Month: April 2016

Featured: Object Permanence

Eloise Dowd
 
To move the nights along you have taken to performing tremendous acts of dental hygiene. You begin with careful brushing using all-natural wintergreen “tooth powder” that you picked up at a life-enhancement retreat, because your friends think you are the kind of person who uses all-natural wintergreen “tooth powder” and would appreciate being invited to a life-enhancement retreat. After the careful brushing is the flossing, each tooth one by one, even the ones that bleed, one by one, and after you finish you do it a second time just to make sure you are doing it right and also because it is 8.30. A flush of herbal mouthwash signals the finale, and you look in the mirror with pride, knowing that this ritual is the measure of a real life. You congratulate yourself for becoming the best kind of adult. You are doing so well.
The next morning you drink tea and then brush your teeth again whilst reading your book, not paying as much attention this time but still brimming with pride – you are doing it, you are brushing your teeth twice a day like they always say you should. When you spit into the sink you notice something more solid amongst the foam. At first you assume it to be a tooth, that you have somehow fucked up flossing so badly you have actually pulled a bone out of your head. But it is gelatinous, more connective than skeletal – something that regenerates, restored and continuing on. Nothing to stop a life over.
But then you think about tuberculosis and remember something about blood clots. You draw on your bank of knowledge on the subject, but all you come up with is Nicole Kidman coughing blood into a hanky in Moulin Rouge; because no one gets tuberculosis anymore, and you have never seen a slow death crawl. Every dead person you know went quickly and violently in machines and chemicals.
You think about the hospital and the balloons and flowers surrounding the bed. Will people still bring balloons or have they become like plastic confetti at weddings, the mark of a monster? In hospital you’ll be allowed to read the bad magazines, the ones that tell you who is too thin and who got her boyfriend through stealing, and you read them because people bring them to you so of course you have no choice and no one can tell you you’re not a feminist.
You won’t have to ride your bike everywhere and pretend to enjoy it or spend all your money on organic vegetables that sit rotting for weeks in the bottom of the fridge. You won’t have to eat kale, because all you can hold down is orange jelly that tastes like cancerous colouring and heaven. Your friends will say it’s so sad, the state of hospital food. How can anyone get better on this processed muck? And you’ll nod slightly and murmur, but you won’t have to speak much because you simply must conserve your energy. You will begin to waste away, everyone will watch as you lose half your body, and it will be accepted because you are sick. It is ok to be half a person when you’re sick.
You leave the toothbrush in the sink amongst the foam and make the first phone call, informing your brother of the news. He asks if maybe Dad can take you this time. You call your father and leave a message. You remember the life-enhancement retreat and the workshop on the power of the voice, and you make sure your tone is lowered so the full gravity of the situation is effectively conveyed. Then you sit on the couch in your pajamas and wait, not bothering to get dressed, because you are very unwell and you don’t think that is appropriate.
 
Author photo two cities reviewEloise Dowd has been a finalist in the Tethered by Letters Fiction Competition, and has an article forthcoming in Transgender Studies Quarterly. She is completing a Masters in Arts (Writing) and recently moved from Australia to California, where she writes about love and the apocalypse.

Featured: Linda, Asleep

Eric Dovigi
 
Listen to the poem below:

 
I just got my heart busted and now I canʼt dream straight.
Everything comes out cracked
And splintered.
I used to have nighthoughts about little monsters
That burst round the bedroom in smiles and fur;
Now I only see shards of many-colored glass
Spinning and spinning in the air,
And broke-up phrases of music, violin music,
Old-people music mostly, I think.
And the little monsters go in and out of the dreams in curves
And round bends with train-whistle songs under the violin music
And conductors of symphonies and stations with their arms in the air!
In the very air!
Wild beasts.
I just got my heart busted,
And now everything is like a coloring-book After my little sisterʼs got to it,
And you donʼt know where you are.
Like the lines were never there!
Now Iʼm living like the lines were never even there.
Best thingʼs ever happened to me, I think, getting my heart busted.
 
Eric Dovigi lives and makes art in Flagstaff, Arizona. He has had a short story accepted for publication by the University of Madrid’s Journal of Artist Creation and Literary Research, and he works at a bookstore.

Featured: Orlando

Matthew Corey
 
Listen to the poem below.

 
 
You’re not following me out
of the Brooklyn Publick House
but the Berkshires instead
in 1999, the night
your stepfather
was hit by lightning
in a fishing boat
on a lake in Orlando
casting off despite
storm warnings.
Are you thinking about it, too,
as the door opens. Your arms
on my shoulders, following
me down a trail, trial
laced with pitfalls – rocks, divots
clefts (the twelve years it’s been?)
at three or four in the morning.
 
 

IMG_1384Matthew Corey is a writer living in Brooklyn. He was a runner up in the Lascaux Review’s 2014 Short Fiction Prize, and has poetry published or pending in Travel-tainted: Turtle Point Press Review and Weasel Press’s Vagabonds: Anthology of the Mad Ones.

Issue 9: Bullfrog

Richard King Perkins II
If we finish in this way, morning slips back into night
and the night starts to shine. What begins the chanting?
What, beyond the valley, makes the others sing?
Last month, in the gullies, the deeper gouges, a single
bullfrog was tumbled into weeds of homelessness.
Most days, we’ll hear its distressed call, sometimes
doglike, sometimes almost human. Skin dusted with quiet,
needing puddle or rain. And then the slow drumbeat,
lead striking lead, in the tall grasses. It could almost be
a child; restless dreaming in the wilderness. A young son
who slipped away one morning into a small pond, into
unexpected ripples edging outward.
 
Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.

Issue 9: The Last Session

Dante Marquis
It was a sunny Saturday morning in California. I was driving up the highway in my freshly detailed Honda Civic. I was on my way to see Ryan. Unbeknownst to me, it would be the last day that we would see each other. For three years I looked forward to Saturday mornings with Ryan. Ryan was a counselor with Exodus International, and I had been assigned to him through my church. Exodus International was an international Christian network that sought to help people who wished to limit their homosexual desires. I was a part of a Pastor Internship for the Assemblies of God church denomination. I was not allowed to identify as gay and remain in the internship—“same-sex attraction” was the euphemism used to describe my condition. The mission statement of Exodus International was to “mobilize the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.” I came to a crossroad when the effort to stifle my same-sex attraction became exhausting. I stumbled on Exodus International one day while listening to a sermon online. My heart began to palpitate as I read the testimonials of other Christian men who had overcome their struggle. Most of these men were now counseling or leading ministries like Exodus. There was hope for me, I thought. I could conquer this thing—all I needed was some guidance and prayer.
The Exodus International website sold straightness like it was the miracle cure leading to a perfect life. The images were like a tropical oasis that awaited you on the other side of gayness. It would show a family portrait of the ex-gay man with his wife. The wife was always drop-dead gorgeous. Makes sense, as the husband’s risk of falling back into homosexuality at any time would require him to have an attractive wife. And why did they always have so many children? It seemed like there were always three, sometimes more. It was as if each child was undeniable proof of straightness, multiple living-and-breathing results of hetero sex. The wives were always blonde. It was what I was supposed to want. I wanted to desire this for my life. I would imagine myself inside these family portraits. Pastor Dante Searcy, slayer of gayness. The prize would be my own blonde wife, along with our seven biracial, caramel-colored children.
Sexual purity was a major focus in the Assemblies of God church. Premarital sex, sex on television, even thinking “impure” thoughts about a woman who was not your spouse were considered sinful in the doctrine. The most egregious sexual sin was homosexuality. The men at church would talk about the difficulty of not thinking about women in a sexually impure way.
I did not have the same struggle as the other brothers in Christ. They mistook my ability to resist temptation by women as a testament of my strength. I was still a virgin at twenty-five. I wore my virginity like a golden shield of honor. Some of the men envied me for being able to give my virginity to the wife that God had for me. Everyone was in my corner encouraging me to stay pure and save myself for marriage. I knew it was all horse shit. I had the strength to resist women because my body did not respond sexually to women. The lack of sexual desire for women scared me down to the core of my spirit. I wished it was as difficult for me to stay pure as it was for the other brothers. I had my own temptations, which I could share with no one, except for Ryan. The chasm between me and the other brothers was vast and wide, and they were oblivious to it. I buried this secret deep within my heart and it ate away at me from the inside. The guilt and shame were unbearable at times. I was tormented by nightmares about spending eternity in hell. I longed for the loving touch of another man. I was content with just that. My desires and urges were wrong, and I could tell no one. I was determined to defeat this. If Catholic priests could dedicate themselves to celibacy, then it was possible.
Ryan and I began to meet on Saturday mornings. We worked through a whole host of issues. I had a lot of resentment and anger toward kids calling me “sissy” and “fag” when I was in school, and toward my father for abandoning me when I was a baby. In terms of dealing with my same-sex attraction, Ryan gave me lots of strategies. He helped me block pornographic websites on my computer. He gave me Bible verses to recite when I was having a lustful thought about men. He even encouraged me to try and fantasize or “lust” for women. He said it would help curb some of my homosexual tendencies. Ryan was the epitome of Christian perfection. I stared at his wedding ring, and I assumed his wife was blonde and had perfect teeth. He was a regular straight man, not an ex-gay straight man, but he was a great counselor and felt that he could help me. I felt dirty and sinful during our sessions. My dark skin next to his was like a reflection of my sin. I craved his acceptance and approval. He was strikingly handsome, which I wholeheartedly believed was Satan trying to get me off course. He had greenish hazel eyes and curly brown hair that went perfectly with a bright and friendly smile. I wondered at times if he was a closeted gay and working for Exodus International was a facade. Maybe he had these desires and kept them hidden the same way I did. Maybe one day he would break that barrier between counselor and counselee. But instead, I would share my most sinful gay thoughts with him, and he would just smile and nod. His welcoming and nonjudgmental demeanor made him virtually irresistible.
I did not know that this particular session would be the last one. In fact, I had never considered how the sessions would end. When would I be considered straight? There was no set point to arrive at. Alfred Kinsey would have found it comical. Would I be cured if I could go a whole day without thinking about men? Or was it two weeks? A year? I assumed that I would always need to rely on a straight Christian man’s guidance to keep me on the path of heterosexuality. After walking up to the church building and knocking on the window, Ryan opened the door to let me in. He always had a look of surprise and delight when he greeted me, even though my appointment time had been the same for three years. He was wearing a navy blue sweater and khaki pants. His pants were just tight enough to where I knew I would be distracted for the entire session. We walked down the long dark corridor to his office. It always felt like his office was in a dungeon where the real sinners had to go in order to get fixed.
The last session began as all the others had. Ryan would begin with asking me how my week was. “How was your week?” actually meant how many times did you picture a guy naked, look at gay pornographic websites, inappropriately touch a man, get a blowjob, have sex with a man, etc. In other words, how many times did you “act out” on your homosexual desires? The goal was to stop engaging in homosexual acts, which meant I had to stop having homosexual thoughts. Each slip-up I had we would analyze and he would give me a strategy to help me for the next time I was tempted to sin. I confessed that I had slipped up that week and looked at pornography. I repented soon after and asked for God’s forgiveness. I mentioned a guy who I was attracted to at work, a stumbling block to my progress. I told Ryan that I made a conscious effort to stay away from him so I would not be tempted. Ryan was happy to see how far I had come. He was excited at how I was taking responsibility for making my environment more conducive to having victory over my struggle. Once our regular introduction was over, I hesitated to share what was on my mind. Normally Ryan did not have to ask me to share, as we had built a strong level of trust over the years. However, something was different on the day of the last session. I wanted to talk about an experience with him, but I was not sure how he would respond. He could tell that I was holding something back, and he assured me that it was safe to talk about whatever was on my mind.
I began my story. I mentioned an incident that happened a few days prior when I had gone for a run in the park. While I was there, I saw two men sitting next to each other on a bench. They were sitting close to each other. It looked like they were holding hands, but I was too far away to see for certain. I slowed down so I could watch them. I had never seen two men be so openly affectionate with each other in public. I stopped running and began to stare at them from a distance. I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. They never noticed me standing there. I fought the urge to run toward them. I immediately recognized what I saw. It was love. These men were in love with each other. I wanted to ask them what it was like. What was it like to be in love? How did it feel? I felt their love for each other radiating toward me, beckoning me over to pick it up and take a bite. A voice, which seemed to be carried by the wind, whispered to me, “That could be you.” I imagined myself sitting on a bench in the park on a summer day with a man. The image made my heart flutter. Something within me shifted; my life was changed. I finished running and went to my car. I sat there and waited for the wave of fear and guilt to wash over me, but it never came. I did not pray or ask for forgiveness after seeing them. The feelings of guilt never came, even as I continued to think about them that evening. Nothing I saw at the park looked like it warranted an eternity in hell. The two men looked like they were in heaven. They were happy. I wanted to be in the heaven of love that they were basking in. As I recounted the story to Ryan, I saw the first glimpse of disappointment on his face. I could always count on his look of focused determination as he was naming off helpful same-sex attraction defeating strategies for me. But in this session, his exasperation had finally settled in. The energy of the room became tense. His tone of voice became heavy. I was not used to him speaking to me this way. He sounded like he was scolding a child, or a dog.
“Dante …” Ryan sighed heavily before he continued speaking. “The devil will never tempt us with something we won’t like. His temptation will always come disguised as something we think we desire. Do you desire that for your life more than heaven?”
I did not respond. I did not know what I wanted anymore. Heaven was seeming further and further away the more I fought with this demon. I let him finish. I was curious to see what he had to say.
“God has a special plan for your life. You have studied the Bible. There is a Godly woman who is waiting patiently for you to overcome this struggle. When you are victorious over same-sex attraction, you can be with the woman who God has intended for you, the one he has hand-selected. God is not going to bless you with her until you are no longer living in sin.” He paused. I remained silent. I wanted to hear more. Ryan fidgeted in his seat as my silence became uncomfortably tense. He then continued, “Those two men you saw on the bench are living in sin. They may look happy on the outside, but deep down their spirits are tormented. Do you really want that, Dante? Or do you want what God has in store for you?”
I continued to remain silent. I didn’t know what to say. What was the truth? What did I really want? Church had trained me to give canned responses to everything. I had learned how to play the game, but in playing the game, I had learned to silence the voice of my inner guidance. I knew all the right Bible verses to quote at the right times. I was accepted in church because of my strict adherence to the rules. I realized that those men I saw at the park were happy, and the only one with the tormented spirit was me. I was the one living in sin, the sin of going against my human nature. I was swimming upstream and trying to become something I could never become. Ryan looked at me as if he were trying to peer into my soul waiting for my response to his original question. Do I want what God has in store for me? I didn’t know anymore. It was my first act of disobedience. There was no drum roll or fanfare at that moment, but I had unwittingly taken my first step in the direction toward true freedom. I caught a glimpse of love, and it was worth risking an eternity in hell. When Ryan saw that I was not interested in talking anymore, he turned to his appointment book and asked me if the following Saturday at 10 a.m. was a good time. I told him it was, as our appointment time was the same every week. We shook hands, and he escorted me out.
As I walked out into the morning sun, I mulled the question over in my head. Do I want what God has in store for me? Another question fought itself into my psyche. These words came from my inner guidance, my soul. What if Ryan doesn’t know what God has in store for me? What if there’s nothing wrong with me after all? It was as if time had frozen and I had entered into another dimension. I looked up at the clear blue sky. The sun kissed my face with its bright rays. I wasn’t quite sure at that moment why I felt so free, but I knew that I had unlocked something within my mind. After three years of therapy, I was just as gay as I was when I began. I decided in that moment I would no longer struggle with my attraction to men. If being myself meant going to hell, then maybe I would find someone in this life to accompany me there. James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, states, “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.” I never saw Ryan again after that day. I left my chains in that church parking lot. I was liberated by the notion that true love was possible. I got into my car, pulled out of the parking lot, and drove toward the light of the sun.
 
Dante Marquis is a freelance translator, writer, and editor based in Santa Cruz, CA. He is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute, and an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is currently working on a collection of poems and short stories. He works at UC Santa Cruz and lives with his partner.

Issue 9: Transients

Lawrence F. Farrar
It was Jackie. I knew her right away. Should I speak to her or not?  I couldn’t decide. Maybe she wouldn’t recognize me. I’d taken a seat at the end of the counter, and so far she hadn’t looked my way. She was busy waiting on a couple who’d just come in on a bus from Bakersfield and couldn’t make up their minds on whether it would be the meat loaf or the ham steak.
How many years had it been?  Maybe twenty. She’d dropped out of school at fifteen or sixteen. That would make her about thirty-five. Pale, thin, and hollow-cheeked, she looked older than that–or maybe just more tired. Plain as the faded apron she had on, she hadn’t exactly been a beauty queen to begin with, and time hadn’t done anything for her. Twenty years.
—–
Jackie Pittman swore more than any girl I ever knew. She did it matter of factly, like it was a natural way of talking. Everybody agreed she carried a chip on her shoulder, and the swearing escalated whenever she got ticked off. Her sandpapery voice added an extra layer of coarseness. When she swore, the guys would laugh, the girls would giggle, and the teachers would turn red with anger or embarrassment.
People said it was because she came from such a trashy family. They declared she got her swearing from her old man. Charley Pittman, a mean-spirited roughneck to begin with, drank Old Crow whiskey like it was going out of style. His drinking made him even nastier. He drove a garbage truck, and people along his route would hear him banging the empty cans and yelling and cursing when he made his pickups. Anybody having anything to do with him came away convinced he couldn’t string ten words together without half of them being cuss words.
Still, to look at her, you wouldn’t have thought Jackie would talk that way. Undersized and underfed, she was just a slip of a thing, with frizzy, dishwater blonde hair that rarely had a comb run through it. Her face didn’t usually reveal much in the way of expression, especially her brown eyes. You could look into them as deeply as you wanted. But, there didn’t seem to be anything going on there. So it was hard to figure out what she was thinking.
Jackie suppressed her inner feelings, I suppose; but I’m sure she had them. She tried to avoid people as much as they tried to avoid her, and she’d retreat into corners and out-of-the-way places. But, when people provoked her, the anger flashed up. She’d come out fast and hard-charging, like a bantamweight on the attack. Pow!  The swearing would just spew out.
Jackie’s father and his hard faced wife had a pack of children, spilling out of a ramshackle house down by Al Bruckner’s gravel pit. It seemed like the sheriff made runs over to their place all the time. Whenever Charley Pittman didn’t like something one of the kids did, he’d take a strap to him–or her. When the yelling and screaming got to be too much, the neighbors would call the sheriff.
As best I can remember, Jackie didn’t have any friends at school. I think in those days, the girls all wore skirts and short sleeve sweaters and tied scarves around their necks. And they’d put on a lot of lipstick. Jackie never used makeup, and she showed up at school–on the days she came–in faded print dresses, like ones your old maid aunt would wear.
She used up a lot of time staring out the window. You couldn’t tell if she was watching something or just filling her mind up with dreams. Maybe she wasn’t thinking about anything. Who knows?
Nobody felt sorry for her. Nobody showed an iota of concern about the red welts on her arms, or the blue-green crescents under her eyes. Nobody wanted anything to do with her.
The teachers didn’t like her because she didn’t pay attention to what they said, and, when they called her on it, she sassed them. They put her down as much as the kids. She couldn’t read very well, and it seemed like they made her read out loud just to humiliate her. It never varied–whether it was Ivanhoe, Kidnapped, or Silas Marner. She’d struggle, they’d coach her, then she’d struggle some more. Mrs. Brett, the English teacher, would peer over her glasses and ask mocking questions. Cat got your tongue, Jackie?  Are you with us today, Jackie?  So Jackie would blow up and start swearing at them. Then they’d drag her to the principal’s office. The principal agreed with them that she was sullen and foul-mouthed, a real troublemaker.
I guess besides Miss Courtney, our civics teacher, and me, nobody showed her any consideration at all. Miss Courtney told me once that Jackie might act tough but it was just an act. Actually, she said, Jackie was a vulnerable and troubled girl, and people ought to take that into account. Miss Courtney was the only one I ever heard say anything like that.
Jackie and I had gone to the same grade school. So I’d say hello to her in the hall (she usually didn’t answer), and sometimes I talked to her in the lunch room. I’d see her sitting there, not looking at anybody and waiting for the bell to ring.
The only thing I remember her saying was, “When I get out of this goddamn school, I wish I could be a secretary–or maybe a veterinarian’s assistant. But, I guess I’m not smart enough.”
“You’re plenty smart enough,” I said. “Like Miss Courtney says, you can be anything you want.”  But, I didn’t believe it–at least not about Jackie.
I took a lot of razzing from my buddies. They claimed I was “a pal of Jackie Foul Mouth.”  They said they couldn’t understand why, but they had their suspicions. A real hilarious bunch. So I started avoiding her myself.
Not long after that, halfway through eleventh grade, Jackie bagged it. We heard she lifted some money from her old man’s wallet and just took off. Good riddance—that’s what everybody said. Nobody wondered what had become of her. And, I have to admit, that included me.
—–
It was Jackie for sure—right there in the Los Angeles bus terminal. Trying not to let her spot me looking her way, I studied the plastic covered menu. Something goopy—who knows what—stuck to my fingers. It felt like jam—or maybe syrup. I did the best I could to clean my hands with a napkin, but shreds of paper clung to my fingers.
“What’ll it be?”  The thickset cook loomed over the counter waiting for my reply. He looked as grease-spattered as the stove behind him. Dagwood’s comic strip nemesis had come to life.
“Just coffee. No, I’ll have a piece of that apple pie, too.”  At least the two flies were capering on the outside of the plastic cover.
The cook grunted and went off to draw a mug of coffee.
Jackie was taking an order from a man wearing a cheap blue suit and sporting a tie featuring a hula girl. I surveilled them like I was a spy. Because the customer sat at a table near the counter, I could hear him.
“You serving breakfast?”  He fixed his best hotshot leer on her.
“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.
“I think I’ll have the shepherd’s special. You know. A piece of ewe.”
Jackie’s eyes burned holes right through him. “You want to order or not?”
Meantime, the cook pushed the pie across the counter and delivered my coffee.
“You been staring at my waitress?”
“No. No. For a minute I thought she reminded me of somebody. That’s all.”
“Can’t imagine she’d remind you of anybody you’d know.”  He glanced in Jackie’s direction. “She’s nobody.”
He wandered off to tend some sizzling sausages that had started to burn. For a while, all you could smell was oily, sausage flavored smoke, leavened with whiffs of French toast.
Was I that obvious?  Would she know me after all these years?  Not likely.
I sat there considering what to do. I really had nothing to say to her. After all, we’d barely known each other. We had little in common then, probably even less now. The cook had it right. She wasn’t anybody who mattered.
“More coffee?”  The cook put both hands on the counter. “You want more coffee?”
“Why not?  My bus doesn’t leave for another fifteen minutes.”
Like an involuntary juggler, Jackie struggled under the weight of a tray of dishes she’d just cleared. I wondered if she would make it across the room. The dishes clattered as she half-dropped the tray on the counter. The commotion pulled heads around and earned her a dirty look from the cook.
What could I say to her?  How you been?  What kind of life do you have?
She moved around a table just vacated by a woman I’d watched snub out a cigarette in her hash browns. Jackie scooped up the coins the woman left and slipped them into her apron pocket. From where I sat, it looked like twenty or thirty cents—no more.
She’d probably just be embarrassed if I spoke to her. We might be survivors from the same shipwreck, but we’d obviously washed up on different shores.
“Where you headed?”  The young guy on the stool next to me waited for an answer.
“What?  Oh. San Francisco.”
“Man, you looked like you were into some heavy thought just now.”
“Sorry.”  I ignored him. The next time I looked up he’d gone, replaced by a shabby old fellow I suspected didn’t have the fare to pay for the pie he had his eyes on. I slid a dollar over to him. He palmed it without looking at me.
“Thanks, mister.”
I tried to be less conspicuous in my surveillance. A soldier pushed back his chair, hoisted his duffle bag, and headed for the cashier. Jackie searched around for a tip as she collected his dishes. She came up empty-handed.
I polished off my pie and perched there at the counter sipping the too-hot coffee. Jackie had seated herself in a corner booth. Another waitress scurried around covering her tables. Jackie must have been taking her break. She took small sips of water from a glass and stared out the window. God. She was bone thin. Everything about her looked dilapidated–rundown.
I paid up. My bus would leave in a few minutes. Our lives had barely touched in the first place. It would be easier and less complicated to just to get on the bus and go.
Then I realized she was looking directly at me. She hesitated, clawed back her tangled hair with both hands, and slid out of the booth. She marched straight over to where I stood at the counter.
“I’m Jackie. Jackie Pittman. Remember?”  It seemed more a plea for confirmation than a question. “I saw you looking at me when you came in.”
“Yes, but . . .”
“You were the boy with that old Chevrolet. Peter Hamilton.”  I heard the same scratchy voice.
“That’s right. I wasn’t sure that it was . . .”
What did she think of me—an overweight, balding guy in a discount sport coat?
“I always hoped you’d ask me to go for a ride. Like you did with those other girls. But you never did.”
“I wasn’t sure it was you, or I’d have spoken sooner.”
“It’s okay. You were one of the nice ones. You never put on airs.”
“Oh, I’m not sure . . .”
“I don’t have too many good memories. So it’s kind of special, seeing you here.”  She delivered a little smile; it seemed wistful. I guess when you’re not doing well any drink of water tastes good.
“It’s been a lot of years. I haven’t been back home myself for a long time,” I said.
“What are you?  I mean what do you do?”  She seemed at once eager and hesitant.
“Insurance. Got my own agency.”
“I bet you’re married.”
“Yep. Wife and two teen-age girls.”
“That’s real good. Looks like things turned out okay for you.”
“Yes.” I could think of nothing to say. I had no stack of recollections to work through, no nostalgic reminiscences to share.
For a moment a thick silence came between us.
Then I said, “You’re looking just like you did in school.”  I expect it came across as the unfelt compliment it was.
But, for a moment, just for a moment, a sweet look of happiness hovered over her face, and then vanished. “Don’t I wish,” she said. “But, I’m getting by okay.”  She lowered her eyes and twisted her apron in front of her with both hands.
“Married?”
“Was. Not now. He ran off on me.”
“I thought you might be a secretary.”
“I tried it once. I guess I’m better at waitressing.”  Along with a little shake of the head, she gave me another smile, a smile that said that’s the way it goes.
Another silence fell between us.
“Well, I’d better get going. Don’t want to miss my bus.”
She looked as if she wanted to speak. But, she simply nodded.
“Small world, I guess,” I said.
“Yeah. Well, have a good trip.”
“Thanks. Maybe we’ll run into each other again some time.”
“Maybe.”
In a few minutes I’d be gone and forgotten, like last week’s blue plate special. I turned toward the door that led out to where the buses loaded and unloaded, came and went. When I did, she suddenly seized my hand in her own two hands and held on with a kind of desperate intensity, like she didn’t want me to leave. “If you ever see any of the people I knew, tell them . . . tell them . . .”
No longer impassive, her eyes implored me—but to say what?  To do what?
“You were one of the nice ones. . . I’m glad we knew each other.”  She gripped my hand a little longer, then wheeled and walked back to the corner booth.
The sunlight glittered off the smeared window of the cafe, and I had to squint. But, as the bus rolled out of the terminal, I could just make her out, hands cupped around her eyes and pressed to the glass looking in my direction. I doubt if she could see me. She waved anyway.
I suppose I should have waved back.
 
Minnesota resident Lawrence F. Farrar is a former Foreign Service officer with postings in Japan (multiple tours), Germany, Norway, and Washington, DC. Short term assignments took him to more than 30 countries. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer. His stories have appeared in nearly 50 lit magazines.

Issue 9: Jimmy

Tom Vollman
I was on a park bench with my wife and son when the news arrived. Jimmy had been murdered in a desert worlds away. My son was lost in his first-ever root beer float, and I felt something inside me shatter–something small but suddenly desperately important–something I didn’t know I needed, but now could barely breathe without.
That morning–hours before I got the news about Jimmy–my three year-old son tucked his toy cell phone into his underpants instead of his pocket and he and I went outside. He hooked a tape measure on the waistband of his shorts and clipped a black Sharpie to his t-shirt collar, the same as me. For about 15 minutes, he helped me drill holes. He wrapped his tiny hand around mine as I squeezed the trigger and sent the bit into board after board.
I can remember being so excited to help my dad with projects. I’d ask him, Are we being workmen, Daddy?
Yep, pal, we are, he’d answer.
Things never really worked out with those projects, though. I’m not exactly sure what I expected. I was only a kid. A little one.
Hey, Sport, Dad would say, you wanna help me build Hoppy’s new cage?
Of course I did. I always did. But I was always on the outside looking in.
One time, I hit Dad in the head with a hammer. My Mom tells that fucking story all the time.
Well, your Dad was putting cement in your digging space, she says.
But that wasn’t it. I hit him because he was mostly never present enough to hold onto.
That morning, before I heard about Jimmy, my son and I drilled holes and screwed boards to the front porch. Suddenly, he decided that he wanted to–needed to–write on the boards.
“You want to mark them?” I asked.
“Uh-huh,” he answered.
He had on these small, orange googles that fogged with his exhales. They made him look like an insect.
“Remember, though,” I said, “that’s a tall-person marker–” He raised his face to mine. “So you can only mark on the boards, not on your arms or Papa’s arms or the driveway or anything else, okay?”
“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll mark them for you, Papa, so you know where to drill.”
I watched him unhitch the Sharpie from his collar, carefully uncap it, then trace short, vertical marks followed by long, horizontal lines along the freshly-painted one-by-twos. At first, I wanted to stop him–to tell him I’d just painted them and that he could mark the other ones, the scrap pieces. But I didn’t. His marks were lovely.
“Papa,” he said excitedly, “my marks are ready for you.”
“Yes, they are,” I laughed. “Thank you, mister. That’s super helpful.”
“Ready for the next one, Papa?” he asked.
“Most definitely,” I replied.
And so it continued.
After about 20 minutes, I’d mounted 12 boards, all with squiggly, broken, black lines across their fronts. We stopped in order to bike to an appointment my wife had a few blocks away.
“But what about the project?” my son asked as we readied ourselves for the short ride. Then he cried. “I’m sad, Papa.”
He wanted to finish–to stay at home and continue our work. I smiled. “It’ll be here when we get back.”
“But Papa,” he countered, “I love working with you.”
Finally, he agreed. “Okay,” he said as I buckled him into the bike trailer’s belt harness. “When we get home. After Mommy’s appointment.” He adjusted his Spider-Man helmet. “You promise, Papa?”
“Yes, mister, I do.”
After the appointment, I got the news.
Jimmy had been missing for a couple years. He’d been abducted in Syria. We all held out hope that he’d get out. Sometimes those hopes shrank. Sometimes they almost disappeared completely. But everyone held fast to the idea that we’d see him again, have beers, talk shit, and make noise.
But that wouldn’t be the case.
When we got home, I kept my promise to my son. We worked on the project, but my head swam with the news of Jimmy, and my son was exhausted. We mounted a few boards, then stopped for dinner. Afterwards, my wife put my son to bed and I went back outside to finish. I plugged in a pair of flood lights and caulked and sanded the seams. My son’s marks made me smile. Then I thought about my friend; I thought about Jimmy. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what he’d been through, where he’d been held, or what he’d thought about for the past two years when he closed his eyes.
When my wife and I found out we were pregnant, I didn’t tell my parents right away. When I finally did, I was in the car. My mom gushed when I delivered the news. When my dad got on the line, he thanked me for believing in the future.
My son turned three six months ago. Neither one of my parents have ever met him.
That night, after the news about Jimmy, I dipped my brush into the half-empty gallon of gibraltar grey and ran a few strokes over my son’s marks. They disappeared. Each of them were gone, as if they never existed. They’d been a testimony, of sorts, to my son’s joy. He’d been lost in that moment, free from any attachment except the notions he’d invented. And I painted over them.
I dropped my brush and began to sob. Our street was quiet and empty, the houses mostly dark at a quarter after ten. I cried and cried and then finally made my way inside. I left everything on the lawn just as it was. Tears and snot gathered on my cheeks and upper lip. I could barely say my wife’s name as I collapsed on the couch. The TV, which had timed out on the channel guide, threw a blue glare across the room. I looked at my arms–at my tattoos–little black lines skating across the winter white of my skin. My eyes clouded. “Jimmy,” I finally spat, “so fucking sad.”
My wife moved toward me. I told her how I’d painted over Ty’s marks. I told her how happy they’d made me, how fragile they’d been. I said it was too much. I sobbed and shook, so confused. I said I didn’t know how both things could be; how my son’s marks and what happened to Jimmy could both exist.
“You’re so brave,” she said, “for feeling this. For holding that space.” She paused. I wiped my nose. It was the first time in about a half hour that I’d been able to pull my hands away from my eyes. “But,” my wife continued, “you can’t wire those things together. Go back to that bench in the park, at the mall. Feel sad for Jimmy, but don’t bring this other stuff to it.”
I nodded. She was right.
I cried more and we talked more. My heart hurt; it just seemed to continue to break, over and over and over again. And the tears came in waves. Somehow, though, I felt lighter. Not better, but cleaner.
“But,” I stammered, “I know it sounds idealistic or trite or whatever, but I really want to live in a world where I don’t have to explain this to Ty. Somewhere where it doesn’t exist. Where the joy and hope and love that traced those marks never, ever goes away. Never gets tempered. I want us to be better.” I was sweating pretty badly. “All of us.”
My wife smiled and hugged me.
“Because I can’t explain it to him,” I continued. “I can’t do it.” I paused to wipe my face again. “There’s just no explanation. None,” I added.
“You’re right,” my wife replied, “there isn’t one.” She moved even closer. “But that’s why it’s so important, the wiring. That’s why it’s so necessary to get this right–to wire it right and eliminate the confusion and the things you carry–that we all, more or less, carry.”
“I know, I know. But I wish. I just fucking wish.”
Tears drowned my words again. I thought about my Dad and his idea of the future.
I’d told my wife what he said about us being pregnant.
“What?” she’d puzzled. “What in the hell does that even mean?”
At the time, I shrugged.
I told my therapist about it, too. He laughed. He’s a pretty slight man, but his laugh is rich. “Oh my,” he said, “that’s amazing. In fact,” he added, “I’m going to use that, if it’s okay–and I hope it is.” He shifted in his wide, leather chair. “Geez. The future. Holy smoke.” He shook his head and brushed the mop of shoulder-length, grayish-blonde hair from his face. His laugh grabbed him again. “Who says that? I mean, come on.”
I reminded my wife of what my Dad said, again, there in the living room. I tried to tell her why it echoed with me now, after Jimmy’s death. “If I had a nickel,” I told her, “for every time my Dad told me that Albert Einstein said the war after the next would be fought with sticks and stones–” I shook my head. “Fuck.”
My wife’s face crumpled. “Jesus.”
“Yeah,” I continued, “that’s where it comes from–how it started. He told us all the time–me and my brothers–that it’d be up to us to figure things out. He said that he’d be dead and we needed to pay attention, to know what was happening.”
“So how does that tie to the future thing–believing the future?” she asked.
“Because” I replied, “here I am at 12 or 14 or whatever and my dad’s telling me how screwed up things are–how dangerous and hopeless the world is and then fast forward almost 30 years when things are even more fucked and I’m telling him we’re having a kid–that we’re bringing another soul into this mess–the one he’s been obsessed and afraid of for so goddamned long. That’s what he meant–thanks for believing so much in the fact that the world’s not gonna go and fuck itself to death in the next decade or so that you–that we–would feel confident enough to have a baby and be complicit in bringing him into this craziness.”
That night, I slept like shit and dreamed that I kept getting punched right in the mouth. I woke up too early, shifty and in a mood. I thought about the fact that hope is a motherfucking juggernaut. And I thought about how my wife is right: it’s important not to get things wired wrong. What wires together does, in fact, fire together. We are our own experience, but we are equally other peoples’ experience.
My friend has tattoos on his fingers. The ink spells out HOPE when he closes his right hand, LOVE when he squeezes his left. I think about that ink a lot these days. It helps me hold a space. It hurts to keep my heart open and be honest and present for my son. Sometimes, the hurt’s bigger than me, more than I can handle or even express.
 
Tom Vollman is enrolled in the doctoral program in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Currently, he teaches English at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He has written a number of things, published a bit, recorded a few records, and toured a lot. He’s working on a novel entitled Tyne Darling. Tom will also be releasing a new record, These Ghosts, in 2016.

Issue 9: The Darkest Apartment in Alphabet City

Kevin Dyer
Insofar as the light finds
its way fragmented,
the brick walls retain
the thin welt
of the days
that in theory, arrive.
In the square the guide
on the walking tour says
this is the place where once
when he means
time is gauged
in terms of erosion,
the cracking monuments
in mid-air,
the archives of the heart
lodged in a building no longer there.
In the story of the bird
trapped in a bright kitchen
all that is utterable
is the sound of impact—
a brief thud
and a new vision
of a world through glass
and the blur thereafter
deeply grafted.
An accidental clarity,
like the day I shot the background
with you walking up Christopher Street,
as though you lived there,
or were leaving.
 
Kevin Dyer recently returned from a year or so in Myanmar. Traffic, choked rivers. People all over. Also spent time in other parts pf SE Asia and the Middle East. Other work in Visions International, Denver Quarterly, Elephant Journal, Cortland Review, and Josephine Quarterly.

Issue 9: Vacation

Alejandro Escudé
Inside the posh Palm Springs restaurant a portrait of a Lord greets you, and you sit at a two-person table adjoining a wall that is actually too large and the seat too low, so that you feel really really small and too close to the old lady sitting at the giant round table of old folks and you try to be very gentle as you describe this but you’re so tired because of the long drive, the check-in to the hotel that looked stylish online but is really just an outpost in the desert, outside of what the locals consider acceptable, and you can’t believe you drove out from the city for that hotel, for this restaurant and your wife is mad at you for having dragged her there and so you say you’re sick and leave
and the valet guy is eyeing you now for the restless madman you are and you can’t wait to get back to the hotel in Desert Hot Springs which is considered the other side of the tracks by the locals out here but you thought you were just getting a good deal and even the hotel front desk attendant hates DHS, what they call it, and yet is content to live in her little desert enclave because when you mentioned the famous restaurant, which you now know is disproportionally full of very old people the attendant had never heard of the restaurant despite the fact it’s featured on the front page of the hardcover Dining Palm Springs magazine in your room and now you’re back in that same hotel room and your wife
and you are having one of those end-of-marriage fights that could go either way the type of fight that either ends it or makes it better, you say she needs to communicate more and she says you need to stop overreacting and it won’t be until you finally drive back home to the city plus one more agonizing day afterwards that you learn it was one of those make-it-better fights and you breathe a sigh of relief and you write this poem and you’re happy you have the poem- writing thing to rely on and your wife to be with and your Los Angeles large and stupid and terrifying as it is.
 
Alejandro Escudé’s first book of poems, My Earthbound Eye, was published in September 2013. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from UC Davis and teaches English. Originally from Argentina, Alejandro lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Find more at alejandroescude.com.

Issue 9: It's Saturday, I'm Eleven

Dave Martin
I’m headed into the woods at the end of my street. I live alone in the woods. It’s Saturday, or summer, and I’m walking over the field at the back of the school at the end of my street. I’m eleven and can, at a distance, identify older kids who might beat me up.
There are three ways, from this side, to take into the woods. Two only we know about. In the backpack my father bought me at a yard sale, I carry a folding shovel, a short saw, a hammer and nails, one Phillips and one flathead screw driver, a Swiss Army knife, kite string and part of a clothesline, a Penthouse (my birth month and year, stolen from my uncle’s collection), eight Oreos, a half-bag of Fritos, a Milky Way bar, and two bottles of strawberry Crush.
I’m headed into the woods at the end of my street. My red All Stars soaked with cold dew from the grass. It’s early, and the tree leaves are bright with sunlight. The sun is up, shining, but the grass is still wet, and I’m crossing the field at the back of the school. I’m scanning the edge of the woods for white high tops. White high tops or cigarette smoke.
There are two secret ways to take into the woods. I go for the path in the middle. The middle path leads to the neighborhood junk pile. My camp is close to the side with the red, rusted Volkswagen bug. We smashed all the windows a long time ago. Smashed them out with my hammer, except for the windshield. For the windshield, we stood on the roof, dropped a cinder block through, and dented the hood jumping down as the shattered glass sparkled on the black vinyl seats. Even now the glass sparkles on the black vinyl seats. We love breaking glass. All the windows are smashed, but we still shatter bottles on the cinder block, or over the hood of the car.
I take the middle path into the woods. The woods knows me.
In the future, I’m not eleven. We are both in the kitchen, and the sudden smell of rain in the garden makes me horny. I step out in the weird stormy-yellow daylight and am instantly soaked through my t-shirt and jeans. Raindrops are bouncing off a Budweiser can on its side in the mud. I’m sure there’s a frog or a snail somewhere, too.
In the future, I look out over the neighborhood from our fortress on the hill: everywhere kitchen and dining room lights, or blue TV flashing on living room walls. I wonder how many kids have already locked themselves up in their rooms for the night. I feel like I have a heart, but it’s summer—Saturday night—and there’s nowhere to go, anymore, to break glass.
In the future, I wish we lived by a lake, and we opened the windows. If we lived by a lake, we could look out over the water somewhere.
 
Dave Martin is currently an MFA in Poetry candidate at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he works as assistant director at the Writing Center, assistant poetry editor for Third Coast, and as an editorial assistant for Comparative Drama. He lives with his son and two cats.