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The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.

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The Art and Humor of Danny Ochoa

 

Piece Frog

 

Peace Frog

 

Beany and Cecil Tribute

 

Lords of the Cemetery

 

Hendrix

 

Las Adelitas Sanchez

 

Ghosts

 

The Many Vices of Shiva

 

Immaculate Deception

 

Luna the Bee

 

Minimum Wage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIO

Danny Ochoa is an Illustrator and Animator strongly influenced by Folk and Psychedelic Art. Fascinated by the medium of Animation since the age of five, he attended classes at The Academy Of Art University in San Francisco majoring in Illustration and Animation. Having lived in the Bay Area for close to a decade, he managed to meet a lot of interesting Artists, Musicians and Writers who shaped his approach to Life and Art in general. He has worked for such companies as Fox ADHD, Bento Box Entertainment and Lowbrow Studios. He currently resides in his hometown of Los Angeles working as a Retake Animator at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios and spending his spare time completing his short film which has been in production for over a year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Dead Doll

by Sola Saar

 

 

I was back in Los Angeles at my mother’s house and very pregnant with my first child.

My younger sister Katrina already had twenty-six children.

She seated several baby dolls at the dining table, then placed tiny sauce bowls and teacups in front of each of them. Katrina put Marissa, a doll she’d been carrying around everywhere for seven years, in a high chair on my right. With her tangled black curls and exaggerated eye makeup drawn on with a thick black Sharpie, Marissa looked like a deranged version of me, a junkie child beauty pageant star whose blank stare evoked more than her manufacturers had originally intended. She taunted me with her permanently raised arms.

My sister began this tribe of dolls when she first discovered medical reality television at fifteen. While she liked shows focused on obesity or various deformities, “The Birthing Channel” was her favorite. It was a channel entirely devoted to playing live births, 24 hours a day. Her addiction to this channel vexed my artist mother, but to me it seemed reasonable for someone whose autism diagnosis allowed her to create a world entirely of her own obsessions. It was one I sometimes envied. The gruesome videos only bothered me when she watched them in the living room.

After school, she’d sit on the couch dunking cookies into her milk, transfixed by the endless loop of women giving birth. The shows were very theatric. Operatic music played as sweaty women wept through their contractions, cat hissing sounded as they lashed out at the nurses, and triumphant trombones blared when they finally pushed out lumps of unformed reddish flesh. I always wanted to look away when walking by, discomfited by people not only abandoning their privacy, but turning it into melodrama, but Katrina liked to dwell in their intimacy. She’d pause the television at the exact moment when the baby disconnected from its mother and run back to her room, leaving us with a still of the parturition.

One night I heard loud groaning noises coming from her room and, feeling concerned, opened the door to check on her. When I entered she was sitting in bed with a doll under her shirt, legs spread, crying murderously as I asked her what she was doing. She held up a bald beige doll with one hand on its head and the other on its bottom and said, “This is my son, Xavier.” She lay back, sweating from her performance, and cradled the thing in a towel.

The next morning, Xavier was at the breakfast table sitting next to Katrina. When asked about the “doll,” she frowned and told the family, “Xavier is not a doll. He just has alopecia and severe growth failure,” as though if he weren’t tiny and bald, we might mistake him for human.

Over the next eight years, she had fifteen more doll-children from the same process and adopted eleven others from around the world. She said she was inspired by a television special on Angelina Jolie.

I had recently gotten a job teaching English at a high school far, far away.

I was home this week because my mother wanted to throw me a baby shower. I told her I’d only been to one baby shower and it had made me anxious. She told me I probably wasn’t eating enough meat.

I stared at my empty bowl and scraped the morsels of oatmeal from the dolls’ tiny saucers. I could only hold down bland food in the morning. My sister had left the dishes for me to wash and retreated back to her room. She’d taken all her dolls except Marissa, who remained in the high chair with oatmeal on her face.

I walked over to her, feeling a need to stroke her matted hair, touch her soft eyelashes. Squeezing her head, I remembered my sister would strap her into a car seat, on top of a heap of her other dolls, and leave them there in the hot sun. I pulled Marissa up by her hair to hold her and her head popped off. I looked down at her body, still stuck in the high chair. Frantically, I tried to screw Marissa’s head back on, believing I could easily reattach it, but it was too loose, and would not affix. I peered down the hollow trunk of her body. Some part had been lost, and her head would only stay on if I sat her in a certain position and leaned it against the back of the chair. I let her rest there and hoped my sister would figure out how to snap it back into place.

“Vera, I need to talk to you,” my mother said, suddenly appearing behind me.

I flinched. “I was just cleaning,” I said, turning around. She stood there in a slinky nightgown with her hair tied up in a silk scarf.

“What are you wearing tomorrow? I know you’ve given up a little since you’ve been pregnant, but no sweatpants at the shower.” I looked down at my black-and-white sweatpants, which had food stains on them.

“I have a dress,” I said.

“Don’t wear black.”

“It’s yellow,” I said. “What are you doing today?”

“I have to take your sister to therapy,” she groaned. “In the valley. Did you ask your husband for a recommendation that’s a little closer?”

“I forgot to,” I said. “He’ll be here Saturday. Why don’t you ask him then?”

She unraveled her scarf and let out her frizzed ringlets. My mother was half- black and half-German, although with her olive skin and green eyes she was usually mistaken for being Latina or sometimes Jewish. I had inherited her hair and my father’s Icelandic complexion, one shade above albino.

“Another thing you might want to think about is that when I got pregnant with you, I was petite, like you. So I had a horrible labor that lasted nine hours.”

“Okay.”

“And I did an entirely natural birth. No drugs,” she added, almost bragging. “I wouldn’t recommend it though, for a first born. I didn’t suffer for your sister, even with her giant head!”

“What?” I asked.

“There are ways of making birth less painful now,” she said. “Prenatal massages, acupuncture, transcendental meditation. I feel like you haven’t done any research. Are you prepared for this child?”

“I stayed up all night watching live births moms posted on the Internet.”

“Wonderful! So now you kind of know what to expect. But it’s going to be so much more excruciating than you could imagine.”

Suddenly Katrina burst into the room carrying a naked decapitated doll.

“Oh no!” she lamented. “My daughter’s dead!”

“What?” I asked.

“Marissa’s dead!” she moaned.

My mom and I paused skeptically for a few uncertain seconds.

“How’d she die?” I asked.

Katrina looked around apprehensively, and then stuttered, “Marissa had to have surgery. She had to have the body repaired because her neck broke. She tried to have the body repaired but it didn’t work on her and so she died.”

“She will be missed,” my mother told her, still primping her hair. “We have to go soon, Katrina. Start getting ready.”

My sister stood there waiting for a reaction, her tall body rocking back and forth. Suddenly, she broke into tears.

“My daughter’s dead!” she bawled.

“Sweetie, you have other children,” my mom consoled her. “It’s okay.”

She let out a long sob, and said, “but Marissa was too young to die” before leaving the room.

“At least she won’t carry around that damn doll anymore,” mom whispered to me.

“Except she has a whole closet full of other dolls,” I reminded her. “Anyway, weren’t we talking about my baby?”

“Right. I have some ideas for shower games I wanted to talk to you about,” she said.

“Like what?”

Katrina burst into the room again, no longer crying.

“I think we should have a funeral!” she said, her eyes widened like a cartoon’s.

My mother took a while to respond. She sometimes indulged my sister’s eccentric requests, reluctantly supporting her for a few minutes before disappearing into a bottle of red wine.

“It sounds like a lot of work,” she said finally. “I don’t have the time. Why don’t you write a nice poem? Vera will help you.”

“But she’s my daughter,” Katrina pleaded.

“I don’t want to,” my mother said.

“But why?”

“Because I’m not throwing a funeral for that doll!”

“She’s not a doll, she’s a midget. Did you make a mistake?”

“No.”

“But she’s a human midget. Did you make a mistake?”

“Sorry. Midget. But I think they like to be called little people.”

“But I think we need to have funerals for humans. So we can move on!”

“Fine! Have the Goddamn funeral!” she said, growing impatient. “But this is your thing. I’m not helping you organize this fucking—” she stopped herself. “I already have Vera’s funeral—I mean baby shower.”

“Let’s have the funeral Saturday!” Katrina said.

“Right after Vera’s baby shower is convenient.”

“Yippee!” my sister said with a firm nod. Still sniveling, darted off to her bedroom.

“Are you really going to go through with this?” I asked.

“I’m going to see what the therapist tells us. But I think it’s a good sign she wants to kill off that creepy doll!”

“I broke it.”

“What?”

“I broke the doll when I was cleaning. It was an accident. It just snapped off. I didn’t think it would kill her.”

My mother gasped and closed the door. My sister had sensitive hearing.

“What did you think, she was just going to go on living without her head like a chicken?” she whispered.

“I don’t know. I thought she’d get another one.”

“It doesn’t work like that. You know how long she’s had this one.”

“I thought you said it was good she was moving on.”

“Well now that I know you killed her, she’s not really moving on.”

“Let’s just not say anything about that.”

“Fine. We’ll take this secret to the grave— no pun intended.”

I rolled my eyes and waddled off to my childhood bedroom.

*

That day I took my mom’s advice and booked a prenatal spa day at a salon downtown. They had a “Pregnant Gal” special that included an 80-minute massage, acupuncture session, and pedicure.

The spa had a custom-formed massage table for a round belly. I tottered over in my towel, which barely covered my backside, and jumped on my tiptoes to hoist myself onto the high table. I opened the door and called for help. A masseuse appeared, toned and groomed, and asked if everything was okay.

“Yeah I’m fine. Can you help me onto the table?” I asked.

She shut the door and took out a stepping stool. She held out her arm and helped me roll onto the table. My towel slipped off in the process.

“I’m sorry,” I said, covering myself with my hands.

“It happens all the time,” she said, smiling at my naked penguin body.

She extracted fresh towels from the cabinet and laid them over my body, mummifying me from my shoulders to my calves. Then she left the room.  I remained frozen on my side, afraid the towel might fall off again. I still had not gotten used to my body— this teetering, temporary body with a stomach so heavy and unbalanced that even the fitted pregnancy table made me feel as though I might topple over.

As I lay staring at a single flaming candle, my neck planted in the moldable pillow, this woman’s hard knuckles fingering my back, I felt my baby girl being to kick. She seemed to like this woman kneading my back much more than I did, because she kicked with more vigor than she had in weeks. Perhaps it was fun, like a rollercoaster, having someone squish the bubble around you, but I felt nauseated by her touch. My baby and I would probably disagree on many things.

“Not so hard, please.” I said to the masseuse. The baby stopped kicking.

She took some warm, pungent oil and smeared it over my neck and back. She told me to turn over and started making tiny circles on my abdomen in a way that was pleasant but alien.

“How many months along are you?” she asked.

“Seven months,” I said with a plastered smile. “It’s my first child.”

“Boy or girl?”

“Girl.”

“It’s a girl!” she beamed. “Aren’t you so excited?”

“Yeah!” I replied, trying out an intonation that was higher pitched than usual. “We are thrilled! We are going to name her Maria.”

She grinned at me, still circling her fingers on my stomach. This baby was already making strangers so happy. I thought pregnancy would have made me happier, given me a sense of instant social validation that would glide me through the day like a fine-tuned compliment, or at least glowing skin. I thought when I satisfied all the important life markers— husband, child, occupation—all by the age of 25, I would have a life that was mine, that didn’t require the constant explanation my own family did. But pretending I was as fulfilled by these things as people expected me to be was exhausting. None of these things were for me, the real, true, inner me, they were just feeding some idealized version of me that persisted despite her dysfunctional family.

“What does your husband do?” she asked.

“He’s a psychiatrist,” I said.

“Oh! A doctor!” she gasped.

“I guess psychiatrists are technically doctors,” I said. “I mean most of them are drug dealers really. He’s not like that, but his cohort is full of the absolute worst people.”

She furrowed her brows and began pounding her fists on my arms. Perhaps it wasn’t the time for my opinions on the pharmaceutical industry. I looked at my arms; they had grown so plump in the last few months. My whole body had swelled like a mosquito bite. I wondered if I’d ever get my 23-inch waist back, or if after giving birth my stomach would deflate like a hot air balloon and I’d just be left with a sack of skin I’d have to lift up to wash.

“You live around here?” she asked.

“No I live in New York. I’m here for my baby shower.”

“How fun! We just threw one for my daughter’s best friend. My daughter’s a little older than you. Hasn’t found anyone yet, though. It’s hard.”

“Yeah, it’s hard.”

“All of her friends are married. I think she’s too picky.”

“Hmm, well, it’s good to be picky,” I said. “What does she do?”

“She works as an aid to special needs children. She really likes it.”

“Oh, cool. I was going to teach special needs—my younger sister has autism— but I got a job at a private school and took that instead.”

“That must be hard on your parents,” she said, massaging the area underneath my breasts.

“It’s just my mom. My dad lives in Colorado.”

“Oh.”

“And her doll just died.”

“What?”

“She had a doll she carried around all the time, like a child. It died.”

“Oh no! How did it die?”

“Complications from surgery.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. We’re having a funeral for it the same day of my shower.”

“Really?” she laughed. “A funeral for a doll?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s cute,” she said.

“I just wish it weren’t the same day.”

“Yeah but you’re lucky— you have a husband and a baby on the way and she will never have those things. She’ll never have anything real.” She stopped massaging me.

“Her dolls are just as real to her,” I said.

“Exactly,” she said, patting my belly as though it were a small dog.

“Do you want to take a shower before your pedicure?” she asked.

*

My teenage cousins were playing “Bobbing for Nipples,” a game that substituted baby bottle nipples for apples. Dunking their heads, they bit the baby bottle nipples then released them onto the floor like carnivorous animals tearing through flesh. They were getting the living room all wet.

My husband brought me a large piece of gluten-free cake and started rubbing my back. “I’m so sorry,” he said. I saw he’d poured himself a glass of Rosé.

“I thought you were going to stop drinking out of pregnancy solidarity,” I said.

“I can’t today.”

“This cake tastes like printer paper,” I said, coveting his plate of ribs and fried chicken.

“Want to go next?” my cousins pleaded.

My husband shook his head and watched Katrina seize a bedside table from my mothers’ room and head to the backyard.

“I wish I hadn’t let my mother plan my shower,” I said as she walked over.

My mother told everyone to gather round and announced we were going to play some ‘funny games.’ My aunts came in from the kitchen. My grandmother, who spent family gatherings cleaning up as the party went along, lay back on the armchair opposite me. My mother-in-law sat next to my husband, eyeing his quickly dwindling glass of wine. At once everyone surrounded me, the big fat pregnant lady too delicate to stand up.

My mother had a sly smirk bubbling as she looked at us. “We’re all going to share our most embarrassing story about the parents-to-be! I’ll go first. When Vera was 11 years old, she peed her pants in the school library because she needed to know the ending of some book. Haha! What was the book, Vera?”

“I don’t remember,” I said. “But I wet the bed last week because pregnancy has made me incontinent. There’s my embarrassing story!”

My aunts looked at me as if they weren’t sure I was joking.

“Any more stories?” I prodded. Everyone refused eye contact with me.

“Alright mom, what’s the next game?”

“Well I was going to suggest ‘Guess the Mother’s Measurements,’ but it doesn’t seem as though you’re in the mood to be measured.”

“No, thank you.”

“Okay, how about ‘Pin the diaper on the belly?’”

“Why do all these games involve everyone touching me?”

My husband interrupted her. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Since you guys are an artistic family, why doesn’t everyone do a sketch of what they think our child would look like? Vera and I will do one as well. I can’t promise mine will be very good but…”

“Mine either,” my cousin, now carrying a bundle of baby bottle nipples, said.

My mother tore out several pages from a sketchbook and passed them around, then went to her room to fetch some pencils.

“Do you have a surface to put under the paper?” my Aunt Jefflyn asked. My cousin handed her a large hardcover book.

For ten minutes everyone was silent. It had been years since I’d drawn anything, but my skills had not left me. My husband showed me his drawing of an asymmetrical being with a mass of curls on its head.”

“That doesn’t even look human,” I said. “It looks like Marissa.”

Katrina emerged from the hallway with an office chair she’d stolen from my mother’s studio. She slid it violently across the hardwood floor.

“Funeral’s starting! Time for Marissa’s funeral!” She lifted the chair above her head and descended to the backyard.

My mother waited until she was out of sight and with a lowered voice said, “It is important for her to ‘bury’ this doll obsession she’s had forever.” She used air quotes. “You can stay if you want, but no pressure.”

“What about my gifts?” I asked, motioning to the pile of unopened presents.

“Actually, I’ve got to get going,” my aunt Sharon said. “I have to pick up Robby from detention.”

Katrina was back in the kitchen collecting chairs for her funeral to bring into the backyard. My other relatives began making excuses to leave, but a couple of my mother’s friends stayed, I think, out of loyalty to her. Katrina emerged from the garage with a misshapen wooden box she’d apparently carpentered last night. It was Marissa’s coffin.

Six humans stayed for the service. Most of the seats were filled with Katrina’s other “adopted children.” Ginger, a Black Raggedy Ann doll, sat on Katrina’s lap. Beside her were David and Yolanda (infant refugees from Syria), and a heap of dolls in the seat next to mine. I sat in the only seat I could fit in, a reclining lawn chair that had a cup holder.

“Full throttle funeral experience,” I uttered, nearly prostrate in the lawn chair. My mother looked down at the notecard with a speech Katrina had prepared. Next to her was Katrina’s best friend Gracie, a girl from her class, and the girl’s aunt, also named Gracie.

“Thank God Marissa is dead!” Aunt Gracie bellowed, laughing. “I hope she buries all of them! Let’s get rid of all these imaginaries!”

“Well I think it’s nice she has these dolls. I remember seeing this one a lot when I babysat her. She just wants company,” our 70-year old neighbor added.

My mother stood up to make her speech. She let out an unapologetic sigh and said, with palpable sarcasm, “Marissa was my granddaughter. She was very kind and I miss her. I think we all miss her because she said nice things to us. Thank you.

I stared at the coffin as Katrina informed the six guests that refreshments were to be served in the kitchen, a slideshow of Marissa’s life to be played. I studied the pamphlet Katrina had created. A square picture of Marissa accompanied her eulogy:

~ Marissa was born on October 26 in Pasadena, CA and diagnosed with primordial dwarfism at birth. She got pink eye when she was 2 because the nanny kept putting makeup on her. She wore gothic makeup, black clothing, and red lipstick. She was a wonderful 1st grader. She likes meditation music, art, and even other things. She wanted to be a writer but she decided to be a teacher to help humans in real life. But she is not in the special needs class. She liked to read and write. She writes “thank u” notes and stuff like that. She was good at painting nails. She used to have playmates. She used to have so much fun. She was a good shopper. Marissa was found suspiciously decapitated in the kitchen on June 17. She was supposed to have the body repaired but it didn’t work on her and so she died. But she was very helpful and she thinks of others. We wish that someone could do lots of things like Marissa. ~

I wondered what she was going to do with the coffin, assuming that actually burying the doll in our backyard would be too much, even for her. I looked around and noticed others staring at the doll coffin, too.

Katrina duct taped a lid over the coffin, shook it to be sure it was securely sealed, and then began digging a hole in the abandoned flowerbed with her bare hands. It was astounding how quickly she plowed through the soil.

“Bye Marissa!” she said, laughing as she packed dirt over her grave.

We moved to the living room and the remaining guests began gathering their belongings.

“It’s not over,” Katrina said, fiddling with the DVD player in the living room. Marissa’s face flashed on the screen, beginning a slideshow of unflattering images of her accompanied by oceanic sounds. After watching for a polite amount of time, I started collecting the dirty paper plates strewn around and all the guests vacated.

“Marissa led a happy life,” Katrina assured herself before returning to her room without warning. “She was a nice midget.”

*

It was thundering that night as I sifted through my baby shower gifts. My husband and I were in my old bedroom on a mattress still fitted with leopard print sheets. He was gradually polishing off the rest of the wine as I made a spreadsheet of everyone’s gifts on my laptop. Someone gave me a breast pump as a gift and my husband pulled it out and held it up in the air like a beer bong.

“You know, this would go faster if you recorded the gifts and names as I went through them,” I said, reading a bib that said Blame my parents. I winced. “What is wrong with my cousin?”

“Usually, you have your girlfriends do that,” he said, squinting. “But you didn’t even invite your friends from high school.”

“I did invite them,” I said. “They didn’t come.”

“What happened to the pretty one we got drinks with?” This was probably the only one he remembered.

“She lives in Ireland. She has for three years.”

“What about Lucy? The lawyer?”

“I told you what happened with her ex’s weird obsession with me.”

“Oh,” he looked around.

“So did anyone get us that crib I put on our registry? I did a lot of research. It’s the safest out of the nicer looking cribs.”

“No, but my mom gave us five hundred dollars.”

“I think it cost more than that,” he said. He squinted as he took another swig from the bottle.

It was easier for me to stop drinking when I learned I was pregnant, because I no longer felt alone in my body. But it was harder for my husband, who would always feel alone in this house.

I unwrapped another square package and pulled out a neon light-up bouncy seat. It screamed animal noises at me. I scrambled to find the off button but there was none.

“This is from Uncle Bob and Olivia,” I told my husband. He wearily typed in the gifts. I crumpled the wrapping paper and deposited it in the trash bag.

The next package felt fragile but heavy and I only had to pry open one corner of the box to see what was inside.

“This dish set, from my Aunt Jefflyn, and these pot holders also,” I told him. “Hello?”

I looked over at him, peacefully asleep with his mouth agape. He had the wine bottle in one hand and the laptop in the other.

I took the computer from him and set it on my stomach, a convenient table, and typed in the information myself.

Katrina’s gift stood out from the pile because of its bright blue wrapping paper, crumpled around an amorphous object. I never knew what to expect from her gifts. One birthday, I got a single paper clip, tucked inside a set of boxes stacked inside each other like Russian Dolls. Another year, a gift card to Staples that had no money on it.

Inside the manila envelope attached to the horridly wrapped gift were twenty-six cards: one from her and the others signed from each of her dolls’ names. It was all in her frenetic handwriting. I threw the envelope across the room and squatted down to grab the present.

I tried to rip the paper open, but my sister had spun packing tape all around the bundle, and so I had to unravel the tape before the paper finally burst open, exploding a bunch of cloth diapers, a hat she’d knitted, and a handwritten note.

 

Hi Vera!

Congratulations on your fetus! It’s too bad Maria and Marissa won’t be cousins anymore because Marissa is with Jesus now but she will have plenty of cousins anyway from around the world to play with including Grana, Prana, Daniel, Ginger, and so many others. They can go on picnics or stuff like that. But I think you will visit now more because we both have babies. I have so many babies. But maybe yours will be a midget and look like Marissa- RIP.  Please don’t be selfish like dad. There is so much to do here including museums, parks, restaurants, salsa dancing, and even yoga classes.

Love,

Katrina and others

 

I imagined us all on a picnic blanket, displayed at a public park: Maria and I, Katrina and her clown-faced dolls, my mom and her wine, surrounded by strangers with suspicious glances, other families and units. At the thought of this scene I didn’t feel trapped or ashamed or even abnormal. I felt my baby girl pedaling on my stomach, pleasant, like a back scratch.

 

 

BIO

Sola Saar was born in southern California and lives in New York. Her nonfiction work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Flaunt, Bullett, Hyperallergic, Whitewall Magazine, Salon, and ArtSlant. An excerpt from her novel was featured in Ishmael Reed’s Konch magazine. She graduated from UC Berkeley and is getting her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

 

 

 

Break the Silence

by Damilola Olaniyi

 

Most days I do not know who I am anymore. Somewhere in the recent past I refuse to remember my identity, I became a conformist and blamed it on the culture – for the sake of peace – my identity is shaky at best. I try to convince myself that I  have grown, that I have become older, more mature; but it is just the brand of lie I tell myself to make my brain stop buzzing so that I can get some shut eye.

On most days, I wake up in cold sweat, doubtful if I really ever went to sleep. The exhaustion becomes worse than the previous night and I check to see why my fourth finger feels a little stiff as I try to flex it and when it finally touches my sweaty cheek while catching the morning light, I find that I am married. But how did it happen, in my sleep?

Weeks leading up to our first year anniversary, I do not understand how I got there and I am so confused. We dance in a funny way and the silence between us is strained. We go to great lengths to avoid each other and I know the magic is lost. I wonder why our dance never seems to satisfy the pregnant silence as I crack my knuckles and he moves one leg, I adjust my pillow and he pulls the covers, I sigh deeply and he presses his phone. We are not the people we are many months ago and I am convinced I traded my happiness to save my family name. You see, we are all girls, five of us and it is said that my father is not man enough. But it is said in whispers so that there would not be a blood bath. My mother has cried and begged and fasted but her X chromosome only merged with another X to produce five girls. She has given up on a male child which is just as well. But still I do not know how to describe myself.

My mother’s brother who helped to discipline me by spraining my ankle with a Levi’s belt buckle on a visit one dull afternoon would possibly describe me as extremely stubborn, in need of taming. Now I understand why his family is still in London aside from the passport detail, my nervous long fingers might just leave welts on their bodies.

My father who would tell me in a good mood that I looked just like his dear beloved mother in stature and physical appearance would proudly say that stubbornness runs in his side of the family. He would also call me a rebel leader and non-conformist, a child who knows what to say to get herself out of any situation not a limp noodle who gets lost in pleasing her mother’s heart for fear of losing her identity.

For my mother, I have put her enemies to shame. With the martyrical tone most African mothers adopt, she would thank God in my presence, say a prayer out loud even though we both really know that those spoken thoughts are meant for me. And on the days when I try to be a good daughter I cut her some slack absolving her of the guilt of my bad sleep and persistent headaches by pasting a smile on my face even though I secretly worry about laugh lines forming around my mouth and my cheeks ache.

And that link created at birth during the nine month bonding period, I’m afraid it never happened for us and what little there is has faded out upon instruction to stay away from my father’s house. I did not even have the luxury of absorbing the message first hand. So now, I tell myself never again to apologise for my writings, avoid family as much as I possibly can and mutter to myself that I would find Me, that things would change and people will see me for who I truly am when in truth I am scared deep down and even the tastiest desserts would not drive away this fear.

And so when at thirty I am married, I tell myself that I am one of the lucky ones all the while wondering how I got here. Even though in my husband’s words I broke the jinx, I wonder why I am deeply unhappy waking up next to him and I place one leg on the floor at three AM because I am unable to sleep for fear that I would wake up as a mother with mournful tales to tell my own daughter.

 

 

BIO

Damilola Olaniyi is an eclectic creative. She is the brain behind Onkowe Contest aimed at helping children discover their creative side. She is a script writer. She loves writing, reading and has a passion for moving images. Some of her reviews have appeared in local dailies like The Daily Sun and Nigerian Pilot.

 

 

 

0

Evidence Room

by Megan Fahey

 

 

10 Fun Facts from the EVIDENCE ROOM of Oxendine O’Shea

  1. Oxendine was born in July of 1974 to Cora and Matthew O’Shea of San Ysidro, California.
  2. The full name on her birth certificate is Shannon Marie O’Shea.
  3. She was one funky bitch.
  4. From 1997-2002, Oxendine was the bassist and front-woman for the Ithaca Funk Company, an alternative-funk band who toured with Incubus, Radiohead, and Collective Soul after the success of IFC’s first and only album: Veterans’ Day.
  5. O’Shea’s axe of choice was a 1972 semi-hollowbody Gibson painted with a ruby-red glimmer finish that matched her birthstone.
  6. She is most remembered for her unusual performance style, which blended her eclectic tastes with her intense displays of emotion. Many fans recall O’Shea’s sobbing musically into the microphone during live events and fainting during especially rigorous solos.
  7. Oxendine wore the word “GRACE” printed on a solid black t-shirt to every show, plain black wayfarer sunglasses, and huge hoop earrings that clicked against the tuning keys of her guitar and could be heard in the background of the tracks on IFC’s studio album.
  8. She always slipped off her shoes before taking the stage.
  9. On Veterans’ Day 2002, after fraternizing with a fan after a show in Columbus Ohio, Oxendine O’Shea followed him for twenty-eight miles to his home just outside Lancaster and slaughtered the fan, his wife, and his two sons with a hatchet.
  10. She is currently serving life in prison.

The most valuable thing Tommy Hollinger owned was a business-grade paper shredder. With a vigorous whirr of its industrial teeth, the shredder disintegrated any chance of Tommy’s personal information making it into the hands of the mysterious, malevolent, trash-diving public. And Tommy loved the way it tore. The shredder occupied a position of prominence in his home office, nestled decoratively in a nook near his desk in his at-home workstation, positioned directly beneath his empty mahogany diploma holder and an 8×10 framed photo of his parents from their latest trip to the Swiss Alps.

The shredder’s name was Victoria.

The diploma holder was empty because, even though Tommy was twenty-five years old, he had changed his college major each academic year since he turned nineteen to reflect his artistic redirection. When the wealthy friends of his parents asked what in heaven’s name he was still doing in college, he had no trouble citing instantly his love and his loyalty for art. His difficulty, then, was choosing which field.

He spent a year experimenting with watercolors, but his landscapes lacked definition and blurred unnaturally. Each of these works he ran through the shredder, whose teeth, by the end of the collection, were flecked with vibrant shades of red and orange. After a failed year in a sculpture workshop, he malleted the projects his know-nothing professors compared crassly to phalluses and let Victoria, the shredder, chew the thin strips of soft clay in order to digest them. He spent some time as a novelist and wept when his classmates labeled his work as “derivative” and “popular.” The shredder made quick work of their feedback and of his manuscript, which he fed to it page by page.

One Sunday afternoon, Tommy took it upon himself to sort the junk mail that had scattered in disorganized piles around his kitchen table. He shredded his credit card offers first, primarily in order to avoid temptation, but also since the slicing plastic made such tremendous noise. Next came the bills he couldn’t afford to pay; the federal unsubsidized loan statements he would take to the grave; and, finally, magazines. Tommy Hollinger never filled out a magazine subscription, and yet received up to three or four weekly periodicals addressed to T. HOLLINGER or TOMMY HOLGER or RESIDENT. They were mostly general readers in science and engineering slathered with high-resolution color images. Some were sports-based or automotive. Others outlined best housekeeping practices. Tommy suspected they were anonymous gifts from his father purposed to steer him clear of the humanities.

Regardless, he gave them little more than a disinterested leaf. He skimmed the subheadings of an article about an elephant painting a portrait of an elephant before tearing those pages, like all the others, and tossing them into the shredder, until he happened upon a full-page ad whose stock was unlike any he’d ever felt. The ad was thicker, sure, than a standard page, though surely not as thick as a subscription card insert, and blacker, too, as though the ink might drip right off the gloss and stain his hands and boots and jeans.

The words “EVIDENCE ROOM” were capped and bolded across the top of the page in a large, debossed serif font. Tommy ran his fingers across the text. Police badges with scowling eyes adorned both ends, and the two Os in ROOM were conjoined with a short, shiny length of chain, like handcuffs.

He dropped it into Victoria’s mouth, but it just wouldn’t shred.

“Cool,” Tommy said.

 

 

About EVIDENCE ROOM:

From diamonds to hybrids, EVIDENCE ROOM has it all—the only authentic mail-order service for criminally confiscated items nationally sanctioned by the US Constitution. Based on a short customer-personality profile, EVIDENCE ROOM tailor-fits our products to match your unique tastes. For a one-time payment of $99.99 (+13.99 S&H), you’ll receive all the luxuries that once belonged to the scum of the earth. Don’t let these luxury items rot just because their owners are!

 

How to Order from EVIDENCE ROOM by mail:

  • Please include the completed personality profile found on the reverse of this page.
  • On a separate sheet of paper, attach your shipping address (billing address, if different) and contact information, including e-mail and telephone number with country code and area code if applicable.
  • Include a personal check or money order in the amount of $99.99, plus $13.99 shipping and handling, and 8.5% sales tax (a total of $122.48) made out to EVIDENCE ROOM.
  • If paying by credit card, please include the 16-digit credit card number, the expiration date, and the 3-digit CVC located on the back.

You’ll receive your specially chosen EVIDENCE ROOM package within ten business days along with a fun fact sheet detailing your item’s role in its criminal’s history. EVIDENCE ROOM is 100% legal and safe. All items have been sterilized and registered for public use. No refunds or exchanges. All sales final.

 

Testimonials from satisfied customers of the EVIDENCE ROOM:

“First, I want to say thanks, EVIDENCE ROOM. This is my first time doing this. At first I thought it was fake, then I sent in my information and got my package and said ‘okay, I guess this is real.’ I got a set of Eisenhower Dollars and a Pirate belt buckle that was very unique, so again I have to say thanks, EVIDENCE ROOM.”
—Sergio, Farmingdale, NY

 

“I LOVE what I got from EVIDENCE ROOM. I have a teenage grandson who lives with me and he is BIG on gaming and just broke his leg in a biking accident. EVIDENCE ROOM sent us a new mountain bike and a few video games, plus an old black and white TV like the one I used to have. This is GREAT!!!”
—Cheryl M., Northvue, PA

 

“Oh, yes. I am very happy. I think this might be my destiny.”
—Matthew B., Fort Lauderdale, FL


  

The parcel addressed to Tommy Hollinger—his name finally spelled correctly on the label—measured 18”x7”x52” and waited outside his front door for his return from class. It was crowded inside by mint green packing nuts and sealed within two cardboard tombs, mummified in an entire roll of thick packing tape, and wrapped in an oversized, storm-gray plastic pouch that rustles when the wind slips past.

That stormy wind blew Tommy’s tufted hair behind his ears. Despite his having mailed the proper amount of money, and the filled-out personality sheet, and the added list of contact information, and despite the day’s date still falling within the ten business day window, Tommy struggled to believe his eyes. He shifted the straps of the backpack on his shoulders. He tilted his head to further examine the mailing label for clues about the box’s contents, but he kept his distance.

He laughed at his own unease.

He scaled the porch stairs with a string of easy bounds and slogged inside the house, dragging the package with him into the office, near the shredder. He disappeared to the kitchen to trade his schoolbooks for a steak knife. He tilted the package on its side and punctured the outer plastic layer clean through—a deep, sloppy, vertical wound. He worked through the packing tape next, splitting the laminated cardboard at the corrugated seams and excising one layer, then the next until the top had been removed and he could hover above the box and peer inside like a god. An envelope tucked among the peanuts read “10 Fun Facts from the EVIDENCE ROOM.” Tommy read the note, then slid it into the back pocket of his blue jeans.

He breathed and forced out a laugh. It was safe, the magazine said, and legal, and couldn’t be as dangerous as it had been in the hands of its former owner, that criminal sleaze. Tommy’s arms plunged deeper into the box and rooted around until his fingers wrapped something slim and solid and shimmering ruby red: a four-string bass guitar. A tag hung from the neck, tied with thin white twine. In red ink, the words:

so? you want to be an artist, don’t you?

He spent the rest of the afternoon in his hickory desk chair practicing slow jazzy riffs and bluesy syncopations.

Later that evening, during a surprise visit from his parents, Tommy’s father loosened his tie and called his son’s fretwork “dog shit.”  His mother pecked at her polished nails and chewed her lip.

“What are you so worried about, Mom?” Tommy said. He propped one foot on the arm of the couch. The guitar strings thunked in discord.

She whispered, “Thomas.” Her eyes darted about. “A criminal had this—a murderer.”

“You’re just afraid I might actually be good at this—that this might be a little thing called fate.”

“No, that’s not it,” she said. “A normal woman doesn’t just go around killing people with a hatchet. A hatchet, Tommy.”

He laughed. “Don’t worry, Ma. I won’t forget you when I’m famous.”

“That’s not what I—”

“And I’ll stay away from fast gangs and loose drugs and dirty women.”

“I just don’t like the idea of any son of mine playing an instrument that once belonged to some—you know—some—”

“Murderer?” his father said. “Butcher? Monster? Psychopath?”

“No one said she was a psychopath,” Tommy said. “The police never found out why she did it.”

“Sounds like a psychopath to me,” his father said.

“Whatever,” said Tommy.

“But what if she gets out of jail and finds out you’ve got her guitar?” His mother’s eyes welled up. “Or what if—what if it’s cursed or something?”

“What do you think’s gonna happen, Mom? That I’m gonna touch the guitar and turn into some kind of killer? Is that it? That it wasn’t Oxendine O’Shea who killed that family at all? It was her bass all along?” He raised it high above his head and laughed.

“Oh, Tommy,” she cried.

“I’m just messing around, Mom. You got nothing to worry about. If I start acting crazy, just tell me.”

“You’re acting crazy,” his father said.

“Shut up, Dad. This music thing—it’s really changed my life.”

Tommy’s father clicks on the television. “Yeah,” he says, “Maybe you ought to write old what’s-her-name a letter that says thanks for getting locked up.”

 

 

Dear Oxendine—

I hope it’s okay if I call you Oxendine; that’s just the way that I feel when I think about you—Oxendine. I know that probably sounds weird. Maybe it’s because of how your name is like oxygen. Oxygen is one of those things that makes you happy, right? I think I remember studying that in one of my science classes. I’m more of a humanities guy to be honest, but I think I remember that thing about oxygen, and that’s why your name reminds me of you—because before I knew about you, I felt like I was drowning in everything I tried, felt like I couldn’t come up for air, and then suddenly there you were: Oxendine. Fresh Oxendine.

 

You can call me Tommy. My full name is Tommy Hollinger, which I know sounds a lot like Tommy Hilfiger, so don’t even bother saying that because, ha-ha, I’ve already heard it my whole life. Anyway, I’m writing you because we got matched up in the EVIDENCE ROOM. Do you know what that is? I’m not really sure how long it’s been around, and how long have you been in the joint anyway? I bet you’re really popular among the inmates because of your music. Is everyone jealous of your haircut there? Do you ever sing songs to help you sleep when the lights go out?

 

So, good news. You know your guitar? The red one? Well, the police decided they didn’t need to keep it anymore, so they sold it to me through their mail-order catalog. I didn’t exactly pick it. That’s not really how it works. You see, I wanted to be an artist, but the trouble was I was bad at everything I tried. I never tried music before, but I’ve been messing around with the bass, and I think, with a little hard work and sacrifice, this might be my destiny. It’s only been about two weeks so far, and I’ve already almost taught myself to play most of “Smoke on the Water.” If you want, I could try to record it and send it to you. Would you have any way of listening to a cassette?

I hope to hear from you soon, and thanks again,

 

Tommy Hollinger


PS: I know you’re not innocent, but I’m sure that jerk you killed deserved it. Rock on.

 

 

 

TO: Tommy Hollinger

FROM: Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, San Ysidro, CA

RE: Inmate 90662-W |O’Shea

 

 

Listen here, Tommy Hilfiger.

 

You think you know sacrifice?

 

You’ll find out.

-Oxy

 

 

Tommy skipped class to hold band auditions in his at-home office. He worked up jams with dozens of drummers and one twelve-year-old boy who played the trombone, but none of them could keep time or fill in the bottom quite right. When the applicant pool ran dry, he ran a ream of old-time continuous stationary with perforated edges through his paper shredder, and riffed solos over its electric hum.

He fixed the letter from Oxendine into the empty diploma for inspiration. The first original song Tommy Hollinger wrote was a funky love ballad called “You’ll Find Out.” He played a steady chromatic scale, and fed the shredder, Victoria, a long, fat E-string. It took her two minutes and twenty-three seconds to digest. He debuted the tune at open mics along the downtown nightlife strips. After his first paid gig, he celebrated by getting blackout drunk and having the name “-Oxy” tattooed on the side of his neck. He played at just the right volume and was kind to the bar staff and applauded by the patrons. The owner of the Lava Lounge offered him a regular Tuesday night spot for a hundred bucks a week and six free beers a night.

Tommy’s cell phone rang while he paced backstage the night of his first headline show. It was his father.

“If you’re missing class for this—” he said. “—You can kiss that apartment goodbye. I mean it. I’m not fronting your rent anymore if you’re gonna shirk your studies to go off playing rock star wannabe.”

“Fine,” said Tommy. “You’ll find out.”

“Stop saying that!”

“What did he say?” His mother’s voice was far away on the phone. “Did he say it again? Let me talk to him.” A pause. “Tommy, honey. This has gone far enough. I’m worried about you.”

“Mom, I’m just having fun,” Tommy laughed.

The opening band finished packing their equipment. The emcee announced Tommy’s name and the crowd shrieked on the open floor below the stage. A “Tom-my! Tom-my!” chant went up, and Tommy shouted into the phone: “Hear that, Mom? That’s for me. They’re cheering for me.”

He slipped off his shoes before entering the spotlight. The ruby red paint on that hot guitar body reflected every last photon back into the wailing crowd. Two men headbutted and screamed in each other’s faces. A girl in front in a white ribbed tank top cried. It was the biggest crowd Tommy had ever seen—two hundred strong.

He took a nervous step backward, stumbling into a hidden, black barstool. Two ice-cold, longneck beers teetered on the seat. When Tommy picked one up, his hands jittered, and he drank the whole thing in one blast so the crowd wouldn’t notice his nerves. They cheered all the harder. His hands shook more. His mouth to the microphone, Tommy yelled, “Hello, Pittsburgh!” but he was energized and anxious and a little bit drunk, so it came out “Hullo, Piss-burgh.”

But no one cared.

“We love you, Tommy!” someone yelled.

He reached back for the other beer and took a sip before setting it on the edge of the stage and settling back onto the stool. He strummed once slowly. The crowd devoured the sound.

“This is, um—” he said. “I’m gonna start off with something new.”

He unbuttoned his shirt and fed the cuff of the sleeve through the paper shredder. It moaned slow and low, consuming his clothes.

“This is a new song I wrote called ‘Sacrifice’.”

It was an instant classic. In the middle of the hottest lick of the solo, Tommy stood up from the stool and approached the front-row fans who pawed lovingly at the soles of his feet. He crooned a line about truth and beauty to a girl with neon eye shadow and false lashes. She reached for him like his touch might save her life. He stopped playing and extended his hand to hers, but he couldn’t quite reach. He bent lower toward her, lower.

But he couldn’t keep his balance, and kicked over the bottle of beer, which foamed and dripped and splashed the board that controlled the spotlight and the speakers, and the electrical board his shredder was plugged into. The mic squealed. Smoke and sparks erupted from Tommy’s pedalboard and the power strip along the front of the stage, and the paper shredder choked on one of the shirt’s buttons and began to overheat. A small but hot white flame caught and ignited the thick black skirt of the stage. The fans screamed with dread. They rioted and moshed and shoved and evacuated.

Barefoot, bass in hand, Tommy escaped through the backstage door and hurtled to his car. The window was broken in. Glass covered the driver’s seat. His radio/tape deck was gone, but the car still ran. He accelerated through traffic lights and stop signs, straight out of town, back to the edge of the suburbs to his apartment, where his father had already changed the locks.

He ran around to the back of the building, to the window of his at-home office. He banged it with his fists, but he couldn’t break it. He hoisted the bass over his head and smashed it through the pane before hobbling his own body inside, slicing his bare chest on a rogue shard of busted glass. He sat on the clean square of carpet where his most precious item, his paper shredder, once rested. He leaned against the wall and gathered his knees to his chest and bled. He tugged at his hair.

“What have I done?” he said. His voice fractured. “This wasn’t supposed to—” he said. And, “I never wanted to—” he said.

Then a low lub-dup beat echoed softly in the darkness. It took Tommy a full minute to realize it wasn’t the sound of his own heart. There was someone else in the room.

“I thought you wanted to be an artist,” she said. She was holding the guitar. The smallest three strings were snapped. She flickered the E string with the edge of a ruby-handled hatchet.

“Tommy Hollinger,” she said. “Let’s shred together.”

 

 

BIO

Megan Fahey received her MFA from West Virginia University in 2017. In addition to having some short plays produced, her work has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, The Tulane Review, and Blinders Journal.

 

 

 

0

That Night

by Abbey McLaughlin

 

 

“Delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt. He’ll be put away for at least two years. The other, for one.”

The judge gathered up his paperwork and stepped out from behind his desk, and the room erupted in emotional preparation for departure. One of the boys started crying—bawling long, heavy, ugly sobs. His family as well as his lawyer were equally tearful, all hands placed on shoulders as though forming a prayer. My mom cleared her throat.

“Should we go?” she asked.

She was standing behind me. When I turned my head to face her, I caught sight of the other one. He was crying—I could tell by the way his chest rose and fell—but he was trying not to and he was angry. They were angry tears. His dad squeezed his shoulder. His mom was crying desperately.

“Honey,” I heard my mother nudge.

I gathered up my things, hands still sweaty and shaking, and adjusted my blazer. As soon as the doors of that Ohio courtroom swung on their hinges, blinding flashes of thunderous crowds fought each other to ask me a question. My dad pushed them away and my mom held me close, pulling me down the endless corridors. I didn’t realize I too had begun to cry until we fell into the car and I could breathe again. I should be happy. I should be relieved.

 

When we finally made it home, all three of us were exhausted. I kissed both my parents good night and went to brush my teeth, tilting my head to the side, fixated on the scar on my forehead. I found my mom meandering around aimlessly in the kitchen, banging dishes and shutting cupboards. “Do I notice the scar so much because I know it’s there or because it’s noticeable?” I asked her. She shrugged and told me that no one would notice. My dad was on the phone in the bedroom down the hall, talking to someone about me. Since all this had begun, he had developed—perfected—a phlegmatic, quiet voice used exclusively when referring to “the Incident,” as he called it. I called it rape.

 

My alarm rang rather unceremoniously six hours later. I opened my eyes. I felt as though I had only just shut them. I returned to the bathroom, reexamining the scar, pasting concealer over it without much success. My morning routine felt more soporific than before—brushing my teeth again, straightening my hair, choosing clothes, packing my lunch—all of it seemed to drain energy reserves. The house was still dark, all the lights still off. I didn’t like being the first one up again. For the remainder of the morning, I prepared for school in somewhat of a daze, hardly able to remember where I was getting ready to go, or if I’d added sugar to the coffee in my thermos before I climbed into my car. After almost three months of slow days spent with my parents and my lawyer, my stomach fluttered at the sight of our big, glass high school entrance. I sat in my car for a moment longer, surveying the campus from my safe enclosure. No reporters or cameras caught my attention. The coast was clear—I had to go in. As I was stepping out of my car, my phone vibrated in my pocket. Thank God—Kristin had received my texts, and would wait by my locker for me.

 

When I first joined the moving traffic of the north hallway, no one seemed to notice. I blended in well enough and avoided awkward encounters with those who had made guest appearances in the courtroom, careful not to cross paths with the football players in particular. As she’d promised, Kristin was leaning against the lockers near mine. I smiled at her, tugging my earbuds out of my ears. I realized I’d forgotten my locker combination, but Kristin knew it by heart, and told me the numbers. The act of opening my locker seemed to set off an alarm to the school. Like a swarm of wasps, heads turned. Kristin and I both sensed the changed decibel levels of interrupted conversations. I pretended not to notice and hoped Kristin would too. I dumped all my textbooks back into my locker save my chemistry book and followed my friend up the stairs. We didn’t say much on our way to our classes. She departed with a half-hearted, “see you at lunch,” and turned for the room down the hall from mine.

 

“Welcome back,” Mrs. Freed, my chemistry teacher, said as I sat down. The few who had also arrived already stared unapologetically. This was somehow worse than the reporters. I watched Henry, my lab partner, walk into the room. I greeted him as he took his seat next to me, but he just nodded. He’d been at the party.

“Let’s jump right back in with some nomenclature practice,” she continued, passing out sheets of paper. Henry handed me my copy of the activity carefully.

“Thanks,” I mumbled. We’d actually made great lab partners last semester. He was better with the information; I was better with the actual handling of chemicals. I’d been looking forward to seeing him, but, like most of my reunions at that point, tension was almost tangible. “Can I borrow your notes tonight?”

Henry scratched his forehead and arranged his papers as though this took too much mental attention to answer my questions.

“Henry?”

“I don’t have them,” he lied. I told him that it was okay, and leaned back against my orange plastic chair. When class had been dismissed, I approached Mrs. Freed and quietly asked if she had a note packet or something that I could use to catch up.

Mrs. Freed looked up at the remaining students packing their backpacks. “Can someone loan her their notes from the last unit?” she said loudly, pointing a crooked, hot pink fingernail at me. An intransigent silence ensued. Eventually, Macy surrendered her notebook and asked me to have it back to her by tomorrow.

 

I mean, it’s not like I expected a “welcome back” party. No one was spitting in my face or adorning me with a scarlet letter A, but it seemed that nobody was talking to me at all. Maybe they all just felt too awkward. If I’m being honest with myself, probably more than half the school saw the pictures that circulated that October. I know that I wasn’t exactly making good decisions, but nobody was. Of all the awful choices made that night, were they really going to condemn mine?

 

Mr. Samuels and Mrs. Freed occupied the hallways as we all rushed to our second period classes. Typically, the principal would assume this role, but Kristin had informed me that he and the football coach had been suspended. During the investigation, police discovered that both of them had kept the situation quiet until I’d started pressing charges. My lawyer, Mr. White, promised me that they were his next item on his agenda. I had told him that it was okay, that our trial was good enough, that I was ready to move on.

 

By lunchtime, I was under the impression that the school had followed an entirely different court case—one in which I had murdered two football players and framed the remaining members of the team. Since my entrance into the building, I’d become painfully aware of my role in the newfound shitty reputation of our school. I sat at the table my friends and I had claimed our freshman year, and waited for Eliza and Kristin to show up.

When there was only fifteen minutes left of our lunch break, I moved tables and tried to eat my sandwich with a few girls from my cross country team, who seemed sympathetic but less-than-thrilled by my presence.

None of them did more than smile in my direction, so I decided to initiate the greeting: “Hey guys, how’s it going?”

Lexi gave a half-hearted “fine,” and Miranda gave a shrug.

They sat right near the vending machines. I kept thinking students were coming to see me as so many family members had done throughout the past month or two, but they were just grabbing sodas. Many avoided eye contact with me in obvious, almost comical manners. One guy stared sideways all the way there, grabbed his drink while looking the other way, and then turning to stare in the same direction on his way back to his table. I tried engaging in conversations, desperate for normalcy, but they weren’t interested. I saw two football players come my way. With waves of panic churning up the sandwich I’d just eaten, I left for class early with a muttered “good-bye” to the girls. I didn’t feel like confronting the accomplices.

 

“How was school?” my mother asked when I walked through the door. I couldn’t give her an answer as I dropped by backpack and slid my shoes off. “Honey?” my mother repeated. She wanted a real answer, but if I opened my mouth, I would cry. I sighed.

“It’ll get better,” she said. I nodded, collapsing into our sofa. Mom was watching CNN while she prepared dinner. I closed my eyes, praying my tears would slide back into my head. I was tired of crying.

Sally, I can’t imagine, having heard the judge give sentences for these two star football players—how emotional that must have been in the courtroom.

I opened my eyes.

Yes, I’ve never experienced anything like it, Debra. It was incredibly emotional—incredibly difficult, especially for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men, who had such promising futures—strong football players, very good students. I literally watched as they saw their lives fall apart. When one of the boys, Alex Stevens, heard the judge, he collapsed. He collapsed in tears in the arms of his attorney. I heard him say, “My life is over; no one is going to want me now.” Both were charged with very serious crimes, Debra, found guilty of raping this sixteen-year-old girl at a party back in October—an alcohol-fueled party; alcohol playing a huge part in all of this. The other boy, Jacob Matthews, was charged with a second account of felony illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, because he took a photograph of—

The screen went blank. I turned around and my dad was holding the remote with a trembling hand, his face red. Mom had stopped cutting tomatoes, and was looking at me too.

“That’s how school was, mom,” I said flatly.

Apart from their actual crimes, those two had unknowingly cost my family months of misery. I felt inescapably burdensome to my poor parents. They bore just as much pain from the trial as I did. Work was taken off, attorney bills were paid, tears were shed, sleepless nights were suffered, and public analysis under a microscope was endured. I hoped the boys were thinking about that now, but I doubted it.

 

The three following days were slight improvements. People readjusted to me and I readjusted to them. The cross country team talked to me if no one else was around. My teachers gave me grace on many incomplete assignments. Kristin continued to wait for me by my locker in the morning, but that was all I saw of her. I hadn’t seen Eliza once.

 

We had a mandatory school assembly that Friday. I was rather confused—they’d called my parents to request permission to talk about everything back in November. I remember shrugging—assuming that everyone already had more information than the staff of the high school would ever learn. Through strategic eavesdropping, I discovered that this assembly was directed more about the “change of administration” that had ensued in the last week and a half.

At 2:15, the school flooded the halls, and we all sauntered down to the gymnasium. Everyone was talking about their classes and sports and college applications around me. I stood at the bottom of the bleachers, searching desperately for Eliza and Kristin. They weren’t sitting in our usual spot for pep rallies and student council announcements. I spotted them sitting toward the middle, talking close to each other with their heads bent down, hidden under baseball caps. If I hadn’t been there when we’d all purchased those hats in Siesta Key, I would never have been able to find them. I broke into the mess of people, expecting to get pushed and shoved, but the effort was not necessary. Everyone made sure not to touch me. When I reached their row, I saw the color drain from Eliza’s face. Kristin became way too interested in her phone as I climbed over seated students to where they were. People scooched to the side to make room for me, turning away from me as obviously as my vending machine encounters.

“Hi,” I said to my friends. They looked up at me.

“Hey,” both cooed. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” I smiled, putting my backpack between my legs.

“Hanging in there?” Eliza said. I nodded, annoyed with her transparent discomfort. She once came over to my house when I had lice and pinkeye without so much as flinching.

“We…We missed you,” Eliza added. “It’s good to have you back.”

“I’m excited to just get things back to normal,” I said, surveying the gymnasium. It felt so different, like they’d all been at the party. Kristin and Eliza looked around too, but their faces told me they had other worries on their minds.

 

Kristin and Eliza had reached out to me when word first spread. They were with me when the text message of which I was the subject finally reached their cell phones. “Ew!” they’d both gasped at first. I had craned my head over their shoulders to see what was so captivating, but they’d just received the follow-up text captioning the photo and had pivoted away from me. “Oh, my God,” I remember Kristin saying.

“Holy shit,” Eliza had said after a minute. Both shoved their phones deep into their back pockets.

“What is it?” I’d asked stupidly.

I hadn’t told anyone about the party at that point. I’d picked myself up from the woods behind the house and drove home. I’d showered, mostly just preoccupied with my terrible headache. It was in the shower that I noticed the blood staining the porcelain floor. I was under the impression I’d just started my period. But then the water began to sting, and it hurt to wash myself. I felt sore everywhere, and I began to count several bruises and scratches. Nothing came back to me—I had no memories to sort through. I stifled a scream, whimpering as the water erased the most damning evidence. Later, in the hospital, the nurse assigned to assess “the damage” had asked about my sexual history. I’d told her—believing myself to be speaking honestly—that I was a virgin. Then she got quiet and walked out for a minute.

That circulated picture proved far more than how much I’d been drinking that night. Without it, I had nothing with which to accuse anyone. Though quite a challenge when forming my case with Mr. White, I was rather glad that I didn’t have any recollection of what must have happened. I didn’t walk in fear of men the way other victims do. I walked with shock that my peers had such power to destroy someone’s life. Then again, they probably thought the same of me when they received their first paperwork about the trial.

Kristin and Eliza had spent that night with me, holding me while I cried. Neither had been at the party—they didn’t like to party. I’d attended it with some cross country friends, but, apparently, had become sidetracked. No one wanted to admit they’d been at the party, and all my information about the night came primarily from rumors Kristin and Eliza had heard.

After that first, terrible night, Kristin or Eliza came over to my house every day, and they sat beside me when I finally told my parents what was going on. They showed my parents and Mr. White the pictures and texts. They sat in the audience for the trial the first two days, but then their parents said that they needed to be in school. I told them I understood. The whole thing ended up taking another two months, and neither them nor I had made much effort to keep in touch.

When everything had leaked into local news, administrative staff that did not work in the high school, including our superintendent, had expressed sincere embarrassment and dismay. My teachers, the vice principal, even my cross country coach, had all remained rather uninvolved, mainly sending me updates on what I was missing and needed to make up. My teammates sent me some cookies and a card, but no one texted in the group chat we’d arranged for the past two years or contacted me personally.

I tried to keep running, but I hardly ever felt like I had enough energy for it. When I emailed my coach to say that I wouldn’t be participating on the track team that spring, I’d received a brief response:

That’s fine. You are not eligible for sports teams at this time. 

My coach didn’t have the guts to say it, but I assumed I’d been kicked off the team for breaking rules regarding underage drinking. I still wondered why none of my other cohorts had been removed, as they were at the party as well.

 

After five more vexatious minutes of small talk with Eliza and Kristin, our vice principal emerged, walking up to the podium arranged in the center. He was wearing an expensive suit, the same one he’d worn in court, and he was holding a crinkled piece of paper.

“Hello students of Creston High,” he began, his mouth way too close to the microphone. The mic echoed his words a little, and the volume had to be adjusted as we were all in danger of going deaf. Once someone gave him a thumbs up, he reluctantly continued. “Thank you for coming today. We need to talk about something serious—something that is long overdue.”

My stomach dropped.

“I understand that there have been several parties over the last few months. I’m sure you are all aware of the particularly tragic events of last October. After some exhaustive administrative changes and meetings, we would like to formally address the school’s current state.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have lost two important members of our school—”

Principal Shaffer and Coach Whitman, I thought, filling in the sentences in my head to avoid noticing the student body reactions.

“—Jacob Matthews and Alex Stephens are no longer attending Creston, and they will no longer be participating on our football team, along with several others. We are working hard to ensure that we bring justice to the matter while respecting the privacy of everyone. Many of you knew these boys. We kindly request that you would not spread rumors about such circumstances.

“We are also reviewing a few positions of administration,” he said, licking his lips. “We ask that you respect privacy in this process as well. Hopefully, we will not need to make any changes and Principal Shaffer, among others, will be back in no time at all.”

A few people clapped, and the football team all seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The vice principal continued,

“This incident—” he cleared his throat— “this um, chain of events, that has caused all of this confusion and exhaustive investigation, has brought to our attention the serious issue of underage drinking. Students, the legal drinking age is 21 years of age, and none of you meet that requirement. Therefore, none of you should be consuming alcohol, period. The problems we are currently facing are directly related to irresponsible drinking.”

Don’t cry; don’t cry; don’t cry.

I wanted to leave. I considered attempting a second exit. I squirmed. Kristin took my hand.

The vice principal looked visibly uncomfortable by this point. He was reciting a thoroughly-rehearsed speech, but his body language suggested this was perhaps his first experience with public speaking.

“Irresponsible drinking leads to unsafe operation of vehicles, unplanned sexual activity, health problems, and even death. For more information on these very serious effects of underage alcohol drinking, we will be hosting a free seminar on the dangers of it. Our health teacher, Mrs. Fitzgibbon, will be in charge of that. Please be responsible—”

When had I stood up? What was I doing? Heads snapped between the vice principal and I, staring us down like a tennis match. I should sit down, I thought. I should definitely sit down. I had silenced the vice principal though, and everyone was waiting for me.

I took a breath. The gym was still quiet. I expected the vice principal to dismiss me, to tell me to sit down, to say something, but he just stared at me along with the rest of the gym.

I could yell at all of them—tell them that the assembly needed was not about underage drinking, but of sexual assault. I could spell it out for them, how they’ve missed the point. I could yell at myself—apologize to everyone for disturbing the peace. In that moment, though, I realized that none of it mattered. Nothing I could say would make them understand, would make them forgive me, would give me back what I had lost that night.

I thought about the statistics Mr. White had presented to the court—that one in five women are raped in their lifetime and almost none are reported. I looked at the student body and a wave of pity jabbed me. There were others in this room who knew far more about sexual assault than I that also felt silenced. I thought about when my mother had cried, in deep pain, still thanking me for reporting it, for letting them love me. They never blamed me for drinking that night. Why did everyone else?

1,400 sets of eyeballs blinked at me expectantly, but I fell mute and sat back down.

 

 

BIO

Abbey is a senior English and Creative Writing major for a B.A. degree at Indiana Wesleyan University. She has poetry published in her school’s literary magazine, Caesura, but this is her first short story to be published in a recognized literary journal. She is currently an editorial assistant for a small academic publishing company and hopes to eventually edit works of fiction and creative nonfiction. She believes fiction can be a powerful source of social commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

When I was loved by you

by Abigail George

For my mother and my father

 

Bombs danced inside my
Head. Behind my eyes. Went off
In my soul. Made fireworks
In my chest. I didn’t know
Then what I know now.
That there was room to grow
Infinitely. Now nearing
Middle-age I don’t test myself
Like that anymore. I’ve
Given up on men and women
And having a small tribe of
Children. On having love and relationships.
I’ve given up on improving

Myself. Calling that
Progress or maturation. Once your
Voice was thunder and your
Touch electric but I’ve
Given up the ghost of
Your personality. I have
Gone the distance for you.
I am rain now breaking over pillows of verdant grass
And winter pavement.
The plural of wisdom
To me now is to keep
On moving. To live under a sky so blue with
Gladness. I am falling like
The sun’s birth day. I am
Alive. I am falling. I am mistress. I am master.
My truth is divine. Divine.

Father, you’re an expert at
Your ‘craft’. Mother, you were
Always a dynamo in the
Kitchen sewing-sewing a-
Way in my childhood. You
Shaped your daughters to
Follow men. You’re worried
Now about wrinkles and
Grey hair. Growing old and
Infirm in your own way.
Falling to the river in your
Dreams. My father looks at
Me as if to say goodbye forever.

 

 

Searching for my sister in middle age

 

Her name is much like the noisy
Movement of the coastline of the
Pacific. Her pain is remote and ghostly
To me as the streets and alleys of
California and Manhattan. She is
Young and beautiful. Holiness and
Machine. She is pure. Half-asleep
She is atrophied fire, rain, and air.
In my robust hands her hair blossoms
With the instinct of thunder. At
My kitchen table I feed the pillows
Of her red mouth trout and salmon.
Perhaps our frailest mother and father
Should have divorced years ago
When they were still young enough
To fall in love again. Marry other
People. Now they are too set in their
Own ways. They have built up a
Lifetime of habits in their vein walls.
Let me protect her and let her anchor
Me like a mirror. A glass of red wine
In the evening blinds her soul. The planet
Of all her nerves and jitters are not
Yet dead. One day our brown
Faces will be heavy with wrinkles.
Our hands will be prunes and our
Perfume will no longer bloom. We’ll fade
Away into the sun. Lines where our
Heart, lungs, liver once were. The vast
Tissues and organs of our immune
System running on empty. Nothing
Left to predict anymore. My hands scan
Everything. The distant underground maneuvering

The chains of the sea. Its switch from purple
At midnight to sea-green during the day.
We’re people merely acting out our problems.
Women acting a lonely bit part here and there.
Lonely rain, overwhelmingly the outsider
Marks the extinction of my sister’s flesh
And familiar bloodwork. She compensates
For far too many things that have gone
Wrong in her life. No milk in our breasts
For sons and daughters. Childhood not forgotten.
We braid our hair in silence. Oil on our hands.
Oil on our hands. The silent moon of our mother above us.
The hottest state of the sun of our father.
Faraway human voices speak softly to me.

 

The ghost of the adolescent Melissa Burjins

 

Gravid belly filled with stars
Gravid belly starless night
I burn with weariness in my soul
The rehabilitation of Hiroshima
And Nagasaki. Vacant rooms
Across continents smothered
By ancestors. Swimming in fields
Of carrion. Once upon a time
Kafka had a tyrant for a father.
I had a tyrant for a mother. Athletes
Are built tough. The bird’s shadow
At the window. Winter pavements
Shining with abalone and slick.
My eyes are empty. My soul is
A shell. There are rooms in my
Lungs that remind me of partings
That are faded. Stripped and jerking.
In the letting go you will find the
Climbing singing scorching weather.
I write books for a living. I call
It an ‘art’. That is all my nerves
Can take. Not love. Not men. Not women.
And so I open my notebook and
The day’s work begins with doubts.

Anxiety. Insecurity. Uncertainty.
My feet in a cement bucket/bath/field.
I am never to return to the girl
I was before. The flame is twisting,
Drowning, burning in my heart.
I want to kiss her lips. Take her hand
In mine. Tell her that I love her.
While I raise up the veil of the sun
In so many splendid ways and call
Upon the bride of the environment.
Gravid belly. Stars fill the night sky.
I remember all of her. All that she said.
In childhood I live next to a field,
A ‘bush’ that was always burning
Up in flames in the summer heat.
I don’t know where my mother’s depression
Began and ended. She’s a legend.
Her laughter is still epic. She was
A bride and a bridesmaid. Orphaned
When I was a small child. She is
Alive. Her throat is camouflage. Harpoon-
Ready. It is morning and joy is still
Young. This ghost house of leaves.

 

The museum filled with ordinary families at teatime

 

The future of seawater
Towards immortality,
Dust singing of sick birds.
My sister was the former and I, the latter.
The night is spiritual.
Your country is a haunted
Land filled with the
Proverbial thirst. The measures
Of longing. Of dying
To belong to feast and
The imperative. Every
Broken family is filled
With cracks in their system.
Their lungs overflowing with flame like a
Fireplace in a mansion.
I don’t know whether
This shoreline will still
Be here in a decade. I’m thinking of the wind.
Feasting my eyes on gulls.
It’s beautiful out here.
The singing geography of
Here reminds me of
Alice in her wonderland.
A word like ‘emphasis’.

I am a woman hard at
Work. Sunday means church but ‘Buddha’
And me sit outside.
He is nearly three years
Old. Daddy and the washed out weather-eye,
His father, my brother,
Went to church early
This morning. There is dirt under
His fingernails. The mirth
Of air is in his lungs.
He is my morning flame.
He is my scribbled knight.
He brings me thanksgiving. He does
Not belong to the bonfire
World of men yet. I kiss
His wrinkled feet and hands.
Coal for eyes. Foal legs.
In his hands he holds the ripples of
An autumn leaf. His lips are
Moths’ wings. Tongue fluid
And slack chewing gum.
Chewing, chewing between grass, far
Off clouds and two kites.

 

When it comes to transformations of the intellect

 

I hate hospitals. Dad
Is there recuperating
From an illness. His leg
Could be amputated.
We took him to the
Emergency unit on a
Saturday morning. It
Feels as if something is missing.
Daddy is not here. It
Feels as if winter is upon
Us once more. Dad is not
Here. I hate hospitals.
Beds folded down with their
Neat hospital corners.
A leaf has fallen from
A tree defying gravity.
The wind catches in
My hair outside the hospital.
I think I’m going to
Be sad. The stairs are empty.
The parking lot is full. Women are

Placenta rich. She is a
Bird. She wears white stockings
Of shade and shadow as intimate
As common sense.
Here you will find women
In uniform. The nurse
With her shroud and coffee.
The psychiatrist made of stone.
The security guard.
The nurse pushing the wheelchair.
You think they will
Make you feel better.
But they don’t. They don’t.
The rooftops of Paris
Remind me of you,
Daddy. Here the ancient
Sun comes. Evenings
Pinkish light. The river
Is wild. The wild is dark. Lonely.
Dad, I hate hospitals.
You’re in the wrong country.

 

 

BIO

Abigail George’s fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film and television production at Newtown Film and Television School opposite the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. She is the writer of Africa Where Art Thou (2011), Feeding the Beasts (2012), All About My Mother (2012), Winter in Johannesburg (2014), Brother Wolf and Sister Wren (2015), and Sleeping Under the Kitchen Tables in the Northern Areas (2016). Her poetry has been widely published in anthologies, in print in South Africa, and in zines from Nigeria to Finland, and New Delhi, India to Istanbul, Turkey. She lives, works, and is inspired by the people of the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

 

 

 

0

When I’m Awake, but Not Awaken

by Kailey Tedesco

 

 

How wild do the parasols roll open
on this morning, dark & hot? My ankles are
tired, yet energized & I keep my gait
to a quick creep. The moon
& sun cartoon themselves against the
horizon, each of them squinting,
each of them trying to make
out the words a little faster. I am still
still & lifting myself the best I can
in this old zip-dress. To look up
is to beg for something I’m not ready
to ingratiate myself for. Gaze escapes
my body in the séance of walking, feet always
conjuring new sight. Mother sings a strange
song about railway injustices & I pretend
not to hear her. I’m eating porridge like
a fantasy. In the story, my hair is not so
tangled with grease. My body grazes
bladed ceilings & I wonder how high
a spirit can climb without a burst of helium.

 

 

Marya Murders the Deathless

After the Russian folktale of Koschei the Deathless

 

I.

Thank the Lord I’ll never know
the slip of blade & skin, blood

is shadowed & sunlit at once –
my dress caught on an crystalline

branch, my dress bleeds its own color.
It feels submissive & I know

this island wants to possess me
& erase me, wants to swallow itself

into a new soul.

II.

Bleeding out feels like climbing
trees – you try so hard to keep me,

but somewhere there’s a god calling
& I say no & my skeleton craves

more bones, his bones like oak
& glutton. I sin all seven ways

& feel no contrition. The bishop
says he’s never seen a portrait

of God & I believe it.

III.

I used to collect crystals inside
a chest of fool’s gold. When he stole
them, I put a hex against his house
& stole his rabbits – they liked
me better, but refused to reproduce,
refused to cough out
the skins I needed.

IV.

This deck of cards has three eggs, Fabergé.
They oscillate in carnival & he
says he doesn’t believe in me & he says
pick one. Remember when Mama took
bites from my Halloween chocolate?
There were no needles, but if
there were, I’d keep them for my
embroidering – I’d flagellate.

V.

In the end, it is always me &
a man – a man of bone alone
all voodoo pricks & I stab
him powerless.

Did you know the sea
is a visage of slaughter? I think
I will cage him there & swallow
salt like a feast.

 

 

BIO

Kailey Tedesco is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length poetry collection She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications). She is the editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a performing member of the NYC Poetry Brothel. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2016, she received her MFA in creative writing from Arcadia University. You can find her work in Bellevue Literary Review, Meat for Tea, FLAPPERHOUSE, Mass Poetry Poem of the Moment, Prick of the Spindle, and more. For more, please follow @kaileytedesco.

 

 

 

0

Restoration

by Mary Grimm

 

 

Larissa and her friend (for this is what she calls him) go out to dinner once a month, always the same place. They both like it, so there isn’t any reason to change, her friend says, whose name is Roman. He is six years younger than she is, but according to her coworkers at the museum, they look the same age, probably because Larissa dyes her hair, and Roman has a bushy Bible-prophet beard. He picks her up at six (to avoid date-night crowds) and drives her to the Jolly Chef where the hostess can almost always give them the same table. They order and sit waiting for their drinks, Roman tapping his fingers and sweeping his eyes over the other diners. When they have been served, Roman lifts his glass, tipping it toward her, and says “to the fairest one of all,” gesturing around the room. Larissa smiles, and sips her wine. She likes to hear it, even if it’s patently untrue, and has, let’s face it, never been true, even when her flesh was young and firm and her hair its original color. They ask each other what’s new. Larissa tells stories of the museum, the odd things that people bring in, the set of dolls dressed in leather, the painting described by its owner as a spirit painting done by his grandmother in a trance and purporting to be a map of heaven, the ancient wooden sleigh so large it wouldn’t fit in the museum’s garage. Roman talks about his buddies and their doings – fishing in the summer, bowling in the winter. He brings out pictures of his grandchildren to show Larissa. She has come to know them quite well in their absence, and is able to comment knowledgeably on the improvements in their grades, or to compare this year’s prom dress with last year’s. They don’t always order the same thing, but Larissa often has the braised chicken and fennel, and Roman the pasta alfredo with extra sauce. Afterward, Roman drives her home. Every third or fourth time, he comes in and they have a post-dinner drink (bourbon on the rocks) and sex. Roman doesn’t stay the night any more.  He says that he needs his own bed to get a decent night’s sleep. Larissa used to pretend to be disappointed, but now she doesn’t bother.

There’s nothing visible in her house that has anything to do with her son. Whatever is left of him is hidden away, in closets, the attic, the basement. Relics: like the ones they used to display in churches, but these can’t heal. If he were alive he’d be thirty-three, a shadow existence, his revenant growing invisibly older, thinner each year, his tenuous shade coming apart, the strands of him pulling away. Roman doesn’t know that she had a son, nor do the people she works with at the museum. Her coworkers at the office she retired from did, and this is only one of the reasons she was glad to see the last of them.

Larissa is fifty-seven, retired from her job. She worked in an office, in charge of a number of people. There was a lot of email, and birthdays were constantly being celebrated. It’s not important now. She volunteers at a museum several days a week because she likes to keep busy. But she keeps time for her passions, which are: cooking, reading, playing the electronic piano.

Larissa is not sure that she’s a very sensual person. She likes sex, pretty much, but she always feels as if she doesn’t know what she’s doing. It doesn’t come naturally to her.

Larissa had a dream last night, about her father, who in the dream was laying out his ancient tools on the redwood picnic table that used to sit on her parents’ patio thirty years ago. Larissa watches him puttering around, thinking (in the dream) that she should get up and start dinner. Which is strange. Is she her mother? She looks at her hands, stretching out her fingers: they are her own hands, but still she has the restless urge that she should be doing something. When she looks back to her father, thinking that she should ask him what he’d like her to do, she finds that it’s not her father bending over the picnic table, but her son, looking just as he did in the year or two before he died.

Larissa’s mother was very beautiful. Some used to think that Larissa might resent her mother, since she herself was only attractive in an entirely ordinary way, but this isn’t true. Larissa loved her mother. But she dislikes her mother’s sister, who did resent Larissa’s mother for her beauty. Her aunt is still alive at eighty-one, and seems to think this a well-earned triumph over Helen, Larissa’s mother, who died some years ago.

When Larissa drives to work at the museum, she goes through her mother’s old neighborhood, where her family lived when they first came to the city. The houses in the neighborhood are old, the same houses that were there when Helen lived there. Larissa drives down the street where her mother lived. She came here once with her mother, a nostalgic trip. Helen could remember the street, but she wasn’t sure if it was the second house from the corner or the third. Larissa remembers feeling impatient at the time: how could she not remember? The two houses are both white, both with pillared porches and tiny squares of grass in front. One has a chimney that is half falling down, the other a squat tower embedded in its northwest corner. These items seem noticeable and unique to Larissa, but she’s over the whole blaming thing now.

At the museum, Larissa does this and that, a jane of all trades. It’s a community history museum with an eccentric collection, mainly things that people have donated when their parents died and they were clearing out the house.  Originally they took her on to do the books, because of her office experience, but she now does whatever comes up.  She’s learned how to restore old books, mend vintage clothes, refurbish and retune ancient musical instruments. She’s handy with a screwdriver. She goes there three times a week, but sometimes more often if she’s involved in a project. She is vaguely friendly with the other volunteers and with the woman who has the one paid position, the director. She has a particular affinity for one of the volunteers, Roseanne. She reminds her of Eileen, someone she went to school with, so much so that she sometimes imagines that Roseanne is Eileen.

Larissa is a great reader. She likes to read history – lives of the presidents, for instance, or of significant women like Marie Curie. She likes to read cookbooks, although she hardly ever makes a recipe out of them. All the things she makes are things she made when she was married to her long-divorced husband, or things that her mother used to make. She also likes to read romances but only of a particular sort – Regency romances. She is very critical if the authors don’t get the language or the clothes right. If she wrote a book (but she would never do this), she would write something historical, or maybe she would write a self-help book, which would be practical. Definitely not a memoir, since her life is not interesting. She does think she has some good advice to give people, if people ever listened. Especially women. She thinks she knows a thing or two about being a woman.

Larissa’s son is dead. He’s been dead for quite a while. People have assumed a lot of things about Larissa’s son’s death, some thinking that he died in one of the wars of the late twentieth century – the first Gulf war, for instance. Or they think that he committed suicide, since he was young when he died. Some people are convinced that he died on 9/11, but they are people that don’t know Larissa very well.

Larissa retired early for several reasons. She disliked her job, of course, which goes without saying. She was glad to leave behind a group of people who knew things about her. She gave it out that she was quitting because she needed to take care of an elderly relative, which was a lie. Her aunt, who hated Larissa’s mother, and isn’t all that fond of Larissa, is elderly, but she’s living determinedly on her own in an assisted living apartment. In fact, Larissa won the lottery. She’s kept it quiet though and no one knows it except, presumably, her bank.

Larissa never thinks about her first marriage, not because it was horrible or traumatic, but because it was unremarkable.

The love of Larissa’s life is dead. She didn’t know at the time that Eileen was the love of her life. They knew each other so briefly, so many years ago, but she’s never had that same intensity of feeling again, although she kept looking for it, until she stopped. They thought they’d keep in touch after graduation, but they didn’t. She saw her again at their twenty-year reunion, but although Larissa was still feeling something, she couldn’t communicate it, and she didn’t know if Eileen felt it or anything like it. They exchanged stories of their jobs, marriages, children. Eileen’s life sounded much more interesting than Larissa’s. She never saw her again, and years later, she heard from someone that she had died. The someone who told her is an expriest. He attempted to comfort/counsel her, which she rejected. He may also have wanted to sleep with her.

In her twenties, Larissa lived in a commune, although they didn’t call it that, which she joined because she had always had a fantasy of having an orchard, and the place where they lived had one. She appointed herself the commune’s orchardist and read dozens of books on apples and pruning and grafting. While she was there, she had sex with three people, with different degrees of enthusiasm. One was the founder, whose grandfather owned the farm; he was someone she’d known in college, although they hadn’t slept together then. The second was a woman who reminded her of the love of her life (although she still didn’t know then that the LOHL had come and gone). The third was a boy who stayed at the commune for only a week, and who was the father of Larissa’s son, who is now dead.

When Larissa wakes up in the middle of the night, she calms her mind by counting objects in her childhood bedroom, with the aim of falling asleep before she reaches fifty. Her fingers remember the spindles at the headboard of the bed, carved so that she could fit her fingers into their curves, also the soft crinkly texture of the kleenex dolls she made to play with when she was supposed to be sleeping. The wallpaper was blue, with the heads of Edwardian women with bouffant hair and big hats. There was a vanity table, with a fancy hairbrush, and a mirror over it, which fell down once in the middle of the night. She starts always with the corner of the room by the door, and by the time she has worked her way around to the dresser on the opposite wall, enumerating what was kept on top of it (the music box her father brought her from Germany, the pirate treasure chest where she kept her allowance, the celluloid doll named Caroline that was an antique and couldn’t be played with), she was usually asleep.

Larissa visits her aunt once a month on a Sunday. The place she’s living is called The Willows – it looks like a normal apartment building except that an ambulance is often parked outside. Her aunt’s apartment has only a bedroom, a bathroom, and a visiting area (so named in the brochure). There’s no need to cook, since the residents eat downstairs in the communal dining room, but there is a mini-fridge for snacks. “I see you’re back,” she greets Larissa. “I’ve got a lot to do, you know. I can’t sit around waiting all the day.” Larissa has brought a plant, to replace one of the ones dying on the window sill. Larissa admires her aunt’s brooch, an enameled flower pinned in the folds of her scarf. Her aunt tells her how she got it for a bargain price at an auction many years ago. “I haven’t seen your mother,” she tells Larissa. “Too busy to come and see her own sister, I suppose.” Larissa has stopped reminding her aunt of who has died (which is basically everyone of her generation). Larissa says that her mother might be out of town. Her aunt sniffs, but accepts this, and goes on to tell again the story of how Larissa’s mother used to borrow her stockings and return them with runs in them. “It wasn’t easy to get them during the war,” she reminds Larissa. “She never had a care for her things, your mother.” Larissa won’t go so far as to agree with criticism of her mother, so she hums in what she hopes is an agreeable way. “How’s your neighbor?” she asks. “The woman you play bridge with.” Her aunt sniffs again. “Dead,” she says, shaking her head at this willful failure. “Her daughter came to clear out her things last week.” Some visits, her aunt is willing to tell stories about the past that are free of bitterness and spite. Sometimes, Larissa hears new things about Helen that she didn’t know. That she had a yellow convertible. That she and Larissa’s father courted for years before she said yes. That she’d had her tonsils out and almost died when she was thirteen. Not this visit though. She leaves her aunt before dinner is announced over the loudspeaker, because she can’t bear sitting at the table with her aunt and her tablemates: the woman who always smiles, the woman who talks incessantly about her Uncle Frank, the woman who brings a doll with her and surreptitiously feeds it bits from her plate. When she is in the car, she breathes deeply, feeling guilty and relieved. Would she hate these visits so if it was her mother she was seeing instead? The template of her aunt’s rooms seems to press down on her: she can’t help seeing herself in the bed, in the wheelchair maneuvering into the accessible bathroom, sitting in front of the TV watching endless colorized Turner classic movies. On her way home, as she often does, she goes to the mall and buys something, this time a pair of shoes and an umbrella, which she thinks are probably symbolic of something.

Roseanne, the woman at the museum who reminds her of the love of her life, is not quite one year younger than Larissa, about nine months to be exact. “You were being born that month, and I was being conceived,” she tells Larissa. Sometimes Larissa counts the ways that Roseanne is like Eileen, and sometimes she looks for the differences. They are both slight and blonde, both wear glasses, and are fond of jangly bracelets. Roseanne still works. She’s a teacher, but on half-time now. Her specialty at the museum is restoring old paintings, which she calls freshening up. “It would be a crime if this was a Rembrandt,” she says, “but since it’s not, I can have away at it.” These paintings are mostly lugubrious landscapes featuring waterfalls, sunsets, barns and farm animals, or portraits of dour men and women of the last century. Roseanne takes what liberties she can get away with, putting highlights on the waterfalls, brightening up the ancient clothes, or drawing a suggestion of a smile on the gloomiest faces. This is a secret she has with Larissa. Roseanne has a way of laughing that falls so lightly on Larissa’s ear, a laugh of three notes, descending the scale like birdsong.

Larissa’s son was always happy, or this is how she remembers him. Not that he wasn’t a normal boy. Not that they didn’t fight sometimes, over his clothes, or how late he would stay out. He had three good friends, two boys and a girl, from grade school all through high school. Larissa was proud of him, being friends with a girl, but also puzzled, since that wasn’t the way it was when she was young. His father (or rather, the man who Larissa married) got along with him well, for as long as he was around. If Larissa were to tell the story of her marriage to someone (to Roseanne, for instance), she might laugh, and say that they hardly knew each other. I’m not sure why we got married, she might say. It was a whim, I guess. At the time though, she’d thought of it as a solid plan, her plan to become normal, which meant finding a man and getting married. She would have been more comfortable (a little more) if she’d just been a lesbian, she tells herself. But the wavering between genders was a little too much, not in the slightest normal. Now it wouldn’t make so much difference. But anyway, she married him, and they didn’t hate each other for the time they were together. She felt afterward as if she’d done everything she could. She’d been as normal as it was possible for her to be.

Her time on the commune happened after she dropped out of college. She’d been planning to be a nurse, without somehow realizing that she’d have to watch people bleed. She changed majors and changed again, and then in her second year, dropped out halfway through the semester. Her mother had been confused but supportive. She’d lived at home for a few months, the two of them making each other crazy. When one of her friends, who had also dropped out (for reasons that had more to do with drugs and failing grades) wrote her and said that a few people he knew were going to live on his grandfather’s farm, she had been initially unenthusiastic. He called her long distance and extolled the beauties of the farm, talking about how there were a couple of goats and how they might make cheese, and someone planned to take up quilting, on and on, while she half listened, paging through a magazine while her mother made faces at her, wanting to know who it was. It wasn’t until he mentioned the orchard that she started listening properly. Helen, her mother, was then around forty-eight, still in the height of her beauty, her silvering blonde hair falling forward over her shoulders, her green eyes bright, her long legs crossed, her hand curving around a cigarette, blowing a stream of smoke toward the light from the window.

Larissa’s son died when he was nineteen. It was the kind of death that can’t be blamed on anyone, no matter how you try. He had gone out with his friends (the same friends he’d had all those years) to meet some other friends. They’d been walking across the street in a straggling group, on their way from one bar to another. They’d been drinking but no one was drunk. He had dropped behind to look for his longtime friend, the girl, who was lingering in the door of the bar, trying to get rid of a man who wanted her number, or wanted to come with her. He wanted something, and Larissa’s son was probably thinking of going back to help her get rid of him – this is what the girl told her several hours later at the hospital, crying so hard that her words came out garbled. The driver of the car wasn’t drunk either; she was old, and she was having a stroke. Larissa imagines her face drooping, her mouth crooked, one hand slipping from the wheel as she careened toward the spot on the street where Larissa’s son was standing, ready to be chivalrous if necessary. She hit him square on, so that his body flew some yards into the brick wall of the building housing the bar, several apartments, and a dry cleaners. He was dead on impact, the doctor assured Larissa, as if this was a comfort, and maybe it was.

At the museum, Larissa enjoys most the repairs that must be made on donated clothes. She never learned to sew when she was young, since her mother wanted her to have a career, but she has gotten good at it. She is currently working on a set of early nineteenth-century baby clothes, their whiteness yellowed in spite of having been treated gently with bleach. They are fancier than baby clothes today, with lace and hand embroidery, but less colorful. When Roseanne comes to see what she’s doing, she holds the dress she’s mending to show her. Roseanne laughs and says that she needs a drink.

When Larissa was in high school, she was one of the smart girls, although she doesn’t think she’s especially smart. But she was a hard worker, also a good test taker. Eileen wasn’t one of the smart girl group. She transferred in their junior year, and didn’t seem interested in attaching herself to any of the groups. She spent time with one person, then another, dropping in on the groups at random. No one seemed to mind. Eileen wasn’t beautiful. Her hair looked as if it had been cut by her mother, using a bowl, her eyes were a little small, her body lean and boyish. But people seemed to like to be with her. Larissa did. She was willing to do things like sit on the floor in front of her locker with Eileen, their legs stretched out so that passing girls had to step over them. She agreed to go to the dentist with Eileen because Eileen said that her dentist was probably a child molester (Eileen insisted on paying her $5. Danger pay, she said.) She and Eileen went to the prom together with Eileen’s two much younger brothers (they were 13 and 14) as a protest against the ridiculousness of expensive prom festivities when there were people dying everywhere in the world. They bought their dresses at the Goodwill, and the brothers wore tuxedo T-shirts. None of these things would Larissa have done before, or with anyone who wasn’t Eileen. Still, she hadn’t considered that she was in love. She didn’t realize this until much later, when she hadn’t seen Eileen for years and never would again.

Larissa gradually had started spending more and more time at the museum, more than her assigned volunteer hours. No one minded. The director often stopped to hug Larissa when she saw her, saying that she was the volunteer queen. Larissa liked old things, although she hadn’t known this about herself until now. She liked fixing things. She liked the slightly musty smell. She liked knowing things about people’s lives, the people to whom the museum’s exhibits had belonged.

The boy who fathered Larissa’s son was younger than her, eighteen to her twenty-two. He had limp, soft hair that fell below his shoulders. He asked her to cut it one night, and somehow, her hands on his forehead and ears, the touch of the scissors on his cheek, the brushing away of tufts of hair turned into foreplay. It was a very bad haircut. They laughed about it in bed afterward. He left two weeks later. She doesn’t remember his last name.

Roman finds her work at the museum laughable. He can’t imagine why she wastes her time there. He doesn’t know about the lottery win, and often urges her to get a paying job, at least part-time. He is under the impression that she was pressured into early retirement. Larissa furthers this misapprehension by indulging in pennypinching ways when they’re together. She lets him pay when he insists, and lets herself be seen putting a handful of sugar packets into her purse.

Roman will sometimes talk about what they might do when he is free of his obligations. He likes to speculate grandly about buying a house together in Mexico that they can timeshare out with trusted friends and relatives. He is convinced that no one should die before they’ve done various things like take a balloon ride or go crosscountry on a train. He is currently trying to persuade Larissa that she’d like to take up dog breeding, specifically for guide dogs. He is sure there’s money in it, as well as being a service to mankind.

Larissa hasn’t spent much of the money she won in the lottery. She had a new bathroom put into her house, but it wasn’t an extravagant bathroom. She spends more money than she used to on books, and she refurbished her garden with a raft of new perennials and flowering shrubs. She didn’t replace her car, a five-year-old Toyota, although she bought a new computer and, on impulse, a rather expensive juicer. She didn’t buy a new wardrobe. She went on a few trips after she retired from her job: she went to Canada, to Prince Edward Island to visit the site of the Green Gables novels; on a cruise to Alaska; and to South Carolina to get away from January snow. She thinks of going on a grander trip, to Italy, for instance, but she hasn’t so far nerved herself up for it. She gives more money out to people who beg for it on the street or from the grass verge by the freeway entrance – ten dollars instead of two.

One of the things she remembers about her mother and her aunt is about their gift giving. Her mother never used and often didn’t keep the things her sister gave her. She complained that they were extravagant, or too flamboyant. “Like something a showgirl would wear,” she’d said about a particular silver turban. She gave them away, often pressing them on Larissa, or let them lie in the back of the closet. Larissa found dozens of them, still in their boxes after her mother died. She sat crosslegged on the floor, remembering all the insincere thank-yous, how her mother had smiled gaily, saying “just what I wanted” or “how did you know I needed one of these.” The presents that Larissa’s mother gave her sister were relentlessly practical: an umbrella, padded hangers, a handheld vacuum cleaner. One year she had given her sister underwear. They had argued, not about the gift itself, but over the relative merits of hipster underpants (her aunt) over high-cut briefs (her mother).

Larissa was forty-three when her son died. She was fifty when her mother died. In the years between these two events, she sometimes wished that her mother had died instead of her son. After her mother died, she had no one to substitute.

Larissa met Roman at the home of an acquaintance, in fact, the ex-priest who told her about Eileen’s death. He had been out of the priesthood for years, but he still had the gestures and habits. He had a tendency to hold up his hand, palm out, as if he was conferring a blessing, and he often said “Amen” in nonreligious contexts. The evening had been a get-together for people who had once taught at St. Pius II School. Larissa had taught there only for a year, and only as a sub for someone on maternity leave, but the ex-priest was relentless in tracking down former colleagues. It was potluck, and Larissa had brought a bowl of cherry tomatoes and cookies from a bakery, still in the package. It was then two years after her son had died. She kept expecting to “get over it,” “get closure,” “find some peace” — but this was not happening. She had dreams about her son quite often. Sometimes it was as if nothing had ever happened – pleasant dreams about conversations at breakfast or watching him play soccer, as he had in high school. Sometime they began this way, and then descended into horror, blood beginning to drip into his scrambled eggs as they talked, or a yawning pit opening in the middle of the soccer field which gaped and widened until all the players were sucked in. Sometimes they began bad and stayed that way. The night of the party she had dressed without thinking what she was putting on, not caring much if she went or stayed home. If she hadn’t been able to find her car keys immediately, she likely would have set the wrapped bowl of tomatoes and the bag of cookies on the table by the door and gone straight to bed. But the car keys were there, and she walked out to the car, her mind a blank. At the expriest’s house, she sat on a couch, nodding at people but not talking to the group around her. Roman was sitting across from her on a folding chair. At the end of the evening, he claimed that he needed a ride, and the expriest had volunteered Larissa, since they lived only ten minutes apart. She didn’t think she said a word on the way home. Roman had gotten her number from the expriest. On their first date, he told her that he’d never met a more restful woman.

Eileen and Larissa were only friends in the time that they knew each other, but sometimes Larissa finds herself imagining that they continued to know each other, and that they have had a more intimate relationship that has lasted all that time since then. She finds herself thinking about this when she’s sewing up the hem on some frayed nineteenth-century baby clothes, or regilding a picture frame.

Larissa’s neighbors don’t know her well. She says hello to them, and pretends not to mind when the neighborhood children’s balls land in her yard. She buys girl scout cookies and magazine subscriptions from them when their schools are fundraising. Her neighbor to the west shovels her driveway when the snow is bad, and her neighbor to the east gives her surplus tomatoes when his garden is overflowing. She sometimes thinks, and takes pleasure in the fact that they don’t know her at all, they know nothing about her thoughts or circumstances.

Roman and Roseanne met once when Roman came to the reception for the museum’s exhibit (which Larissa had co-curated), “Our Ancestors, Ourselves.” They didn’t get along, by which Larissa was secretly pleased.

Roseanne and Larissa sometimes go out for drinks on Thursday after their hours at the museum. They like a little bar that is in the gentrified area of the city. Surrounded by cupcake bakeries and little shops that sell arts and crafts or vintage clothing, the bar itself is not gentrified. It has a decades-old smell of beer and smoke imbued into its furnishings, and the clientele (besides Roseanne and Larissa) tends to be solitary old men who hunch over their drinks protectively. The bar menu is not extensive, but they do a good martini, and that is what Roseanne and Larissa order: martinis with gin, up, two olives, heavy on the vermouth. They sit and talk about work and about their past lives, leaving much out. Larissa tells her the story of her time on the commune, making it as funny as she can. Roseanne tells Larissa how she got expelled from college, and how she worked for three years as a bail bondsman, which she describes as “kind of a kick.” It’s dim in the bar, and they lean closer to each other to hear over the relentless oldies playing on the sound system. Larissa has never invited Roseanne to come home with her after drinks, although she has thought about it. The trouble is that she isn’t sure how to go on from there. She sometimes gets a feeling that Roseanne would like her to do this, but she has never learned how to be the aggressor. Would she have to say something? Would she take Roseanne’s hand? She feels a little angry with Roseanne because she doesn’t take the initiative. And then, sex: no matter how much she likes Roseanne, does she actually want to go there?

In her imaginary life with Eileen, they went to the commune together, where perhaps they took it over, making it run more efficiently, making a rota for the chores, for instance. They lay in the grass in the orchard and looked at the stars through the branches. Because Eileen was there, Larissa would not have slept with the father of her son, which is a problem, since she doesn’t want to erase his existence, even in this imaginary world. Somehow he becomes their son, hers and Roseanne’s, in some unexplained conception. When they leave the commune, Larissa gets a teaching job at a prestigious private school, and Eileen finds a highpaying corporate job that requires her to travel a lot (even in her imaginary life, Larissa finds that she wants a little distance). When Larissa wins the lottery, she and Eileen buy a house in Costa Rica (which is reputed to be very cheap to live in). They move there with their son, although he leaves after a few years to go to college at Harvard. Bringing this fantasy up to the present, they are both retired, and Larissa is working on a book about something or other. Not a memoir. Eileen has taken up horseback riding and has her own shop selling Costa Rican crafts.

The ex-priest runs into Larissa every once in a while – in the grocery store or in the park on the all-purpose path. He always asks after Roman, looking smug, as if he is entirely responsible for their getting together. He sometimes hints slyly about a possible marriage. “Even in our golden days, we can find happiness,” he says, sometimes going so far as to nudge her conspiratorily. He always invites the two of them to his next little fiesta, as he calls his parties, and she always says that she’ll try to make it, although she never does. Whether Roman goes or not, she doesn’t know.

When Larissa thinks of her son, she tries now to distance herself, as if he lived a long time ago, as if he were born fifty years ago, a hundred, as if he had been friends with the boy in one of the photographs in the exhibit, “Farming in the Early Years,” his hand on a plow about to be pulled away by a team of shaggy horses. Her son was of middle height (his father was rather short). His hair fell forward over his eyes: he didn’t like to get it cut. When he smiled, Larissa had always had to smile back, even if she was angry. She wants to think that she remembers all of his smiles, but there are so many that she has forgotten.

One day, Roseanne comes in with a gift bag and hands it to Larissa, who takes it with a puzzled frown. “Open it,” Roseanne says, and she does, finding inside a clutter of sample-sized makeup. Roseanne’s cousin sells Avon, and they were having a clear out. Larissa takes out a lipstick: Enduring Sable, in a shimmer finish. “These are all good for a brunette,” Roseanne says, gesturing toward Larissa’s hair. “I can’t wear them.” Roseanne is a blonde, her color shades lighter than her original hair was, she has told Larissa. “I thought of you,” Roseanne said. She pulls out an eye shadow called Midnight Sparkler. “You can wear this when we go out for drinks. We’ll be fighting them off.”

Larissa forgets to bring something with her when she visits her aunt, and she blames this for the unpleasantness that follows. Her aunt refuses to be wheeled outside into the cramped garden although the weather is warm. The aide whispers to Larissa in the hall that she’s been difficult. She refused three times to get her hair washed, even though it’s lank and straggling. Her aunt tells a long story about the director of the assisted living apartments, claiming that she is preventing everyone from going to Mass. Her aunt claims that the visiting priest has been barred from the facility for some dark reason that she refuses to divulge. She tells Larissa again that her mother hasn’t been to visit her in a long time, and that she’s not surprised. Larissa is thinking that maybe it’s time that she move to the other side of the facility, where residents with dementia or more severe health problems stay. She pours some coffee for the two of them from the pot in the communal kitchen space and pretends to drink hers. Her aunt leans closer to her. “Helen was always that way,” she says. “Always thinking of herself, your mother.” Larissa prepares herself to hear again about the stockings borrowed without permission or how her mother never helped with the chores. “She didn’t care about what anybody said,” her aunt says. “Your father was a saint. She led him a dance, you know. Before,” she lowers her voice, “and after.” Larissa draws back. She wants to ask what her aunt means, except that she knows what she means. Her aunt looks at her with satisfaction. “She was brought up better than that. We all were.” She looks at the drooping plants on the window sill that Larissa has forgotten about watering. “I never wanted a man, you know. Too much trouble,” her aunt says. She smiles, so slyly that Larissa wants to hit her, if it was possible to hit old women whose bones are as brittle as plaster.

Larissa likes to go to the bank instead of using the ATM, which makes her nervous. She’s never sure that her card will come back out. At the bank, everyone knows her, and they are endlessly friendly. She sits at one of the customer service desks, and lets the executive vice president handle her withdrawal. She can tell that he wants to ask her what the money is for, but he doesn’t. Outside, the sun is shining. She prefers to carry cash with her. Cash is more comforting than a credit card, although she has those, too. At the mall, she walks up and down, in and out of the stores. Roseanne’s birthday is a week away, which she knows because she looked up Roseanne’s volunteer employee file on the computer in the office, but she doesn’t know what to get her. A scarf? a bracelet? a clutch purse? These are the things that women buy for each other, but none of them seem right. She starts buying things nevertheless, the accumulation of them spurring her on. Something has to be right, hasn’t it? A pair of red shoes. A book on ferns. A paperweight shaped like an octopus, translucent and shimmery. A box of chocolate truffles in spring colors. A lotion containing dead sea salts. The strings of the bags cut into her fingers.

The calendar in Larissa’s office at the museum is a weight on her, the spent and unspent days. It’s an annual calendar, but somehow she feels the press of the years behind this one, pushing on the leaves that say January, February, March. Before Larissa retired, she was less aware of time. Now, she realizes, the months are square and stolid, the weeks a rush of light and dark, the days slotted into them like coffins. All the dead hours.

Larissa’s mother had wanted her to be a teacher, one of the things they argued about. Her aunt had taken Larissa’s side. “Let her have a bit of fun,” she said. “Teachers are poky old things.”

Roman has wanted to take her to the races for a long time, but she had resisted until now, since it seemed silly to her to watch a number of horses run around in a circle. It might be different, she told Roman, if she owned one of the horses, or if she knew the jockeys. There was no reason she couldn’t own a horse, if she took it into her head to do such a silly thing. She could buy a horse, or two horses, and a stable, and maybe her own racetrack. A small one. She sits in the seats high enough up so that the racing park spreads out below her. Her thigh is pressed against Roman’s leg. He had his arm around her for a while, but in the excitement of the race, he has released her, has stood up to yell encouragement at Blue Shadow, on whom he bet fifty dollars. It is a pretty name, Larissa admits. The horses are moving specks from here, their spidery legs scrambling. The crowd wavers and jitters in excitement, their round heads bobbing. Larissa is thinking of other things: her mother, her aunt, her son. The sharp-cut fall of Eileen’s trendy haircut against the navy blue of their school uniform. The expriest who informed her of Eileen’s death had said that he was sure she’d died in Christ. Larissa knows however that Eileen was an atheist, or at least an agnostic, something they had settled between them on the retreat in junior year, when they had discussed the strong possibility that God did not exist. They had snuck out after curfew to talk on the cold sand of the beach, the dark waves splashing at their feet. No one knew where they were, that was the best thing. No one could tell them anything.

 

 

 

BIO

Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection) – both by Random House. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.

 

 

 

 

0

After Love

by Greg Hill

 

 

You are to love one another, came the commandment. But some were too far in the back of the crowd to hear, so a message relay was requested. One stood up, turned around, and repeated what he had heard. There was a clamor near this speaker, for a few of his words were slightly different than what some thought they had heard the first time. It was decided quickly, by a few of the elders, that a committee should be gathered to confirm exactly what was said and what, if any, translations could be counted official. But you know what happens next: there’s discontent about who gets invited, various factions break off, each employing a different method of counting votes, several favoring just the heads of family, others allowing representation for adult males only, some discounting 40% the voting power of certain individuals based on skin color. Children are born into a community that knows only its moral certitude, which translates poorly across rivers and oceans, and means a slaughter of innocents who were bred to interpret their charge differently. Money changes hands, along with votes and allegiances. Discord erupts into conflict, conflict into battle, battle into war, treasuries collecting taxes to grow the hungry machine. There are others who come later, who try to capture some spirit of the original message, using words like “care” or “respect” or “peace” yet journalistic integrity must bow before cost margins, the success of which is necessary to deliver the corporate message to the people, so pitiful messages of tolerance and redistribution are rightly squashed. Clouds pass over, and days, and seasons and years and new calendars are formed and displaced by even newer ones but still the victors maintain their rectitude, even as philosophies bloom and wither, clans and kingdoms and empires and multinationals. It is so severe, this loving of one another, so as to be unrecognizable, though of course that is not the point, since it is victory that has led us here, righteousness that has given value to the status quo, to the structures and systems and weapons stockpiles that must be fortified against all enemies, enemies destroyed at all cost, costs driven by market, markets to protect the inheritance of what is right and good, for the sake of principle, for the purpose of discipline, for the flag of love that waves tirelessly over the corpses of infidels, of martyrs, of unbelievers; the diffident, the different, the dependent and misled; the huddled, the tired and the damn poor.

 

 

Song to the Hemlocks

 

I sing a song to the hemlocks
in the shade where the river
bends. Sail down, small notes,
with the flashing fins of fly-fish trout
and rowing boats,
past cold and austere rocks,
past glade ferns, golden farms,
the dances of their fields, then out beyond
the fertile loam where the current ends
and the splashing foam of the tide begins.

 

 

 

Alarm Clock

 

The alarm clock,
however, gets up earlier,
preparing for its purpose
like the pubescent teenager
jogging up the summer
camp’s grassy hill
with his bugle
to play Reveille.
Most working adults
have something negative
to say about the way
they are woken up
in the morning.
The not-quite-gentle
touch of open palm
to snooze alarm
is passive aggressive,
like a handshake—
one that gives
the appearance of
nice to meet you,
but has the feel of
shut the hell up
and don’t come back.

 

 

BIO

Greg Hill is an educator, adjunct professor of English, math tutor, and voice over talent in West Hartford, Connecticut. He has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and his work has appeared in Atlas and Alice, Barzakh, Cargo Literary, Cheap Pop, Grub Street, Past Ten, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Whiskey Island and elsewhere. Thanks to his kids, he has memorized the movies Frozen, Trolls, and Moana. He spends his free time studying quantum mechanics and toki pona.

 

 

 

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The Engagement of Zelda Sayre to F. Scott  Fitzgerald

(from an unpublished novel entitled “Ascent to Madness: Zelda Fitzgerald’s Gilded Cage.”)

by Henry F. Tonn

 

 

Montgomery, Alabama 1917

 

I met Scott Fitzgerald just before my eighteenth birthday at a country club in Montgomery, Alabama, where I had been persuaded to perform “Dance of the Hours” in a crowded ballroom full of servicemen. I was a veritable blonde sylph in those days; my feet seemed to barely touch the floor. After the performance all the servicemen swarmed around me wanting to dance, and I was whirled across the floor by a succession of admirers, one cutting in after another. Scott saw me and moved right in. He was a cocky little bugger with something of a supercilious attitude along with a distinctive strut to his walk.

We danced, but he was hampered in his attentions by other servicemen cutting in. Finally, as the evening drew to a close, Scott asked me for a date. Pretty quick, I thought! And laughed. “I never make late dates with fast workers,” I informed him, flipping my golden curls behind me.

“There appears to be a lot of competition for your companionship,” he observed, gently stroking the side of my face with two fingers and peering intently at me. “I don’t want to be left behind.”

I put five fingers on his chest and shoved. “Well, unless they’re shipping you off to the war tomorrow, mon chevalier, you’ll have plenty of time. I’m not going anywhere.”

This was a new experience for Scott who was accustomed to having his way with the fairer sex, being the pretty boy that he was. He thought since he was down South with the cotton pickers, he could have his way with any girl he chose.

Wrong!

I had many suitors in that era and was dated up for weeks. Scott had to put in some major effort to garner my attention. Hah! And that inaccessibility made me more desirable to him, made him more determined than ever to get me. It is an eternal truism in the world of love that that which is most elusive generally assumes the mantle of the most desirable.

But he was a good looking man, with his blonde hair and fresh complexion. He had luminous green eyes that seemed to change with his mood and a perfectly chiseled face. His uniform was tailored by Brooks Brothers of New York and he wore cream-colored boots with spurs. He was animated and passionate. His conversation glittered. He was somber and determined, but witty and urbane. I had never before met anyone like him. Later I would learn that the two things Scott Fitzgerald ultimately wanted most in life were literary success and me. He got both, but maybe eventually regretted it.

He called me every day from his barracks. He came to my house regularly, riding the rickety old bus to Montgomery from his camp and then taking a taxi. He wanted me exclusively but had to share me with others. He objected and complained bitterly. Sorry about that, darling, but I am queen of the belles here and shall play it to the hilt. When you have men lined up at the door, you pretty much do as you please.

Get in line, gentlemen—there’s enough of Zelda for everybody!

But Scott was relentless. He threw a party at the country club for my eighteenth birthday and managed to make it a magical evening: the lights, the music, the dancing. Scott was the dashing Lieutenant then and I was the elusive, fragrant, seductive phantom. I was there but I was not quite there for him. But gradually I found myself being drawn to the man, irresistibly, like a moth to a flickering flame. Our times together increased. I invited him to my house for dinner so he could become acquainted with my family.

This was serious business and it was supposed to a memorable event. And it was, but for the wrong reason.

I introduced Old Dick—my name for Daddy behind his back—to Scott and they chatted comfortably for ten minutes, then everyone sat down to the dinner table. Within the first minute I said something Daddy objected to and he just blew up. He grabbed a carving knife and started chasing me around the table brandishing the knife while Scott looked on with incredulity. Finally, after several rotations of the table and one side trip through the kitchen, the judge—not in the best of jogging condition—ran out of steam and sat back down to finish his dinner. I swear to God, it’s true. My father, a judge of the highest order, could control his emotions with everyone but me. I drove him crazy. But afterwards everybody chatted amiably as though nothing had happened. Pass the butter beans, Momma? Thank you so much. More corn, Daddy?

Scott never forgot it. He thought, What am I getting myself into here?

“It’s all right, son,” Old Dick said, patting Scott on the shoulder. “I haven’t killed her yet. Came close a couple of times but haven’t managed yet.”

“Yes, sir,” was all Scott could reply, picking at his food. He was real quiet that night.

“More roast?” the judge said amiably.

“No thank you, sir.”

“A Princeton man, are you?” the judge said, trying to make conversation.

“Yes, sir.”

“Graduated?”

“No, sir. Dropped out to serve my country.”

“Ah! Good man. Good man. So what are your plans after the war? What would you like to do with yourself?”

“I’d like to be a writer, sir.”

“A writer, you say?” The judge’s eyebrows constricted.

“Yes, sir.”

“A writer.” The judge’s moustache drooped.

“Yes, sir.”

“Hm.”

It was obvious that Judge Anthony Sayre was not overly fond of his youngest daughter’s being courted by a soldier whose ambition was to support her by the power and glory of the written word.

We sat on my front porch later rocking in the swing and sipping non-alcoholic drinks with fruit and crushed ice. He quoted poetry to me. He had memorized poems that went on for fifteen minutes. I’ve never seen nor heard anything like it. He talked about his future and his writing, and was absolutely determined to be the greatest author in the world—both rich and famous.

“The rich are different than you and me,” he said, his chiseled features etched in the moonlight, his wonderful eyes brilliant and alive. “They have everything they want early in their lives and don’t have to work for it. It gives them a certain sense of entitlement. It causes them to feel they’re better than everyone else. There were a lot of people like that at Princeton. I could feel it. They sized you up, and if you had money and breeding and came from the right family, they allowed you into that unspoken fraternity that other people couldn’t hope to join. But I’m going to make it on my own terms. Then nobody can look down on me.”

“I haven’t noticed that sort of thing in Montgomery,” I said.

“It’s not the same,” he insisted. “You have to go up north to see what I’m talking about: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Boston, New York. These people think the sun rises and sets on themselves. They know it does. They don’t care about the poor, for example. The only poor people they’ve ever known are their own servants and laborers. They have no sensitivity, no concern for the human condition. The greatest writers understood and wrote about the human condition—which is what made them great: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Balzac, Dickens, Keats, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Spengler. Some of these people rose above their own lofty beginnings—like Tolstoy, for example—to identify with the less fortunate, and you have to admire them for that. I doubt if any of my Princeton classmates will ever follow suit, but I certainly hope I’ll remember where I came from when I’m famous. I hope I never lose my concern for the human condition. If you’re a great writer, you should also be a great man.”

I was touched by this. I wanted to stand up and applaud. These were new ideas to me; they were not the typical ideas you heard in Montgomery. I slipped my arm through his and leaned against him. “That’s right, darling. Both of us will want to remember our humble beginnings.”

“It’s like the Nietzschean superman,” he said. “No matter how exalted you are, you never forget the unfortunates.”

“Yes,” I said somberly, though I had no idea what a “Nietzchean superman” was.

“I want to do this as much for you as for myself,” he swore. “I want us to take this journey together. We’d be so perfect.”

“It sounds like a wonderful life. I’m excited to think about it.”

He nodded with determination. “I’m going to make it happen.”

“We’d be linked like soul-mates,” I said. “Eternally. Two souls incarnated. That’s what the theosophists believe, you know. Together before they were born and linked as one in the afterlife. Mirror reflections of each other.”

He looked at me quizzically.

“My mother was a theosophist,” I explained. “She taught me about it.”

“Oh.”

“I know a woman who’s a psychic,” I continued. “It’s simply amazing how accurate her predictions are. All of my friends have seen her one time or another. She uses a Ouija board. Only her hands are on it, nobody else’s, and you can ask her anything you want. And then the board spells out the answer. Have you ever seen a Ouija board?”

“No.”

“I’ll go to her,” I promised, “and ask the question, ‘Will Scott Fitzgerald become rich and famous with his novel?’ What do you think? And I’ll tell you what she says.”

He nodded, looking abstractly into the distance. “I’d like to know,” he murmured.

We strolled around the fields near my home and discussed love. Crickets chirped, tree frogs croaked, and cicadas trilled as we were soon treated to a nocturnal serenade. We held hands and caressed each other. He asked me to marry him but I wouldn’t make the commitment. I teased him and was elusive and he got angry and sulked. It made me more desirable than ever.

I pressed myself against him and kissed him passionately in the shadows of the night but always withheld a part of myself. And he knew it. He found me enigmatic and confusing and said so. He couldn’t figure me out. Perhaps he never figured me out. I became the de facto heroine of many of his novels and stories because he could never quite figure me out. Of course, it’s always more interesting to write about a woman of mystery than one you understand, isn’t it?

But, in retrospect, I wonder if we were ever really right for each other.

Ever.

I don’t know.

But I only had a few doubts at the time and they were mostly concerning his ability to support me properly.

He was fascinated by the way I conversed, by the way I put words together in a peculiar manner, sometimes in a peculiar sequence. I said whatever came into my head in those days, being utterly spontaneous. I saw things from a different perspective and wasn’t afraid to declare my uniqueness. Scott had never heard anyone express themselves in such a manner, with the peculiar word formations I used, the figures of speech, the observations. It was almost as though I were speaking a foreign language to him and he needed a translator.

He began jotting down things I said, preserving them in a notebook he always carried, and later I would find them in a story of his—often word for word. Later, when we were married, he stole my diary and incorporated vast sections of it into his novel—again, word for word! I was amused and annoyed at the same time.

We had so much fun talking. We had marathon conversations. Marathon! He had been to college and was educated, whereas I just talked off the top of my head as ideas flowed through my consciousness. It was perfect. We fit together. We complemented each other in so many ways.

He became my number one beau.

But not my only beau.

Definitely not my only beau. After all, I was the leading belle in Montgomery!

I told him I loved him and would always be there with him, but the next day I would feel differently. I love you. I love you not. I love you. I love you not. I love you. I love you not. Ho hum. How could I be certain he was right for me and could take care of me when he had no means of support? Perhaps he was going to be a great writer, as he assured me, but how could I know? My lack of certainty made him angrier than ever and he complained bitterly, causing heated battles between us. But he also understood my fear. I was a judge’s daughter and his prospects were questionable. He needed to prove himself. My parents didn’t approve of him. And there were many, many other suitors.

So, when the war ended, which terminated his plans to fight in Europe, he boarded a train to New York and began his quest to become the Great Author. I, meanwhile, became fully engaged with my various suitors. I dated two football players from Auburn plus the son of a wealthy cotton broker, among others. I was crowned prom queen on three different college campuses: the University of Alabama, the University of Georgia, and little Sewanee. The more men I dated, the more conflicted I became about Scott. He was there but they were here. “I want you more all the time and I love you with all my heart and soul,” I wrote to him, and then went out and rampaged my way through the night.

Line up, gentlemen. Line up. Zelda is here!

Poor Scott.

He got desperate and sent me an engagement ring. I kept it but placed it in a drawer. Five members of a football team created a fraternity in my honor in which the induction requirement was to have dated me. I had fantasies of dating the whole football team, kissing every one of them. Leave no stone unturned! They were everywhere, offering me rides, visiting my house, inviting me out on every imaginable kind of excursion. I promised Scott I would write to him regularly but quickly tired of it. “This long-distance affair is not helping my nerves at all, darling,” I wrote. “I wish we would get this business resolved one way or the other.” The less I thought of Scott the better. He was long-distance and creating too many problems. Gradually he receded into the distance.

He wrote nineteen short stories over a several-month period and got a hundred rejection slips, pasting them on the walls of his tiny apartment. He wrote bitterly to me about the rejections and I felt sorry for him. Not only were his hopes as a writer being dashed, but he was watching the woman he loved slip away. He cursed his poverty and became absolutely frantic. But there were limits to what I could do to assuage his misery. He visited me in Montgomery three times in three months, coming by train. The third visitation was a disaster and I returned his engagement ring. “If you can’t support me, I can’t marry you,” I hollered. “What do you expect? There’s nothing romantic about starving in an attic with an impecunious author. Call me insensitive if you wish, but that’s the way it is.” I stomped my foot, and he left a broken man, but as determined as ever to have me.

He was persistent, I’ll give him that.

His novel, what would eventually become This Side of Paradise, was rejected by Scribners Publishing Company, and his editor, Maxwell Perkins, made suggestions on how to revise it. There was nothing left for him in New York so he took a train back to his parents’ home in St. Paul, Minnesota, and moved into the guest room on the third floor. There he devoted himself solely to revising the manuscript, writing ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day. He wove parts of my diary and letters into the book, created new characters, and moved various scenes around. He stopped only to eat when his mother placed food on the floor outside the door. He became a writing machine.

During the same period I dated thirty-seven different men. I have always preferred male companionship to that of females because I seem perpetually to be in competition with the latter. I wrote about this to Scott and the communiqué ended up almost verbatim in his book: “Women she detested. They represented qualities that she felt and despised in herself—incipient meanness, conceit, cowardice, and petty dishonesty. She once told a roomful of her mother’s friends that the only excuse for women was the necessity for a disturbing element among men.”

There was, unfortunately, entirely too much truth to this statement.

My correspondence with him ran hot and cold. Generally I tried to be upbeat and even passionate:

There’s nothing in the world I want other than your love, darling. My lips are yours. My body is yours. My soul is yours. I think of you every minute of the day; I sleep with you at night even though you are far away. I don’t want to live; I want to love, and live incidentally. Without you I am nothing. My life is barren and meaningless. I want you to possess every molecule of my being. I am willing to be your slave, to follow your wishes whatever they may be. I want to be beautiful for you, thin, and perfect. I want to make you the happiest man on earth. I am proud to be the object of your love and desire.

But other times I had to be realistic about not accepting his marriage proposal:

This is not an issue of material things, my darling, which are meaningless to me. I simply can’t bear the thought of poverty, a sordid, colorless existence which would surely destroy the love we have for each other. Poverty sucks the life fluids from your body and leaves you dry, desiccated, and wasted. Poverty is a barren, joyless monotony which is antithetical to the rich, effulgent embrace of life we both possess. Poverty destroys the body and kills the spirit. Poverty is the opposite of the financial security we need, that we must have in order to achieve and preserve the happiness we deserve. I want you and need you, darling, and wish to devote the rest of my life to our happiness, but you must create a foundation on which we can build. This is your responsibility, not mine. I am waiting for you, darling. I am waiting for you and only you.

Scott finally completed his novel and submitted it again to Scribner’s. On September 16, 1919, Maxwell Perkins mailed him a letter which said, “I am very glad, personally to be able to write you that we are all for publishing your book, This Side of Paradise . . . The book is so different that it is hard to prophesy how it will sell, but we are all for taking a chance and supporting it with vigor.”

The floodgates suddenly opened and a tidal wave of success washed over Scott. Simultaneously, Saturday Evening Post purchased his story, “Head and Shoulders” for $400.00. This was followed by a series of acceptances by The Smart Set, then another round of acceptances by the Post which raised its payments for his work to $500.00. Finally, in February of 1920, Scott sold the movie rights to “Head and Shoulders” for the astronomical sum of $2500.00—a full year’s wages for the average worker in the United States at the time. To say that Scott felt vindicated would be an understatement.

He was now flush with money and decided he had established a sufficiently solid financial foundation to make me his bride. He bought a spectacular diamond and platinum wristwatch for me and engraved it “from Scott to Zelda,” then boarded a train to Montgomery. The next few days were passed in an orgy of eating, drinking, loving each other, and ardent discussions concerning our future. He wanted me to marry him immediately and move to New York. I was more cautious because his novel was not yet published and I had no idea what sort of reception it would receive.

“It doesn’t matter, darling,” he insisted as we strolled hand-in-hand down a dirt road bordering a cotton field a short distance from my house. It was nighttime and a full moon bathed both of us in a luminescent glow. “I’m selling short stories now for good money. And I’ll be starting a new novel soon. I can take care of you. You’ll be happy in New York. It’ll be a whole new life. The novel will sell big, I just know it will. We’ll be famous, me and you. This is what we’ve been waiting for.” He stopped and took both of my hands and lifted them reverently to his lips and kissed them passionately.

“Sweetheart, I love you so much,” I said, pressing against him. “But the novel hasn’t been published yet and there are so many questions. You’re asking me to move from little Montgomery to huge New York. I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet.”

Tears moistened Scott’s eyes as he stared at me pleadingly. I thought he was going to break down and cry right on the spot. “Trust me, darling, this is the time. All the work I’ve put in for the past year has been for you. I have sufficient funds right now to support us for the next year—not conservatively, but extravagantly. Anything you want is yours. I’ll dress you like a queen. You’ll have the finest furs and the most exquisite jewelry. We’ll eat at the best restaurants and you’ll have a different outfit to wear every time we go out. We’ll attend the symphony, the opera, the ballet. Wouldn’t you like to see the premier ballerinas of the world perform? Everything will be yours!”

“And the symphonies,” he continued, holding my head gently between his hands and peering into my eyes. “When I hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, I don’t know how he could have done better. But when I hear his Seventh Symphony, I don’t know how he could have done better. And then when I hear the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, I think, He did better, but I don’t know how. It’s a moment of rapture! You can’t get that in Montgomery, you’ve got to come to New York. I’ll be the famous author and you’ll be my Southern belle. We’ll be soul mates: two souls incarnated and forever linked. This is what we’ve both wanted. Without you to share my success, all of this will be pointless!” He threw his arms out as though embracing the world, his features animated in the moonlight’s soft light.

Scott never lacked for emotion, I’ll say that. He was handsome and passionate and persuasive, and after four days I finally relented. I agreed to marry him, but not before the publication of his book. “When is it coming out?” I asked.

“It’s on the fast track,” he said. “Next month.”

“Very well then.” I placed my arms around his neck and kissed him deeply, then bit him on the neck and breathed in deeply the richness of his cologne. I snuggled up close to him, pressing my body against his, and finally murmured warmly into his ear, “I’ll marry you in April.”

So this was how our wedding date was established. However, I had to tell my parents, and knowing that neither of them approved of Scott, I braced myself for the confrontation. I waited until Scott left before the discussion ensued, which took place in our library.

The judge was furious.

“This is completely absurd, young lady!” he bellowed, slamming his fist down on the desk. The judge, as always, was dressed formally and impeccably, and sat ramrod straight in his chair as he spoke. His white hair had grown even whiter in the past year and many blamed my wild antics on having caused it. “You’re throwing away your life. The man has not graduated from college, he’s Irish, he has no career to speak of, he drinks too much, and he’s Catholic. You have no business marrying anyone like him.”

The judge intimidated everyone but me, and I was in love. “None of those things matter,” I retorted. “He’s publishing a book and has sold a bunch of short stories to the magazines and already has enough money to support both of us for a year.”

The judge rolled his eyes. “You call writing a means of making a living? What piffle! He should be getting a respectable job that involves a salary, or open a business. Writing for a living is no better than being an actor on the stage or some such foolishness.”

I was seated opposite the judge on a hard wooden chair, my mother occupying the seat to my left. Unlike Old Dick, Momma was becoming stout in her advancing years, but still retained her hair color, a dark brown. She rarely contradicted her husband openly, but was the true power behind the throne in the Sayre household. She had been intimately involved in all of our lives during the formative years, not the judge, who granted the authority gladly.

Momma cleared her throat carefully. “Baby,” she said, addressing me by my family appellation, “I certainly find Mr. Fitzgerald to be a charming man. He’s bright and interesting and I can understand your attraction to him. But there are a lot of questionable issues involved here, and we’re only interested in your welfare. It seems to me he drinks too much and he’s not very . . . stable. He romanticizes everything, and I’m not sure that he’s truly responsible. On top of that, he’s going to take you out of Montgomery and move you all the way to New York, which might as well be another country. I’m very concerned and I think it’s too soon. Why do you have to jump into this so quickly? Why not wait a year, or at least six months? You’re so young and there’s no reason to be in such a rush. This is a very important decision you’re making.”

“I’ve known him for over a year,” I replied, “and I’m tired of a long-distance relationship. He can afford me now and I’m ready to go. Both of you know I’ve never been afraid of an adventure. Well, New York is an adventure and I’m ready. I’m sorry, but I plan to marry him with or without your consent. I’ve made up my mind.”

Old Dick let out a long sigh and regarded my mother with an expression of quiet resignation. He shook his head. “Very well, then,” he said, his lips drawn tightly together. “If this is your decision, then there’s nothing further to discuss. But I want you to understand that we do not approve of this union and we will not be attending the wedding. I hope we are wrong about this young man but at the present time I think there should be a modicum of prudence injected into these proceedings. That is all I have to say.”

And with that I prepared for my marriage to Scott Fitzgerald.

 

 

BIO

Henry F. Tonn is a semi-retired psychologist who has previously published fiction and nonfiction in journals such as the Gettysburg Review, Connecticut Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Eclectica. He also has two previous publications in The Writing Disorder. The present story, “The Engagement of Zelda Sayre to F. Scott Fitzgerald,” is excerpted from the second chapter of an unpublished novel entitled Ascent to Madness: Zelda Fitzgerald’s Gilded Cage. Though fiction, the novel follows with relative historical accuracy this fascinating woman’s life, the roaring ‘20’s, and her eventual descent into psychosis.

 

 

 

 

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Firmament V

by S. L. V. Stronwin

 

A cleansing black smoke
That’s what I need once in a while

The old painted train seems only to burnish by
When it might penetrate the rain

Simple spells and autism
Nearest now, but still off in the hidden

Little world of trees now abandoned
To our pretense of progress

Remember the swarm?
Slow black and ticking in the snow

Smoking dope and campfire food
Not quite real, either of them

But you captured it all, disassembled, reassembled
In color

I like the ache—it feels
Like you did something, you know?

 

 

Wound

 

Not corpselike, just full
She shows
Incorruptible as ice in the flower hole
Exposition of snowy visions is a surer course
And the undead try
—Don’t give way to nostalgia
Try not to let her in

Mortar and pestle to grind the arils
Shatter the fruit to end life
Pliable then, next unoiled
Only to disintegrate in closure
Paranoia in the woods
White stalks
And monkshood to end it all

A shame not to dream of it

Zen as a purring kitten
Zen is a purring kitten
Wife dreaming up salmon for her son
All made tired by the light
Never at peace, though now we think
Love is an ease
Love is an ease

 

 

Anisocoria

 

Pillars of light
In forged spirals
Fear of fire
Star anise pine

Cold symphony
And iron apertures
Steel lens tethered
To grey clusters in rope

Sight of blindness
Withered cables
Ragged yellow
Nerves in acid

Palsy in four
Waiting for light to pierce
To flutter in
Taking no time at all

From its fast pace
A perspective
In bent bright shapes
Small perfect shapes

Or great green spheres
Or pale blue dots of dust
Humming in time
Counting cold cosmic clocks

But all too deep
Too strange, distant
Ineffable
Black silences

Instead, close light
Something near and massless
Generated
But not generating

Now sight withers
And parasitizes
And reaches in
Pulling out cold wet lymph

White and wilting
In grey iron
Unforgiving
Cold carbon mouth

Dripping steel flesh
Uncorroded by breath
Razor wire
Connects the lip and breast

Now so inside
Eyeskin drips wet and weak
The eye ripples
Pineal weakness shines

Blossoming and
Whispering and
Absorbing self
Corrugating

Senses and words
Rationalizing loss
Killing meaning
Devouring intent

Forgetfulness
Consumes me so
I wish I felt
Something, anything

Blind now, afraid
Her light stolen from me
Sleeping virus
Crafts a womb from your thoughts

Composes flesh
Strung in vellum
Makes love to you
Through you, inside

Uses you as
The stars use an ocean
Silent and soft

There she sings cold melody
Her insignificant borders

There he hums base harmony
Dissonance in replication

Happiness inverse
Happiness in verse

Holes change their shape
Welcoming light
In dead harbors
Lapping old shores

Glimpsed briefly through the fog
Forgotten all her faces

Again, attacking
Strewn like orchards
In summered ecstasy
Hedonists not idle
Celebrants that sup
Borrow
And steal

Now divide
Share the wealth of this corpse
Homunculus of littler universes
And windblown fragments
Elsewise whole
Or in an illusion of wholeness

Third departure
Halation emulsified
In the yellow fat of fear
Storm cellared echoes
Subsume the distance
Manipulate with terrible force

Orchids in her eyes
Orchids in her smile

Cincinnatus
His war thus ended
Disrobes and returns
Embraces the earth

Nerves compressed
Lesions in legion
Variance in photographs
Ancient brain succumbs

To error, helminthic corruptors
Or great distress

O, happy windows
Powerful organs
You emulate the world you imagine
Furnish meaning

Feeding obsession, mistrust
Part of a whole
But an effable selection
Or at least at a glance

Legions in lesion
Galaxies pregnant with light
Spilling life into the saltless sea
Overfull and ever-flowing

 

 

BIO

S. L. V. Stronwin was born in Upstate New York, but has been itinerant for some time, finding home in the Central Coast of California, the Central Valley of the same, Baja Arizona, the far woods of Vermont, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. At present, the author writes what he reads: subversive high fantasy, eldritch weird fiction, scientific nonfiction, and stuff about plants. He has one cat, a genteel and tuxedo-bound fellow named Sokka. His work can be found at (amazon.com/author/slvs) – the author’s work, that is, not the cat’s.

 

 

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This, In Writing, To You

by Etan Nechin

 

 

As far as I am concerned, we gel. If left to our own devices, we could tip a tiny planet off its axis.  So when you come in, using a shiny, new key, all that can be heard is my breath, heavy with night, and your feet tapping on the wooden floors.

You bring stuff with you, clothes and shoes and books you’ve written in. You put them neatly in one of my dresser’s drawer, which now becomes yours. We talk in bed. I talk about this and that; about stuff. You talk about spaces and closeness until your road-weary eyes close. I lay awake all night, thinking about what we will talk about over toast and coffee, but I fall asleep at5am, and sleep through until noon, which is your lunchtime, so all the stuff I wanted to talk about is left unsaid.

That is why I write love letters to you: So that every morning, I can leave something from me, with you, an unconsecrated nuptial, packed along with your lunch, in a brown paper bag, with your name on it, and not mine.

You go away, on a business trip. I don’t have business elsewhere. I stay put, at my desk, typing away, with one finger on the dial, because I know you have your finger on one as well. We talk on the phone. I talk about this and that; about stuff. You talk about patterns and forces. You ask me how I am. I sneeze into the speaker. You laugh, and your laugh sounds like a sneeze too. You tell me your flight number and that you’ll see me tomorrow, but I know it will only be the day after tomorrow, because it is pouring cats and dogs outside my window, even though it is sunny out of your window.

That is why I write love letters to you: Not because words are more sublime than touch, not because gestures are purer than a missed call, pregnant with longing. But because every day I will be able to shut the blinds, and shutter that world that makes us be apart, with its physics, and rain delays, and do my task with glee.

You need to go away, not on a business trip. You say it will be a while. After weeks that are measured not by days, but by phone calls, I come visit—I am air delivered to you. I put my stuff in your drawer, which now becomes mine. We spend a day in the hot springs. We get there by hitching a ride. I take photos of the scenery; you take photos of me taking photos of the scenery. We talk in the hot spring. I talk about this and that; about stuff. You talk about air and mass. In the hot springs, steam gets into my eyes; I can’t see you looking at me.

I make a mental note, to go to the market when we get back, so I can make you a birthday cake. But we spend all day at the springs, and I need to leave as soon as we get back, I leave you a birthday card with the recipe written on the back, but not a cake.

That is why I write love letters to you: So that truck drivers will deliver evidence of me, to you, and a humble mailman will place it at the foot of your doorstep, and knock on the wooden frame, because I cannot.

We miss each other’s calls. That is okay because that is how it works. We know that between here and there is time difference, and weather. We know that our drawers will stay empty, that we can’t fill them on our own anymore, and despite the emptiness it makes us happy, because these empty drawers expand, and become the sky, to which we can look up to, and talk about this and that; about stuff, and there is always something else to speak about—spaces and closeness, patterns and forces, air and mass—so much for us to know about each other, even though we cannot hear or see each other anymore.

That is why I write love letters to you: Because love changes more rapidly than the weather, its distance equals that of eternity, and can only be measured by its abundant absence, just like String Theory, which I know nothing about—but you do.

 

 

BIO

Etan Nechin is an Israeli born writer, currently living in Brooklyn, NY. His fiction and essays were published at ZYZZYVA, Apogee, Columbia Journal Potluck Magazine, MonkeyBicycle, Entropy, MutualArt  and more. He co-wrote text for a performance, UTTER: The Violent Necessary for the Embodied Presence of Hope, which was shown at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

 

 

 

0

Rationalization

by Charles W. Brice

 

The man behind the couch
serves libido for lunch

destrudo for dinner
Mmmmmmmmm

Ration your reason
Your ratio of reality
Too much is scary

It’ll all be okay

He needs to get paid for missed sessions
You understand

He has kids you need to send to college
A mortgage you pay with your neurosis

That’s understandable

A good gig if you can get it
And I got it when I entered
the Psychoanalytic Institute in 1990

My Supervising Analyst charged me $180 an hour on a patient I was seeing for $10
            an hour four times a week

Es vas reasonable

I was only in the hole $140 a week
for the privilege of my supervisor falling asleep
while I was reporting to him
my patient’s dream

He wanted to empathize with that dream
by dreaming himself

He lived in a huge house
with oak paneling
Crystal
Oriental rugs

He should get my money
He had a right to it

He was rational

 

 

Displacement/Sublimation

 

What place is Dis

Chain gang a workin’ Displacement Road

for the sub/bureau
the psychoanalytic precinct

Moving from sublimation’s sublime to displacement’s slime

From painting the Sistine ceiling because it’s forbidden to be gay to kicking a dog after the
            iconic rough day

It’s the place you’re
meant to be
bumped along
the metonymic
highway

Yield the right of way

Yield the right way

 

 

BIO

Charles W. Brice is a retired psychoanalyst and is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (WordTech Editions, 2016) and Mnemosyne’s Hand (WordTech Editions, forthcoming, May, 2018). His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in over forty-five publications including The Atlanta Review, Hawaii Review, Chiron Review, The Dunes Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Sport Literate, SLAB, The Paterson Literary Review, Spitball, VerseWrights, The Writing Disorder, and elsewhere.

 

 

 

0

Exiadon

by Jesse Downing

 

 

I tapped my pencil on my clipboard.

“What’s the progress on Operation 24B?”

“All clear!”

I nodded to the operator, checked 24B off my list, and moved on. The year was 1967, and I was the supervisor of the Exiadon Computer project. Everything had been going wonderfully for the past three months. The computer had been built, the refrigeration unit installed, and the team of operators and programmers assembled. We provided a few logins to some universities as well as some to some more covert government operations. The machine was making money, and soon it’d be making a difference in the world.

“Jim, get over here,” one of the main operators said.

“What is it?”

I headed over, assuming some stupid university student had been meddling with things he didn’t need to. It wouldn’t have been the first time, after all, and a simple warning or a call to the university was generally enough to get them to stop.

“There’s a problem with one of the fridge motors,” he said.

“Well holy hell, Andy, shut the damn thing down! Do you want six million dollars to go up in flames?”

“Will do,” he said. “Attention all operators. Shut down the Exiadon. I repeat, shut down Exiadon.” All fourteen men and women began rushing to turn off the machine. In less than a minute, everything was off.

“So what’s wrong with the motor?” I asked as a faint grinding sound became more and more apparent. Andy adjusted his glasses and rubbed his beard, looking at a printout of our refrigeration system sensors.

“I don’t know. I’ll call Cooper’s and see if they can come fix it.”

 

“Mr. Crowley,” the man said, sniffing his nose and brushing his mustache, “I sure hate to tell you this, but you’re gonna need a new motor. And to tell you the truth here, I ain’t too sure what kind you’re gonna need.”

I took off my glasses and rubbed my forehead. “Well, I don’t know, either, but it was your company that custom-built and installed this one several months ago.” The man looked surprised, which one served to annoy me more. I said, “I need this fixed today. Tomorrow at the latest. I’m losing money as we speak.”

The man lifted his hat and scratched the back of his hairless head. “Well, Mr. Crowley, it’s gonna take us about a week to get you another custom motor. If you need it that bad I reckon for now we could try and match the load by chaining up some smaller motors and rent those out to ya while we build you a new one.”

I glared. “What do you mean rent? This is your motor. It failed. Get it fixed. I run a multimillion dollar operation. If we hadn’t have had a backup motor, this whole thing could have gone up in flames!” I went back and spoke with Andy about the motor issue.

“I really don’t think it should be an issue running a bunch of smaller motors,” he said, “as long as they can pump the coolant.”

“The dude wants to rent them out to us for a hundred and fifty bucks.”

The red-bearded man nearly choked on his coffee. “They what?!

We decided to wait a week for the custom motor and alerted our clients that we wouldn’t be able to do computations in the meantime. We weren’t so worried about losing clients; after all, they weren’t going to go out and buy their own computers, and there was no way they’d be able to find someone else with a better timesharing service. We assured them that all of their data was still here and secure and that we’d let them know as soon as Exiadon was back up. We even offered to send them the tapes of their data if they weren’t so sure.

The motor eventually came, and a team of technicians was sent out to install it. They finished, tested it, and left. We resumed operation.

“Everything’s going fine, Jim! I’ll call up our customers and tell them the system’s back online!” I nodded to Andy and sat down. It had been a stressful week, but at least the computer technicians were still given work while the machine was down – all thanks to me winning a big argument with corporate (and not getting fired).

 

Suddenly, I felt a rumble.

“What was tha-”

The ground shook violently, and I fell to the floor, bashing my head on the steel panel in front of me. I heard a few screams from the operators as they ran from the room, but they were drowned out by a ringing that grew louder and louder in my ears, and before I could even try to pick myself up, everything faded to black.

 

I began to slowly regain my consciousness. “What happened?” I said, grabbing my head in my hands and raising myself up. I opened my eyes and blinked a few times, trying to focus. “What the…?”

The computer that that previously surrounded me was gone. My coworkers were gone. Everything had been replaced by a giant forest. Trees towered over me, their leaves painting the canopy, letting in sunshine only by rays. A fountain made of stone and covered in moss was at my back. What appeared to be the ruins of a castle or a temple lied just over a hill. The wind moved slowly and silently, brushing ever so gently against my hair and my face.

“I’m glad to see you’re awake.” I jumped, then taking notice to the glowing figure beside me. He appeared to be a man… but he was blue and transparent and floating above the ground. He smiled. “Welcome to Exiadon.”

Exiadon? This place may have been immense and gorgeous, but it was most certainly not my supercomputer. “Pardon?”

“Exiadon, Jim! I’ve been waiting oh-so-long for you to arrive here!” His voice was high-pitched and twisted. It was almost like two voices were speaking at the same time. I was incredibly unsettled.

“How do you know my name?”

“Oh, Jimmy,” he said, getting closer, “isn’t it obvious? This is just a dream! Oho ho ho ho!” He brushed my chin with his hand and danced around. “Isn’t it marvelous?” I furrowed my brow.

“Good. That just means that all I need to do is wake up.”

“O ho ho, but Jimmy, this isn’t any ordinary dream.”

The wind stopped. His voice suddenly became dark and menacing, and his grin got even wider. “You might just not wake up.

Suddenly, he was gone. There was silence. Nothing moved; nothing made a sound. The forest stood completely still.

The silence was broken by a footstep in the grass. An old man – nearly as ancient as the forest surrounding us – approached me. He was short with long, white hair, wearing clothes that reminded me of a Native American chieftain. “You there,” he said. “What’s your name?” I was relieved someone was actually asking.

“Jim,” I said, standing up.

The old man walked up to me and looked around suspiciously. “Has anyone been here with you, Jim?” I wasn’t sure whether I could trust this man or not. After all, the blue one already knew my name and acted as if he were the devil himself.

“Nope, no one at all. Why?”

“Interesting,” he said, giving me a look of distrust – like he knew I was lying to him. I wasn’t too sure this man had really even needed to ask my name – if maybe he didn’t already know it like the other.

“I’m Lazarus. I’m a shaman in a small village just near here. I sensed a disturbance in the forest, and so I came this way.”

“A shaman? So you speak to the dead?”

He grinned. “You might say that. Come with me. I wouldn’t trust staying here alone for too long.” I obliged and followed Lazarus through the forest and to his village.

The village looked just as beautiful and ancient as the rest of the forest had. There were stone houses with primitive wooden fences. Small gardens were in place around some of them, and there was a water well in the center of the town. Children were running around playing, and the adults were going about their daily chores. It was much more lively than the bit of forest I had arrived in.

Still, I was hung up over the fact that the mystery man had called this place Exiadon. Was he being truthful in telling me that it was all just a dream? What did he mean in saying that I might not wake up? And why, still, did he know my name?

“Lazarus,” I said, “what’s the name of this place?” As we moved further into the village, I felt more eyes turn toward me. I was not wearing the white and ancient garb of these people, nor was my skin dark and red like theirs. My hair was short and brown, I had on a grey suit and tie, and my skin was nearly as white as their clothing.

“Epoh,” Lazarus said. “That’s the name of this village.”

“Lazarus,” a deep voice called out. “Who is this man you have brought into the village?” The man walked toward us, keeping suspicious eyes on me. He was similar in height to Lazarus, if not a little taller. His hair was grey and braided, and he carried a large wooden cane in his hand. A necklace dangled from his neck.

“Mortimer, this is Jim. I found him in the forest.”

“Jim! Why do you come to our village?”

I still felt all of the eyes turned toward me – staring, questioning, and judging. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m afraid I’m lost. Lazarus here advised me that I shouldn’t be alone.”

“And that you should not!” Mortimer snapped. “Lazarus. Has he spoken with the guardian?” Lazarus, with his hands behind his back, arched an eyebrow, looked at me, and looked back at Mortimer.

“He has not,” he said.

I interjected, “I’m sorry – guardian?”

Mortimer hit his cane on the ground. “He is not to be trusted!”

“… Then why is he called the guardian?”

“Ahem,” Lazarus said, interrupting. “The guardian is an evil spirit. He is called the guardian because he oversees much of this forest – for better or for worse. You would know him if you saw him.” Lazarus gave me the same suspicious look he had given me when we met. I suspect the blue man I ran into before was this “guardian.”

“Gentlemen,” I said, pushing up my glasses, “would the word ‘Exiadon’ mean anything to either of you?” The two exchanged glances and looked around at the people watching.

“We need to speak privately,” Lazarus said.

The two led me into a building with a table and quite a few books, as well as what appeared to be a crudely drawn map of the forest. “First, let me ask you again, Jim. Did you speak with anyone at the fountain?” I paused. Figuring I might as well trust the two men, I confided.

“I spoke with a man. He appeared and disappeared suddenly. He was blue, and he floated. He also knew my name.”

Lazarus nodded. “That was the guardian,” he said. “What did he say to you?”

“He called this place Exiadon. Then he told me this was a dream, and that I might not wake up.”

“That is certainly what he wants,” the shaman said.

“Jim,” Mortimer piped in, “you must return to the land from which you came.”

Lazarus nodded. “The chief is right. Staying here would be nothing but falling to the hands of the guardian. It will consume your soul.”

Tension spread across my shoulders. I still didn’t understand what this place was or truly even who these people were, and somehow I was supposed to leave. “How am I supposed to get out of here?” I asked, as if I could just break out of this place like it was a cell.

“The spirits traverse worlds through a place called ‘the core.’ A portal can be opened there, but we’ll have to gain access through the castle ruins.” Lazarus looked uneasy. “It’s likely that we’re going to encounter the guardian there. Stay strong in both body and spirit, and you can make it through.”

 

We approached a large stone structure, shrouded in trees and vines. Its walls were cracked, and its door was missing. Past the arched doorway, inside, was what appeared to be the remnants of an elegant castle – a fountain, red carpets and drapes, stained tall windows – all worn by the tides of time and taken over by nature. The inside was beautifully but only sparingly lit by sunlight from the doorway and from the windows – similar to the shade in the forest. A gentle breeze blew through the door. “Follow me,” Lazarus said, guiding me up the steps past the fountain and to a hallway on the left.

I walked down the hallway past Lazarus and stepped into a room. “Jim, wait!” Lazarus called out. The walkway behind me forcefully and suddenly shut.

“Lazarus!” I called back, hitting my hand against the stone wall that had just appeared. There was no call back.

I was standing in a circular room with tall, stone walls, covered in vines and moss. A ring of windows on the ceiling lit the room evenly. In the center there was a tubular stone structure – like a column – that reached up high, widening at the top, with large and strange circular patterns carved into its sides. There was a small stream of water entering from the wall toward the back of the room that filled a small pond circling around its sides. I walked toward the column before me.

I lifted my right hand and touched the structure. Suddenly, its carved-in rings began glowing blue, and a panel extended in front of me. A floating blue rectangle appeared in thin air, and a keyboard appeared similarly on the panel. I jerked my hand away quickly and took in a deep breath, pushing my glasses to the bridge of my nose. Words appeared on the screen.

WELCOME TO EXIADON.

ONLY AUTHORIZED USERS ARE ALLOWED ON THIS SYSTEM. PLEASURE SPEAK TO YOUR UNIVERSITY OR EMPLOYER ABOUT REQUESTING A LOGIN.

 

USER?

A blinking cursor appeared on the screen. I was connected – no, this castle and this forest and this whole place was connected – to my supercomputer. With some kind of video display terminal? What was the deal with this place? Why was everything linked back to the computer? How the hell did I manage to get here?

I typed in my username and password.

WELCOME, JIM.

 

READY

?

I checked the subsystems. I checked the current users. I checked the memory. I checked everything, and nothing was out of the ordinary. It didn’t make any sense! How could I possibly be connected to the Exiadon, with everything completely normal as if I had never left, from this abandoned and ancient castle in the middle of the woods. To top that off, these woods were also called Exiadon, were in God-knows-where, and had a bunch of crazy spirit people either ready to save my life or to end it.

“O ho ho. I’m so glad you finally showed up,” an all-too-familiar voice said. I turned to see the glowing blue figure – this “guardian” – completely the same as he had been when he suddenly disappeared during our last encounter.

“What do you want, ‘Guardian?’” I snarked.

“Oh, Jimmy,” he said, taking his finger and pushing up my chin, “why are you being so hasty? Don’t you want to know anything about why you’re here or what your precious little piece of kit has to do with any of this?” He smiled devilishly, to which I returned an angry glare.

“I’m not worried about it,” I remarked. “I just want to get back home with all of my legs and arms attached.”

“Oh Jimmy,” he said, dramatically and condescendingly. “You can’t just leave and return to your precious little Linda now. Or that little child of yours. No, no, no, Jimmy. I’m afraid it’s much too complicated for that.” My eyes widened, and I held my breath. “Don’t you dare make mention of my child or my wife, you cheeky little bastard. Stop acting like you know everything. If you’ve got answers, talk.”

His cheeky smile turned into a frown, and he crossed his arms. “You’re dead, Jimmy.”

Dead?

“That rumble you felt before you got knocked out? That was the refrigerator motor falling apart. It jammed; the pipes burst. You didn’t run out in time. You’re. Dead.”

That can’t be true.

“Oh, and how is this little contraption here working? I told you. It’s all just a dream.” The guardian lifted his hand and motioned toward the terminal. He closed his hand into a fist and what once glowed blue became dark, blood red. The screen flickered in and out of existence. He grinned.

And you’re not going to wake up.

The previously sealed doorway blew open. “Don’t listen to him, Jim!” Lazarus said, holding what appeared to be a staff of some sort in his hand.

“So what’s your rush to wake up, Jimmy? You know it’s all going to end with this dream. So why not just stay here a while?”

Lazarus jumped in front of me and separated me and the guardian. “Guardian, begone! This man’s soul is not yours to take!” The guardian glared at him menacingly.

“This isn’t your business, Lazarus,” he said, sweeping his hand at the staff pointed in his face. Lazarus violently jerked the staff into the guardian’s hand and arm, shocking and burning him. “Argh!” he screamed, jerking his hand and his arm away.

“This is the blade of holy light. You know good and well that you cannot fight it!” Lazarus turned to me. “This is what I needed to open the portal. There is a subsystem hidden on the Exiadon called CORE that can only be accessed from here. Activate it and make sure all of the computing power possible is directed to it!”

Should I really do this? What if the guardian is right? What if this really is my end? Why would I rush my own death? What do I trust? I felt the ground shake. I knew that if what he said was true, the computer room was already in flames. I was already dead. What would be the point of leaving now? Is Lazarus trying to rush me to my death? Who’s really trying to help me here?

The guardian drew a sword that glowed red and appeared to have lava flow down through the center of the blade, branching off at sharp angles. He lunged forward and swung at Lazarus. The shaman then deflected the swing with his staff. “Jim!” he yelled, leaping into the air and landing behind the guardian.

What do I do?

He stabbed his staff into the guardian’s back, and the guardian unleashed a bloodcurdling scream. It sounded like thousands of screams all at once – all in pain. It was the screams of the damned.

CORE SUBSYSTEM ACTIVATED.

The guardian turned back and slung his arm forward, driving the edge of his blade through Lazarus’ shoulder.

?RSRV(CP0,CP1,MEMBNK;*

“Jimmy,” a devilish voice groaned. “Don’t leave, Jimmy. No one wants to die.”

?SHUTDOWN;30S

The ground began shaking. The screams of the damned rang throughout the terminal room. “What did you do?!” cried Lazarus. The guardian glared at me. “Jimmy,” he said, his voice corrupting more and more. “I’ll wait for you, Jimmy.” He disappeared. Rocks fell from the roof. The terminal stopped glowing, and the screen disappeared.

“It’s shutting down,” I said. “everything will be offline in a matter of 30 seconds.”

“Jim, you idiot! Your worlds are linked through the Exiadon! It has to be used to send you through the core!” The tremors grew more and more violent. Walls could be heard falling and crashing against the ground. “We don’t have time!”

Lazarus lifted his staff toward the sky. “By Exiadon and the holy blade of light! I call upon you, spirits of this world, return this lost soul safely through the core! His day is not done! Let him awaken!” A portal opened up above us. “Don’t worry about me,” Lazarus said. “Stay strong.”

I was at a loss for words, and without even the time to say goodbye, I was pulled in through the portal.

I retained no visual memories of the core. I only could remember the feeling of being pulled, as if through space and time. After that, nothingness.

“Jim! Jim! Wake up, Jim!”

“A-Andy…?” I caught a glimpse of the man with a reddish beard and glasses before passing back out.

“Get him to a hospital,” I heard someone say.

 

I was welcomed with confetti and cheers when I re-entered the computer lab for the first time in two weeks. “Welcome back, Jim!” “It’s good to see you again!” “Mr. Crowley, we got that client you wanted!” “Man I’m glad that gash in your head looks better.” “How’s Linda been?” “Here! Have some cake!”

We partied and had a great time together. It was nice to finally have some cake instead of cheap hospital food, and it was even nicer to be back at my work, overseeing the Exiadon project once again. Everything had been going smoothly and had been successfully repaired thanks to Andy taking over as supervisor while I was gone (and picking a proper fight with Cooper’s Appliances – who paid for my bills and all the damages done).

“Say, Andy, I never asked you,” I said, sitting down at my teletype. “How did none of the system manage to burn?” He looked up and pushed up his glasses.

“We’re not really sure,” he said. “There was a mysterious shutdown performed just moments before the pipes burst. We checked the daytime files and it isn’t clear what done it.” I raised my eyebrows. “Huh, weird. Say, you should hear about this crazy dream I had while I was out. I-”

I typed in my credentials and logged in.

WELCOME, JIM.

IMPORANT SYSTEM MESSAGE:

GLAD YOU MADE IT BACK. HOPE ALL IS WELL

—LAZARUS

“Sorry, what were you saying?”

“I- uh. Oh, nothing.”

 

 

BIO

Jesse Downing was the 2016 Moss Point High School valedictorian and is a current student at Millsaps College. His hobbies include writing, drawing, singing, and coding.

 

0

Trio, or Three Sour Grapes

A. A. Reinecke

 

A Fuck You

hey brother / fuck you for being tan indoors / like you haven’t been to class in weeks / but Ian / took you to the: Hamptons / because you’re dying / like Jell-O hellfire laps at your mortal / ankles / in the / drunk disarray; some party / but doesn’t / bite / fuck you because all you eat is shit / like yogurt / and it slides to the shape / you want it / like milk and cream yield to / you / like: life / hey brother / last week at prom you caught / company / in flesh / like you never brought back any / salmon from your / trip / the Adirondacks / like when I make you / milk hot / you wait / for it to / cool like only a coward runs / from the draft / under the door/ like she starved herself / so you’d touch / her / like the preparation of sacrifice / for altar / like it was against marble you / fucked / the bathroom at the / Waldorf / Astoria / a lovely / bathroom / like it smelled of cinnamon lotion / and resistant / starvation like laurel hung / to please you / to please stop / please / fuccckkk / fuck / fuckmeharder / like Yale took you / when it shouldn’t have / like when you / broke Ian’s nose he let it / go / and your coup for class / president / ended in / rococo: re-election / candy wrappers / littered the hall / found in January: you owe Dad / a fortune / maybe / a life / like you never paid him for / the baby Snickers / or the condoms / or the bourbon / you drained / or / the hell / the other kind / of which you dealt / so much.

 

 

A Happening

 

It was happening: a child in the backseat
of a car. A parking lot behind a bar warm with
May. Like milkshake air. Like cornbread buttered
that’s how you know it’s summer: you can’t
trust the butter to: cold air.

Say blane. Coconut cove. Private marshmallow
weekendwaltz. Pearly white between the seat
imported crumbs from domestic chips: New
Hampshire snacks from California and his hands
greasy with lust of the kill.

He’d done it: conquered stateliness or folded
oats into grain, 7-11 drugstores, lollipops with taffy knit
in, concrete pools, mediocre sex, banana ice
cream, a drink straw caught like bug in amber fucked
by circumstance. I’ll still hit you.

If you say it. That’s a dare. The child’s mouth had
bled because tapered candles are red and nobody lets
anybody get away with anything. My dad don’t drink he
swims a breast stroke motion with his arm
is an underhand to the: jaw.

It was happening: a child in the backseat
of a car. The blood had veined the skin hot like what they
made Rome with. He cursed into leather because
dying tastes like: salt. Like potato chips and they only
filled the bag. Half full.

 

 

Last Night’s Gin on Your Mouth for Breakfast

 

It is cold like a prison like Antarctica gray and on
the folded bit a dribbling of blood the shape of:
Minnesota. St. Paul. That’s where he’s from.
St. Paul. It is noon now. That was breakfast.
The room was a sideboard with bits of fractured
glass tacked up. The windows spoke in tongues like
chemise powder blue lapis like eyeshadow
colors like Maybelline or my lust strained through
milk. Q: Do you love me? A: I don’t know. Chai was
sweet grain melted like the wetness of my mouth
and your tongue tastes still like Ian and
his carpet and his gin like a plow for planting
prohibition. Q: The flask? A: No. My plastic cup
membrane shed quartz like history nabbed from
headband. Q: You eating? Coffee? Anything?
A: No. St. Paul. That’s where he’s from.
St. Paul.

 

 

BIO

Alexandra A. Reinecke is a writer and journalist who uses writing as a tool to encourage empathy and affect positive change.

 

 

0

Ice

by Susan Kleinman

 

 

LOG IN:

Email or Phone: Carol@WestCloRealty.com

Password: SellingHouses

Not the most secure password, but that’s okay. Carol never posts anything private on her Facebook page, anyway; just announcements of upcoming open houses and “likes” on the posts of anyone who might want her to help them buy or sell a home one day – which is to say, everyone she’s ever met.

Carol Gold: Join me Sunday, August 24, 2014, from 1-3 p.m. at this beautifully renovated 4 bed/3 bath at 351 Austen Drive. Walk to Worship. See you there.

She “likes” seven idiotic cat videos, nine random quotes from Monty Python movies, 83 pictures from the Isaacsons’ trip to Israel, and an urgent reminder from Barbara Kranzler that recipes are due for the second edition of the shul’s fundraising cookbook, The West Kloverdale Kosher Kooking Konnection Kollection. Such a waste of time and paper thinks Carol, who just Googles when she needs a recipe. But she picks up her phone nevertheless, clicks over to its electronic to-do list and enters a reminder to send in her three-ingredient chili recipe. Barbara is an old friend and a hard worker, and besides: With the Kranzlers’ youngest daughter recently married off, Barb and Bert are talking about downsizing, and Carol has a gorgeous condo right near shul that has been sitting on the market a little bit too long.

She hits “like.”

Reb Andy: Oh, for God’s sake, Carol thinks, can’t he just call himself Rabbi Garelick like a grownup? Would love to see EVERYONE bright and early for Shabbat morning services.

Garelick has been making great efforts to get the women of West Cloverdale to come to shul earlier, with their husbands; has been trying mightily to make them feel more equal by having women stand up and read the “Prayer for Our Congresspersons” aloud. Honestly, Carol thinks, as she hits “like” (the Rabbi always knows when a young couple is checking out the neighborhood or hunting for a house), if I wanted to be equal, I would join the Unitarian Church.

Laura Lipschitz: Happy birthday to the best husband, partner and lover a girl could ever hope for, my sweet @Stuie Lipshitz.

Ugh. Carol might find this a bit less nauseating if Stuart Lipshitz were not, in fact, the LEAST sweet man she has ever met; if the word “lover” didn’t sound so creepy; if Laura didn’t spend half of every sisterhood meeting complaining (right in front of Carol and Barb and Sheila Edelstein, each of them old enough to be Laura’s mother!) about how her husband probably wouldn’t be able to find her G-spot with a GPS. But still, Carol clicks over to Stuart’s Facebook page and dutifully types “Happy Birthday” on his wall. If Laura ever gets tired of waiting for Loverboy to locate her erogenous zones and needs to sell their McMansion in a divorce settlement, Carol’s commission could run to 65 or 70 grand.

She posts “Happy birthday!” to Marge Blaustein, too, and to Emily Miller and Brian Cooper-Jaffe; “friends” 37 friends of friends, and keeps scrolling. There’s a distressing article from Tablet.com about the Jews of Paris, and a not-even-remotely-funny Purple Clover cartoon about forgetting one’s reading glasses… and, then – finally! – something that actually makes her smile:

Alison Liebskind has posted a video.

Carol doesn’t think it’s a great idea for a 10-year-old to be on social media, but she has to admit it is nice to see her granddaughter’s face on the computer in between visits up to Westchester.

“Ok,” Alison is saying on the screen, as Carol clicks the little arrows that enlarge the video: “I would like to nominate my best friend, Chloe Orenthal; my mother, Rachel Liebskind; and my brother Jonathan Liebskind.” And with that, she dumps a bucket filled with – What is that? ICE? Yes, ice – dumps it over her own head, soaking her gorgeous red curls and her blue Camp Ramah t-shirt as she shrieks and giggles and dances in her flip-flops on the driveway. “You have 24 hours to complete the ice bucket challenge or donate to the mumble-mumble-mumble” – What is she saying?

The screen momentarily goes black and then there is Jonathan in the video. God, when did he get so tall? Carol switches over to her to-do list and makes a note to call Rachel about a visit, then jots a few words in the crossword puzzle she does every morning to help keep her memory sharp, and opens a text that has just pinged on her phone. Whenever her husband, Wally, teases that she can multi-task like nobody’s business, she reminds him that multitasking IS her business, that she hasn’t won WestClo Realty’s Top Performer Award 17 years in a row without being able to juggle him and the kids and the grand-kids and the house and her clients; and – these last few years – her texts and her tweets and Instagram, too. The text is a client asking if she can reschedule her look at the house on Fitzgerald Lane from 3:15 this afternoon to 4:30. “Sure. C U then,” Carol types, in the text-speak she hired a high-school kid to teach her so that her twenty-and thirty-something house-buying clients would feel at ease with her. (The older clients – the sellers – she still calls on their land-lines. More than one has thanked her profusely for this, as if she has performed a heroic act of lovingkindness.)

She puts down her phone and turns back to the computer screen. “OK,” Jonathan is saying through the gap where his front baby-teeth used to be. “Wait. What do I say?”

Carol hears Alison’s impatient big-sister sigh, and then, “You have to nominate people.”

“Oh, yeah, I would like to nominate my best friend, Jonah, and my Grandma – what’s Grandma’s real name again?”

Slower, heavier sigh: “Carol Gold, you dumb-head.”

“Oh, yeah. My Grandma, Carol Gold.”

When Carol met Wally, his last name was Goldfinger, but she convinced him to shorten it before their wedding. The theme song from that James Bond film was still playing on the pop-radio stations, and she dreaded a lifetime of spy jokes and double entendres. “We have to think about our future children,” she told him when she suggested “Gold” – short and sweet. “I’m just being practical.”

Of course she was. Carol is the very soul of practicality. Wash-and-go haircuts and sensible shoes. Three-ingredient suppers and no-iron sheets. In addition to Wally’s name, she had persuaded him to change his college major, too. Au revoir, French Literature… Hello, accounting. And when it had been time for them to look for a house, (Wally had just made partner at his firm; Carol was pregnant with their second child), she didn’t pick a community by hunch or gut feeling or what her current crop of house-hunters call “vibe,” but by drawing up a decision tree on three pages of the ledger paper Wally used to bring home from the office.

And she had made a good choice. The Golds have been happy in West Cloverdale for 45 years now, surrounded by people who share their values and their politics; by friends who brought car-loads of casseroles when Rachel’s first husband, Uri, was killed in a robbery at his shoe store, and stacks of wedding presents when she married her second husband, Aaron in the rabbi’s study. Ali had been born a year later and Jonathan, two more years after that. How is it that he is already about to begin 3rd grade?

“You have 24 hours,” Jonathan is saying now on Carol’s computer screen, “to donate to the – wait, what’s it called again?”

“Oh, just give me the phone,” Alison snaps. The picture jerks and shakes and then there is Ali’s face again. “Hi, Grandma, Jonathan just nominated you for the ALS ice bucket challenge. That means you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice over your head or give money to the ALS foundation…”

Jonathan jumps back into the frame. “Oh, yeah. The ALS Foundation. It’s a sickness, and, um, well, it’s really bad, I think, so you have to give them money. Or do the ice thing. Like this.” And he picks up a bucket – a heavy one, judging by the strain on his freckled face – dumps the contents over his head, and starts to cry.

“It’s colllllld,” he wails through his tears, as the screen goes blank.

Of course it’s cold. Carol thinks, pushing her chair away from the computer with a screech. It’s ice.

But it’s not Jonathan she’s annoyed with, sweet gap-toothed Jonathan, and she knows it. She bites the nail off her left pinky, a habit she gave up in seventh grade when she sent away for a booklet on how to quit; paces around the kitchen; eats three cookies left over from Shabbos even though she isn’t hungry; and slams the pantry door shut.

ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Lou Gehrig’s – and David Stein’s.

David Stein. A tall, handsome man with a short, handsome name; a medical student at Columbia, from a nice family in Woodmere. Carol met him during her sophomore year at Hunter College, at a party given by a mutual friend. Within the week, they were going steady. By the end of the month, she knew she wanted to marry him.

“It’s Prince Charrrrrrrming,” her mother always whispered in a happy little sing-song voice every time she handed Carol the phone. “Dr. Right!” her father proclaimed after Carol brought David home for dinner. And indeed, he WAS charming, with his polished manners and his easy smile. And it DID feel right, talking to him, dancing with him, necking in his car – but nothing more. No one buys the cow, Carol knew, if they can get the milk for free.

Carol and David had fun together: They both liked ice-skating and tennis; enjoyed the same movies and laughed at the same jokes. They looked good together: her blonde head against his broad shoulder. And they agreed about all the things that could cause a less-compatible couple to argue: money (they were both savers, not spenders); food (not too spicy); and children (they would have two, unless the first two were the same sex, in which case they would try once more – but only once more.) David would be a good father and a good provider.

“That’s all very nice, but does he make your heart go pitter-pat?” her sister, Ruth, asked as Carol ticked off these attributes on her fingers. “Is he your one and only?”

The answers were yes and no, respectively.

Yes, Carol really was in love with David. But no, she didn’t believe that there was one and only one man for every woman, or just one woman for any man. “How could that BE, with three billion people on the planet?” she challenged Ruth back in 1959. “Only one? It’s just not possible,” she told herself again in 2002, when she signed Rachel up for jDate a year after Uri’s funeral.

And I was right, she thinks now, every time she sees Alison and Jonathan on Facebook – Alison and Jonathan, who both have Rachel’s blue eyes and Aaron’s ginger curls. There is more than one-and-only Prince Charming.

But oh, yes, David Stein made her heart go pitter-pat. She thought about him when she rode the subway to Hunter and when she studied in the library and when she drank tea back in her parents’ kitchen, late at night. She thought about how smart he was and how funny and how handsome; about what it would be like to sleep with him after they got married and what it would be like to make a home with him.

And then, one Sunday morning when David and Carol were eating blintzes at Rattner’s, David dropped the fork on its way to his mouth. A few weeks later, he spilled his Coke down the front of his shirt while they waited for a movie to start. It’s just pre-engagement jitters, Carol assured herself, as she handed him a stack of napkins from the concession stand. She and David had been talking a lot about marriage – although they agreed that they should wait to formalize things until they were both closer to graduation. She had let him know (after practicing in front of her mirror at home to make sure that her practicality didn’t come across as bossiness) that she would prefer a white-gold setting to platinum for her diamond engagement ring, because white-gold prongs were less likely to bend and break; and that she’d rather have a summer wedding than a winter one – no blizzards to worry about. David seemed as excited about all of it as she felt. But still, getting engaged would be a big deal, Carol told herself when he tripped over his own feet on his way off the tennis court at his parents’ club. His nervousness didn’t mean he didn’t love her.

“I love you,” he told her, as he dusted grass off his knees and took her hand. “I love you,” he said again, later, as he kissed her neck in her parents’ driveway in Forest Hills. And then, as he started to open her sweater, he said, “I think I might have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

For a split second – and she hated herself afterwards for even thinking it – Carol wondered if this was a ploy to get the milk for free.

“You what?” she said, softly, leaning away from him and fumbling to close the little pearl buttons on her cardigan.

“I have a neurologist’s appointment tomorrow,” he said. “I’ve been trying into find a good time to tell you, but now it just slipped out. I’m sorry.”

“Let’s not panic,” she said, forcing a smile. “I bet it could be any one of a number of things.”

At the college library the next day, she researched some of the things that might be causing David’s tremors and his clumsiness: Early-onset Parkinson’s, or maybe multiple sclerosis – neither of those diseases a picnic, either, but better than Lou Gehrig’s. But David – medical student and son of a doctor – had already ruled those out on his own.

The first neurologist sent David to a second, who explained what David already knew, and what Carol had learned in her hours of research: that ALS can’t be diagnosed except by process of elimination. Dr. Lerner called for tests to rule out every disease that was likely and several that weren’t, until the only test they hadn’t done, David tried half-heartedly to joke, was a Pap smear.

“I’m afraid we’re at the end of the line,” David imitated Dr. Lerner’s pompous voice when he relayed the conversation to Carol. “The end of the line,” as if the whole thing had been a trip out to Coney Island.

Every night for the next month, Carol lay awake in her bed, wondering whether and when she should break it off with David. “It would be different if it weren’t fatal,” she protested when Ruth accused her of being heartless and unromantic. If she married him now, she wouldn’t be a virgin when she had to date again after a suitable period of mourning. And what Nice Jewish Boy her age would want a woman who had been around? If she didn’t marry David but stayed with him till the end, she’d be a spinster at 27 or 28 – and to whose benefit?

So when he did the gentlemanly thing and suggested that they break up, she hugged him gently and promised that even if they weren’t together, she would still be his friend – his very best friend – until the end.

And, for a couple of years, she was. She borrowed her father’s car and drove David out to Jones Beach in the summer; took the Long Island Railroad out to watch the World Series with him at his parents’ house in the fall. She sent him funny cards from the Hallmark store and rugelach from his favorite bakery in the city every few weeks, and she called him every night (now that they were just friends she didn’t have to worry about appearing too forward) and told him funny stories about her classes and her cousin Kenny’s bar mitzvah and the ridiculous guy Ruth was dating, often talking until she fell asleep with the telephone receiver in her hand.

But then, during her senior year, she met Wally. Wally with his sweet soul and his sharp mind. Wally who agreed to switch his major and change his name for her. Wally, to whom she never breathed a word about David Stein; whom she made Ruth promise not to tell about David, either. What would be the point?

It took Carol three weeks after Wally proposed before she could bring herself to call David.

“Mazal tov, beautiful bride!” he said when she finally forced herself to tell him that she was engaged. And then, after a long and painful silence, “So, I guess this is our last phone call, huh?”

She thought of saying that no, they could still speak, could still be friends – but she knew that wasn’t true. If it were true, if David was really her friend, she would have told Wally all about him, would maybe even invite David to the wedding. Or take Wally out to visit him. And she would never do any of that.

“I’ll never forget you,” Carol promised.

But then she had.

Well, she didn’t forget him always, and never entirely. She remembered him when she played tennis and when she ate rugelach. Sometimes, even after all these years, when she woke up she could see his face in front of her, so close-seeming and so real-looking that once, she had reached out to touch him, only to find herself grasping at the air. But she forgot him for long stretches of time, when she was busy with Wally and her babies and her real estate class; with her aging parents and her growing children and her committees at the shul.

When Uri was killed, Carol had wondered briefly whether seeing her daughter grieve was her punishment for not sticking around to mourn David properly. But then she reminded herself that she didn’t believe such superstitious nonsense; that she was a rational woman, and it was the 21st century. And so, when for a brief moment she thought of telling Rachel about David – “I know exactly how you feel” – she just hugged her, instead, and helped fill out death certificates and insurance forms.

“Do you ever think about him?” Ruth asked at the end of the shiva for Uri, when the two sisters were packing leftover lasagnas from neighbors for the freezer.

“About whom?” Carol feigned ignorance, but Ruth saw right through her and asked again.

“I do think about him sometimes,” Carol whispered to Ruth in the kitchen that afternoon, wondering – as she did when she still sometimes awoke with David’s face fading from a dream – whether “sometimes” was too often or not often enough. “But you know how I am. Brass-tacks; tachlis, here-and-now.”

“Heartless,” Ruth had mumbled and Carol had pretended not to hear. Well, what good would it have done Carol – or David – for her to stay in touch with him? What would she have told him? That married life was treating her very well, thanks? That when she had bled, a little, on her wedding night, Wally had looked pleased? No, she had told herself when she didn’t call David; when she made herself throw out the obituary pages of the Times before she could be tempted to read them. What good would her tears do David? What good would they do her?

No, she had told herself all those years ago, it was better for everyone this way.

 

And now, in a new century in another state, her computer buzzes and pings.

Rachel Liebskind likes Alison Libeskind’s video.

Rachel Liebskind shared Alison Liebskind’s video. “So proud of my kiddies!!”

Rachel Liebskind tagged you in a post: “Did you see this @Carol Gold?”

Carol forces herself to “like” that, and then clicks the video again, turns away from it to answer a text about the shul’s pew re-upholstery committee before she turns back to her computer:

“I would like to nominate my Grandma. What is Grandma’s real name?” Jonathan is asking, and for a moment Carol worries about his attention-paying skills; didn’t Ali just tell him her name a moment ago? But then she remembers that she is watching the same video a second time. Jonathan is fine.

She logs out of Facebook and sits at her desk for a long while, thinking about the days she and David spent waiting for his diagnosis and the nights she spent wondering how to let him down gently; about the first time he tripped and the last time they spoke.

Finally, she rises from her ergonomic chair, slips her phone into one of the Ziploc bags she buys by the gross and tucks it into her pocket, and heads down to the laundry room. “Fully-finished basement!” she will advertise one day, when she and Wally are ready to downsize from the house into a condo. “Brand new appliances!”

She reaches under the laundry sink for a bucket, heads back upstairs to the kitchen and presses the bucket against the ice maker in the freezer door, then carries it carefully out to the deck, where the late-summer haze stings her eyes. Just 9:30 a.m. and already the temperature is in the high 80s. It won’t be long until the ice starts to melt.

“This is for you, Ali and Jonathan,” Carol says, talking into the Ziploc-waterproofed phone she is holding at arm’s length. She lifts the bucket one-handed and awkwardly tips it over her head.

And then, just like sweet, shivering Jonathan, she cries.

 

 

BIO

Susan Kleinman’s short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, Inkwell, the William and Mary Review, JewishFiction.net, and The MacGuffin, and her articles, essays, and book reviews have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and New YorkMagazine. She teaches fiction writing at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, where she was a Gurfein Writing Fellow in 2010.

 

 

 

0

Disappointed Customer

by Bruce McRae

 

 

Dear Whomever, not that we care that much,
but we seem to have misplaced your recent order.
Somehow the forms were sent to deepest Africa,
your details now in the hands of the Russian mob.
However, for an extra fee we will provide poor service.

Often what one desires one doesn’t receive.
Molly in reception was abandoned by her parents
and God, for example, so I wouldn’t complain,
not if you know what’s good for you.
And we know what’s good for you.

 

 

In Another World

 

A headless chicken…
On a raft…
In an ocean of methane…
On another world…
In an alternate timeline…

But wait, there’s more,
says the author
while patting down
his unruly cowlick.
Creating his own problems.
Making trouble for himself.
Starting something
he couldn’t finish.

 

 

It’s A Job

 

The one who drives hogs screaming
to the slaughterhouse, whistling a happy tune,
smoking a cigarette he’d term well deserved,
twiddling dials on an old truck’s radio,
ogling the gals on this sunny summer morning.
Fulfilling his role, if not his destiny.
Carrying on in a world as sweet as it is bitter.

*

Our friendly neighborhood gravedigger.
The quiet sort, who keeps to himself
and bides his counsel, off to work
each morning without a care in the world,
his cat left watching in the window.
He who deports himself as if one
maintaining a well-kept confidence.
A man to withhold Earth’s secrets.

*

I found work as a village idiot.
I sit on a fence and grin all day.
I get to shout at the incomprehensible
something-or-other which is all around us,
gesticulating wildly, like a drunken man
waving at flies that aren’t actually there.
The pay is poor, but I don’t mind;
in my line of work there are few expectations.
I just chew on a straw. Come rain or shine.
I just spit in the dirt. Come hell or high water.

*

The graveyard shift,
a killer of women and children,
of those who have two choices,
little or none, stars faltering,
the moon fallen down,
workers’ heads bowed
in determined reverence,
the righteous tucked into bed,
their dreams unhindered
by metal on bone.
By the issues that cause
much suffering.

 

 

BIO

Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island BC, is a Pushcart nominee with over a thousand poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review. His books are ‘The So-Called Sonnets’ (Silenced Press), ‘An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy’ (Cawing Crow Press) and ‘Like As If” (Pskis Porch), all available via Amazon.

 

 

 

Motorcycles, Hot Rods, and Fine Art:
The Life and Times of Renaissance Man, Don Nowell

 

 

by Paul Garson

 

With half the year already gone, one can start reflecting not only on the future but the past as well. It can get pretty interesting when you’re looking back 75 years and start clicking off the redlined high points. You also add in Father Time and Mother Gravity calling in their chips. Case in point, Don Nowell of Don Nowell Design.

We’ve known about Don for some 30-odd years…and there have been some really odd ones…but you could say anything he touches turns to gold in one form or another… especially when horsepower, performance and innovative design figure into the project at hand. When it comes down to it, Don is an “artist” in the real sense of the word, one gifted with an analytic mind and a work ethic that nudges fanatical in its attention to details.

Let’s start from the beginning. When we made the call to check on his current doings, we heard his reply to our opening query “Is this the famous Don Nowell?” to which he replied “I think you’ve got the wrong number.” But before he could hang up, we explained the reason for our visit and started gathering the facts.

Don was born in Inglewood, CA on May 22, 1941 at 4:30 in the morning. Since then he likes to get an early start. By ten he was earning money mowing lawns, hawking newspapers and selling flowers on the weekends. In Junior High during the ‘50s it gave him some coin to buy some nifty clothes. “It was all about impressing the girls,” chuckles Don. “They were all wearing their poodle skirts and tight sweaters, so we guys had to look cool.”

His first wheels was naturally a bicycle which he “hot-rodded” by placing playing cards in the spokes to produce some “vroom-vroom.” Then in 1956 Don was in high school taking shop classes where he earned his first award, winning Best in Class in a Rotary Club competition for his electric motor, the best of 320 entries. “It was at this point I learned to operate a lathe. I also couldn’t resist hopping up that little motor, trying to get the most rpm out of it and had it smokin’ and jumping all over the bench.” You could say the die was cast, as this was Don’s first motor, one of a long line of high performance engines that would power cars, bikes and boats.

Another milestone arrived at age 16, when after working his butt off after school at a model toy shop, he saved enough to buy his first car, a turnkey 1951 Chevy Bel Air coupe, paying a grand total of $325. “Most of my friends had ’49, ’50 Fords but I just liked the look of the ’50- ‘51Chevies better.” The car just had a stock 6-cylinder, but Don took it right to the Cohia muffler shop in San Fernando and had it slammed to the ground with a spindle kit, leaving ¾ inches of inch ground clearance.” Don was already letting off sparks. He laughs and adds, “At San Fernando High, they wouldn’t let you in class unless your car was lowered.” He also bought himself an airbrush set and tried his hand at scalloping his own custom paint job, cream over charcoal grey. “I just read some articles in Hot Rod magazine to see what Larry Watson was doing, his work just taking off.” But when he took his “low-rider” to Bob’s Big Boy in Van Nuys, he got turned away. Only hot rods allowed. This was 1957, the year of Sputnik and a rapidly changing world.

Graduating high school, he wrangled a job at the San Fernando based Tom Carroll Chevrolet as a lot boy handling deliveries. One day he spotted a spiffy ’59 Impala, white with a turquoise interior. It happened to be a repo and the price was tempting. Says Don, “It came with a 3-2-barrel carbed 4-speed with a hydraulic cam so it wouldn’t turn much rpm, but it was a pretty car, a neat car. I painted the wheels the color of the interior and street raced it all over the Valley.”

Then one night, Don’s ’59 got bested by a ghost white ’57 Chevy. Later he spotted the car, now parked and went to investigate. “The owner’s name was Kenny Safford and we became best of friends. He later became famous as a fuel dragster racer. He was also a member of the Road Kings and I started hanging out with those guys. It eventually brought me to a ’57 Chevy with a motor built by Ray Cash. I sold my Impala and got it. It was my first serious street racer and skirt chaser.”

Since the motor had seen plenty of racing and was a bit tired, Don decided to rebuild it, his first time tackling a pro hot rod motor. When asked where he got the skills to do the wrenching, Don laughs again and says, “I didn’t. I just took the heads off and started doing it. Rappa-rappa, I got it together.”

In late1960, Don took another quantum leap,  buying a ’37 Chevy Coupe bodied car was not in top form after being flogged at El Mirage and Don had to work his magic to get it up to snuff for the B Gas drags, choosing that class because it was the most competitive with more cars to race. He then took part in the early NHRA sanctioned events and at independent ¼-mile drag strips at San Fernando, Long Beach and Irwindale. “My pit crew was me and my buddy John with my tow car tied with a rope. It was run what you brung.

“The first time I raced the car at San Fernando, in September 1963, I ran 11.85 on an 11.84 record, beat everybody and took a trophy home. That was a good day.”

People started taking notice, Don and his dragster featured in the December 1965 issue of Hot Rod. It would also get him invited to join the Hot Rod crew for both the ’65 and ’66 events at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  He would campaign his Gasser for four years, lastly setting the speed record in ’66 at Irwindale with 121.80 mph in B Gas.

Don with some of the trophies won by his super Chevy and his heavy foot. The tall trophy on the far left was for a First Place at the L.A. Sport Arena, the trophy with the globe awarded at the Winter Nationals Car Show circa 1965 while the smaller trophies represent wins at the various drag races.

Don was also slinging a hammer to help pay for work on his car, and things were getting pretty slow financially, but then he got a call in April of ‘67 to work at engine shop, and not just any shop, Don finding himself building Cam Am race motors at the famous engine shop run by  Al Bartz. In fact Don was his first employee. “I first started just doing rebuilds because Al wanted to check my assembly knowledge in building a small block before I started both rebuilding engines and all the new engines. They were 350 Chevy’s stroked a little, making about 525 horses. I’d also modify other parts like the distributors, the water pump, the front timing cover, etc. to get parts ready for the engine builds. By ’68, he was shop foreman, but left to start his own business, working out of his Dad’s garage.

 

In the process he met a boat racer, Tom Paterson, who also owned a helicopter company and ended up building parts for choppers, including the very first Los Angeles TV station news helicopter, that for KTLA Channel 5. Asked if he got in some rides, he says, “No, I don’t like to fly so wouldn’t have enjoyed that a bit. Airplanes are bitchin’ but I don’t like being up in the air.” But Don was still building car motors and flying as fast as he could on terra firma, but he did step off onto the water.

Don’s stint in the Air Force reserve helped fuel his interest in aviation.

Seen here is one of his favorite, the F-4 Phantom Navy fighter, in this case a radio controlled scale model

“The Sparkler” skittering across the Colorado River.

Don found himself working on race boats, even piloting his buddy Paterson’s 385 horsepower, 1300 lb. 16-ft long “Crackerbox” class race boat aptly named “Sparkler” with its motor in the center, rider in the back. “It’d scare the wee out of you like an ocean going Sprint car. We set the record at 95.70 mph in the Flying Kilo at the Colorado River. Tom’s now 88 and still racing boats.”

Jerry Titus campaigned in Trans-Am, motors built by Don.

In 1969, Don got another of those milestone making phone calls, this time from the legendary racer and moto journalist Jerry Titus who wanted him to build his engines, 302 Chevy’s with cross ram manifolds, to race the last part of the season. Titus also raced for Carroll Shelby winning championships in ’67 and a class victory at the ’69 24 Hours of Daytona. Sadly, Titus aka “Mr. Trans Am,” would die in a 1970 crash during the Trans Am race at Road America.

When asked when he got into motorcycles, Don points to 1964 when he bought his first bike, a Yamaha 80 motocross, then wanting more power went for a 175 Montesa for blasting out into the desert and through the canyons. Says Don, “Back then people were running imported Greeves and the Dots fitted with Blooie pipes, basically straight pipes and you could them making bitchin’ music playing off the canyon walls, but then they went to those expansion chambers for more power but they sounded like bumble bees.”

In 1970 he met up with a young guy named Terry Dorsch who raced AMA Grand Nationals, mostly flat track events on Triumphs against the likes of John Hateley. Terry had ordered a Trackmaster frame and it was specially marked with#1 on its bottom. “I started riding with Terry on the fire roads and he taught me how to go fast and slide in the corners. We did that for ten years. It was a ball and very addictive. Terry used to say it was the most fun you could have with your pants on. I got to go with Terry when he raced flat rack at Ascot, then he started running Champion frames in Northridge. He asked me to make brake rotors for their Champion flat trackers and I made about 200 of them, some probably still being used in vintage racing. That’s also the time period when I did my first frame-up build, my Honda thumper. ”

Don’s first scratch built bike powered by rare Honda race motor was built for doing it in the dirt…and fast!

Don built the frame out of .049 chrome moly tubing, tipping the scale at a mere 15 lbs. plus a 4 lb. swingarm. Says Don, “That was a cool thing, building that frame from scratch, a real education.” Into that frame Don stuffed a rare Honda factory short rod, big bore 350cc motor made for the Baja 1000 race. “I just happened to get one of those trick engines with its sandcast barrel. I got some metric wrenches and took it apart. The cylinder had a quarter inch lining, so I bored that baby out to 385. The frame was nickel plated, the gas tank yellow, the seat upholstered in metallic blue Naugahyde. It was some bike, but then Yamaha came out the TT500 and I just had to have it, so like a dummy I sold my Honda, and I still wonder where it is today.”

During the 1970s while working on his race motor builds, Don figured necessity was the mother of invention. Since it was a mother trying to get the angles of a valve job to meet exactly which then determines the diameter of the valve and where it seats, he came up with a tool of his own design, calling it Qwik-Seat, and it made the job much easier. Gaining a patent, he sold them to machine shops all over the country.

1923 McFarlan, owned by silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, was restored by Don. The rear section featured a special trunk that house booze for Fatty who took his film breaks getting toasted.

Jumping to 1975, Don took another creative tangent when he was signed on by the late J.B. Nethercutt, wealthy owner of Merle Norman Cosmetics, to restore one of his 250 rare classic cars, now on public display at the San Sylmar Museum. In this case, the project was a 1923 McFarlan, the chauffeur driven Knickerbocker Cabriolet Twin-Valve Six originally owned by the silent screen star Fatty Arbuckle who went down in flames after a major scandal.

Says Don, “I worked on that car every day for four months at the museum’s workshop. It had come out of the paint shop with just the bare body, so I put everything else on it…all the metal pieces, the bright work, glass…fabricated the front grill guard, the tail lights, you name it. The car, painted a ketchup color, won a Best of Class at the 1975 Pebble Beach. I was standing there next to the car when I heard a familiar sounding voice say, can you open the door, I’d like to look at the interior. I turn around and there’s Clint Eastwood. And I said, sure, you bet. He looks inside, and he says, thank you. And I say, oh, you’re welcome.” It sure rounded out a cool day. Then later, Mr. Nethercutt came up and said, “Put your hand out. I want to give you a good handshake for turning my old truck into a show winner.”

It was the first recognition of his talents, nor far from the last.

In 1978, while hanging out with Terry Dorsch at a party, Don met up with veteran screen actor Bobby Carradine who told Terry he had a Triumph he wanted to put together. When Terry looked at the Trackmaster frame, he noticed it had #1 stamped into it…so it was his first frame from back in the day. Terry was pretty busy so asked Don if he wanted to handle the project. “I asked how they wanted the bike to look and they said, just do it like you were building it for yourself. Now in high school I had drawn sketches of my dream Triumph and Bobby said go for it. It took two years but I got it done, a real race bike, the real deal.

As Don recalls the moment with his usual photographic memory when Carradine first through a leg over the bike, he says, “He’s wearing cowboy boots, pressed Levis, crisp white shirt, leather jacket with fur collar, shades, a scarf, no helmet, the bike wafting the distinctive aroma of Castor bean oil, it’s the pre-requisite Lee Marvin/Keenan Wynn classic attire for an actor blasting down Sunset Boulevard. One kick and the bike starts…rappa-rappa!…and he’s off blasting down Sunset Boulevard. Bobby’s riding his dream bikes, laying it over in the corners, wide open megaphone growling.  One of the better days in my life! And we got the photos. The Triumph was featured as a center fold in an issue of Motorcyclist. Bobby still has that bike, almost 40 years later.”

Then Don took yet another jog in the road, trying out a bit of “downsizing” when he was contracted by Fred Thompson, the new owner of the famous Los Angeles based Smith Miller Toy Company (circa 1948-55), known world-wide for their large scale model trucks, beautifully crafted and very expensive, even more so as collectibles when the company faded out. Getting things going again in 1979, Fred asked Don to turn a flatbed trailer into a low-boy to carry a Doepke D-6 Caterpillar Tractor, another top end classic toy. Using vintage photos to take measurements, Don made a balsa mock-up, then a metal version as the final prototype prior to production. In the process he also designed and built a pumper fire truck. Fashioned in 1/16th scale, the large models measured from 22-48 inches long. Don laughs and says, “It was up to me to figure how A fit into B, and I built 20 trucks, about one new design a year, both prototype and production, for the 20 years, producing about a 1000 trucks at my shop in the first three years. The rebirth of the Smith Miller company proved immensely successful, eventually producing 48 different hand assembled trucks, much sought after in limited editions.

It’s safe to characterize Don as a “Man for All Seasons and All Reasons.” For example, he even took a bite out of the dental industry. In 1980 he met the people at the Proma Company and designed several prototypes for fixtures and appliances used during dental procedures.

Now into the 1984, Don found time to build another fire-breathing motorcycle. In this case, it was commissioned by Michael Bowen, another Hollywood actor, and half-brother to Bobby Carradine. The BSA triple project featured a Marzocchi front end as well as a motor beefed up with an 840cc kit by hyper motor guru Jack Hateley. During the build, Don designed and fabricated a bunch a neat components as well as the 3-into-1 pipe. The badboy Beezer was also featured in a 1986 issue of Motorcyclist, the magazine recognizing the quality of Don’s work.

Then another quirk of fate occurred. While perusing model vehicle magazines, Don noticed the high-end car models gaining attention for French and Spanish artisans. “It got my wheels turning to try my hand at world class models. But I didn’t know what to build. Those guys already had a foot hold in car models.” But while talking with his buddy at the aforementioned dental company, he heard him say, Well, you big dummy, why don’t you build a Harley model. “Yeah, cool, okay, and I thought a ¼ scale, two-foot long man-sized model would be the real deal. So I got it going, that was in 1994.”

Meticulous attention to detail makes it difficult to distinguish the full-sized Softail from Don’s “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” version.

The prototyping alone took 13 months, the design based on the Harley-Davidson Softail with the Evo motor.  Previously, his only scratch-built bike building experience was with the Honda thumper and now he was going from full-scale to quarter-scale. So how to make it happen? It turned out that Nick Ienatsch, now well-known in the pages of Motorcyclist, was dropping by in the evenings to earn a few extra bucks by doing some spot-welding work on the model cars Don had been designing. Don says, “I go up to Nick and say, where’s your Harley. He says it was at his Dad’s house in Salt Lake City. I told him I needed a bike to get dimensions. He says hold on, and a few minutes later I get a call from Frank Kaisler the Editor at Motorcyclist. I told him my story. Later that day, he gave me a brand new Softail and I rode it around for a week. I started measuring the length of frame, the swing arm pivot, head stock angle, all the dimensions and then divided it by four, took my

blueprint paper and started drawing. I also got the dimensions from a set of brand new S&S cases. At Monday night bike gatherings at a burger stand in Van Nuys, I’d meet Frank who’d bring me a part, an oil pump, a hand lever, whatever I needed to get my measurements to make an exact scaled bike.”

Get out the magnifying class. For example, Don made the swingarm pivot bolts, the rear and front axle bolts and nuts, the front end bolts, the head stem bolts…all cut from stainless on his lathe and milled to attach the 1/16th inch Allen heads, then polished each tiny piece and we’re talking 152 miniature screws for each bike. Talk about labor intensity, just to make the rear axle sleeve nut, it took 55 separate moves. The frame parts alone took months of machining. In this case when they say big things come in small packages, they weren’t whistlin’ Dixie.

Don wanted the bike to “feel” right as well as look right. So the swing arm moves with 3/4 inch of travel as does the front fork. The left hand lever incorporates a spring for the operational feel of a clutch lever. The right lever is fitted with a rubber o-ring so that as you squeeze on it, you feel resistance, replicating the feel of a front brake lever, the same for the footbrake lever. For the shift lever, there’s a ball détente, so you click-up, click-down, echoing gear changing, again like a real bike.

He went so far as to upholster the seats in real leather, added .040  of an inch diameter individual polished stainless spokes laced to the wheels. He also contacted the Avon Tire Company in England to secure permission to cast from molds exact rubber miniatures of their tires including their logos, and the Avon people graciously agreed, eager to see the finished product themselves. To thank them, Don handmade a unique pen and pencil set incorporating the polished wire wheel and mounted tire. Don chuckles and says, “The Avon honcho wrote back saying “You really screwed me. Now I have to buy a brand new desk because your pen and pencil set is so nice.”

In 2000, with the dawn of new millennium, Don shipped a specially commissioned Knuckle version of his model to the Motor Company in Milwaukee, this before the new Harley-Davidson museum was completed, so it was kept in their archives department until moved to the new museum upon its opening in July 2008.

The paint for his bikes was various candy pearls, except for the Harley-Davidson Museum model. They wanted a Knuckle chopper that looked like something aa guy would have built at home in 1960. There was a custom red scalloped, yellow paint job, but no polish on the cases, the barrels black, aftermarket open primary, just like back in the day.

A motorcycle fan in Germany noticed Don’s creations in a local magazine and just had to have one…to the point that one day he arrived at Don’s house/work shop in Granada Hills, CA and “went shopping” and upon up close and personal inspection it turned out that he had to have not one, but three…including a black Fatboy based on his own bike and also a Knucklehead created in the likeness of the iconic Capt. America chopper seen in the classic 1969 film Easyrider.

Don’s workshop contains a wide spectrum of industrial grade  and vintage tools down to surgical instruments capable of fashioning almost microscopic components.

Don’s latest projects include building replicat of Bonneville speed record  bike, here seen in mock-up stage.

2017 and Don Nowell’s “Engineered Art Worth Its Weight in Gold”

Says Don during our most recent conversation with him, “For a long time I’ve been wanting to build some art for the real art world. I had tried some stuff with the bikes I built, pieces out of wood and aluminum but that didn’t fly, so put the pieces back in the drawer. But after I took some hard knocks including losing both my Mom and Dad and then my lady friend and most recently, in March of this 2016, seriously injuring my back which was keeping me mostly bedridden, I was feeling pretty low. I knew I needed to do something to get back on my feet mentally, something that turned a new leaf, to step in another direction besides the gearhead arena…so I put head together to create some world class art.”

“I wanted something both plain and elegant at the same time. Something that drew your eye and kept it, something that wowed your senses. So I gathered rare woods from South America, Africa and Australia, all with awesome colors and grains. I’m a wood nut and love the grain, and found that the use of clear coating really makes it pop, a mile deep… there’s nothing like it.

Don’s premiere piece was titled “GoldBlades” and in part was inspired by the vintage mirrors and golden pocket watches he had seen during his experiences at the Nethercutt Museum. Deciding to employ blade shapes and gold to create the reflections he sought, Don took out his French curve templates and starting drawing, counting on the smooth transitions the forms allowed. After making some full sized sketches, he started making parts, finally sending the parts to the platers, focusing on the ultimate richness of 24K gold matched to a black granite finish for contrast. Says Don, “When it all came together, it exceeded my expectations, the gold having this rich, rosy finish that is staggering when amplified by the reflections playing back and forth from any angle your view it from.”

Tasmanian veined Eucalyptus on Gold Base, the piece is titled “GoldenWood” and measures 22 inches long, six inches wide, 12.5 inches high.

A work titled “GoldenBlades” features a total of 100 pieces including 14 separate 24K gold plated blades set in a mathematical progression, creates unique visual impact from all directions and angles. It measures 36 inches high, 14 inches wide, 22 inches long.

As for his choice of materials, Don says, “You can’t ask for anything better than Mother Nature’s finest… gold…and the trickest woods available. There’s nothing like seeing the gold and woods together…it’s the best of the best.” Toward that goal he opted for 7075T6 billet aluminum, the hardest you can get but also the best for acquiring the 24K highly polished gold plating. The choice of woods offered include Maple, Walnut, Burbinga burl, Tasmanian Resin Vein Eucalyptus, Buckeye burl, American Redwood and others, all finished to perfection.

These GoldenWood and GoldenBlade models are currently available with more designs in the work. In addition to fine art collectors, it would seem they would also lend themselves well as exceptional corporate gifts or even as exceptional awards of achievement.

If you’re interested in investing in art that grows in value every day, check out www.donnowellart.com, email him at dn@donnowelldesign.com or call Don at (818) 363-8564. International delivery as well as local Los Angeles pick-up available.

Post-script:

As we put the final touches on this story, we’ve become aware of Don’s growing difficulties, time and gravity taking their toll. The sale of his awesome art will go toward easing the mounting financial stress of his long-term recovery now requiring round-the-clock healthcare. While it’s especially hard for a solid, self-sufficient guy like Don to reach out for assistance, at 75, he sums it up with his tell-tale sense of humor, “I’m happy, just fucked up! Don’t get old!”

 

BIO

Paul GarsonPaul Garson lives and writes in Los Angeles, his articles regularly appearing in a variety of national and international periodicals. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and USC Media Program, he has taught university composition and writing courses and served as staff Editor at several motorsport consumer magazines as well as penned two produced screenplays. Many of his features include his own photography, while his current book publications relate to his “photo-archeological” efforts relating to the history of WWII in Europe, through rare original photos collected from more than 20 countries. Links to the books can be found on Amazon.com. More info at www.paulgarsonproductions.com or via paulgarson@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fantastic Photography of
Sequoia Emmanuelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST:

Los Angeles based artist Sequoia Emmanuelle has a unique voice as a photographer utilizing her many creative talents together- including fashion design, set design, painting, wardrobe styling, film and graphic design. Dripping with color and texture, Sequoia’s work captures the essence of her generation of artists and immortalizes the avant-garde worlds of fashion, music, art, film and theatre as seen through her eyes. A graduate of photography at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, her unique style has been inspired and shaped by the raw and vibrant underground art scenes of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Through her art, she creates magical wonderlands from which to transport and capture her subjects in their full archetypical glory.

Her striking photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and publications and her images are used on album art, editorial, look books, advertising campaigns, gallery shows, and music videos.

Publications include: Italian Vogue, Zink Magazine, Paper Magazine, Plastik, Galore, Vibe Magazine, Fault Magazine, Huf Magazine, Papercut Magazine, Kismet UK, Glassbook Magazine, Dark Beauty magazine, The Dapifer, Tantalum, Runway Magazine, Volition, Auxiliary Magazine, Sessions Magazine, Tinsel Tokyo magazine, Giuseppina Magazine, Empty Kingdom, Coilhouse Magazine, The Catalyst Magazine, Stiletto Glam Magazine, Gothic Noir Magazine, Twisted Lamb, Haute Macabre, Lost at E Minor, Art Boom, Urban Ink, Ghubar, Imbibe magazine and more.

 

 

Sequoia Emmanuelle Photography Book now available.
http://sequoiaemmanuelle.com/book

Sequoia Emmanuelle Links:

www.sequoiaemmanuelle.com

www.instagram.com/sequoiaemmanuelle
www.facebook.com/sequoiaemmanuellephotography
www.tumblr.com/blog/sequoiaemmanuelle

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A season of rain

by Tara Isabel Zambrano

 

Sometimes I think
this house has eyes.
They glow.

This house is a hand.
Rubs my voice
against the walls.

At night this house
lets the stars in.
They leak as clouds,

knock at the door,
beg for a season
of rain.

 

 

Departure/Arrival

 

There is always a distance to explore, pull islands from the sea.
Masses from nowhere.

Maybe it is time for the moon to collapse into its reflection.
The sun has always been solitary

packing its light everywhere. What is not touched by darkness?
The bulbs underneath the new soil. A Buddha’s statue covered in foliage.

Nature has no favorites. A stampede fertilizes the earth.
Her endless teeth feed on herself. It isn’t living, it isn’t dying.

I crawl back to my body but there is a lump of dirt. A poem scattered,
its words blinking because they do not feel exactly right.

The wind fools around my name. A black hole where lightning is kept.
Life is a spectacle, half remembered. Always winks out from nothing.

 

 

the myth of being alive

 

I’m holed up in a motel following the night
buttoned down all the way to bloodied dawn
wrestling with  a fresh roll of USA Times.

Despite the police sirens across the street,
I remain asleep. Needle marks on my arm heal.
Coughs from the next room grow quiet.

The sun eats itself, footsteps outside the door
grow and fade, steam of cheap coffee and
popcorn sink into the semen-rotted carpet.

Some days I walk out of my skin. Red hollow
of an afternoon rivals my crimson eyes.
Empty pizza boxes cover my face.

Car clotted streets gasp for air. On dead ends,
I unfold a gang war. My hair turns gray in light,
my voice at the end of a muzzle, tries to sing.

 

 

BIO

Tara Isabel Zambrano moved from India to The United States two decades ago. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Healing Muse, Moon City Review, Bop Dead City, and others. She lives in Texas and is an Electrical Engineer by profession.

 

 

 

 

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