still sang, but couldn’t converse. Now going on thirty-three and still playing music for a living, Leslie was beginning to wonder if Roky’s cautionary tale would be his own.

“Play ‘Ready to Go,’ Mickey!” shouted the peevish fan. “Play it, motherfucker!”

Leslie sneered, smacking his lips as his mouth over-salivated. His stomach was beginning to bubble and boil, rejecting the beer and street food. He was pale, paler than normal. His jeans no longer fit. He pulled them up, trying to get them to a sticking point. He had grown a potbelly sometime after turning thirty. The fat cascaded over the front of his jeans and love-handles ballooned over the rear edges. His face was bloated and tired. He still had his long blonde hair, a tribute to Cobain. But these days, his hair resembled his fraying psyche: a delusional gun fighter who was outnumbered and outgunned, but had stubbornly convinced himself that he could still shoot his way out of anything.

He was staying with Katy, an old music friend he knew from their days of starting out. She lived in Sacramento with her husband Chris, a real estate agent. They had a lovely home and had just welcomed their second little girl. Katy used to be a punker, playing in a three-piece industrial hardcore band; she was lead vocals and bass. But her shaved head had been replaced by bangs, her piercings were now scars, and her tattoos were merely conversation pieces at block parties. She was nursing Leslie through his flu, providing him with homeopathic medicine, which was a huge help as he didn’t have health insurance. Chris was a nice guy, funny too. He and Katy had built a nice life, filled with picnics in the park, vacations to the coast, and a budding wine cellar. Leslie envied them.

“Ready! To! Go!” chanted the fan. “Ready! To! Go! Ready! To! Go!” Leslie stared into the crowd as if it were a placid surface of a still pond. His mind wandered.

He was wrought with the cliche musician crossroads of The New Stuff versus The Old Stuff. What do you play? Either you’re a dinosaur who can’t adapt, or you’re a fool who thinks his new shit is any good. He stared at the audience with festering acrimony. He’d heard stories of Dylan saying “fuck it” and turning his back to the audience as he played. Kim Gordon staying as still as possible so as to deprive them of even the slightest bit of “show business.” Cobain throwing his frail body into the drum-set, hell bent on destroying himself before he plays “Smells Like Teen Spirit” one more time.

As he sipped his beer, he suddenly felt light-headed and stumbled, almost falling on his face. He could feel the audience holding its collective breath. Camera phones floated into the air. They wanted to watch him fall apart. They wanted a show.

Fuck Sacramento, he thought. But at least it wasn’t Los Angeles. He hated playing in LA even more. Clubs that were CBGB wannabe’s with crowds of hipsters who were there to sponge up art. They stood with their arms folded in the back, slowly nodding as if they were members of an indie rock jury. They quietly formulated bullshit opinions and their own, personal Pitchfork ratings. They were too cool to mosh, too cool to show emotion, and too cool to interact with one another. And there was always a musician friend Leslie knew, someone doing much better than him. Someone who had successfully transformed, evolved, waiting for him by the bar. Afterwards they’d buy him a beer and give him an empty compliment, “What a show,” “Man, you guys really went for it,” “Super loud, dude.” But he knew what they thought. He was a thirty-three-year-old playing music he wrote when he was twenty-one. He was pathetic, and there was a tacit tone to make sure he knew that.

He paced with is beer, his band staring at him, waiting for his signal to continue. But Leslie would have none of it. He drank the rest of his Budweiser, gulping it down and virulently throwing the can into the audience. They cheered at his outburst. His gut was folding in on itself, queasy and disturbed. His senses were alert, taking too much in all at once. What if he just gave up? What if he just dropped his guitar and walked off the stage never to be heard from again? The myth of Mickey Moron would spread. Where is he now?

“Fuck you, Mickey!” cried the fan in front. “Play it, Mickey! Fuck you!”

All this time he thought he was the smart one. He thought he had it all figured out. He pursued the thing that he loved, got really good at it, shared it with the world, and made money. It was all so simple. He used to pity the people he knew from high school who became accountants, salesmen, teachers, etc. They had failed and he had succeeded because he had it all figured out. But as time passed he realized that he was the fool. He had convinced himself that he could make a living out of a hobby.

Heat rose in his intestines, a warning that something was on the rise. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He had to continue. He thought about the next song, the chord changes. He was a teenager trying to suppress a boner with desexualized thoughts. As his mind focused on the next song, he felt his nausea subside. He had thwarted it for the moment. He took a deep breath.

“The T-Mobile song, Mickey! Come on, dude! Play it!”

Out of nowhere, Leslie thumped power chords with ferocity. “Ready to Go” was music a monkey could play, but it was catchy as hell. The whole song is made up of three chords (A, C, and G). He started at A for four beats, then changed to C for another four, then G for three with a quick finishing beat at C, then back to A. As he came to life, so did the crowd. They began to jump, push, and jostle. He had infected them. The drums pounded their repetitive 1, 2, 1, 2, standard punk beat with heavy snare and kick drum. The fan that had badgered Leslie writhed with primal joy.

But instead of the opening verse, a stream of vomit erupted from Leslie’s maw. Tacos, beer, Katy’s homeopathic medicine, and other undigestible rubble spewed from Leslie’s oozing face and onto the truculent fan. The fan, shocked and disgusted, was too horrified to move. Once a tough-as-nails punk, he transformed into an humiliated child. Finally, his jaw trembling, he dropped his head and slinked away, heading for the bathroom.

The band slowly ground to a halt, looking at Leslie to make sure he wasn’t about to pass out. Leslie nodded and tossed them a thumbs up. He felt instantly better. He moved to his pedals and turned off his SuperFuzz, and instead shifted to a high-toned, reverb-heavy, tremolo SkySurfer pedal. He strummed an a-minor chord that resonated throughout the small, western-themed bar with the haunting sounds of neon beer signs, Roky Erickson, and the San Fernando Valley at midnight. He picked slowly, allowing the tones to paint every corner of the space. He smiled as he watched disappointment spread, spider-like, as it crawled across every punker’s face. He delicately unleashed his new sound and watched as bar patrons mouthed “Oh, maybe we should go.” They settled their tabs, and drifted into the night.

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cary stough


I grieve that grief


Today, when I was being caught up on the news of whether or not my cousin Brian had accepted therapeutic treatment upon being released from the White Oak Psychiatric Hospital, my mother called him a “stubborn soul.” Today was a week after he had called every member of his family speaking of ending his life. A week before when I had spoken to her about the calls every member of my family received I was sitting in a black wooden chair in my partner’s apartment in Allston, Massachusetts, which is about a twenty-minute walk from Harvard University. I had previously been walking around and suddenly came upon a red-brick building not far from the premier art museum on campus stamped with the word “Philosophy.” I knew this to be, then, the building that had housed the Harvard Philosophy Department for however many years it had stood there after being built. The building was stamped with another word, which leads me to believe that the building isn’t as old as the University itself, and the word is the surname of perhaps the University’s most famous exponent—at least in the United States—Ralph Waldo Emerson. The building, as it is referred to on syllabi, is called “Emerson Hall,” denoting that at some time in the past the building, whether or not it had already been built, had been dedicated to the late philosopher, who, at the time of his death, no longer lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Harvard University is located, but west of the University in a town called Concord, where the first shot was fired.

According to Google Maps, the precise distance between Emerson Hall and the Ralph Waldo Emerson House—that is, the last house the philosopher occupied before he died—is fourteen point one miles. If I were driving my car, which is a tan Chevrolet Blazer manufactured ten years after my birth, it would take me, approximate to traffic, twenty-three minutes to drive the distance between the two buildings. Emerson, along with many other eminent early American thinkers such as William Greenleaf Eliot and Horatio Alger Jr., had graduated from the Harvard Divinity School some time in the past, long before I was born, long before I would read in a high school classroom in Missouri the words that would—as I tell myself—set into motion my life as a writer. It was a dictum that spurned me into writing, made me conceive of myself as capable of writing. What were these words? They happened to be every single word from Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance,” which I read in a heat, one evening, before the other students and I were to discuss its implications as they related to our lives as high school sophomores. Or it was the phrase found in the essay’s final sentence—“nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles”—that finally did me in the direction of turning my life of uncritical youth into a life of education, of self-searching.

Without knowing it I had been searching for words like these, which felt cut raw out of the hide that religion had made to congeal over my skin. It felt as if someone had dug in a knife and split me into body and shell. The thing I realized then that I would next need to search for was an identification with the type of person I would need to be to discover principles, let alone those to which I would—if I was able to maintain the curious spirit that inaugurated this search—adhere. As a result of the aforementioned splitting, I had the intuition that, not only had the body I now possessed been hidden under the crust of so-called principles—which were only rules that I had been made to follow on behalf of others—but that I was now in a position to question with what capacities this new body could act.

My mind, I haven’t mentioned, was pretty much the same. I hadn’t yet contemplated throwing this body down the middle of a stairwell, or repeatedly temporarily sought to numb the division between these two aspects of my being—intention and extension—through the influence of alcohol. In college, my favorite beer was Stag, then brewed independently and only available in a number of Midwestern North American states, now incorporated, part of a larger corporation. Like so many other once independent beers, Stag is brewed by the conglomerate Budweiser Brewing Co., out of St. Louis, Missouri, and is, ironically, less easily come-by. The reason Stag was by favorite beer was because it tasted golden, it was in a golden can. Stag has, I think, the greatest logo of any beer: the silhouetted head of a stag, or a deer buck, whose antlers almost exceed the confines of the rectangle it’s drawn in, and likewise, seems almost to exceed the two-dimensional confines of its being a logo.

When I drank beer I would change. When I say I would change I mean that the ways in which I interacted with the world, let alone other people or my environment, changed. I began to see things differently. Even before I took a sip of the beer I had grown accustomed to drinking in large amounts throughout the most memorable years of my life I would feel a passion not unlike sadness, and though my body in so many other instances cried out for joy, it was understood that this lowering of my capacity to act in a way joyful, to make joyful judgments regarding the world, was what I deserved. Why was it what I deserved? When I was just beginning to live a life I could call “on my own”— though I didn’t want to live alone at the time, I didn’t know what I wanted—I began entertaining thoughts that would have scared my only living parent if she would ever find out about it, because they were thoughts of suicide. I thought I deserved to be sad and so I thought I deserved to be killed.

I would define thoughts of suicide as thoughts that take as their subject the completion of a flow of intention, brought about by a delusory state, which allowed the thinker to identify with a belief that one could reify one’s being, and from there separate one’s life into multiple perspectives based on an arbitrary and always socially mandated value of worth. From there, the thinker determines whether life should go on, or whether it, this particular life, should end. Some philosophers have attempted to describe life as a flow of processes—binding together linguistics, mathematics, literary impulses, film studies—which either goes on endlessly, connecting to other “lives,” or—as in the case of the suicide—is by some violent slight of the hand neutralized, flattened, water poured on a burner. Brian’s mother is my aunt. Brian’s aunt is my mother. Genealogy is one perspective humans have enjoyed viewing themselves in order to draw out the contours of their materially-bounded identities. After a month of deliberation the only means I thought adequate to the task of killing myself was a set of stairs. More specifically, I intended to drink a carton of beer and throw myself down the central corridor of a set of very tall spiraling stairs that led to my dormitory room, in college, on the fourth floor of the building known as Dogwood Hall at the University of Missouri. I had come to the decision to kill myself by throwing myself down the center of a flight of stairs, down to the floor of the basement, down to the dappled grey concrete that, from so far up, looked like water. If it isn’t already clear, I’ll tell you now: I had come to occupy the position of one who felt trapped in a life without extension. I had come to the end of a life I thought others wanted me to be living.

The thought of carrying on with such a life felt more like dragging a corpse through a hallway, dragging a corpse through the doors of an elevator. In my life I have known several people who have come to occupy this position, the position of one in possession of a knowledge beyond death, such that it will set them free of a life lived without the triumph of principles. All of them have lived and died a million times and I’ve watched them come back to me like real people I’ve grieved for.

One of them tightened a hoop of rope around his neck and stood on top of a chair. And I only heard of this when he told me the story. How he escaped his own end, narrowly, when the rope snapped, and awoke sobbing on the wooden floor.

One of them slipped into a lake, hoping the drivers of the boats wouldn’t notice her as they sailed into her, cracking her sternum. It would eventually be one of those drivers, though, who would pull her out, wet, shaking and irascible.

One of them wears two watches now. At one time, he was a mentor. Due to several classifications of distance, we have since fallen out of touch and I only think of him briefly, now and then.

Another sits alone in a North Canadian wilderness, the unanswered letter I sent him growing warped on the table. It soothes me to think this because, in reality, I have no idea where he is. It’s been over four years.

Finally, another, on a particularly bad night, took with him a bottle of anti-depressives—also known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, MAOIs—and laid down at his father’s grave. Intending the ingestion of the contents of the bottle of pills would put him fast into an endless sleep, he opened the cap and fell asleep anyway due to his heavy weeping.

This was my brother, who was sixteen years old. Shortly after this episode, which didn’t conclude in his death, Brian had spoken to him over the phone and said something to the effect of “The Devil wants you dead. Capitulation to these demands, surrender to those fatal seductions, is a failure.” A failure of what, I wondered. He always talked like a spy. When my mother, over the phone, was telling me about the phone-call Brian had given my brother at the time and she came to this part of Brian’s speech I asked my mother, Failure of what? She didn’t know, she said. “Or,” she said, “a failure of faith.” Of faith in what, I asked. And she said, “Don’t be silly.” I knew that the answer that I would be given, had I not asked the question facetiously, was God, that my brother had failed to have adequate faith in God and had slipped into the position of those who, bereft of faith, find themselves drawn into the darkness of death.

When I kill myself it won’t be because I have finally occupied some position legible to others. Nor will it be the result of a succession of logic. Nor will it be because I have forgotten about God. It will be done with a gun in the hand of a child, and just as the barrel is pressed to a pre-designated spot below my ribs, and as I’m laying there, as I’m bleeding out, I will craft my fiction, which will have been the story of my life without dread, without the threat of anyone I love throwing themself out a window or locking themself in their car in a smoky garage. It will be without the threat of love, in fact, which is jealousy of another’s life without you, which is to say me, the author of my own beginning, like a golden branch let off into a creek, the currents of which are flowing in search of higher and higher triumphs I won’t ever reach. Angels, come bear me away.

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KENTUCKY SHITS by Giovanni DeJaneiro

Steven lived alone in a small house on a cattle ranch at the bottom of a hidden valley.  He didn’t have city water, air conditioning, or internet. The kitchen stank. Empty beers crowded the table and counters and stovetop.  A flyswatter hung on the wall—flies hummed through the air. Dishes towered in the sink. Bright orange slime curdled in a dirty saucer, seemingly the source of the hideous reek.

He inflated a mattress in the family room, where a floral couch faced a huge wood stove.  Grains of rice, toenail clippings, bottle caps, and dirty tissues overspread the coffee table.  Envelopes and invoices carpeted the carpet alongside coins and coasters and crumpled socks and another flyswatter.

The mattress deflated while I slept.  I woke up on the floor. Steven wasn’t awake.  I took a shit and washed my hands. Stripping down, I tiptoed into the tub.  I let the water warm and danced under the stream.

Fifteen minutes later, the water choked and ceased.  

The water deliveryman said he couldn’t refill the cistern until Monday.  Steven had to wash up with bottled water in the bathroom sink. We agreed not to shit in the toilet.  I told Steven I would shit at the library. But I clenched my ass until I didn’t have to go.

I sat on the porch and watched Steven leave for work.  I would have been at the office had I not decided to quit.  I elbowed my brain and feigned gratitude, but then I took a hit and forgot.  Fat cows grazed in the green hills and birdsong twinkled in my ear. The landlord’s guard dogs, tongues dangling, bandied into my arms and shed handfuls of dirty coat as soft as warm crayons.  The sun smiled like my grandma and even the wasps seemed lazy.

But I couldn’t relax.  Dry mouth and bad breath and eye boogers, dog shit, bullshit, dead flies and glue traps swarmed my mind, among other things.  I felt like a fugitive. I managed to smoke the feeling out of my head, as well as every thought until I achieved dementia.

I never worried about smoking myself stupid—a return to innocence would have been a happy turn of the screw.  No, I worried about smoking myself eccentric and unemployable. I took another hit and blew my brains into the ether.  

When Steven came home, we ate bad pizza and drank vodka with Coke.  We both drank too much. Steven caved and took a shit he couldn’t flush.  I tried to browse porn on my phone, but I didn’t have enough bars.

Steven seemed exasperated after his shit.  I laughed at him.

“Hey, are you sure you don’t want me to pay some rent where I’m here?”

“No.  You’re my guest.  You can stay as long as you want.”  

“Okay, cool.  I’m not going to move in, you know.  Remember, I’m going to Colorado the week after next, so I’ll be out of your hair soon.”

“So, why exactly do you want to move to Colorado again?”

“I don’t know—a change of scenery.  Mountains, I like mountains. And weed is legal—”

Steven smiled.

“Bullshit.  You’re full of shit.  I know why you’re going.”

I made a funny face.


“Because of that girl, right?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Look, man, I don’t mean to doubt your judgment, but I have to say, I’m a little worried.  She requested me on Facebook—”

“Yeah, I told her about you.”

“It says she’s in a domestic partnership with someone.  Is she married or something?”

“What?  No. She has a boyfriend, but I don’t like him.  I mean, I’m definitely a homewrecker. But this time I paid for the home I’m wrecking.”  

“What do you mean?”

“I mailed her five hundred dollars last month so she wouldn’t have to sell her car to make rent.  It’s just that she gets her license next month, provided she doesn’t have another seizure. She’s so close, and I would hate for her to have to sell her car, and I love her—”

“I’m not trying to tell you what to do or anything, but you should be careful.  So she doesn’t take advantage of you.”

“She’s not, no, it’s not like that.  I also bought her some concert tickets and a stuffed animal for her birthday, but she didn’t expect or ask for any of those things, you know?”   

“Okay, I hear you.  You know her better than I do.  I’m just saying, in my experience, poor people can’t love.”  

“Is that right?”

“Look, all I’m saying is, be careful.  You want another beer?”


“Okay, get it yourself.  Get me one, too.”

Steven waddled toward the bathroom.

“I’m probably going to shit myself.  Jesus Christ! Was there a time when I didn’t have to shit myself?  I guess this is what it means to be a prisoner.”

I tried to browse porn again, but the page wouldn’t load.  I also tried to look up the average salary of technical writers in the Milwaukee metropolitan area.  But the page wouldn’t load.

“Stay out of the bathroom for a while.”

I chuckled and changed the subject.  

“I’m so fucked, man.  I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I shouldn’t have quit. I should have learned how to code!”

“Maybe, but I think you would kill yourself if you were a coder.”  

“Yeah, probably.  I don’t know how you do what you do.  I know I couldn’t.”

“Well, I’m only working where I’m working because I want to buy the company eventually.”

“What, really?  How?”

“They offered me stock options when I started, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.  They’re full of shit. The reality is that I’m lucky they haven’t fired me. And if I don’t make $300,000 by the end of the year, they might.”

“Damn, man.”

“Yeah.  I’m in sales because I could make a lot more money faster than any engineer.  That’s the carrot they dangle in front of me, anyway. It’s not bad, but I don’t like it.  It’s about the money. Why do you think people do it? It’s funny, my manager told me, you work hard, you buy a Porsche and a nice watch, and then you get a girl.  I’m like, is that true? And he’s like, yeah, that’s what I did! I knew my character wasn’t going to get me by. That’s why I put a spoiler on my car.”

“Well, goddamn.  I don’t know, man.  That’s bleak. I can’t believe people live like that.”

We laughed.  I raised my voice.

“Don’t you want to FIRE, man?”

“What’s that mean?”

“Financial Independence, Retire Early, man!  I’ve been reading this Reddit, the financial independence Reddit, and these people, they’re like bankers and coders and shit.  They advocate living below your means and putting your savings in stocks so you can retire early.”

“That’s just spastic retard shit.  I actually talk to CEOs and people in charge of shit all the time, and once you’ve heard enough about the way stocks are, you know, created, you realize it’s all bullshit.  It’s made up.”

“What, you don’t want to retire early, man?”

“Retire early?  For what?”

“I don’t know, some people said they want to play video games in solitude, you know.”

“So?  They can play video games anytime.”

“But they want to play video games all the time—some of them.”

“Well, good luck with that.  Hey man, I’m sorry, but I don’t feel too great.  I’m going to go to bed, alright?”

“Hey, that’s fine.  Farewell and goodnight!  Feel better, man.”

“Thanks.  Goodnight.”

I woke up in the middle of the night with a stomachache.  I unspooled a wad of toilet paper and stumbled outside. The guard dogs barked and howled somewhere in the valley.  I thought they might ambush me. Panicked, I fumblingly unbuckled my pants and squeezed runny shit in the grass behind the barn.  The odor gagged me. More and more dogs began to bark and howl. I braced myself for a fight.

The dogs didn’t show.  I wiped my ass and attempted to scoop the wet pile into a plastic bag.  Liquid shit speckled my fingers. I sniffed them and threw up. My stomach finally settled.  I tossed the bag of shit and went back to sleep.

The next day, Steven still had the shits.  He thought he might have to go to the hospital, he shit so much.  I held my shit, but I had to piss in the toilet several times. We slowly flooded the toilet.  

It was too hot to go outside.  Having sweated all day and all night, grease slicked my skin and I couldn’t breathe through either nostril.  Using his phone as a mobile hotspot, Steven streamed a South Korean police drama on his laptop. We watched thirteen hours of the show, pausing only to piss and shit and order takeout.  

Steven insisted I try Joella’s Hot Chicken.  

“No, I want the real thing.  Let’s get some Kentucky Fried Chicken,” I drawled in a terrible southern accent.  

“I’m telling you, they don’t have KFC in Kentucky.”

“No way, I definitely saw a KFC near the highway.”

“Well, yeah, there’s KFC, but they’re usually attached to Long John Silver’s.”

“Weird, I’ve only ever seen Taco Bell Pizza Hut.”

“Have you tried Cincinnati chili?”

“What, that orange shit in your sink?”  

Sunday afternoon, the water deliveryman came.  I watched him back up the driveway in a red pickup with a rusty tank chained to the bed.  He slipped a green hose inside a hole in the front yard and poured forty dollars of water into the cistern.  Here’s a productive member of society, I thought, a pillar of the community.

Steven and I cheered when the faucets sputtered water.  We could finally flush the toilet—a small victory. I could smell my crotch through my jeans, so I immediately took a shit and a shower.  

When the cistern ran dry, I thought I was roughing it, but I couldn’t imagine having no electricity, no clothes, no shelter, least of all no money to spin the situation.  The house could burn down, my car could blow up, my clothes could shrink and my family could die. I would still have enough money to live.

I couldn’t believe I had quit my job and wound up staying rent-free in a quaint home on an isolated cattle ranch in rural Kentucky.  People aspire toward my rock bottom, work their whole lives away. I feared the worst was yet to come.

I stared at the ceiling and contemplated suicide. I suppose I should have been grateful for my life and my friend and running water, but I felt undead and lonely and thirsty.  I suppose I should have been grateful for the opportunity to kill myself, but I couldn’t decide how I wanted to die.

I didn’t want to shoot myself because I’m a lousy shot.  I didn’t want to jump because I’m afraid of heights. I didn’t want to slash my wrists because I’m squeamish.  I didn’t want to overdose because I might wind up merely brain-dead, a drooling caricature in a bed of medical bills, confined to my mother’s basement for the rest of my life.

My mother didn’t want children, she wanted dogs.  Turns out she’s allergic to dogs. But she wasn’t back then.  I couldn’t understand why she bothered to create me. Childbearing is busywork, childrearing a career all its own.  She must have loved my father.

I would’ve liked to have been a dog.  I could have shit anywhere. I opened the fridge and grabbed several slices of raw bacon.  I sat on the porch. Waving the bacon, I watched the guard dogs scamper toward me.

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