Month: June 2016

From Issue 10: Split Second

Split Second

Cindy Matthews
It was Nancy’s idea to use her dead grandfather’s wooden toboggan. Her parents kept it at the back of their shed with the abandoned roller skates, corroded rakes, and skis someone had received one Christmas. I never owned a real toboggan. I’d asked for one the previous birthday but received a used guitar instead. One time my mom brought home a flying saucer from the Nearly New Store. I used it most of a winter until it got a crack.
After listening all day at school to Nancy brag about her dead grandfather’s precious sled, I said, “If it’s so great, meet me at the back of the hotel after 6 tonight. With that toboggan.” It was one of those spur-of-the moment comments. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be allowed.
With the rope of the toboggan firmly gripped in her mittened hand, Nancy knocked on the door to the service entrance of our hotel kitchen. Clouds of breath swirled around her head. Her frozen cheeks were streaked with crimson and white splotches showed the beginnings of frostbite. “I haven’t been tobogganing in years,” Nancy said. “I can hardly wait.”
She looked like a sausage crammed into the coat she wore. The Borg fabric was the colour of eggplant. The fuzzy hood circled her face like wild animal fur. The frigid three-block walk had fogged up the lenses of her glasses. Nancy was the only kid in grade seven who was fat. But I didn’t care. I liked her a whole lot and it wasn’t like I had so many friends I could be choosy.
“My parents went to bingo. They won’t miss me,” she said, yanking off her mittens before unhooking the wooden toggles of her coat.
“Mine either,” I said, glancing back at the swinging doors that led into the dining room. “My folks are catering at the Legion tonight.”
Outside the unlatched door, granular snow skipped over ruts in the driveway, the crystals smacking up against the building’s brick exterior. Like kernels of popcorn spilling into a hot, oily pan. For a moment I wondered if we should put off our plans.
“Come in. I’ll fry us up some grilled cheese sandwiches,” I said, pulling her in from the frightful night.
After we rinsed melted cheese and ketchup from our plates, we set them on the sterilizer dish rack.  I stuck my nose out the back door. “Seems like the blizzard has settled down a bit,” I said.
We bundled up for the hike to Lion’s Park. Nancy insisted on pulling the toboggan.
“It’s very old, you know.” Her low, gravelly voice convinced me not to spar over a stained, cotton rope.
I lagged behind, admiring the toboggan’s wooden boards with its glossy, two-tone finish. Thick wooden cross-pieces were secured with metal screws over the slats. I ran to catch up with her. On the curved hood was what remained of a blue and white circular label with the name of the city where the sled was built: Saint Paul. The one in Minnesota.
The wind zipped along the soffits of a structure to our left. The long, cinderblock building served as the curling club in the winter and a clubhouse for the lawn bowlers in the summer. Snow skimmed the bowling green, thrusting us forward. I clutched Nancy’s arm to steady my balance.
“The toboggan was Grandpa Joe’s. It was a gift from a Norwegian who stayed with his family after the war.” I’d heard all about this earlier at recess.
“I always wanted one. You don’t know how lucky you are.”
“It can carry five kids. At least that’s what Grandpa used to say.”
Snow corkscrewed along the surface of the sidewalk. We were all alone on the frosty night except for the occasional taxi skidding along the slippery roads. We hustled past the funeral home. It looked gloomy except for the spotlight shining on the sign indicating the hours for an upcoming visitation. I didn’t want to think about dying so I thought about Nancy’s brothers, Blake and Tommy, and wondered if they had ever ridden the toboggan down a slope.
“Let’s head up Blanchard past the car dealership,” I said, clinging to Nancy’s arm. “The foot bridge will be packed with snow.”
“But it’s twice as far,” Nancy said with that annoying voice she used when she demanded everyone sit up and notice she was right.
A mound of snow had accumulated on top of the garbage receptacle beside the auto shop. In the soft glow of the streetlamp, the form reminded me of an Orc. When we turned onto Blenheim and could finally see the park, Nancy whined. “This toboggan is too much.” So I took a turn dragging it.
We swung past the outdoor pool. Behind it loomed the old age home. The window draperies bore a resemblance to phantoms. Orange caution tape surrounding the pool entrance fluttered in the wind. “I doubt the renovations to the pool will be done by summer,” I said, pointing. I looked forward to joining the swim team.
I glimpsed over my shoulder. Nancy lagged a few feet behind so I hung on so she could catch up.
“Who even thinks about swimming now?” Nancy said, gasping for breath. “It’s winter.”
I couldn’t remember ever seeing Nancy in a bathing suit. Icicles dangled from the chain link fence surrounding the pool. Gloomy light standards resembled sentries charged with keeping vandals from shooting out the bulbs. The roar of a milk truck zooming over the bridge interrupted the otherwise silent night. Occasionally, light flickered from vehicle headlamps from the main road. Fingerlings of snow inched along the base of the hill.
“It’s not getting any warmer,” I said. My mittens were damp and my scarf felt too tight around my throat. Our boots slipped as we began to navigate the incline.
Halfway up, Nancy said, “I’m tired.” This was the Nancy I didn’t like, the obstinate, whiny Nancy who demanded her own way. “Let’s go home.”
I jumped up and shrieked a little before setting a hand on her shoulder. “Jesus. We just got here. We’ve come all this way. Let’s try and do at least one run.”
“Oh, alright but I’m in front.”
When we finally reached the hill’s crest, we stood a moment to catch our breath, our minds chasing our own thoughts around and around. I could feel frosty air creep along the skin where my snow pants didn’t quite reach my boots. I couldn’t make out anything beyond where we stood. I wished for the moon or even some stars but the freshly falling snow formed a curtain between us and the sky. The snowflakes were diamond crystals punching our cheeks. I tugged my scarf from inside my coat and wound it over my face.
Nancy took her position at the front of the toboggan. Her thighs, crammed into her black track pants, bulged along the edges. She jammed her boots into the wooden hood and said, “If we’re going, let’s do it.”
“Wait,” I said. I held a hand to my brow and squinted into the wind.
“I’m ready,” she said. “Let’s get this over with and go home.”
“Not here. Let’s move down a bit.” I pointed to my left. “Where the teenagers have built the jump.”
After I dragged the toboggan over, Nancy climbed back on. I clambered on, too, wrapped my legs around her, and rested my boots upon her thighs. “You know what you’re doing, right?” Before she answered, our combined weight caused us to shift ahead. The wooden slats crackled before going whoosh! The toboggan soared.
Nancy said something but I couldn’t make it out. A gust of wind made her voice swirl overhead. The slick hill offered no resistance to the toboggan’s polished bottom. The descent was rapid and I soon realized Nancy had lied. She had no clue how to steer. Kids like Nancy don’t do things. They spend their entire free time plopped on a sofa, their eyes shoved into a ‘Nancy Drew,’ reading about mysteries rather than creating their own. They never went outside like the skinny kids.
The toboggan slithered into a rut, causing us to rock from side to side. Despite tucking my head behind her back, I could feel dry snow crystals exploding against my face. The toboggan lifted and turned into a rocket. And that was when I remembered. The pavilion, the picnic tables, and the playground. They edged the west perimeter of the Thames River which was at the bottom of the very hill we were zooming down.
My voice exploded from my mouth like glass. “Steer, god-damn it. Lift the rope with your right hand.” My voice zipped behind my head.
By the time I finished saying ‘rope,’ the toboggan hit a bump and flipped. It tossed me through the snow-filled air like cotton candy. I plunked like a pile of rocks against the icy shell of the hill. I lay there dazed and achy trying to calm my queasy stomach and slow my nervous breath. I felt such a fool for not wrestling the rope from Nancy’s incompetent hands.
Soon my lips turned numb with the dropping temperatures. I wasn’t sure how long I rested there before I rolled onto my right side. I clenched my teeth, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in my hip and ribs. I expected to see the toboggan split in two and the hood turned into a heap of splinters. Despite the crash, the old toboggan remained whole.
Whimpers rose from the bottom of the slope. Then a deep moan. And then another sound akin to the noise my dog made when a loose dog mauled him. “Nancy!” I yelled. She was near the slide.
I glided over to where her crumpled body remained, crushed against the steel ladder. It was the very slide government officials decided to have torn down. I shuddered. Nancy’s right leg was draped at an awkward angle around the ladder.
My mittens had taken on more moisture. My fingers bit with cold. I stuffed my hands in my armpits before spiraling around to see if any help was available. I knew all too well that Nancy was my albatross to bear. I studied her enormous form in the grey shadows. Moving her bulky weight would be tough if not impossible. But I knew I had to do something. All of a sudden, my tongue engorged and my heart pounded. I ran and fetched the toboggan from where it still sat part way up the hill. When I returned, Nancy was on her back. “Lift your hips,” I said. There was no verbal retort but Nancy somehow raised her bottom enough so I could coax her body onto the toboggan.
The snow had stopped falling and I could make out the pedestrian bridge. It was only a few metres away. I weighed half of Nancy yet somehow coped in getting the toboggan to inch ahead. We eventually reached the bridge. Drifts of snow had plugged it but I was certain this route would save me thousands of steps. I gingerly stepped through the deep snow, a stride at a time, until we arrived at the other side. Snow filled my boots and burned the skin of my legs. The toboggan rope had cut through my mittens and into my hands, leaving them a gory mess. Yet, the palms didn’t feel sore. I wrapped my scarf around my hands like a cast.
“Come on. Pull,” I said. Smoke curled from the chimneys of the homes lining the street where we were headed. I felt as strong as that wrestler my dad liked so much. Whipper Billy Watson. Wood fires kept families cozy inside their living rooms. This chilly night was better suited to watching televised campaign speeches by election hopeful, Pierre Trudeau. As we shuffled past the Friendship Centre, a block from our destination, raucous laughter escaped from an open door as someone headed for the parking lot.
I thought about my parents. Were they home from catering? Would they think I was upstairs in our apartment shrieking in hysterics at one of my shows? Or would they be pacing the kitchen, worry- lines etched on their foreheads? Despite the icy temperatures, sweat forked along my back before pooling in my snow pants. All I wanted to see were their relieved faces, not hear a lecture about two stupid girls’ idiotic, split second decision.
Snow rippled along the sidewalk leaving washboard lines. I dragged Nancy the final stretch. I tugged the toboggan further until I recognized the liquor store lights, a neighbouring business. I released a breath of relief. I turned and looked at Nancy, prone on the wooden sled, her right leg with its awkward bend. I bowed and wiped a spot of ketchup stuck near her lips. A strained, sorrowful look had frozen on her face. She was in rough shape.
“Oh, no,” I said. “We’ve lost your glasses.”
I threw up on the snow bank behind the rear entrance to the kitchen.
Nancy made it. Two surgeries. The doctors kept her leg in traction for months. She had to be homeschooled the remainder of the year. I knew what the other kids in our class had said. They put it back on me that Nancy might stay crippled for life. But I was there that night. I knew what happened. So did Nancy. Would they have done what I did? It was easy to blame me, the daughter of the saloon keeper. The daughter of a man called Otto, a foreigner. Some of my classmates said Nancy might need a cane or worse, never walk again. Some said she’d have been better off dead. That would have been on me, they said.
I was there when she forgot to lift the rope. If she’d have died, it would have been on her.
When I heard the surgeons had finally released Nancy from hospital, I made a decision. I broadened my shoulders and resolved to go and see her at home. I was prepared to beg for just a moment to sit with her. I had my apology on a scrunched-up paper in the front pocket of my shorts. I’d committed the words to memory but in case I forgot, I could always sneak a peek.
I hopped on my bicycle and peddled quickly up to Nancy’s front lawn. I gasped a lungful of air before knocking on the pine door. I lingered on the front stoop waiting for the longest time for someone to let me in. My fingers followed and traced the door’s wooden grain. I could detect the sound of a TV. It was ‘Lassie,’ Nancy’s favourite show. I turned my back on the closed door, sat on the front steps, and waited for tears to come.
 
Cindy Matthews writes, paints, and lives in rural Ontario, Canada. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Canada, South Africa, USA, UK, and Australia. ‘Clutched by the Hair’ placed Top 3 in the 2015 Desi Writers’ Lounge creative non-fiction writing competition. Learn more at @Matthec1957 or https://www.facebook.com/CindyIsabelMatthews.

From Issue 10: When Time Stops

When Time Stops

Eleanor Duke
We all woke up at once when our rear tires skidded sideways across the right shoulder of the highway. The driver fell asleep despite downing three Red Bulls before our departure, and he jolted awake when the car vibrated violently on the rumble strips. In trying to correct his swerve, we spun backwards, flipped over twice, and landed in the ditch next to the highway. The skids slowed us down enough that when we actually flipped we were only going about 35 miles per hour, the police told us later. We had been going 80.
We were in the middle of the desert in central California, closer to Nevada than the ocean. The Sequoia National Forest loomed to our left, and the three-and-a-half-million-acre Death Valley National Park stretched right. We — me, plus three strangers, all boys, all college students, all skiers — left Los Angeles three hours earlier, and were due to arrive in Mammoth Lakes in two hours’ time. My only connection to these people was that we were all members of our college ski club, and we all signed up for the earliest slot on the carpool list, electing to leave before dawn to start the five-hour trip to Mammoth Mountain. We’d planned to arrive in time for first chair; it was going to be a powder day.
Fresh tracks didn’t seem to be in our future. My mind wasn’t on snow — I didn’t know where I was, or what wilderness I was looking at. I was new to California and its vast, austere landscapes. Accustomed to the gentle hills of my home state of Vermont, this place looked severe and empty. All I knew was that I had fallen asleep in the back of a blue Subaru just outside downtown Los Angeles, and woken up when it was screeching sideways across the highway.
A few days later, my friend Morelle’s eyes light up when I tell her about the accident. We are sprawled on the central lawn of campus, and Morelle is detailing her upcoming midterms. Her typically tightly ponytailed brown hair is loose in a wild, curly mane, and she totes a stack of books with names like “Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics.” She adopts an almost-maniacal look of thrill when I mention the crash.
“Did time slow down?” she asks.
It seems like a strange response to my announcement that I flipped over in a moving vehicle at a high rate of speed. I ask what exactly she means.
She explains: “Basically, your brain has an incredible capacity for information absorption. It’s taking in tons of stuff, all the time, and filtering out what it doesn’t need — all the random sounds, useless details, whatever. But when you get an adrenaline rush, your amygdala goes into overdrive.”
“Amygdala…?”
“It’s part of your brain. That’s not the point. The point is your brain absorbs way more than the normal amount of information. The same amount you’d usually experience in thirty seconds gets condensed into ten or something. So your time perception gets all screwy. It’s called time dilation.”
I consider this, and mentally replay the events of the accident. In retrospect, the memory really is in slow motion.
When the car stopped moving, it was belly-up in a ditch. I was semi-suspended, held in place by my seatbelt, and bracing myself with my arms against the ceiling. I unbuckled and crawled through the window, which had shattered when we flipped. I faintly heard someone say that overturned vehicles can burst into flames, and I sped up. I scrambled away from the wreck and up onto the berm of the highway, my three companions following my lead.
And then it was quiet. We stared at the exposed underbelly of the station wagon, its pipes and wires sticking out at odd angles. A massive black lake stretched between the car and the desert in the distance, and as we stood in silence, the sun began to come up. The desert was cold and dry, and I stood rigidly with my hands in my pockets, coat zipped up around my face. I pulled my phone from my pocket, and it told me it was just after 5 a.m. I texted my friend Laura, Just got into a car accident. Flipped over. Everything is fine. I don’t know why I texted Laura, who I knew was asleep, instead of calling the police, or my parents, or just sitting down and crying, but that’s what I did.
The events of the actual crash are still vivid when I recount them to Morelle. I add that I can’t remember very much right after the event, between the police’s arrival and when I got back to Los Angeles that afternoon. Most of what I know about the post-crash was pieced together later. Morelle is visibly thrilled.
“Yeah! That’s exactly right! After you experience time dilation, you get exhausted. Even if you don’t undergo any physical trauma, your body just shuts down. And sometimes you can even black out after! You’re so lucky!”
I don’t feel lucky, exactly, but Morelle is right: we had been tremendously fortunate. The driver had a few small cuts on his hand from the broken windshield, another’s wrist was a little sore, and we all stank like the smashed bottle of Jaegermeister that one boy had stashed in the trunk. But other than that, we were fine. Despite the dry, bitter cold of the desert morning, I was warm. I could feel my heart pounding and a bead of sweat forming at my temples.
The police drove us to Lone Pine, eight miles north, where they dropped us off at a McDonald’s and drove away. I bought a coffee and it made me feel even worse. I smelled like licorice, alcohol, and sweat, and my stomach ached. I sent Laura another text, I’m at a McDonald’s. This place is gross. Back at school this afternoon hopefully.
The boys were intent on getting to the snow, despite the totaled car and rattled nerves. The idea of continuing to travel with this band of strangers after what had happened made me even sicker to my stomach, so I asked around for a bus. The next one heading south would leave in two hours from the other side of town, taking me as far as Mojave. I bid the boys farewell, as they were planning their route to Mammoth Lakes. I don’t know how they got there in the end. I haven’t spoken to any of them since. I heard the snow was great that weekend, though.
On the bus two hours later, I fell asleep. At one point, we meandered onto the rumble strips and I jolted awake, gasping and clutching my seatbelt. It took a minute to calm myself down again, and then I looked at my phone. A text from Laura: I’m coming to get you.
She pulled up to the Carl’s Jr. in Lancaster in her little white sedan, wearing Ray Bans and a Salvador Dalí t-shirt. I was sitting on the stoop, exhausted and hungry, and elated to see my friend. Apparently, I was babbling — recounting the tale in a steady stream of hardly intelligible words. This later served as the basis for most of my memories of the morning’s events, as retold by Laura. I don’t remember that, but I do remember she hugged me, handed me a coconut granola bar, put on a Wilco album, and let me sleep for the two hours back to the city.
By one o’clock, I was back in my dorm room, showered and feeling completely separate from the girl who was upside down in a blue Subaru eight hours earlier. I put my puffy blue coat and my green backpack in the washing machine to get rid of the stench, and shoved my ski boots into the back of my closet.
But my conversation with Morelle a few days later brings the crash back into my mind. I wonder why I can remember the crash so vividly, and hardly anything afterward. What, I wonder, happened to my brain in that moment of terrible fear, and why does it make my memory so vivid? I look into tachypsychia, the technical name for time dilation. I learn it is a controversial issue that divides the neuroscience community.
Some aspects are certain. The adrenal medulla produces adrenaline when the body is under stress, which skyrockets your heart rate, increases oxygen absorption, dilates your pupils to let in more light, and releases glucose into the bloodstream. In these moments of stress, fear, or anger, the amygdala, an essential component in memory formation, goes into high gear. Together, these components slow down your perception of time.
The question that’s so hotly debated is: does our experience of time in slow motion happen during the event itself, or only in hindsight? David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who specializes in synesthesia and time perception, sought to answer this question. To study the affect of adrenaline on time perception, he had to get his subjects’ adrenaline levels to skyrocket. Exercise wouldn’t cut it; neither would a roller coaster or a zipline. So he dropped his volunteers from a 150-foot tower.
Morelle’s explanation of time dilation piques my curiosity about other ways to achieve it, ways that don’t involve risking my life. The promise of protracted time and memory precision intrigues me, and I’ve always been a sucker for thrills. I find, not surprisingly, that time dilation isn’t limited to near-death experiences; it can actually be a pleasurable pursuit. Marc Wittmann, a German neuropsychological researcher, says that the main ways people experience time dilation are during psychotic breaks, in intense meditation, or through drug use. I’ve never had a psychotic break, and don’t really care to induce one. I have a difficult time sitting still, and an even more difficult time trying to empty my brain of all thoughts. And drugs, in this case, feel like cheating — I’m looking for a natural high. So I do as Eagleman would, and jump off a cliff.
A few months after the desert car crash, I visit my high school for my one-year reunion. It’s a tradition to return the first spring after graduation, and almost my entire class is there. We do devious things that make us feel old, like drink wine on campus out of thermoses. On Saturday, I go with two friends to the quarries. The quarries are about a two-mile bike ride from the idyllic, 2,000-acre wooded campus, followed by a short walk through the forest past a shooting range. Old quarries are hidden throughout the New England countryside, often somewhat menacing and remote semi-industrial sites, where the lush forest is harshly interrupted by soaring, grey rock walls. Abandoned now, the ones near my old school have filled with rain and spring water. The deep dark pools at the base of the cliffs are both beckoning and forbidding. Buried deep beneath the surface is rebar, cabling and old mining equipment. The whole area is strictly banned to students.
The best quarry for swimming is in a small clearing, a deep pond in the middle of a circle of cliffs that rise up out of the water. The rock walls are covered in profanities and graffiti. There is one rock we call the penis rock, a gigantic knob of stone painted with a huge phallus, and from its tip is a fifteen-foot jump into the water below. That’s the smallest jump, with the highest about forty-five feet. I visited this quarry a few times in high school, but always cowered at the 45-footer. I would work my way up the cliffs, doing the fifteen first, then the twenty-five, then the thirty, and inevitably lose my nerve at the final leap. I had watched a few friends do it, limbs flailing wildly as they descended into the black water, but I never worked up the courage.
But today, I stand on top of the cliff, looking down at my friends standing on the penis rock. They cheer me on, but I barely hear them. Legs shaking, ears ringing, I close my eyes. Perhaps it’s an effect of adrenaline, or maybe my nerves are preparing for the wave of sensation they believe is coming, but my skin is tingling. I take a deep breath, step forward, and leap off the edge. Suspended in midair, I feel a rise in my chest and hear myself, as if from afar, shriek with terror. After what feels like ten seconds, but is probably three, my feet meet resistance and I am enveloped in icy water. I come up gasping for air, and doggie paddle back to the penis rock in a daze.
My forty-five foot cliff is less than a third of the height of the tower in Eagleman’s test. But it seems I have experienced another round of time dilation.
Eagleman concluded that the adrenaline rush experienced in moments of extreme stress doesn’t actually increase our speed of cognition; that is to say, we don’t absorb an abnormal amount of information. Instead, our brain allows us to remember more details in retrospect. Since our lives are experienced almost exclusively in hindsight, we perceive our recollections to be true. Our raw, first-hand experience is so miniscule, so split-second, that its significance pales in comparison to the infinite time we spend replaying it.
This implies that our perceptions are only constructed in retrospect — we don’t really know how we feel in an experience until we reflect on it later. Standing on the side of a cold desert highway, damp with perspiration and Jaegermeister, I barely felt anything at all. I was numb, too, standing atop the granite quarries, preparing for my leap. But when I consider these events in retrospect, I can recall every tingle on my skin, every color on the graffiti-covered granite walls, and, although I can’t remember the names of any of the people in the car, I can see every splash of sunlight across the obsidian lake next to Highway 395.
Life goes by fast. We’re all looking for ways to experience existence more fully, to absorb as much as we can in the short time we’re here. In these moments of extreme adrenaline, we get to experience life at a different speed, even if it’s only for a few seconds. For an instant, the world is crisper, more profound, and more vibrant. Maybe that’s why people jump from airplanes, surf massive waves, and ride roller coasters. We’re looking for a rush, but perhaps we’re also looking for a brief stillness, a clarity that only comes from the slowing down of time.
If you Google time dilation, you’ll be presented with a series of graphs, Greek letters, equations, and references to Einstein’s theory of relativity. But the great thing about Einstein is he could speak human, too: he said, “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”
His point, revolutionary at the time, now seems trite: time is relative. Since leaving Los Angeles, many of my memories there have gone fuzzy. My stint in California feels like a tiny blip on the map of my life. A few things remain clear, important things like my friendship with Laura, and crazy things like how it feels to flip over in a car, but my brain is now mostly consumed with new memories and adrenaline-pumped moments. But I do still think about Morelle every once in a while, in those instants when my stomach is in my throat and time seems to be in slow motion.
In February of 2013, the highly anticipated Winter Storm Nemo hits New England. We’re warned to stay off the roads, remain indoors, and hunker down for a few days. Instead, after one look at a radar map of the northeast, I drive north to ski the powder at home. I make my way slowly through the storm, and arrive home in Vermont about three hours after the snow begins to fall. There is already a heavy layer of fresh snow on the ground, and I know the next day will be a powder day of epic proportions — at least by Vermont’s standards.
My brother Angie and I wake up the next morning at the crack of dawn and drive to the ski area. We spend the day bouncing between trees and floating in three feet of fresh powder, riding chairlifts with old friends and joking about the chumps who stayed home in fear of dangerous roads. It’s easy enough to poke fun when you make it through unscathed.
Angie takes me down his favorite trail in the woods, The Bruce, which starts the top of Mt. Mansfield and spits you out onto the main road about half way into town. It’s a tricky ski full of tight turns through trees, and it has a long flat section at the end that requires some patience. But it’s stunning, and silent, and the longest ski descent off our mountain. A few minutes into the run, Angie stops.
“There’s a little drop up here, think you can handle it?” I look at him, wide-eyed.
Can I? I’m three years Angie’s senior, but his skills on skis surpassed mine years ago. Never one to admit an inadequacy to my little brother, I nod. I follow Angie for a few turns between some big pines, and then find myself in midair. I see Angie up ahead in his black puffy parka, skis gliding effortlessly through the powder. Sunlight peeks through the branches and speckles the shady trail with white light, and the deep snow makes the woods seem silent and mysterious. Suspended above the powder-covered trail, my breath catches. And just for a moment — time stops.
 
Eleanor Duke graduated from Brown University’s Literary Arts program, earning the top prize in creative nonfiction. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is the assistant fiction editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and teaches creative writing at Writopia Lab. You can read more of her work at eleanorduke.com or follow her on Twitter @eleanorcduke.

From Issue 10: Hot Peppers

Hot Peppers

Domenic Scopa
a strip club in Prague
After several beers my vision scans the bar mirror−attentive, beaming lighthouse. High heels click. Strobes ignite her platinum wig. On my thigh, her manicured fingernails trace figure eights−I bet you’d like to have your way with me, American?−My posture stiffens tight as her corset. Fresh out of a relationship, I switch the subject, brag I toured a Nazi work camp earlier that day for college−University? she asks. Then you must have learned about the Jewish son and father forced to kill each other in the captain’s pool, college boy?−Her English broken and sharp. I rise to leave—I bet you didn’t miss your shot to photograph the gas chamber—my stool keels over—I stumble toward a set of double doors. The bouncer cracks the granite profile of his face to wink—she’s a feisty one, American—his pupils constricted, his mustache clogged with pilsner.
 
Domenic Scopa is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. His poetry, translations, and fiction have been featured nationally and internationally in Poetry Quarterly, Belleville Park Pages, Visions International, Cardinal Sins, Misfit Magazine, Poetry Pacific, and many others.

From Issue 10: The Lucky Boy

The Lucky Boy

George Held
Rocco Rizzuto picked you up at the corner by the drugstore. A short dark handsome guy whose bulging muscles came from years of construction work, Rocco was the factotum at the W estate. He was popular with men and women, boys and girls in Edgedale, a modest commuter suburb. Mr. W had plucked him off a building site and given him a sinecure he never would have dreamed up: “Chauffeur me, the wife, the kids, and take care of the cars and the lawn. When you’re at the house, you’re blind, deaf, and dumb. Got it?” Mr. W had rasped. Next day Rocco installed his pregnant wife and their two young kids in the servant’s apartment over the six-car garage and was never heard to complain about his pay.
As usual, he was smiling when he opened the door of the station wagon and told you to hop in. Driving, he gripped the steering wheel hard to flex his powerful arm muscles. Up close, you could see his perfect white teeth set off by his swarthy complexion. Habitually, he looked into the rearview mirror to check them out.
“I hear you’re the lucky boy,” he said.
“Yep. Galt phoned this morning and asked me to come for a swim.”
The W’s had the only pool in the town, probably because they were the only ones with twelve acres. Galt, the boy in the family, was your classmate, not really a friend, but you were popular, through no genius of your own, and Galt thought maybe the popularity of others would rub off on him. His father’s celebrity allowed Galt to use the swimming pool like a lure for acquaintances of any gender or sexual disposition. You’d heard rumors of booze, coke, and skinny-dipping on summer nights.
At the touch of a button under the dashboard, Rocco made the gates swing open and drove the wagon along the pale-gravel road, stopping under the portico at the front door of the great house. “Jump out,” he said, “and go through that gate in the hedge over there. Galt’s already in the pool. When you’re ready to go home, I’ll give you a lift. Have a good swim.”
Entering the compound behind the privet, you felt your heart beat a little faster. You lived in your parents’ modest little ranch on a fifth of an acre, and before you in the bright noonday sun was a sparkling pool, bordered by a dozen rounds of California tiles, with a pool house at the far end. At the near end the great house opened into a verandah that reached the deck of the pool.
A lone figure, fleshy white, floated in the middle of the water. It called out to you, “Hey, George, come on in. The water’s great!”
“Thanks, Galt. Just let me change into my swim trunks.”
“Naw, just strip and jump in,” and he rolled over a few times like a porpoise to emphasize that he was wearing no swimsuit. His clothes were strewn beside a deck chair.
Challenged, you assented, kicked off your Keds, stripped off your jeans, jockeys, and t-shirt, and dove into the pool. After swimming a few laps, you hauled yourself out like a seal and sat on the rim of the pool. It felt strange to be naked with a schoolmate you didn’t know that well. It felt good to swim unencumbered and to feel the sun directly on your whole body.
You looked out at the field behind the pool and saw the barn where Galt was known to have his own horse to ride at will around the estate. You looked over at the verandah and in its dimness you made out two figures at a table.
The celebrity wife, once a Ziegfeld showgirl, was a notch above cliché. Seated beside her was her louche nineteen-year-old daughter, who had herself already been pictured in the tabloids night-clubbing with a notorious philandering band leader. A voice spoke to you with friendly command. Had you heard Mrs. W right? Had she asked you to leave the pool, naked, and visit her in the shade of the verandah, where she and Gretchen sat to observe her son and his friends cavort bare-assed on warm summer days?
“Yes, come up here—just as you are. Don’t be shy. I’d like to know who you are.”
You weren’t too sure about that yourself, and her invitation didn’t seem right, but you were just thirteen, obedient to your elders, especially parents, and proud of your new curly red fringe. So you clambered up from the poolside and walked tentatively over the hot tiles till you reached the cool flagstone of the terrace, and came to a halt a few feet from the table at which the women sat.
Mrs. W, a fine looking lady of about 50, with good bones and a slim figure, wore a loose-fitting summer dress, while Gretchen, looking hung over, had on a dark-red two-piece bathing suit, with a man’s striped button-down shirt over her shoulders. The women were drinking Bloody Marys.
You stood uneasily with your hands folded over your junk while Mrs. W asked you pointless questions about school and the sports you played. When she offered you a Coke, you declined at first, not wanting to reach for the bottle and leave yourself exposed. But that was what the women seemed to want, so upon the second offer, you said what the fuck to yourself and lifted the Coke off the table. As you tilted your head to drink, your other hand fell naturally to your hip. Then you stood there bottle in hand and limp cock stirring under the gaze of your schoolmate’s mother and sister.
The shirt slipped off Gretchen’s skinny shoulders and she leaned forward as if to get a better view and maybe to enhance her scant cleavage. You resisted the urge to run back to the pool and you just let your erection tick to fullness. The silence had a special resonance, and then Mrs. W said, “Ahhh, thank you, George, thank you very much,” and Gretchen smirked. Then her mother dismissed you, and you returned to the pool.
Emerging from the shade, you felt the warmth of the sun on your skin, and your arousal eased. The pool was empty. Gone were both Galt and his clothing. You looked across the field and saw him, wearing a Stetson, jeans, and a white t-shirt, saddling up his paint. Had he left because he knew the routine whenever his mom asked a nude boy to visit her? Was she the reason he had invited you for a swim that day?
You grabbed your own jockeys, jeans, and t-shirt off a pool chair, picked up your Keds and stepped behind the pool house to pull on your gear. You then crossed the hot field till you reached the fence and looked back to wave goodbye to Galt, but he and Mustard had vanished into the nether acres of his father’s estate.
You vaulted the fence and then the drainage ditch, and hit the road headed home. You thought of Rocco checking his white teeth in the rearview mirror.
 
An eight-time Pushcart Prize nominee, George Held publishes both online and in print, and Garrison Keillor read one of Held’s poems on A Writer’s Almanac. His recent books include Neighbors: The Water Critters (2015), animal poems for children, illustrated by Joung Un Kim, and the poetry chapbook Bleak Splendor (2016).

From Issue 10: 1915

1915

Sean Sam
The searchlight scans along
the wakes and the water.
The enemy and the sea
both wait and welter in the dark.
Along the waves, it drops and dips
in the spray, it sways
—something writhes with a splash.
Awake and in time with ideas
of death sliding underneath and inside,
the gunners bend at the bow.
Slapped on the sea, the shape of a hull
blinks on the surface.  A splash
of fire spoils the year.
Sinking then showing again,
the shape dies as the light
meets a new color in the current.
Later, seagulls circle around
chunks of flesh floating
up from the dead whale’s bloat.
 
Sean Sam is a writer living in Maryland, USA. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he studied philosophy. His most recent work has appeared in 99 Pine Street, East Jasmine Review, and Bird’s Thumb. He can be found online at http://seansam.com

Submissions are Free and Open for the Summer

We’re happy to report that we are opening our magazine for free submissions for the summer! We are particularly looking for a few more pieces to fill our special themed fall issue, with the theme of DYSTOPIA. Send us your dark visions of the future, whether in the form of poetry, nonfiction, or fiction.
Have you been thinking about sending us work? Now that pesky little $3 submission fee is temporarily waived, so don’t hesitate to send us your best work. Of course, if you’d like to support our growing magazine, we’d still greatly appreciate the $3 if you can spare it.
Writing on other topics? We’re reading for future unthemed issues as well. If it’s good, we want to read it.
Submit now!

Featured: Why Sampson Loved Delilah

Blake Lynch
 
Why did she promise to
sit in my hospital room
until I fell asleep
and run her hand
across my head
to feel where
the hair was gone
when she was only
going to leave early
and drive home
by the Allegheny
along row houses
where people lived
in things called families
and were never hurt
or at least not for very long?
Maybe because I would
only know she left early
when I woke up alone
the next morning
which was more than I wanted
listening to my blood
singing into a machine
which sat by a windowsill
with purple flowers,
a color she loved.
 
10429244_10206053852569616_1564983186032164840_nBlake Lynch is a young lawyer and cancer survivor whose poems have appeared in Turk’s Head ReviewLines + Stars Journal, POPLORISH, Commonline Journal, The Foundling Review, The Brooklyner, Chelsea, King Log, 2River, The Stray Branch, The Oakbend Review, Stone Highway Review, The Potomac, Zygote in My Coffee, Forge, 491 Magazine, Pif Magazine,and Shampoo, among others. His plays have been performed at Tisch School of the Arts in New York City and The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, England.