In sixth grade (1997), my friend Tom invited me to church because I was a heathen and poor. (We drifted when he got really into drugs later, but from ages 11 to 14, we were close.)

Because my mom worked—Dad vanished in 1990, returned for three days in 2014, and then vanished again—and I lived too far from school to ride the bus, what started as walking with Tom to church together on Wednesdays after school grew into going to Tom’s house weekdays until my mom got off work. 

Tom and I practiced kickflips in the driveway for an hour, then listened to CKY or stared at the neighbor’s caged raccoon until I had to go. The rural Midwest hadn’t caught up with the rest of America yet. 

Tom’s dad was unemployed but had money: Cool Dad. He sat around smoking cigarettes, and once a month got excited (stoned) and made toast, holing-out a “nest” in the crispy bread before frying an egg inside. His dad also slyly placed Playboys in plain sight. We managed to get a centerfold unglued long enough to look at it. Seventies-era. I was afraid and jealous of the body hair.

Most times, Tom’s dad was nowhere around. 

During alternating weeks we went to Tom’s mom and stepdad’s. They had lives, so it sucked there more than at his dad’s. The two houses were night and day. No dirt-road skating there. No psychotic caged animals next door. But the similarity was the smell: like you ate an ashtray, vomited, and left a wet tea bag on top. 

The only entertainment was the family’s Great Pyrenees repeatedly getting run over by cars. Every day we’d hunt for new skid marks in his rotten fur. And sometimes we found cool stuff in the woods, like antique Coca-Cola signs, or a rifle suspected in a murder. We were all alone.

Tom was normal. By living vicariously through him and his family’s resources, I convinced myself, against all evidence, that I was too. 

I was shy concerning sex—both from church vitriol and rural existence best described as macabre. Forty-six kids in my graduating class, same since first grade. Meaning, classmates knew more about you than your parents, and there was no “other crowd” in which to hide. Hell for a sensitive introvert. Hate, judgement, bullying were amplified a million-fold. I wasn’t bisexual, so I only had a shot at half of them and still had to out-cool all the other boys. 

At his mom’s, Tom was crushingly depressed and, without warning me, flipped to The Adult Channels. I was used to TV with around six channels at home, and these channels were in the 800s, like Tom had black market access. It took a minute for me to absorb what was happening, not only because I’d never seen porn, but because his parents didn’t officially “get” these channels.

Imagine. Muzak, halfhearted moans. Static. White noise. Like a movie theater ravaged by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Images frozen between frames. A black bar split the screen. Set it all in motion. Sliding up, diagonally, left. Sometimes a breast (?) or asscheek (?) scuttled past. 

Horrified. On the edge of my seat. Was this normal? Is Tom “gay,” whatever that was? Was I gay? My pants grew uncomfortable in the low light. 

And Tom just sipped his Dr. Pepper. 

On the porch, I sat, holding my head. Stared intently at the oak trees out front, dog bounding toward me as if hit by a landmine. 

I was scared, alone, slightly aroused. I needed help. I was stuck in America’s Middling West, my mind craving answers that were just out of reach to questions unidentifiable. 

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HUNGER by Tyler Dempsey


The ski-masked man squeezed my biceps. 

“Easy,” I said. 

He went, “Get in, fucks,” and nodded toward a black SUV, gun under Eddie’s throat. “Don’t even think about it.” 

Eddie called shotgun. 

That was yesterday. 

Eddie’s my roommate. I’m 34. Too old for a roommate. 

I fucked up. 

Eddie’s on the couch. You could say “living” there. Old vomit, pink—like brain blended with Monster energy drink—arced but didn’t clear the cushions. My cat’s purring caked in matter needing chemicals to remove. 

Ed’s stomach jiggles from a tank top. A hairy muffin hidden for later. Pink on his cheek, he loads a pipe with drugs. 

“You know. We’re broke. After the robbery. Where’d you get this? Sure, thanks. Robbed. Never thought you’d be here is the thing. The couch needs cleaned. Maybe you could get off a few months? Actually, I’m selling it. Do you like cats?” 

He “salvaged” what we’re smoking from the cushions, he says, as if defending it. It vaguely resembles something I smoked a week ago. 

“I have an idea.”

“If it’s moving out, to a shelter or a new house, I’m ears.”

“I’m hungry.” 

I look at his cheek. 

“I’m listening.”

“Saw this movie. Guys burglarize a neighborhood, taking only shit they find in freezers. Like ham the wife bought ‘cause it was five bucks, now hard as a dick. Not even the husband cares if it goes missing. We hit a few. Food for a month.”

“I’m listening.” 

Eddie could afford something like rent this way. 

“This might work, I was gonna sell plasma for my aunt, who needs plasma. I’m not clear how plasma works. Let’s do it. How are we gonna walk with hams? I’ll be at load-capacity quick.”

“I got a car.”

How long had he been up? 


It’s a limo. I fucked up. 

Ed parks on a hydrant; a stream catching sunlight, surges forth. 

“I fucked up, Ed. Can I have back? I’ll never see inside a limo again.”

“Nah. Sit here with me. I get distracted, alone.” 

Eddie’s a drag. 

“This is badass.” 

In gear, he creeps to the next house, considers the sidewalk, but instead eases on Ron’s grass. 

“My neighbor.” 

In the side-mirror, two girls laugh at the hydrant liberally hosing April’s air. Ron—neighbor who shuffles his driveway each morning, waving. He’s an asshole as far as I’m concerned. 

“Do we have to hit Ron? He’s not bad.” 

Ed looks at the limo, still idling, like, I was hoping to not be long.  

Inside, Ed grabs Ron. 

“Hi, Ron.” 

In Eddie’s hand, Ron’s head slams the corner separating the kitchen from the living room. I don’t think he hears me over the screams. 

On a black walnut table, in Ron’s spotless-year-round living room—carpet and furniture exceedingly white—is a Monster energy drink. 

“It’s Monster,” I say, pointing. 

Ron’s head is soft, where there’s head at all—pumpkin innards reluctant to release seeds. Pink, with flecks of Ron’s skull here and there, circle the spot where a head would be. 

“Fuck, Ed.” 

I think, This is good. We can eat yogurt while we wait for ham to thaw, certain Eddie hadn’t thought of that. 

Ed’s scraping a T-bone coated in decades of frost with a butcher knife under scalding water; the frost withdraws revealing rotten treasures. 

I spread lasagna from a Pyrex on the countertop. 

We dive in. 

I’m so hungry. 

Ed tongues tidbits while I grab a tray of eclairs. Down in the sink next to where he’s scrubbing it goes; sopping hands raise piles, cheeks bulge, pastry drips from lips. I use my hand as a shovel to plumb chocolate from corners of the pan softened from dishwater. 

“Yummm.” Ed grins. 

His neck muscles strain working the T-bone, reminding me of a bald eagle’s leg I saw in a museum. 

I feel bad for Ron. He looks like an old mop you let kids tie-die. 

Partially-frozen steak resists Eddie’s teeth. Something about everything, the whiteness of Ron’s living room, his green lawn. Makes you unbelievably hungry. 

I go to the window. The girls from earlier are peeling out in the limo. Grass and mud spray Ron’s lawn. Red and blue reflect back and forth in the hydrant’s geyser. 

I hear sirens. 

I run to the fridge. 

Green bean casserole going soft on top comes out. We descend. He mops dregs of curdled sauce and beans with bread. I explode a bag of Doritos. Ed laughs. Chips rain down. “There’s never enough in the bag,” I say. 

Crawling in the crumbs, I hear a knock. 

“It’s the police.” 

“No thanks!” 

I look at Ed struggling to get turkeys from the freezer in Ron’s garage. It’ll work if he drops one. 

“Ed.” I remember raccoons dying in a situation like this. 

Ed. Not a bad guy. 

“We’re breaking down the door.”

I fucked up. Not my day. 

“One, two—” 

My day will come.

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MORE by Tyler Dempsey

Servants scatter. The psychoanalyst enters the room. He regards his surroundings: Apollo’s wife, Aphrodite, scrolls Facebook. Her Admirers lounge. Various articles—bedside tables, a rocking horse, bowling pins, Fruit Roll-Ups—lay adrift across the floor. Aphrodite refurbishes goods, like Fruit Roll-Ups, from thrift stores.

Apollo enters, his humor betrays immense slaying. He approaches an Admirer, slays him. Tosses a bloody scimitar to the recliner. The Admirers scoot over. He sits.

—How do you feel?


He cracks a Pabst Blue Ribbon, gallantly. Loosens his golden codpiece. Apollo props his heels on the dead Admirer.

—I was whipping adversaries. The sun was angling, hitting clouds, casting them in that special glow of honey and Fruit Roll-Ups. The leather cracked in my hands, I thought: we never capture what we’re worth.

The psychoanalyst writes in his notebook. Aphrodite ‘likes’ a video of two kittens attempting to nurse from a pot-belly pig.

 Apollo glares.

 She opens her blouse. A spray bottle. Sprays oil. The Admirers shift uncomfortably.

—Your marriage, has been, on the rocks?

—He doesn’t love me an adequate number of times. And I’ve told him of the inadequacy. This, took our relationship from blended, to on the rocks.

—How often?



—2 to 4 times, monthly.

He scribbles maliciously in the notebook.

—Your job, Aphrodite—does it, fulfill you?

—I’m 27. How many husbands, can someone who’s married, expect to have? Refurbishing’s stable. Still, a career out of what most respectable people do while they’re in college?

—You’ve no interest in college?

—I tried three times.

An Admirer sketches a nude of Aphrodite. Another approaches to stare intently at her breasts. They are wonderful. I’m a mineralogist for the U.S. Department of Minerals, he says, Capricorn, half-kitten, half-pot-belly pig, I play Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 in F major, on a yo-yo.


—You were born in Lubbock, Apollo—is that right?


—What was that like?

—Deuteronomy 4:9 says: Be careful, watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children, and to their children after them. Lubbick.


The Admirer shows the sketch. Beautiful. Beautiful.  Beautiful.


—Tell more of your unhappiness. We’re all-ears.

—We dislike, different things, he and I. I strive for: the dubious, equivocal, faint, fuzzy, hazy, imprecise, nebulous, obscure, uncertain, unclear. He doesn’t. He unequivocally doesn’t strive for those things.


—Call me old-fashioned, Doc. I endeavor for biscuits and gravy, Lightnin’ Hopkins, that dog’ll hunt. The 401(k). Dirt road, dirt floor, dirt mini-mall. All-Things-Eastwood. Every night, at 9 p.m., I brush my teeth with a Model A Ford.

She rips a bit from Nora Roberts: . . . they implement relatively simple processes of template matching and pattern recognition, that is, processes that are paradigmatic cases of perceptual processing . . .


—Aphrodite suffers from Present/Post-Present Befuddlement, the direst of today’s situations, listed in my D.S.M.

 Aphrodite sprays oil.

—Certainty’s robotic. Not malleable. She’s expressing, non-robidity. Searching for, searching for, searching for.

—Any hope?

—Wallow. General wallowing. Anguish. Agony, Grief. Heartache. Heartbreak. Misery. Sorrow. Suffering.

He kicks a Corinthian helmet (purchased from Lubbock Pawn) out the window.

—My Code of Conduct, tattooed on my manly codpiece, spells happiness. It’s striving. I’m nothing. Failing lifts me upward, to Heaven, where Apollos who came before me . . .

—She hates dim-lit diners, oil pipelines, shoulder-fat, Deuteronomy.

 Aphrodite stabs a trident in Apollo’s leg.

 More, she says, more.

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